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Monday, January 31, 2011

Baking: Red Fife Whole Wheat Bread

Recently I noticed that my local bulk food store carries Organic Red Fife wheat flour. Previously unfamiliar with the variety, I decided to give it a try, and took some home. First stop, of course: Google. Red Fife, as it turns out, is a heritage bread wheat introduced to Canada by David Fife and family in about 1842. From 1860 to about 1900, Red Fife set the standard for Canadian wheat and was grown and distributed across the country. Gradually replaced by “new and improved” varieties, it is now seeing a resurgence, being used by artisan bakers and grown by small-scale farmers, largely organically.

I’ve long been a fan of no-knead bread recipes, but after reading that organic red fife can be a little tricky to work with, thought I should kick it old school on this one. I adapted a couple of recipes to come up with this:

3 Cups warm water
1 1/2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 Cup honey
4 Cups white flour
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1/4 Cup honey
1 Tbsp sea salt
4 1/2 Cups red fife flour

Mix the first four ingredients and let stand for a half hour or so. Then add the butter, remaining honey, and salt, working in the remaining flour gradually while kneading for 6-8 minutes (you may not need the full amount). Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in volume, then punch it down, form into three loaves, and let rise again until the loaves are about one inch above the rims of their pans. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes (this may need adjusting – my current oven is way wonky). You can brush the tops of the finished loaves with melted butter for a soft crust, or leave them alone for a nice crusty loaf.

The result was a delicious loaf of bread with a firm, chewy crumb. Not bitter at all, the Red Fife flour imparted a nuttiness to the bread, and the scent while baking was mild and almost sweet. The bread rose well, better in fact than other whole grain breads I’ve made. The flour was fairly resistant to incorporating into the dough at first; I would probably mix more of it in from the start rather than try to pick it up while kneading next time.

I'd definitely work with Red Fife again. Not only does its resurgence represent the growing appreciation of heritage seed and its nomenclature an early example of teikei – putting the farmer’s face on food – but it makes yummy, yummy bread.

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