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Friday, March 11, 2011

Bittman vs W&T's Whole Wheat Breads in the No-Knead style

Bittman vs W&T's Whole Wheat Breads 
in the No-Knead style
I guess this is my fifth attempt at the Wolter & Teubner Whole Wheat Bread.  This time I made a pan loaf.  Here's why.

Blind Stumbling around for Info on Hydrating Whole Wheat Breads

With my recent flurry of attempts to make Wolter & Teubner's Whole Wheat, Wheat Germ Bread, I have been thinking a lot about what hydration a 100% whole wheat bread should have, or can have.  This morning when I awoke, I just glanced through some of my recipe books and made some notes -- a quick poll of what others have done with their 100% whole wheat bread hydrations.

Some books, like Jeffrey Hamelman's 'Bread' were useless to me, since they contain absolutely no 100% whole wheat bread recipes, and I haven't played with these recipes enough to see if they would work with 100% whole wheat.  Other books, like Jim Lahey's 'My Bread' might have been similarly useless, since they contain no 100% whole wheat bread recipes, but they still do provide me with some ideas, since I've at least done some trials with the recipes, substituting whole wheat for bread flour.  Still other books, like Ojakanga's "Great Whole Grain Breads" do contain some 100% whole wheat recipes, but they use volumetric measurements, and I have not yet tried them.  I haven't weighed the ingredients, so I can't report on the baker's percentages: therefore, they too are N/A, or Not Applicable.

Regarding Baker's Percentages, I admit to being in the dark as to how to calculate overall hydration.  Should all the liquid ingredients be included in the tally?  Do you count the oil, the liquid honey?  Do you count the milk as equal to water?

I tend make these calculations differently at different times, depending on what I'm looking at, and depending on what I've been reading recently.  This morning, over my cup of tea, while a late winter storm blew in, I made a list of some of the hydration levels of some whole wheat breads -- but I didn't include the hydration from oils or liquid sweeteners.  I did, however, include the water content of milk (if the recipe used it), at the rate of 88% of the weight of the milk. ( I got this value from a book I have been looking at recently to find some answers, Figoni's 'How Baking Works')
Backyard Chicken Coop under a late March snow

Here are the results of the poll I made:

    •    Hamelman - N/A
    •    Ojakangas - N/A
    •    Lahey's (p61, modified for 100% whole wheat, no bread flour) - 75%
    •    Laurel's "Loaf for Learning" - 55%, but has yogurt, which might make it as high as 69%
    •    Beard's Wm M. Childs - 56%, but with milk percentage, might make it as high as 61%
    •    Beard's Myrtle Allen No Knead - 82%
    •    Artisan Breads in 5 Min/Day (p.76) - about 70%
    •    Healthy Breads in 5 Min/Day (p. 81) - 88%; or 84%, if Vital Wheat Gluten is added to total flour
    •    Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice Whole Wheat Bread (p. 270) - 77%
    •    Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads Sandwich Bread (p. 95) - 67%
    •    Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads Hearth Bread (p. 153) - 70.5%

The higher hydration doughs are basically no-knead, and to prevent the sagging that would occur on a stone with a free-form loaf, techniques like Lahey's (bake it in a hot enclosed container) have been been used; Hertzberg & Francois tend to use cold dough to shape their freeform loaves, but I've had a lot of sag with their whole grain loaves too. Otherwise, most high-hydration no-knead breads are made in pans.  The lower hydration doughs require a fair amount of kneading to develop the gluten.

While fumbling in the dark trying to get my head around the hydration concept, I came across this article: Better Bread with Less Kneading, from the New York Times Feb 23, 2010.  For those who can't be bothered to follow the link, take this much from it: “Water doesn’t give you any flavor or structure, so enough to hold the flour together is enough."  And the final advice: don't go over 75%, and 68% is better.

This actually flies in the face of something else I read, elsewhere, the last couple of days (was it Figoni's text?), that advises us to "maximize" our water content to ensure the gluten has the ability to form.  Whole wheat flour is going to require even more water, since the bran soaks up more moisture.  So therein lies the entire challenge of whole wheat bread baking: the more water you add, the less it holds its shape; the less water you add, the denser it becomes.  Add even more substances that soak up moisture, like the extra wheat germ of the Wolter and Teubner loaf I've been playing with, and you want to add even more water, but it doesn't pull the gluten together and your loaves end up sagging.  The less hydration, the more you have to knead, and the more you knead, the less airy the crumb.

A few links later, I came across Bittman's "Fast No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread" and I thought to myself, "Hmm.  I wonder why I've never tried this before?"  This loaf isn't entirely wheat, there is some rye and some corn meal in it; and when I measured out the ingredients for it, I found that it is 77% hydrated -- and Bittman says it must be baked in a pan.  I assume he means it is too wet to make a good free-form loaf.

Anyway, despite the warnings I got from my wife not to bake any more bread ("because we have enough, it is such a waste, and you make such a mess, and I have to clean because we have visitors this weekend…blah blah"), I began making the Bittman loaf (once she left the kitchen).  And of course, for comparison purposes, I also made another Wolter & Teubner Wheat Germ loaf, side by side with it, to see how a no-knead technique like Bittman's would fare with their ingredients.

