Whole Wheat Bread with 50% Biga

I bet a lot of people reading this are currently holed up inside their house with a crazy amount of snow and wind outside. I hope you've got a fire roaring, a cup of tea or hot chocolate, and someone to cuddle with. It's nice to have a few days off work, even if you can't really step outside your own home. 

Since you're stuck inside for a little while, you might as well make the best of it. You can get started on this bread this evening and have it ready to eat by lunch tomorrow! A nice thick slice of this whole wheat bread alongside a hearty stew or soup and you've got yourself the ideal meal after coming in from the cold.

There's nothing quite like the smell of bread baking. If someone could capture that smell and make a candle out of it, they'd be rich. It makes your place smell cozy and warm and inviting. A little part of me wants it to be snowing here in Vancouver just so I can make bread, cozy up in a blanket with my cat, and drink tea. Instead, it's just raining here. Boring.

This bread is another one from Ken Forkish's book, Flour Water Salt Yeast, of which I am a little obsessed with right now, as you can probably tell. It's just so great! And not all of his recipes need a starter, which is nice for the beginner. You don't want to spend a week making a starter, only to find out that bread ain't really your thing. 

I've explained some of the key methods and equipment you'll need for a bread like this over on my 80% Biga Bread post. If you haven't checked that out, please do, otherwise you might be a little confused.

A sample schedule for this bread would be:
  • 6 p.m. - Mix the biga
  • 8 a.m. - mix the final dough
  • 11 a.m. - shape the loaves
  • 12 p.m. - bake

Whole Wheat Bread with 50% Biga

500 g all-purpose flour
340 g water at 80 F/27 C
0.4 g instant dried yeast

Final Dough
500 g whole wheat flour
460 g water at 100 F/38 C
22 g fine sea salt
3 g instant dried yeast
840 g biga

To make the biga, put 500 g of flour in a 6 quart tub (or equivalent). Put the 340 g of 80 F /27 C water in a separate container. Put 0.4 g of yeast in a separate, small container. Add about 3 tablespoons of water to the yeast and let the mixture rest for a few minutes, then stir with your finger. The yeast may not be completely dissolved, that's okay.

Pour the yeast mixture into the tub with the flour. Pour a few more tablespoons of water in the yeast container, swirl around, and dump it into the dough tub, along with the remaining water.

Mix by hand, using the pincer method, alternating with folding the dough, just until all the ingredients are incorporated. Cover and leave out overnight at room temperature (18 to 21 C), 12 to 14 hours. It should be slightly domed, about triple in volume, and have a strong, ripe smell of alcohol.

For the final dough, measure 500 g of whole wheat flour into a 12 quart (or equivalent) tub. Add the 22 g of salt and 3 g of yeast and mix by hand. Pour in the 460 g of 100 F/38 C water and mix by hand until just incorporated. Add the bigs, using your hand to ease it out of the container.

Mix by hand, wetting your working hand before mixing the dough so the dough doesn't stick to you. Using the pincer method alternating with folding the dough to fully integrate the ingredients.

This dough needs three or four folds which are best applied during the first hour and a half of fermentation. The total fermentation time is 3 to 4 hours.

After it has fermented, flour your hand and a work surface. Gently ease the dough out of the tub and onto your work surface. Use a bit of flour to dust the area in the middle where you'll cut the dough, then cut it into 2 equal sized pieces with a dough knife or metal bench scraper.

Dust two proofing baskets (or your substitution) with flour. Shape each piece of dough by folding it, flip it upside down, then cup your hand around the back of the dough ball. Pull the entire dough ball 6 to 8 inches towards you on a dry, unfloured surface, leading with your pinky fingers and apply enough pressure so the dough ball grips your work surface and doesn't just slide across it. This will tighten up the ball and add tension to it. Give the loaf a quarter turn and repeat this tighten step. Repeat again until you've gone all the way around the dough ball two or three times. Repeat with the second loaf of dough. Place the loaves seam-side down in the proofing basket.

Lightly flour the tops of the loaves. Set them side by side (in the bowls) and cover with a kitchen towel. Preheat the oven to 475 F (245 C) and place a dutch oven on the middle rack with the lid on. The proofing time for this bread is about 1 hour, check the proofing with the finger dent test (in my basic bread dough recipe). If you only have one Dutch oven, place one of the loaves, covered, in the fridge 20 minutes before the first loaf goes into the oven.

Be very careful with the extremely hot dutch oven in this next step. Invert the proofed loaf onto a lightly floured countertop, keeping in mind that the top of the loaf will the side that was facing down while it was rising - the seam side. Remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven, remove the lid, and carefully place the loaf in the Dutch oven seam side up. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and continue to bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes, until at least medium dark brown around all the loaf. Check after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot.

Remove the Dutch oven and carefully tilt it to turn the loaf out. Place on a wire rack to let it cool, about 20 minutes. Put the Dutch oven back in the oven for 5 minutes to preheat it, then bake the second loaf in the same way.