January 14, 2009

The Quest for the Perfect Loaf of Whole Wheat

I'm a fan of whole grains. I really, truly am. And so it makes sense that after a couple of successful white loaves from the bread machine, I should be able to whip up some super-healthy whole wheat bread. Right?


It started with not a complete failure... I used some white flour and some stone-ground whole wheat. But what emerged was far too dense. And there was another hiccup: I wasn’t around to remove the paddle at the right time, so it baked right into the loaf.
Back to the density: this has been the problem with my handmade loaves in the past. Not enough yeasty action. In fact, when this wheat loaf came out of the bread maker, Ryan said, “It looks like what you used to make before I gave you the bread machine.”

It wasn’t a total waste; I cut thin slices, toasted them, and spread on some local chevre and delicious chutney. A beautiful afternoon snack!

Before getting too discouraged, I did the tiniest bit of research and looked at three different grocery stores to find the finest-ground wheat flour around. To think, the two specialty stores (Central Market and ‘Ho Foods) didn’t point me in any kind of direction. But at my neighborhood HEB, I found Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Wheat flour in a five-pound bag.

They claimed to be the “best” for wheat breads, and so I gave my recipe another try. Same recipe, same size, just different flour. However, this loaf was still dense and incredibly dry. So I did MORE research and read about the vital-ness of vital wheat gluten (aka gluten, aka wheat gluten, aka vital wheat gluten flour, which was available in the bulk section at both Whole Foods and Central Market, though it took some asking around to make SURE that it was what I was looking for!)

You see, let me bust out a little bread science for you fine folks. Gluten is actually a part of some grass-related grains including wheat, rye, and barley (in the endosperm, if you remember from junior high science class what that part is). Thanks Wikipedia. “Legend attributes the discovery of gluten to Buddhist monks in 7th century China who sought meat-like ingredients for use in their vegetarian diet. With easily available wheat flour and water they made a dough which they submerged in cold water and kneaded. The water dissolved the starchy components of the dough and left behind an insoluble, gummy mass, 70% to 80% of which was gluten.”

Long story short, gluten makes breads chewier and fluffier. And I'm still not sure why. So, loaf three began... I followed the recipe on the back of Bob's flour bag (which called for gluten, and molasses) to make the next loaf. Girls' night was about to start, so I had to get everything in the machine and fly out the door. Before I left, I noticed how much higher the dough was, and decided to go ahead and remove the paddle because I didn't want it to bake in again.

In the meantime, I go out to meet my friends and Ryan gets home. Sweetheart that he is, he cleans the kitchen. And then when he hears the machine start beeping, he runs into the kitchen to remove the paddle, oblivious to the fact that I've already done so.

I'm totally going to give him major props for this attempt. He took the uncooked dough out, searched for the paddle, puzzled as to where it could have gone, and then realized I'd already taken it out. He dropped the dough back in and let the machine work.

So when I get home and ask, "Oooh, how's the bread?", he has a rather suspicious look on his face and says, "I dunno--how IS the bread?" At that point, I bolt into the kitchen to uncover this monster of a loaf that looks like it's been grabbed by a bear.

The good news? It's much chewier and less dense than before, and the flavor is fantastic! SO we'll stick with that whole wheat recipe for now, and hopefully keep improving upon it. For now, here you go...

Best-Yet Whole Wheat Flour Recipe, thankfully and only slightly adapted from Bob's Red Mill label)
For a 1.5-pound loaf...
1 cup Water 80-90 degrees
2-1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour (Bob's Red Mill)
1-1/4 Tbsp Milk Powder (Non-Fat Dry or essence of buttermilk, which is what I used)
1 tsp Salt
1-1/2 Tbsp Canola Oil
1-1/4 Tbsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Vital Wheat Gluten
2 tsp Molasses
2 tsp Yeast, Active Dry

Dump these ingredients in the bread machine in that order. We like light crust. Good luck!


Lindsey said...

Oh goodness, Ryan definitely had me literally 'laughing out loud.'

I'm going to try the recipe you posted. I've been having the same problems (minus the 'bear' attacking my bread). I'll let you know how it turns out!