Mar 172013

Whole-wheat buttermilk loaf and rolls

Whole-wheat bread gets a bad rap. And that’s too bad, really, because it doesn’t (necessarily) deserve it. Especially when you consider that there are scads of bad white bread out there, but for some reason, those loaves haven’t painted all of white-bread-dom with the mark of evilness.

Is it just because bad whole-wheat bread tends to be heavy and dense? Don’t get me wrong: I’ve made several of those bricks, erm, loaves myself, but the flavor of the bread was still quite good.

I started to understand better when I took a bread class that had us making six or so different kinds of bread. One was the requisite whole-wheat loaf, and when I bit into it, I suddenly understood why some people hated whole-wheat bread: the loaf that had been made from that recipe was awful: the bread was not only dense, but was also bitter and completely unpalatable. I wish I could tell you what had gone wrong so that you could avoid those things, but I threw that recipe away, ne’er to look upon it again.

Whole-wheat buttermilk rolls set up to proof

So I’m here to tell you that if that has been your experience in whole-wheat bread-making, then I am here to rescue you. This recipe makes a loaf that is tender and almost feather-light. Its flavor is sweet yet pleasantly tangy and goes well in almost any application, be it shaped into sandwich loaves, toasted, or made into burger-buns or kaiser rolls. It’s really become my go-to recipe because though there are a handful of whole-grain bread recipes that I like as much or more (like this one or that one), this one is the most reliable and the easiest to make.

So give this recipe a chance, won’t you? I think you’ll find — like everyone I’ve introduced this bread to — that it’s a game-changer.

Whole-wheat buttermilk loaf

100% Whole-Grain Buttermilk Loaves & Rolls
From Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book
Makes two 8×4″ loaves or 16 rolls

For many reasons, steam is important for baking bread. If you’re making rolls and have no steam-making implement, bake them at 325F instead of 400F because the color will turn out an un-appetizing grey instead of warm brown.
If you are using Bob’s Red Mill powdered buttermilk instead of liquid, use 1 extra cup of water plus 1.5 extra tablespoons of water and 2.5 tablespoons of buttermilk powder.
6 tablespoons (45g) vital wheat gluten
5 cups plus 2 tablespoons (785g) whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons (11g) salt
1 1/2 teaspoons (7g) instant yeast (aka rapid-rise or bread machine yeast)
1 1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cup cold buttermilk
2-4 tablespoons (28-56g) butter, softened, plus extra for brushing the bread at the end
In the large bowl of a stand-mixer, combine the wheat gluten, flour, salt, and yeast. Stir until the ingredients are all well-incorporated.
In a bowl or 1-quart measuring cup, combine the water, honey, and buttermilk. Stir well to combine everything thoroughly.
With the paddle attachment on your mixer on low speed, slowly pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture until the ingredients are well-combined and there is no dry flour left in the mixing bowl. If you would like to let the gluten get a head-start on forming, cover the bowl and let the dough sit for 20 minutes before proceeding to kneading. If you’d like to skip that step (known as the autolyze), that’s fine too.
Either switch to a dough hook or tun the dough out onto a floured counter. Knead for about 20 minutes, making sure that you don’t add any more flour than necessary, as this dough does best when it’s on the soft side. You want the gluten to be well-developed, but if you are kneading by machine, be very careful not to over-knead the dough, as the buttermilk in the dough will make tearing happen more easily. I have the best results with this dough when I do the second half (or all) of the kneading by hand. When the dough is nearly ready (e.g. it is getting smooth, elastic, and is close to passing the window-pane test), add the butter and knead into the dough. Use the smaller measure for loaves and the greater measure for rolls.
Put the dough into a bowl; cover with a lid, plate , damp cloth, or plastic wrap; and let rise until the dough does not spring back when you poke it with your damp finger, about 50-90 minutes, depending on how warm the dough was when you set it up to rise and the temperature of the room it’s rising in. Once the dough tests ready, turn the dough out onto the counter again, press it flat or give it a few kneads (please don’t punch it unless it has insulted your mother) to de-gas it, and return it to the bowl for a second rise, which will take about half the time of the first.
When the dough tests ready after the second rise, return it to the counter. Press it flat to remove all of the air. Divide it into two equal halves (for loaves) or sixteen equal parts (for rolls). Cover the dough and let sit for 10-15 minutes until it is relaxed.
Shape the dough into loaves or rolls. Put sandwich loaves in pans or free-form-loaves and rolls onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover and let proof for 45-75 minutes, until the dough has swelled and does not return a finger-poke. Be bold about giving this bread time to fully proof, as it can achieve great height when it is kneaded properly. When the shaping is done, pre-heat the oven to 400F for loaves or 450F for rolls. If making a free-form loaf, place a baking stone in the oven. If you have any steam-creating apparatuses (such as lava-rocks in a cast-iron skillet), put them in the oven too.
When the dough is ready, put it in the oven (along with anything needed to make steam). Reduce the heat to 325F for loaves and 400F for rolls. Loaves will be ready in about an hour and rolls will be done in 15-30 minutes, depending on their size. Either way, the bread will take on a rich, warm reddish-brown when baked. Remove from the oven, take them out of the pans, and cool on racks. Brush them with some melted butter if you like. Do not slice until completely cool. The bread will keep best wrapped in foil at room temperature or wrapped in foil and put in a zipper-top freezer bag and frozen.

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