Saturday, February 7, 2009

100% whole wheat bread

After my last post about bread baking, Karen e-mailed me suggesting I read Peter Reinhardt's Whole Grain Breads. It took a little while for the library to transfer a copy to my local branch, but I've now had a chance to try out his basic whole wheat sandwich bread recipe--the foundational recipe from which the other recipes in the book stem.

Reinhardt's trick is in separating the dough into components. Half is hydrated and gets a little yeast to sit in the refrigerator to ferment; that's the biga. The other half is, um, lactated? soaked with milk I mean and set out on the counter to soften and develop flavor through enzyme activity.

Sounds like kind of a pain in the butt? Yeah, but my regular break baking method was complicating itself into something nearly as baroque. Whole wheat's going to be better for me, which I care about a little bit, and Reinhardt claims that his recipes are just as tasty and satisfying as white flour bread. I've heard that line of bull before but I shouldn't disregard it without trying it first.

So, let's go:

227 grams whole wheat flour
4 grams salt
198 grams milk, buttermilk, yougurt, soy milk or rice milk (I used just plain whole milk)

1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.

I, foolishly, used volume measurements for my soaker: 1 3/4 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 cups + 2 Tablespoons milk. This, I later calculated, gave me a substantial excess of flour in the mix. So I skipped the later step where 7 Tablespoons of flour are added to the final dough. I've got a fair enough sense of the texture I'm looking for that I'm comfortable the dough turned out about the way it was supposed to.

227 grams whole wheat flour
1 gram instant yeast
170 grams water, at room temperature

1. Mix together the ingredients until they form a ball of dough. With wet hands, knead the dough for 2 minutes to make sure the yeast is well-distributed. The dough should feel very tacky. Let it rest 5 minutes, then knead it again for 1 minute. The dough should smooth out but still be tacky.

2. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

3. Take biga out of the refrigerator about 2 hours before starting the final dough.

Final dough
1 soaker
1 biga
56.5 grams whole wheat flour (that's the seven Tablespoons. Why he uses the unreliable volume measurements as his base and then translates to unrealistically precise weight measures I have no idea.)
5 grams slat
7 grams instant yeast (that's the rest of the 2 1/2 teaspoon packet)
42.5 grams sweetener, same weight whether it's liquid or solid (I used slightly off-white sugar)
14 grams unsalted butter, melted or vegetable oil
extra flour for adjustments

1. Using a metal pastry scraper, chop the soaker and biga into 12 smaller pieces each.

2. Put the pieces and all of the other ingredients into mixer bowl. Mix with paddle for 1 minute on slow to bring everything together. Switch in the dough hook and mix on medium-low for 2-3 minutes until the pre-doughs become cohesive and assimilated into each other, adjusting flour or water until dough is soft and slightly sticky.

3. Dust a work surface with flour, then toss the dough in flour to coat. (I used white flour as it dusts better.) Knead by hand for 3 to 4 minutes until dough feels soft and tacky, but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean, lightly oiled bowl.

4. Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute and make any final adjustments. Check that it passes the windowpane test. The texture should be soft, supple and very tacky. Form the ball into a ball, put it into the prepared bowl and roll it around to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes until it is 1 1/2 times its original size.

5. Re-dust the work surface and transfer the dough out onto it. Flatten it out a little and roll it up to fit a loaf pan, or create a freestanding batard if you prefer. Seal up the seam and place in the pan. Cover loosely again and let rise for another 45 to 60 minutes until 1 1/2 original size.

6. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. There's a lot of odd stuff you can do to create steam if you're doing a free-standing loaf, but I did the loaf pan so I skipped that. (I, unbidden by the recipe, decided to slice the top of the loaf and pour a little melted butter over it.) When the dough is ready, put it in, lower the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the loaf and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes until the loaf is rich brown, sounds hollow when thumped and registers 195 degrees F in the center.

7. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan when cool-ish.

Here's my result.

First of all, that is not the light open crumb pictured in the cookbook. Instead it's the standard dense crumb of every whole wheat bread I've seen. Well, maybe it's a little lighter. It's not crumbly at all, even a little chewy which is unusual. The top crust has a little crunch. The flavor starts warm and buttery and then blooms to a bold toastiness as you chew. I'd say both texture and flavor are pretty good as whole wheat bread goes, but that's an entirely different category than a quality white flour loaf and no substitute. For the record, Reinhardt never claims that he's trying to make whole wheat bread taste like white bread, he's just trying to make it just as good. But the best apple isn't terribly satisfying when you just want an orange. Still, good to have access to both.

Reinhardt has some half and half recipes in the cookbook too. He calls then transitional loaves to help wean you from white flour breads, but since my current favorite loaves are around 20% whole grain I'm willing to try 50% whole grain on its own merits. Check back in next week for the results.

One last thing before I go: check out this adjustable bread bin I made by cutting off the ends of two rectangular plastic containers. The plastic is flexible enough that I was able to widen one enough to fit the other and lock the upper lip of the inner container over the outer one's. Not an entirely airtight seal, but not too bad. It's also good for taking fish home from CSA deliveries.


kat said...

We have problems getting wheat bread to be a texture we like too. Right now I'm just doing a mix of flours & it seems to work best for us

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