In Search of the Ideal Whole Wheat Bread

Bread is the most important item in our eating habits. The requirements are multiple enough to make baking into a headache. During last year I experimented with many recipes from the cooking books and internet to find “that perfect home made bread” which does not compromise neither taste nor health benefits. The best of all I tried was the so called “New York Times” recipe which comes from Jim Lahey, but replacing the whole grain flour for the white flour did not work – something had to be changed. Same New York Times website provided a whole wheat recipe which I tried too but I did not like results. Whole Wheat requirement was in the core of many problems: if it dominates the mix, it makes bread too dense, too hard, crust is too hard, bitterness, just to name a few…

Yet, eventually, some day … it came out of the oven as a pay-off for the patience:

Whole Grain Bread baked in Oven

I will describe three procedures: One using the bread machine for making dough, another does not use neither bread machine nor mixer – no knead bread, and the 3rd – whole bread made in the bread machine. Ingredients  are the same for the first two and different for the 3rd. Amounts of the provided ingredients produce 2 lbs loaf. Adjust accordingly for a larger loaf or to make more loaves at a time.

Recipe for baking in oven:

  • 2 cups of whole wheat four. Use hard wheat grain flour . Flour made from either red or white hard wheat kernels work equally as long as it is hard wheat kernels.
  • 1/2 cup whole rye flour.
  • 1/2 cup of rolled oats … can add flux or other grains keeping the same volume
  • 1/2 cup of either general purpose white flour or bread flour (better) – this small amount is enough to make dough rise well without compromising the nutritious value of the bread since 5 out 6 parts are whole grain. Making total 3 1/2 cup of flour.
  • 1/2 tsp of yeast (either Active Dry or Instant)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • from 1/2 tbs to 1 tbs honey: this is to “feed” yeast to increase rise of the dough
  • 1 3/4 cups of lukewarm water. Quality of drinking water is important – get water as pure as possible.

Total amount of grains is 3 1/2 cups. Ration of different grains may vary. Experiment with adding different grains, such as few seeds of caraway, flux, sesame, etc. , yet maintain the same total amount of grains.

A note on using yeast: Active Dry yeast must be first dissolved for 5 min in the same water you use for making dough and this water should be lukewarm temperature, Instant yeast can be mixed with all dry ingredients before adding water.

Making dough with bread machine

Set the bread machine to the dough making mode. Prepare all flours and salt mix.  If using Active Dry yeast, add to the lukewarm water measured as listed above and dissolve it. Add and dissolve honey in the water with east. Pour prepared water into the bread machine basket. Add flour and salt mix. If using Instant yeast, add it now on the top of the final mix.

Start making dough. In my machine dough will be ready in 1 1/2 hrs. Then continue with the dough second rise section.

Making dough manually – No Knead method

Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl. Include yeast only if you use Instant Yeast. In a separate bowl prepare lukewarm water and dissolve yeast in it if you use Active Dry yeast. Add and dissolve honey. After 5 min combine water with dry mix and mix all together. The dough should be soft but spongy enough to come off the bowl walls easily while mixing by hand. No need to mix too long neither knead the dough. Once it is mixed, put it into the bowl sprinkled with flour on the bottom, cover with a plastic wrap and let it first rise for at least 12 hours or up to 18 hours. Ideal time of the first rising depends on the humidity and temperature in the kitchen and density and moisture of the dough. When dough stops rising, it is ready. Continue with the dough second rise.

Dough Second Rise

I thought in the past that bread making machine, while making a dough, already goes through the second rise stage. Yet, I was surprised to discover how much of the rise I got in the second rise outside of the bread machine!

At this point all the recipes which I have read in cooking books and on Internet recommend to place dough on the board sprinkled with four and to rub flour between your hands so that dough did not stick. Try if it works for you. This never worked for me though as the dough made with whole flour is too sticky to handle. Instead I do opposite: I sprinkle the board with water and I make my hands wet to handle the dough.

Spread dough  flat with your hands and fold it tri-fold from the sides, then two fold. While dough is sitting there for about 15 min, I use this time to wash the utensils :=) By the time I am done, the dough ball is ready for the second rise. Prepare a bowl:  sprinkle a flour in the bottom and drop dough in it. Sprinkle dough inside the bowl with flour to make sure you will have easy job getting it out for baking. Wrap the bowl with a plastic bag. Let dough rise for 2 -2.5 hours. This duration of time is quite important: if dough is made well, it rises well even in last half hour.  Next to baking…

Baking in oven

Use a Dutch Oven, or Iron or Porcelain Baking Pot with lid suitable for the oven temperature up to 500F.

Preheat oven with your baking pot with it’s lid (removed) in it to 450F.

Quickly take the preheated pot (with kitchen gloves on :=) out of the oven and drop your dough in it. Shake briefly dough in the pot and put it in oven.

With lid on bake for 28 min (experiment with your oven). Then remove lid and bake for another 8 min (experiment with your oven). When making somewhat sweet bread (increasing amount of sweetener or adding raisins) the off-lid time should be shortened otherwise it will burn. I bake sweet bread for only 5-6 min off-lid. When bread is ready the cooking thermometer inserted in the bread shows temperature over 200F. My total baking time with and without the lid stays within 36 min. Again, the timing may need adjustment to your oven.

Pull the bread out of the oven and off the pot onto the cooling rack. Wait for 30 min before ready to cut. The crust softens while cooling.

Making whole bread with bread machine

Recipe is the same as above except increase in the total amount of the grains to 4 1/4 cups . All other ingredients are the same.

Prepare the grain mix with salt. Prepare the lukewarm water with active dry yeast and honey dissolved in it as in above methods (yeast dissolved first, then honey). Pour water mix in the machine basket, then add grains mix. Set your bread machine to the “whole wheat bread” setting and start. Immediately after the bread baking finish, take out bread, pull out the mixing paddle and turn it upside down on the rack to dry out the moisture and to cool.

If the bread comes out too moist or falling apart – increase the amount of the grains in the relation to the water. If it is too hard and burned – decrease amount of the grains. Also experiment with the crust setting if your machine has such. Bread machines are different in the baking sequence and temperatures.

Eating …

Just few more (the most pleasant) steps left …

  • Prepare butter to soften (no, not the one which “tastes like a butter” but the one which “is butter” ), knife…
  • Say a prayer.
  • Smell the bread and realize the blessing coming with it…
  • Turn on music.
  • Go on …

Bread will taste good for 2 days. Then will be good for the toast.

Few ideas for the Improvisational Jazz in the toast:

  • Toast slices saturated in the scrambled egg
  • Toast slices saturated in the olive oil with black pepper
  • Toast slices saturated in the melted butter mixed with garlic

Improvise with tune and harmony…

With all the right ingredients and right attitude – bread making is just another page in your personal creative art – your life story…

Note:  the experimentation still continues … updates can be expected

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