Easy whole wheat yeasted bread flavored with fennel seed.
Yeasted breads and I were not instant friends. There was no spark. No pull of attraction. No camaraderie. But in school, you don’t get to choose: “Susan, meet yeasted bread recipe. Find a workspace and go to work”.
As any of you know who went to culinary school, your day is a blur of speed, technique, shared equipment, and deadlines. I frantically read my assigned recipe as I grabbed a workspace. I couldn’t make sense of the flow of the steps, and was intensely aware of the clock ticking. My anxiety intensified. I started to sweat under my crisp chef’s jacket, as I scanned the recipe for the 5th time, sharply aware of classmates bustling knowingly about, getting their workstations all set up, and weighing their flours.
My mind screamed: “What was I thinking when I decided to quit my job, a job that suddenly seemed like the most wonderful job in the world, to go to culinary school. I must have been insane!!!”
Near tears, in pure frustration, I combined the simple ingredients and began to knead the raggedy dough.
I began to relax.
I got into a rhythm of kneading the dough with my right hand, and scraping it along the worn, wooden counter with my left.
It was a meditation, that lulling motion, as the texture of the dough magically transformed into a soft, smooth dough.
As the bustling of my classmates faded from my awareness, I connected to this dough, my dough. I connected to the millions of women all over the world who have made bread for their families and communities through the centuries.
And then I remembered. This is why I quit a job that was dehumanizing me over time; to connect to food in a new way and to myself.
Whole Wheat Peasant Boule with Fennel Seed
- 12 ounces (see Cook's Notes for conversion to cups) white All-Purpose flour
- 3 ounces whole wheat All-Purpose flour
- 1 package Rapid Rise yeast, also seen as Instant Yeast or Quick-Rise Yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons ground flax seed
- 1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 1/3 cups very warm water (between 115°F and 125°F)
- Olive oil
In the large bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the flour, yeast, baking powder, ground flax seed and fennel seed together. Clip the bowl into the mixer stand and fit the mixer with the dough hook.
Check that the water temperature registers about 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (In order for this type of yeast to grow, the liquid needs to be between 115 and 125 degrees.)
With mixer on medium-low speed, slowly pour the water into the flour and mix until the flour is completely incorporated. Add the salt, honey and melted butter. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bottom and sides of the bowl, about 6 minutes. Don’t venture too far away while it’s mixing as the mixer might dance around on the counter.
Scoop up the dough and shape it into a ball. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl with olive oil, and place the dough back into the bowl. Cover the top securely with plastic wrap. Let the covered dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes (see Cook's Notes).
Generously oil an 8-inch round cake pan with oil (I used olive oil). Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. There’s not much need to flour—the dough is soft but not sticky. If you feel you need a little, just lightly flour your hands. Press the dough to deflate it. Shape the dough into a 7-inch-diameter round (boule) and place it, smooth side up, in the center of the prepared pan. Generously brush the top and sides of the dough with additional oil, using your hands.
Let the dough rise (no need to cover it) in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 25 minutes. It will fill the pan.
About 15 minutes before the dough is ready to bake, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. When the dough has risen to about 2 inches above the edge of the pan, place the cake pan in the oven and bake until the boule is well browned and sounds hollow when tapped, about 40 minutes.
If you want a crusty crust, spritz the sides of the hot oven with water 3 times in the first 10 minutes of baking. Alternatively, you can place a pan in the bottom of the oven and fill it with ice water (with the ice cubes) immediately after placing the boule in the oven. The steam created by either of these methods promotes a crusty crust.
Transfer the pan to a rack and tip the baked bread onto a rack and remove the pan. You may need to use a sharp knife to separate the bread from the sides of the cake pan, but the bread should easily release. Set it right side up and let cool completely before eating, no matter how tempting it is.
Adapted from Abby Dodge's Peasant Boule.
- This might be the easiest yeast bread I've ever made, and one of the best tasting. I know first hand how daunting making bread can be, but if you've ever even remotely considered it, this is a great place to start.
- I highly recommend weighing flour when baking. If you don't have a scale, the conversion I use is 4.5 ounces per 1 cup.
- A great place to allow bread to rise is in the microwave oven. Fill a cup with water and heat up in the microwave for 1 minute, until nice and hot. Move the cup to the back and place the bowl with dough in the microwave with it. Let sit for the rising time. The hot water creates a warm, moist environment; the cavity of the microwave protects the dough from drafts. Bonus: it frees up space if you're working in a small kitchen.
- The fennel flavor is fairly mild in the bread, making it a great bread for sandwiches or preserves. If you prefer a stronger fennel flavor, feel free to increase the fennel by 50%. Fennel is a fairly strong, distinctive flavor, and I don't recommend much more than that.
- The ground flax seed can be completely eliminated without changing anything else. I put flax seed in a lot of things to add a hint of nuttiness, and for its reported health benefits. I always add some to breads and sprinkle it over salads, pastas, and other vegetable dishes.