The Fresh Loaf

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Reinhart Whole Wheat Bread - Help Needed!

cman710's picture

Reinhart Whole Wheat Bread - Help Needed!

Hi all,

First, thank you in advance for your welcome to the Forum. I have lurked here for a little while, but this is my first post.  I have already learned an incredible amount from everyone and look forward to learning more. Second, if I have placed this thread in the wrong area, I apologize and do not mind having the thread moved to the appropriate spot.

After much time that I spent reading and re-reading Bread Baker's Apprentice, I decided to try the whole wheat bread. I find many of the white breads more motivating, but we eat wheat bread, so I figured that it would be nice to have some freshly made bread for sandwiches and the like.  I can post some pictures when I get home, but my finished loafs were not up to my expectations. The flavor was pretty good, but the crumb was very dense and a little bit dry. Below, I have detailed the process I used along with some of my concerns along the way. Any and all suggestions would be really appreciated.

Day 1

The Reinhart recipe calls for a soaker and a poolish. For the soaker, I used Arrowhead rye flour. I started it at about noon.

For the poolish, I used Arrowhead whole-wheat flour, instant dry yeast, and water.  When I mixed in the water, it formed a dough-like, sort of ball-like structure. The recipe called for putting it in the refrigerater when it bubbled, and after a few hours there were small bubbles.  I envisioned a poolish as being more liquidy, but I think that the texture was right, given the water/flour proportions called for by the recipe.

Day 2

As instructed, I took the poolish out of the refrigerator about an hour before I intended to make the dough.

About an hour and 20 minutes later, I mixed together the soaker, poolish, dry ingredients, and then the honey, vegetable oil, and egg. The egg was cold out of the refrigerator. I mixed for one minute with the paddle attachment, and then switched to the dough hook as instructed. I mixed for about 8 minutes on the 4 level on my KitchenAid mixer and then took it out and worked the dough by hand for a brief bit. I did the windowpane test, which failed miserably, so I put it back in the mixer for another 6 minutes or so. Then, the dough was closer to passing the windowpane test, but it still was not great. However, at that point, I was concerned about overdoing it (as well as my ability to do the windowpane test properly), so I proceeded. At this point, my dough was 71 degrees, about 6 degrees less than what Reinhart suggests should be proper.

I put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl for two hours, and the dough doubled in size. I then split the dough, formed the sandwich loaves, and placed them in two pans. When I placed the dough in the pans, it seemed very small for the pans. After about 80 minutes, the dough rose considerably, but did not crest over the sides like the recipe suggests. At that point, I had to leave the house for a few hours and put the dough in the refrigerator because I was afraid it would over-proof.

When I came home, I took the dough out of the refrigerator. About 2 1/2 hours later, I baked the bread, following the instructions. At 45 minutes, I checked the internal temperature of the loaf, and one read 212 and the other read 205.  I immediately took the loaves off and let them cool.

Here are my questions:

1. Is it possible that I did not mix the dough sufficiently in the first place? Should I have kept mixing until it easily passed the windowpane test?  Was 4 on my KitchenAid mixer too slow of a speed?

2. Do you have a sense of why my dough temperature was too low? Should I have let the egg come to room temperature?

3. Did I not let the dough proof long enough in the loaf pans before baking?  FYI, the room temperature was about 70 degrees.

4. Any other ideas why things did not turn out well?

There are so many variables that I have difficulty getting a sense of what may have gone wrong here. I would really appreciate any and all comments and questions!

JMonkey's picture

That's been a big complaint with that recipe in particular -- the loaves are just too small for a standard pan. I've had the same experience. I'd recommend scaling it up by 25 - 30% or going with one of his recipes in Whole Grains Baking, a wonderful book.'s picture

As JMonkey said - Reinhart improved that recipe in his Whole Grains book.  I haven't looked at the BBA recipe for a long time, but I do know that he specifies a biga in his Whole Grains book and bigas are stiffer than poolishes.

Based on his Whole Grains process, I make a WW biga with water and yeast and immediately refrigerate it -- no bubbling out at room temp beforehand.  For the soaker, I mix WW flour, ultrapasteurized milk and salt and leave it at room temp.  I take the biga out of the fridge 8-12 h later, let it warm for 1-2 hr at room temp, then mix biga, soaker, flour, salt, yeast, oil and honey (and a tsp/loaf of barley malt when I remember) using a bench knife right on the counter.  Never tried it with an elec mixer.  Details: I mix the honey, salt and oil into the soaker, then spread the biga out,  sprinkle the final flour and yeast over it, then spread the soaker mix over that.  Then I use the bench knife to fold/chop/fold/chop it until it starts to feel like dough (whereupon I only fold to mix well, no more chopping) -- no bowl involved or needed.   After a few french folds, into a plastic fermenting box and up on top of the hot water heater (this time of year!) it goes.  Bulk and proof are less than an hour each.  See JMonkey's wonderful loaf shaping video (thanks for that JM!) for shaping and baking.

If I've read your account correctly, your take on this recipe is 50% rye, right?  That could certainly account for crumb density.  100% WW loaves are dense, but 50/50 WW/rye are going to be even denser., esp compared to fashionably airy SD loaves without going to extraodinary measures to make them shreddable (see txfarmer's blogposts).  But they shouldn't become "dry" until ~5 days out of the oven.  I bake 1000 gr loaves in 9x5 loaf pans (e.g., tonight) and that's a pretty good fit.  Could go a bit higher, but 1 kg fits ok.

Post crumb pix if you can.

