Braided bread 2.0

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When I stumbled upon Google books for the first time, I thought it was a dumb idea because I could get free recipes without having to buy books. How are the authors of these books supposed to make any money I thought. However, after spending hours thumbing through cookbook samples just on a search for sourdough, I found my Amazon wish list growing by a bit more than I wanted it to. Therefore, I have decided Google books is an evil and effective marketing tool! Do not. I repeat. Do not go to Google books. You’ll be sorry!

One book that made its way from my Google search to my Amazon wish list to my home (in less than a week) was an amazing book published in the 80’s called Great Whole Grain Breads by Beatrice Ojakangas. This unassuming cookbook has no photographs besides the one on the cover. It is filled, instead, cover to cover with recipes and practical bread baking advice. An inventive baker, Mrs. Ojakangas was baking no knead breads back in the 80s long before the craze hit the Internet (and long before the Internet).

The book is not heavy on purely whole grain bread. Most recipes include a mixture of white flour as well as whole grains in order to give the breads a lighter texture. Being of Finnish extraction, the author knows her rye breads and includes many variations on rye. As well as traditional loaves there are many interesting and quirky recipes such as stir and pour breads which are even simpler than the no knead bread recipes she also provides. There are vegetable breads, cheese breads, fruited breads and coffee breads. Since the book relies on small charming illustrations instead of photos, it is packed cover to cover with recipes.

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After reading the book as if it were a novel and placing book marks on dozens of recipes, I became obsessed with a recipe that appears in the photo on the cover. It is for Wheat Germ and Sesame Six-Strand Bread. I don’t own commercial yeast but I do own a sometimes temperamental sourdough starter which I stubbornly insist on baking all of my bread with. If you have been following my blog, you already know that I screwed up this recipe last week. Although it was under proofed the flavor was really good and we ate the bread anyway. I decided it was worth it to try again. This week I got it right. I added an extra half cup of starter and let the bread rise all day. The bread was perfect. It was not light and airy like the challah it resembles. The inner texture of the bread was soft more like a multigrain sandwich bread. The crust was crisp and then…there is the outer layer of wheat germ and sesame, nutty and crunchy. Just delicious! The bread was good on its own, but we enjoyed it with olive oil for dipping, salad with a homemade creamy balsamic dressing and chicken that was roasted with olive oil and lemons. This bread was the perfect bread to dip in oil, in salad dressing and in the pan juices from the chicken. It melded perfectly with anything fatty. It is a gorgeous bread for enjoying with food.

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After succeeding with this bread, I am now very excited to keep exploring this book. I have way too many cookbooks but I don’t feel bad about adding this one to my collection. It is the kind of book that will be used constantly and I predict it will become dog eared in a few months. If you love to bake bread, I seriously recommend this book to you.

I’m sending this bread off to YeastSpotting. Please click on the link to see other wonderful bread baking adventures.

Wheat Germ and Sesame Six-Strand Braid

Adapted for sourdough from Great Whole Grain Breads by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 ½ cups active sourdough starter

½ cup room temperature water

1 tbsp evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar

1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp salt

1 egg

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups + 2 tsp (if needed) unbleached white flour

Glaze:

1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tbsp water

¼ cup (or more) wheat germ

2 tbsp (or more) sesame seeds

In a large mixing bowl, combine starter, water and sugar. Let stand a few minutes. Mix in beaten egg, butter and salt. Mix in whole wheat and 2 cups of white flour gradually. Mix with a rubber spatula until a dough forms. Cover and let the dough rest 15 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a board and begin to knead. The dough should be stiff and not very sticky. I needed to add a little more flour to get to this consistency. Add more unbleached white flour one teaspoon at a time until you get a stiffer dough. Continue to knead the dough for up to ten minutes until it is soft and springy. You should be able to stretch it without breaking it (window pane test). Let the dough rest while you wash, dry and oil the mixing bowl. Return the dough to the bowl, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and allow it to rise until doubled (about three hours on a cool day).

Turn the dough out onto a board and divide it into six equal parts (I weighed the dough to make sure each part was roughly the same). Roll each piece into a strand about 12 inches long by rolling between the palms of your hand and the board. Mix wheat germ and sesame seeds in a bowl Brush a dough strand with the egg yolk mixture and then sprinkle 1/6 of the wheat germ mixture onto the board and roll the dough in the wheat germ mixture to coat. Repeat for the remaining 5 strands.

To shape: Line up the six strands side by side. Start with the right outer strand. Pick up the strand and weave it under and over each successive strand until it ends up on the very far left side of the braid. Repeat, always starting with the far right strand, weaving under and then over each strand until it ends up on the left side. When you are done, pinch the braids down on the end of each loaf and compress the loaf lengthwise with both hands gently to make a long narrow loaf. Place a sheet of parchment onto a peel and dust it with corn meal. Gently transfer the loaf to the prepared peel. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow it to rise until doubled (3 to 4 hours in a cool kitchen).

Place a baking stone in the oven 15 minutes before you want to bake. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Transfer the loaf from the peel to the stone. It is ok if it sticks to the parchment. Bake the loaf for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden. Remove the parchment from the loaf and cool completely

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