15 June 2021: Tassajara Bread

Photo by Amy Bisson

When we were a young family, my mother-in-law gifted me with an galvanized hand-crank bread bucket. She had one that she used each week to turn out loaves of bread and, once I became more interested in bread-baking, she found one and gifted it to me.

Back in those days (the late 1970s, early 1980s), we also belonged to a local food coop where I could purchase both whole grain and white flours in bulk. In fact I had a couple of small garbage can style containers in our pantry filled with one flour or the other on a regular basis. Given the bulk buys, we needed to use up our pantry stores, so bread baking became a regular weekend event.

One of my favorite recipes for bread comes from Edward Espe Brown’s Tassajara Bread Book. While the directions in the book are exquisitely detailed (helpful for novice bread bakers), the best thing I discovered about the tasty loaves produced by this recipe was that it allowed for variations. Using different flours, adding seeds, changing up sweeteners, forming different shapes – if you could imagine it, you could do it with this basic dough.

In the process of one of our moves, I unfortunately lost my original 1970 edition of the Tassajara Bread Book, and so my less-regular bread baking turned to other recipes, techniques and guides. But recently I was delighted to find the original recipe on the NY Times Cooking website and that inspired me to replace my long-lost copy of Tassajara Bread with a newer (2009) edition.

One of the tastiest and most reliable breads I’ve ever baked, this recipe brings back a ton of fond memories of mixing up a week’s worth of bread by hand in my “machine” back when things seemed simpler. I’ve discovered that a little nostalgia doesn’t hurt the bread dough either.

Tassajara Yeasted Bread Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tablespoons dry yeast (2 packages)
  • 3 cups lukewarm water (85 to 105 degrees)
  • ¼ cup honey, molasses or brown sugar
  • 1 cup dry milk
  • 7 to 8 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  •  cup oil or butter
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of water, for egg wash

Method

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in water and stir in the honey and dry milk. Stir in 4 cups of the flour to form a thick batter and beat 100 strokes with a spoon. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes,.
  2. Now add the salt and oil and an additional 3 cups of the flour and knead until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Knead on a floured board, using about 1 cup more flour if needed to keep the dough from sticking, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth. Let it rise for 50 to 60 minutes, until it is doubled in size. Punch down and let it rise again for 40 to 50 minutes, until doubled in size.
  4. Shape into two round loaves and place them on a baking sheet. (I’ve also used loaf pans, shaped rolls, see the Edward Espe Brown book for more)
  5. Let rise for 20 to 25 minutes. Coat the top of each loaf with egg wash. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour or until golden brown

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