My Whole Grain Bread Baking Tips
No, I am not an expert on baking bread, in fact, I am still learning and experimenting with new techniques.
But I like finding answers to all the hows and whys, and that is what I’ve been doing with the subject of bread. In the last few months, I’ve read countless books, searched the web, and learned as much as I could about baking bread.
I have discovered so much information, I figured that I’d share.
Recommended Bread Dough Ingredients
- King Arthur flour – don’t skimp on the quality of your ingredients. King Arthur might cost a little more, but it’s really worth it. I highly recommend King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour – it should cost the same as regular whole wheat. Always store whole grain flours in air tight containers in refrigerator or freezer.
- Sea Salt
- Yeast – Instant, Rapidrise or Breadmachine yeasts are the easiest to use; if you have Active yeast, you’ll need to “activate” in warm water beforehand. I buy a larger bottle of Fleischmann’s Breadmachine Yeast for about $5. I store all yeasts in refrigerator.
- Sweeteners: molasses, honey, or sucanat
- Water: filtered, fresh clean water
- Vital Wheat Gluten will add more gluten-forming protein to your dough; this is helpful when baking with whole grains. I don’t always use it, but when I do, I’ll add 1 Tbsp per 3 cups of flour. It’s important to thoroughly mix the gluten with the dry flour(s) before adding liquids & kneading, or there might be clumps of gluten in your baked bread. If using a machine to knead, then mix in a separate bowl first. I store VWG in the fridge.
- Alternative flours: barley, rice, quinoa, rye, oat, corn, buckwheat, kamut, spelt, etc. I really like Arrowhead Mills and Bob’s Red Mill brand, plus I buy from the Whole Foods bulk bins for some of the more mainstream flours, like corn and rye. Make sure to store whole grain flours in air tight containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
- I keep a bag of regular King Arthur All Purpose flour in the pantry. A small amount can be added for transitional whole wheat bread.
- Optional mix-ins: nuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, oat bran, wheat bran, oatmeal, caraway seeds, dried rosemary. I buy dried herbs, & caraway, sesame and poppy seeds from Penzy’s Spices, and find most of the other mix-ins from the bulk bin at Whole Foods store. Again, it’s best to use quality ingredients in your bread!
- Powdered milk or buttermilk – I occasionally add Saco powdered buttermilk to my dough.
Important Tools & Equipment
- Dry and liquid measuring cups & spoons
- Medium and/or large glass, stainless steel, or porcelain bowls
- Parchment paper helps keep your bread from sticking to the baking pan – I re-use parchment sheets, as long as they aren’t too browned from prior bakes.
- Loaf pan(s) if you want to bake sandwich loaves – I recommend glass or ceramic (stoneware) loaf pans. I don’t like non-stick. Glass pans from Pyrex and/or Anchor Hocking can be found at many stores, and they are inexpensively priced! I always line with parchment paper. BE CAREFUL when handling glass baking dishes. When removing from the oven, do not place on wet or cold surfaces, as it could cause breakage. I always use cloth potholders. And never put cold glass pans direct from fridge or freezer into a hot oven!
- Aluminum cookie sheet or pizza baking stone (optional) – if you want to bake free-form Artisan bread. Parchment paper works really well on cookie sheets
- Instant read thermometer (or meat thermometer) – it is easy to underbake bread, and an thermometer helps a lot! You should be able to buy one for under $10
- Kitchen Scale – Although it’s not a requirement to bake bread, I highly recommend measuring your flour by weight. It’s much more precise. You can find inexpensive kitchen scales at Amazon.com and many local department stores.
- Last but not least, I recommend a Bread Machine to knead your bread dough. Yes, of course you can knead by hand, but it’s hard work to knead whole wheat dough! I just can’t be bothered, especially when a machine can do the work for you, and probably do a better job! Heavy duty stand mixers and food processors can also knead bread dough, but the folks at King Arthur Flour recommend kneading in a bread machine, and I have to agree!
Recommended Books For Learning
These are a few Bread books that taught me the most. Some techniques worked well and some didn’t, but I learned from each success and each failure. If you don’t want the financial hit, go to your library and borrow a copy and then purchase the books only if you really enjoyed them. It’s what I did! :)
- The Bread Bible – Make sure you get the book by Rose Levy Beranbaum, NOT by Beth Hensperger. The first 91 pages are full of information for the beginner bread maker. Yes, she concentrates on white flour, but there is still so much to learn from her. I first learned of autolyse from Rose’s book. The book also illustrates the many ways to fold and shape bread dough. It’s definitely worth a look, at the very least from your local library!
- King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks) – the folks at KAF explain the bread baking process in simple language, so it’s very easy to understand. I have borrowed this book many times from the library!
- Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor – I’m still pouring over this book, learning his techniques. It’s definitely not a quick way to bake bread, as most recipes will take 2 or more days to complete. But it’s really true, a long slow ferment definitely makes the most flavorful bread dough!
- The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking is the book to get when you are first learning about baking with whole grains.
- Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients – I gave this technique a shot a few months ago, and I didn’t really like the taste and texture of the finished bread. It could be a lack of salt, or possibly user error. I can’t completely disregard the book or technique, and I will definitely revisit the book again in the future.
- The Best Bread Ever: Great Homemade Bread Using your Food Processor – this book is out of print, and Amazon’s 3rd party sellers are charging outrageous prices for it! It’s definitely a gem if you can find a copy at the library or used book store. I experimented with this technique twice, and it turned out eh, okay. I have better luck with kneading in the bread machine instead of the food processor, but it’s definitely something to try if you like to experiment!
- Every bread baker needs to experiment at least once with the no-knead bread method. I’ve tried it a few times, and truthfully, as a newbie baker, I found the dough frustrating and hard to handle. It was a wet mess! But I’ll keep trying every few months, and eventually I’ll conquer that dough! There are a couple of books on the subject if you want to learn more: My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey, who started the whole “no-knead” revolution. Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads
Bread Machine Tips
- Do not ever submerge the bread machine pan in water. It’s very easy to just lightly brush out any dried dough; in fact, leaving in a slight amount of “old dough” remnants can actually make your future bread tastier.
- When making dough in your bread machine, try an “autolyse” – start the knead process, and after about 5 minutes or so, pause or stop the bread machine for approximately 15-20 minutes. Just let the dough sit and rest. After the rest, restart the bread machine. A Bread A Day has a great easy to understand explanation of the what and how of autolyse.
- Another easy (but time consuming) way to add a lot of flavor to your bread, is to allow it to rest in the refrigerator over night. See my post on making the most delicious bread with a long cold fermentation period.