Posted by: A Part of the Solution | March 9, 2010

In Search of the Perfect Sandwich Loaf

Not that sourdough isn’t wonderful. Not that white bread isn’t tasty. Not that cunning little rosemary-cracked black pepper-asiago rolls aren’t divine. But into daily life the desire for a toothsome, tender, multi-grain sandwich bread must fall. Like every small perfection, the crafting of such a product does not grow on trees.

Patience is a virtue when working artisanally. I took two years to get ‘my’ pizza dough just right: crispy, big bubbles, tender, flavorful–maybe you know the one. To do it, I threw Pizza Night every Friday for seven months of the year. So I don’t expect to get the multi-grain sandwich loaf exactly right the first time out of the gate, or even the fifteenth. However, I do expect to get closer every time I pull one out of the oven.

The loaf I’m working  on has fat in it. I’m using olive oil and butter–about two tablespoons total per loaf. The fat extends the keeping power of the loaf–which is why the classic French baguette is good for nothing but French toast by evening: it contains no fat by law.

I’ve got honey in the loaf since whole grains provide more of challenge to the yeast but sweeteners feed it. Honey holds moisture too. Again, this is important in a loaf meant to be eaten across the course of several days. No one wants to gnaw on a rock for lunch by day three.

I’ve got milk and potato water for liquids. Potato water brings a crispness to the crust which I enjoy. Milk helps keep the bread tender and the loft a little higher. I may have to drop the potato water (obtained by draining steamed or boiled potatoes when they’re finished cooking), since not everyone likes as crisp a crust as I do, and his tastes are decidedly more representative of the mainstream than are mine.

I’m increasing the amount of liquid in the loaf overall above the proportions given in the recipes I’m reading. My loaves are still super-dense by some standards. More liquids will lighten the finished loaf to a point. Beyond that, they only weaken the structure and destroy lofting potential. It’s a high-wire act, fine-tuned baking. So I’ll increase the volume of liquid carefully by one tablespoon increments.

Yes, yes, I was getting to the flour. I love sturdy, tight grained, whole meal loaves. But I’m trying for something closer to a grocery store whole wheat. Right now I have three parts white bread flour to one part rye, one part semolina (I’m a crunch junky, what can I say) and two parts white whole wheat. Once I get the liquids right, I may be able to increase the whole grains by another significant factor.

Don’t forget to let it rise long and slow. The longer and slower the rise, the better the finished flavor. And the better the intrinsic structure. Mine rises twice before I shape it for the final rise and baking. It’s good right now; but I won’t be done until that multi-grain loaf has achieved greatness.

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