As I say, I calculate these baker's percentages differently for different requirements.  For the following recipe, which I've scaled back to a single loaf approximately the same size as Bittman's, I haven't included the wheat germ with the flour, but rather as a percentage of the flour.  Again, I don't know what is the 'right' way to do this, but this is simply the way I've done things this time.

A consequence of considering the Wheat Germ an additive rather than part of the flour, is that this dough feels dry, i.e. it feels a LOT less hydrated than the Bittman dough.  If you include the wheat germ with the flour, this version of the W&T loaf is only 69% hydrated, which wouldn't qualify it as a no-knead, high-hydrated sort of dough.  That low of a hydration might be more acceptable for the free-formed loaf.  Perhaps I should have used 413g of water, to bring it up to the 77% hydration that Bittman uses in his loaf.  Well, I have to save something to try next time.

Another thing to try: leave out the oil.  Figoni says "Liquid oil…contains no water at all, and it does not contribute to gluten development.  In fact, oil, being a tenderizer, interferes with gluten development."  So it is in W&T's recipe to tenderize the loaf.  But if it is interfering with the gluten development, perhaps it is just better to leave it out.


Here are the ingredients of the Bittman loaf, with the weights I found (your mileage may vary.  Get the volumetric measures from the link to his recipe):

    •    321g Whole Wheat Flour
    •    63g Rye Flour
    •    82g Cornmeal
    •    3g Yeast
    •    9g Salt
    •    361g Water
Here are the scaled ingredients of the Wolter & Teubner Wheat Germ Bread, after I reduced the whole wheat flour to the same amount of flour as the Bittman loaf:

    •    466g Whole Wheat Flour
    •    70g Wheat Germ
    •    3g Yeast
    •    6g Salt
    •    19g Oil
    •    47g Honey
    •    359g Water
I have backed off slightly on the yeast, to keep it in line with Bittman's recipe.  But I have't used as much salt as him.


Bittman said to leave his dough to rise for 4 hours before moving it to a pan.  I decided I'd try the same technique with the W&T loaf, i.e. press it into an oiled pan, right to the edges, leave it for an hour, and then bake it at 350 degrees F.
Front yard evergreen blasted with wet heavy March snowfall.
After shoveling the driveway and feeding the chickens I checked the doughs.  Both had risen to approximately double.  Despite the drier consistency of the W&T dough, it probably sustained its neck-and-neck rise because of the honey that the yeast was eating.  But would that also develop the gluten in the bread?
At the four hour mark, the W&T dough was a bit higher than the Bittman dough.  The yeast, having gorged on honey, was now working on the starch in the flour.  I pressed both doughs down into their respective oiled pans, and oiled the surface.  Scoring Bittman's dough made drag-marks in the surface, it was definitely wetter and gooier.

After an hour

Bittman's loaf is to bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes, whereas the W&T loaf, as a free-form bread, bakes at 400 degrees F for 50 minutes.  I stuck with Bittman's temperature and times for the pan-version of the W&T loaf, but I was prepared to leave it in a bit longer, if necessary.  I didn't.

I was disappointed that the breads didn't come out of the pan on their own, without a bit of prying.  That may be an indication that they are a trifle under-baked.  I'll have to wait until tomorrow before I crack into them to see the crumb.

Next morning, we awoke to newspaper coverage of the devastating quake in Japan.  Our troubles, like the fact that the cat is disgusted with the weather here, and sits on the kitchen table dreaming of the yard, seem so small in comparison.

Never more grateful to have bread to eat and a warm, dry place to eat it, I found the W&T Wheat Germ loaf to taste much better than the Bittman No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread.  Both of them could have used a bit more time in the final proofing, although the Bittman loaf looks like it might develop an airier crumb sooner than the the W&T.  I can taste the extra salt in the Bittman loaf.  I can taste the oil in the W&T loaf -- this dough has really soaked up the oil that was used to line the pan.

I prefer the W&T loaves when they are made free-form.  I'll try this hydration again in the free-form style, adding some sunflower seeds, and I'll even try it with no oil next.  Maybe a side-by-side comparison with oil vs no oil -- the next time I need bread.

Notes to Myself
  • Try the W&T Wheat Germ Bread with no oil to see if the gluten develops better.
  • Try this hydration on a free-form loaf after a 4-hour rise.
  • Add some sunflower seeds to the W&T Wheat Germ Bread.
  • If making this in a pan again, next time use 413g of water to bring it up to 77% hydration. 
  • Bittman's loaf has oil painted on the surface before baking.  Here, you have painted it on at the beginning of the final 30-minute proof, and that might have inhibited the rise.  Consider painting it on right before baking, or consider leaving it off altogether, and just letting it rise with steam in the oven. 

    Especially for the W&T loaf, don't oil the surface -- you aren't getting the 'official' W&T crust that way, and this dough soaks up the oil and it doesn't seem to improve it.

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