The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My first post aside from intro and I have heaps of questions!!

fishy's picture

My first post aside from intro and I have heaps of questions!!

First of all, I grind my own "hard red wheat" in a "Regal Kitchen Pro Grain Mill" which doesn't get as fine as I want but still works alright.
My mission is to get a nice whole grain loaf with lots of flavor which isn't too dry or dense, crumbly or gummy and is... well I want it to be perfect.

In a bread machine I've used combos of whole wheat plus rye, millet, masa harina, fava/garbanzo flour, oats, and rarely but with best results, all purpose. I also went through a bag of vital wheat gluten but didn't notice any difference I could attribute to it.

I'm trying something new, to me. I read the first part of "A Bread Baker's Apprentice" and am trying to make a loaf of whole wheat using an adaptation of Reinhart's methods (I didn't buy the book so can't follow it precisely and am way too inclined to experiment anyways).

I started with a soaker. I measured 2 1/2 cups of wheat and ground it. Then I combined the flour with 2 1/2 cups of bottled water (tap is awful here). Then I set it in the fridge, sealed up, overnight.
The next afternoon I ground 1 1/2 cups of wheat and stirred in 1/2 cup of very hot water. The mixture was super crumbly, not doughy at all. I let that sit about 30 minutes, covered, and then sprinkled on 1/2 tsp of instant yeast.
I oiled and floured my counter top with plenty of all purpose, turned out the soaker and kneaded it with the crumbly yeast mixture. After about 8-10 minutes of kneading the dough was still awfully wet and stuck to everything. I put it back in a covered bowl and stuck it in the fridge to use the next day. I know the flour to water ratio was way off here but I didn't want to add too much flour by accident. Still not sure how much flour is actually made by a measured volume of wheat.
When I checked the dough this morning it hadn't risen a bit. I took out the dough, turned it onto a floured counter and tried working more all-purpose into it. Still horribly sticky, worse. It felt lumpy and didn't want to smooth out and the fibers were tearing rather than being nice and stretchy. I didn't even attempt the windowpane test. SO here is where I stopped again and I am currently waiting for it to rise at room temperature.
How much flour is made by a measured volume of wheat and how should i apply that information?
I'm sure I made a heap of problems for myself. Can you explain what they were or what I should do instead?
Should I have kneaded more? I have no idea how much kneading is required when it involves a soaker or similar. I didn't want to oxidize the flour either. Read that could affect flavor. Also I read a tiny bit of the "No-Knead Bread" book which seems to be all about soaking and refrigerating dough. How does that method compare to Reinhart's?
Can I fix my dough at this point or is it okay?
Aftee it rises (if it rises) at room temperature should I punch it down and let it rise again or just go ahead and bake it?
Thanks for your help!

SourFlour's picture

In general, going by volume is fairly inacurate, which is why if you want to get serious about baking, you need to get a scale.  That said, we can estimate certain things, and you can also go by feel after enough practice.  I know that when I weighed 1 cup of white bread flour, it was 128g.  I imagine that whole wheat would weigh a bit more, but I'm not sure.

The first time you were kneading "for 8-10 minutes", it sounds like you were over hydrated, and needed more flour.  Also, you probably needed to knead for more time.  With whole wheat I have seen formulas that call for 20 minutes of kneading.  Also, considering your technique probably isn't exactly how it should be, you might need more kneading time than usual. I wouldn't worry about over kneading and ruining the dough in any way, although going too long can be frustrating, and you have other things to do. If you are using a mixer, I have heard you can overwork the dough, but mainly beause it gets too hot, and its a pretty violent process.

I'm not suprised that the dough did not rise in the fridge, as the temperatures are fairly low there, and the yeast often needs more heat to rise dough, especially something heavy like whole wheat. I would let it rise a good amount at room temperature (hopefully 3-6 hours?), and then shape it, proof it till it gets poofy (2-4 hours?), and then bake it. It's hard to tell exactly what stage the dough is in, so I'm not exactly sure here.  Considering it has fermented quite a bit in the fridge, you might be able to just shape it now, let it rise, then bake; you would skip letting it rise outside of the fridge.

Let us know how it turns out.  Let me know if I missed anything you asked, or if you have more questions about any specific part of this.

Take care,
Danny - Sour Flour

dmsnyder's picture

he or she would eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare, or so they say.

You will eventually make a good loaf of bread using the same methodology, if you have sufficient patience (and life span). But there are better ways.

Hi, fishy.

