All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Beards' "Mrs. Elizabeth Overstad's Whole Wheat Bread"

James Beards' "Mrs. Elizabeth Overstad's Whole Wheat Bread"

This is one of those mis-named breads.  There it sits, in James Beard's bread book, in the section on Whole Wheat Breads, but it is not 100% whole wheat.  It contains a bit of whole wheat flour, true; but also a bit of rye flour, a bit of whole wheat grains that have been soaked, but mostly it contains a LOT of bread flour (or, in my case, all-purpose flour).

I made it because my wife is having some friends over in the morning to help her with a major sewing project (think of it as sort of a quilting bee).  She made them a lot of food to ease the pain in the fact that she is prevailing upon their friendship, and I expect that the tribe of women will have lots of fun as they tirelessly toil away.  But tonight for supper, my wife fed us some of the food she intends to feed her friends tomorrow, and she was unhappy with the way things tasted.  She asked me to make them some bread (and tomorrow, a pizza).

But she didn't want me to make my kind of bread.  She wanted something more familiar, something that they would like.   Arggh.  Here we go again.  My bread pleases no one but myself, it seems.

I hit upon this recipe because it contained some whole wheat, and I eventually want to work my way through Beard's Book (at least the section on whole grains), and this is one that I haven't tried because it contains (in my opinion) far too much white flour.  Oh well, here was my chance: I could bake it and I wouldn't have to eat it.

And that's almost what happened.  I measured out all the ingredients, and was all set to mix it all up, when my heart sank.  That truly was an AWFUL lot of white flour.  I could not do that to them.
These are the ingredients of Beards' Overstad's Bread: 8 cups of white flour.
Seriously?  And you call this a whole wheat bread?
At the last moment, I dumped some of the white flour back into our flour bin, and decided that I would divide up the dough and make one loaf out of the white flour, and one out of whole wheat flour, and just see which one they chose.
I divide the dough in the beginning:
the one on the left is Whole Wheat, the one on the right is original recipe (white flour)
I knew which one I would choose, but by giving them a choice, I wouldn't feel bad about offering them what I consider a nutritionally inferior loaf -- and one that, frankly, I don't believe tastes as good.

But who am I to judge such things?  My taste has changed drastically by the many whole grain breads I've consumed over the last couple of years.

Let's look at the ingredients I used in this side-by-side comparison, of 1/2 the original recipe (with all-purpose flour), and 1/2 the original recipe (with whole wheat flour), and the percentages I found when I weighed things:



  • 2c Boiling water
  • 2/3c Whole Wheat Kernels
  • 2pkts Active Dry Yeast 
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1/2c Warm Water 100-115 degrees F 
  • 1/2c Rye Flour
  • 1/2c Whole Wheat Flour
  • 8c All Purpose Flour
  • 1 Tbsp Salt
  • 3c Milk and Water mixed 50:50

I had a little bit of potato water (water left over from boiling potatoes earlier in the evening), so I used that for some of the hydration; instead of milk, I used some milk powder, since I've been reading the Laurel's Kitchen book that says unscalded milk interferes with gluten formation.  The amount of milk powder comes from the package, which says to use 25g of powder per cup of liquid, and we are using 3 cups here, and I am taking half of that for each loaf.  Purists might say that I should half it again since Beard calls for 50:50 water and milk, but my feeling was that, since I was using powdered milk, and actually more water, things would balance out.

What I tried:
  • 2c Boiling water
  • 135g Whole Wheat Kernels, dry weight

(After soaking, this gave 198g of plump wheat berries, which I divided between the loaves, 99g each)

Loaf 1 (Whole Wheat):
  • 8g Active Dry Yeast 
  • 6g brown Sugar
  • 55g Warm Water 100-115 degrees F 
  • 33g Rye Flour 
  • 681g Whole Wheat Flour 
  • 11g Kosher Salt 
  • 38g Milk Powder
  • 255g Potato Water
  • 104g Water

Loaf 2 (White):
  • 8g Active Dry Yeast 
  • 6g, brown Sugar
  • 55g Warm Water 100-115 degrees F 
  • 33g Rye Flour 
  • 39g Whole Wheat Flour 
  • 642g All Purpose Flour 
  • 11g Kosher Salt 
  • 38g Milk Powder
  • 255g Potato Water
  • 104g Water

Beard and Overstad pour boiling water over the wheat kernels and left them stand for 1-2 hours.  I was dubious about whether this would sufficiently soften my kernels, but I played along.  Previously, I have boiled the grains for quite some time, rather than merely pour boiling water over them.  But I was here to learn something.  My kernels soaked for 1 hour and ten minutes.

