Tuesday, May 26, 2009

100% Whole Wheat Mash Bread - Updated post (see bottom)

Please don't think that I am already responding to the challenge I set for myself here yesterday, i.e. that I already read the introduction to Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads (all 75 pages of them) and learned to master the master formula. I haven't moved one iota in that direction yet.
No, this mash bread is the product of two preferments which were already alive in my kitchen as I was writing that other post, both whole wheat: a mash and a levain. I had made both before I even thought of challenging myself. Actually I challenged myself because I made them both.
See, I must be a rebel at heart (at least that's what the headmistress - who was a nun - told my Dad when she made him come and pick me up from school right in the middle of a workday because I had kicked her in the shin. Of course she didn't tell him that she had slapped me first and when my Dad heard that, he said he understood and had often felt like kicking her himself but to please not do it again. I was 9 when it happened and to this day, I have never kicked a nun again, so I can't be that much of a rebel).
Anyway to come back to these preferments, I was a bit stressed out by Reinhart's instructions about sticking the mash in and out of the oven to keep it at the right temperature and I just didn't feel like doing it.
Then I remembered that Baggett's mash making method in Kneadlessly Simple was actually just that... quite simple: it involved pouring boiling water over the whole wheat flour just as Reinhart says to but after that, just to put the bowl in the microwave next to a cup of hot water, to wait 15 minutes and microwave on High for 1 minute, then wait 30 minutes and do it again, and then that was it. You could let the mash do what it had to do without having to worry about it.
But I was mixing her method and his method and even though it was simpler, it was also very confusing and that's when I decided that enough was enough, I had to read the book and understand the whys and why nots of Reinhart's technique and take it from there.
However I had my two preferments and they both looked fine. I put them in the fridge overnight so that they wouldn't get carried away while I was sleeping and two hours after I took them out this morning, they were at room temperature and ready to go to work.
So I took out the book, opened it to page 199 without even glancing at the introduction and set out to read the recipe/formula.
I was astounded right off the bat because, get this, there was NO mention of water. Mash, levain, whole wheat flour, instant yeast, salt and oil or butter (honey or agave nectar or sugar too but it's optional and I optioned it out) and NO water, which meant that, either the mash and the levain were watery enough for the amount of flour indicated or Reinhart had had a senior moment and completely forgotten about hydration or he had invented a new breadmaking technique that didn't require any water and I didn't know about it since I hadn't read the introduction.
Well, now was not the time to find out. I decided to wing it. Just to be on the safe side, I put a cup of water on standby next to the mixer and proceeded as instructed.
But the dough didn't need more water. It actually needed more flour! And Reinhart says that, yes, sometimes you have to add water and sometimes you have to add flour, and it's okay! So I added away. Altogether I added 94 g of whole wheat flour to the 255 g already in the formula.
That's a lot! But that's the only way I could think of to eventually get a mash bread and not dozens and dozens of mash silver pancakes because that dough looked like a batter for the longest time, I kid you not. All of a sudden however it decided to stop joking around and settled down to business and it became beautifully soft, smooth and elastic.
It actually became so pleasant to work with that I got second thoughts about reading the book. Don't they say that too much knowledge can be dangerous?
For the mash

  • 300 g water 
  • 120 g whole wheat flour 
  • 1 g diastatic malt powder 

For the levain

  • 64 g mature whole wheat starter
  • 191 g whole wheat flour
  • 142 g water at room temperature 

For the final dough

  • 398 g starter (i.e. all of it)
  • 397 g mash (i.e. all of it)
  • 255 g whole wheat flour + 94 g (see above)
  • 8.5 g salt
  • 7 g instant yeast
  • 14 g almond oil (you can also use melted butter or vegetable oil and it is optional but I chose to put it in because it helps the bread stay fresh longer) 
  • extra whole wheat flour for adjustments 

Method: Please note that I am describing what I did, not necessarily what Reinhart says to do. Also note that I used a stand mixer but that the dough can be kneaded by hand.