You need to understand basic principles. You need a "theme" before you can try "variations." An experiment is a procedure to test a hypothesis. The hypothesis is an expected outcome based on a coherent theory and previously gathered data which support the theory (or not).

My advice is to start at the beginning. Either buy BBA (or another good bread book - See the TFL book reviews) and pick a recipe to make over and over until you understand the dough, or read the lessons on TFL and search on any subject about which you want more information.


Jw's picture

David, you wouldn't happen to be a scientist, next to a bread guru?

Janknitz's picture

You can probably find BBA at the library if budget is an issue, or perhaps another book that explains the basics.  But I agree--you need to understand the principles first. 

 You need to know what dough is supposed to feel like at various levels of hydration and for various combinations of grain.  You need to understand Baker's math and how to determine the appropriate ratio (measured by weight--not volume!) of flour to liquid.  Gotta crawl before you walk, walk before you run. 

MJO's picture

Hi Fishy!


Like you, I had some troubles getting the loaf that I wanted.  I posted some questions not all that long ago, and really got a lot of help from Eric here.  Why don't you read this thread over and see if it helps.  I will say that I have since purchased PR's book on whole grains.  I am learning too.  You will (if not already) be amazed at how sophisticated the members here are--I learn more everyday.  Anyway, here is my post:



MJO's picture

Oops..that didn't come out right...Here is the post:



MJO's picture

I just thought of a couple of other things that really helped--If you like a really nice crust, put a pan on the rack in your oven, just below where your bread is going to sit.  Preheat as usual.  Just as you put your loaves in to bake, pour about 1 cup of HOT water in the pan for steam.  I also bake my bread at 450 for 10-15 minutes and then turn down my oven to 425.  When the bread is done baking, turn off your oven, but let the loaves sit for another 10 minutes before you open the door and take them out.  Remove them from the pans immediately.  Let me know how you do!  (You can send me a message directly by clicking on my name, if you want.)


flournwater's picture


David's comments are a hard act to follow.  His wisdom should not be overlooked.

First of all, your soaker description is difficult to decipher.  I would expect it to be somewhere around 190% (a cup of coarse whole wheat flour should be about 4 1/4 ounces) with 20 ounces of water.  That would help explain why your dough was inordinately sticky.   Of course, I'm guessing at the actual weight of your ingredients (I would recommend you ditch the volumetric approach to ingredient measuring and get a good scale) but it isn't too difficult to understand why your dough was as wet as you describe.

I'm no expert at Whole-Wheat breads so I can't address the issue of using "very hot water".  But in the few whole-wheat recipes I've read I've never seen any recommendation for hot water.  I hope someone with a lot of experience (how about it David?) can help with that part of the equation.

You mentioned that you "sealed up" the soaker.  I hope you didn't also seal up the dough during initial fermentation.  It needs room to breathe, even in the fridge, so the mixture can expand without having to fight the pressure of the gas created during fermentation. 

I would endorse the suggestion of kneading your dough a while longer.  Work it for about 10 - 15 minutes and take its temperature, and work in some more flour.  It should come together pretty nicely at about 80 degrees internal temp.  I wouldn't throw it out, I'd work with it.  At the very least you have an opportunity to learn.  Just make sure you're following tried and true methods.  I think it's a bit early in your bread making experience for you to be venturing out into the world of experimentation.  It's hard to experiment successfully without knowing what to expect at each phase of the experiment  -  and what each result means in the final analysis.  I speak from experience here.  I "experimented" for several decades until I found this forum and through it's member recommendations finally bought some books that were written by people who actually know what they're talking about in the field of bread making.

Also, let me suggest you exchange the phrase "punch down" for "de-gas".  Punch down suggests violent treatment of the dough.  Usually, admittedly not always,  a gentle degassing works better

The last point, and I think it goes along with weighing ingredients, is that you'll be more successful using internal temperature monitoring rather than the clock to determine when your bread is ready to come out of the oven.  I'd remove whole-wheat bread (and most others) at somewhere around 190 - 195 degrees internal temperature and let them finish with any residual heat that might remain after turning out onto a cooling rack.  I would not cool them in their pans.  If you're concerned about the center of the loaf being under-done, the end of your thermometer will tell you about it (after insertion into the center of the loaf) if there's any unbaked material in the center of your loaf.

MJO's picture

Did I just get ignored here?  I know you very sophisticated folks are very knowledgeable, but when most people start out making bread, the simpler, the better.  That's why I shared my experience with Fishy.  On the thread that I mentioned above, Eric H gave me some very easy and practicle advice.  Since then,  I have improved  considerably.