Thursday, March 08, 2012

100% wholemeal bread (PrimaFlour wholemeal flour)

My mother is a creature of habit and must, every morning, have a slice of bread. As such, the next best thing I can do is to bake some delicious wholemeal bread that is at least in some way healthier than the quick-rise mass produced bread sold in supermarkets.

Our Wholemeal History
The first time we tried to bake wholemeal bread was with the breadmaker that my sister and I had bought my mother for her birthday. Even though we followed the instructions in the receipe book that accompanied the breadmaker, the loaf turned out really wet and soggy at the bottom, and desert dry on top. My mother refused to eat the bread of course, and tried giving it to our dog. But our dog refused to eat it as well!

The second time we tried to bake wholemeal bread was with Bob's Red Mill Whole Wheat Flour from Cold Storage. Right upon adding water to some of the flour to make dough, weevils began streaming out of the mixture, like in a horror movie! We quickly emptied the wet flour (and weevils) into a clear plastic bag and brought it plus the remaining flour to Cold Storage for a refund, with no intention to try baking wholemeal bread again.


What made my baking fingers itchy was a receipe that I had forwarded my mother by email. The receipe was for partial wholemeal peanut butter bread. My mother replied, suggesting that I try baking it. I did not yet want to try out a mixture though, but to first be able to bake a simple wholemeal loaf.

After a few hours of searching for "wholemeal", "fermented", "recipe" and "soaked", I decided to go with a receipe from a book called: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor. The reasons I chose his receipe were that a couple of bloggers had recommended it, it did not require a starter taking more than a week to create, and it involved soaking the grains for at least 12 hours (which would reduce the phytic acid in them and would break down some gluten).

The pictures below are of the final product.

Very heavy loaf of about 1kg, and shaped like a batard because we do not have a bread pan.

Unsightly fold at the bottom (oops)


The bread turned out with a very dense, tight crumb. I chewed on a piece myself and the bread was indeed absolutely dense. The larger bits gave the bread a nutty flavour though, and I could not detect any sourness or bitterness. What surprised me was how moist the bread was compared to the dried up Gardenia wholemeal bread that my mother usually eats. It must have been from higher hydration of the flour lasting overnight.

Tips on preparing the bread for eating

Fresh out of the oven, the bread was moist. At this stage it is tasty both toasted and untoasted. However, a day or two later, and especially if you have stored the bread in the fridge, the texture becomes a little gummy and chewy, and should be toasted for the best flavour and texture.

When toasting the bread, use thin slices. The reason is that the bread is very dense and takes 2 - 3 times as long as white bread to toast. Using thin slices shortens the time taken, and ensures that the entire piece of bread including the middle is crunchy. If the slice of bread is too thick, you may find yourself with a nicely browned surface but gummy interior.


As the loaf looked different much more dense compared to other bloggers' loaves using the same receipe, I seached for reasons why. In his book, Peter Reinhart writes:

Usually, finely ground whole wheat flour is preferred because it has the ability to develop into the strongest, most extensible dough. Coarser flours have larger bits of bran and germ that act like razors upon gluten strands.

Aha! That's why the bread could not rise very much and stayed compact and dense: compared to white flour, the PrimaFlour Wholemeal Flour I used was coarsely ground.

There are other wholemeal flour options in Singapore - besides Prima and Bob's Red Mill, I have seen two other brands of wholemeal flours in the supermarket: Origins Healthcare Wholemeal Flour (available at at NTUC Fairprice) and Waitrose Stoneground Strong Organic Wholemeal Bread Flour (available at Cold Storage at S$7.40 for 1.5kg).

As the flour in the transparent Origins' packaging looks rather fine, I will try using it in my next 100% wholemeal bread attempt.

Receipe for Peter Reinhart's Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

1/3/4 cups whole wheat flour (I used PrimaFlour Wholemeal Flour, which goes for $2.95 / 500g at NTUC Fairprice)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp milk, buttermilk, yohurt, soy milk or rice milk (I used Farmhouse Fresh (Whole) Milk, which goes for $2.95 / litre at NTUC Fairprice)
1. Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute until all the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.
2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the fridge; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.


1/3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast (I used Bake King Instant Yeast, which goes for $1.80 / 50g at NTUC Fairprice)
3/4 cup filtered or spring water, at room temperature (about 21 degrees celcius)

1. Mix all of the biga ingredients together in a bowl to form a ball of dough. Using wet hands, knead the dough in the bowl for 2 minutes. Make sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed and the flour is fully hydrated. The dough should feel very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead it again with wet hands for 1 minute. The dough will become smoother but still be tacky.

2. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refridgerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

3. About 2 hours before mixing the final dough, remove the biga from the fridge to take off the chill. It will have risen slightly but need not have risen significantly in order to use it in the final dough.

Final dough

Use all soaker
Use all biga
7 tbsp whole wheat flour
5/8 tsp salt
2/1/4 tsp instant yeast
2/1/4 tbsp honey or agave nectar or 3 tbsp sugar or brown sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil
extra whole wheat flour for adjustments

1. Using a metal pastry scraper, chop the soaker and the biga into 12 smaller pieces each (sprinkle some of the extra flour over the pre-doughs to keep the peices from sticking back to each other).

2. If mixing by hand, combine the soaker and the biga piecesi n a bowl with all of the other ingredients except the extra flour, and stir vigorously with a mixing spoon or knead with wet hands until all of the ingredients are evenly integrated and distributed into the dough. It should be soft and slightly sticky; if not, add more flour or water as needed.

3. Dust a work surface with flour, then toss the dough in the flour to coat. Knead by hand for 3-4 minutes, incorporating only as much extra flour as needed, until the dough feels soft and tacky, but not sticky. Forn the dough into a ball and let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean, lightly oiled bowl.

4. Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute to strengthen the gluten and make any final flour or water adjustments. The dough should have strength and pass the windowpane test, yet still feel soft, supple, and very tacky. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for approximately 45-60 minutes, until it is about 1/1/2 times its original size.

5. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and form it into either a loaf pan shape or a freestanding batard. For loaf pan bread, place the dough in a greased 4 x 8/1/2 inch bread pan. For a batard, place it on a proofing cloth or on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and, if you like, dusted with flour. Mist the top of the dough with pan spray (optional), cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45-60 minites, until it is about 1/1/2 times its original size.

6. Preheat the oven to 218 degrees celcius, and, if baking a freestanding loaf, prepare the oven for hearth baking, including a steam pan. When the dough is ready to bake, place it in the oven, pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan, lower the temperature to 177 degrees celcius, and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes, until the loaf is a rich brown on all sides, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers at least 91 degrees celcius in the centre.

7. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and allow it to cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

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