When I was growing up, nobody I knew ate whole grains. We were still in white bread, TV dinner, canned peaches territory, and if anyone did happen to mention whole wheat, they were considered fringe and therefore suspect as a dining companion. After all, if they ate whole wheat, who knows what other odd foods they would demand?
Then, the back-to-the-earth movement kicked in, fueled by hippies, higher consciousness, and a growing concern for health. I wanted to eat whole wheat bread, I really did. I knew it was good for me, but it was very dense and heavy enough to weight down a newsstand during a Chicago winter. Eventually, I learned to appreciate the efforts of bakeries supplying those 100% whole wheat breads to my local health food store. The flavor of whole wheat was an undeniably earthy and welcome pleasure, though the meatloaf –like texture meant the bread had to be sliced very thinly in order to enjoy it. Even then, it often crumbled.
What’s with those heavy, crumbly breads? The problem with using whole wheat in baking is the bran. This brown, outer hull of the wheatberry offers nutrition and fiber, but it interferes with the development of gluten, which provides structure (think backbone) to breads and pastries. Bran has sharp, jagged edges. During mixing and kneading, when development of the gluten strands is crucial, those sharp edges cut into the gluten strands, shortening them, and preventing the structure of the bread from being built. Making bread with only whole wheat flour is like wanting to build a skyscraper, but only having enough structural supports to build a 2-story building. It’s just not the same in the end.
Without gluten, there is no structure -- no fishing net of gluten woven throughout the bread in which to catch the carbon dioxide bubbles formed by the living yeast. These trapped bubbles are what cause breads to rise, and give them a light, airy texture. Without sufficient gluten to trap them, the CO2 bubbles escape from the dough into the air, leaving dense bricks of bread that lack even enough structure to hold together when sliced.
Fast forward in the progression of wheat bread - past leg warmers and shiny lycra leotards in the gym (thank goodness), past shoulder pads and business suits, past big, bulky personal computers and cell phones the size of a walkie-talkie - to today. There’s been a whole grain revolution, and food-lovers are reaping the benefits on a daily basis. We’ve learned to incorporate whole wheat into our diets – and our breads – in enough quantity to enjoy the health benefits, while still using some white flour to retain the structure and texture we love. In other words – the best of both worlds. You’ll find tasty recipes below with just such principles in mind.
More Baking with Whole Wheat Grain details and recipes follow after the jump.
Underrisen Perfectly Risen Overrisen
You can also modify recipes you already have by incorporating some whole wheat flour into their formula. This is not an exact science, but begin by removing ¼ of the white flour, and substituting the same amount of whole wheat flour back in. For instance, if your recipe calls for 2 cups of white flour, reduce it to 1-1/2 cups, then add ½ cup whole wheat flour to the mixture. This will almost always produce a whole wheat enriched bread or pastry, while retaining the texture and crumb that you expect. Can you go even higher in whole wheat? Sure, but each recipe will take a bit of experimentation on your part to get it just right. Remember to follow the scientific method as you play with a recipe - increase the whole wheat flour by small amounts (say, 1/4 cup each try) without changing any other ingredients at the same time. That way, if there’s a problem, you’ll know exactly what caused it.
For those of you who want to delver deeply and deliciously into the realm of whole grain bread baking, don't miss the masterpiece work published this year by renowned baker Peter Rheinhart entitled Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavors.
As fall progresses, and we crave the hearty foods of the season, whole wheat bread is a natural accompaniment. I’ve included 2 recipes below for when baking inspiration strikes. The first is a yeast-risen bread that is packed with flavor and multiple grains (don’t worry, you don’t have to run around to find them – you’ll use a 6 or 9 grain cereal mix from the supermarket). The second is a simple quick bread that combines whole wheat, walnuts and dried fruit in a loaf that can be ready to eat in less than an hour (30 minutes if you decide to use the batter as muffins). Enjoy!
NINE-GRAIN WHOLE WHEAT HARVEST BREAD
Makes 1 Round Loaf
Whole wheat bread has many health advantages, but the best reason for making this loaf is because it tastes so good. Wholesale flour supply companies always offer several grain mixes to professional bakers; good-quality hot cereal mixes from the health food store are an excellent substitute. We particularly like the nine-grain version, but if you find a six-grain cereal, it will work just as well. Add a handful of additional sunflower, flax, or sesame seeds, if you like, for extra flavor and texture. Be sure to let the cereal mixture cool to room temperature - if it is too hot it will kill the yeast.
