I’ve been MIA for almost two weeks now and that, I’m afraid, is entirely unacceptable. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking or baking – rather, it’s that I’ve been wrestling with my new schedule. Carrying a full-time course load in graduate school (5 classes), teaching two high school classes, teaching 5th grade, working part-time at Hazon and working as a part-time youth director has transformed time into a precious commodity I don’t have much of these days. My handy-dandy coffee mug and thermos have become my boon companions, yet even with the sweet nectar of caffeine flowing through my veins it might come to penciling – no, writing in bold, black, permanent ink – blog time into my schedule.
When life comes at me this quickly I often fall into an old, yet comforting habit: eating breakfast for dinner. Lemon poppy seed waffles, German apple pancakes, frittatas – and last night, soft boiled eggs with homemade whole wheat bread, shaped into toast fingers then dipped into the runny, yellow egg yolks. Sprinkled with a little sea salt and served in egg cups, soft boiled eggs are one of my simplest delights. Eating them makes me feel like an English lady in a novel, enjoying a light breakfast before Mr. Darcy or another, equally dashing, gentleman comes calling. I realize how completely I’m indulging my imagination with this, but there it is – let a stressed out graduate student have her flights of fancy why don’t you!
Soft boiled eggs take only a few minutes to make, but I couldn’t bear pairing them with a loaf of supermarket bread. Herein my snobbery with regards to bread is revealed – when it comes to dishes that feature bread as an ingredient or, in this case, an ingredient and utensil, the fact is that mass-produced blocks of bread will never have the texture, aroma or flavor of homemade or bakery loaves. There. I said it.
Leafing through my bread books I decided to make Peter Reinhart’s “100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread,” which is the recipe that inducted me into the realm of whole-wheat baking about two weeks ago. The loaf takes two days to make, but that time frame makes this bread sound much more complicated than it is. Most of the time is taken up by the biga & soaker (12 to 24 hours, or up to 3 days) proofing on your counter and in the refrigerator, while the remaining time generally consists of punching down your dough, then letting it rise again. I know this seems like a lot of work for one or two loaves of bread, but on the upside if you’re stressed punching a batch of dough is incredibly therapeutic. And of course, the resulting bread is fantastic – firm, but not too firm, with a slightly nutty flavor. Perfect for toast fingers and soft boiled eggs. I put the biga and soaker together after work one evening, then let the final dough rise in between errands and homework assignments.
100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Reprinted with permission from Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor, by Peter Reinhart.
- 1 3/4 cups (8 oz) whole wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 oz) milk, buttermilk, yogurt, soy milk or rice milk
Mix all the soak 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.)
- 1 3/4 cups (8 oz) whole wheat flour
- 1/4 tsp instant yeast
- 3/4 cup (6 oz) filtered or spring water, at room temperature
Mix all the biga ingredients together in a bowl to form a ball of dough. Using wet hands, knead the dough in the bowl for 2 minutes to be sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed and the flour is fully hydrated. The dough should feel very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead it again with wet hands for 1 minute. The dough will become smoother but still be tacky.
Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days. About 2 hours before mixing the final dough, remove the biga from the refrigerator to take off the chill. It will have risen slightly but need not have risen significantly in order to use it in the final dough.
- The soaker
- The biga
- 7 tablespoons (2 oz) whole wheat flour
- 5/8 tsp salt
- 2 1/4 tsp (.25 oz) instant yeast
- 2 1/4 tablespoons (1.5 oz) honey or agave nectar, or 3 tablespoons (1.5 oz) sugar or brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon (.5 oz) unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil
Using a metal pastry scraper (I used a sharp knife), chop the soaker and the biga into 12 smaller pieces each (sprinkle some flour over the pre-doughs to keep the pieces from sticking back to each other).
If mixing by hand, combine the soaker and biga pieces in a bowl with all of the other ingredients except the extra flour and stir vigorously with a mixing spoon or knead with wet hands until all of the ingredients are evenly integrated and distributed into the dough. It should be soft and slightly sticky; if not, add more flour or water as needed. If using a stand mixer, put the pre-dough pieces and all of the other ingredients except the extra flour into the mixer with a paddle attachment (preferable) or dough hook. Mix on slow speed for 1 minute to bring the ingredients together in a ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, occasionally scraping down the bowl, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the pre-doughs become cohesive and assimilated into each other. Add more flour or water as needed until the dough is soft and slightly sticky.
Dust a work surface with flour, then toss the dough in the flour to coat. Knead by hand for 3 to 4 minutes, incorporating only as much extra flour as needed, until the dough feels soft and tacky, but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean, lightly oiled bowl.
Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute to strengthen the gluten and make any final flour or water adjustments. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1 1/2 times its original size.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and form it into a loaf pan shape. Do this by flattening the dough into a 5 x 8 inch rectangle and rolling up the length of the dough. Pinch the final seam closed using your fingertips or the back edge of your hand. Rock the loaf to even it out; do not taper the ends. Keep the top surface of the loaf even. Place the loaf, seam side down, in an oiled 4 1/2 x 8 inch bread pan for proofing. Mist the top of the dough with pan spray (I like to rub a tsp of olive oil between my hands then gently pat my palms on top of the dough), cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1 1/2 times it original size.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. When the dough is ready to bake, place it in the oven, pour 1 cup of water into a steam pan, lower the temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the load 180 degrees and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is a rich brown on all sides, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers 195 degrees F in the center.
Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and allow it cool for a least 1 hour before serving.
How to Make Soft Boiled Eggs
Cut slices of your bread into strips. Toast, spread with butter, then keep warm in an oven on low (200 degrees F) while you cook the eggs. Alternatively, you can add the butter right before you eat your eggs.
Bring a saucepan 3/4 full of water to a boil over high heat. One at a time, place your whole eggs into the water with a large, slotted spoon, gently lowering each egg to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat so that the water is barely simmering and cook for 3 minutes. Remove the eggs with your slotted spoon and place under cold, running water for 1 minute.
Place each egg, pointed end down, into an egg cup. Crack the top with a sharp knife and remove the top part of the egg. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt inside each egg, then eat at once, dipping the toast strips into the runny egg yolk inside. If you have spoons small enough to fit inside the egg, you can use those to scoop out the egg whites.