Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The "Perfect" Whole-Wheat Bread - Almost

Okay, it's time. Time again for me to try another one of those Cook's Illustrated recipes. Just like I did last December, when I tackled their "Best Pizza Ever" recipe. Without hesitation, I can say that the pizza dough I made using that recipe really came out great.

Well, once this month's Cook's Illustrated arrived, how could I wait? There it was, right on the cover - "Secrets to Perfect Whole-Wheat Bread." Of course, the whole cover of Cook's Illustrated is, ummmmm, covered with those types of pronouncements. For example, just on that same issue's cover you get:

Dressing Up Steaks - Shortcut to 4-Star Pan Sauce

Broccoli-Cheese Soup - Throw Out the Rule Book

Real Boston Cream Pie

All About Butter

Who knew it was so easy? But that's what makes Cook's Illustrated great, and also one of the few food mags that I literally read cover to cover. Now, onto those perfect loaves of whole-wheat bread.

First, understand that it takes 18 - 24 hours from the start until you actually have something resembling a loaf of bread that can be eaten. Second, I can literally take a 10 minute walk to the Essex St. Market and buy a great, artisanal whole wheat bread for about $4 a loaf, which makes me think that there's a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time, to make my own. And unless it's categorically better than Pain d'Avignon's, why bother?

Well, I'm a cook, and I'm a food geek, so why the hell not? Also, I had all the ingredients on hand.

I didn't take pictures of the process, only the results, but it starts the night before with a biga (which is a starter, which is a pre-ferment, which is…something I wrote about here) and also a soaker, which allows the whole-wheat flour to develop to its fullest potential. As I told you, it's very scientific, and much more nerdy than I care to explain here.

The next morning, you actually put the dough together - and having a Kitchen Aid or other heavy-duty stand mixer comes in handy; otherwise, prepare for lots of kneading. Once the dough comes together, then it's only about 3 more hours till it's baked, and 2 more till it cools enough to cut into. Whew.

Now, before showing you the finished product…a mea culpa. Instead of the bread flour called for in the recipe, I mistakenly used all-purpose flour, and that may be the reason for one of the admittedly minor grievances I had with my loaves. So here's what the bread looked like after baking…

And then the loaf cut in half…

And finally, a close-up of a slice…

A couple of things. Take a look at that 'tunnel" up in the right-hand corner of the slice. Not good. Not terrible, but probably not something I should be proud of. Next, see how the "crumb," which is the interior texture of the loaf, gets tighter and tighter towards the bottom of the slice? That's called, I believe, pudding-y, or at least something like that. Whatever it's called, it's not what you're looking for. It might be due to the lower gluten content of the flour I used vs. bread flour. Taken altogether, not a bad first attempt.

If anyone has any suggestions as to what might've gone wrong - I'm all ears.

Although next time, I'll probably head over to the market - it's just so much easier.


  1. There's a whole rule book for Broccoli-Cheese Soup? Dang.

  2. Do you even eat sandwiches?
    And there is nothing wrong with a little kneading..think of it as extra gym time. :-)