More on yeast

I know I’ve been promising volkornbrot but I keep getting sidetracked by other projects. I have been giving out pieces of my starter to friends who have learned about my baking hobby and are interested in trying it out. I am more than happy to oblige! I feel like bread is one of those hobbies where you can always learn more about the processes and ingredients that go into it. The simplest breads of flour, water, salt, and yeast display feats of chemistry in the way the ingredients interact with each other and to heat.

A few posts ago I learned the differences between rye flour and wheat flour. It makes sense that flours milled from two different plants exhibit different behaviors. But I’ve been amazed at the differences between bread flour, all-purpose flour, and whole wheat flour.

Yesterday I started Reinhart’s Transitional Sandwich bread, found on page 99 of Reinhart’s Whole Grain Bread. I started out not really liking his style and technique all that much; I didn’t understand the point of the soaker and biga process he uses. But as I’ve come to understand the needs of my ingredients, I see the role they play in the overall taste of the bread.

The Biga

The biga is yeast, salt, flour, and water mixed together and set to rise overnight. It only has a little bit of yeast and its main purpose is to develop flavor for the final dough, and wake up the yeast a little bit so it starts working. The transitional bread uses bread flour in the biga.

The Soaker

The soaker is used to soften the whole wheat and things like oats or wheat berries you might want to add. This is something I never knew before: flour does not like water! Especially whole wheat. So in order to make bread, you have to force it to absorb the water over time, and that is the purpose of the soaker. There is no yeast in the soaker because we are just focusing on water absorption. The soaker is whole wheat flour, salt, and in this case, milk. Flour likes milk even less than it likes water, because of all the milk solids in it. So you need to add more milk than you would water.

The Final Dough

The next morning, combine the soaker and biga with a little more flour, yeast, honey, and oil.

Let rise for an hour, then bake for 30 minutes with the dutch oven lid on, then 20 with it off.

Hmm. I seem to have not done a very good job at mixing the two doughs together.

Oh well. It’s still really good. Not much honey flavor though. Next time I might forgo most of the oil and increase the honey instead. Or instead of honey, use brown sugar.

Where to go from here

While not documented on this blog, last year was a quest not only to learn how to bake, but to find a decent recipe for a loaf we liked enough to eat (almost) every day. It had to be easy enough to whip up, but not taste like supermarket sandwich bread. With the sourdough 1-2-3 I wrote about in the last post, I knew we had reached our goal.

But what to do now? I had learned a great deal about different techniques and ingredients and was stuck on how to proceed. So I decided to do something completely crazy- find a bread type I knew nothing about, and was so completely different from the breads I had been making before. I would make a bread that was dense, not airy; mostly wheat not white; and full of delicious seeds and nuts. In a word, a brot.

What is a brot? Specifically, it’s the German word for bread, but for me it also means the dense, hearty breads from Germany like volkornbrot, dreikornbrot, schwarzbrot. I found a few recipes from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Bread, so last night I brought out the ingredients and put together the pre-ferments. This recipe is for Reinhart’s “German Many-Seeded Bread,” found on page 210. Let’s get started!

This bread is a transitional whole wheat, which means it’s not 100% whole wheat. My starter breads currently will never be 100% whole wheat just because my starter is refreshed with all-purpose flour, but maybe I will make a whole wheat starter one of these days. Anyway, this is what Reinhart calls our “biga,” a yeasted preferment with flour, water, starter and some salt. It rises overnight.

This is what Reinhart calls the “soaker.” It has no yeast in it, but basically any seeds and grains that need to be softened overnight go in here. It is 100% whole wheat. I added wheat berries and flax seeds. More seeds will go in later.

My bag of wheat berries I got at the Farmer’s Market! They aren’t so good milled and used as flour but maybe they will be tasty used whole.

So I let both of these sit overnight covered in plastic wrap and a towel, and then combined them with honey, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, a little extra flour, and some commercial yeast. This was tough work as the high-gluten bread flour dough did not want to mix with the wheat dough. I can understand why Reinhart suggests you cut each pre-ferment into small pieces and then mix together. But I am too lazy for that.

Then I let it sit for an hour and rise a little bit. I preheated the oven to 425 and slid my dutch oven in to warm up. Then I moved the dough onto a piece of parchment paper and covered it with plastic wrap and a towel for its final rise.

When the oven is ready, remove the towel and plastic wrap from the dough and score with a sharp knife or razor blade. Using the parchment paper as a sling, carefully open the dutch oven and place the bread into it, replacing the lid after. When the bread has baked for thirty minutes, take the lid off and bake for another twenty minutes. When the bread sounds hollow, remove it to a cooling rack. The parchment paper will come right off when the bread is cool.

Why I like making bread from Peter Reinhart’s book: sometimes mine looks better than his. Take a look.



A note to cookbook writers: it can give a new baker enormous confidence when your book is not full of impossible-to-obtain bread glamour shots.

But how does it taste? Hearty, nutty, crunchy in parts, but overall incredibly soft and delicious.

So, success! Next time, we take on Reinhart’s volkornbrot!