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Author Notes: Flecks of golden flax seed and polenta grace this heavenly bread that you can bake in a conventional loaf pan or as a free-form hearth bread. Honey gilds it a bit and olive oil lends a silky tenderness.
I crush the flax seeds up a bit in a mortar and pestle so that their nutrients can be absorbed and render me younger than when I started mixing the dough. —boulangere
Makes 2 generous loaves
- 12 ounces hot tap water
- 12 ounces milk
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 6 3/4 cups bread flour
- 2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons golden flax seed, slightly crushed
- 1/4 cup uncooked polenta
- 2 tablespoons uncooked millet
- 2 ounces olive oil
- Canola oil for oiling the bowl
- Pour hot water and cold milk into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. In terms of temperatures, they'll meet in the middle and just right for you to sprinkle in your yeast. Add the honey and whisk to blend. Add the bread flour, salt, flax seeds, polenta, millet, and olive oil. Have to hand a bit of additional flour and water in case you need to adjust the balance a bit. Begin mixing on low speed. When all ingredients come together and you can see that most of the dry ingredients have been hydrated, turn mixer off. Cover bowl with a piece of plastic. Let dough rest (this step is called an autolyse) for 20 minutes. This gives those large particles of whole wheat, flax, polenta and millet time to absorb water and be more readily integrated into the dough. Without this time, you'd be tempted to add more water, and just about the time you realized what a mistake that was, you'd need to add more flour. By that time you'd be wondering who thought this was a good idea in the first place. So. Set a timer for 20 minutes and go do something else. Don't hover.
- 20 minutes later, remove the plastic and hang onto it. You'll need it again. Turn the mixer on to low speed and watch a miracle happen. Your dough should square its shoulders, straighten its spine, and stand right up around the dough hook with no tendrils left sticking to the sides of the bowl. If it doesn't, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it does. Have faith; it will. Let it knead for a couple of minutes. Turn off the mixer. Pull off a walnut-size piece of dough. Round it up briefly between your palms. Now begin teasing it out over the tips of your index fingers. You are forming a windowpane - a thin sheet of dough that doesn't shred. It tells you when you have adequately developed the gluten (the protein in flour that lets bread stand up). If your dough tears, throw the ball back into the bowl and knead on low speed for a couple of more minutes, then test for a windowpane again.
- Turn dough out of bowl. Oil bowl. Return dough and turn it over bottom to top. Cover with that retained piece of plastic. Let dough rise at room temperature until you can gently press a finger into it, and the dough does not spring back, but retains the indentation. This should take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how warm your kitchen is.
- Gently turn dough out onto your board. Don't punch it down. You carefully measured your ingredients, kneaded up to a good windowpane, and let all that nice carbon dioxide be generated during the first rise. Why would you want to drive it all out and force your dough to create it all over again. It will tougher, and take longer on the second rise. So be gentle. Divide your dough in half. If using bread pans, oil or pan spray them. Sprinkle some flour on your board; as you shape your loaves, turn them over and dip the top in the flour. This will prevent the plastic from sticking to them, and also give them a nicely rustic look when baked. Gently shape your dough and drop in bread pan. Cover with your retained piece of plastic. If shaping hearth loaves, line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Shape your loaves as you wish: long and thin, short and fat, round. Place on parchment And also cover with plastic. Let rise at room temperature until dough retains the gentle imprint of a finger without springing back. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Just before moving your bread to the oven, grab a serrated knife and give it 3 or 4 slashes a good half-inch deep, holding your knife at an acute angle. It will look even more beautiful and give your bread a direction in which you want it to expand in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes, but set your timer for 20 minutes. At at the halfway point, rotate your pans or baking sheets. When the time is up, test the center of each loaf with a stemmed thermometer. It should read 185 degrees. If it doesn't, add 5-minute increments until it does.
- When done, remove from oven. If you've used bread pans, turn your bread out right away and set loaves on a cooling rack. If you leave it in the pans, the loaves will steam themselves soft and soggy (yuk). If you've shaped hearth loaves, lift them and onto cooling racks.
- Wait as long as you can before cutting into a loaf and spreading some good soft cheese or butter onto it. Cool completely before storing or freezing. Admire your golden creation.
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