MOLASSES WHOLE WHEAT
Total time: 2 HOURS
Your time: 20 MINUTES
This is a batter bread, which is to say the flour, yeast, molasses, salt and water are stirred but not kneaded, so the dough doesn’t develop the complex web of gluten fibers characteristic of such kneaded breads as sourdoughs and pain ordinaire.
Yeasted batter breads are very easy to prepare: you just mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon, put the dough in a pan until it rises however much is appropriate for that particular recipe, and then bake into a preheated oven. (Nonyeasted batter breads—cornbread and johnnycake, for example—are the simplest and fastest breads of all, because you don’t even wait for them to rise; you just mix and bake immediately.)
I’ve seen variations of this recipe in several places, but I first came across it in James Beard’s Beard on Bread. He calls it “Myrtle Allen’s Brown Bread” after the Irish innkeeper who taught it to him. Beard warms the flour before adding the liquid, dissolves the molasses and yeast in 1 cup of water and mixes that, then adds the second cup of water. After the baking is done, he removes the bread from its pan and lets it sit in a turned-off oven for 20 minutes for a crustier finish. I found after a while that most of that was just busy-work.
The most important difference in this recipe and Beard’s is he uses two tablespoons of yeast and I use just one. I found with two TBS of yeast the batter rises too quickly, making for bread that is dense at the bottom and airy at the top. With one TBS of yeast, the rise takes a little longer, but the bread is more flavorful, has more even structure, which results in slices that are far less fragile.
You can make this with fine or coarse whole wheat. Fine wheat seems to give a lighter bread that is slightly more cohesive; coarse wheat seems more flavorful and more fragile. I prefer this as a breakfast bread—toasted and dressed with butter or preserves. If you’re going to make sandwiches with it or use it for hors d’oeuvres, toast the bread first or make it with fine rather than coarse flour.
1 pound (3 1/2 cups) coarse or fine whole wheat flour
1 TBS yeast
1 TBS salt
2 cups (16 oz) warm water
2 TBS dark molasses
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Put all of the flour in a mixing bowl
3. Add yeast and salt and mix well with a whisk or wooden spoon.
4. Add the molasses to the cup with the warm water, mix well, add to flour.
5. Stir until you can’t see any more dry flour.
6. Transfer the mixture to a 9x5x3” or and 8x5x4” baking pan
7. Let rise until it increases in volume by about one-third, which should be slightly over the top of the pan.
8. Bake for 40-50 minutes in a 450 degree oven.
9. Look at the loaf after 30 minutes. If the top seems to be darkening too quickly, cover it with a piece of aluminum foil.
Dissolving the molasses
I like to mix the water and molasses in a clear 32 ounce (4 cup) measuring cup. That gives me room to stir without splashing out any of the liquid and I can see if I’ve dissolved all the molasses by looking at the bottom. When there’s no more (or very little) molasses on the bottom, I add the liquid to the dry ingredients all at once.
Mixing liquid and flour
Mix until you can’t see any more dry flour, then stop. You’re not kneading, you’re not developing gluten here, all you’re doing is getting the flour wet. The batter will have the consistency of very thick mud: far too soft to knead but thick enough so a soup spoon stuck in it straight up won’t fall over.
If you forget to add the molasses to the water
Add it to the batter. It blends very well even if you don’t add it until just before you pour the batter into the tin.
Four of these tins fit very nicely on my oven shelves and these loaves freeze well, so I usually do four of them at once. I line up four bread tins and spray them all with PAM or a similar release agent. I put four mixing bowls on the scale, one at a time, and put a pound of flour in each. Next, production-line style, I spoon in a tablespoon of yeast in each tin, a tablespoon of salt in each tin, then stir each of them briefly. I mix the water and molasses in the measuring cup and add it to each, stir each in succession, then pour or spoon the contents of the four bowls into the four tins.
If I’m feeling lazy or I’m in a hurry, I put each mixing bowl with the dry ingredients on the scale and pour 16 ounces of warm water into each, since weighing is faster than measuring, then I spoon in two tablespoons of molasses around the surface of each, and stir. It doesn’t seem to make much difference if I add the molasses to the water or the batter.
This should fill a 5″ x 4″ x 8″ bread pan 2/3″ to 3/4″ from the top. Let the batter rise until it comes up above the top. Don’t go too much beyond that or you’ll have dough spilling over the sides and making sticky dough-puddles on your countertop and on the floor of your oven. If you do have some spill, toss it on top of the loaf just before it goes into the oven. You’ll get a beautiful unique-in-all-the-world top.
If you put it into the oven with more than a little bit spilling over the sides you may have difficulty getting the loaf out of the pan. Those soft bits of dribbling dough become hard and dry in the baking process, and since breadpans narrow from top to bottom to make it easy to get bread out, bread baked on the outside of the pan has the effect of locking bread in. If that happens, pry the overhang bread gently (without breaking it off if you can) on all sides and see if the bread will fall out of the pan. If it’s locked in there, you may have to break off one or two of the overhang pieces. That won’t do any harm, but the bread won’t be as pretty.
This bread doesn’t rise much, and sometimes it doesn’t rise at all, in the oven. Sometimes the shape will change only in the middle of the top, which may depress or crown slightly.
This bread can be frozen for up to three months. A fresh or defrosted loaf should be nicely edible for three days. Store the started loaf by standing it on its cut end, covering it with a dry dish towel, or placing it in a breadbox or paper bag. It makes good toast at any time, but on the fourth day you probably shouldn’t use it for anything but toast and croutons. On the fifth and subsequent days it will make excellent bird treats or a weapon.
Don’t store this or any other bread in the refrigerator: the chemical part of the staling process is slowed but the low temperature causes the crumb to lose moisture far more quickly than it does at room temperature, giving you a dull-tasting loaf with lousy texture. Plastic bags are worse: the bread stays soft longer than if exposed to air but the bread gets moldy far more quickly, so you get bread more appropriate to a Petri dish than your mouth.
To freeze, double-wrap the loaf in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or zip-locks. To defrost, let it sit at room temperature in its wrapper overnight, then, if you feel the need, crispen the crust in a 325%F oven for 10 minutes. If you’re in a hurry, put the unwrapped frozen loaf in a 325%F oven for 25 minutes.