Wheat bread is a b*tch!
Ok, that's mean. I'm sorry wheat bread, I apologize for hurting your feelings. You're delicious and oh-so-healthy, but you're so finicky and I'm not sure I have the patience to figure you out. I know we just went out that one time, but I think it's time we take a break. It's not you, it's me. Actually... no, it's you. I need a bread that's going to listen to what I want: one that's going to rise like bread should and provide me with sandwich bread for the week. Maybe in time we'll try it out again, but just not right now...
Honestly, the bread tasted great. But the texture was off. Too dense and crumbly. It wasn't horrible enough to throw away (only inedible foods get thrown away in my house), and it worked well sliced thinly, toasted and topped with cheese or butter.
You'd think being a "scientist" I'd like to experiment with recipes and figure out exactly why it didn't work out, how to make it better, etc. But I don't. That's probably why I left benchwork. I wanna do something and I want it to work. I don't mind improving recipes or playing around with them to change them up a bit, but I don't have the energy/desire to keep hammering away to figure out the problem with a recipe.
So I'm sure in a while I'll come back to the whole-wheat bread challenge and come out the victor. For now I'll just be enjoying the ridiculously delicious crusty whole wheat bread from Trader Joes...
The recipe I tried was from the book Secrets of a Jewish Baker. Although this was my first attempt from the book I'm not going to blame the recipe. The book has great reviews on Amazon and it was quite educational reading through it. I'm definitely looking forward to trying more recipes from the book.
I know wheat bread can be pretty difficult as it doesn't rise as easily as white bread. Hence the weirdness in density and texture. I should probably master making regular white bread before I attempt wheat bread again, but I just couldn't help myself with the challenge...
For this bread, the first thing you do is make a "sponge."
Mix yeast with warm water.
Then add whole wheat flour and buttermilk (it'll be paste-like) and let it rise.
This was my first time using whole wheat flour. How hearty and delicious!
Then you mix the sponge with lots more flour, salt, honey and butter and knead it for 8-10 minutes (or until it "pushes back" when touched). (see movie link below) Mine didn't push back so well, me thinks I needed to knead it for a lot longer...
Still can't get over how awesome the whole wheat flour is.
Shape the dough to fit into a loaf pan (see movie link below)
It looks soooo tiny at this point!
You're supposed to let it rise for 45-60 minutes, or until the bread rises over the top of the pan. After 45 minutes mine had barely risen! I worried my cold apartment was the problem, so I stuck it in a warm oven for a little bit.
After a short trip in the warm oven, look how much it rose.
I was hopeful at this point, because as the recipe said it passed the top of the pan.
But I think by the time I got it into the warm oven it was already starting to deflate. :( How sad.
It doesn't look horrible, it just wasn't perfect. Like I said, it tasted GREAT, the texture was just off.
Possible reasons for my whole wheat bread fail:
I divided the recipe in half (I only wanted one loaf) so maybe kneading a smaller amount of dough isn't as productive and I needed to knead it for longer.
The long rise (after shaping the bread in the loaf pan) rose too fast in the warm oven and deflated before it could properly bake.
Stacey said her mom recommends using whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular whole wheat flour. That might be something I have to try next time to help with the rising.
So if you're wanting to attempt bread making hopefully my post does not frighten you away. I'd suggest starting with white flour first just so you can get the hang of it and how it should feel/rise/etc (since white bread is so much easier to work with). Then whole wheat might be a good challenge to pursue. I think I just bit off more than I could chew.
Here are some movies that I found super helpful in the process of my bread baking:
How to knead dough
How to shape dough for loaf pan
Link to the recipe I made (I made it sans walnuts and raisins)