For the mash
  1. Set water to boil
  2. When it boils, pour it over the flour and the malt. Mix briefly and set in the microwave oven next to a cup of hot water
  3. Fifteen minutes later, microwave on High for one minute without opening the microvave oven. Repeat after 30 minutes and leave to cool in the microwave
  4. When cool and after 3 hours at room temperature, you can either refrigerate it until you are ready to use it or leave it out overnight if you plan to use it within the next 24 hours. (I left it out for about 12 hours, then I put it in the fridge)
For the levain
  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl to form a ball of dough. Using wet hands, knead in the bowl for about 2 minutes until the ingredients are evenly distributed and the flour is hydrated. Let rest 5 minutes and knead again with wet hands for one minute. The dough will be tacky
  2. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover losely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours until nearly doubled in size (Reinhart warns it can take 8 hours or longer)
  3. When the levain is fully developed, knead it for a few seconds to degas it. It is then ready for use but if necessary to coordinate the timing with the mash, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the fridge two hours before mixing the dough (in my case, it stayed out pretty much the whole day then went in the fridge together with the mash)
For the final dough
  1. Using a metal pastry scraper, chop the starter into 12 smaller pieces
  2. Put the pieces and all the other ingredients except the extra flour into the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on slow speed for 1 minute
  3. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, occasionally scraping down the bowl for 2 or 3 minutes until the pre-doughs become more cohesive and assimilated into each other. Add more flour or water as needed until the dough is soft and slightly sticky (that's where I started to add the first of the extra 94 g)
  4. Dust a work surface with flour, take the dough out of the mixer and roll it into the flour to coat and knead for 3 to 4 minutes by hand, incorporating only as much flour as needed (yeah! right) until the dough feels soft and tacky but not sticky
  5. Form into a ball and let rest for 5 minutes
  6. Lightly oil a bowl or dough bucket
  7. Resume kneading for 1 minute and make the final flour adjustment. The dough should pass the windowpane test. (Well, mine didn't! Not by a long shot. It ripped like crazy, so forget about hand mixing, I threw it back into the mixer and went at it, on medium-low, for as many minutes as it needed to pass the windowpane test and it took a while and I did have to add flour - although it set my teeth on edge because that's exactly what I hate do do and I hadn't added any water so why was the dough SOOOOOOO wet?, but I went on mixing and I went on adding flour until I had added in a total of 94 g and that must have been the magic number because all of a sudden the dough started behaving and passed the windowpane test with flying colors and I was in baking heaven)
  8. Form into a ball and place in the prepared bowl, rolling to coat with oil
  9. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1 1/2 its original size
  10. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and loosely form into a batard
  11. Let rest for 15 minutes and form into a tighter batard
  12. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and dusted with flour (I used a mixture of bran and semolina as it works fine for me)
  13. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it has grown to 1 1/2 time its original size
  14. Preheat the oven to 425 F/218 C after putting in it a baking stone and an empty metal pan
  15. When dough is ready to bake, score it (for whole grains it is best to score at a 90-degree angle to the sides of the loaf), pour a cup of water into the metal pan, lower the temperature of the oven to 350 F/177 C (I have an issue with that as I think it's way too low. I actually would have liked the loaf to come out of the oven a little bit browner and ruddier, so next time, I'll shoot for 380 F/193 C from the get go)
  16. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes until the loaf is rich brown on all sides, sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom and registers at least 200 F/93 C in the center (as it wasn't brown enough, I increased the oven temperature to 380 F/193 C and added 10 minutes to the baking time)
  17. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 2 hours before serving and longer if possible.
Reinhart says that mash breads tend to taste better after they have fully cooled, and up to one or two days after they come out of the oven (store them in aluminum foil or a paper bag).

So I left the mash bread to cool all evening and all night and I sliced it open for breakfast this morning. Here is what the bread should look like according to Reinhart (I scanned the image from the book) ...
...and here is what mine looks like:

