It was 9.15 pm and the phone rang just as I was planning to take my son into the bedroom to sleep. Okay, Now, my son’s no early-to-bed kind of guy. But that day he’d missed his afternoon sleep and was really cranky.
“Hey, I’m leaving from office only now and I’m terribly hungry. What’s for dinner?”
“Great! Ikshu’s almost asleep. I’ve baked some bre…”
“Don’t say bread! This is the fourth straight night that you’ve planned bread for dinner!”
And reading about home bakers in blogs and newspapers, one would think that their family displays contented smiles each time their wife or mommy told them there was something in the oven! Well, my family does love baked goodies. Just that they’re too traditionally tam-bram in their food preferences and will vote for a typical south-Indian meal over ‘fancy’ bread.
More importantly, hubby was bored of breads because for most of the second half of March, I’d been planning and baking breads of all sort to gear up for the month-long baking marathon that starts today! No, I’m not pulling any April Fool’s prank on you. I blog with a group of food bloggers twice every year for an online event that we call the Mega Blogging Marathon. Basically, we blog every day of that month, leaving Sundays out. Valli, who is the brainchild behind these monthly marathons, came up with the idea of doing a month-long baking marathon and everyone was really excited about it, even those who bake only occasionally.So we’re calling this edition Fire Up Your Oven
So this entire month of April, I’ll be blogging about baked goodies and to make it more challenging for me and interesting (hopefully) for my (tiny) audience, I thought I’d stick to breads mostly. There will be a few non-yeasted bakes, but not more than one a week (I hope!). And I’ll start it off with one of the most fool-proof whole wheat breads that I’ve ever baked. Mind you, this one’s made with low-protein Indian whole wheat flour without any added commercially available gluten.
Now I don’t remember the number of loaves I’ve made from this recipe. It is probably my most favourite bread recipe till date. If I had to choose just one loaf of bread to bake, this would be the one. This is my go-to recipe for any whole-wheat based bread dough.
Now this one isn’t one of those white pillow-soft breads. It isn’t meant to be either. It is one wholesome loaf of bread made with whole grains, with very little sweetener, a little oil. But wait. This is no door-stopper either (although my oven and I have had the fortune of flinging quite a few of those into the dustbin and forcing some of those down my gullet too!). It is a close-crumbed but very soft loaf of bread that works great for sandwiches, slices very well: no crumbling there, and is neither too sweet nor salty.
It also makes great grilled sandwiches. Use it as a base for simple jam or peanut butter sammies or for heavy-duty sauce and salad loaded delights – this one recipe works very well. My mother-in-law and I love dunking slices of it into soup. And if there’s pesto in the freezer, which happens to be whenever there’s bread on the menu, I load every other piece of bread with shameless quantities of the green dip and munch away. And yes, I store pesto frozen, else I eat it by the spoonful (tablespoon at that!) each time I open the refrigerator door!
I love the smell of simple phulkas when they puff up on direct flame. The taste of those rotis, sans any ghee/butter/oil is simply wonderful. It most-beautifully brings out the flavour of wheat. I’d say this is the loaf of bread that brings out the lovely flavour of whole wheat in the same way. The bread is tasty on its own. Give it a shot. It is a long process that’s spread over two days. But don’t let that intimidate you.
The only work on the day prior to the day of baking is to soak up the coarse grains overnight so as to soften the bran in the wheat – known as the soaker – and to make what is known as a poolish, a sort of pre-ferment. A pre-ferment is basically part of the final dough that is fermented in advance. In whole grain breads, these methods are particularly effective since these use lesser yeast than regular three-hour breads and bring out more flavour from the grains used. This is especially so because the whole grains get a longer time to soak and ferment making them more digestible and nutritious.
The pre-ferment used in this particular bread, poolish, is a French term taken from the Polish people who originally used this technique to improve the flavour of their breads. This is a wet sort of dough, not unlike dosa batter. It is made with flour, water and a little bit of yeast. The dough is allowed to ferment and then (ideally) refrigerated for some time before being incorporated into the final dough. I think I’ve lectured enough for today. But mind you, there’s more coming this week.
