Of all the breads baked this year, I must say October’s challenge that Aparna Balasubramanian from My Diverse kitchen
picked out really gave me a run for the effort and conferred a whole new respect for the simple sandwich bread. As easy as it is to pick up a bag of brown bread from the supermarket (which unfortunately just turns out to be caramel colored white bread most of the time), It was quite a surprise to discover the completely different taste and texture of the real thing. Whole wheat flour needs a lot of coaxing to create a good looking loaf, and one of the reasons it took me some time to get around to this post was that the sandwich bread exercise was a tough lesson to master. I could make it right the first time, but it took 2 more loaves to really get the hang of it.
When using flours that are not subject to heavy processing like all purpose flour is, its essential to understand the starting material in order to create a flavorful bread. WHeat flour is a jumble of bran, germ & starch. Starch yields the familiar flavor of bread, but cannot effectively do so in the presence of plain bran & germ. These nutrient rich components need to be coaxed to release their flavor, soften and undergo a bit of enzymatic change before they release their goodness, and Reinharts technique aims to ensure that perfectly.
I opted to use Lemon juice in the soaker and sponge in order to help the strands of gluten develop (gluten is a protein which ‘clump’ together in the presence of acid) and also boosted up the gluten up a notch by adding a bit of extra wheat gluten. My first loaf was with a regular whole wheat flour without gluten, the second with a coarser whole wheat Pastry flour, and the third with an organic whole wheat flour from India that I use to make roti. Needless to say the softest was the third one, while the pastry flour bread yielded a nutty flavor & a chunky texture. The first loaf I made was riddled with a number of errors and did not rise quite as much as a consequence.
100 % Whole wheat bread: (Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s ‘Whole Grain Breads’)
For The Soaker:
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 to 1 cup water at room temperature
1 tbsp lemon juice
For The Biga/ Sponge:
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup milk (or a little more)
1 tbsp lemon juice
For The Final Dough:
The Biga/ Sponge
1 1/2 tsp Vital Wheat Gluten (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup whole wheat flour (and a few tbsp. more if required)
2 tsp instant yeast
1/8 cup oil (you could use melted butter too, if you choose)
2 tbsp granulated honey
Step 1- Making the soaker and the Biga/Sponge:
Mix all of the ingredients for the soaker together in a bowl until all flour is hydrated. Start with 3/4 cup water and then adding a little at a time, until you have the desired consistency. The Soaker should be somewhat like reasonably firm bread dough in consistency. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
Mix all of the ingredients for the Biga/ Sponge in a bowl and knead together well till a soft ball forms. As with the soaker, you might need more than the originally suggested 3/4 cup of liquid; Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. This will keep for up to 3 days.
The next day, as you get set to bake the bread, remove the Biga from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. You might find your Biga rising a little during this time.
Divide the Biga and Soaker into small pieces (about 12 pieces each) using a sharp knife or scraper and put them in the stand mixer. You can knead this by hand too, but the dough will be tacky and a little difficult to manage. Do not be tempted to add more flour, when it is time to, than necessary.
Add the remaining ingredients for the dough, except the 1/3 cup flour) and knead for about 3 minutes.
Let it rest for 5 minutes, then add as much flour as needed (if necessary) to the dough and knead for another 3-4 minutes. The dough should now come away from the sides of the bowl but still be a little sticky but somewhat manageable. It’s really important to not add too much extra flour during this step.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let rise until almost doubled (about 1 1/2 hours). Then turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat the dough out into a rectangle with a width that just a bit less than your loaf tin. See that you do not tear the dough. Roll it up and shape into a loaf.
Place your loaf in a greased and floured loaf tin (I used a 9” by 4” stoneware baking dish) and let it rise until it is just higher than your loaf tin. Bake the loaf at 180C (350F) for about 40 to 45 minutes until the top is a nice deep brown color and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
Let the loaf cool completely (at least for about 2 hours), before slicing it. Refrigerate the loaf if not consuming immediately.