Before I start writing this post let me do a happy dance. I have finally made a 100% whole wheat sandwich bread that was so soft and perfect that I could not believe it myself. The texture was everything that I expect from good bread and it really exceeded my expectations. Thanks to Aparna for choosing this recipe as part of our bread of the month for the group We Knead to Bake. She had chosen this recipe from Peter Reinhart’s whole grain bread book. I immediately brought this book from the library and was amazed to see many great recipes in it. Aparna had made few changes to the original recipe which I also adapted.
In the past just to make the bread slightly healthier, I used to substitute 50-50 all purpose flour to wheat flour. So making this bread 100% wheat flour was a scary thought to me. I have had several failures trying to make whole wheat baked products to the extent; few of what I baked had to go directly to trash from the oven. After reading through several success stories from my fellow bakers in the group, I finally came out of the shell and baked it and I am so glad that I did.
Reading though Aparna’s blog, I learned that if you soak your whole grain flours overnight, especially whole wheat flour, it breaks down the phytates in them, aids mineral absorption and makes the softer and more digestible.
The recipe below uses soaking the wheat flour as biga and soaker. Aparna had changed the ingredients slightly from the original one. She had used water instead of milk in the soaker because this would be left out in room temperature for 12-24 hrs. Since milk is something that makes the bread softer she had used milk instead of water for the biga which would be left in the refrigerator.
She also added a little vinegar to the recipe which increases the acidity of the dough and which in turn helps gluten development. There is also a little bit of vital wheat gluten added to the recipe which ensures that the bread comes out softer. It is optional but not really needed since we are soaking the whole wheat flour overnight.
If interested, here is a video where Peter Reinhart talks about whole grain bread.
Preparation time – Day 1- 20 mins, Day 2 – about 4 hrs
Baking time – 45-60 mins
Difficulty level – Medium
Ingredients – Makes 1 large loaf
For the soaker –
- Whole wheat flour – 1 ¾ cup
- Salt – ½ tsp
- Water (room temperature) – ¾ cup to 1 cup
- Apple cider Vinegar – 1 tbsp (can be substituted with regular vinegar)
For the Biga –
- Whole wheat flour – 1 ¾ cups
- Instant yeast – ¼ tsp
- Milk – ¾ cup (or a little more)
- Apple cider vinegar – 1 tbsp (can be substituted with regular vinegar)
- All of the soaker
- All of the biga
- Vital wheat gluten – 1 ½ tsp
- Salt – ½ tsp
- Whole wheat flour – 1/3 cup (little more or less)
- Instant yeast – 2 tsp
- Oil or melted butter – 1/8 cup (I used vegetable oil)
- Honey – 2 tbsp
Procedure – To make the Soaker –
- Combine all the ingredients mentioned under the soaker together until the flour is hydrated and mix well to form a ball of dough. I needed about a cup of water instead of the ¾ cup, but this could change from flour to flour. So start with ¾ cup of water and then add more as you go.
- Cover the bowl loosely with plastic and leave it at room temperature for 12-24 hrs.
- If you are making the bread later than 24 hrs, then place the soaker in the refrigerator and take it out 2 hrs before making the final dough. This will keep good in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl, Knead it well for about 2 minutes to form a ball of dough. Again this could use up more liquid than the mentioned ¾ cup.
- Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hrs or up to 3 days.
- Remove the biga from the refrigerator 2 hrs before you make the dough. At this time you might notice that the biga is rising a little bit.
- Using a dough scraper, divide the biga and the soaker in to 12 smaller pieces and place them in the bowl of the stand mixer. You could knead the final dough by hand as well, but the dough might be tacky and a little difficult to handle. So I would suggest using the mixer or the food processor.
- Add all the remaining ingredients mentioned (except the flour) in to the bowl and using the dough hook start kneading it. Knead for about 5 mins and then let it rest for about 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes start kneading again and at this stage add extra flour (if absolutely needed) to the dough and knead again for 4-5 minutes. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl but should be soft and slightly sticky. It is really important that you do not add more flour than it is necessary.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
- Let it rise in room temperature until almost doubled in size (about 1 ½ hrs).
- Now turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a loaf to fit your tin. For shaping the dough, see my step by step pictures here.
- Place your loaf into a greased and floured tin. I used a 9 x 5 loaf tin.
- Let it rise until the dough is slightly taller the loaf tin (about 45 mins to 1 hr).
- Bake the loaf in a preheated 350 F oven for about 45 mins to an hour, until the top is nicely browned and leaf sounds hollow when tapped.
- As soon as the loaf comes out of the oven, I brushed it with some melted butter to give it a softer crust.
- Let the loaf cool down completely in a wire rack for at least 2 hrs before slicing the bread. DO not even attempt to slice the bread when warm because it remains very wet in the center (Experience speaks here).