Myrtle Allen's Ballymaloe Brown Bread
aka "The Grant Loaf"
aka "The Grant Loaf"
(from Beard on Bread, p. 74)
This is an important, historical bread.
In the course of the Internet surfing I did following making this bread (which is James Beard's version of Myrtle Allen's loaf, which she adapted from Doris Grant), I discovered an interesting quotation by Doris Grant ( 1905 - 2003). Doris was a woman far ahead of her time who I need to learn more about. She was the inventor of no-knead bread which many today have popularized. Her bread was an enriched whole wheat bread. She is said to have quipped:
"If you love your husbands, keep them away from white bread . . . If you don't love them, cyanide is quicker but bleached bread is just as certain, and no questions asked."
When I returned from camping this year, I used up some old stale rye bread that was still lying about, then when the laundry was done and the lawn was cut, I turned my attention to making the next loaf. I needed something fast and convenient (nothing like camping to make you appreciate modern conveniences!), and so I searched for some whole wheat recipes that were not too time or labour-intensive.
I hit upon this recipe, which was a good one in that it was cause for some interesting bread-philosophical thought, as well as meeting the other criteria. It is a bit unusual in that it is a no-knead bread that only uses a single rise.
- 3 3/4 c wwflour (572 g)
- 1 1/2 pk active dry yeast ( 5 g instant)
- 2 c warm water (469 g)
- 2 TBSP molasses (439 g)
- 1 TBSP salt (8 g, kosher)
I used Kosher Salt because I find Beard's breads a bit salty; if one were using regular Table Salt, I would cut the amount back substantially. At 8 g, the kosher salt puts it at about 1.4%, which is within most books guidelines of no more than 2%; the molasses makes the crust a bit salty too, I think, so one could even cut this down to 6 g probably.
It is the method of the bread that is the seed of the strange thoughts that occurred to me as I was mixing this bread.
You are to place the flour and a large bowl in a warm oven on its lowest setting, for both must be warm. Then Beard has us dissolve the yeast in 1/2 c of the warm water (always 110 - 115 degrees, for Beard). Once that happens, you add molasses and proof the yeast. Then you add another 1/2 c of the warm water.
At this point, the flour, yeast mixture and salt are combined, and you add just enough water to make the dough wet and sticky. You don't try to knead it, you just pour it into a bread tin and cover. This is only to rise by 1/3.
This bread is to bake 50 minutes in the tin in a preheated 450 degree F oven, and then it is removed and left on the rack of the cooling oven for 20 minutes more.
1. Proofing of the Yeast
I followed the instructions for the proofing of the yeast, even though I was using Instant dry yeast and not Beard's Active Dry Yeast. I checked the following web pages while my flour was heating in the low temp oven in order to find out how much yeast I should use:
- The Fresh Loaf blog discussion on active yeast vs instant yeast
- The Wild Yeast Blog yeast conversion tables
- The Daily Bread Blog yeast conversion tables
What I came up with was the following info:
Although Beard says that there is approximately a Tablespoon of Yeast in a single packet, there is in fact 2 1/4 tsp of Active dry Yeast is in a packet.
Since 1 g of Active Dry Yeast = 0.8 g of Instant Dry Yeast, and 1 tsp of Active Dry Yeast is 2.9 g., I would need 2 1/4 tsp or 6.5 g (or since my scale doesn't do half-grams, 7 g). But our Instant Dry Yeast is different than what he was using, so that 1 g of Active Dry Yeast is as potent as 0.8 g of Instant Dry Yeast. So if I needed 7 g of Active Dry Yeast, I would only require 5 g of Instant Dry Yeast. I found that I was in the ballpark with 1 1/2 tsp; my scale read 6 g, and I was happy with that. Some bloggers feel that Beard used too much yeast in his recipes. I was afraid that by cutting my yeast down to 6 g, it wouldn't have the oomph to launch this quick bread. Ha!
After all this fussing, I was a bit afraid that my water was too hot, straight from the microwave. I loaded the molasses into it before the yeast, hoping that it might cool it off somewhat. I stirred in the yeast, and it was fun to watch: nothing happened for about 90 seconds (is it too hot? have i killed it?), and then the odd yeast started to speckle the top of the molasses water. Then all of a sudden, there was this surge of yeast to the top of the measuring cup, and this bloom continued for about 5 minutes, until I added the next bit of hot water (which I again worried was too hot). This proofing of the yeast, so often ignored now that we have Instant Dry Yeast, was actually kind of fun to watch.
2. Caring for the small: how to align bran in whole wheat flour
I have been thinking a lot about whole grain, whole wheat, dough and bread, and how difficult it is to get these breads to rise compared to all purpose or bread doughs. Everyone says that the bran in the flour cuts the forming gluten strands, so that no amount of kneading will bring the loaf to par with a loaf made without bran. Still, you see many authors of recipes trying various things to get their loaves to perform. For example, one recipe I read asked you to stir the dough as you are mixing in one direction only: presumably, the stirring motion will align the bran in one direction during the hydration process, so the sharp bran pieces will not cut the forming gluten strands. Another method has you knead the bejeezus out of it, or fling it to the counter, perhaps to shock the bran into submission, I don't know.
