This is the 9th in a weekly series of diaries that deal with healthy positive approaches to the process of ageing. They all carry a tag of [ageing gracefully] and can be found by searching on that tag. They are usually published at 3:00PM PDT on Tuesdays.
In last week's diary there were some people expressing the same frustration I had with trying to find really good 100% whole grain bread in the grocery store. The reality is that in most places you can't. The loaf that says whole wheat usually is made from half whole wheat and half white flour. Whole grain bread offers many health advantages and it tastes good. For most people the only reliable course is to make it yourself. Doing that the traditional way involves time. Making a batch of four loaves takes me about 4 hours. There is some spare time in there while it is going through its various risings, but it's not something that you can go off and leave.
There are various blogs and resources on the net for baking. I tried several of them and never really go the hang of it to my satisfaction. There is a book that IMO is the definitive resource.
It was written by a group of women in Berkeley. I read their original book on vegetarian cooking, Laurel's Kitchen many years ago. Their skill and the clarity of their writing is on a par with Julia Childs as professional food writers. Anyone who decides to get serious about whole grain baking really should have this book.
Baking with white flour does require some experience to do it reliably, but it is relatively easy. Refined white flour is more of an industrial product than real food. It is engineered to be highly predictable. In the process it loses much of its nutritional value. Whole wheat flour is more variable in its performance. Being good at using it requires developing something of a sixth sense about what it is doing. Most of this revolves around getting the gluten that is naturally present in the wheat activated to support the rising and then knowing when it has risen enough but not too much. WW bread needs to go through 3 risings as compared with 2 for white.
The way that people have been making whole grain bread for centuries is kneading it by hand. That is what activates the gluten. It takes time and requires a good bit of muscle power. My back has reached the point that it is beyond me. I use a heavy duty mixer with a bread hook. It does a very good job. Bread machines are another option. I have not used one. The Laurel's Kitchen book has an entire chapter on them. Their view is that most bread machines are made with white bread in mind. However, a good one can produce good WW bread and requires far less of the bread makers time. It does requires some practice to get them to work properly. My sense is that one would be well advised to get the basic hang of making bread by hand before dealing with a machine. They are an answer to the time problem.
This is what a successful loaf of WW bread looks like. It has risen well, is soft and fluffy, but still holds its structure.
The first chapter in the Laurel's Kitchen book is call A Loaf of Learning. It is a detailed tutorial of how to make a basic loaf of bread. When I do a Youtube search on "making whole wheat bread" I get a long list of videos. Watching some of those would be useful for getting a hang of the techniques. The art comes in knowing what the dough feels like when it is ready. The optimal temperature for the rising of the dough is another consideration. I put a heating pad under the containers that are holding the dough.
I am going to lay out the recipe that I use regularly as an overview of the process.
1/2 cu warm water
2 3/4 cu warm water
1Tbs active dry yeast
1/2 cu brown sugar
1/2 Tbs salt
1/2 cu olive oil
4 Tbs dry milk
1 cu 10 grain cerial
6-7 cus whole wheat flour
My approach is to measure the water and then add flour until the consistency is right. You can also take the approach of measuring the flour and then adding water until it's right. Water first works best in an electric mixer.
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cu water
Pour the 2 3/4 cu water into the mixer bowl.
Add sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve
Add yeast mixture and oil and then dry milk
Stir in 10 grain cereal
Put bowl on mixer stand with dough hook mounted. Set timer for 4 mins.
Turn mixer on to 2nd speed and begin adding flour slowly. The mixture will progress from a soup to a paste and then finally to firm dough. When it reaches the point of just beginning to take on a coherent shape, slow down the addition of flour to a handful at a time. It will eventually turn into a smooth ball that is moving around in the mixer. When it reaches this point turn on the timer.
It will periodically start to loose its coherent shape. Add small amounts of flour until it regains it. If it becomes too stiff and the mixer isn't moving it easily, add small amounts of water. When the timer goes off, turn off the mixer and remove the dough. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel. Place it on the heating pad and let it rise until doubled in volume which should take about an hour for the first rising. When it is ready a finger pressed into the dough will leave a clear and enduring imprint.
When it has finished the first rising punch the dough down to remove most of the air. Cover it again and let it rise a second time. Make sure that the heating pad is still on. This should take about half the time of the first rising. When the second rising has doubled in volume and passes the finger test, place it on a floured board and divide it in half. Use a rolling pin to smooth out each loaf and get all the air out of the dough. Form them into loaf shapes and place then in greased baking pans. Put the pans back on the heating pad and cover them. Let loaves rise until doubled. Pre-heat oven to 375. When ready bake for 40 mins.
That is the basic process. There are a lot of additional tips and techniques that can come in handy. I strongly recommend buying the Laurel's Kitchen book.