Sunday, 10 August 2014

Brown Bread -- 100% Wholewheat Bread

My passion for cooking started with baking, breads specifically. I love my morning breakfast with a freshly baked toasted slice of bread with a light smear of butter and a dollop of homemade jam. However, I was missing out on this soulful breakfast for quite some time now as I was weary of eating white bread and I wasn't quite fond of the dense texture of the homemade wholewheat bread. I started reading up articles and blogs and found that wheat gluten, which is absent in wholewheat, is the reason behind the dense structure as the flour lacks the protein to help in gluten development. Bread flour or enriched flour comes ready mixed with the gluten and so the bread is soft and more delicious than the wholewheat one. One option, in the case of unavailability of wheat gluten, was to mix bread flour/enriched flour with wholewheat flour in a 40-60 proportion or otherwise and attain a better texture.
 In countries like India, where bread flour is not easily available, you can use regular all purpose flour with an egg or 1/2 cup buttermilk at room temperature. You can, however, try searching on online sites, like Zansaar, which are known to have a good stock of baking supplies or request your local baker for wheat gluten. I was however looking for a 100% wholewheat bread baking technique without compromising the texture. After a lot of search, I finally laid my hands on a pack of Bread Improver/Wheat Gluten and was overly excited to try a simple wholewheat loaf to see the difference in texture. All this while, I had also bought the Bread Bible on Kindle and started reading the basics of bread making. While it is actually a science to achieve that perfect loaf of bread, I tried to correct my kneading and proofing process wherever possible to achieve better results. There are so many tips and tricks, you have to actually try and experiment in several attempts to know what works best for you. I will add my gathered knowledge on bread baking through all my bread posts and keep updating as well, as I keep experimenting more and start getting better results. Today's recipe is of my own but I have tried to include a few techniques I have read over the past few days. Also, it is quite handy to have a digital kitchen thermometer, especially while baking breads, where temperature plays a vital role. 
2 1/2 cup wholewheat flour (I used organic)
3 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp instant dry yeast
1 tbsp vital wheat gluten (optional, but helps in attaining a better texture; please refer to the notes above for options)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk powder (you can use any milk powder here including your baby's unused and leftover dry formula milk powder)
2 tbsp olive oil plus a little extra for greasing
2-3 tbsp milk for milk wash
About 1 cup warm water or as required for kneading (33.5 degree celsius)

1. Start with the preparations. Warm a little water, about 100 ml, and dissolve 1 tbsp sugar. Bring it to the desired temperature of 33.5 degree celsius or just comfortable enough to be put on the back of your wrist. Now dissolve the yeast by mixing thoroughly with a fork and let it stand for 10 minutes undisturbed. You may be inclined to start kneading the dough as soon as you see it foaming and frothing. However, be patient and give it those 10 minutes to activate those innumerable number of dry but living cells to feed on the sugar and feel powerful enough to puff up the dough later. Here is how it should look at the end of 10 minutes.  If it does not look anywhere close to this, discard and start fresh again and if problem persists, you surely have expired or dead yeast. 
2. Sift the flour and salt together and take it in a bowl. To this, add the wheat gluten, if using, milk powder, and sugar. Mix everything well. Keep aside. Also, warm another 100 ml of water to 33.5 degree celsius or just lukewarm and keep it ready. 
3. Now, make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the frothy yeast mixture into it. With the help of a spatula, start mixing the flour by stirring only in one direction till the entire liquid is soaked up and forms a lump. There might be some dry flour in the bowl at this point. Try and gather everything well as far as possible into the lump. Cover and let it rest for 20 minutes. This step allows the flour to soak up the water and remain moist and soft while baking. 
3. Now, pour in the warm water little at a time and the oil and start kneading the dough. If using egg or buttermilk, you must add it now instead of the water. Ensure that the egg or the buttermilk is at room temperature. Transfer the dough to a clean floured surface for kneading further for about 10 minutes. At the end of it, you should have a smooth, soft, and elastic dough. Ensure that the dough is not dry and stiff as wholewheat dough needs to remain a little moist. Oil your hands and lightly grease the dough on the outside. Wrap if loosely in a clingwrap and keep it in a warm place (I keep in the microwave) for the first rise, about 1-1.5 hours or until doubled. 

4. Lightly grease a medium loaf tin and line it with parchment paper. 
5. Now take the dough out and punch down to release the trapped air. Transfer the dough to a clean surface and, with the help of both the hands, roll the dough out to a uniform thickness rectangular log almost the same size as your loaf tin. Arrange the dough on the prepared loaf pan and spray some water on top and keep it loosely covered. Return it to the warm place for the second rise, about 1-1.5 hours or until the dough starts reaching the brim of the pan or doubled. 
6. Towards the end of the second proofing, pre-heat the oven at 175 degree celsius with a pan of hot water inside. This will help form steam inside the oven and helps in browning the crust as well as prevent it from drying out. 
7. Take the loaf pan out and give a gentle milk wash on the top with room temperature milk. This is again for a beautiful brown crust. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on top and give a gentle press with the tip of the milk brush to ensure the seeds stick to the top. Put the loaf pan in the pre-heated oven and bake at 175 degree celsius for 20 minutes or until the crust is beautifully browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the top and the internal temperature (by inserting the food thermometer in the center or the side) is between 80-100 degree celsius. 
8. Remove the bread immediately from the loaf pan and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Store in an air tight container. 

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