I’ve been experimenting for a few weeks, and I think I’ve found the trick to making delicious flavorful bread dough. It’s easy, but it’s time consuming, taking about 2 days to complete.
You can use any whole grain/whole wheat bread recipe, but reduce the yeast amount to 1/2 or 3/4 tsp.
Here’s what you do:
knead your dough as you normally do, by hand or by machine, but don’t allow it to rise.
Shape it into a round ball, place it into a large bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, preferably 12-24 hrs.
During the fridge resting period, check on the dough every so often and gently flatten/deflate if it rises. It shouldn’t rise too much, but it might especially in the first few hours when the yeast is still active. I usually deflate the dough before I go to bed. Using wet hands, I lift out the dough and gently smoosh out all the air with my fingers. It’ll be fairly thick and stiff due to the cold air, so it’s very easy to handle, especially for dough newbies.
The next day, remove it from refrigerator, at least 3-4 hours before you want to bake. Depending on how warm/cold your home is at the time, it might take 7-8 hours before it’s ready to shape for the final proof. Since my house is cooler this time of year, I’ve taken the dough out in the AM right before I leave, and when I return home 6-7 hours later, it’s good to go!
Once you remove it from the fridge, reposition the plastic wrap closer to the dough, and cover the whole bowl with a large kitchen towel. It helps speed up the process if you have a warm area in your home, but not too hot. About 75 to 80 degrees is nice. My home is a lot cooler in autumn, so it’s a very slow process, but that is good. A slow rise is not a bad thing! If you want to speed up the process, try moving the dough to a new bowl. I like using my stainless bowl, and that takes forever to warm up, so moving to another bowl is helpful!
Keep checking on it to gauge the volume of the dough, and how much it’s rising. Don’t allow it to rise too much, or all the flavor will disappear. I’m still learning about this process; sometimes the dough will rise to at least double the size, and sometimes it won’t. You just need to experiment and trust your instincts!
I moved the dough to a new bowl to allow it to warm up faster:
Once the dough is done with the first rise, wet your hands with water, and on a clean cutting board or counter top, flatten the dough into a rectangle shape, then fold into a loaf shape.
Transfer into a loaf pan (I line my glass loaf pans with parchment paper) and cover again with a large towel for the final “proof” (rise) for about an hour or two, depending on the temp of your home. Check on it often, and it should rise an inch or so over the loaf pan.
It’s okay if it doesn’t rise that high though. If you preheat your oven a 1/2 hour or so before baking, there will be nice oven spring!
This technique is not an exact science! It’s all dependent on the atmosphere, temperature, ingredients, etc. What I can confirm is, I’ve been making bread like this for a couple of weeks, and the flavor is just tremendous. Whole wheat tastes sweet and the crumb texture is soft! And the bread stays fresh longer, due to the slow long ferment! It’s definitely worth the time spent!
I’ll be experimenting with this, along with trying out the slow fermentation techniques of Peter Reinhart’s book Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor. So much to learn. Hmm, someday, I might even tackle real sourdough!