A couple weeks ago I finished reading Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, and baked my first loaf. I chose the whole wheat sandwich loaf even though I much prefer hearth breads because it was the teaching recipe that all the other recipes are based on. The bread was fantastic; sweet, not too dry, and with a lot of wheat flavor. And, best of all for a homemade sandwich bread, it lasted until Friday without losing any of it’s flavor or character.
I have also made the whole wheat pizza dough twice, and it’s equally good. Our previous dough recipe was Cook Illustrated’s 75-minute pizza dough, which tastes pretty good, and has sufficient gluten development to form a pizza crust, but once it’s baked with sauce, toppings and cheese, it’s not really strong enough to handle picking up the slices. The whole wheat dough was sturdy enough, and again, it had the same sweet wheat flavor and nice texture as the sandwich loaf. The recipe in the book makes five individual pizzas, which was more dough that I needed for a single large pizza (I reduced the recipe by 25% the second time around and it was perfect) so I used the leftover dough the next day to bake a small loaf in the wood stove oven. The oven was around 425°F, which is a little hotter than the baking temperatures in the book, and I should have rotated the loaf half-way through because the oven heat isn’t very even, but the loaf came out great.
Since then I’ve made whole wheat hearth bread, which was tasty, but lost some of it’s height when I transferred it to the baking stone (I’ve got a Super Peel coming, which should help with this problem), and oat bran broom bread. Both came out great tasting with excellent crumb, and still had great texture and flavors when I finished the loaf.
The method used in almost all the breads in the book is different than any of the techniques I’ve seen in other books. Most quality breads have a long pre-ferment, either using sourdough or a lightly yeasted dough that rises slowly overnight and is mixed in on baking day, and usually feature low amounts of yeast which require long several-stage fermentation on baking day to develop gluten and the yeast. Reinhart’s method for developing the dough is to use a lightly yeasted pre-ferment as in the other recipes, plus an soaker that rests overnight at room temperature. These two doughs form the majority of the final dough. They’re mixed on baking day with the rest of the ingredients, and a relatively large amount of yeast. Since the flavors and structure has already been developed in the two overnight doughs, there’s no reason for a long fermentation on baking day. The technique also works wonders on whole grain flours, which can result in dense loaves in traditional recipes.
The result is bread with all the flavor and keeping potential of traditional recipes but you can use much higher percentages (like 100%) of whole grain flours with greater confidence that the bread will turn out, and best of all, baking day becomes a two hour process, rather than a four to six hour, multiple stage, slow fermentation procedure. I’m not going to abandon my other bread books, but it’s great to have more techniques at my disposal when deciding what kind of bread to make. And Reinhart can be commended for all the research and testing he did to develop the methods in this book.
I highly recommend Whole Grain Breads to anyone who is really interested in bread baking, especially if you’re ready to jump onto the whole grain bandwagon.