Sunday, July 09, 2006

Really Good Whole-Wheat Bread Using the Sponge Method

Directions for Making Really Good Wholewheat Bread
Using the Sponge Method

I can't remember how many times I've posted these directions on various newsgroups and mailing lists. I've never had
anyone write back and complain that it didn't work well. A
lot of people have written back saying that it did work
well and that they loved the bread. :)

I've been making whole wheat bread for a long time,
about 30 years. I use whole wheat bread flour. BREAD FLOUR: from hard wheat intended for baking bread. This is important. You can buy it at various places online - WaltonFeed,,, WheatMontana, others. Natural food stores should also have whole wheat *bread* flour. Best of all is to have a mill and grind it freshly yourself. Really fresh flour makes a very superior bread. I have a grain mill now and I'm grinding the wheat freshly each time I make bread. Luxury! :)

Sometimes I will use some white flour with it, to lighten it
up a bit. I've never used high gluten flour when making bread by hand, although I use a little when I make bread with the
bread machine.

I'd recommend a cup or two or unbleached white flour (or
white bread flour) in a recipe which makes two loaves (that
is, a cup or two of white flour to about six to eight cups
of whole wheat flour) at first, until you get used to making
it all whole wheat. Once you're used to it, you'll probably
want to drop the white flour.

This recipe assumes that you know how to make bread,
it is *not* complete directions as to how to recognize when
the bread has risen enough, how to knead, etc.

I use the sponge method, I first learned this from the
"Tassajara Bread Book," and my recipe is basically an
adaptation of one in that book. This method takes a bit
more time, but not more work, and I think the results with
whole wheat flour are *much* better with the sponge method.
This makes two loaves. [Some people have said it makes three
loaves in smaller loaf pans. Or two loaves and some rolls.]

First make the sponge: 3 cups water
1 and 1/3 TBS yeast
1/3 cup honey
4 cups whole wheat bread flour

To make the sponge: mix the yeast with a little of the
water (warmed), and let it bubble up (to make sure it's OK).
Mix all the above ingredients together and beat about 100
times until it's very smooth.

Let the sponge rise until about doubled in bulk. 45 - 70

Fold in the rest:

* 1/3 cup oil

* 1 tsp salt

* 1 cup cracked or whole millet
(optional but nice, or you can use rolled oats instead, or
just skip the optional ingredient)

* more whole wheat flour (enough to
make dough of the right consistency,
maybe about 3-4 cups more)

Knead very well. Let rise until about doubled in bulk -
again about an hour. Punch down.

Let rise (again! - you're now at the 3rd rising) for about
45 minutes to an hour, or until about doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Form into loaves and let rise in the (oiled or Pam'd) bread
pans for about 30 to 45 minutes. Whole grain bread
tends to stick to the pans, so non-stick bread pans are
really, really useful here. I use non-stick bread pans and
spray them lightly with Pam or similar.

You can brush the top with an egg-wash (beaten egg white
with a little water) for a shiny crust, if you want to. Cut
slits or crosses in the top to let steam escape. Bake at
350 degrees F for about 45-70 minutes. Top will be shiny
brown when done, sides and bottoms also golden brown, and
loaf will go "thump" (deep thump) when you tap it on the
bottom (after removing from the pan).

I think the most difficult part of bread-baking (by far) is
knowing when it's cooked enough, but you get a feel for it.

Sometimes, as mentioned above, I use one or two cups
white flour instead of all whole wheat. If you do
this, use the white flour when you're making the sponge
(first step) so it can have more time for the gluten to
develop. It's good either way.

This takes almost all day (really, it does, you're letting
it rise 4 times counting the sponge!) but you aren't
actually *doing anything* with it most of the time, most of
the time you can be doing something else. You do have to be
home at intervals, though.


At Tuesday, 25 July, 2006, Blogger Suzi said...

Hey Pat,
It's Suzi Boyer! I found your blog (mwaaahahahah). I like it.
We are going to try your stir fry directions this weekend.
You should come visit sometime, we can visit the Assi in North Wales(about an hour from my house). It's near where I work and has great seafood and Asia stuff. I always bring several coolers with ice packs when I go, so I can buy fish and stuff.


At Wednesday, 01 November, 2006, Blogger Pat Meadows said...

Hi Suzi,

I'd love to come visit sometime, but we rarely travel (it's difficult for both of us because of various health problems). But maybe someday! Thanks.


At Thursday, 27 March, 2008, Anonymous Kim said...

Hi Pat, was just wondering what grain mill you like, and whether it's electric or hand-cranked. I'm getting my my first 50-lb. bag of wheat & I'm shopping for a mill!

Thanks, can't wait to try this recipe.

At Thursday, 27 March, 2008, Blogger Pat Meadows said...

Hi Kim,

I have a Whisper Mill, they are not made anymore. The 'Wonder Mill' is its replacement. Our warranty was voided in the process of the name change, so I'm not wild about this company to say the least, but the mill works well. About $200.

In another life, long ago, I had a Retsel Mill-Rite and I *was* wild about it, I just loved it; but they are $400 (more or less).

Hand grain mills are really tough to grind flour finely enough for bread. One that many people have recommended is called the Country Living Grain Mill, but it's about $400 too.

Pleasant Hill Grain
www.pleasanthillgrain sells a variety of mills.

WaltonFeed has reviews of mills somewhere on its site. Somewhere in the 'Information' section.



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