So maybe mine is a little less airy (doesn't it sound better than "denser"?) but it isn't too far off the mark. It is not however what I was hoping to achieve, which is this:
... and I got that using the Baggett's recipe in Kneadlessly Simple for a 100% whole wheat honey bread based on Reinhart's mash method. I will need to put the two recipes side by side and see where they differ and try to make adjustments to Reinhart's until I get the same result. Why not just stick to Baggett's recipe? Because I don't find it particularly advantageous not to have to knead. In fact Baggett has us do some heavy mixing (with a spoon) which I find pretty tiresome. Plus her method is for home use only. It wouldn't work in an environment where you have to make more than one loaf at a time.
Tastewise, Reinhart's mash bread is very good. It's hard to describe the flavor other than by saying that it is, well, wheaty, which I happen to love. It doesn't feel dense or heavy under the tooth, it isn't chewy, it's just a great sandwich or breakfast bread. It could not pass for a baguette or a ciabatta but it certainly stands its ground. Will I make it again? Yes, but with white whole wheat to see the difference. Stay tuned!
I had sent a link to this post to Peter Reinhart and here is what he kindly wrote back:
"Thanks for a very entertaining ride! I love that you are playing with all these ideas in your own quest for bread you can fall in love with. Bravo! Nancy's loaf really gave you great holes--I haven't been able to get those with my method. 
I tried developing a mash using boiling water and never thought to use the microwave the way Nancy did--see, we all have things to learn. I gave up on it because it was too hard to maintain at the right temp. 
My wetter version, which really can work without all the oven fretting--just put it in a warm oven and turn it off--the next day the mash should taste sweet like maltomeal cereal. But then, yes, you do have to add lots of flour because it's such a wet mash. 
I think there's room for perfecting this concept to create the kind of bread you're looking for but, now that I'm about to put the latest book to bed after a year of intensive writing and research (it goes to press Friday, God willing), I'll be taking a break from breads for a while and just recharge this summer. 
But you know, sooner or later, I'll dive back in and go after it again. Interestingly, the whole wheat bread that seems to get the best crumb for me is the spent grain bread with biga. It always opens up nicely and the spent grain adds fabulous flavor. I get the grain from my local brew pub where the brewmaster is happy to set aside a bag from whatever he's making and I subdivide it into smaller zip bags and keep it frozen. The spent grain has a lot of positive effects on the dough. If you try it, let me know."
Thank you, Peter! I'll be sure to read these 75 pages before the new book comes out!
This loaf has been submitted to Susan, from Wild Yeast, for her weekly Yeastpotting feature.


  1. MC, I can't imagine you kicking anyone, much less a nun! (But it sounds like she deserved it) Your bread looks every bit as airy as Reinhart's to me. I'm going to have to try this mash business soon.

  2. Bravo ! J'ai bien ri en lisant cette histoire avec la pauvre Soeur. Heureusement que tu n'as jamais recommencé.
    J'essaierai aussi cette recette prochainement. Je trouve que tu as très bien réussi ton pain, plus beau que celui de Reihnhart.
    A bientôt

  3. Susan, I'd love to have your input as to this mash business. So yes, please, go for it!
    AL, no, I never kicked a nun (or anyone else) again but then the headmistress took extreme care never to cross my path again after that one incident... :-)
    Bisous, MC

  4. I don't know if that window pane test ever works and keep wondering who invented it. I hand-knead all our bread and gave up on the window pane test years ago.

    This mash method is fascinating and your bread looks beautiful! I really like the slashes. And for my taste, the crumb looks perfect. Well done!


    P.S. Found you via Susan's Yeast Spotting

  5. Welcome to Farine, Elizabeth, and thank you for your kind words. I have to say I hardly ever bothered with the windowpane test before I started training at the San Francisco Baking Institute, but now I do it all the time. I actually find it very exciting to see the dough evolve from one test to the next and it helps me decide when to stop mixing (I hardly ever knead by hand or rather I usually knead by hand for a couple of minutes after the dough comes out of the mixer, just to get a feel for it). Since you have been hand-kneading for years, you probably know exactly when your dough has the consistency you are looking for. However at SFBI, they use it even on hand-mixed dough to determine whether or not the dough will require folding during the first fermentation.

  6. What an instructive post. I haven't used a mash like this, and now I'm very curious and looking forward to trying it!

  7. Hmmm, I've never really known what mash was before. Sounds challenging and fun! Love that it is all whole wheat, this is a recipe after my own heart.

  8. Thank you, Madam Chow! It's a fun bread to make. You should definitely try it!
    Stacy, thanks for your visit. I'm with you, I love whole grain breads. I am still trying for the "perfect" one though (as if it existed)...;-)

  9. MC, you amaze me, while I just made a pruneaux et noisette, your making mash bread and what next??!!!
    Can't keep up with your pace!
    The nun story is great, bucking authority, so French vive la revolution!

    Happy baking!


  10. Jeremy, you made me laugh! It never occurred to me that being French is what made me kick that nun. But maybe that's what it was. ;-) At the time though, as I remember, I was mostly indignant at the fact that she had slapped me.
    You could try that spent grain bread Reinhart is talking about. There must be some lovely microbreweries around where you live or work since you are in the city.



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