Jenny’s Everyday Bread from An Echo in the Bone
SHE WAS SMALLER than I had remembered, and thinner, her hair with a little more gray in it though still darkly vibrant — but the deep-blue-cat-eyes were just the same, as was the natural air of command she shared with her brother.
“Leave the horses,” she said briskly, wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron. “I’ll have one o’ the lads take care of them. Ye’ll be frozen and starving — take off your things and come into the parlor.” She glanced at me, with a brief look of curiosity and something else I couldn’t interpret — but didn’t met my eyes directly or say more than “Come,” as she led the way to the parlor.
The house smelled familiar but strange, steeped in peat smoke and the scent of cooking; someone had just baked bread, and the yeasty smell floated down the hall from the kitchen. The hall itself was nearly as cold as the outdoors; all the rooms had their doors closed tight to keep in the heat from their fires, and a welcome wave of warmth eddied out when she opened the door to the parlor, turning to pull Ian in first.
Diana Gabaldon, An Echo in the Bone, Chapter 76
Wheat was an expensive import into the Highlands in the 18th Century, and only relatively successful estates, such as Lallybroch (somewhat recovered from the scourge of the English after Culloden), would have been able to afford it. Even so, there’s not a chance that a woman as practical as Jenny would have used the finest French-milled flour in her everyday baking.
And so, our unexpected homecomers are welcomed with hearty slices of stone-ground wholemeal bread slathered in butter and jam.
This recipe is adapted from a whole-wheat loaf, in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. I made some changes to the methods and ingredients, and added oats, to make this 100% Jenny’s bread. The recipe uses a pre-ferment, a wet dough made the night before, that adds flavour and lift to whole-grain loaves that would otherwise be dense and heavy tasting.
The pre-ferment is an easier, modern mimic of the more authentic yeast culture (think sourdough) that Jenny would have kept alive with flour and water in her kitchen. We’re using instant yeast from the grocery store, but Jenny’s sole source of baking yeast would have been Lallybroch’s brew house. The barm, or froth, was scraped from the surface of fermenting beer and used to leaven the household’s bread.
Making bread this way will take you back to a simpler, slower time. In today’s world of instant gratification, anything that takes more than a day can seem like a long time. But there really isn’t a lot of active work involved — most of the time is spent waiting for the dough to rise. Pick a day when you’re around the house and, to make more from the same amount of work, double the recipe. Four loaves of bread lasts us a couple of weeks — I usually bake one loaf immediately, refrigerate another and then freeze the other two for the following week.
Once the dough is split, shaped and in the pan, wrap the loaves you want to save for later tightly with plastic wrap. These loaves will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days — remove them from the fridge about 4 hours before baking to give the dough time to rise. Notice the flavour in a dough that’s been fermenting in the fridge for a couple of days — you can really taste the grains!
Well wrapped loaves will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. Defrost on the counter overnight, then unwrap and bake the risen dough off in the morning.
As for for the metric equivalents, I took a leap of faith and used (mostly) weight instead of volume this week. Weighing ingredients is a much more accurate way to ensure baking success. If you have an electronic scale, consider using it for this recipe. (Most of them have a metric option.)
One last thing: whole wheat flour takes a lot of kneading to develop the gluten, which is what reacts with the yeast and causes the dough to rise. A LOT OF KNEADING. If you have one, use your stand mixer as described in the New School Tips below the recipe — especially if you double the recipe — most of us simply don’t have the wiry upper-body strength that Jenny and the other women of her time developed by doing everything by hand…everyday.
(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)
Yield: (2) 1½ lb loaves
A delicious, welcoming wholemeal loaf made with organic, stone-ground, whole-wheat flour and oats — just the way Jenny would have made hers. Start the pre-ferment the evening before you plan to make the bread.
- Stone-Ground Whole-Wheat Flour – 1½ Cups (255 g)
- Instant Yeast – ¼ tsp (2 ml)
- Milk, room temp – 1 ¼ Cups (285 g)
- Rolled Oats – 1 Cup (120 g)
- Water, room temp – 1 Cup (225 g)
- Stone-Ground Whole-Wheat Flour – 2 Cups (340 g)
- Instant Yeast – 1¼ tsp (7 ml)
- Salt – 1½ tsp (8 ml)
- Honey – 2 Tble (45 g)
- Egg – 1 large
- Butter – to grease the bowl/pans and brush the loaves before baking.
Make the pre-ferment the night before you make the bread: stir the flour and yeast together, then stir in the milk until just combined. Cover with a plate and set aside on the counter for 2 hours. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove the pre-ferment from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the dough. At the same time, make the soaker: pulse the oats in a coffee grinder or food processor 3 or 4 times to a coarse grind and reserve 2 tsp for a garnish. Mix the rest of the oats together with the water and cover with a plate. Set aside for 2 hours.
Make the dough by combining the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the pre-ferment, soaker, honey and egg, and stir with a large spoon until the dough forms a rough ball, adding a little more water or flour if needed.Turn the dough onto a flour-dusted counter and knead, occasionally dusting with more flour as needed, until the dough is firm and slightly tacky, but not sticky, about 15-20 minutes.
Grease a bowl lightly with butter and roll the dough in the bowl to coat. Cover with a clean dishtowel and rise at room temp until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Grease (2) 8” x 4” loaf pans with butter.
Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. On a lightly floured counter, press 1 of the pieces into a rectangle about 5” x 8.” Starting on the shorter end, roll up the dough one section at a time, using your thumbs to pinch the seam closed after each roll. Pinch the final seam closed, then gently rock the loaf to even it out — do not taper the ends. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Transfer the dough to the prepared pans. Ensure the loaf touches both ends of the pan to ensure an even rise. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean dishtowel and set aside to rise a second time, until the dough is doubled in size and cresting the top of the pans, about 1½-2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Melt a little butter and brush the tops of both loaves gently, then sprinkle the reserved oats on top. Bake the loaves for 30 minutes, rotate the pans in the oven, then bake until the tops are golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 15-20 minutes more.
Remove the loaves from the pans immediately and cool on a rack for at least 90 minutes before slicing.
Store in a paper bag on the counter to keep the crust firm and the interior fresh for 2 days.
Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)
- To use active dry yeast instead of instant, use ½ tsp in the pre-ferment and 2 tsp in the dough.
- Take the chill off refrigerated milk by microwaving it for 20-30 seconds.
- Because of carpal-tunnel-like symptoms in both arms, I am unable to knead dough for 15 minutes at a time. Instead, I mix my bread in a stand mixer. Use the paddle attachment until the dough comes together in a rough ball, then change to the dough hook and knead the dough on med. speed for 10-12 minutes, scraping down the dough as required.
- If you keep your house on the cold side, find a warm spot near the stove, under the exhaust fan light or on top of a toaster over set on low.
Old School Tips:
- Substitute buttermilk instead of milk for an even more flavourful loaf. If you happen to make your own cheese (or drain yogurt to make yogurt cheese), use the whey in this recipe instead of milk. Waste not, want not!
- I always set our bread to rise next to the wood stove in the winter.
- Originally, loaves would have been baked without a pan. I find that this dense dough spreads rather than rises when it’s not in a bread pan, which results in a large flat loaf with a lot of crust. If you’re curious, form the loaves and rise them on a baking sheet instead of in a pan. Watch the loaves closely in the oven — they will bake more quickly than those in pans.