If you ask a German living abroad what he/ she misses most, you will find nearly always find in their list the word ‘bread’. Germany has a huge bread culture. We start having our breakfast with bread buns and our dinner is called ‘Abendbrot’. It literally means Evening bread.
Whilst being away of Germany I do miss our nice crusty whole wheat bread with nuts, sesame or poppy seeds. Years back I started baking my own bread. I first started with a bread machine. Bread came out of it, indeed. But I became more and more obscessed with making bread which is close to bakery bread. I started to knead my bread by hand. Still the result wasn’t as perfect, and I tried all sorts of recipes.
Finally last fall I found this beautiful book calles ‘Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast’ by Ken Forkish.
It is a very detailed book about the job of a baker is and getting into details how to make the perfect bread. He also explains the perfect pizza dough. Anyway in the last months I’ve been doing the ‘Saturday 75% Whole Wheat Bread’. Surely you can replace the Saturday with any other day of the week!
In general no matter if you want to make a loaf of bread or pizza dough, remember this simple rule: The dough needs time. A lot of time. Let it rise with the yeast. Let the yeast work for you. All the other recipes would tell me to let the bread rise for 2-3 hours. This recipe takes from beginning till end (bread coming out of the oven) 7:30 hours. Scary? Yes a little bit at first. But really most of the time you let the bread work on its own and once in a while you give it a bit of attention.
This recipe is good for two big loaves. I eat half of a loaf fresh and slice the rest and put it in the freezer. I adapted the recipe to how I make it, changing certain steps, or leaving some out.
What you’ll need to make your two loaves of bread:
– 750 g or 5 3/4 cups + 1 1/2 tbsp Whole wheat flour
– 250 g or 1 3/4 cups + 3 tbsp White flour
– 800 g or 3 1/2 cups Water (90°F/ 32°C to 35°C)
– 22 g or 1tbsp + 1 tsp Fine sea salt
– 3 g or 3/4 tsp Instant yeast
1. Mix the 750 g of whole wheat flour and the 250 g of white flour by hand in a bowl (you can add nuts, raisins, spices or herbs if you like. I haven’t don’t it yet with that recipe but I am sure it will work).
Add the 800 g of warm water and mix by hand just until incorporated.
Cover and lest rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
A little tip I learned whilst working in a kitchen: Always mix with only one hand: it gets sticky and it is really no fun to have both hands stuck together. The hand you use for mixing will be covered with dough. To get some back in the bowl, I use a spatula.
2. After resting, sprinkle the 22 g of salt and the 3 g of yeast evenly over the top of the dough.
Mix by hand, wetting your working hand before mixing so the dough doesn’t stick to you. (It’s fine to rewet your hand three of four times while you mix.)
3. Reach underneath the dough and grab about one-quarter of it. Gently stretch this section of dough and fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. Repeat three more times with the remaining dough, until the salt and the yeast are fully enclosed.
4. Use the pincher method to fully integrate the ingredients. Using your thumb and forefinger, make five or six pincer cuts across the entire mass of dough.
Then fold the dough over itself a few times. Repeat, alternately cutting and folding until all of the ingredients are fully integrated and the dough has some tension in it. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, then fold for another 30 seconds or until the dough tightens up.
5. The target dough temperature at the end of the mix is 77 °F to 78°F / 25°C to 26°C. Cover the tub and let the dough rise. I always choose the warmest place at home. Today it is our patio. When I lived in the UK, I would warm up a little bit the oven, then turn it off and place the dough in the oven.
6. This dough needs three gentle folds. So take again dough from the bottom and fold it over the top of the dough. Whole wheat dough does not stretch as far as white flour dough, so don’t be too aggressive with it. It’s easier to apply the folds during the first 1 1/2 hours after mixing the dough.
Apply the first fold about 10 minutes after mixing and the remaining folds during the next hour (when you see the dough spread out in the tub, it’s ready for the next fold).
If need be, it’s okay to fold later; just be sure to leave it alone for the last hour or rising.
7. When the dough is triple its original volume, about 5 hours after mixing (so when you started putting your flour and water together), it’s ready to be divided.
8. Moderately flour a work surface about 2 feet wide. Flour your hands and sprinkle a bit of flour around the edge of the tub. Tip the tub slightly and gently work your floured free hand beneath the dough to loosen it from the bottom of the tub. Gently ease the dough out onto the work surface without pulling or tearing.
9. With floured hands, pick up the dough and ease it back down onto the work surface in a somewhat even shape. Dust the area in the middle, where you’ll cut the dough, with a bit of flour. Cut the dough into 2 equal-size pieces with a dough knife or plastic dough scraper. I simply use a regular knife. It does work too.
10. Normally you would put the dough now in special proofing baskets. Since I don’t have any I put them directly in the casseroles I’ll back them in. I put butter/ oil and flour in it to make sure it doesn’t stick.
The book recommends to bake the bread in a Dutch oven since the heat can be increased.
Having only my casseroles, I used them and I am really happy with the result. Place your dough in the floured casseroles.
Lightly flour the surface and cover them for 1 1/4 hours. If your kitchen is warm your can let the loaves rest for only 1 hours.
11. Put the lids on your casseroles and put them in the preheated oven (475 °F/ 245 °C).
If you only have one casserole/ Dutch oven put the second load into the refrigerator about 20 minutes before baking the first loaf and bake the loaves sequentially. Once I left the second loaf out and it turned very nice too.
12. Bake for 30 minutes, then carefully remove the lid and bake for about 20 more minutes, until at least medium dark brown all around the loaf. Check after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot.
13. Remove the casserole/ Dutch oven and carefully tilt it to turn the loaf out. Let cool on a rack or set the loaf on its side so air can circulate around it.
I know it seems like a really long journey to get some bread, but it is really worth it!