I like to think I know the basics about bread. This weekend I decided to change my normal wheat sandwich bread recipe, a daily bread that’s become routine to make (boring). I want more whole wheat for health and taste and I want it to be naturally leavened so it lasts longer and is more elemental. I mixed up the dough, didn’t change the hydration level, and added an estimated amount of starter. You would think that trying a new method and formula, I’d make a small batch. No. I made a quadruple batch, using up massive amounts of honey, butter, flour, and cracked wheat. Problem: the dough felt dry and cold. So I introduced a third new method: stretching and folding instead of a long knead. I let it proof Saturday afternoon but by dinnertime I knew something was wrong. When you work with bread you understand it’s alive, and especially so with naturally-leavened bread, which is really a colony that you raise like a giant family—the Duggars of starch. So when I felt the cold dense wheat dough Saturday night after six hours, I knew something was dreadfully wrong.
At this point I should’ve remembered I’m Uncle F$#k-Up and these things happen. But I stuck the dough in the fridge for the night, determined to fix it. Sunday morning I got it out, gave it a half hour bench rest, then formed these lovely little dough balls, each as dense and cold as mounds of lead.
It’s a good thing I’d made up a batch of sourdough bread, so I could be reminded I still knew how to make bread. In contrast, it was lively and rising quite well. In the oven it sprang beautifully and smelled and looked right.
Then I baked the wheat bread. Even in the pans it looked pitiful—dense, dry, and devoid of life.
If the sourdough was Earth, the wheat was Mars, a dead twin. It did spring a bit in the oven and every single loaf burst out the side because the crust was too dry. But! That meant there was life! Even in semi-failure, this bread has promise.
Now then, Uncle F@%k-Up, what did you learn? First, a 75% whole wheat dough needs more liquid than my 50% whole wheat. Second, the starter needs to be very lively and a bigger percentage of the overall dough, maybe 15-20%. Third, it needs to be proofed covered and kept moist so it can spring open. Fourth, when you’re Uncle F%@k-Up and you’re working with live bread cultures, things will go wrong, which is actually good. It’s how you learn. Now let’s see if the birds like these four loaves of bread.