Dear Friends, This Bread Baked While You Were Sleeping

October 2011

Picnics and pique-niques were on the agenda for the much anticipated Heather & Jess visit, and I wanted an element of homemade goodness in the picnic basket.  Accordingly, I planned for pre-dough, kneading and rising time prior to their arrival, and the final baking time put a pleasant aroma in the air and warmed the apartment right about the time the girls started showing signs of life on Saturday.  Stay tuned for the appearance of this bread on the picnic scene.

Whole Wheat Braids for Visitors
Makes 2 loaves

Pre-Dough Ingredients

3 1/2 cups (8 ounces) whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water

For the Pre-Dough

Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

Dough Ingredients

3 1/3 cups organic, unbleached white flour
2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons unsalted [Irish] butter, softened
*pre-dough
1/2 cup warm water
2/3 cup warm local milk
2 packets active dry yeast
5 Tablespoons local honey
2 large eggs (local/free-range)

Egg Wash

1 whole egg (local/free-range)
Poppy seeds
Pink Himalayan sea salt

For the Bread

In a large bowl, whisk flour with salt.  Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs.

Cut the pre-dough into about 24 pieces and add them to the flour mixture, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together).

Add the water, milk, yeast, honey and egg, and stir with a rubber spatula until a dough forms.

Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter or cutting board and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic. The dough will be on the stickier side.

Spray a bowl with nonstick spray.  Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with cornmeal.

Divide the dough into six equal sections.  Roll each piece into a long tube, about 12 inches long.  Use three lengths to form a braid.  Pinch the ends and tuck under to form a loaf.  Repeat with the remaining three lengths.

Cover the loaves loosely with a piece of plastic wrap (or a damp towel) and let the dough rise in a warm place for about one hour.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 400 degrees F.

Whisk the egg and 1 Tablespoon water together.  Brush the egg wash on the bread surface and sprinkle with poppy seeds and pretty pink salt.

Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Take on a picnic adventure!
(more on that to come)

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