Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Whole Wheat Bread: Tips from a (semi) Pro

This week's installment from Baking With Julia is whole wheat bread. It is a reliable and relatively simple recipe that I've made at least 9,000 times. So I feel justified in sharing some of the tricks I've learned along the way.

Before you embark upon making this bread, keep these tips in mind:
  1. Making bread is not that hard. Be fearless.
  2. It’s almost always worth the mess.
  3. Plan to skip the gym today. You won’t need it anyway.
To summarize, don’t assume your trusty old Kitchen Aid will do all the work for you. I love my KA as much as the next girl, but when all those heavy dry ingredients get dumped into the bowl, the mixer will have to work quite hard. The motor will get very warm, and the machine will probably throw flour all over the counter and all over you. Dress appropriately. 
I usually find the dough climbing up the hook within a minute or two after turning the mixer on. When it starts to threaten anarchy, I dump the dough out onto the counter and prepare to teach it a lesson.

A shaggy hot mess.

For this batch, I removed the dough from the mixer after about 90 seconds, when it was a shaggy hot mess and the salt hadn’t fully incorporated. But, as noted above, I'm a pro. Except for the money part. I worried not.
I simply shifted into Incredible Hulk mode. After decades of Jazzercise and a long year of zealous bread-baking projects, my biceps are strong enough to handle even the most obstinate of bread doughs. I kneaded my heart out -- carpal tunnel be damned. As usual, the dough eventually yielded under my masterful touch. The rest was just waiting, shaping and waiting a little more.
Use protection.

Side note to my fellow bloggers: before you engage in an energetic adventure like mixing and kneading bread, I recommend a little protection for your equipment. Here’s a little trick I learned online: if you’re using your iPhone to take pictures for your blog, a little plastic sandwich bag makes a lovely camera condom. It keeps everything neat and tidy inside, and you can simply throw it away when you’re through with your business. (Just had to get that out there. Let’s drop this metaphor now before the kids start asking questions.)

Barley Malt: An old friend. There was a steep learning curve
when I first encountered this ingredient, but now we understand each other. You can find it at most health food stores.

One last tip, gleaned from Alton Brown: When you cover the dough for the first rise, mark it's size and the time you placed it in the bowl. This way, you'll be able to tell when it has risen sufficiently, and approximately what time it should be done (temperature and moisture variables permitting). Knowing Alton as I do, I'm guessing he measures everything precisely, every time. But I just eyeball the size and it usually survives.

Here’s what the dough looked like after 
three minutes of kneading. Tough as nails.
Here's what it looked like after the full ten minutes of kneading.
See the glutens forming already? Science is so cool.

This bread has a happy, buoyant rise, tight crumb, and a chewy, not-too-sweet texture. It’s perfect with a little slather of butter, and/or leftover rhubarb jam from previous TWJ projects.

Hooray for bread season! Hooray for long baking projects! Hooray for carbo-loading to my heart’s content, knowing I can hide those extra winter pounds under my bulky wool sweaters! Hooray for New England weather! (Until the snow hits at least.)

Our hosts this week have all the gory recipe details on their blogs. Be sure to check out Michele of Veggie Num Nums and Teresa of The Family That Bakes Together.  


  1. Fun post. And yes, protection for clothing and camera equipment are vital when making bread (and trying to document the process) :-)

  2. I loved your comments about protective gear. As for the workout, I always wondered why people were surprised that my great-aunts were so strong for five-foot-nothing ladies. They'd spent their lives kneading dough and mixing batters by hand, not to mention wrangling generations of children.

    1. As a five-foot nothing-er myself, I can relate. Unfortunately, though, I spend about as much time kneading dough as I do hoisting it to my mouth.

  3. Hahahah. I usually eye-ball the rise as well. It has usually turned out fine. :)
    I love kneading dough by hand. Makes you work a little bit for the great end result.

  4. Hooray for your wonderful yummy bread and great step by step post.

    This is my favourite recipe from the book so far. Such a versatile bread is a dream!
    We had it toasted and not-toasted with butter and honey or butter and jam,
    we use it for sandwiches or anytime we like to eat bread.
    I have tons in the freezer, now.

    1. Agreed. And as we found out this evening, it is great for dunking in a rich savory stew on a stormy night as well.

  5. Great comments, beautiful loaf.

  6. Nice! I would definitely eat bread than go to the gym anyday! We loved this bread, too.

  7. Love you post ... and your suggestions. I didn't bother with the malt extract but I am going looking for it this week! Great bread post! Blessings, Catherine

    1. I like the malt better than the molasses or honey, but I think that's got something to do with my abiding affection for beer. It is definitely worth experimenting.

  8. Hilarious! Just love your post. Bread making is certainly an adventure, as we well know.


If you're having trouble leaving a comment, send me an email at tammyjkleinman [at] to let me know.