Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shelf-stable 100% Whole Wheat Bread

One of the problems with doing breads with long-term storage is that not all of the ingredients of bread are shelf-stable. The flour is a particular culprit. The wheat grain is easy to store, but as soon as it's ground, the inner parts are exposed to the air and begin to degrade. This is especially true of bread flour. I don't like to make bread with flour that's more than a month or two opened. I just don't get as much gluten, nor as much rise.

Add to that the problem that whole wheat flour doesn't develop much gluten anyway. That leaves you stuck with a lot of compromise. To get the lift and the fluff that the gluten gives, a lot of people will add fresh bread flour to the whole wheat, usually at a ratio 70% whole wheat to 30% white bread flour. That works, but the problem, again, is storage.

On the other hand, baking a loaf out of fresh-ground whole wheat flour works very nicely, but it won't have the gluten, so it won't get all stretchy and fluffy. It'll be more dense and crumbly. Still edible, of course, but not what most folks are used to.

This recipe takes a bit longer, because the ground flour pre-soaks. This helps boost the gluten development, so that it can trap the gas the yeast makes and rise more fluffy.

12" Shallow Dutch Oven
12-14 coals below
26-28 coals above

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups warm water

1/2 Tbsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 c. liquid honey
6 tbsp. butter, melted fresh, or mixed from powder
1 egg, fresh, or mixed from powder
2 tsp. salt
2-3 cups whole wheat flour, more for kneading

I started this whole experiment out by grinding up some wheat (I use an electric grinder, but you can do an hand-cranker if you really want to). I took about 3 cups of the flour and an equal amount of water (almost hot works very well to be absorbed). I let that sit for a long time, about an hour or two. The intent is not to have this raise, since we haven't added any yeast yet. We just want to coax the gluten strands into forming.

When I came back, it was gooey, stringy, stretchy, and sticky.  Yuk.  But no matter. I mixed the yeast with the additional hot water (just hot to the touch, no hotter), and let it sit to get foamy and active.

I added the yeast mix and all of the other ingredients into the mixing bowl (add only 1 or 2 of the final cups of whole wheat flour.) It was kinda hard to stir, because the gluten had had a lot of time to develop with the liquid. Once all of the ingredients were well-incorporated, I turned it out of the bowl, and onto my kitchen counter (well-floured, with whole wheat flour). I began to knead it, sprinkling on more whole-wheat flour as I went. Just enough to keep it not so sticky on my hands. I was really pleased to feel the gluten tugging on it. It was coming together much more so than any other whole wheat loaf I'd done before. Finally, it passed the stretchy windowpane translucence test!

I shaped it into a boule and set it aside in an oiled bowl to rise. I sprayed on a light coating of oil, to help it to not dry out, then covered it and let it rise for a couple of hours.

Since the gluten had developed so well, it rose quit fully and quickly. After the first rise, I quickly reshaped into a boule, pinched a seam at the "bottom", and set it, seam side up, into my proofing baskets for the final rise. As I was doing this, it was good to see a nice, tight surface. That showed that there was, in fact, good, stretchy gluten!

I lit up the coals and let them get white edges. Once there were many that were ready, I oiled the inside of the Dutch oven and set the coals below it and on the lid, so that the Dutch oven could preheat.

Once the coals had been on the empty, closed Dutch oven, preheating, it was time to bake. I lifted the lid, then quickly upturned the proofing basket into the middle of the Dutch oven. Now, the seam side, the "bottom", was back on the bottom, and the stretchy clean surface was on top. This I sliced a couple of times with a sharp knife, to help it vent and "bloom" in the initial spring. I quickly covered it back up with the heated lid and marked the time.

After about 15 minutes, I turned the lid about 1/4 of the way, and then lifted the Dutch oven and turned it a quarter turn as well. After about 30 minutes, I checked it, and it was looking nice and brown, but not done yet.  I poked it with the thermometer and dropped the lid. After another 10 minutes or so, I looked again, and saw that the bread had reached it's done-ness temperature, about 180-190 (being a darker bread).

Then, I lifted it out and set it onto a cooling rack. It really tasted great, and I was surprised by the lightness of the texture with a traditionally heavy bread like %100 whole wheat.  It was very fluffy. Not like a french bread, to be sure, but still, very palatable. So, I will always do a pre-soak with the non-glutenous flours. It worked wonders!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

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