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Generally Recognized As True: Finally: good whole wheat bread from the Zojirushi bread machine

Friday, June 06, 2008

Finally: good whole wheat bread from the Zojirushi bread machine

I expect that there are a lot of people out there that, like me, bought a bread machine thinking it'd be a great way to make your own bread at home with complete control over what goes in it.

No more "modified milk ingredients"; no more "soy lecithin"; no more of the things like the following, as exist in Whole Wheat Wonder Bread:
  • mono and diglycerides
  • exthoxylated mono and diglycerides
  • dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide)
  • datem
  • calcium sulfate
  • yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate)
  • extracts of malted barley and corn
  • dicalcium phosphate
  • diammonium phosphate
  • calcium propionate

For the record, this is all you need to make whole wheat bread in about 4 hours:

  • whole wheat flour
  • yeast
  • water
  • sugar
  • salt

But, it would not be a very nice bread to the Wonder Bread palate. It would dry out quickly, be quite bitter, be quite dense, and definitely would not be soft. The Wonder Bread contains the above, but also the further above, presumably in the interest of producing a Wonder Bread crowd pleaser while accommodating an industrial production system at the same time.

What happened after I bought the bread machine, though, was that I stopped buying bread at the supermarket, and I had been buying mostly whole wheat bread at that time. After I got the machine, I tried the whole wheat recipes that came with the machine and they weren't very good. They smelled nice and the crust was decent, but the innards were dense and the taste was quite harsh. So, I stopped making whole wheat bread at some point and went back to white. So much for the "health" angle: white flour is essentially dust with synthetic vitamins added to replace the ones that were removed in order to make it white.

I tried a few options but was not all that successful. Until recently.

Not too long ago, I picked up Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads book. I was still interested in getting the whole wheat thing going, and I liked his previous books, so I thought I'd give it a try. The book turned out to be great; far more for the discussion that takes place inside than the recipes themselves. I now have a decent understanding of why the above problems occurred and it gave me some ideas about how to fix them.

I've now reached a repeatably reliable recipe from which to make a tasty and soft whole wheat bread in the machine, on the regular cycle, while still using only natural ingredients. It does take some forethought and planning, though -- you need to get it ready about 24 hours before you plan to put it in the machine.

The recipe is adapted from the Reinhart book, and made with the Zojirushi BB-HAC10 bread machine.

24 hours beforehand

24 hours before you plan to start the machine, you need to get the biga and soaker ready. These are both very easy to do.

First, get two bowls out.

For the soaker, put 113 grams of whole wheat flour, 1/4 tsp. salt and 89 grams of milk into one bowl. Stir them until they're combined and all of the flour is incorporated, cover with a damp kitchen towel and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

For the biga, put 113 grams of whole wheat flour, 1/8 tsp. instant yeast, and 85 grams of tepid filtered/spring water into a bowl. Stir until combined and then knead in your hands for a few minutes (the dough is so small that you can do it right in your hands). Let it rest for 5 minutes and then do a bit more kneading with wet hands for about 1 minute more. Put the bowl in a plastic bag and put the bag in the fridge for 22 hours (24 hours is fine, too, but you need to bring it to room temperature before using it in the machine, so 2 hours out of the fridge will do this).

On bread-making day

To make the bread, use a pastry scraper to cut the soaker and biga into 6 pieces each. Drop the pieces into the bread machine pan in alternating order (add a piece of soaker, then a piece of biga, etc.). To the pan, add 1/4 tsp. salt, 7 grams of soft butter, and 21 grams of honey. Then, add 28 grams of whole wheat flour (try to add it in a mound, rather than scattered evenly). Make a small well in the mound (it will not be much of a well because there's not much flour, but you just need to keep the yeast reasonably dry). In the well, put just over 1 tsp. of instant yeast.

Now, you just have to put the pan in the bread machine and start it on the regular cycle.

So, this recipe satisfies at least two important parts of whole wheat bread making: it soaks the flour for an extended period of time, allowing more of the flavour to come out and the bitterness to subside, and it softens and moisturizes the flour to allow the dough to stretch further (making it more airy). It also adds more sweetness, and you do need more sweetness in whole wheat bread than in white because it's just what's necessary to complement the flavour of whole wheat properly.

This produces a soft whole wheat bread that is great for sandwiches and OK for toast, too. When toasted, the crust crumbles rather than crackles, so it may not be to everyone's taste for that purpose. It's still better than most industrial whole wheat bread for toast, though. If you let it cool for a few hours, it will slice very nicely with a bread knife. It also freezes well.

Compared to the whole wheat recipe that came with the Zojirushi machine, it is less bitter, more evenly flavoured, has a softer crust, a nicer texture, and is far more airy and rises better.

Here is a picture of how it looks:

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Brian said...

Thanks for sharing this recipie!

