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Happy holidays and happy new year folks!

This post came into being in a very round about way. I was reading the New York Times article on baking whole grain holiday cookies, recipes courtesy of Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. What a smart idea. I’ve been doing this already, and wanting to do it more, and am so glad someone’s already gone and made a whole cookbook on baking with whole grains. And not in some preachy, eat-more-whole-grains-they’re-good-for-you way, but because, as Chad says, they just taste more complex and interesting. So right Chad.

For instance you could make these thumbprint cookies with toasted nuts and whole grains, using dark rye flour. Check out Chad’s Tartine Book No. 3 which is chock-a-block with similar recipes.

Anyway this led me to reading about Tartine’s earlier cookbook, Tartine Bread, and a recipe for Whole Grain Seeded Bread. This was last night. It was late. I’m in holiday vacation mode, game for baking. I very quickly scanned the recipe I found online and thought, great, I’ll get the dough started tonight, head to bed, and bake it in the morning! Unfortunately at every turn in the recipe I realized it was more involved, more complex, than I’d been prepared for. (And I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand.) But there was no going back, I’d already mixed a large quantity of flour and water and besides, I love a good challenge.

This recipe uses a pre-ferment: a mixture of flour, water, and yeast that sits overnight to develop a flavor in the bread that is more, well, complex and tasty. The pre-ferment is later added to the rest of the dough the following day. This recipe also calls for baking the bread at a high temperature (475 degrees) and in a covered dutch oven the first 20 minutes, and uncovered for the last 20 minutes. The recipe below is my very adapted version of the original from Tartine, accounting for which ingredients I had on hand (whole wheat flour but not whole grain wheat flour; sesame seeds but not flax or poppy), and my slight lack in patience (original recipe would take a total of at least two days from start to finish). And you know what? The bread turned out real good. With a tang like the San Francisco style sourdough loaves. And only 12 hours from start to finish (including sleep time), so get baking!

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Whole Grain Seeded Bread
Adapted from Chad Robertson
[Measurements are rough, not precise; recipe was given in metric so I tried to convert as best I could, and reduce the recipe—the original of which would’ve produced more like 3 loaves, whereas this produces 1 large-ish loaf]

For the pre-ferment
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c warm water (approx. 70 deg. F)
1 gram active dry yeast (about 1/3 tsp)

Prepare this pre-ferment the night before you will mix your dough and bake. Mix the flour, water, and yeast in a non-reactive bowl (I use glass). Let stand at room temperature overnight for 10–12 hours. If you are not ready to mix your dough after this period, put the pre-ferment in the fridge, covered, and use within 8 hours.

For the dough
1/4 c seed mixture (flax, poppy, and toasted sesame)
3 c whole wheat flour (or, next time, I’m going to try whole rye flour)
1 1/2 c warm water, plus additional when mixing
2 tsp salt

At least one hour prior to mixing the dough, soak the seed mixture with a small amount of hot water, then let cool to room temperature. (Remember to toast your sesame seeds prior to this—I used a small skillet on the stovetop to do this.)

To mix the dough, add the water to a large bowl. Add the pre-ferment and stir to disperse. Add the flour. Using your hands, mix throughly, firmly, until no bits of dry flour remain. At this point you may need to add either more flour or more water. (I o.d.’ed on the water so ended up having to gradually add more flour.) If you’re used to making bread you’ll know when you have the right consistency, and right ratio of water to flour. It should be dry enough that it doesn’t really stick to your hands, and should be pliable, and able to form into a round or the shape of your choice. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 20 to 40 minutes.

After the rest, add the salt and seed mixture and incorporate into the dough. Continue to fold the dough on top of itself to develop the dough and dissolve the salt. Ideally you would let the dough rise at this point, at moderately warm room temperature, for about 3–4 hours. I let it sit about 20 minutes then baked it.

Preheat your oven to 500 deg. F, along with the heavy dutch oven and tight-fitting lid. I shaped my loaf not quite into a round but more of an oval, since the Le Creuset I have is not a dutch oven but more of a casserole. Place the loaf into the dutch oven, seal completely, and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 475 deg. Bake for 20 minutes with the lid on, then after 20 minutes, remove the lid and continuing baking another 20 minutes or until deep golden brown.

Cool the bread on a wire rack. Serve plain and simple with butter and salt. Or Earth Balance. Or Olive Oil.

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Pics below from the past week: strolling down 5th Avenue two days before Christmas, glimpse of the tree at Rockefeller Center; my favorite work in the American Modern: Hopper to O’Keeffe exhibition at MoMA, this is Alfred Stieglitz’s Georgia O’Keeffee – Hands and Horse Skull from 1931; and me below with my lovable nephew Nate.

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