Mise en Place
Makes 1 loaf
2 1/2 cups high-gluten bread flour (unbleached, if possible, available at most natural food stores and also in supermarkets, where it is labeled bread flour)
3 tablespoons uncooked polenta (coarse cornmeal)
3 tablespoons rolled oats (or instant oats)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons wheat bran
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast (or 1 1/4 tablespoons active dry yeast dissolved in 4 tablespoons warm water)
3 tablespoons cooked brown rice
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup buttermilk (low-fat or whole milk can be substituted)
Approximately 3/4 cup water (room temperature)
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (for the top)
Mix all the ingredients, including the salt and yeast, in a large bowl, stirring to distribute. Add the cooked rice, honey and buttermilk, and mix. Then add 1/2 cup of water, reserving the rest for adjustments during kneading. With your hands squeeze the ingredients together until they make a ball, adding more water as needed, until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the dough ball. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and turn the ball out of the bowl and begin kneading. Add additional water or flour as needed.
It will take about 10 to 15 minutes to knead by hand. The dough will change before your eyes, lightening in color, becoming gradually more elastic and evenly grained. The finished dough should be tacky but not sticky, lightly golden, stretchy and elastic rather than porridge-like. When you push the heels of your hands into the dough, it should give way but not tear. If it flakes or crumbles, add a little more water; if it is sticky, sprinkle in more flour.
Clean out and dry the mixing bowl. Wipe the inside of the bowl with a little oil, or mist with vegetable oil pan spray. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap or place the bowl in a plastic bag. Allow the dough to ferment in a warm place for about 90 minutes, or until it has roughly doubled in size (it may take a shorter or longer time, depending on the temperature).
Forming the Loaf
This recipe makes 1 regular-size loaf of bread (about 1 1/2 pounds finished weight). Because the dough is relaxed and supple, and already scaled for one loaf, it can be shaped without first rounding and resting.
Shape the dough into a loaf by pressing it out from the center with the heels of the hands, gently flattening it into a rough rectangle and punching it down, degassing it. Then roll the dough up into a cigar shape, and a seam forms. Tuck the end flaps into the seam, and pinch the seam closed with either your fingers or the edge of your hand, sealing it as best you can. Place the loaf, seam side down, in a greased 9" by 4 1/2" bread pan. Spray the top with water and sprinkle on the poppy seeds. Cover and allow the dough to proof until it crests over the top of the pan, approximately 90 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (300 degrees if convection). Bake the loaf for approximately 45 to 55 minutes. The loaf should dome nicely and be dark gold. The sides and bottom should be a uniform light golden brown and there should be an audible thwack (or thunk) when you tap the bottom of the loaf. If the loaf is dark on the top but too light or soft on the sides and bottom, return the loaf, not in the pan, to the oven, and finish baking it for a few minutes more, until it is thwackable. Bear in mind that the bread will cook much faster once it is removed from the pan, so keep a close eye on it.
Allow the bread to cool on a rack thoroughly, at least 40 minutes, before slicing it.
Eating or Storing
The best way to store bread is to wait until it is completely cooled in the center. This takes about 2 hours. When it is cool, double-wrap the loaf in plastic wrap and either freeze or leave it in a cool place out of the sun. Do not refrigerate it, as this dries it out faster. If freezing, it is a good idea to preslice the loaf before wrapping so you can pull out only the number of slices needed.
This bread makes the best toast you will ever have and is wonderful with a little melted butter and some jam or jelly. It is also the best bread I have ever had for tuna or chicken salad sandwiches and also for BLTs. There is something almost magical about how the flavor of mayonnaise marries with the light sweetness of this loaf.