For the last two months, in between travels, in between artwork, in between studies and work, I kept returning to the quest for a perfect whole wheat bread - or at least one I really, really like so much that I want to keep eating it - and making it.
I've been playing around with high hydration percentages, in the 90 to 100 percent range. I finally added stretch and folds, an autolyse phase, and a fridge-to-oven strategy. I also ground the flour in my nice flour mill (thank you German engineering), which lends a nice aromatic - in a good way - to the dough-making process.
A small money wrench in this game of trial and error was that I started playing around with this bread in the high heat of summer, so I was using very little starter, thereby allowing for a long first rise period of fermentation. Making the bread again in the autumn meant that the length of time for fermentation went from long to extremely long.
Dancing allowed in the kitchen
I practically danced this time when I opened the dutch oven and saw a beautiful oven spring and a pretty bread. Success - tasty slices of bread that I ate for breakfast, smeared with butter, this morning.
Now, perhaps, after months away, I will return to the bread forums I used to peruse and participate in. I have gotten so involved in my artwork and studies that bread has taken a back seat. I also feel like I have accomplished much, though not all, of what I set out to learn and do when I picked that high number of 108 and began to make 108 different kinds of bread, arbitrarily determined, of course.
Now for that lovely whole wheat. I will only give the information for the last try of this bread as it was the only satisfactory result achieved.
41g starter (60 percent hydration)
597g whole wheat flour
Make sure to wake up your starter. I forgot the morning before, which meant my starter was not quite ready when I mixed the dough the next morning, probably adding to what ended up being an even longer first rise (more on that to follow).
Ground the whole wheat flour - about 200 grams of whole wheat flour per 1 cup of wheat berries. Good to have a benchmark because I hate milling too much more than I use.
Autolyse - Mixed the flour and water. Slow process because I was listening to an interesting radio program. Covered and left for 30 minutes. Cleaned up kitchen. This also allowed the starter to warm up for a while more.
Mixed dough - Added starter and salt to the autolyse. Mixed well and covered.
Stretch and folds - Did two stretch and folds, one at 40 minutes and the second at another 25 minutes, just before going out to breakfast on Sunday morning (carefully timed before the farmers market and the yoga class - what a stereotype, except I do not wear Birkenstocks or much fleece).
That fermentation period of the first rise ended up being 21.33 hours, during which time I left the dough in nice warm rooms, followed by leaving it out overnight in a cool kitchen of approximately 68 degrees. That's cool for me. (I'm freezing when it's 65 degrees in the house.) Not a winter kitchen, which stops fermentation, but definitely slowing down the process.
Indeed, before leaving the dough out overnight I had pretty much given up on it. I had no idea it would blossom after several more hours. The dough was exuberant, bubbles practically popping in front of me, on Monday morning. Big smile first thing in the morning when I peeked. Work beckoned, so I put the dough in the fridge.
15 hours later
After work and after an evening event, a full 15 hours after I put the dough in the fridge, the dough went in the oven. I had actually planned. That morning, I put the dutch oven in the oven and I left a note for someone to preheat the oven at 8 p.m. to 470 degrees. After the one-hour preheat, I threw some rice flour in the hot dutch oven (to prevent the dough from sticking), I shaped the dough, did a cross-slash, and plopped that dough right into the dutch oven. Quickly covered it.
Doing nothing can be the best strategy
No stretch and fold. No final rise on the counter. Straight into the oven after shaping. Indeed, this time around the bread turned out so much better than on previous tries when I let the dough sit on the counter (covered, of course) for a rest period and then a final rise of an hour.
Baking took 53 minutes. Lovely oven spring. Wonderful taste the next morning.
So happy. Time to order more wheat berries and this is definitely a bread to add to the basic repertoire.