Monday, March 7, 2011

Peter Reinhart's Whole Wheat Hearth Bread

Whole Wheat Hearth Bread
This is my first hearth bread that actually came out as bread instead of a gummy mass [1]. I stuck pretty close to Reinhart's recipe from Whole Grain Breads, so I won't replicate the recipe here (Reinhart 153-155) [2]. If I tweak it some more, I will probably add it [3]. If you are new to bread baking (like I am or newer) and you like whole grains, this book is fabulous, not only for it's fabulous introduction on whole grains but also the incredible glossary in the back.

I thought I would use this bread to remember some lessons that I learned (and am learning) about baking. A recent comment from a wonderful friend (who is, in fact, the person who gave me Whole Grain Breads in the first place) reminded me that I am guilty of not providing adequate information to those who are self-teaching in breadmaking (which is what I did). So, I will go through my process making the bread and discuss the different techniques that I learned. I will omit a discussion of baker's percentages because I discussed them in a previous blogpost.

This bread starts out with a soaker and a biga, each at 75% hydration. Biga and soaker are both types of pre-ferment or "old dough." Pre-ferments are used to increase the flavor of the dough without having to spend a long time and lots of space increasing the flavor of dough through a slow, cool fermentation process. In this particular case, almost all of the dough goes through this long-fermentation process (only enough flour is added the next day to move the dough from 75% hydration soaker and biga to 70% hydration dough and no water is added). Biga is "the Italian name for pre-fermented  dough. It is usually a stiff dough with a small amount of yeast and no salt" (Reinhart 299). By contrast, a poolish (not used int his bread) is "a French-style, sponge-type pre-feremt, usually made of equal parts water and flour and a very small amount of yeast" (Reinhart 300). Soaker is an "old dough" but a non-fermented one,  "containing grain, along with water or other liquid, and sometimes salt. Soaking the grain initiates enzyme activity in advance of fermenting the dough" (Reinhart 303).

Instead of a biga (made with baker's yeast) I used wild yeast (better known as sourdough starter, sourdough culture, or levain). I keep my sourdough starter at 100% hydration, so I modified it by adding enough extra flour and water to give it the 75% hydration of the biga.

Baker's yeast is the yeast that you can buy at a grocery store. There are two kinds: instant yeast (or bread-machine yeast) is Reinhart's preferred yeast. It does not require hydration before it is mixed into the dough. The alternative is dry active yeast, my preference, which requires a small degree of hydration before use. In this case for the final dough, I added a little bit of water to my yeast so it became a paste when I put it in, and I added a in small amount of flour to compensate for the change in hydration. This dough uses a large amount of baker's yeast (2.25 teaspoons) so that it can rise rapidly. Even with the large amount of yeast, I doubled Reinhart's rising times because my house is at a lower temperature than the ideal conditions for rapidly proofing bread (which I believe, but I could be wrong, is about 80-85 degrees F for bakers yeast and about 70-75 degrees F for wild yeast [4]).

In the morning after the overnight fermentation of the old dough, you have to allow any old dough that has been in the refrigerator to warm to room temperature, and then mix the final dough. My final dough included honey, which sweetens the flavor of the whole wheat. It also softens the crust and means that the crust and brown or burn at a lower temperature. Reinheart gave the option of adding oil or butter as well and instructed that the baker roll the dough in oil later in the process. The oil/butter also compromises the hard crunchy crust, so I decided to omit it. After mixing, the dough rests so the flour can fully hydrate. Reinhart suggests five minutes. A longer period is called an autolyse, and usually allows the dough (or the dough except for salt or oil) to sit for often 30 minutes in order to allow the flour to hydrate and the dough to gain the silky texture of well-worked dough more quickly (Reinhart 299).

Kneading is the most important part of the process. At this point, you develop the gluten structure that will allow the bread to rise and gain an open crumb, that wonderful light, airy, holey texture of artisan bread, and incorporate some air into the bread. I think the air incorporation helps because it adds some air into the dough but it also means that the yeast that is raising your bread during the proofing are in aerobic respiration-- i.e. they eat faster and produce more carbon dioxide. If it lacks oxygen, it respires anaerobically, which is slower and produces ethanol which will eventually kill the yeast [5]. Bread Cetera describes the slap-and-fold technique as a way of mixing bread which incorporates air. I agree and I used it for a while on this bread, but I find that slap-and-fold tends to work best for breads over 70% and under 80% hydration. At 70% hydration dough, like this hearth bread, the momentum of slapping the bread against a surface does not seem to stretch the dough sufficiantly. Because of this, I used a combination of first slap-and-fold and then stretch-and-fold. Stretch-and-fold is Reinhart's technique of stretching the dough and folding it in half away from you, and then the same toward you, then folding the left half in a third of the way, and then the right half in a third of the way, and then flipping the dough so that it is seem-side down. Repeat four times in a 40 minute period. When the dough is ready, it becomes silky and elastic.