I must say, though, that I've found the whole wheat recipie (only tried the "regular variation" of 100% whole wheat) that came with my Zojirushi BB-HAC10 is delicious and wonderfully textured, and if anything is too "wonderbread-like" to my taste. I guess this is a good example of different tastes!

mattbg said...

Brian, it's not a bad recipe, but when you've had a soaked/pre-ferment whole wheat loaf, it is difficult to go back. The main difference is in the depth of flavour. It's almost as if the flavour is unshackled and allowed to spread out a bit. In contrast, recipes like the one included with the machine have a pretty simple and compact wheat taste and it's not very nuanced.

While I'm here, I'll add to the recipe: I've tried this recipe with stone ground flour before and the loaf usually collapses, but I generally have poorer results with stone-ground. I've been able to avoid the collapse by using more flour in the bread machine prep stage -- as much as 40g flour instead of 28g.

The white and French bread recipes included with the machine are good. The raisin bread recipe is also good, with some adjustments (1/2 cup whole wheat substituted in place of 1/2 cup of the white flour, and some nutmeg and allspice in addition to the cinnamon, plus about 25-50% more raisins!).

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt,
Tom Sellars put a really nice whole wheat recipe (that I modified a little) up on amazon for the mini zo
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 rice milk
3 Tbsps honey
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup large flake oats
217 grams flour
1 tsp yeast
The trick (according to Tom) is measuring the flour with a scale. I make this bread with flour milled by Aurora Mills in Maine which is a pretty rough yummy flour (I even think it is organic, but don't quote me).
Directions are break 1 egg into the measuring cup, add salt, add rice milk to the 3/4 mark. Then add honey and olive oil and beat with fork. Add all to bread pan. Then add oats, flour and then in a small well on top add your yeast. I use yeast right from the grocery store but I have a theory that our grocery store yeast is fresher here than in other parts of the country because I think just about everyone makes bread here. You may have already tried this method, it sounds like you have really worked hard to come up with yummy bread- but I though I would just suggest it. Best,

mattbg said...

Thanks, Kristina. I've never used rice milk before in anything, but it sounds worth a try. I always measure my flour with a scale when I'm doing bread at a rate of 125g per cup, although with other baking I'm not so diligent and just use cups.

I've read that there are enzymes in cow milk that work against the flavour of the bread, which is why some people scald cow milk before using it -- to deactivate those enzymes. Soaking the flour at room temp may do the same -- not sure!

Thanks again for the recipe.

Eric Price said...

Hello Brian,

Thanks for re-posting this and making it available.

I've been looking for a recipe for the Zojirushi that did not have additional dough conditioning ingredients such as lecithin, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), etc.

I was able to produce a couple of loafs using your recipe. It is the best tasting true 'whole grain wheat' recipe that I've made to date in a bread machine. Any bitterness or raw wheat flavors are replaced with slightly nutty and malty flavors - yummy!

However, I didn't get the loft desired. I had used active yeast instead of instant yeast so I might try that next time.

My goal is to eventually develop a minimalist bread recipe that uses the following ingredients: Flour, water, yeast and yeast food (e.g. sugar, honey, etc.). I'll be developing a starter soon that I can use in place of pre-packaged yeast.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with the Zojirushi bread machine.

Shelley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelley said...

Sigh. I tried this recipe, so excited, because I, too, am trying to get better/great whole wheat bread from our bread machine (I stubbornly believe that it's possible). Having read Reinhart, I was sure this would work, but it turned out the worst loaf I have ever baked, bar none-- didn't rise even a tiny bit (even though the biga puffed right up in the fridge), and worse, had kind of a punky smell when I cut it open. Worried about the milk in the soaker being at room temperature for almost 24 hours, I threw it away without even tasting. Any thoughts?

mattbg said...

Shelley, I've had the same thing happen to me before. It was one of the most frustrating things to happen to me with the bread machine and whole wheat bread. The only thing I narrowed it down to was one type of flour over another. If I got a "bad bag" (even within the same brand), I couldn't use any of it for this recipe. If I got a "good bag", I could reliably repeat it. There must be something to it, but I never found out what it was.

Shelley said...

Thank you for your thoughts about this. Please feel free to delete one of my above comments-- I posted twice because I thought I lost the first version!

I just baked the very basic KA Flour Whole Wheat recipe and am happy to report that at least it rose. I will now tinker it, one small bit at a time, first just biga, then biga and soaker, and see if I can get better results. Glad to know I'm not alone.

Unknown said...

One secret to softer bread (in general, not just whole wheat) that I LOVE, because it doesn`t make the recipe any longer to make, and is 100% natural; potato water!

So, the next time you boil potatoes for any purpose, pour off some of the water into a measuring cup, stick it in the fridge. The next time you make bread (hopefully soon!), use that instead of the water called for by the recipe. I do cut back a bit on sugar or yeast, as the dough seems to rise more with the potato water.

You`ll get a much softer loaf, that stays that way for several days. Try it and let me know what you think!