now that ad on Indian TV where Bipasha Basu tells that you’re eating all-purpose flour in the name of a biscuit? Well it’s pretty much the same with white bread or even a lot of the so called brown bread of the supermarket variety. Even the more expensive supposedly “real” whole wheat breads with a bit of bran sprinkled on the top, a mix of a little whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour. The brown colour in these “pretender” whole wheat loaves more often than not comes from the addition of caramel to the bread dough!
So what’s wrong with all-purpose flour? Nothing much really except that it’s nutritionally just carbohydrates and little else. And that’s just fine if one uses all-purpose flour sparingly. However, though whole wheat flour is richer in fibre and other nutrients, the truth of the matter really is the whole wheat is not very easily digested by human beings and I’m not talking about the gluten intolerant or those suffering from Celiac Disease.
I learned about the school of thought 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 them softer and more digestible.
A 100% whole wheat bread is not very warmly received in my home, though I quite like it occasionally. The major reason for this unpopularity is that whole wheat breads tend to be dense so whenever I do bake what my family calls my “healthy” breads, I tend to use a 50-50 combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flours. This makes my bread nutritionally better and somewhat satisfies the demand for softer bread.
To pass my family’s test for “good bread” this whole wheat bread would have to look and taste pretty close to a well risen white bread. Some people might tell you that it’s the knowledge that you’re eating what’s good for you that matters but we all know that argument does not cut it with most families.
I have however wanted to try making a soft 100% whole wheat bread (if that was possible) for some time now and a while back I came across rave reviews about Peter Reinhart’s recipe for such a bread. I had promised myself I would try making it and it was recent request from one of my fellow bakers in our We Knead To Bake group that had actually get down to it.
Peter Reinhart’s recipe uses a soaking procedure and the Biga/ sponge and that is the secret to the softness and texture of this bread. Other than that, it is important to knead the dough well to develop whatever little gluten there is in the whole wheat flour. Also be careful while shaping the dough into a loaf and make sure that you do not tear the risen dough as this will tear the gluten “cloak” that would have developed. Do see this video which gives you an idea on how to shape bread loaves.
This bread is not really difficult to make though it requires a little bit of planning as the Soaker (at room temperature) and the Biga/ Sponge (refrigerated) have to be made and rested for at least 12 hours. After this they can be kept refrigerated for about 2 days before baking them into bread.
I have made this bread a couple of times now. The first loaf I made was using the original recipe without any changes and I got pretty good results. I still kept feeling that I could get better results so I made some changes.
The first change was to use water to make my Soaker instead of milk because I wasn’t comfortable leaving dough mixed with milk on the kitchen counter overnight because it might spoil in my tropical temperatures. However, milk contributes to the softness of bread, so I used milk instead of water in my Biga/ Sponge which would be refrigerated and so be safe.
Then I added a little vinegar to the Soaker and the Biga/ Sponge. Vinegar tends to increase the acidity of the dough which, within limits, helps gluten development and contributes to the “bready” texture. I also added a bit of Vital Wheat Gluten, but not too much (see further down in this post), and some oil. All these helped to make a 100% whole wheat loaf which I felt was better and softer in texture.
Just in case you’re not keen on making an all whole wheat loaf (I know many people don’t), I have made this using 1 cup all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour for the Soaker and for the Biga, and the bread has been excellent. Of course it rises a bit more than an all whole wheat bread so you would need to use a slightly larger loaf tin (or 2 smaller ones).
About which whole wheat flour to use, we don’t have much choice in this matter in India. If you can find it, use fine milled whole wheat flour, the real “Chakki” ground Atta and not the packaged stuff. Packaged Atta doesn’t give the best results for whole wheat bread but when one has to work with whatever is available, you can use it and bake a fairly decent whole wheat bread with it. I used the Aashirvaad brand of whole wheat flour which I use to make chappathis, to make this bread.
Vital Wheat Gluten (VWG) is protein which is extracted from wheat and sold separately to be added to low protein flours to increase the protein content. So if you add VWG to all-purpose flour you can make your own bread flour. Whole wheat flour is very low in gluten/ wheat protein which is extremely important in bread as it gives bread its characteristic texture/ chewiness and rise. So many bakers tend to add a little VWG to whole wheat flour especially when baking 100% whole wheat breads.
You can make this bread without VWG as the Soaker, the Biga/ Sponge and the honey and milk are all supposed to make it soft and give it a really good texture. I have made it both with and without and while adding a little bit of VWG does make for a slightly higher and softer bread, the one without is also pretty good. If using VWG, the rule of the thumb measurement in most cases is suggested as 1 tbsp of VWG for every 2 to 3 cups. Remember to put the VGW in the measuring cup and then top up with whole wheat flour.
If you’re interested, here’s an episode of TedTalk where Peter Reinhart talks about Whole Grain Bread.
100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread(Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)
Ingredients:For The Soaker:1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour1/2 tsp salt3/4 to 1 cup water at room temperature1 tbsp vinegar (apple cider or plain)For The Biga/ Sponge:1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour1/4 tsp instant yeast3/4 cup milk (or a little more)1 tbsp vinegar (apple cider or plain)For The Final Dough:All of the SoakerAll of the Biga/ Sponge1 1/2 tsp Vital Wheat Gluten (optional)1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt1/3 cup whole wheat flour (and a few tbsp. more if required)2 tsp instant yeast1/8 cup oil (or melted butter if preferred)2 tbsp honeyMethod:
First make the Soaker. Mix all of the Soaker ingredients together in a bowl until all of the flour is hydrated. I found that I needed more than the original 3/4 cup of water suggested and used a little over 1 cup but this can change from flour to flour. So I would suggest using 3/4 cup water and then adding a little at a time, until you have the desired consistency. Your Soaker should be somewhat like reasonably firm bread dough in consistency. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
Now make the Biga/ Sponge. Mix all of the Biga/ Sponge in a bowl and knead together well till a soft ball forms. Again you might need more than the originally suggested 3/4 cup of liquid; I needed a little more. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. This will keep for up to 3 days.Two hours before you plan to mix your dough for the bread, remove the Biga from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. You might find your Biga rising a little during this time.
Divide the Biga and Soaker into small pieces (about 12 pieces each) using a sharp knife or scraper and put them in the food processor bowl (or stand mixer). You can knead this by hand too, but the dough will be tacky and a little difficult to manage. Do not be tempted to add more flour, when it is time to, than necessary.Add the remaining ingredients for the dough, except the 1/3 cup flour) and knead for about 3 minutes. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then add as much flour as needed (if necessary) to the dough and knead for another 3-4 minutes. Your dough should now come away from the sides of the bowl but still be a little sticky but somewhat manageable. It’s really important to not add too much extra flour during this step.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let rise until almost doubled (about 1 1/2 hours). Then turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat the dough out into a rectangle with a width that just a bit less than your loaf tin. See that you do not tear the dough. Roll it up and shape into a loaf (see the video, if you need it).Place your loaf in a greased and floured loaf tin (I used a 9” by 4” loaf tin) and let it rise until it is just higher than your loaf tin. Bake the loaf at 180C (350F) for about 40 to 45 minutes until the top is a nice deep brown colour and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.Let the loaf cool completely (at least for about 2 hours), before slicing it. Refrigerate the loaf if not consuming immediately.