But here we see the vestiges of another idea: don't knead it at all. If the gluten strands are cut by the bran, then it is best to not overhandle the dough, as every time you knead it, or even fold it, the little bran scissors will cut through more and more strands of the gluten.
Some whole wheat recipes have long fermentation times, so the yeast does all the heavy lifting of the gluten strands around the large insoluble fibers of the bran. But this recipe calls for a quick rise.
And what is the significance of the warm bowl, warm flour? Not too long ago I read a thesis by Clare F. Adderly (Dielectric and rheological studies of starch, 1997) and learned that microwaving the flour (we are talking about the flour here, not the dough) for a certain amount of time improves the mixability of the starch and gelation. I have been unwilling to try that, since I really don't know what microwave radiation is doing to our food. Sure it heats it by ionization and exciting of the water molecules, but some other things are happening too, to the chemical bonds of the other molecules. This includes the changing, probably denaturing, of the proteins. Otherwise it wouldn't be having an effect on the gluten or the starch. When using this recipe, I did use the microwave to heat up my water, but I had some misgivings about that too.
In any case, since this recipe doesn't call for microwave radiation but rather simple heat, what is the significance of making the flour and bowl warm? Is it simply to keep the environment hot for the yeast to flourish? Perhaps that is some of it. But I suspect that it might also have an effect on the bran in the flour. Is it possible that the heat makes the bran a bit more pliable or elastic during the crucial stirring process, when you are hydrating the mixture and the gluten is beginning to form? It is something like stirring up a bowl of string and scissors: somehow, the heating transforms the supersharp hardened-steel sewing scissors into those little blunt plastic kindergarten scissors, and it coats them with jelly. Yes, a few strings will get cut, but not nearly as many.
Our oven's lowest setting is 170 degrees F., and I estimate that my bowl and flour were in there about 5 minutes while it was warming to that heat, and about 10 minutes thereafter. Any longer than that, and I would have worried for my porcelain bowl (I was interested to later learn that other bloggers figured that 10 minutes of warming the flour was enough for them too; Beard doesn't say how long you are to keep your flour warmed). I stirred the flour once during that period with my hand, noting that the flour closest to the bowl was much warmer. The bowl when I removed it to work with it after that time needed an oven mitt to carry, but it quickly cooled as I mixed the dough.
While mixing this up, I was reflecting on the chemical bonds that were forming, the molecular movements that were happening even as I added the full amount of water and hydrated the entire dough as I stirred. There were very small things happening, as the elements of hydrogen and oxygen were meeting the more complex strands of Carbon and Nitrogen and the conglomerates of protein chains began to align. But there were bigger things happening as I mixed it up, too. Every time I stirred, there were infinite mysteries. You could not fully describe what was happening if you examined individual molecular bonds, and neither could you describe it exactly in rheological and mathematical models of the Brownian motion of its conglomerate molecules. The dough was one thing, and it was many things: like light being both a wave and a particle, you could describe it differently based on whether your enquiries were holistic or reductional, but you could not hold both ideas in your head at the same time the way you could hold the spoon in the dough mixture.
The final thought I had in the matter was something like awe. The dough was a black box, a mystery that would never be plumbed. Infinitely small things mattered, and it was the cook's task to attend to small things so that the large things could be easily managed. The more focused the attention to details, the better the final result; but despite the attention to details, you would never have perfect control over the entire bread. Something serendipitous would happen. Something unexpected would occur. You bake to see what that might be. You begin to appreciate the lovely things that appear.
I was amazed by the consistency of this dough as it formed. I added the water gradually, and the dough absorbed it, and changed itself as I did so. The feel of the dough changed. There was a cohesiveness at the precise moment when the whole was hydrated, and I stopped stirring. I would describe the consistency as almost gel-like, what you might get when you boil grains, and the gums congeal a bit. Almost but not quite.
I poured it into a greased pan and then squished it down with a damp spatula (I had used cold water to dampen the spatula).
I set the timer for 30 minutes, wondering if I had made my yeast calculations correctly. With less than 15 minutes left, I noticed that the cloth covering the tin had a distinct bowge to it, and I snuck a peak under the tea towel. Wow. That was over 1/3 rise already! I preheated the oven to 450 degrees F, and the oven was ready when my 30 minute timer went off.
It went right in the preheated oven.
The 50 minute bake seemed a little long to me, but I deliberately refrained from looking at it while it baked. Then the timer went off and I went to remove it from the pan. Beard wants you then to take the liberated loaf and return it to the oven for 20 minutes as the oven cools. He says this is for the crust: but I was under the opinion that the crust was fine, so I did not follow his instructions at this point, I just cooled it on a rack in the kitchen My reasoning was, although the pan was greased, I had some difficulty getting it out of the pan, but the crust held up during my digging and scraping. And it looked like it was well done to me.