Equipment and pan preparation: Medium Bowl, Stand Mixer Fitted with a Dough Hook Attachment, Whisk, 10- to 12-inch Straight-Sided Translucent Plastic Tub or Mixing Bowl, Bowl Scraper, Pizza Peel, or Baking Sheet, Parchment Paper, Baking or Pizza Stone, Lame or Razor or Chef's Knife, Instant-Read Thermometer, Serrated Knife
- Make The Cereal Mix: Pour the cereal into the medium bowl. Add the boiling water and stir to blend. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes or refrigerate overnight (bring the mixture to room temperature before continuing).
- Mix, Rest, And Knead The Dough: Pour the warm water into the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the sugar and yeast and whisk by hand to blend. Let sit for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and foamy or bubbling. Add the cooled cereal, honey, bread flour, whole wheat flour, and salt. Knead the dough on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow it to fully hydrate before further kneading. Turn the mixer to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough is firm and elastic, 4 to 7 minutes.
- Rise The Dough (First Rise): Lightly oil the tub or bowl, scrape the dough into the tub, and lightly coat the surface of the dough with a little oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rise until doubled in size, 35 to 45 minutes (longer if the room is cold). If you are using a tub, be sure to make the starting level of the dough with a pencil or piece of table so it's easy to tell when the dough has doubled.
- Punch Down And Shape The Dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don't knead the dough again or it will be too springy and difficult to shape (if this happens, simply cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towl and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes to give the gulten some time to relax.) Shape into a round, taut loaf. If you are using a baking or pizza stone, transfer the loaf to the semolina-dusted pizza peel, or form a makeshift peel by lining the bottom of a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you are not using a baking stone, transfer the loaf to the cetner of a parchment-lined baking pan.
- Proof The Dough (Second Rise): Lightly cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and allow to rise until it is almost doubled and looks like it has taken a deep breath, 20 to 30 minutes.
- Prepare The Oven: Place the baking or pizza stone in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400F. Be sure to allow 30 minutes to 1 hour for the stone to fully heat.
- Bake The Loaf: Dust the top lightly with flour - don't got crazy here or you'll have a mouthful of flour. Slash a pattern in the top of the dough with a lame, razor blade, or chef's knife. If the dough is on a pizza peel, transfer to the baking stone; if on a baking sheet, simply set the baking sheet on the baking stone or oven rack. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and the internal temperature registers 190F on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. Slice with a serrated knife.
This bread will keep at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, fro 3 to 4 days. For longer storage, double-wrap in plastic and freeze for up to 1 month. To thaw, place on the counter for 2 hours, or until it reaches room temperature. Reheat the unwrapped thawed bread in a 400F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crum is warmed and the crust is crisped.
WHOLE WHEAT WALNUT BREAD WITH CRANBERRIES AND ORANGE
This loaf is a one-bowl snap to make, with just a hint of sweetness from the dried fruit and honey. I love it for breakfast to start my day with a wholesome goodness, warm from the oven. Lately though, my favorite way to enjoy this bread is by transforming it into biscotti. I cut the baked and cooled loaf into ½-inch thick slices, then cut them in half to shorten them, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 300 F. for 10 to 12 minutes on each side, flipping them halfway through. You end up with crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, savory biscotti! A great snack on the run or replacement for those super sweet commercial granola bars. For muffins, simply scoop the batter into paper liners in a muffin tin, but watch the time, as they’ll bake more quickly – start checking at 20 minutes.Equipment and pan preparation: One 8 by 4-inch loaf pan, lightly oiled or sprayed, lined with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom, Large bowl, 2-cup measuring cup, Whisk, Silicone spatula.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven.
- Place the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Measure the buttermilk in the measuring cup, then add the egg, oil, honey and orange zest, and stir briskly with a fork or small whisk to blend well.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the liquids. Stir with the silicone spatula until the batter is evenly moistened and there are no patches of flour. Scrape into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown, firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center comes out free of crumbs and batter. Transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or room temperature.
Getting Ahead: This bread is best when eaten the same day it is made (except for the biscotti!). Uncut, the loaf will keep uncovered at room temperature for 1 day. For longer storage, or once cut, wrap tightly in plastic. The bread can also be frozen for up to 4 weeks. Wrap in plastic and slip into a ziptop freezer bag. To thaw, remove from the freezer 2 hours before serving, so it has time to thaw and come to room temperature. To warm the bread, wrap loosely in foil and warm in a 350 F. oven for 10 minutes.
Tools of the Trade:
- Pizza/Bread Baking Stone
- Pizza Peel
- Things Cooks Love™ Bread Knife
- KitchenAid® Onyx Black Pro 600 Stand Mixer
- Emile Henry Loaf Pan
- Parchment Paper
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.