The yeast is proofed with warm water and sugar.  Meanwhile the flours and salt and milk powder are mixed up.  The yeast and the drained wheat kernels are added together to the flour mixture, along with the water.  Kneading is to take 10-15 minutes.

Whole Wheat Experience
It probably took that long just to incorporate the whole wheat flour.  I worked on it first.  It was a bit dry, so I had to wet one of my kneading hands twice, just to get all the flour to adhere.  Then it all came together.  But I was afraid that it would still be quite dense.

I bulk-fermented it in my Excalibur Dehydrator on bread setting for 1 hour.  The Whole Wheat dough had the better rise at this point.

I took it out and gently patted it down, and then folded it into a boule without a lot of kneading -- something that Beard's recipe had advised me to do.

Then it sat in a floured, cloth-lined basket, for about another hour, this time at room temperature.

The Whole Wheat Loaf is on the pizza peel ready to go into the steamy oven

White Wheat Experience
I made an error when putting these ingredients together, forgetting the proofed yeast (!) until after all the other ingredients were incorporated, and I was just about to knead it.  That meant that the yeast wasn't going to be as well hydrated, I guess.  I dumped it in and kneaded it for a full 10 minutes.  The gluten was already beginning to form before the yeast got any water, so I wasn't sure how this would turn out.

It went into the Excalibur Dehydrator at the same time as the other loaf, which had had about 10-15 minutes on the counter already.  I left it in the Excalibur, my poor-boy's proofing machine, while I worked with the whole wheat loaf an hour later, so it had more time in the warmth.  Still, it didn't rise as much as the whole wheat loaf, and I suspect this is due to the mistake with the yeast.  In the end it wouldn't matter all that much though: this yeast was just getting started still.  I still expected the white flour loaf to have a higher volume than the whole wheat loaf, and in this I wasn't disappointed.

before: (L) 100% Whole Wheat + Rye; (R) Mostly White Flour, some WW, some Rye

Like the other dough, I gently patted it down and then folded it into a boule shape, making the gluten as tight as I could.  It wasn't quite as elastic as other white doughs I've made, but the gluten cloak could be made a lot more tight than my whole wheat bread, without tearing.  It sat in the basket 60 minutes, 30 minutes of that I was preheating the oven.

The whole grains in this loaf are a lot more visible and provide it with an interesting texture.

The loaves were scored then baked for 1 hour at 400 degrees F with some steam.  Beard wanted me to paint the loaves with water or egg, but I didn't do that.

The White Flour Loaf is on the peel and ready to be baked

Meh.  This "Mrs. Overstad's Bread" is definitely 'Overstated'.

The consensus is that the crust is good, and the bread is okay, but it wasn't great.  The bread was about 10 hours old when we ate some of it, and already it was beginning to get stale.  It would have been better fresher (it smelled great fresh out of the oven).  Still, it was better than most store-bought breads.  We ate it with some spinach soup, and it went well with that.

The ladies were more enamoured with my pizzas.  But I haven't been photographing my pizzas lately, I've lost interest in that.  And the pizza dough I use for company isn't whole wheat, so it doesn't fit in with my interests any longer.  I'll have to experiment and get a proper whole wheat, sourdough pizza dough that will work okay for when company comes.  I'm not there yet.

One of the ladies said that she only buys and therefore eats whole wheat bread, with whole grains in it.  I think that she was not trying my whole wheat bread here, she just looked at the whiteness of the other bread and decided it was all one and not to bother.  That's okay.  To each his own.  I've made better whole wheat breads, too.  And the one she is used to no doubt has lots of dough conditioners in it (and more sugar) to make sure it doesn't taste too bitter.  That's life.

I was most curious about the whole grains that were in the bread.  These were most noticeable, and crunchy, when they were close to or part of the crust.  But in the interior crumb, even though they could be seen, they didn't really add all that much to the texture of it.  I think that it could have used more.  I was impressed though, with the way the grains swelled and softened in little more than one hour's time and with no cooking, just pouring the boiling water over them and letting them sit.