Good luck and happy baking.


jaywillie's picture

I also am more familiar with Reinhart's WW loaf from his whole grains book. I bake it 4-5 times a month. It starts at 50/50 whole wheat to white (bread flour, not AP) flours, and you can increase the percentage of WW as you like. But the white bread flour brings a lot of gluten to the loaf, and that's crucial to getting a "sandwich loaf" structure. As said above, if you did 50/50 whole wheat and rye, that's a whole 'nother thing. I would say you shouldn't expect that to be a "sandwich loaf" in the traditional sense of the word, although it would be tasty. It's going to come out with a dense structure, just as you described. With those proportions, I would think passing a windowpane test would be impossible. Rye just doesn't offer enough gluten to get there, and the hard edges of the rye flour will rip the gluten strands that the WW creates. 

In terms of temps, I would say that yes, you should have let the egg come to room temp. But also, in my experience, dough out of the refrigerator takes a lot longer to come to temp than the 1-2 hours that Reinhart usually suggests. For me, especially in winter, two hours is a minimum; my rooms are like yours, maybe 70 F at the most. Did you check the temp of the dough after your one hour?

Proofing in wintertime, with room temps at 70 F, will take longer that whatever anyone writes in a book. Use the finger punch method to check, rather than any time limit. 

dmsnyder's picture

The 100% WW bread from BBA is a favorite of mine. I use bulgur for the soaker.

Whole rye absorbs much more water than wheat flour. Also, the use of rye as the soaker, given what a high proportion of the total dough comes from the soaker, will change the character of the bread from a WW to a rye. The crumb consistancy will be denser, since rye doesn't have the gluten wheat does.

This formula makes smallish loaves. You could scale it up.

I think, if anything, you over-mixed the dough. With lots of rye in it, this may result in a sticky, gummy crumb. Try a coarse WW flour or bulgur.

Happy baking!


cman710's picture

Thanks to everyone for your helpful comments. I really appreciate it!

@JMonkey: Thanks for the suggestion. If I make the recipe again, I will certainly scale it up, and hopefully that will yield loaves that are a better size. I have not picked up the Whole Grains book yet, but intend to do so sooner or later, particularly since we are more likely to eat whole grain breads than white breads, which admittedly taste better. Thanks so much for sharing your process. I am not familiar with the fold/chop/fold/chop method, so I will have to do more research on that and try it next time.  It certain seems easier than using the stand mixer, and I would like to become more proficient at handling the dough since I am so new to bread baking.  I will also check out the loaf shaping video that you suggested.

The soaker called for 4.25 oz of flour, and I used rye. The poolish called for 6.75 oz, and the dough 9 oz, and I used the whole wheat flour for both.  So that is about 1/4 rye by my measurement. Nonetheless, it sounds from your post like 25% rye could be enough to significantly impact the crumb.  I have posted some pictures below.

@jwillie: Thanks for your thoughts.  They are very helpful. Next time, I will let the egg come to room temperature, and also possibly allow more time for proofing. My oven (a GE Profile) has a warming drawer on the bottom. On the low setting, it is supposedly about 80-90 degrees, though I have never measured with a thermometer. Do you think it would be better for me to do the proofing in the warming drawer, particularly in winter? Also, the finger test holds that if you press the dough with your finger and it holds the indentation, the proofing is done, right? Or should the dough spring back?

@dmsnyder: Thanks for your thoughts. It sounds like I may have overmixed the dough, and I probably also used too much rye flour for the kind of loaf I was seeking. Next time, I think I might go with straight whole wheat flour and see how it works out in comparison.

Below are two pictures of my bread.  These are the loaves, right before I put them in the oven.

This is the baked, and cooled loaf, with a slice on top so that you can see the crumb. The focus is slightly off, so apologies for that. My normal everyday lens is on the fritz and the cheap one I am using instead has some focus problems if I am not careful.

Thanks everyone!






jaywillie's picture

I go back and forth on warming. If I turn my oven light on, my oven gets to about 80 F even if the room is lower than 70. So I've used it a few times to speed up the process, usually with enriched doughs where the flavor is not coming from the process but from the ingredients. But although it's an over-simplification, in bread baking time equals flavor, so most of the time I just allow for extra long ferments when it's cold outside and inside. I would think that 90 F would be too high. (Just a thought -- what temp does your actual oven get to when the warming tray is on? That might be perfect, in the range 75-80 F.)

If you search here on TFL for "finger poke," you'll find more info about that procedure. What you said is basically true. If there is complete spring back, the dough is not ready to go. I just watched a video from Ken Forkish (it's on youtube), breadbaker, bread shop owner and author of "Flour Water Salt Yeast," and he pokes in a full inch! That seems a bit extreme, but I'm going to give it a try sometime.  

cman710's picture

Thanks for your suggestions.  I will have to put on the warming tray and then see what the temperature is in the oven. As you say, that might be the perfect temperature. Based on your and others' feedback, I think that I should have let the loaves proof longer than I did. I was concerned about over-proofing, but given the temperature in the room, it sounds like leaving the loaves for an extra hour or two may have done the trick.'s picture

Your loaves do look a bit dense, but I'm sure they tasted fine (if you like rye -- I'm not keen).  I let mine proof until their peaks are 1 -2 cm (~3/4"?) above the rim of the pan.  My benchtop chop & fold mixing method for this bread might be hard to find described elsewhere.  It was inspired by Peter Reinhart's acknowledgment (in a sidebar in his Whole Grain Breads) of one of his recipe tester's inovation of layering the biga and soaker atop one another on the counter and mixing them from there with a bench knife.  Works for me.

Keep us posted on your progress!


cman710's picture

Thanks, Tom. If you ever write up an explanation of your chop & fold mixing method, let me know. In the meantime, I will check out the video regarding shaping loaves and I am sure I will develop my own technique in time. I will certainly keep you informed. Thanks!