Whole-wheat bread

29Jan08

Sometimes, what I crave is something grainy and substantial, and at that point, only whole wheat bread will do. There are quite a few variations on this theme, some seeming to be of the opinion that simply using some whole wheat flour makes a whole wheat bread. It’s true that only using the one kind of flour will result in a dense and chewy loaf. Again, substantial. And using a percentage of white flour will lighten up the bread and cause it to rise a little higher. But for this weekend, it was all or nothing.

I decided to try my luck with Peter Reinhart again. This one calls for both a pre-ferment (poolish) and an overnight soaking of some coarse grain. The result is a chewy loaf that has a virtuous feel to it.

I should talk about the pre-ferment. A pre-ferment is used to give the dough some extra time to develop the starches and glutens in the dough. One result is extra flavor. Those lovely artisan loaves you get in the bakery or in the specialty section of the grocery store? There is a good chance the baker used a pre-ferment. There are a couple of main varieties, the (Italian) biga, the (French) poolish, and or the (English) sponge. Some are wetter (poolish), some are drier (biga), but they all combine flour, yeast, water, and time. The handy part is that much of the fermenting can take place in your refrigerator, which also helps to hold the dough and prevent over-rising.

Anyway, more will be said on the value of a pre-ferment in later posts (I’m a believer). And now, for zee recipe.
Whole-wheat bread, from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Makes 2 1-pound loaves

Soaker

1 c. coarse whole-wheat flour, or other coarsely-ground whole grains [I used a quick-cooking 9-grain cereal]

¾ c. water, at room temperature

Whole-wheat poolish

1½ c. high-protein whole-wheat flour

¼ tsp. instant yeast

¾ c. water, at room temperature

Dough

2 c. high-protein whole-wheat flour

1 1/3 tsp. salt

1 tsp. instant yeast

2 Tbsp. honey

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (optional)

1 large egg, lightly beaten (optional)

The day before making the bread, make the soaker and poolish. For the soaker, mix together the coarse whole-wheat flour and the water in a bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature until the next day. For the poolish, mix together the high-protein whole-wheat flour and yeast, then stir in the water to make a thick paste. Stir only until the flour is hydrated, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to ferment at room temperature for 2-4 hours, or just until it begins to bubble. Then put it into the refrigerator overnight.

Whole-wheat poolish

The next day, remove the poolish from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough to take off the chill. In the bowl of the electric mixer, stir together the whole-wheat flour, salt, and yeast [this step ensures that when the water is added, the yeast will not die an instant death from being in contact only with the salt, rather than with mostly the flour]. Then add the poolish and soaker, as well as the honey and (optional) oil and egg [I used an egg, but no oil]. Mix on low speed for about a minute with the paddle attachment until the dough forms a ball, adding more flour or water if needed.

Switch out the paddle for the dough hook, and continue working the dough at medium speed for 10-15 minutes. The dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky. It should pass the windowpane test [see below] and register 77-81°. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to it, rolling it once to coat the top of the dough [I just reuse the mixing bowl]. Cover with plastic wrap.

Windowpane

Ferment [let rise] at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Rising dough

Divide the dough into two equal pieces (about 18 oz each). Shape them into sandwich loaves [which means to pat them into a 5x7" rectangle, then roll lengthwise one section at a time, pinching the crease with every section to increase the surface tension. The sides should not taper, and the entire loaf with increase in width to the size of your loaf pan (8" or so)]. Lightly oil the loaf pans and put the loaves into the pans. Mist the tops with spray oil and lightly cover with plastic wrap.

Shaping into loaves

Shaped loaves

Proof [let rise] at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until the dough nearly doubles in size and is cresting over the lip of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350° with the rack in the middle of the oven. Just before baking, you can garnish the loaves by misting lightly with water and sprinkling with sesame seeds [I didn't bother, but you could also try poppy seeds].

Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes, then rotate them 180°, if necessary, for even baking. Continue baking for 15-30 minutes longer. The finished bread should register between 185º and 190° at the center [a digital meat thermometer is fabulous for this job] and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom [I've never understood this direction. I can't "thump" the bottom with my oven mitt, and I'm not burning my hands for this. I tap the top and see how things sound from that perspective]. The loaves should be golden brown all around and firm on the sides as well as on the top and bottom [since most bread pans are opaque, this is another puzzler-- I can't tell what things look like inside the pan]. If they are soft and squishy [direct quote], return them to the pans and continue baking until done [Yep. If the temperature, color, and top-thumping are correct, then you are probably covered without looking for "squishy" sides].

When the loaves have finished baking, remove them immediately from the pans and cool on a rack for at least an hour, preferably 2, before slicing and serving [this is a tough one, but really, the bread will not slice properly until it's cooled. You can just stand over it and inhale for that hour, if necessary].

Baked bread, still in the pan

Look, the sides are plenty firm

And voilà, whole wheat bread.

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2 Responses to “Whole-wheat bread”


  1. 1 Steak House Dark Breads - Page 3 - Discuss Cooking Community
  2. 2 Nervous Chef » Blog Archive » Spoiled

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