Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Light Whole Wheat Bread

Winter is well underway. Unlike the eastern part of the continent, cool air in the west coast was not accompanied by heavy snow but pouring rain lately. When a rare sunny afternoon appeared in the weekend, me and Yogi couldn't resist to go out. It was cold. But the cool air was surprisingly refreshing. It wiped away all the hussell and bussell during the holidays. The clear sky and earthy smell of the bare trees calmed my soul and redirected my senses to take notice of the brand new start of a year.

So, what now?  Another year.  Do I have to come up with some resolutions again? Not this time. Just like to keep things simple. Only one goal in my mind: to spend my time in a meaningful way.  Cooking and photography mean a lot to me and I will try to do more of it. 

I always want to learn more about bread making. During the holidays, I finally got some time to explore a little bit more on it. In my mind, making bread is time consuming and the outcome is not always satisfactory. I have seen the no-knead bread recipe popping up on the internet everywhere.  Jim Lahey's recipe on The New York Times being one of the earliest ones. The idea is so tempting.  Just mixing the ingredients without kneading and have the dough sit overnight. Then shape and rest the dough and bake and you have fresh bread to eat. When I kept looking on the internet, I found an even more convenient way of bread making. In Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg claimed that the dough they made can be refrigerated and each time you want to make fresh bread, you can just cut out a piece of dough to use.  That sounds fantastic but does it really work?  Although prove is everywhere on the internet, I remained skeptical. So, I bought a kindle version of the book to try out their recipes.

For the past two weeks, I have made four batches of the dough with slight variation of the process. Each time I gained a little more knowledge on how to handle the very wet dough and how to shape the bread. I must say that, although you may not be able to achieve the very open crumb structure that you want or the shape and the slashes may not come out as what you expected, the taste of the bread is generally quite delicious and would not be inferior to any supermarket bread.  For that, in addition to the convenience, will keep me making these bread. It is an added bonus that book's website is very resourceful. There are tonnes of tips on bread shaping, Q&A to solve baking problems and recipes as well. The following is based on one of the basic dough recipes in the book. I have modified some of the procedures to suit myself .  To understand more about their approach of bread making, the ingredients and the techniques, please buy their book.

Recipe: Light Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day 
by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg

Makes 4 1lb. loaves.  The recipe can be doubled or halved.

3         cups lukewarm water (95F to 105F)           
1-1/2  Tbsp yeast (2 packets)
1-1/2  Tbsp Kosher salt (1 tsp regular table salt)*
1         cup whole wheat flour
5-1/2   cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Whole wheat flour for the pizza peel*

  1. Attach dough hook attachment to standing mixer.*Mix the yeast, salt and water in the bowl of the mixer*. Add whole wheat and all-purpose flour. Turn on the mixer at low speed for 30 to 45 secs, or until the ingredients are well mixed. The purpose is just to mix the ingredients together. No kneading is necessary.  
  2. Transfer the dough into a 5-quart lidded (not airtight) container. Cover and let the dough rest for 2 hours in room temperature until the dough rises and collapses, or flattens on top.
  3. *Refrigerate the dough in the covered (not airtight) container overnight.  The dough can be kept in the fridge for the next 14 days.
  4. On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off about 1 lb dough (about the size of a grapefruit). To shape the dough into a ball, stretch the surface of the dough an pull the dough to the underside. Turn the dough around and repeat the same stretch and pull process.  If the dough is to sticky, you can use a wet hand to handle the dough.  This process should take about 30 to 45 secs, the less time in handling the dough the better. Put the dough on the parchment paper and let it rest for an hour. Alternatively, dust the pizza peel with flour and rest the dough on the pizza peel.
  5. Twenty minutes before the baking time, put a pizza stone in the middle rack of the oven and a broiler tray at the bottom rack (or anywhere in the oven that does not interfere the rise of the dough).Heat up the oven to 450F.
  6. Just before baking, dust the surface of the dough with some flour and slash the top of the dough in cross, scallop or tictac-toe pattern using a serrated knife. Holding the parchment paper, put the dough onto the pizza stone. If using pizza peel, slide the dough onto the pizza stone. Carefully put 1 cup of hot water in the broiler tray.  Bake for 35 minutes until the bread is firm and deeply browned, or until it reaches 200F to 210F.  To have a crisper bottom, you can pull out the parchment paper 2/3 into the baking time.
  7. Let the bread cool down on the rack before slicing.
*Kitchen notes:
  • The Kosher salt that I use seems to be quite salty.  So, usually I put in 1 Tbsp only. Please adjust the amount of salt to your own taste.
  • The whole wheat flour for the pizza peel is only required if you do not use parchment paper for resting the bread. I find it easier to move the dough around if I use parchment paper instead. 
  • You can also mix the ingredients by hand directly in the food container, as suggested by the original recipe. But I found it much easier to do it with a mixer.
  • Based on the original recipe, the dough can be used after the 2 hour rise.  But as this dough is very wet and sticky, it will be much easier to handle if it is refrigerated first.
  • Open crumb structure - The first few times I tried the recipe, the crumb came out a bit dense, but the bread was delicious. Although N liked the dense texture, I still wanted to see some bigger air pockets. So, the next time I made the bread, I put a little bit more water in ( 2 to 3 Tbsp more). The dough was very sticky and wet. I also minimized the dough shaping time. After it rested for an hour, the dough did not rise much and also spread out and flattened a little bit. However, when it was in the oven, the bread rose beautifully and the crumb structure turned out to be the best I ever had. 

Winter to me is beautifully depressed. Hope you enjoy the rest 
of the winter and have fun making bread!


  1. Yeah!!! I have this bread book as well, and got really into baking bread for a bit last fall. I stopped when the holidays were here because we were too busy. This post is just the reminder I needed to make a batch- especially using your notes. Thanks!

  2. @OurSoundHome - The book seems to be quite popular. I'm happy that I bought it. One thing about this simple method is that, once you start, you will want to keep doing it until you get the perfect bread. Let me know how yours turns out.

  3. You did a wonderful job! Looks beautiful!! :)

  4. @sheila@Elements - Thank you. I'm glad that you like it.

  5. thank you for these notes!! I took think the whole wheat is a bit heavy... I'm going to work more water into the dough!

  6. @PatSloan - Don't put in too much though. In the book, they do mention that too much water may cause gummy rather than "custard" interior.


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