I’ve been experimenting with bread dough, and have found that a long slow fermentation makes the most flavorful, delicious bread! I experimented with my own recipe, but wanted to keep exploring.
I’m all about whole grains, so reading Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor seemed like the next logical step!
I’m really not into hand kneading, even when authors say how easy it is. I have no patience for it, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I use my bread maker and I am very happy with it! I started with a one paddle Breadman, and recently purchased a West Bend 41300 Hi-Rise double paddle breadmaker, which I absolutely love!
Anyway, my first crack at his recipes (Multigrain Stuan recipe – page 102) was a semi-disaster, but I was so proud and happy to finally be working with a soaker and biga! Whoo hoo!
My second try at the same recipe was better. My soaker consisted of random amounts of cornmeal, barley wheat, wheat germ, oat bran, and wheat bran. The cornmeal gave it a pleasant texture.
Next, I tried the Transitional Whole Wheat sandwich bread recipe (page 99) and yum, it really turned out well.
Just look at the oven spring!
And it tasted, well, it tasted out of this world. I could barely wait for the loaf to cool. I had to eat a slice. There’s nothing like fresh out of the oven bread with whipped butter on top!
Keep in mind, most (if not all) the recipes in Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads book need 2 days. Day one is for the Soaker and Biga preparation and day two brings it all together for the final dough.
It also is incredibly helpful to read through a copy of his book beforehand. It’s not extremely complex, but he offers a lot of tips and important details. He explains exactly what a soaker and biga are, and also what mashes and starters are as well. There’s so much to absorb, and even if you have some experience baking bread, you’ll learn a lot from this book.
Day One: Soaker
- 8 oz or 227 grams of whole wheat flour
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 7 oz or 198 grams of milk, buttermilk, yogurt, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, or if all else fails, water
- Mix all the soaker ingredients together in a small bowl until all ingredients are well combined, about a minute. Keep mixing until it forms into a loose dough ball. If you are having trouble, it’s helpful to add a touch more liquid.
- Cover with plastic wrap or bag and leave the bowl on your counter for at least 12, but no more than 24 hours.
- If you need longer than 24 hours, then it’s best to put the soaker into the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Remove it from the refrigerator about 2 hours before mixing the final dough.
Day One: Biga
- 8 oz or 227 grams of unbleached bread flour (I actually used all purpose and it worked fine) – you can also use a mixture of both white and whole wheat, if you want less processed white flour. Just make sure it totals 8 oz
- 1/4 tsp Instant Yeast
- 5 oz or 142 grams of room temp water (filtered or spring water please)
- Add the liquid into the bread machine first, then the flour and yeast.
- Allow the bread maker to mix and knead, but always carefully watch it. Keep in mind, depending on the humidity, temp, etc, you might need to add more liquid or flour.
- Let the machine knead for 10 – 15 minutes. The West Bend starts off mixing slowing, then goes into a faster kneading spin. It also offers a resting period in between two separate knead cycles: knead 10 minutes, rest 20, then knead again for 10 minutes. I am continuing to experiment with varied kneading and resting periods. I don’t think it hurts the dough to go longer, but it also seems to work well with a shorter 10 minutes knead as well.
- STOP the machine before the warm rise function. Use the machine only to mix and knead.
- If you are kneading by hand, then the book instructs to mix for about 2 minutes, then rest for 5 minutes, then knead for another 1 minute. Mixing by hand takes less time than a bread machine or stand mixer.
- Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.
- Remove the Biga from the refrigerator about 2 hours before you want to mix the final dough. The dough will have risen just a little bit during this time.
Day Two: Final Dough
Ingredients & Directions
- Make sure to remove the Biga from the fridge two hours before you want to mix the final dough.
- Once both the Biga and Soaker are room temp, use wet hands to transfer each to a flat surface, like your counter or cutting board. Flatten out the dough into a large rectangle shape. You can keep them separated, or place them one of top of the other.
- Using a metal pastry scraper or sharp knife, chop the dough into smaller pieces (at least 12 each)
- Transfer ALL the pieces into the bread machine pan then add:
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 2 Tbsp Molasses or honey
- 1 oz Whole wheat flour
- 2 1/4 tsp Instant Yeast
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Let the bread machine run through a knead cycle; optionally, allowing a rest period (autolyse) of 5 minutes mid cycle. DO NOT ALLOW THE WARM RISE FUNCTION!
- For those mixing and kneading by hand, combine the soaker and biga with the other ingredients and stir vigorously with a mixing spoon or knead with wet hands. Then on a flat work surface, knead by hand for 3-4 minutes. Rest for 5, then knead for one last minute.
- The dough should be soft, smooth and tacky (sticky) to the touch. Form the dough into a round ball, and place in a bowl.
- Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 45-60 minutes or until it’s approximately 1.5 times it’s size.
- Once the dough has risen, shape it into a loaf or free shape. I sometimes shape my dough using just my wet hands. Or place the dough onto a flat surface, gently flatten to a rectangle, then roll up the two sides and pinch to seal together.
- Allow the dough to “proof” (final rise) for approximately 45-60 minutes until it’s 1.5 times its size. I don’t normally allow it to rise any more than 1 – 1.5 inches above the loaf pan edge.
- Make sure to preheat your oven to 350 ° (book suggests to preheat to 425° then lower to 350° when dough is placed in oven). Bake for 40-60 minutes, or until the center registers 190-195° on an instant read thermometer.
- The book also suggests including a steam pan, which I haven’t tried yet. Place an oven safe (NOT GLASS, OR IT COULD SHATTER) pan into the oven while preheating. Then when dough is ready to be baked, pour 1 cup of HOT water into the pan. I really have to try this someday soon!!!
- Once baked, remove the bread from the loaf pan, and allow to cool on a rack for at least one hour.
I can’t stress enough to read though a copy of this Peter Reinhart book to really learn the ins and outs of this process. If you have any doubts, borrow it from your local library.