Monday, April 12, 2010

Ah, Wheat Bread, thy name is . . . wheat bread.

I learned to make bread at my mother's knee (really), so I've been making it for years and years.  I make all kinds of bread, and I particularly love this artisan bread I learned to make recently [and I've made a few adjustments to improve my method in that recipe too, but that's another post]---but for my all-purpose, make-every-week, toasting/sandwich bread, I always make whole-wheat.  And I like my whole-wheat bread recipe, I really do . . . but . . . I think it could be better.  I was talking to my friend Karrie about this quest we're on to find THE perfect wheat bread.  We feel that it might be kind of greedy, in a way.  Or ungrateful to our mothers'/grandmothers' "tried and true" recipes which we've inherited---to want something MORE.  But we do.

And lately there has been something "off" about my bread, anyway.  Humidity changes?  Oven calibration?  Bad batch of flour?  I don't know.  But I've been doing a lot of experimenting lately, trying to make things better.  I should say right now that I really, really need a wheat grinder, so I can grind my own wheat.  It's been on the list of things I'd like for a long time, but you know how it is---other things always end up coming first.  So I know I could probably get the best results with my own ground wheat (I'd like to try the white wheat I see at Macey's), but for now, this is what I've got.  Here goes:

First of all, I have wanted to see if I can use the artisan bread method to get a nice wheat sandwich bread.  I like being able to keep dough in the fridge at all times.  I found a recipe here (the King Arthur Flour blog---see my post on KAF here) which looked great, but I'm sorry to say it was an utter failure.  Mostly because it tasted DISGUSTING.  I don't know what it is, but every time I've tried the slow-ferment method with wheat, it smells and tastes like SOAP when it's done.  Could be my flour, but I got the same result on two different occasions, using flour from three different bags/brands.  I'm still hoping to find a no-knead whole wheat recipe I like (maybe mixing some other flours? rye? spelt? etc.) but this isn't it.

Regular King Arthur Whole Wheat flour.  Lumpy and yucky.  And tasted like soap.

KAF White Whole Wheat flour.  Looks lots better and smoother.  But still quite dry/crumbly, and tasted like SOAP!

So, back to my good old bread recipe, the one I've been using for 25 years.  Or at least 20. :)  Now I was interested in trying the white wheat with my recipe.  With the lighter-rising results of the white whole wheat, perhaps I would be able to leave out the vital wheat gluten I usually add to wheat bread?  No, it turns out, the gluten is still needed.  My loaves without it did not have enough elasticity.

The following pictures show the same recipe, gluten added this time, (and I do weigh my flour, and try to keep all other elements constant---I can't stand a poorly designed/sloppily executed experiment; it's my Dad's influence) using King Arthur red whole wheat flour, and King Arthur white whole wheat flour.  (To eliminate the brand variable, I used KAF brand for both wheats.)
You can see that the white whole wheat (on the right, in all pictures) is smoother and rises up higher.
Same thing after baking.  A much more even crumb, and a higher rise, from the white whole wheat.

Inside, the regular wheat flour was much denser.  But the white wheat was not as light as you'd like, either!  Both were kind of dry, I thought, and not very elastic in spite of the extra wheat gluten I added.  Perhaps the two kinds of wheat absorb different amounts of water, and the regular whole wheat could be adjusted to make a lighter loaf.

I repeated this experiment with my regular, generic-brand whole wheat flour instead of the KAF red wheat.  The results were the same: both breads dry; the red wheat more so.

Next I tried changing the amounts of liquid.  Well, actually changing the amounts of flour, but the effect is the same as increasing the liquid.  I only used the whole white wheat here, since I already knew I liked that flour best.  If I'd had another brand of white wheat besides KAF, I'd have used it for comparison, but I didn't (and, as we've established, no wheat grinder to make my own).  I changed to amount of flour to 21 oz. instead of 24.  I didn't measure it in cups, but it's 4-5, I believe, depending on how you measure it.  The dough was stiff enough to form a ball in the mixer, and when prodded with a finger, it didn't stick.  But it was still sticky enough to require a light flouring on the counter before I did my final kneading, and to leave residue on my hands.  Basically, about as sticky as you could have it and still have it be workable.  I wanted to go as light as possible on the flour.
Much better crumb this time!  Look how much more spongy it is---can you tell from the pictures?  When I grabbed it and squeezed the loaf, it just sprang back to its original form instead of tearing or crumbling.

These nice, even, round air pockets (above) are what I like to see.  That's pretty unusual in a whole wheat bread---I have rarely (if ever) gotten that nice of a texture with whole red wheat.  It's the extra liquid's doing, I think, along with the extra gluten---but I don't think even adding extra liquid would give you this result with a red wheat flour.

Compare that with this white wheat (above) from the previous batch (the one with less liquid, or that is, MORE flour).  Still nicely risen, but so much denser!  (Ignore the little hole in the middle---that's Baker Error.)  And a lot less moist.  Not so good for sandwiches and so forth.

Still with me?  Here's the final recipe, then. 

Wheat Bread
2 c. warm water
2 T. instant yeast
1 T. salt
2 T. sugar or honey
1/4 c. canola or olive oil
1/4 c. vital wheat gluten
21 oz. whole wheat flour (I used KAF whole white wheat)--about 4-5 cups

Mix everything together in a stand mixer for awhile, till dough comes together and forms a ball.  Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead by hand a few times.  Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours, till doubled.  Form dough into two loaves (this makes smallish loaves, to fit my smallish loaf pans---if you have big loaf pans, you might want to 1-1/2x the recipe to make 2 bigger loaves), place in greased loaf pans, and let rise another hour or until doubled.  Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.  Turn loaves immediately out onto wire rack to cool.
I will keep you posted if I try any other recipes or variations!  I know there are lots of other options (Karrie mentioned adding lecithin, for example?) but I'm pretty happy with this current iteration.  It's light, moist, elastic, and tasty, and it keeps well.

5 comments:

  1. I am glad you went to all this trouble, so I don't have to. Once I made the world's best ever batch of wheat bread with my mother, but I've never been able to duplicate that success. I wish I had taken these kinds of notes. I think I might give your recipe a shot now that I'm all married and so domestic.

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  2. I found this endlessly fascinating. I have so wanted to make bread, but I never have ('cept the artisan kind) 'cause what I don't have me no stand mixer and I hear it's kind of a must. When I do get me a mixer though, you can bet your boots I'll be making this. BET YOUR BOOTS.

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  3. You're as psycho about bread as my mom! I mean that in a a good way. She still (after 20+ years living in the States) drives to Canada to buy her flour because no American flour lives up to the standards set by her Canadian Robin Hood flour. Now, maybe if you had that, your bread would turn out! JK. I love making bread too, and I can't wait to try out your new recipe because I was just given a wheat grinder and bought some white wheat with which to try it out!

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  4. Adding new ingredients into favorite recipes can be a challenge. You've discovered, as we did, that whole wheat benefits from more liquid and more time. Your side by side trials are magnificent. Thanks for putting our flour through it's paces! Frank @ KAF, baker.blogger.

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  5. Just a little tip I learned from a professional baker (it may help), yeast doesn't like metal. So avoid using it to mix your dough, including the bowl. Use plastic and wood instead. Since I've started doing this my bread has turned out so much better.

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