Wednesday, February 27, 2008

100% whole wheat bread

The addition of vital wheat gluten was excellent. Seriously, I now regret every other time I have made whole wheat bread without it, because the texture is that much better. As I sat in the dining room reading about Animal Behavior, I couldn't stop lightly squeezing the cooling loaves because they were almost pillowy. I've frozen the bread already (made three loaves, heading into that "hibernation" period of the semester where I act like a chicken with no head), but even the toast yesterday was a bit chewier and lighter than my past loaves have been. This is a super simple bread that wasn't too demanding to make. I usually like to fuss with different flours and grains and so on but since this was an experimental loaf (or three) I went with basic. If you decide to try it, pump up the amount of sugar by a little bit if you use regular or brown sugar, or try agave sweetener if you're in on that trend.

whole wheat bread

1/4 cup warm water (warmer than your body!)
1 packet active dry yeast
1 egg, beaten
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water (a little cooler than your body!)
2-2 1/2 teaspoons salt (use a little more if you don't plan on buttering your bread/using spreads)
1/4 cup honey
5 1/2-8 cups whole wheat flour
12 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (or so)

Put the warm water and yeast in a pretty large bowl, mix up a bit and let sit for five minutes or so until the yeast granules are nice and dissolved. This is a good time to beat up the egg and melt the butter if you haven't done so already. Add the egg, melted butter (I let it cool a bit first), lukewarm water, salt and honey to the yeast mixture and stir until well combined. Now, start adding the flour and vital wheat gluten a bit at a time, it'll be easier if you mix in a cup or two and then add more, rather than pouring it all in at once. Also, since the weather, the price of tea in china, and how exhausted you are might affect how much flour the bread needs on any given day (hence the wide measures), you'll have to pay careful attention to how the dough is looking. I used about 6 cups of flour and 2 tablespoons of gluten per cup, arriving at about 12 tablespoons vital wheat gluten. That'll change depending on how much flour you end up needing. Once the dough is neither dry nor sticky, knead for ten minutes or so (I usually spend about 7 minutes kneading and 3 minutes complaining about how kneading is such an arm workout) and when the dough is nice and satiny, make sure it's a ball and set it to rise in an oiled bowl for an hour, or until doubled. Make sure you oil the surface so it doesn't dry out (I usually cheat and spritz on some Pam Canola) and cover the bowl. I favor a clean, dry kitchen towel but plastic wrap does the job. When the dough has doubled, punch it down firmly but not violently, and cut it into three pieces. Roll the pieces into logs, tuck the ends under, and set them in greased/Pam-d loaf pans to double again, covered. While the logs of dough don't need to touch the sides of the loaf pans, you'll want to make sure the dough is touching both short ends of each pan, which helps it rise. This is especially hard with silicone loaf pans, which is one of the myriad reasons I hate silicone loaf pans. You might want to get the oven going at 400 degrees now, so it's nice and toasty when the bread has risen. The loaves should take about 45 minutes to double (but again, that depends on the temperature, the price of tea, and so on) so use your eyes. Now pop them in the oven for ten minutes, then drop the temperature down to 350 degrees to finish baking. I'm going to say that the bread is done when it sounds hollow on the bottom, but if that isn't clear enough for you, Nicole over at Baking Bites has superb advice.

Yields three yummy loaves.

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