Thursday, June 24, 2010

Simple Breads Part 2 - A Whole Wheat Loaf

I am continuing my thoughts from my last posting, trying to create a simple but delicious loaf of bread using good, healthy and readily available ingredients. This time I want to try a whole wheat loaf while trying to avoid the pitfalls. A lot of people have a kind of fear of whole wheat bread. And like most fears this one is really unfounded.

Whole wheat flour is heavier than all purpose 'white' flour. That's a fact. It's made by grinding the whole wheat berry, the bran, the endosperm (with the starch) and the germ. The bran and the germ give the flour its typical dark color but also add to the overall weight and density of the flour. Also the sharp edges of the ground bran tend to cut the fibers of gluten you want to develop. This means that you need to compensate. One way would be to add a little more yeast. This gives a little more 'lift' to the bread but be careful. Too much and you will be left with a 'yeasty' aftertaste that not everybody likes.

Another way is to add more liquid to the dough. Whole wheat flour absorbs much more water that AP flour. Some recipes have water to flour ratios of 80%, i.e., almost 13 ounces of water for every 16 ounces of flour.

Another tactic is to simply mix different kinds of flour together. Half and half all purpose flour with whole wheat for instance will give you the nutritional advantages of whole wheat but still be light and airy like bread made with all white flour. All these methods work great but require a little more attention to detail and more exact measuring ingredients. Also, time. Since it's heavier and gluten strands are shorter, whole wheat dough must be kneaded a little longer and rise times are longer too. Baking times tend to be a little longer as well. For a truly comprehensive reference with great recipes for whole grain breads you really can't do better than Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.

The following recipe uses a combination of whole wheat and AP flour and honey as the sweetener. In my previous post I talked about sweeteners. Just to recap: there are lots of different sweeteners you can use and they all work well. White sugar will sweeten and not color the dough. Brown sugar colors the dough obviously but can be substituted for white. Honey will make the dough slightly 'off-white' and quite a bit richer in texture. You should probably reduce liquids a little if using honey although with whole wheat bread you might be able to avoid this. Molasses is the same only much stronger in flavor and, of course, it makes the dough quite dark in color.

Here is what you need (no pun intended):

1-1/4 cup warm water, 95 to 110 degrees F (30-40 C)
1 Tbsp (30g) or 2 pkg. (1/2 oz.) active dry yeast
1 cup milk, room temperature
1/4 cup honey
3 Tbsp  (45 g) soft butter
2 tsp salt (10g)
4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour or all purpose flour


In large bowl, mix the warm water and the yeast. Add the milk, honey, butter, and salt to make a kind of slurry.  Add all 4 cups of the whole wheat flour and mix well. The result will be very sticky even if as it becomes too thick to stir with a wooden spoon. Add in enough of the bread flour to make a dough that is tacky in texture but definitely not sticky. 

Knead for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour as needed until the dough is firm and smooth to the touch. Place dough in medium greased bowl, turning it over so that it is completely but lightly covered in oil. This will keep it from drying out. Cover the dough with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

Punch down gently to release the gas.. Then, turn the dough out onto lightly floured board and knead for a few minutes until you have a smooth dough. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces then roll them out into 'snakes'.  In the illustration, I have made round 'boule' shapes.

You can also make smaller roll-sized shapes and add toppings as in the photos. 
 or even smaller like these...

Set 3 pieces aside. Line 3 'snakes'  side-by-side and pinch the top ends together. Braid strips and pinch bottom ends together. Set braided loaf on greased baking sheet and repeat steps for the remaining 3 pieces of dough. Cover loaves with kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 30 to 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.  Here are the rolls after rising.

If you wish you can 'wash' the bread with egg and then sprinkle some sesame seed over the top before baking.

Bake bread at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until bread top is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when the top is tapped. Remove breads from baking sheets and let cool on rack.

You won't be disappointed, believe me. Yum! There are many excellent whole grain cookbooks to choose from. Some of the best include Hodgson Mill Whole Grain Baking: 400 Healthy and Delicious Recipes for Muffins, Breads, Cookies, and More , Master Bread Making Using Whole Wheat and Whole Wheat Bread: Secrets of the Masters Made Easy. Sit down with some great recipes, pay attention to details, and most importantly, enjoy!!!


  1. great simple healthy recipe

  2. Glad you like it. Usually the best foods are the result of simple ingredients and treating them with respect. They taste great, and end up being the healthiest way to go.