Rose Levy Beranbaum’s 100% Whole Wheat Epiphany Loaf

first published in the April 2005 issue of Food Arts Magazine

It is a common misconception, which I have shared until very recently, that 100% whole wheat bread is by its very nature dense and bitter. On a trip to the Bay Area, while researching the story in this issue on the Bay Area bakeries, I was invited to an unusual bakery in Oakland: Vital Vittles, which specializes in kosher, organic, 100% whole wheat bread. They didn’t tell me why they had invited me until I tasted the bread and then Kass, the owner, admitted that it was to disprove what she had heard me say about whole wheat on the radio a year before when on tour for “The Bread Bible.”

To my amazement, the bread made with 100% whole wheat had the aroma of a new-mown lawn combined with freshly cut hay. Kass explained that the bitterness I had experienced was due to rancidity. It was absent in her bread because she used wheat berries ground the same day as baking the bread. A wheat berry can be decades old and if stored properly, will still be viable, the fats in the germ protected from oxidation by the bran, its outer coating. The moment the wheat berry is broken or ground, oxidation starts to take place. Most millers agree that once ground, the flour should be used within 3 days or held for 3 weeks due to certain enzymes that would render it undesirable for bread baking. Three months is the limit for shelf life of the whole wheat flour unless frozen. But for the best flavor, it is ideal to use it the day it is ground.

I immediately asked Kass for a few pounds of wheat berries and the day I returned home I started grinding and developing a recipe for 100% whole wheat bread. I discovered that the secret to lightness of the crumb was not only the freshness of the flour but also not allowing the dough to double during rising which tears the more fragile gluten. The result: This soft, moist, slightly chewy, crunchy with walnuts loaf that captures the true nutty-sweet multi-dimensional wheaty flavor of the grain.

Note: The average bread made with refined flour has about 66 percent hydration. This bread has almost 88 percent hydration due to the very absorbant bran. It is preferable to weigh the flour as no two flour mills grind the same, which would impact the volume significantly.

100% Whole Wheat Bread Walnut Loaf

Oven Temperature: 450°F., then 400°F

Dough Starter (Sponge): 1-4 hours or overnight
Minimum Rising Time: About 2 1/2  hours
Baking Time: 45 to 50 minutes

Makes: An 8 inch by 4 1/2 inch by 4 1/4 inch high free form loaf
2 lbs, 1.7 ounces/956 grams without nuts; 2lbs., 6 ounces/ 1078 grams

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  Equipment: An 8 1/2 inch by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan, greased lightly with cooking spray or oil. A baking stone or baking sheet.

1) Make the Sponge
In a mixer bowl, place the water, honey, about 2 cups (10 ounces / 286 grams) flour, and 1/2 teaspoon of the yeast. Whisk about 3 minutes until very smooth.
In a second bowl, whisk together the remaining flour, vital gluten, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of yeast. Sprinkle it over the mixture in the first bowl, forming a blanket of flour. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to sit for at least 1 up to 4 hours. The sponge will break through the flour blanket in places after about 1 1/2 hours.

2) Mix the dough
With the dough hook mix on low speed (#2 Kitchen Aid) about 1 minute, until the flour is moistened to form a rough dough. Scrape down any bits of dough. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes. Add the oil and knead the dough on low speed (#2 Kitchen Aid) for 7 minutes, adding the salt after the oil is mixed in. If adding the walnuts, continue kneading 3 minutes.
 The dough will not be elastic at this point and will not form a ball. It should be sticky enough to cling to your fingers. If it is not at all sticky spray it with a little water and knead it.

3) Let the dough rise
Place the dough into a 2 quart dough rising container or bowl (3 quarts if adding the walnuts), greased lightly with cooking spray or oil. Press down the dough and lightly spray or oil the top of the dough. Cover the container with a lid, plastic wrap or a damp towel. With a piece of tape, mark where 1 1/2 times the height would be. Allow the dough to rise (ideally at 75°F to 80°F) until 1 1/2 times (no more or it will tear the gluten and result in a dense crumb), about 1 hour.
Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, remove the dough to a floured counter and flour the top. Press down on it gently to form a rectangle. It will now be quite elastic and still very sticky. Give it 1 business letter turn, round the edges and return it to the bowl.Again, oil the surface, cover, mark where 1 1/2 times the height will now be and allow it to rise until it reaches that point, about 45 minutes (Or refrigerate it overnight and bring it to room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding.)

4) Shape the dough and let it rise
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and press down on it gently to flatten it slightly. It will still be a little sticky but use only as much flour as absolutely necessary. Shape it into a loaf and place in the prepared loaf pan. It will fill the pan to the top. Place it in the proof box or cover it lightly with oiled plastic wrap and allow it to rise until the highest point is about 1 1/2 inches (2 inches if walnuts) above the sides of the pan, and when pressed gently with a finger the depression very slowly fills in—about 45 minutes.

5) Preheat the oven
1 hour before baking time preheat the oven to 450F.

6) Bake the bread
Quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot stone or hot baking sheet and toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath. Immediately shut the door and lower the temperature to 400°F. Continue baking 45 to 50 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. (An instant read thermometer inserted into the center will read about 200°F. Half way through baking, rotate the pan half way around for even baking.

7) Cool the bread
Remove the bread from the oven, unmold it from the pan, and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, top-side up.

8) Serve
Wonderful as tea sandwiches with cultured butter, yogurt cheese, bleu-veined cheese and apple slices.

The Dough Percentage
flour: 100% 
water: 87.7%
yeast: 0.67%
salt: 2%