UPDATE: This post is out of date. Please view this post instead.
During the 1977 Baker’s strike I started to make my own bread, and did so for years, but at some point it dropped away. Maybe because we could get decent bread locally, and then because we had a bread machine. But inspired by my son Jonathan’s amazing sourdough wholewheat (which is about the best bread I have ever eaten) and also the upsurge in home baking during Lockdown, I thought I’d try again.
My handmade wholewheat bread was never very good, always too heavy unless I made it with 50% strong white flour. Part of the motivation for this experiment was to separate out some of the factors that make good 100% whole wheat, particularly hydration and baking in a casserole.
Our latest bread machine makes excellent 100% wholewheat bread, but the loaf doesn’t quite look the part, and it’s not properly crusty like Jonathan’s bread. Also, he makes his bread with a heritage grain (message me if you want to know which kind) that doesn’t work in our bread maker. It works ok when we use it 50/50 with Sainsbury’s Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour, and has a good flavour, if a bit heavy and not well formed. When civilians come round we usually make 100% Sainsbury’s because it comes out lighter and looks better.
A bit of research suggested that one reason for the historical failure of my hand baked 100% whole wheat was that there wasn’t enough water in it.
So this is a report on my first experimental attempt. I used the bread machine to knead the dough, and although there was still a mess it was nothing like the mess there would have been from doing the whole thing by hand. I based the recipe on the bread machine recipe, but with 33% more water.
The resulting loaf was far lighter and more airy than the rather dense equivalent that the machine produces. And the crust was to die for.
I chucked in the machine:
1tsp: Dried yeast
200g Heritage Grain Stone Ground Wholewheat Flour
200g Sainsburys Stone Ground Wholewheat Flour
Good splash of extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Salt
400 ml Water
[“Where is the sugar?”, you ask. Doesn’t seem to need it. Anyway the recipe I adapted this from called for 1 tsp of sugar which doesn’t seem to be enough to make much difference when there’s 400g of flour and 400ml of water. I believe the sugar that powers the yeast comes from the flour, and I suspect the added sugar is a hangover from old recipes that used block yeast, and you mixed it up with water and a little sugar in a bowl to get it started. Reminds me of a Primo Levi story in “The Periodic Table” in which he was working in a paint factory where the recipe for varnish included an onion. He was puzzled why the onion was there, and eventually discovered that when the onion turned brown, the varnish would be at the right temperature. Of course they’d been using thermometers for years and everyone had forgotten the original purpose of the onion.]
This was kneaded by a machine program that lasts 2hrs 20 minutes, Program 16 (should have been 15, according to The Irit, because it stated some inexplicable beeping in the middle, but otherwise the same) on our Panasonic SD-2500. When the program was done I left the dough in the machine for another 30 minutes. The dough is very wet and sticky, far wetter than I would have made before. I turned it out onto a floured board, and formed it into a dough ball and sprinkled the surface with flour. I put the dough into a floured bowl, and covered with a damp cloth. I left it by the window in the sun.
While the dough was proofing for the second time I set the oven at 220C with the casserole (an ancient 24cm Le Creuset) inside.
After 20 minutes the dough was fully risen according to the standard test, which is if you poke it, it stays poked. I took the casserole out, sprinkled flour on the surface, tipped the doughball in, covered the dutch oven and put it back into the oven. After 30 minutes I removed the lid and baked it for a further 20 minutes, at which time the tapping the base made a hollow sound, meaning it was done. Turned it out onto a baking tray and left it for 1 hour before eating.
The old grey Irit Test — foodgasm:
I’m not really hungry but I’m eating loooaaads
The flavour and the crumb are slightly inferior to Jonathan’s sourdough, but far less effort is involved. The crust is not quite as tough, which makes it a lot less dangerous to slice!
The shape of the loaf was a bit flat, so I think next time I’ll up the entire ingredient list by 50%.