The loaf was 'mostly' cooled when I cut into it. The smell of it was wonderful, so I just couldn't wait any longer. The crumb is dense, the crust is hard but interesting: the only taste of molasses, I would say, is in the crust, where it has added to the caramelization. On its own with bread and butter, this bread has some good taste. And it stands up to a good cheese, too. Pretty darn good for a very quick bread that is whole grain.
Notes to Myself
- Think of ways that have been tried over the centuries to align the bran in the whole wheat flour: sifting, heating, mechanically moving via stirring in one direction, folding the dough, flinging and jarring the dough against the countertop, kneading, microwaving, using some chemical method, e.g. by hydrating, using yeast. Working with the other molecules, e.g. the gluten, or the fats. What else could you try? Would periodic raking of the flour work? Would sunlight polarize the molecules? Can the newly emerging science and engineering of nanotechnology inform us of ways to move the molecules of dough about?
- Why is this bread baked at such a high temperature, for so long? Would it benefit from a slightly less hot temperature? Would it have benefited from the 20 minute rest in the cooling oven as Beard suggests?
- If you don't like the molasses taste, would honey work as well? Would hydrating the top of the loaf help or hinder the crust formation?
- Line the pan with parchment paper next time, don't think that oiling the pan will be enough.
- Would this bread work if you didn't proof the yeast? Or if the water wasn't hot? Or the bowl wasn't hot? This bread was good enough to try different experiments with the method, to see what works and what doesn't.
- Would this recipe work without a loaf pan, i.e. could you make it on a baking stone? Would the high hydration make it spread sideways too much? There is no gluten sheath to keep the loaf from sagging, right? Try it and see.
- I wanted to see what others have done with this loaf. A quick google search shows that a number of other lucky people have found this recipe of Myrtle's. I find it interesting that many of them have decreased the time of the bake, or have ignored the instructions to warm the bowl and the flour, or have altered the salt and sugar, or even changed the amount of flour or water substantially. Here are a few links:
- Moira Campbell bakes it, on the James Beard Site
- Chuck and Jerri, on the Frontier of Minnesota give the entire recipe with tips
- Shared Earth gives a few tips for things to add to the basic bread recipe
- Tony Aspler, Gourmet has an interesting history of the loaf, and a variation along with a picture of a woman holding a bread that might be Myrtle Allen herself!
- Epicurious Blog discusses Myrtle Allen's bread But here it is named Ballymaloe Brown Bread (another name under which this bread can be found, all over the Internet). There seems to be an alternative history of the recipe: Doris Grant published it as well in her cookbook Daily Bread (but was it Myrtle's recipe, or her own?)
- Curious about Doris Grant, I quickly found a recipe based on her version at Delia Online that includes a cold bowl, one fold and some flour on the top of the loaf. A version from the BBC and reprinted in KitchenCookingRecipes reportedly uses a bit of oil or butter. Spade Work reports that the recipe came out in the UK's Garden Organics Magazine, and the temperature is a bit lower. Taste of Home gives the recipe here, suggesting that I should have warmed my loaf tins.
- An even more interesting article was written in The Telegraph when Doris Grant died in 2003, about how she accidentally discovered the no-knead technique. She was also a pioneer who advocated whole grains. I think, therefore, that this is her original recipe, and Myrtle and then Beard have made it more famous.
- Grant was influenced by Dr. William Hay, who believed in Whole Foods (Vegetables and Fruit are the bulk of it; you can eat sparingly of foods with protein and starch) but not in mixing proteins and carbohydrates at the same time in the diet, because he said they require different pH to digest and absorb; four hours between proteins and starches should be sufficient. The diet he proposed is variously called the "Hay Diet" and sometimes the "Food Combining Diet". Apparently it is good for arthritis sufferers and for many other problems. Doris Grant wrote a book about it for the UK (Food Combining for Health), and a Google Books teaser is available.
- Tim Allen prints his version of Myrtle's recipe in the Ballymaloe Bread Book, and you can even find the page via Google Books. and Darina Allen prints her version of the recipe in "The Tate and Lyle Tin" Tim and Darina must be related to Myrtle.
- Jellypress blog adapts Myrtle's recipe from the Ballymaloe Cookbook
- Sourdough Home uses it as a 'Basic Recipe' for beginners, even though it isn't sourdough (this pointed me to another of SourdoughHome's basic whole wheat recipes (this one adapted as a sourdough), from Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, which does lots of Whole Wheat breads, and will likely be my next bread book purchase!)
- Locovores have discovered the loaf's simplicity
- The ChowHound site discusses Beard's non-weighing of ingredients and his predilection for salt and sugar in his loaves.
- The recipe has even been adapted to bread machines at Cookipedia