I’ve been a subscriber to Cook’s Illustrated, both print and online for a few years. I watch America’s Test Kitchen faithfully and own many of their cookbooks. Their claim to fame is that they test recipes to perfect them so you don’t have to. For the most part this has been true. I’ve mostly had success with their recipes with the occasional failure upon which I usually blame my own novice cooking skills.
I’ve been baking bread regularly for six months now. I’ve gained some skill along the way, understanding the look and feel of a good dough, how it should rise and taste, how to shape a loaf, and how to get even slices. My weekly bread has been Cook’s Illustrated’s Oatmeal Sandwich Loaf which after a few tries has been a consistent standard. It’s moist, yet light and slightly sweet. It’s fantastic with both sweet and savory fillings and keeps well at room temperature for almost a week.
I wanted to try something new, so I looked through CI’s bread recipes and decided to give their Multigrain Bread a try. I braved the new Whole Foods in Tustin just to buy a bag of Bob’s Red Mill 7 Grain Hot Cereal, the grain part of this recipe. I had all the other ingredients. By the way, the new Whole Foods market is huge and amazing, but far too crowded this holiday weekend. I get a bit anxious when trying to fight my way through the Orange County yuppie hoards. I’ll miss our small but charming Whole Foods that was within walking distance of our house. We still have our Trader Joe’s so I can’t complain too loudly. Maybe a Mother’s Market or Henry’s will fill the void left by Whole Food’s departure? One can dream, right?
But, I digress…
I followed the recipe for Multigrain bread exactly. I knew from the start that this dough was different. The oatmeal dough is rather slack and generally requires that I add more flour than the recipe calls for. This dough was the opposite. The only moisture comes from soaking the hot cereal in boiling water. The dough was stiff and a little dry and definitely cleaned the sides of the mixer bowl. The first rise went fine, but the second had just a little lift. I popped the loaves in the oven hoping for oven spring, but alas the little buggers were squat and dense. Not the light, fluffy bread the recipe claimed. It tasted fine, however.
I went to the Cook’s Illustrated boards on their web site only to find a 21 page thread on this very recipe. Some people had great success with light and fluffy loaves. Others had the exact same problem I did. I read through all 21 pages gleaning knowledge from those who succeeded and those who failed. One main thread was the dryness of the dough.
Armed with this new knowledge I decided to give it another go. So this time, I held back on the flour only giving the dough what it needed, I measured temperatures and weighed my ingredients for accuracy. The dough was much easier to handle and rose beautifully on the first rise. The second rise also did better, cresting the tops of the pans at least one inch. I dutifully put the lovely loaves in the oven only to pull out squat little bricks once again. Not only did the loaves have no oven spring, they had oven shrinkage.
Some determined folk on the boards kept trying failure after failure. Not me, I want a recipe that is consistent and this one is not it. So please, Erika Bruce, go back to the Test Kitchen with this one and find a better recipe. She actually commented about 2/3 of the way through on the thread so hopefully they’ll come up with a better recipe and pull the old one.
If you are interested in trying this, I wish you all the success in the world. Bob’s Red Mill publishes the recipe on their web site if you are not a Cook’s Illustrated subscriber.