Published March 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
Most whole-wheat breads are either squat bricks or white bread in drag. We wanted hearty yet light-textured sandwich loaf that really tasted like wheat.
Most recipes for whole-wheat sandwich bread either yield loaves containing so little of the whole-grain stuff that they resemble the fluffy, squishy bread you find at the supermarket, or they call for so much whole wheat that the loaves bake up coarse and dense, crumbling as soon as you slice into them.
We wanted to create sandwich bread with a full-blown nutty—but not bitter—taste and a hearty yet soft crumb that sliced neatly.
Too much whole-wheat flour in bread impedes gluten development, which results in a heavy, crumbly loaf. So we decided to start with a known quantity—a good white-four recipe—and then work our way backward to “unrefine” it. We made a series of loaves of white-flour bread and replaced a portion of the all-purpose white flour with whole wheat in amounts from 25 to 100 percent. And because whole-wheat flour absorbs more liquid than its refined counterpart, we incrementally increased the amount of water as well to keep the dough pliant and workable.
Sure enough, we discovered that the higher the percentage of whole-wheat flour, the squatter the loaf and the denser the crumb. We found the highest percentage of whole-wheat flour that we could use before the texture began to suffer, and then we found a few ways to bump it up even more.
First, we substituted protein-rich bread flour for the all-purpose flour. Next, we created a “soaker”: We soaked the grains overnight in a combination of the milk that we were already using in our recipe and a bit of wheat germ (for added flavor). This accomplished three things: It softened the grain’s fiber, which encourages gluten development; kept the dough moist; and reduced bitterness and coaxed out sweet flavor.
Finally, we turned to something that we knew would give our bread well-developed flavor: a biga (also known as a starter or preferment). When left to sit overnight, this mixture of flour, water, and yeast develops a full range of unique flavors that gives bread even more character. Since our recipe was already an overnight process, we made the biga and the soaker and left the two bowls to sit at room temperature.
But if both components were left to sit at room temperature and then combined the next day, the temperature of the resulting dough would be too high. We needed a way to cool down one of the components. The solution was to place the soaker in the refrigerator overnight. When we kneaded the two together the next day, the finished dough came out of the mixer at an ideal 75 degrees.
With our basic recipe figured out, we made two final tweaks. Honey gave our dough better flavor and complexity than white sugar did. And butter was making our bread just a tad too tender and rich. No problem: Cutting back on the fat by more than half was a good start, and then swapping out even more of the butter for vegetable oil was an easy fix.list of recipes