Struan Bread

we're off for our 30th annual ski week at what has long ago become our favorite of all ski resorts: deer valley in utah!

a few years ago, my husband had an accident skiing that prevented him from accompanying me on the slopes for the rest of the week. in all these years of marriage, i had never skied without him so it felt very odd and lonely navigating the mountain on my own. i decided to take a short break and check out the food at the snowflake lodge. somehow, inevitably, i found myself in the kitchen and that put an end to any possible loneliness at deer valley! letty flatt, who is in charge of all bakery operations at the many restaurants at deer valley, also took charge of me! on her time off we skied together and she introduced me to double black diamonds that i could handle with ease. on the chair lift we exchanged bake-talk and royal icinged (baker's cement) a lasting friendship.

last year, at a marvelous dinner at mariposa--the high-end restaurant on the mountain--we were served a bread that both my husband and i adored. it was, of course, letty's, but she immediately credited peter reinhart for the original recipe. comparing the two i saw that letty had used 5 times the polenta. i decided to double the original amount of polenta but also added 90 grams more flour. neither letty nor i added the optional 3 tablespoons of cooked brown rice simply because i didn't feel like making rice just to make this bread and found it was so delicious without it i've yet to try it with the rice--but i will.

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the first time i made this bread back at low altitude in new york city i e-mailed peter immediately saying i was proud to be in the same profession as he. he graciously e-mailed back thanking me for reminding him about one of his very favorite breads--which is now mine as well. and as toast it is unequaled. toasting seems to bring out the sweet nuttiness of the grains. the texture is--well--perfect is the word that comes to mind. judge for yourselves by the photo. and the golden specks of coarse polenta add a jewel like quality. it doesn't get better than spread with sweet butter but the other night i served it for dinner spread with mustard mayonnaise and filled with sardines sprinkled with lemon juice. it deserved the glass of trimbach frederique emile alsatian riesling that accompanied it. gloriously simple and wholly satisfying.

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Click to see the flecks!

as i now am inclined to do with most of my breads, i've added a small amount of old stiff sourdough starter (the consistency of bread dough) to increase shelf life and add depth of flavor and extra moistness. if you chose not to add the starter decrease the salt by 1/8th teaspoon.

Oven Temperature: 350°F.

Baking Time:  50 minutes or til 190°F

Struan Bread

Makes: A 9 inch by 4 1/2 inch by 4 1/2 inch high loaf

33.8 ounces / 959 grams

EQUIPMENT: a 9 x 5 inch bread pan, lightly greased

Soaker

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1) Make the soaker

In a small bowl, combine the polenta, oats, and wheat bran and add the water. cover and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. (or put in pilot light oven 3 hours)

Dough Starter (Sponge)

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2) Make the starter

In a medium bowl (mixer bowl if using a stand mixer), whisk together the water, starter, and 100 grams of the flour for about 3 minutes, until very smooth. Scrape it into the bread machine container if using a bread machine and sprinkle the remaining 368 grams of flour on top. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment at cool room temperature overnight. (Alternatively, add 1/4 teaspoon on the yeast with the flour and let it sit 1 up to 4 hours at room temperature.)

Dough

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3) Make the dough

Add the soaker, brown sugar, honey, and buttermilk, and mix 3 minutes (in the stand mixer, with the dough hook mix on low speed (#2 Kitchen Aid) about 1 minute, until the flour is moistened to form a rough dough.) Scrape down any bits of dough. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.

Continue mixing on low speed while adding the yeast. In bread machine start the kneading cycle or in the stand mixer raise the speed to #4 and add the salt. Knead for about 7 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic, and just be very sticky. If it is not at all sticky spray it with a little water and knead it. (The dough should weigh about 35.6 ounces / 1010 grams.)

4) Let the dough rise

Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into an 2 quart dough rising container or bowl, greased lightly with cooking spray or oil. Push down the dough and lightly spray or oil the top of the dough. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark where double the height would be (2 quarts). Allow the dough to rise (ideally at 75°F to 80°F.) for 30 minutes until puffy. Set it on a floured counter and flour the top. Give it 2 business letter folds, stretching it to develop the gluten. It should no longer be sticky to the touch. Set it back in the oiled container and allow it to rise until doubled from the original height (to 2 quarts) 40 minutes to 1 hour.

5) Shape the dough and let it rise

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and press it down to flatten it slightly. If you want to make a rectangular shaped loaf, gently press or lightly roll the dough with a rolling pin into a wide rectangle. (The long side of the dough should be facing towards you.) The exact size is not important at this point.  The dough is VERY elastic. Press the dough with your fingertips to deflate any large bubbles (I). Place it in the prepared loaf pan (no more than 1/2 inch from the top of the pan—in a 7 cup pan, when pressed down it is 3/4 inch from the top).

Cover the shaped dough with a large container or oiled plastic wrap and allow it to rise until almost doubled and when pressed gently with a finger the depression very slowly fills in. In the loaf pan the highest point will be 1 1/2 inches higher than the sides of the pan, 1 to 1 1/2 hours).

6) Bake the bread

Mist the dough with water, sprinkle with the poppy seeds if desired, and quickly but gently set the pan on the hot stone or hot baking sheet and toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath. Immediately shut the door and bake 40-50 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. (An instant read thermometer inserted into the center will read minimum 190°F., maximum 211°F). Halfway through baking, turn the pan halfway around for even baking.