Baking bread is GREAT and highly addictive but, watch out….baking wholemeal flours requires some tricks up your sleeve! Here five simple and easy tips to master the art of baking with wholemeal flour.
1) THE PERFECT MIX OF FLOURS
Well it doesn’t exit, but after a while you will identify your perfect mix. When choosing flours suitable for most bread baking there are a few things to look for. First and foremost, make sure it is an organic wholemeal unbleached and unenriched flour.
Secondly, it is important to have an idea of the Glycemic Index of the flour you are going to use. Here below listed some cereals and tuber flours and their respective Glycemic Index:
BARLEY FLOUR: 30
RYE FLOUR: 45
OAT FLOUR: 45
BUCKWHEAT SARACEN FLOUR: 45
HARD WHEAT FLOUR: 60
WHOLEMEAL FLOUR: 60
WHITE FLOUR (00, 0): 85
CORN STARCH: 85
TAPIOCA FLOUR: 85
POTATO STARCH: 95
Once I gave up white flour and starches for good, I started to test a variety of alternative flours, achieving the best results with a mix of 50% semolina and 50% wholemeal flour, which are great to work with, but also easy to find and relatively cheap.
Semolina and wholemeal flour are made from different kinds of wheat. Semolina is made from durum (hard) wheat and comes in several forms: coarser semola or fine ground semola flour, also called double milled or Semolina. Mind that hard wheat flour and strong wheat flour are two different products, strong flour is usually refered as to white flour, rich in gluten, also called manitoba, extensively used for making white dough for pizza and bread.
Semolina is a refined flour. However, its glycemic index is rather low compared to white flour. In order to keep your bread rich in fibres and nutrients, you might want to use it combined with a wholemeal flour and seeds.
Here below a semolina dough enriched with buckwheat flour and chia, sunflower and flax seeds.
Common wholemeal flour is made out of soft or common wheat. The word “whole” refers to the fact that all of the grain (bran, germ and endosperm) is used. Nothing is lost in the process of making the flour. This is in contrast to white refined flours, which contain only the endosperm. Because the whole flour contains the remains of all of the grain, it has a textured, brownish appearance. Wholemeal flour is more nutritious than refined white flour, it is a full-flavored flour containing vitamins, minerals and protein: a good source of calcium, iron, fiber and other minerals like selenium.
2) AUTOLYSIS OF WHOLEMEAL FLOURS
Have you ever noticed that when pouring water into a wholemeal the dough results quite loose to handle? That’s because wholemeal flours are different from refined flours and they have to be handled with some T.L.C.
First of all, we need to start the autolysis of the flour before adding additional ingredients to the dough. That means: let the wholemeal flour absorbs the water, becoming fully hydrated. It makes the dough easier to shape, improving the texture of the bread and, most importantly, start the creation of gluten. Here some simple steps:
- Combine the flour and the water in a bowl, without kneading too much.
- Cover the bowl with a tea cloth and leave it at room temperature for anything from 20 minutes to up to 3 hours.
During this stage, gluten development begins and simple sugars start to form as starch is broken down. You will notice the difference as soon as you handle the dough again after autolysis,the dough is more elastic and it looks…halfway kneaded already.
Autolysis should be done with the entire amount of flour indicated in the recipe. However, if you have limited time and you only want to rest the dough for 20-30 minutes, I suggest to use only 50 – 70% of the flour, leaving the remaining part to be added together with the yeast and the salt.
3) KNEADING AND HYDRATION
In this stage you can add-on the yeast and start kneading the dough.
Since the gluten of wholemeal flour is not as strong as the gluten of the refined ones, the dough should be hand kneaded. It should be a very gentle kneading, otherwise the dough will be overstressed.
Also, all the initial kneading should be done in the bowl, it will be too sticky to knead on a work surface anyways. Wholemeal flours have a high degree of hydration, it means they tend to store more water than refined flours.
At the end of this stage you might want to add-on salt and, lastly, oil. You need to make sure all the ingredients have been incorporated in the dough before heading to proof.
4) PROOFING AND FOLDING
Dough should be put into a plastic container, lightly oiled, and cover with a tea towel for one to two hours. Proofing time depends on the types of flours and the temperature conditions. As a general rule, the dough should be left to rest until it doubles.
During the initial stage of the proofing the dough should be folded at least twice. It strengthens the dough by stretching the gluten strands, while equalizing dough temperature, which eliminates hot spots.
Here some steps of the “letter” folding:
- Gently lay the dough into a floured surface and stretch it into a square. (The dough has a tendency to return to the original shape, so just keep working at it until you get it where you want it.)
- Pick up one of the sides of the dough and fold it a half of the way over the rest of the dough.
- Pick up the other side of the dough and stretch it over the first fold. Lay it on top and brush off the extra flour.
- Grab the side furthest away from you and pull in towards you, one-third of the way. On all of these folds, gentle stretching is ideal.
- Fold the piece of dough closest to you, the only side left, over the other folds. You have formed a square ball.
The proving temperature should be around 26°. Do not attempt to overheat the dough by placing it under the sunlight or in a preheated oven. If has to raise gently on a constant temperature. One good trick I have found is to create a proving chamber by placing the dough in a tray and leave it to rest in a plastic bag.
For home baking, cooking temperature should be around 220 – 230° maximim.
A secret to ensure a perfect crust is to pour a glass of water in an additional baking tray and place it on the lower grid of your preheated oven. You will place your bread on the higher tray. The water steam ensures that bread cooks slowly, resulting on a firm crust and moist center.
On the last 10 – 15 minutes of baking, make sure that all the water has evaporated. Also, leave the door of the over slightly open to let all the excess steam come out.
Happy baking! 🙂