PS: The loaf you see in the pictures in this post is baked in a 4.5 inch by 3 inch pan. I need somewhat less than half the original recipe to bake a loaf of this size
100% WHOLE WHEAT SANDWICH LOAF
(Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Makes 2 x 8” by 4” loaves; each weighing around 450-500 gm. I prefer to use slightly smaller pans that measure 7 ½ inch by 3 ½ inch to get taller loaves (see Notes)
For the soaker:
Coarse whole wheat flour – 1 ½ cups
Water (room temperature) – 1 cup + 2 tbsp
(Note: You could use stone-ground wheat for the soaker if it is available. You can also use other whole grains ground at home. I often use a combination of oats, buckwheat and different millets)
For the poolish
Whole wheat flour – 1 ½ cups
Instant yeast – ¼ tsp
Water – 1 cup
For the final dough
All of the poolish and the soaker, plus:
Whole wheat flour – 2 cups
Salt – 1 ½ tsp
Instant yeast – 1 tsp
Oil – 1 tbsp
Honey – 2 tbsp (I tend to use either jaggery or caramel syrup instead)
Water – ¼ – ½ cup or as required *
Optional: Oats or sesame/sunflower/flax seeds for topping
*Peter Reinhart’s recipe doesn’t call for any additional water in the final dough but the wheat I use seems to need almost half a cup of additional water when mixing up the final dough
The poolish and the soaker are ideally prepared a day ahead
Making the poolish
Mix up the flour and the yeast and then stir in the water. Stir the mixture just enough to wet all of the flour. Cover it with a lid and leave it aside for a couple or hours or so till it starts to bubble. Then refrigerate overnight.
I prepare the poolish in the evening before the day I plan to bake the loaf and refrigerate it overnight once ready. This can be refrigerated for up to three days.
Preparing the soaker
Simply mix up the coarse grains/flour and add water. Put a lid and leave it out on the counter overnight
I make the soaker at night and leave it out on the counter till baking time the following morning. I’ve left it out for as long as 10-12 hours and it is fine. Longer than that, and I find it starts to turn sour. If you plan to bake it later in the day, put it in the fridge in the morning
Preparing the final dough
An hour before you plan to mix the final dough, pull out the poolish (and the soaker if you put it in the fridge) from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.
Dump the wheat flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Mix it up. Add the polish as well as the soaker, plus oil and honey/caramel syrup/jaggery syrup
Mix well and add additional water as required. I add almost ½ cup of water. Mix well with a large wooden spoon till the dough comes together
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter and knead for 10-12 minutes till you get a soft and not-so-sticky dough
Oil the mixing bowl and place the ball of dough in it. Cover it a lid and set aside till it close to doubles. This can take anywhere between 30 minutes to upwards of an hour depending on the heat and humidity
Once the dough is close to double in volume, oil your loaf pans
Transfer the risen dough gently to the counter and divide into two
Shape each half into a sandwich log and carefully place in the pan. Cover with an oiled sheet of plastic and set aside to rise (about 30 minutes to an hour). You can refer to my post on Whole Wheat Cranberry loaf (with pumpkin puree) for step by step pictures and shaping instruction
Start preheating the oven to 180 deg C when the dough has risen close to the top of the pan
Gently brush water on the top of the loaves gently and sprinkle seeds/oats if you wish to. Take care not to deflate the loaf. Put the pans into the oven when the dough rises higher than the edge of the pan
Bake the loaves for 40-50 minutes, till golden brown on top. Thump the loaf on its bottom – it should sound hollow
Remove the pans from the oven (be careful and use oven mitts…I’ve burnt my hands once too often!) and the loaves from the pans immediately. Cool on a rack
Leaving the loaves in the pans for longer than a few minutes after it is out of the oven will make them sweat and turns the bottoms soggy
I have altered the recipe slightly to get a reasonably tall loaf. The original recipe is said to give two 8″x4″ sandwich loaves, but my loaves turn out somewhat short in those pans. So i increase the quantity of soaker a bit more and bake them in 7.5″ x 3.5″ inch pans for loaves that are nearly as tall as bakery-style breads. I attribute that to the fact that the whole wheat flour available in the West has higher protein content than Indian flours. I’ve read that a particular strain of wheat from Madhya Pradesh, the Sharbati variety, has a higher protein than other Indian varieties. I’m still trying to get my hands on some organic Sharbati wheat!
I also find that I need much more water than the original recipe calls for. This could be due to the kind of wheat available in India. I use freshly ground organic wheat flour.