I've come to discover over the years as a bread baker, good bread can come out of almost any oven. While most people assume that you need a top-of-the-line Viking or Wolf range costing in excess of $5,000 in order to get good results, it turns out that good technique almost always triumphs expensive hardware. While there are certainly kitchen tools that I use in my routine baking that I would be sad to see go (like my KitchenAid Pro 600 or my digital scale) since they make my job easier and more consistent, in the end, almost any oven will work and can be cajoled into sending out the wonderful aroma of baking bread.
To prove this point, I was recently contacted by Beth Knorr, manager of the Countryside Conservancy and more specifically, the Howe Meadow farmers market that I've written about several times before, and was asked if I'd like to do a cooking demonstration during one of the weekly Saturday markets. Intrigued (and honestly, quite flattered) by this notion, Beth and I compared datebooks until we agreed that my demo would take place from 9 am - noon on Saturday, August 21st. At the time Beth initially contacted me, I still had some time to plan what dishes I wanted to make and as my weekend got closer, I stopped by the market to see what types of products and produce I would be able to use.
Fortunately, one of the purveyors, Alex from Mud Run Farms, was still selling his two pound bags of freshly ground whole wheat flour. I had used this flour in a previous entry when I made whole wheat fettuccine (recipe is at the link) for a dinner I cooked for my grandmother and me. I decided that I should stick to what I know best and make my honey whole wheat bread while highlighting the flour that Alex was selling at his stand. I bought several bags of the flour from him a week prior to my demo anticipating that I might need some in doing my preparations the night before the big event.
The bread recipe I would be using today has gone through several iterations as I've added, removed, and changed ingredient amounts to make it taste better and better. For those who might feel challenged at making bread, I will give you the simpler "dump and stir" recipe. While it's still a tasty bread, the tweaks I will be presenting (and the extra time required) for the more complicated recipe are well worth your time and effort. Both recipes use the same amount of ingredients, it's just that my tweaked version has you using some of the ingredients the night before.
Here's the dump and stir recipe:
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
325 grams Bread flour
425 grams Whole Wheat flour
14 grams (1 tbsp) Canola oil or Light Olive oil
42 grams Honey
26 grams Wheat germ
50 grams Ground flax seeds
8 grams Instant yeast (use 10 grams of Active dried)
17 grams Sea salt
540 grams Water, room temperature
You will notice, gentle reader, that everything I measure is in grams or ounces. Weighing ingredients is FAR more accurate than measuring by volume (i.e., cups). It's worth your while to spend the $30 on a digital scale accurate to the gram. It's a shame that 99% of cookbooks out there don't measure by weight; I think people who are scared of baking because recipes don't turn out well would have much better results were they to measure by weight rather than volume.
Now that I've given you the basic recipe, let's proceed to my tweaked version. The night before you want to make the dough (or do this in the morning if you want to bake at night), you need to make two items, a soaker and a pre-ferment called a poolish. For these items you'll need both the bread flour and the whole wheat flour:
In a container big enough to hold both the whole wheat flour and the water, measure out:
200 grams Whole Wheat flour
250 grams Water, room temperature
Using a fork, gently stir the two together and make sure that all of the flour is hydrated. Cover the container and place it in the refrigerator. Congratulations, you've just made a soaker! A soaker is used to pre-hydrate some of the flour in order to not only give it a chance to fully hydrate before being used, but also to help start breaking down some of the more complex carbohydrates into simpler sugars that the yeast will use for food. The reason that you place the soaker into the refrigerator is that all flours contain naturally occurring wild yeasts in them and if you let it sit out overnight, those yeasts might actually start to grow.
Here is what the finished soaker should look like:
It doesn't look particularly appetizing to you or me, but trust me, the yeast will love it.
Next up we need to make the other pre-ferment, the poolish. A poolish almost always consists of equal weights of bread flour and water with just a tiny pinch of yeast. For the poolish, you will need:
250 grams Bread flour
250 grams Water, room temperature
2 grams Instant yeast
Place these ingredients into a large container and using a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the ingredients to combine. You are looking to not only hydrate the flour, but also start the activation of the gluten. It only takes about twenty seconds of vigorous stirring and what you end up with looks like a really thick pancake batter:
Again, cover the container and put it into the warmest part of your kitchen (I used the top of the refrigerator). After 8-10 hours, that little bit of starter will have transformed into this:
Note that when I first put the poolish into this container, it measured at less than 1 quart (I also made a double batch of poolish, so a 2 quart container will probably be big enough for a single batch). The finished poolish nearly tripled in volume. When you take the lid off, you will notice the delicate structure of the dough and all of the bubbles at the surface. Take a deep breath and smell decidedly alcoholic aroma which comes from the yeast's consumption of the sugars in the flour; this is a sign that it's ready to use.
Now that we've done our pre-dough work, let's take a look at the rest of the ingredients:
For today's bread, I ended up using grapeseed oil instead of Canola. You really can use any light tasting oil from your pantry. To add an extra layer of punch, you could also substitute pumpkin seed oil. Having finished my soaker and poolish, I went ahead and measured out the dry and wet ingredients for the following morning. This technique is called mise en place and is literally French for "everything in its place." It's a wonderful method for making sure you have all of the ingredients for your recipe by first measuring each out into its own container before combining to make the recipe.
First I measured out the remainder of my dry ingredients (minus the salt):
75 grams Bread flour
225 grams Whole Wheat flour
26 grams Wheat germ
50 grams Ground Flax seed (also called meal)
6 grams Instant yeast (or 1 packet of Active dried)
These I placed into a single container and mixed with a fork to combine:
I placed a lid on this and just left it on the counter for the next morning. Next, I measured out my wet ingredients and my salt:
14 grams Canola oil
42 grams Honey
17 grams Sea salt
Even though the salt is considered a dry ingredient, you don't want to mix it in with the yeast because it might kill it before you have a chance to activate it in your mixer. All my pre-baking work now done, I retired for the rest of the evening.
