The Fresh Loaf

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Getting Started w/ Reinhart & your advice

Madame K's picture
Madame K

Getting Started w/ Reinhart & your advice

Hello - my first post and first foray into Reinhart's whole grains baking world....I have several questions that I'm hoping you could help me with:

I used the Whole Wheat Hearth Bread recipe on p 153 in his Whole Grain Breads book and used Bob's Red Mill white whole wheat flour, agave syrup, and SAF instant yeast:

1)  I weighed the ingredients for the soaker and upon mixing, it still had a lot of dry flour that wouldn't hydrate. I had to add a fair amount of extra water to get it to the texture he suggests. So, I measured the ingredients for the biga rather than weighing them and it worked just fine. Do most of you weigh your ingredients without a problem? What are the pitfalls of measuring rather than weighing?

2)  I let both soaker and biga sit in the fridge for 3 days and then followed his instructions, using a stand mixer, switching from paddle to hook, let it rest for 5 minutes, etc. It seemed to need a fair amount of flour....As I have looked at videos today for 'wettish' dough (tacky, not sticky), I wonder if I added too much flour as I was at the hand kneading stage. Should the dough look a bit ragged like you see on some of the fold and stretch videos, or should it look more like regular bread dough but just a bit tackier? Did Iadd too much flour? It looked nice was smooth and a bit tacky. I needed to flour my hands pretty frequently during the hand kneading to keep it from sticking to my hands.

3)   I let the dough do its first rise in an oiled bowl with a towel (is this ok instead of plastic wrap? does it make a difference?). The second rise, I put in a banneton. It looked gorgeous when I peeked, but it collapsed a little when I flipped it over onto the peel. Should I always use parchment and gingerly turn the dough out of the banneton onto parchment and then slide the parchment with dough onto the peel? Is it pretty fragile at this point? It looked like it lost a little of its puff when I flipped it...

 4) I baked it on a pizza stone that had been preheated for an hour at 500, along with the hot water/cookie sheet on the top shelf of the oven per the instructions. I baked it for 20 minutes, turned it 180 degrees, and then let it bake for another 20. The bottom wasn't burnt but is a little thick and dark crustwise. I think the stone was too hot or it baked too long. Is that a correct assumption? I have read today that the crust of the bread is cracklier if I leave it in the oven with the door open when it's done baking to cool off as the oven cools off. Is this right?

 5) The flavor turned out okay, but the crumb is fairly small and tight but not hockey puckish or dense - sorta cakey in that white whole wheat flour kind of way.  There was only one 'hole' - I was expecting the texture to be different - more open  holes, chewier and crustier.

 6) The loaf itself was not particularly tall - I don't think the oven spring thing happened.

So - in addition to the questions embedded above, here are some:

What in your opinion is the ideal time span for letting the soaker and biga do their thing?

The dough never had the windowpane thing going felt nice, like a good dough, but didn't have the stretch....what's NOT happening when you don't get a windowpane?

What is the best method for getting a boule from banneton to peel without collapsing?

If the crumb is small, tight and somewhat tender in this recipe, is that approximately what it should be like? If not, what should I do to further improve the gluten or whatever else?

Does the fold and stretch technique help with the above issue about texture and crumb?

What is the chemistry of oven spring and what can I do with my dough to support a hearty oven spring?

Will leaving it  in the oven to cool after the oven is turned off and it's done baking promote a cracklier crust?

Any advice on the recipe generally and what I could try to improve my next attempt?


Thanks for any and all help! Madame K


sphealey's picture

I can't reply in detail, but some quick general observations:

  • I have had more difficulty getting these recipes to work consistently than any other I have tried in 3 years
  • I find that I have to follow the instructions exactly, down to the gram, to get anywehere close to the expected result
  • I do find that the recipe amounts, used exactly, generate the dough/consistency that is described.
  • Often though the handling is not as he describes and require more in the way of wet dough techniques; I end up kneading some of soakers in the bowl rather than on a surface
  • I would suggest trying the pan versions first; in fact I haven't tried any of these on the hearth yet because I am still working to get the dough consistent.


MommaT's picture


I am glad to see this post, as I was just about to compose my own relating to my experiences with the 'teaching loaf' in this book.

I had a very different experience, though.  Info that may be of use:

  • I weighed all ingredients, using arrowhead mills whole wheat flour.
  • I'm quite comfortable working with wet doughs, but found PR's distinction between "very tacky" (desirable) and "sticky" (not desirable) a bit hard to discern.  I found the dough to be overly wet and did not have the experience described by Madame K.
  • I managed to generate a very beautiful windowpane with about 3-4 minutes more kneading than suggested in the instructions.
  • My loaf was admittedly over-proofed, due to some unpredictable sleeping patterns by my 2 y.o.
  • I had virtually no oven spring and the loaf even sunk a little in the middle. (perhaps due to the over-proofing?)
  • Internal temp rose to 3-4 degrees (F) above the stated minimal internal temp.

Lastly, my query about the recipe started with the final product - I found the final loaf to be a bit dry and the crumb very crumbly.  My 7 y.o. self-professed connoisseur refused to have a second slice - something that has NEVER happened.  It was difficult to eat without crumbling, unless toasted.  The flavour, on the other hand, was great!

Anyone have any ideas, given the process described above, as to why my loaf ended up so crumbly?

I've made the WW started in this book and plan to start experimenting with that.  Does the starter provide a better experience with PR's whole grain recipes?


MommaT, Novice Baker 

amyv's picture

Madame K, I'm also a beginner and I've not tried that recipe, but one thing I picked out from your post was that perhaps your loaves were overproofed and that's why they fell on the peel and didn't rise much.

Rest assured you're not the only one confused about what consistency the dough should be after kneading.  I keep reading things like "overkneading is worse than underkneading" and "the gluten will continue forming in the later stages" and on the other hand, I read about the "window pane" test and have not had much success with some of the loaves I've tried.  Here's a question ~ does the window pane test apply only to dough that is mostly wheat?  I made rye bread the other day and it wasn't very glutinous at all... 

dougal's picture

... but I don't think PR's WGB is a "start here" book.

The "epoxy method" is intriguing and, I'm convinced, can produce pleasantly different bread.


However, while I'm NOT suggesting that 'the emperor has no clothes', I would suggest that the way that the recipes pretty routinely include "add flour or water, as required" (and similar phrasing) does mean that its not possible for even the most dogged recipe-follower to achieve a 'precision' result. I know this is largely because of the inherrent variations between different whole grain flours and their hydration characteristics. And I think that that is a subject that might have been addressed more directly.

Consequently, while BBA is a great book to recommend to those wanting to get interested in and understand lots more about baking, I personally don't think WGB is something that can be similarly recommended to the eager noob that wants to start their baking with whole grain breads.

sphealey's picture

=== I would suggest that the way that the recipes pretty routinely include "add flour or water, as required" (and similar phrasing) does mean that its not possible for even the most dogged recipe-follower to achieve a 'precision' result. ===

I don't disagree.  But I will say that when I attended Reinhart's seminar (not hands-on unfortunately) and he passed around samples of the component doughs (soaker, biga, sour, etc) they were very similar in consistency to what I get when I follow the recipes to the gram.

The "tacky but not sticky" business does drive me nuts though.