This is Easter week—a job-free week, one that I am taking advantage of at home. The weather since Tuesday (a gorgeous spring day) has returned to something resembling late winter/early spring. It’s been rainy, windy, chilly, and gray--not so motivating in terms of wanting to be outdoors. But today is shaping up to be a nice day, so we'll see. I was looking through some of my old cookbooks on Wednesday, and happened upon one that I have used on occasion--Beard on Bread. On the cover, it states: “To: All Bread Lovers. My 100 favorite recipes, with variations. Everything you need to know about breadmaking”. So I decided that I would make some bread for Easter. James Beard (1903-1985) was an American chef and food writer, born in Portland Oregon. Beard on Bread (catchy title) was first published in 1973, and given to me by my aunt and uncle as a school graduation present, if I remember correctly. They knew already then that I loved making bread, both yeast and non-yeast. My mother never made yeast breads after a few fiascos; she said that the dough never rose for her. I cannot say the same; I have had good success with the yeast bread recipes I’ve tried. It’s all about not killing the yeast cells that are there to do the job of leavening. If conditions are right for them, your success is assured.
I came upon a recipe in his book called ‘Norwegian Whole-Wheat Bread’ and tried it. What surprised me was how fast the dough doubled in bulk and how it took over the bowl I had set it in (see photo)! You won’t be disappointed with the results. I’m including the recipe here as Beard wrote it (the comments in parentheses are mine).
Norwegian Whole-Wheat Bread
Taught in the Norwegian Government School for Domestic Science Teachers in Oslo, this recipe makes a very dense, coarse bread full of honest flavor, and it slices nicely. The dough will be stiff and difficult to knead, but I am sure you will find the results worth your labors.
2 packages active dry yeast
4 cups warm milk = 100o to 115oF, approximately
8 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups fine rye flour
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-2 tablespoons salt
Makes 2 free-form loaves
In a large mixing bowl dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of the warm milk. Allow to proof. Add the remaining milk, and gradually beat or stir in the three flours and the salt to make a firm dough (I used 7 instead of 8 cups of whole-wheat flour and 3 instead of 2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour since I didn't have enough whole-wheat flour left). Remove the dough to a well-floured board and knead 10 to 12 minutes (I used an electric handheld mixer with dough hooks and that did a good job—it was a tough dough to knead). When you have a satiny, elastic dough, form it into a ball. Place in a well-buttered bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover and set in a warm spot to rise until doubled in bulk.
Punch the dough down, turn out on a floured board, and knead again for 2 or 3 minutes. Cut into two equal pieces. Sprinkle one very large baking sheet or two small ones with a bit of cornmeal. Shape the dough into round loaves, and place them on the baking sheet or sheets (I used two adjustable-size bread pans instead and adjusted them to long). Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in bulk, which will take as long as 2 hours, because this is a firm-textured bread………Bake in a preheated oven at 375oF for about an hour, or until the loaves sound hollow when you tap them with your knuckles. Cool thoroughly before slicing. This bread cuts beautifully and will remain fresh for quite a while if wrapped in a towel or placed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.