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whole wheat bread

even though we ate it a lot growing up, at some point i stopped buying white bread and moved completely to whole wheat. today, white bread is frowned upon by many because of its perceived lack of health benefits, but for me, the change to whole wheat was for taste alone. whole wheat has a more rounded and nutty flavor, and it’s come to replace and enhance things like grilled cheeses and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. this was my first experience using whole wheat flour, and i was pleasantly surprised at how easily this bread came together.

this bread has both a soaker and a poolish. a soaker is a pre-ferment, which means it helps the bread taste like the dough fermented for much longer than it actually did. the soaker does not have yeast in it; the purpose is to help soften the coarse whole wheat grain and also activate the enzymes in the grains to break out some of the trapped sugars from the starches.

the poolish is another type of pre-ferment that is made up of flour, water and yeast. there is yeast in a poolish (very little), but it goes a long way in a very wet flour/water mixture (it’s easier for the yeast to work it’s magic in this state). when the poolish is added to the dough before baking, it not only helps fermentation but also adds incredible flavor.

the trick with whole wheat breads is making sure the flavor is hearty and delicious and not bitter and grassy. increasing the fermentation time helps balance the flavors, and for this reason, you’ll often find pre-ferments in these types of recipes. and while the amount of steps in a recipe like this can look intimidating, it’s really much simpler than it seems. at it’s core, bread has always been just flour, yeast, water and (often) salt.

i decided to test out my bread on an overstuffed grilled cheese with bacon, tomatoes and red onion. needless to say, it passed with flying colors.

whole wheat bread
from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice [1]. makes 2 loaves.

soaker
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup water (at room temperature)

poolish
1 1/2 cups whole what flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup water (at room temperature)

dough
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/3 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
2 Tbsp honey
1 egg (optional)

1. the night before, make the soaker and the poolish. soaker: mix together the flour and water in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until the next day. poolish: mix together the flour, yeast and water. cover with plastic wrap, let sit at room temperature for 2 hours, then move the refrigerator until the next day.

2. the next day, remove the poolish from the fridge an hour before making the dough. in a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt and yeast. mix in the soaker and poolish, then the honey and egg. you may need more flour if you add the egg. stir together until dough forms a ball.

3. turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 mintues until tacky but not sticky. transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

4. divide the dough into 2 equal pieces, shape into loaves (good instructions here [2]) and place into lighly oiled loaf pans. cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for about 90 minutes.

5. remove the plastic wrap and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. after the 30 minutes, rotate pans 180 degrees and continue baking for 15-30 minutes longer. the finished bread should be golden brown all around and firm on the sides and bottom. remove immediately from pans and cool on a cooling rack for a few hours before slicing.