Nov 012009

Right now I’ve got bagels for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge retarding in the fridge, but I decided that I’m kinda overdosing on all that white flour and it’s high time that I posted a whole-grain bread. This particular bread is one of my favorites for its challenges, its fun, and its textures and I can’t believe that it’s taken me more than two years to get around to sharing it.

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

First, its challenges: this bread contains a lot of chewy, delicious bulgar wheat berries. However, all those grains can really get in the way with the formation of long gluten strands. As a result, I don’t usually achieve the humongous rise that my basic whole wheat and oatmeal loaves have spoiled me with, but really, it’s ok – the flavor more than makes up fr it! Also, this dough is very soft and slippery (more on that later), which means that if you start daydreaming while you’re supposed to be focusing on push, fold, rotate, push, fold, rotate, then it could end up shooting across the room. Now, the last challenge: occasionally the dough will tear, freeing an avalanche of bulgar across the kneading board. Not to worry, you’ll learn soon enough how to poke the grains back into the dough, conceal the tear with a couple of folds, and keep kneading like a pro. Crisis managed!

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

Secondly, this dough is a lot of fun. This was my first truly enriched bread and it uses a novel way to incorporate the butter into the dough: you smear it across the board and let the dough soak it up as you knead! It’s pretty ingenious, and if it wasn’t for the bulgar dotting the surface of the dough it would be the poster child for satiny and supple. It also makes the dough very soft, so if you’re looking for the culprit causing the above challenges, look no further.

Thirdly, the texture of this bread is just out of this world. In addition to the butter doing marvelous things to the taste and texture, the buttermilk acts as a dough conditioner, making it even lighter, more complex, and more delicate tasting. Throughout baking, the bulgar keeps its toothy texture and it even makes me want to nibble at the bread little by little, picking out the grains so I can eat them separately. If you can tear yourself away from eating it plain, it’s pretty devastating on a sandwich piled high with some home-roasted chicken and some fresh produce.

So if you’re in the mood for a whole-grain bread that is still wholesome and delicious but puts a new spin on the old formula, try this recipe on for size. It’s well worth the effort!

Warning: do not toast and butter - you will consume the whole loaf that way!
Nikon D50

Bulgar wheat bread
From Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book
Makes two 8″x4″ loaves

This dough makes very fine hearth loaves, splendid buns or rolls, and spectacular pan loaves. Feel free to bake whatever shape suits your fancy.
Do not use soured milk (vinegar or lemon juice + milk) if you don’t have buttermilk on hand! It will curdle and will not work at all. I’ve recently started keeping powdered buttermilk on hand but I haven’t tried it in this recipe yet, though I suspect that it will work just fine.
It’s hard to find whole-wheat flours specifically labeled as high-gluten. Try buying vital wheat gluten and replace, not add, 1 tablespoon of the gluten for an equal amount of flour for each cup of flour. For instance, if the recipe calls for six cups of flour, I put six tablespoons of gluten at the bottom of my mixing bowl and add enough flour to meet the weight called for (since I use a scale to measure my flour).
For the bulgar:

3/4 cup (128g) bulgar wheat
2 tablespoons molasses
water to cover, about 3/4 cup

For the bread:

1 7/8 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/4 cup boiling water
1 1/4 cup cold buttermilk
5 1/2 cups (830g) high-gluten whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
Boil 3/4 cup water. Mix the bulgar, molasses, and water in a heavy saucepan. Return to a boil, stirring, and cover. Remove from heat and set aside.
Dissolve the honey and in boiling water and add the buttermilk. In a large bowl, stir the flour, yeast, and salt together and make a well in the middle. Add the buttermilk mixture, combining to make a dough. Knead partway, until the dough is starting to become supple but is still slightly sticky (about ten minutes), then let rise for about an hour and a half. Test to see if it is ready to deflate by wetting your finger and poking the dough. If the hole does not fill in or if the dough sighs, go on to the next step.
Drain any excess water from the bulgar mixture. Spread the butter on kneading surface and turn the dough out onto it, flattening the dough to a large oblong. Spread the grains out on the dough in an even layer, leaving about an inch all around, and then fold the dough together, trapping the grains. Knead the grain and the butter into the dough and keep working them together until the dough is silky and lustrous, stretchy and even – except for the brown grains, of course. This will take about 10 minutes. Let the dough rise again as before. It should be ready in about half as long as the first rise.
As soon as the dough tests ready, turn it out onto the tabletop and press to deflate. Cut in half and round each part. Cover and allow to relax very well – this may take 15-20 minutes. Shape the loaves, using flour on the board when you shape the loaves, being very gentle to keep the gluten from tearing.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
The shaped dough should rise quite high before you put it into the preheated oven. It does best in a place that is warm and not too humid. Have the oven ready a little early in case the tops of the loaves begin to rip from the stress of the wheat. Once the loaves are ready, slash them and immediately put them in the oven. After ten minutes reduce the head to 325 degrees and bake for almost an hour. The internal temperature of the loaves will be about 190 degrees when they’re done. Place on a rack to cool and, if desired, brush the tops with butter.

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