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Flour Girl: The gift of bread

I don't do much yeast-baking, but every time I do I wonder why I don't do more often. It offers a primal satisfaction of starting with basic building blocks and making the staff of life.

Holly's Honey Wheat Berry Bread. (Bill Webster/The Washington Post)

This bread takes a while to make, although much of that time is spent out of the kitchen. You soak the wheat berries overnight. You wait for the dough to rise. Twice. You bake it. . . .

I'm of the mix-and-cook persuasion, so I find the fuss-and-wait method a bit frustrating. But a little patience goes a long way. Nothing beats the homey smell of warm yeast bread filling the house.

Recipe Included

This recipe makes two loaves. Unless you are having a party, house guests or have a large family, you can keep one loaf and give one. I think of it as the food equivalent of re-gifting. My motivation was really that I wanted a loaf of bread; it's just a bonus that I ended up with an extra to give as a gift.

This bread is nice for holiday gift giving because it is studded with nuts and fruit (and sure to be more warmly received than fruitcake). It would make a beautiful cheese-tray pairing with sharp, aged cheddar, semi-soft goat cheese and fig preserves.

The loaves are dense and can be cut into very thin slices to be served with a salad. Or cut them into thick slices, then toast them for a hearty breakfast. With cream cheese.

Anyway you slice it, this bread adds homemade warmth to the season.

-- Leigh Lambert

Holly's Honey Wheat Berry Bread
Makes two 8-by-5-inch loaves (32 slices)

MAKE AHEAD: The wheat berries need to soak overnight, then cook for 1 hour. The dough needs a maximum of 2 hours and 45 minutes for two proofings. The baked bread can be stored in a food-safe plastic bag for 2 days, or wrap well and freeze for up to 1 month.

Adapted from "My Nepenthe," by Romney Steele (Andrews McMeel, 2009).

1/2 cup raw wheat berries
2 1/4 cups water (1/4 cup of it is lukewarm), plus more for sprinkling
1 2/3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour, plus more for the work surface
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup dark seedless raisins
1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
1/2 cup walnut halves or pieces, coarsely chopped

Soak the wheat berries overnight in a medium bowl, in just enough cool water to cover. Drain.

Combine the wheat berries and 2 cups of the water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat; cook uncovered for 1 hour, so that the water is barely bubbling at the edges, until the wheat berries have softened. They will absorb some, but not all of the water. Drain.

Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat just until scalded, then add the butter and honey; mix well and remove from the heat. Let cool to room temperature.
Combine the yeast and the remaining 1/4 cup of lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl, stirring until the yeast has dissolved. Add the cooled milk mixture, 5 1/2 cups of the flour, the wheat germ and salt; mix well.

Add the softened wheat berries, raisins, 1/4 cup of the sunflower seeds and the walnuts, using your hands to incorporate the ingredients and form a firm dough.

Lightly flour a work surface. Turn out the dough onto the surface; knead for about 5 minutes, adding up to 1 cup of the remaining flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Some of the seeds and nuts may fall out of the dough while you are kneading; just work them back in.

Use a little oil to grease the inside of a large bowl, then transfer the dough and turn to coat it all over. Cover and let rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.

Grease the inside of two 8-by-5-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking oil spray.
Punch down the dough and place on the floured surface. Divide in half, fitting each dough half into a prepared loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes or until the loaves have doubled in size.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with a little water, then sprinkle with the remaining sunflower seeds. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until golden brown and domed.

Transfer the loaf pans to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then use a rounded knife to loosen the inside edge of the breads. Invert to dislodge the loaves. Let them cool completely, right side up, on the rack before serving or storing.

Per slice: 148 calories, 5 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 155 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

By Leigh Lambert  |  December 17, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Flour Girl , Recipes  | Tags: Flour Girl, bread, recipes  
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