Valentine’s Day Observed: A Warm Heart[h] & The Smell of Fresh Bread

February 2012

I said it here, but I’ll say it again… I obsess over detail when it comes to making a special holiday dinner for a significant someone.  Whereas some see February 14th as a commercial holiday, I see it as an extra opportunity for thematic, sentimental expression coated in tones of my favorite hue.  I also see it as a flexible date when it falls on a weekday, hence… Valentine’s Day Observed.

There’s nothing like the smell of fresh bread and the extra warmth it brings to a kitchen.  With a charcuterie plate in the plans, I couldn’t have just any ol’ carboyhydrate holding up those meats and heart-shaped cheeses.  I had to make my own!  My good friend Erin brought me heirloom wheat flour as a souvenir from her trip to San Francisco.  Heirloom = extra love and care, so this bread recipe was clearly the right occasion for its use.  This method involves a pre-dough, meaning even more time than your average loaf, but the soft wheat texture is the ultimate payoff!

Heirloom Wheat Bread

Pre-dough

1¾ cups (8 ounces) California heirloom wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup 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

8 ounces (about 1⅔ cups) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2½ tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
pre-dough
¼ cup warm water
3 tablespoons warm heavy cream
1 packet active dry yeast
2½ Tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 large egg (local/free-range)
extra flour or water for adjustments
egg wash: 1 tablespoon milk or 1 egg white or whole egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Himalaya Pink Sea Salt
Fresh ground pink peppercorns

♥ For the Bread

In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt.

Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs.

Cut the pre-dough into about 12 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, sugar and egg and stir with a rubber spatula until a dough forms.

Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf.

Spray a bowl with nonstick spray; shape dough into a ball and place it in 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 stone loaf pan with parchment paper.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Press the dough into a rectangle, just slightly longer than the bread pan. Fold in the longer sides toward the center. Fold in the shorter sides into the center. Pinch to seal the seam. Turn the dough, seam side down. Roll back and forth to further seal the seam and create surface tension.

Put the shaped loaf into the parchment lined loaf pan.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Brush egg wash on buns and sprinkle with pink sea salt and pink pepper. Use a cookie cutter to cut a heart shape into the surface.

Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown and an instant-read thermometer reads at least 185 degrees, about 30-40 minutes.

Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Slice, serve and stay tuned for the other Valentine’s Day Observed menu breakdowns!

♥,

With The Grains

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