100% WHOLE WHEAT BREAD

I’ve played with many recipes for 100% whole wheat bread over the years but this is THE ONE, from the wonderful Peter Reinhart. It’s customizable, predictable, and flavorful. We grind our whole wheat flour from organic hard red spring wheat for the freshest taste, using a vintage Marathon Uni-mill stone wheel grinder. These are heavy-duty mills and I was lucky enough to find one on ebay that seems to never have been used, for $200. There are plenty of other mills on the market though, easier to find and just as useful for family bread bakers. If you’re not feeling the need to be so Little-House-on-the-Prairie, buy quantities of wheat flour that you can use up in 6 months or less and store it in your freezer. Whole wheat flour goes stale quickly because all of the natural oils are still in it. You can use it after the expiration date (it won’t hurt you) but it might taste stale or bitter, which you can detect by tasting the flour, and that will ruin the whole experience. If gluten is a problem for you try substituting organic spelt for whole wheat.

This recipe has a couple of steps. It’s not complicated or time-consuming but it does contribute greatly to the flavor of the finished loaf so don’t try to pull an end run and skip past it. Reinhart uses a SOAKER and a BIGA, both of which are done by hydrating the flour and letting the mixture sit in your fridge for a day or so before mixing the final dough. I prefer to use buttermilk and honey but you can substitute milk, water, whey, or soy milk for the buttermilk, or use agave or molasses instead of honey. The fats and milk solids in buttermilk and milk help condition the dough and make it easier to work with, in addition to contributing to the flavor profile.

After you’ve made this a few times you can try adding ingredients like raisins or sunflower seeds (use toasted seeds for the best flavor). Just toss them in with the flour in the final mix or knead them in by hand after mixing. This is the fun part of baking, the never-ending possibilities!

— Joan, 22 September 2015

100% WHOLE WHEAT BREAD

Makes two 1½ lb. 9″x5″ loaves

SOAKER

2¼ cups (331 grams) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon (6 grams) salt
1¼ cups (287 grams) buttermilk, milk, water or whey

Mix salt and flour together, stir in buttermilk. You can see in the photos at right that it is fairly stiff when mixed. Use your hands if necessary to incorporate all the flour and salt into the liquid. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours.

BIGA

2¼ cups (331 grams) whole wheat flour
1/3 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon (249 grams) water

Mix yeast and flour together, stir in water. As for the SOAKER, this is pretty stiff. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours.

FINAL DOUGH

2 Tablespoons (54 grams) honey, agave or molasses
1¼ Tablespoons (18 grams) melted butter
½ cup (72 grams) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon (6 grams) salt
2½ teaspoons (18 grams, or 1 packet) instant yeast
all of the biga and soaker

Stir the salt and yeast into the flour. Put the biga and soaker into the mixing bowl, add honey and butter, and mix on low speed, using the dough hook, until thoroughly mixed. Slowly add the flour mixture. When no visible flour remains, turn speed to medium and knead for about 7 minutes (or by hand, knead till smooth, about 10-20 minutes, taking care not to add much flour as you work). The dough should not be too stiff. If it seems very stiff add liquid a tablespoon at a time, mixing it in thoroughly before adding more. When in doubt add more liquid rather than end up with a super stiff dough that will bake into a brick. Whole wheat flour absorbs a lot of liquid. You should be able to grab a corner of dough and stretch it. If it’s too dry it will tear off easily. Look closely at the photo on the right – you can see little pieces of dough still stuck to the sides of the mixing bowl. That’s a good thing.

Cover and set in a warm spot to rise for 30 minutes. Turn it out and fold in quarters (each edge to the center, until all four edges are overlapping in the middle), replace in container with folds facing down. Let rise for another 20-30 minutes and turn again. Return to container and let rise until doubled in bulk. This will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. At 75°F it should take an hour or less.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and divide into two pieces. Pat (don’t pound!) each piece into a rough rectangle about 6″ by 9″. Roll each rectangle into a tight cylinder, pinching the edge into the cylinder and folding over the ends and pinching to the cylinder. Place seam-side down in a greased 9″x5″ loaf pan. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm place until the tops of the loaves are about 1″ taller than the pan, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter if desired and bake for about 40-45 minutes, till tops are well-browned and loaf sounds hollow when removed from pan and tapped on bottom. Interior temperature of the loaf should be about 200-205°F. Lay loaves on their sides to cool, flipping after about 20 minutes. Cool completely before bagging or slicing. To freeze, wrap cooled loaf in foil and place in freezer weight bags.

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