The whole wheat bread could have been hydrated more.

Notes to Myself
  • Pour boiling water over your grains and let them sit 1-2 hours before incorporating them into the bread dough.  Great idea, worked fine.  Will it work just as nicely for rye and barley and oats and triticale and any other number of grains I have just kicking around?  One way to find out: add them to breads ad lib.
  • If you try this whole wheat bread again, increase the hydration slightly.  Here are the percentages of the above loaves, and what I would try instead:
  • Above WW Bread's Total flour:   714g (100%)       Total hydration:  414g (58%)

    • 14% -- 99g Soaked Boiled Whole Wheat berries (135g dry weight)
    • 1% -- 8g Active Dry Yeast 
    • 0.8% -- 6g brown Sugar
    • 8% -- 55g Warm Water 100-115 degrees F 
    • 5%   --  33g Rye Flour 
    • 95% -- 681g Whole Wheat Flour 
    • 1.5% -- 11g Kosher Salt 
    • 5% --  38g Milk Powder
    • 36% -- 255g Potato Water
    • 15% -- 104g Water
  • Instead, try this: Total flour:   714g (100%)       Total hydration:  414g (65%)

    • 14% -- 99g Soaked Boiled Whole Wheat berries (135g dry weight)
    • 14% -- 99g Soaked Boiled Whole Rye kernels (135g dry weight)
    • 1% -- 8g Active Dry Yeast 
    • 0.8% -- 6g brown Sugar
    • 8% -- 55g Warm Water 100-115 degrees F 
    • 10%   --  71g Rye Flour 
    • 90% -- 643g Whole Wheat Flour 
    • 1.5% -- 11g Kosher Salt 
    • 5% --  38g Milk Powder
    • 36% -- 255g Potato Water
    • 21% -- 150g Water
  • How do you suppose forgetting the yeast until everything else had been incorporated affected the rise of the white flour bread?  Can you see a use for this -- i.e. developing the gluten before adding the yeast?  Does making the gluten somehow bind up the starch and make it less available for the yeast to eat?  Can you think of any other reason why the whole wheat dough rose faster in the bulk fermentation phase, but failed to have such a large rise when it was placed in the oven?


  1. Take more pictures of your pizzas, man!

  2. Whole wheat flour ferments faster than white flour - I couldn't tell you a specific reason, though. I've noticed it in my own baking, and I've come across a mention of it in a few books - off the top of my head, the Tartine Bread book. Maybe because it still contains the germ and the bran? Or, maybe the germ and the bran contribute more amylase and starch is converted to sugar faster?

    A quick googling seems to confirm that there would be more amylase in bran, at least:

    I don't think forgetting the yeast until later would have any negative impact. I imagine it's akin to a long autolyse in terms of gluten development.

  3. More amylase in bran? Well that's fascinating -- and beyond me, right now.

    Before you mentioned that article (I can only access the abstract, from home, but I'll read the article before long), I had never even heard of the 'Michaelis Constant' -- the constant is explained in another article, which is more public, here, and is where I get my understanding of it:

    However, this is all quite counter-intuitive to me: I assumed that the bran contains mostly fiber and indigestible starch, so therefore what are the yeasts munching on? And one can easily find articles that state that bran (or the phytate in the bran layer, or something else) inhibits the action of the Amylase enzymes. Eg., here is a public one:

    Many of the sourdough starter recipes I've encountered advise one to begin with the whole grain, freshly milled into flour, and perhaps this is because there is more natural yeast in the bran layer (as they all state), but because there is also more food for them. Which makes sense, that the yeasts would be attracted to a layer of food. But then why do not the yeasts devour grains in the field, or in storage? The bran must be protective against yeasts, too. We are speaking of layers of accessibility, which to the plant is layers of nutrition and transport. It makes sense that a plant would separate its amylose and the amylases that will break down the sugars for its growth, and what better place to put the amylase than a non-starchy layer? All of which shows my general ignorance in plant biology -- I'll have to read up on it.

    There are a great many mysteries for me to unravel here, and I am a long way off from grokking janusian kinetics.

