Check. That. Out.
Ok, so remember in August when I posted my whole wheat beer bread recipe like it was the be all, end all of bread? Oh, was I wrong. How wrong I was. Ease and Convenience, my friends, you have failed me. Yeast bread is always better.
Granted, the beer bread is still a pretty cool quick bread recipe. If you need a passable sandwich, or pretty decent rustic baguette in under an hour, go for it. But if you’re trying to wean yourself off of store-bought plastic-wrapped sandwich bread, suck it up and do it the old-fashioned way.
“The old-fashioned way” involves yeast, kneading, and waiting. But it yields much better results and is kind of worth not having fresh bread really fast. And at first, my results were really disappointing. I couldn’t figure out why my yeast bread was coming out of the oven looking like a small chunk of concrete.
Surely there had to be a better way. So I did some internet research, and actually minded all of the old-school baking advice I’d conveniently ignored in the past. This post was really helpful, as was another that pretty much concluded that whole wheat flour sucks at rising depending where it’s from, and that’s due to the gluten content.
Oh no, I’ve said the bad word. Gluten. Honestly, while I understand why wheat gluten (dreadlord of all gluten) is becoming a problem, evidenced by the upswing of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, and I totally respect that it’s a serious problem for a growing number of people, especially in the US, for those who don’t have a sensitivity or allergy, there is little reason to avoid it. Unless your diet isn’t varied enough or you are using wheat products as a main staple in your diet, I can’t see why you need to run out and buy all kinds of overpriced, overpackaged “solutions” to the “problem.”
The reason for the vehemence on the subject (which I’ve found is incredibly touchy for some) is that a number of health food stores and restaurants are cashing in on the gluten-free craze by fueling the fad. Some doctors even recommend gluten-free diets for digestive problems, weight loss, skin conditions, etc. There have been studies, which I’m sure were extremely conclusive about the dangers of not eating well.
However, I am not a doctor, so my opinion doesn’t have any weight here. Sometimes people try a gluten-free diet and realize they have a sensitivity. Hell, I might have a sensitivity! And I can certainly get on board with breaking from mono-culture, and the wheat dependence in the US.
So what’s my answer to the wheat dilemma? Well, I don’t have one. I do eat less bread these days, and what flour I do buy is organic, which might be better but I couldn’t tell you how much. The truth is bread is a pretty integral part of my cultural diet identity. Toast for breakfast, Pb&J for lunch, rolls or biscuits or garlic bread with dinner, that’s how I was raised. I’ve already shifted my diet a lot in the past few years to center it away from meat-substitutes and animal products, and like I said, I’m eating way less bread. It’s an ongoing endeavor.
Anyway, tangent over, the reason I mentioned it is because the secret to fluffy, rising 100 per cent whole wheat bread is just that: vital wheat gluten. The gluten is actually the protein part of the grain, and is what gives bread dough the elasticity to stretch and rise. The yeast is what does the actual work. Whole wheat flours, depending where the wheat was harvested, will have differing amounts of gluten. In my experience, the gluten content is low enough that I was baking dry whole wheat bricks.
Okay, I lied, there are actually 2 ways (only one of which I have tried) to bake a better whole wheat loaf.
1) Add a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten for each cup of flour.
2) Knead the dough until your arms fall off.
I always pick Option 1, because kneading for longer than 5 minutes makes me want to fall asleep with the dough as a pillow. Unfortunately, I can’t find vital wheat gluten in anything other than Bob’s Red Mill plastic bags. I go through it really really slowly, so I’m hoping by the time I finish up this bag (which I’ve had for several months, and made seitan a few times in addition to bread baking) I’ll find a plastic free way to buy it. Or I’ll have acquired…
A seafoam green Kitchenaid stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and opened a bakery with Jenny. Though technically it’s called “pistachio.” Ah, dreams.
My bread recipe is a modified version of the King Arthur recipe. Also, my bread looks more awesome. Just sayin’.
YOU WILL NEED:
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten flour
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup sugar(or other sweetener such as honey, molasses, or maple syrup)
1 1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
YIELDS 1 loaf
In a large bowl, mix flour, VWG, instant yeast, and sweetener. Add warm water and stir until the dough becomes too stiff and knead by hand until well mixed. Probably you could add the oil at this point, but I vaguely recall doing that a few times and getting really stiff dough in return. Not adding it yet has served me quite well, so we’ll go with that.
Now, wash your hands and go do something for like 15 minutes. This way the dough has time to rest (or autolyse) and get even more malleable and awesome. Integral step.
Come back, and add your oil and salt. Knead. Knead. Knead some more. Technically speaking you should kneading for like, 15-20 minutes. Not gonna lie, I don’t do this. I maybe knead it for like 5, or longer until it’s well mixed and malleable and stretchy. 10 max.
Form a ball and cover the dough in the bowl with a towel (a damp, warmed towel if it’s really cold and dry out) and forget about it for several hours. Seriously, the longer you let the dough rise, the better it will be. All recipes say until it doubles in size, and that it will start to get funny if you leave it too long, but I once forgot about the dough for like 5 or 6 hours and it came out amazing.
Remember your dough, uncover it, smush it gently into a ball, and form it into a loaf. You don’t want to wring all of the gases out, but you also want to make sure you’re not going to bake bread with a giant hole in the center. Place the loaf in your greased loaf pan and forget about it again. It should rise for about an hour, but I tend to leave it longer. I usually put it in the oven when the top starts to look precariously high above the pan’s edge.
Before baking, about 90 minutes 2nd rise time.
Bake it at 350 Fahrenheit for about 40-45 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it.
Et voila! Your bread should be awesome. If not, I apologize deeply for misleading you into thinking I ever know what I’m talking about. Hopefully you’ve learned a lesson about listening to me. EDIT: Wait to slice your bread until it’s cooled. It makes a difference in the consistency, promise. Wait, no, why are you listening to me?!
Toast, DIY Nutella in moderation, and pura vida!
p.s. A friend (who was super impressed by my bread, FYI) asked me how many calories there are in a slice. I have no fucking idea, and that is the way I like it.