Sometimes it just hits you. And by ‘it’ I mean that brick a mason just nudged off a ledge with his boot forty feet above you. Other times, inspiration hits you. For me, inspiration comes from applying things I already know work but haven chosen to ignore.
For example, I read in Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads that making a soaker is good for your whole wheat breads. Basically you soak half the grains and flour in liquid for up to a full day before you mix the dough. This helps bring out the flavors of the wheat. With my wheat sandwich recipe, I manage to get pretty good flavor in a straight mix without any long-term fermentation. But it’s never held up to the butter test. You know, you make a slice of toast and then stare at it with a murder weapon in hand: a pat of butter on a knife. If the butter isn’t soft enough you end up buttering the table through a hole in your toast. I even switched to high-gluten flour in my recipe to try to strengthen up the final loaf but it still ended up crumbly. Until I remembered back to Reinhart and his soaker method.
With me so far? [crickets] Good! The last batch of wheat bread I made, I soaked all the whole wheat flour in the recipe with all the milk, and threw in some cracked wheat for texture. It formed a pretty dense dough, and I covered it and let it sit on the counter for about eight hours before I made the final dough. It mixed up and baked as normal then I sliced it open. Strength! Structure! In that extra time the whole wheat flour managed to really bulk up and form strong gluten strands. I knew it was the weak link. Whole wheat, why can’t you be like your older brother high-gluten? You’re not pulling your weight! But now with the soaker method, he is! Yikes, I need to get out of the kitchen more.
So I leave you with the advice to try soaking your whole wheat flour up to a day before you make the final dough. No longer will your bread whimper when you hold up butter and a knife!