Not Exactly Vermont Sourdough
Most of my bread for the past couple of weeks has come from the freezer, rather than from the oven. That's a good thing in that the freezer needs to be cleared out but not so satisfying as baking. It also means that I've had a pretty steady diet of rye bread. Again, that's a good thing but it was time for a change of pace and taste.
What I wanted was something wheaty, something sourdough. I turned to Hamelman's Bread and came across the formula for his Vermont Sourdough with Wheat. That didn't quite do it for me, since it simply swaps out the small amount of rye flour in the standard Vermont Sourdough for an equally small quantity of whole wheat flour. After a second scan of the ingredients, it occurred to me that I could use equal quantities of bread flour and whole wheat flour, along with 1 ounce of rye flour, to make up the flour bill for the bread. That would let me keep most of the qualities that have made Vermont Sourdough so beloved by many while satisfying my craving for a thoroughly wheaty bread.
The rest of the process was very much by the book, with two exceptions. First, everything was mixed by hand, so as to avoid straining my KitchenAide mixer (and because I really, really like to have my hands in the dough). Second, the whole wheat flour in the bread is from the Great River Milling Company. It is a very fine-textured flour and it has a high protein content; a bit north of 14%, if memory serves. I very much enjoy the Great River flour and hope that Costco continues to carry it. As written, the formula is 65% hydration. My first guess was that I would have to bump that up to 70% to accomodate the flour's moisture absorption. As it turned out, hydration had to be increased to 72% just to moisten all of the flour for the autolyze. While kneading the final dough, still more water was added, bringing the final hydration closer to 75%. It could have handled even more water without getting gloppy but I had enough to make a manageable dough that wasn't too stiff.
Since the temperature in my kitchen was around 65F and since I didn't want to be baking at 2 a.m., I used my Brod & Taylor proofer to keep everything at a comfy 75F for both the bulk and final ferments. That resulted in the dough doubling in volume in just 3-4 hours, which fit very nicely around the errands that had to be run on Friday.
More for appearance than anything else, I rolled the shaped dough in bran before the final ferment. Chef Hamelman's baking instructions produce a boldly baked loaf. The bran made a nice highlight against the deep mahogany color of the crust.
Given the 15 minutes of kneading, and the not-massive hydration level, the crumb is fairly even and smooth but not tight. Since the intended use is for sandwiches, it works better than a very open crumb that allows condiments to drip all over one's clothing.
The flavor is exactly what I was jonesing for: wheat! The dark crust contributes plenty of caramel and toffee notes, with a hint of chocolate in the background. The crumb is firm and chewy, while remaining moist and cool. No squishy marshmallow bread, this. It is robust and makes a substantial base for sandwiches.
It's back to the freezer after this disappears but for now, life is very good.