    It doesn't surprise me that the mystery involves not only the yeasts that are fermenting the dough, and their food-source, but also enzymes. Reinhart unabashedly pilfered (but credited) the ideas of Emily Buehler regarding enzyme's work in bread-making, and her writing is far more accessible to me than these scientific papers (I do read them, but my eyes glaze over and I start to yawn).

    Here is Emily's page, from which one can get to a site that has an essay on these enzymes, or even purchase her book:

    Thank you so much for pointing me in this direction. I learn so much from you (and I learn how much I have yet to learn).

  4. Unrelated to my earlier comment, but I've managed to borrow a copy of Beard on Bread. After a few pages, I can wholeheartedly recommend throwing it out. This was clearly written by somebody who doesn't really understand bread:

    1. A bizarre number of his bread doughs are enriched
    2. He advocates storing bread in a refrigerator to keep it fresh longer (p13)
    3. His "Sourdough" bread is out of control and blatantly wrong (p7)
    4. He proofs active dry yeast, which is a pet peeve of mine. It's absolutely unnecessary to spike A.D. Yeast with sugar... it's a little slower to respond, but there's no reason to add the extra sugar. The result is the same in the end.

    This book seems a lot like a chef who has decided that he, great artist he is, should bring himself down to the lowly art of bread making and cast judgement without really knowing stuff.

    His "broiled bread" recipe is insane, because if you understand oven spring, it's clear why this happened... but he listed it as a separate recipe, rather than a technique, because he doesn't get it.

    I'm only referencing Hamelman's book these days, at the bakery I work at. Sometimes I'll pull a recipe in from Tartine, or combine a couple I like. If I'm working with a sourdough starter, it's always one at 125% hydration and I reformulate biga / stiff sourdough recipes to use my 125% hydration starter instead.

  5. I think you're right about Beard's book. I won't be burning it any time soon, though.

    The book is a cultural artifact. Historically, I think it defines a strange moment in our western culture: after a time when everyone made bread, during a time when no one made bread, and many techniques were forgotten -- but before a time when home artisans rediscovered that they could make good bread. Beard's book was an early catalyst to the whole movement. If he got some things wrong, by today's standards, I'll forgive him, because he clearly was a pioneer. His book sparked a lot of interest for its time. Sure, we've moved on. It is still fun to try some old recipes. I still learn stuff when I try them.

    I have Hamelman's book, but I don't use it much yet. Most of his recipes also use bread flour or all purpose flour, and my interest is whole grains. I don't have the Tartine book, but from what I've seen of the various breads made from that book, in the excited bread blogoland, it seems similar in this respect to Hamelman's: enriched flours, not 100% whole grains.

    As for sourdough, I am loving it more and more. I'd be curious to know why you keep your sourdough at that high a hydration -- why is it better at 125% than say 100%, or 70% (the hydrations of my sourdoughs)? Right now I keep 3 different sourdoughs (the 2 70%'ers, a wheat and a rye, are for Reinhart's whole grain recipes, and the 100% rye sourdough is for Schoener's recipes) -- just so I don't have to reformulate hydrations. I suspect that this means I'm being extremely wasteful, and your way seems better. I'd be curious to know how you reformulate recipes for your starter 'on the fly', and if you have any tips.

  6. Hmm. Between 100% and 125% I cant' imagine there's too much difference, but I keep mine at 125% because whenever Hamelman lists levain in a recipe, as opposed to stiff levain, it's at 125% hydration. It's trivial to feed with a spatula to stir things together, which leads to me actually feeding it regularly.

    As to other reasons why it's better: I'd have to imagine it ferments faster, because yeast would be able to move about quicker, but I can't really comment on that with any authority. Similarly, I imagine yeast / bacteria proliferate better in a wet environment in general - this one I'm pretty certain on.

    For quick reformulating of recipes, I take a look at the levain used in a given recipe, let's say its at 60% hydration and it calls for 16 oz. I would break it apart into its constituent ingredient percentages -- 100% flour, 60% water -- and then figure out what, of the 16 oz, is flour and water. In this case, I've got 10 oz flour, 6 oz water.

    If I want to use my 125% hydration starter, I would need to bring up the amount of water to 12.5 oz. So, from the recipe I'd add 6.5 oz to the weight of the starter, and subtract 6.5 oz from the weight of the water, and then just use my 125% hydration starter.

    Tartine does have recipes for complet / integral wheat bread, but they don't really talk much about it, only that pan complet is something to strive for.