These breads go with the grain

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BERLIN – Early each morning, the smell of fresh bread beckons Berliners to the tiniest of backerei (bakeries), where locals line up for a slice, a bun, or a roll to munch on the way to school or work. Loaves are tucked into bags and eaten later with hard cheese, strong mustard, and ham. Bread plays an important role in the diet here.

Dense, moist, slightly sour, and often seeded, a dark German bread is one of the country’s most distinctive loaves. There are many varieties of vollkornbrot (whole-grain bread). Among those I cannot resist are the heart-shaped rolls made with multiple grains and seeds and a triangular-shaped loaf; I packed them to carry home.

Once they were eaten, I was inspired to re-create them. Like any recipe, things begin to make sense once the ingredients are deconstructed. First I came up with a seed list. I knew that I should begin with rye and whole-wheat flours.

Ludmilla and Igor Ivanovic, co-owners of Iggy’s Bread of the World in Watertown, are deeply committed to wholesome breads.

Ludmilla Ivanovic says that Americans have embraced European-style coffee, and now, whole-grain breads, as well. Igor Ivanovic advises the home baker to ”be patient and not to be afraid of the process.”

He encourages experimentation. ”There is nothing as satisfying as the smell of hot bread from your oven,” he says.

It is easier now than ever to bake good bread at home, especially with the wide availability of grains and flours. In general, whole grains are more healthful as they include the fiber and protein of the entire kernel.

Baking bread with multiple flours can yield wonderful results. Substitute whole-wheat flour for all-purpose flour in a recipe, cup for cup. And substitute denser grains, such as rye and bran, in half-cup increments, for some of the flour. Soy flour enhances the protein content of bread and tends to keep it moist. Oats give bread texture and a nutty flavor, as does wheat germ. A handful of sunflower and sesame seeds add protein and crunch.

Baking a loaf of whole-grain bread means lowering expectations – literally. Whole grains are heavier and do not rise as much as breads with more white flour. Dough made with whole-grain flour is also stickier.

Because homemade multi-grain loaves are more compact and dense, they are forgiving, and if you’re not crazy about the results, there is always the toaster.

Today, bread machines do the hard work of kneading, and so can food processors and heavy-duty electric mixers. Many recipes explain how to assemble ingredients when using this equipment. Rapid-rise yeast, for instance, which also speeds the process, is often added directly to the dry ingredients, rather than to warm water for the initial ”proofing.”

Many home cooks who would never think of baking bread from scratch produce healthful loaves because of bread machines. ”I love the smell of fresh-baked bread, I can experiment with all kinds of ingredients, and it takes no time to put it together,” says a Lexington resident, Norma Currie.

To those who feel that the authenticity may have left the process, Currie advises: ”Get over it.”

If you’re starting out, choose an easy recipe. When you gain confidence, graduate to starters and sponges to make the dough rise to loftier heights. For now, perfection is not the goal, but rather a wholesome loaf and a positive experience.

Multi-Grain Health Bread

A hunk of home made bread with a slab of smoked cheese, a bowl of hot soup and a salad – a great meal for a winter’s day — Wundebar!

Makes 1 loaf

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup rye flour
½ cup soy flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
½ – ¾ cup sunflower seeds
additional white flour as needed

1. In half cup of warm water dissolve 2 teaspoons yeast and half teaspoon of sugar or honey.
2. In a large bowl mix white, whole wheat, rye, soy flours and sunflower seeds. Mix well.
3. In microwave heat milk and butter for about one minute. Remove from microwave and cool until the mixture is tepid. Add the yeast mixture, salt and honey. Stir lightly.
4. Add the liquid to the dry mixture and stir until blended. The mixture will be sticky.
5. This step can either be done in the bowl or on a flat surface: Add ¼ cup white flour to the dough and with your hand fold the flour in until incorporated. Add flour as needed by sprinkling on a few tablespoons and folding in. Knead for about six minutes until dough is pliable. Be careful not to add too much flour. It is okay if the dough is a little sticky.
6. Grease a large bowl with a little oil or butter. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise about one hour.
7. Punch down the dough. You can either make two smaller loaves or one large loaf. Shape the loaf(ves) into a round – this is called hearth shape.
Place on a baking sheet, cover and let rise once more, about one hour.
8. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
9. Mix egg white until foamy. Just before dough is ready to go in the oven, brush the loaf with the egg white. Sprinkle the seed mixture all over the loaf. Gently brush more egg white on top of the seeds.
10. Bake bread for 30-35 minutes. To check for doneness, pierce the bottom of the bread with a thin knife. It should come out clean.

Seed Blend

¼ cup oats
2 tablespoons flax seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

Mix all the seeds and oats together. Store in airtight container.
This mixture can be used to enhance breads, salads, cereals or yogurt. Toast for 5 minutes at 250° and toss on top of salads, cereal or yogurt.

If you want to make this Multi – Grain Bread in half the time follow this adaptation.

Use 2 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast instead of regular yeast.
I used water instead of milk and melted the butter in the microwave in a little dish.

Pre-heat oven to 150°. Turn off.

1. Mix flours, yeast, and salt in a food processor or bowl.
2. Mix warm water, honey and melted butter.
3. Turn on processor and add water mixture all at once.
4. Turn dough onto floured surface and add sunflower seeds and small amounts of white flour as above. Knead until seeds and flour have been incorporated
And dough is pliable. Shape into round or long loaf.
5. Place loaf on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 20 minutes in the warm oven. Remove from oven.
6. Heat oven to 425°. Brush top and sides of bread with beaten egg white.
7. Sprinkle seed mixture on top and sides of loaf. Brush again with egg whites.
8. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 350° and bake for an
additional 30 minutes or until loaf is done.

These loaves can be sliced and frozen.

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