Sunflower-seed sandwich bread

So, I recently bought Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, which is an amazing book if you are the kind of bread-obsessed person I am. As a result, I have embarked into the enterprise of building and training a sourdough starter, with the hope of later developing a leaven, and ultimately bake the perfect sourdough loaf. As you can guess, this will take some time and most likely several failures.

Meanwhile, I keep baking yeasted bread. I will probably still do it even in case my sourdough experiment succeeds, because it is a good compromise for when one needs/wants home-baked bread but does not have enough time for baking the sourdough loaf, which tends to be a long process.

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I have been baking a mixed all purpose/whole wheat flour bread for some time now, adding all kinds of seeds to it, and sunflower is my current favourite. However, I noticed my whole wheat loafs had an unfortunate tendency not to last very long. On average, they were turning harder than desirable after 2 days.

So this time I tried a new approach, which I have used here for milk bread, and which borrows from the Asian baking tradition. The idea is to add a tangzhong to the yeasted bread: it is essentially a gelatinous mix of flour and liquid, which traps moist during the oven rise and helps keep the bread softer for a longer period of time.

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I had baked the Asian milk bread an innumerable number of time, and this method proved to be very effective for that particular type of bread, which features a generous amount of milk and is mixed with all-purpose flour only.

I had never tried applying it to a mixed-flour bread, but it turns out the method works with this different kind of dough too. The bread I got by incorporating the tangzhong was softer and also remained softer and rather moist for much longer than previously achieved. I think this was due also in part to the fact that I baked adding steam in the oven. I don’t own any sophisticated appliances, so I just threw in some ice cubes that gradually melt while the bread was baking: this creates a steamy environment that retards the formation of the loaf’s crust, thus allowing the bread to raise more.

The additional effort from these tricks is very small, and the result definitely payed off. So if you like whole wheat and seeded bread, this is definitely a recipe I would like you to try!

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Ingredients (1 loaf)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoon milk + 3 tablespoon water (for the initial tangzhong, see below)

Make the tangzhong: take 2 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour and mix them with 3 tablespoons water and 3 tablespoons of milk, in a small saucepan. Whisk well until no lumps remain. Cook the mixture over low heat, whisking constantly until it thickens. You should see that the whisk leaves lines on the bottom of the pan (it will take about 3 to 5 minutes). Let it cool to room temperature.

Sprinkle the yeast over 1 cup lukewarm water and set it aside for 10 minutes for the yeast to activate (the yeast should start bubbling).

Meanwhile, prepare the dry ingredients. In a bowl, sift together the flours, sunflower seeds, salt and sugar. In a smaller bowl whisk together the tangzhong and the oil.

When it’s ready, add the yeast mixture to the wet ingredients, make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients in. Stir until incorporated, then knead until you get a smooth, elastic dough.

Form a ball with the dough and place it in a large bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise for 1-1.5 hour.

Once this time has passed, punch down the dough and shape the loaf (I did a braided shape here, but a simple log would work just as well). Cover with a towel and let rise for another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F, with an oven pan or rimmed backing sheet in the lowest rack. Brush the loaf with milk and put it in the oven, pouring 1 cup of ice cubes in the pre-heated pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

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