The following morning, I got up nice and early and pulled out my trusty KitchenAid mixer with dough hook attachment. In the large stainless steel bowl, I used a flexible scraper (you could also use a spatula) to add in all of the poolish and soaker into the bowl. I then dumped the contents of my pre-measured dry and wet ingredients into the bowl on top of them. I kept the salt aside for now.
At this point, I measured out:
40 grams Water, room temperature
You might need it, you might not. I attached both the bowl and dough hook to the mixer and turned it to the first position ("1") to begin mixing the ingredients. After about thirty seconds, I adjusted the mixer to the second position ("2") and gradually added the salt to the dough in a continuous stream. After adding the salt, I set my timer for six minutes and let the machine continue to knead the dough. Today I didn't need to add any additional water, but during those six minutes of kneading, use the extra water if the dough is looking dry and not coming together nicely. The dough should be fairly wet, which means it will be a little sticky to the touch.
After my six minutes of kneading, I turned the machine off, detached the bowl and walked it over to my large plastic proofing container:
It is important that you oil your container or the dough might stick very badly when it is time to turn it out onto your work surface. I used a pan release spray, but if you wanted to oil the container by hand, you could certainly do that, too. Use your flexible bowl scraper to transfer the dough from the bowl to the container and place the lid on.
The dough will now go through two rises. The first rise normally takes about 60-90 minutes, depending on the warmth of your kitchen. For me, I made my second dough, packed everything up into my car and headed to the market. Ninety minutes after making my first dough, it had grown quite a bit:
At this point, I used my flexible bowl scraper (it's quite the handy tool, no?) to "punch down" the dough by "grabbing" the dough at the edges of the container and folding the dough onto itself in the middle. I worked my way completely around the container. At this point, you re-cover the dough and let it go through a second rising. Folding the dough over onto itself allows you to redistribute both the yeast and the flour that feeds it. The second rising usually takes about 1/2-2/3 the amount of time as the first.
When the dough has risen for the second time, it is time to divide the dough evenly and create the final shapes. The recipe I've posted above makes roughly three (3) pounds of dough. When I bake on my pizza stone, I normally make three one pound balls, or boules. Because of the size of the camping stove I was using today, that wouldn't be possible. Instead, I brought out my loaf pans and made two 1 1/2 pound loaves instead.
Using my digital scale, I divided the dough evenly. I then prepped my loaf pans by spraying them with more of the pan release spray I had used earlier. To shape the loaves, take one of the halves and place it on your work surface. Flatten it out slightly and then grasp both the left and right ends and slightly pull them out before folding them back onto the dough. Then, using your thumbs and palm, start at the top and begin to fold the dough down towards the bottom, a little at a time, three to four tucks being plenty.
Then, using your palms, gently adjust the "log" so that it looks fairly even and place the formed loaf with the seem side down in your loaf pan:
Here were my two formed loaves:
Cover this with a tea towel and allow them to proof until the dough has mostly filled the pan. Depending on how warm it is (and it was pretty warm at the farmer's market), this could take 30-45 minutes.
When you've got about fifteen minutes left before the loaves are fully proofed, turn your oven on to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, today's oven,
was wildly inconsistent in the temperature gauge. When I first turned it on, I set the knob for the oven to "hi". This yielded me an internal temperature of 500+ degrees (according to the temperature gauge on the oven itself). Even with the knob turned all the way to "low", the gauge still read a balmy 425 degrees. At this point, the bread was fully proofed and I had no other option than to just give it the old college try.
Place the loaves on the same rack in the middle of your oven, giving them a little space between the actual pans. After ten minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to cook for another 20-25 minutes. Half way through the cooking time, you may also have to rotate the loaves from from to back and left to right if your oven has hot spots (and most ovens do). To check whether the bread is done, remove a loaf from the oven and flip it out of the loaf pan using hot pads or a tea towel. Plunge an instant read thermometer into the bottom of the loaf (where no one will see the hole) and make sure the probe goes into the center of the loaf:
The proper internal temperature needs to reach 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit. Remarkably, in my case at the market, it had actually reached the correct temperature, so I removed the other loaf from the oven, flipped it out of the loaf pan and placed both loaves onto a cooling rack:
Having successfully made the first batch of bread, I turned to pan up my second batch only to discover that the heating element of the campfire oven had turned off and nothing I tried would successfully re-light it. In the end, the above two loaves were actually enough to feed the hungry and intrigued crowds who stopped by my booth to try and discover where the wonderful bread smell had originated. When I pointed out that the bread had just come out of the camping stove, I got many wide-eyed stares and the occasional, "REALLY?"
While you will want to wait 45-60 minutes for your bread to fully cool before slicing into it (this allows the gelatinized starches to fully set and give the bread its final structure), I only managed to stave off the hungry onlookers for about ten minutes before I acquiesced and began to feed the gathering masses:
Fortunately, the two loaves that I did manage to bake came out nearly perfect and somewhat serendipitously were just the right amount of samples to feed anyone who wanted a taste. Almost everyone commented on how wonderful the bread tasted, which I took both as a compliment to the recipe I've developed over the years, but also the fantastic flour that I bought from Mud Run Farms. If you want the best results from your cooking and baking, always start with the best ingredients you can afford.
The demonstration now complete, I packed up all my gear and lugged it back to my car. Physically I was tired and sore from all of the standing, but emotionally I was totally thrilled that not only did I get to meet some great market attendees, but also got to feed them some tasty and healthy bread as well. I hope you do give this recipe a try; it might just make a whole wheat bread convert out of you if you already aren't a lover.