Saturday, January 29, 2011

Polish Whole Wheat Bread--A Piece of Home

These days, quality food from every region of the world spreads fast across borders and oceans. You can get the same Starbucks coffee in Seattle and in London. In your local food store you can buy your favorite French wine, best Parmesan cheese, and green beans from Kenya. But I am sure that everyone of us who lives outside his or her country of origin misses some things that are not available anywhere else or just do not taste the same as they did back home.

If you ever find yourself among Poles when they get sentimental about their home food, no doubt it would be Polish bread for which they yearn most. No wonder, bread consumption in Poland is probably one of the highest in the world. A bread sandwich was what we took to school and our parents to work for lunch. Bread was also eaten for breakfast and supper, and only at dinners it ceded its prominent position to potatoes or dumplings. In past centuries, to express our hospitality, we welcomed our guests at the doorstep with bread and salt.

Polish bread is most similar to German or Russian bread, but it is still quite different than either of them. It is most often a rye or whole wheat bread, based on a starter dough which gives it a natural sourness. And, unlike white breads, it is still very good a couple of days later.

Making a true Polish bread takes time and experience. I am still experimenting with various versions of it trying to come as close as possible to the inimitable ideal. This variety, which I currently make often at my home, is reasonably satisfying. It is also an easy shortcut to what our bread is. It preserves well for up to three days, so usually I double the amount of the dough and bake two of them at once.

Polish Whole Wheat Bread

1 cup white bread flour,
2 cups whole wheat flour,
1 cup warm water,
1 cup natural yogurt at room temperature, you can use buttermilk instead, but then you need to add about 1 cup of flower,
1 sachet active fast rising dry yeasts (1 tbsp),
1 tbsp salt,
1/4 cup sunflower seeds,

1. In a large bowl (or a bowl that comes with a stand mixer) place flour, yeast, and salt, and mix gently with a wooden spoon.
2. Add both kinds of flour to the bowl, add warm water and mix it with the flour, and follow with yogurt.
3. Knead the dough with you hands or using the Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the dough hook attachment for about 5 minutes, until it turns into a a smooth ball. At the end, add half of the sunflower seeds and kneed the dough for another minute or two.
4. Transfer the dough to a loaf baking pan slightly greased with vegetable oil. Brush the top of the dough with cold water and cover with sunflower seeds. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set it aside for 30 minutes, after which the dough should rise by a few inches.

5. Preheat oven to 370F and place in the baking form with the dough.
6. Bake for about 50 minutes.

Let the bread cool down before you cut it. Although there is a common opinion that warm bread is not good for your stomach, there is nothing better than an aromatic piece of warm bread with butter that melts faster than we are able to eat it.