The Fugue Counterpoint by Hans Fugal


Erin’s Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

My adorable wife is very picky about her bread. It has to be 100% whole wheat, and the right shape for sandwiches. I'm kinda picky too, it has to taste good, have a light and soft crumb, be fun to make, and be able to wrap around my work schedule.

It's easy to make bread that satisfies some of those constraints, but it's been a long process to get everything just right. But get it right I have, and now I'm blogging it.

First, the recipe:

20 oz whole wheat flour
10 g salt

8 oz milk
7 oz water
2 oz sourdough culture
tablespoon honey
tablespoon oil or butter

Proof covered for an hour
Stretch and fold twice
Proof covered for another hour or two, until it begins to rise
Retard in the fridge overnight or up to a couple days
Stretch and fold, let rest 10 minutes
Shape (8½"x4½" pan) and let rise about 4–8 hours (depending on temperature and culture)
Bake at 375°F to an internal temperature of about 200° (adjust for altitude)

This is 75% hydration—the dough should be soft and sticky when first mixed. I could explain in detail what each of these loaded terms means (e.g. stretch and fold), but most of you are sick of hearing me prattle on about them and the rest of you can ask in the comments or search the all-knowing internet. There are helpful videos for S&F and shaping. Google for the poke test if you're not sure how to know when it's done rising.

It's sourdough, but it's not sour. It does have excellent flavor, but if you are put off by really sour bread don't worry (and if you want it, this isn't the recipe for you). It's not as light as white bread, but it is soft and not dense as whole wheat bread notoriously can be.

WARNING: Science Content!

The 8½x4½ pan size is nominally a "1 lb loaf" pan. This either means 1 lb of dough, or 1 lb of cooked bread (which means roughly 3 oz more than 1 lb of dough). Both are a far cry from the 2+ lb of dough we use here. I don't have a good explanation for this, and it makes me kind of uneasy. But this is the amount of dough it takes to get the loft my wife wants with whole wheat. Probably less would be required for white bread; the fact is whole wheat just doesn't rise as high as white bread—but don't ever let anyone tell you it must be dense or won't rise to lofty heights. Another factor is probably that my wife really likes a high mushrooming crown, and I get the impression that the professional bakers calling this pan a 1 lb loaf pan are satisfied with a squarish top loaf that crowns not far above the top of the pan. Maybe? Please enlighten me.

We grind our own flour, from white wheat. Red wheat and store bought is of course fine, it's a matter of preference. You may adjust the liquid as needed but 75% is going to be a good start for any whole wheat dough. The long life of the dough (thanks to the overnight retard and sourdough pace) gives the enzymes plenty of time to work, which gives a much more interesting and sweeter taste vs the harsh bitter whole wheat taste we all love to hate. You really will be surprised at how good it tastes.

One of the keys to whole wheat bread is to make sure it's kneaded well enough to develop the gluten. The long rise and wet dough means we don't have to do much work to achieve that (no-knead style), but if you want to throw it in your mixer and do the windowpane test, I doubt it would hurt anything.

The short initial rise (2 hours is a short time for sourdough) gets the sourdough beasties going without getting them into overdrive. It takes the dough a little while to cool to retarding temperatures once you stick it in the fridge, and so we will be well into the exponential phase. This means optimal growth after deflating and shaping (once the dough has warmed up again) which is important for good loft in sourdough. You can toy with the timing a bit, e.g. more initial proof for a shorter second proof (up to a point), or a shorter initial proof for a longer second proof (e.g. so it can proof overnight for a first-thing-in-the-morning bake). Exact timings are highly dependent on your ambient temperature and sourdough culture character.

I have a nice sourdough rhythm that I use for maintaining my start. When I use it, e.g. mix up a loaf of bread, I feed the jar 2 tablespoons of flour and water, then let it grow at room temperature about 8–12 hours. Then I feed it again and stick it in the fridge. This way it's ready to go in a few days and is live and healthy in the fridge, not old and dying. But it doesn't spend all its growing time at fridge temperatures, because every other feeding is on the counter, which is important for maintaining various desirable properties. I use the start straight out of the fridge, but you can also refresh the culture 6–8 hours before mixing your bread for extra vigor.

If you have any questions, please ask them and I'll fill in the gaps.

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