Another way to test is called the window pane test: stretch one corner of the bread in front of a light to the point where you can see light through it. If it works, gluten is developed. If the dough rips, it requires more kneading.
Before first fermentation

After kneading comes the first fermentation or the first rise. The dough usually rises in a clean, lightly-oiled bowl (although Rayner alleges that even this small amount of oil slightly compromises the crust) covered with plastic wrap or some material the will keep the dough air-tight so it does not dry out. Using a moist towel does not help (Rayner 78).
The end of first fermentation
Once the first fermentation is over, round the dough by placing it on a floured surface and pre-shape it without degassing so the shaping will be easier. Let the dough relax for 15-30 minutes so that it does not try to shrink back into it's old shape. The comes shaping. Shaping is my least favorite part of the process because it is my weakest area. Servia actually shaped my Pain au Levain for me while I was at work. The most important thing for a free-form loaf (one not cooked in a loaf pan or similar) is making sure the "skin" is taught to hep ensure a crunchy crust and open crumb. I put my boule (the round shaped loaf) into my banneton (a wooden bread basket which I sprayed with a little bit of oil and dusted with flour) to rise for the final proofing.
After the pre-shape
I may have been a little over-zealous putting flour on after the pre-shaping. This is not advised.
Shaped and in the banneton
After the final proofing
The final proofing allows the bread to rise again after the partial-degassing that happens during the shaping process. Then I placed a floured peel over the banneton and turn it over so the dough falls onto the floured peel. I use a peel, because I bake my bread on an oven stone. You can use a traditional oven stone or you can use an unglazed terra-cotta tile. My first baking stone, which I still use although I now have a more traditional oven stone, was a granite tile ($4) that I turned so that the polished side was facing the bottom of the oven. I oiled my stone with olive oil before I used it and dust it with flour immediately before the bread goes on it. An oven stone helps mimic the stone ovens that bakers use to bake their bread and it helps to more evenly distribute the heat to the baked goods.
On the peel.
Then I scored the dough. I did a particularly sloppy job this time. Scoring the dough provides that great artisan look and allows it to expand. It also, according to Understanding Baking, allows some of the gasses to escape so that the bread does not swell too much in the oven and end up with gigantic air pockets (Amendola 165). I think there are other reasons for it, but I do not remember what they are. I use an exacto-knife, but traditionally one scores dough with a lame. Let the knife do the work, and cut at a shallow-ish 45 degree angle for that textured scoring. I did not know this when I scored my Pain au Levain.
Then I baked the bread for 15 minutes under steam. As I mentioned in my comment, baking under steam means that, in imitation of a real baker's oven, you make sure there is some steam in the oven. My preferred way is to fill a small pan with 1-2 cups of water in it. You take the pan out partway through just as a baker would release the steam from his/her professional oven. I put my pan on the shelf under the stone. Peter Reinhart suggests placing it above, but this caused my oven light to burst. For similar reasons, do not use a glass pan to hold the water. I am told it will explode. The guy who runs Bread Cetera uses a metal steamer thing and injects steam. He has a great video on his blog.

Baking under steam improves the crust and crumb of the bread, because according to Understanding Baking, "steam...has the principle purpose of keeping the crust soft during the first part of the baking so that the dough can expand rapidly and evenly" (Amendola 141). The bread can be cooked at a high temperature and once the steam is taken out, the bread's crust will harden into the wonderful rustic crust.
Out of the oven
In the oven, the bread should rise a little bit more. This increase in size is called oven spring. My breads (until this one) tend to have a lot of oven spring at home. The reason that this one did not spring was probably because we used the oven on convection and the temperature was too high. A convection oven blows the heat around. I noticed my breads were rising more on one side than the other on the regular setting so I put it on convection this time. However, the crust browned far more quickly, meaning that it was not soft enough to allow the bread to rise. I think I will put more water in the pan and put it in when heating the oven in order to make it steamier so the crust stays soft and allows it to spring before hardening.

Apparently it takes at least 30 minutes for the crumb to set, so do not cut into the bread before then, no matter how tempting it is. The flavor improves as the bread cools. For this bread, Reinhart recommends waiting one hour (Reinhart 153-155). The crumb was a little more dense than i had hoped due (most likely) to inadequate oven spring, but it was not significantly denser than Reinhart's own version. I personally like a more open crumb, so I may try another whole wheat bread.
Crust and crumb (odd because of the flash)
Anyway, the bread was great with brie. Servius said it had a "malt" flavor (probably from the honey) and it will certainly go well with almond butter for breakfast.

  1. The gummy mass happened a few months ago when I first tried this recipe. I covered the soaker and biga wrong and they completely dried out overnight, making the bread an icky mess and making it impossible to develop proper gluten.
  2. Although I will discuss baker's percentages.
  3. For anyone who has a copy of the recipe, I used the stretch-and-fold technique after some more traditional kneading to develop the gluten (which seems to have worked). I also doubled the suggested rising times (so the first one rose for two hours and the second rise was for 1.5 hours). I omitted the butter/oil, used honey as the sweetener, and used sourdough starter instead of biga (although I used the recommend 2.25 teaspoons of instant yeast in the final dough).
  4. This comes from Wild Bread and Rayner actually says 65-75 degrees F (Rayner 78), but the dough will rise more slowly at 65 degrees F than at a slightly higher temperature.
  5. I remember this from 10th grade honors biology, so I might be over-simplifying a bit.

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