Whole Grain Baking Technique

Part I – Why Me and Why You
Part II – Ingredients
Part III – Technique
Part IV – Recipes

Remember the goal (for me) is a nice, light loaf of bread. Keeping the bread light using whole grain flour is trickier than with white flour but it is very possible. Here’s everything I’ve learned so far:

Adding flour

  • Whole wheat dough will be stickier than white dough. In general, a well kneaded whole wheat bread dough should be tacky rather than sticky. But a roll dough will be a bit sticky.
  • Don’t be lured into over-adding on the flour. Remember that any excess flour will weigh the dough down. Your goal is to get the dough workable enough to shape it (you don’t want it to be “runny” or “loose” or it won’t hold up to rising), but the dough will not be perfectly smooth and self-contained like a white dough can be.
  • Don’t knead on a floured board or shape with floured hands. Again, you just want to be careful not to over-add flour. Also, whole wheat flour needs to be fully incorporated into the bread or it can have an unpleasant texture. So do your flour adjusting early and then stick to your guns and knead from there.
  • Pay attention. Write down how much flour it ends up needing so you have a good ballpark for next time you make the recipe. This will save you time from constant eyeballing and second-guessing.
  • Contrary to scary rumors in circulation, I have found the weather and the phase of the moon have very little to do with how much flour is required for a given recipe. It varies quite a bit depending on the type of flour you use, but you can expect consistent results from batch to batch once you have a good feel for how much is needed.

Mixing

  • A Kitchenaide, Bosch, or bread machine can be very, very helpful. However, you can knead by hand with great results. Remember to remove your wedding ring (you’re welcome).
  • Consider using a big tupperware with a flat bottom to do your kneading, to save on counter cleanup. You can leave the dough in there to rise, as well. Just don’t turn on the oven while the dough is rising in it. I’m just brimming with wisdom, aren’t I? :)
  • Plan on kneading twice as long by hand as you would in a mixer. If you can, you might borrow a mixer from a friend and make dough that way first. Feel it, so you’ll know what you’re shooting for when you knead by hand. Keep in mind it’s nearly impossible to over-knead dough by hand. As a bonus, you’ll get buff and work out any of pent-up frustration you have (assuming, of course, you tend to bottle your emotions).
  • In a Kitchenaide mixer, your bread dough should clean the sides towards the end of your kneading but probably will not in the beginning. It’ll barely detach from the bottom center of the bowl, whereas with roll dough you’ll maintain a little twister of dough stuck to the bottom center.

  • My roll dough is quite sticky, but becomes more manageable after the rise.

Rising

  • Bread and rolls do fine with speeding up the rising process. Artisan breads (pita and pizza and others) depend on slow rises to develop subtle flavors.
  • My dough conditioner speeds up rise times.
  • The two secrets to a good first rise: Warm and Damp. Depending on the state of my dough at the beginning of the rise, I choose among the following: Cover with a warm, damp cloth (if my dough is on the dry side). Turn dough in an oiled bowl so it’s oiled on all sides, then cover bowl with saran wrap (if my dough is on the dry side). Put dough in a dry bowl and cover tightly with saran wrap (if my dough is absolutely perfect, or on the wet side).
  • To get a fast rise, give the dough an environment like a Florida summer day. Depending on what’s going on in the kitchen, what the weather is like (because this DOES affect rise times) and how long I want to wait for the dough to be done, I employ one of the following techniques:
    - Let it sit on a regular old counter top and be patient.
    - Put it in a sunny spot or near the warm stovetop.
    - Put it in a slightly warm oven, possibly with a tray of water.
    - Proof it in the microwave for 5 seconds per cup of flour.
  • Whole wheat dough may take longer to rise, but not too much longer if you kept your dough light.
  • Over risen – You’ll know if you’ve let it go too long because your dough will be dimpled on top, like bubbles have risen to the surface and popped. When you punch it down, you’ll see it looks very “stringy”.
  • Under risen or perfectly risen? For the first rise, most studies say “until doubled” but it’s hard to tell exactly what that is. And “at least an hour” doesn’t always make sense, depending on the conditions you have to let the dough rise. My very favorite way to tell is just to lightly press the dough with my finger. If it springs back, it could use some more rising time. If the indentation stays, it’s ready:
  • For the second rise, I don’t like to poke the dough. Instead I eyeball it. If it’s a loaf of bread, I learn to tell how high the dough needs to rise above the lip of the pan. If it’s rolls, I learn how squished together the rolls should be in the pan when they’re ready to bake.

  • (Sorry about this photo, had white-balance issues but I did want to show the rise!)

Order of Ingredients

  • I typically add the water and yeast first, then the rest of the liquid, then some of the flour, then salt, gluten, dough conditioner, and finally the rest of the flour. I do this to separate the salt and yeast, and so the gluten doesn’t get gummy by being added straight to the water. Also, this lets me take the last step to vary the amount of flour as needed.

Baking

  • Realize that your pans will change the way bread browns. A very dark pan may need to be foiled on the bottom, or have a tent of foil placed over the top near the end of baking time. The goal is a nicely browned bread with the inside cooked. You want to avoid a doughy middle, too dark crust, or dry bread, and you’ll learn the right look and feel to bread when it’s perfectly done. It just takes practice. :)
  • I love a glass pan for rolls, because I can always tell the rolls are done when they slightly brown on the sides.

  • This picture makes them look a bit dark, but they were actually spot-on this time.

Cooling

  • I like soft bread, when it’s not an artisanal crusty bread of course. That means as soon as the bread comes out of the oven, I toss a kitchen towel over it and let it cool that way. It makes a world of difference. I also try NOT to slice the bread or tear off a roll immediately. Instead, I sit on my hands for 10 minutes and then I eat. The bread is still warm and yummy, but by that time much of that steam cooled inside the bread and keeps it moist.

Storing

  • We like soft bread (have I mentioned that?), so we store it at room temperature in a plastic bag or tupperware (in the case of pita or rolls). To transport a warm loaf of bread to a friend, I always put it in a brown paper bag and fold the top a bit. We usually gobble up bread in a day or two but my bread will last at least 5 days without refrigeration.

Next: Part IV – Recipes

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About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to two beautiful girls and one boy.
This entry was posted in Healthy Eating, Whole Wheat Baking. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Whole Grain Baking Technique

  1. Joy says:

    Lately have been trying to put together the right multigrain bread mix for my bread machine. Commercially bought ones are ok but I prefer to create my own. So far have baked 4 cratered loaves but am not disheartened. Did some research on the net and came across your blog and just wanted to say I found it real interesting.

    At this moment I have another experiment loaf going on in the machine. Hopefully this will be the one.

    Joy

  2. Laurie says:

    You don’t mention how you form the loaves. Would you explain that, since my bread is great all around the edges of the slices, but not dense enough in the center, and it breaks apart there.

  3. miked78 says:

    Thanks for all the great advice. I have read a lot of books on making bread, but yours is the first place I have seen much of this advice.

    Well done.

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