When it comes to baking bread, I’m still in the semi-novice stage. Sure, I’ve baked many a loaf in my life, and some far better than others, but I’ve got a comfort zone that’s quite different than the wild and frequently erratic boundaries I work within when it comes to cooking in general.
No, bread is still somewhat of a novelty.
When I make bread, it’s an occasion in and of itself. And although I’m getting better at actually accomplishing other things when I’ve got a batch going, I’ll never quite get to the point where I won’t worry about whether I’ll forget the dough in my oven proofer
after I’ve left to run some errands, or sitting patiently in a strange place on the floor, no longer basking in the warmth cast by the winter sunshine. Or just wondering why there is so much difference between one recipe and the next when it comes to yeast.
Many expect the liquid we mix the yeast with to be a specific temperature — usually between 105-115 degrees F — and we’re admonished that if the yeast doesn’t bubble and foam happily in the little bowl, then we’re to toss it and begin again.
Other recipes tell us to just throw everything in a mixing bowl at one time, not worrying about the temperature or a waiting time — and never a threat of possibly needing to begin again or risk less than puffy gluten-packed wonderfulness.
But when I get that first whiff of bread in the oven, there’s no way I can take it for granted, and as much as I’d like to admit that we’ll use it for sandwiches during the week, or that I’ll let it cool completely, then freeze it like a more organized and purposeful cook than I might be, I know we’ll simply enjoy it. We’ll enjoy it like fresh cookies hot from the oven, or a sweet pie baked for a special occasion.
The guys will look at it, then at me, then back at the bread and ask, with hope and longing in their eyes, “Is this for eating?”
Clearly, we need to get a grip! So when Sandy of At the Baker’s Bench posed an offer to our recent holiday cookie-baking group to join her in baking bread throughout February, I thought absolutely, and “Let Us Bake Bread” was launched. Once a week for a month I’ll post one of the recipes featured in Gourmet’s article, “Roll with it” in this month’s issue. I decided to get it rolling with Cracked-Wheat Topknots because I’m a fan of crunchiness in bread regardless of whether it’s due to nuts or whole grains, and I just happened to have some bulgar in my pantry just waiting for a place to get happy.
In case you’ve forgotten who my cookie conspirators were, I’m joined in this yeasty frivolity by Judy of No Fear Entertaining, Courtney of Coco Cooks, Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes, and Claire of The Barefoot Kitchen.
Makes 2 dozen rolls
1 T table salt, divided
1-1/2 c. whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (a 1/4-oz package)
1/4 c. warm water (105 – 115°F)
1 T mild honey or sugar
1-1/2 c. whole-wheat flour
3 c. all-purpose flour plus more for kneading and dusting
1 lg. egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1-1/2 tsp. flaky sea salt (preferably Maldon)
Stir together boiling-hot water, bulgur, and 1/2 tsp. table salt in small bowl and let stand until bulgur is tender, about 40 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a small pan, heat milk with butter over low heat just until butter is melted.
In a large bowl, stir together yeast, warm water, and honey and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.) Add the flour and remaining 2-1/2 tsp table salt.
Add the drained bulgur to the milk mixture, then pour into flour mixture and combine with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a sticky dough forms.
Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and knead, dusting surface and your hands with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, until dough is elastic and almost smooth, 6 to 8 minutes. Form dough into a
Place dough in a deep, lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 2 to 2-1/2 hours.
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone.
Punch down dough (do not knead), then halve. Cut half of dough into 12 equal pieces (keep remaining half covered with plastic wrap). Roll each piece into a 12-inch-long rope with floured hands (flour surface only if dough is sticky). Make a loop with each rope, wrapping it around fingers of one hand, then knot dough twice through loop, leaving 1 end in center on top and tucking bottom end under. Transfer to a baking sheet, arranging rolls 2 inches apart.
Make more rolls with remaining dough, transferring to second sheet. Cover rolls with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.
Brush rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake rolls, switching position of sheets halfway through, until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes total. Transfer rolls to a rack to cool at least 20 minutes.