Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Whole Wheat French Bread

I was back up at my Alma Mater for the last week. While I was there, Corinna asked me to show her how to make bread. She only had whole-wheat flour and had not created a starter, so I picked an old favorite of mine and converted it for whole wheat bread.

This is the original recipe, from Bread Cetera, which I made many times over my senior year in college, and I even made a loaf for the president of my Alma Mater (and he emailed me and said he liked it!).

The recipe Corinna and I used went as follows (although this is a slight modification based on our results):
Pâte Fermentée
  • 2 cups, 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour
  • 0.8 cup water (warm)
  • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
Final Dough
  • Pâte Fermentée, all, chopped into walnut-sized chunks
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1.5 cups water (warm) *
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1.5 teaspoons honey
*more water may be added if necessary. Water should be warm, but not hot.
    1. 12-16 hours before baking (usually on the previous day) mix together the water and yeast (water should be around 80 degrees F, but not so high that it will kill the yeast) and then pour that mixture into the flour to make the Pâte Fermentée. Mix until incorporated. Then leave the Pâte Fermentée out for 1 hour before storing it in the refrigerator in an airtight container (so that it does not dry out).
    2. After the 12-16 hours, take out the Pâte Fermentée, divide into walnut-sized pieces, and let warm for 1 hour.
    3. Mix the final dough ingredients together, mixing the flour, salt, and the Pâte Fermentée first. Separately mix the yeast and water and pour it over the flour mixture (again, the water should be warm but not hot). Then add the honey and mix it in. Once all the ingredients are hydrated, put the dough on the counter.
    4. Knead the dough for 15 minutes. This is NOT your traditional form of kneading. It involves folding the dough over and slapping it on the table. Steve B. from Bread Cetera explains the process as follows: "The idea here is to stretch the dough and then fold it over upon itself, trapping air within the dough in the process. When the hand mixing is begun, the dough starts out rough and sticky; resist the urge to add more flour. As the mixing proceeds, the dough becomes more cohesive, smooth and much less sticky. In Bertinet’s words, the dough begins to “feel alive”. Just 10-15 mins. of hand mixing in this fashion will produce a smooth French bread dough with just the right amount of development for a loaf with good volume, a tender crumb and a nuanced flavor" ("Musings on Mixing"). I would highly recommend watching his video before attempting this [1]. To keep your hands from getting too dough-covered during this process do not flour them-- instead douse them frequently in cold water. You can do the same things with the tools you might use to scrape the dough out of the bowl or off the surface on which you are kneading. You can oil the surface with a neutral-tasting oil to prevent it from sticking.
    5. Oil a bowl. Make the dough into a ball and place it in the oiled bowl, and, covering it with a clean cloth, place it in the warmest part of the house (around 75 to 80 degrees is ideal) to rise for 1.5 hours.
    6. At the end of this first rising, the dough should have approximately doubled in size. Divide the dough into two pieces, one about 1/5 the size of the other. Let them sit for 20 minutes.
    7. Flour a bowl or proofing basket.
    8. Taking a dowel or the end of a very long wooden spoon, roll a plus-sign shape (+) into the larger piece of dough. Rub a little oil along the edges of the indentations. Then, place the smaller piece of dough at the intersection. Then place fingers at the edges of each of the little raised parts caused by the indentations and push them in toward the middle and flip the dough upside-down into the bowl for the final fermentation. **
    9. Let the dough rise for 1 hour under a clean cloth.
    10. During the final rise, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, make sure it heats for 30 minutes before you sprinkle it with flour and place the bread on top. Otherwise, prepare a floured baking sheet. Also, fill a non-glass heat-proof container with water.
    11. After the final rise, turn the proofing-basket or bowl upside-down to put the bread on the stone or baking sheet. Place the water-filled heat proof container on the rack farthest to the bottom (the baking stone or sheet should be on the middle rack).
    12. After ten minutes, remove the pan with the water. Bake for another 15-20 minutes. When done, the crust should be hard to the touch and dark brown, and if you were to lift up the loaf of bread and knock on the bottom it should sound hollow.
    13. Do not cut the bread until it has cooled for 10 minutes, preferably on a cooling rack.
    ** This process can be avoided if you want to make a boule or a batard-shape instead. For a nice lesson on batard shaping, see the Bread Cetera video.

        The bread itself turned out a little denser than I had hoped and not quite as sweet (so I added more honey to the revised recipe). I think the less open crumb may have been because we degassed it a bit too much when added the honey as well as I made a significant mistake in the last step of the rising process [2]. However, the bread turned out well and I recommend it, as well as encouraging feedback.

        1. When Corinna and I did this I found that the dough was much drier and tougher than I had anticipated and was very different from the white-flour version of the same bread which, at this stage, is very sticky and wet. As such, we added a significant amount of water (I changed the recipe I used here in an attempt to account for the extra water). If the dough is too dry, you can add water during this process. Note: Do not add flour at any point during this process. Even if the dough is really sticky, it is ok.
        2. Corinna realized that I had forgotten the honey so we did not incorporate it until preparing the bread for the second fermentation. Furthermore, I shaped the bread without giving it the 20 minute resting period. I increased the second rising time to 1.5 hours to compensate, but I think that the bread had been degassed too much and that is why the crumb was less open than I had hoped.

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