Wonderful breads have been a part of my life since the days of my carefree youth. Hearty homemade loaves were a staple in our household of sixteen as Mom baked six or more loaves at a time, several times each and every week, to feed her hungry brood. Not only were there loaves of crusty white bread but also fragrant loaves of cinnamon bread, pans of soft yeasty rolls and, one of my favorites, mashed potato buns so silky and smooth they would literally melt in one’s mouth. They were unquestionably at their finest hot out of the oven, slathered with obscene amounts of soft butter!
As a result of Mom’s hard work in the kitchen my hands and fingers came to know the feel of working with yeast doughs at a very young age. I remember first asking her how she knew when she had kneaded the dough long enough before placing it in the greased bowl to rise. The secret, she said, is in the way it feels. She then encouraged me to knead the dough along with her from start to finish… and the light soon turned on! Kneading time was important, yes, but I soon understood what she meant when she said that the ultimate assessment was a tactile one. To this day I always finish kneading the breads I make on a floured board even if I start out by using a dough hook. It’s true that I can visually assess when a dough nears readiness in a mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook but I always need that tactile assessment achieved only with my fingertips to confirm its readiness for rising.
When Mom spent the recent Christmas holiday with us she had brought along her diary from the last Christmas she had visited, two weeks in 2000. We enjoyed hearing about the delightful things we had done together nearly a decade ago as she read through the pages. We were surprised by the fact that we had baked bread containing Minnesota wild rice three times in that two week period. Obviously the bread must have been delicious or we wouldn’t have baked so much of it. The humor in the recollection, however, was that none of us could remember either the bread or the process of having baked it so long ago! Time ran short during her visit so we were unable to bake a loaf or two while she was here but I was intrigued by the concept… as well as personally embarrassed at my lack of memory regarding something that obviously must have been very delicious! I subsequently started doing a bit of research on breads containing wild rice and ultimately created a loaf containing not only Minnesota wild rice but Bhutanese red rice as well, a rice we had discovered this past year and enjoy immensely. This bread is hearty with wonderful textures and flavors. It makes an incredible sandwich and is magnificent as it pops out of the toaster. We’ve also used it in a smoked salmon brunch strata… delicious!
Wild rice is actually not a rice at all but rather a highly nutritious grain rich in protein that is one of North America’s native foods grown from Canada to Mexico. It is now planted and grown worldwide, especially in China and Japan. It is Minnesota’s State Grain where, when grown on state waters, is regulated and must be harvested in the traditional indian way. A license must be purchased in order to harvest the wild rice during state regulated seasons. Harvesting is done from a canoe utilizing only a pole for power and two rice beater sticks to knock the mature grains into the bottom of the canoe. Here in Northern California wild rice is commercially grown and harvested in well-planned, man-made paddies with water depths of less than one foot. California’s wild rice industry is relatively young, having begun in 1972 when white rice farmer Vince Vandeford decided to plant Minnesota wild rice seeds at his Yuba City farm. Subsequent commerical production began around 1977.
Bhutanese red rice is a red japonica rice, a short-grain variety characterized by its unique stickiness and texture when cooked. It is grown in the Kingdom of Bhutan in the eastern Himalayas and is semi-milled, meaning some of the reddish bran is left on the rice, hence its pale pinkish color when cooked. This delicious rice first became available in the United States in the mid 1990s and is readily found in markets such as Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods. It can be purchased as well via the internet.
Bhutanese Red and Minnesota Wild Rice Bread
In a medium-sized saucepan bring to a boil:
3 – 4 C water
To the boiling water add:
1/2 C wild rice
Return to a boil then reduce heat and cook, covered, 25 – 30 minutes. Drain through a fine sieve, reserving 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid to bloom the yeast. Cool the rice under running cold water, then set aside.
Simultaneously, to conserve prep time, in a second medium-sized saucepan bring to a boil:
3 – 4 C water
To the boiling water add:
1/2 C Bhutanese red rice
Return to a boil then reduce heat and cook, covered, 20 minutes. Drain through a fine sieve and cool the rice under running cold water. Set cooled rice aside.
When the wild rice cooking liquid has cooled (110 – 115 degrees) add and allow to bloom, approximately 10 minutes:
2 1/4 tsp (1/4-oz) active dry yeast
To a stainless steel bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle add:
2 C warm whole milk (110 – 115 degrees)
the bloomed yeast
2 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C rye flour
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C old-fashioned oats
3 T unsalted butter, melted
1/2 C honey
2 tsp salt
Mix until well blended. Add:
the wild rice
the Bhutanese red rice
Exchange the paddle for the dough hook. Add:
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
Process the dough for 4 – 6 minutes, adding a bit more flour if necessary. Be judicious in the amount of flour used lest the dough become too dry. The dough will be relatively stiff and start pulling from the sides of the bowl. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead for several additional minutes by hand until smooth and elastic but retaining a slight stickiness to the touch. Place in a greased bowl and turn to grease all sides:
Cover bowl with film and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours:
Baker’s Note: If you have a dutch oven or large kettle capacious enough to contain the bowl I recommend using it during the rising process by setting it on the back of your stove to act as a proofing chamber. The warmth of the stove is gently and evenly distributed all around the bowl to make for great rising of the dough!
Punch down and turn onto a lightly floured work surface:
Divide dough in half, shape into loaves and place, with any seams or creases on the bottom, into well-greased loaf pans:
Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise until dough reaches the top of the pans, approximately 30 – 45 minutes:
- 1 large egg
- 1 T cold water
Brush the loafs with the egg mixture:
Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 – 40 minutes. The top of the loaves will be golden and each loaf will sound hollow when tapped:
Allow loaves to cool in the pans on a wire rack then run the tip of a paring knife around the top edge to loosen any spots where the egg mixture may have stuck to the pan. Tip the pans to remove the loaves… they will drop out easily:
Allow to cool completely before slicing… if you can! This is a delicious bread with a hint of sweetness from the honey that is truly irresistable. Try it sandwich-style to marry together thin slices of roast pork, chicken or turkey, a generous spoonful of cranberry chutney, crisp fresh garden greens and a generous smear of Dijon mustard. You’ll want to bake more… Bon Appetit!
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