This is based on a traditional recipe from the Western Isles called a Struan, something akin to a Zopf or the Jewish Challa in terms of being a loaf for special occasions.
This recipe makes a rich moist loaf which both keeps well and makes great toast. The end product has a nutty-ness to it and has loads of flavour – and was actually pretty straight-forward to make given that there is a whole overnight fermentation thing going on!
This is a three part dough that’s not as complicated as it first appears. Start the day before you plan to serve it – it’s the long fermentation times that allow the flavours and nutrients to develop.
Part 1: the soaker
7 Tbsp whole wheat flour
170g (about 1 ½ cups) cooked grains (brown rice, millet, quinoa, wholegrain wheat, oats or other grains in any combination. Grains should be cooked just to the point of being soft)
½ tsp salt
¾ cup milk or buttermilk
Mix all of the ingredients together for about a minute to form a thick dough. Place in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave at room temperature for 12 – 24 hours.
Part 2: the biga
1 1/3 cups wholewheat flour
¼ tsp dried instant yeast
¾ cup of water at room temperature
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Knead by hand for 2 minutes to form a tacky dough. Let it rest for 5 minutes and then knead for another minute. Knead with wet hands to stop the dough sticking.
Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. The natural enzymes will begin to break down the gluten in the flour to give a soft crumb and good loft.
Part3: the final dough
Take the Biga out of the fridge 2 hours before you put the final dough together. When it has returned to room temperature, chop the biga and the soaker into a dozen pieces and put the pieces into a big bowl. Add the following ingredients:
½ tsp salt
2 ¼ tsp dried instant yeast
3 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp melted butter
Knead with wet hands for 2 minutes until all of the ingredients are even;y mixed. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky. Add alittle more flour or water if necessary.
Part 4: Proving and shaping the bread
Tip the dough onto a floured work surface and coat it with flour. Knead by hand for 3-4 minutes, incorporating just enough flour to give a soft, slightly tacky dough.
Let the dough rest for five minutes before giving a final quick knead to strengthen the gluten. Put the dough in a clean, oiled bowl and cover lightly with cling film. Leave it in a warm place to grow to 1 ½ times its original size (40 – 60 minutes).
Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knock it back. Shape into an oval loaf or put it into an oiled 10cm x 22cm loaf tin. You can roll the dough in oats or seeds to give it a decorative crust before putting it in the tin.
Leave the loaf to rise to 1 ½ times its original size (another 40 – 60 minutes). Meanwhile heat the oven to 220 degrees C. If baking without a bread tin, make the oven moist by pouring one cup of hot water into a pan on the bottom of the oven when you put the loaf in to bake.
When the dough is ready to bake, put it in the oven and lower the temperature to 175 degrees C. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, rotating once, until the loaf is a rich brown colour all over and sounds hollow if knocked on the bottom. Leave it to cool before slathering with butter and wolfing down.