George Eckrich shows how to make a biga – the Italian bread starter – for his incredibly healthy, nutritious, and flavorful whole grain flatbread. This type of bread is perfect for a quick lunch sandwich, or as a dinner bread that complements any dish, whether it is a meat, chicken, seafood, or vegetarian entree. For the recipe and complete procedure see the second part of this series: Healthy Whole Grain Flatbread – Method And Baking
“Good bread requires a bit of time and effort, but you will be rewarded with a bread experience far superior to eating the same old white bread and rolls. The health benefits of whole grain breads are enormous!”
Bread Healthy Whole Grain Flatbread
Part of the inspiration for creating this recipe was a friend’s challenge to bake bread with local ingredients. Buying only local is problematic when it comes to grains. Not every region in the U.S. is suited for growing wheat and not every region has the infrastructure to mill wheat that a local farmer might grow. During Colonial times, the Northeastern and the Mid Atlantic States both raised and milled wheat for their local consumption and some export. Through the years grain moved West (see A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America by James E. McWilliams). However, the “eat local” movement is even reaching out and bringing some grain back.
For my recipe I used a White Whole wheat from King Arthur flour. King Arthur is a Maine company, and I can’t say how much of their flour, if any, is local. These days, it’s almost impossible to know where the wheat comes from. (In contrast at Dr. Kracker, we bake with organic flour and our organic certification requires a paper trail which guarantees that we know the local origin of our wheat and spelt. Added to that, we work closely with Central Milling in Utah to build relationships with our growers and guarantee a source of grain and flour.) It is also interesting to note what the Bread Bakers Guild of America has been doing. Within the BBGA, many artisan bakers have set as their mission to source varieties of wheat that have both great flavor and superb baking characteristics. This has lead to the movement for Identity Preserved wheat. IP wheat means that the baker knows both the variety and the origin of the wheat and what to expect from the flour. Both farmer and baker want to separate the best wheat from the commodity stream that would normally flow into the mill and into identity-less bags of flour. The path to great bread is leading to some wonderful changes all throughout the agricultural system and now both oats and wheat are grown again in the Northeast.
But here in Texas, the North Texas panhandle is great for growing wheat. Deaf Smith County in the Texas Panhandle is wheat country and is known for its fantastic winter bread wheat. Not surprisingly, Deaf Smith is also home to Arrowhead Mills, a pioneer in the whole grain and whole food movement. It just so happens that I didn’t see any Arrowhead Mills flour on the shelf, so I went with my always favorite King Arthur White Wheat flour. White wheat has become popular in recent years because it has great bread baking characteristics and because it’s whiter color has a characteristic a reduction in the bitter flavor in the bran. Less bitter flavor means adding less honey or sweetener to whole wheat to make it more palatable. This naturally “sweeter” flavor has made it the flour of choice for many whole grain bakers, and at Dr. Kracker we use only white wheat.
Touching Our Bread Heritage – Whole Grain Flatbreads
Whole wheat bread dough is not very good about standing up at attention and maintaining a nice round shape. Whole grain bread dough tends to flow and flatten out, all on its own. Most bakers accomplish a strong shape and loaf stability by adding extra gluten or a liberal portion of white flour to the recipe. If we stop obsessing about the perfect slice of bread and consider what our ancestors did with bread, the answer is pretty clear. Let the bread fall, and bake flatter bread. This is not an ancient grain recipe, but it does approximate the flattish discs that were baked on hot stones in a rudimentary oven. And only whole grain!
The Baking Process
All great bread takes time to develop superb flavor and texture. Bread is at the heart of the slow food movement, and it’s not called “slow food” because it can be made quickly! Baking with whole grains requires a shift in preferments. For white flour, the poolish works fabulously well to develop flavor and gluten extensibility, but in the case of whole grains, all the fiber particles and added grains or seeds—in my recipe coarsely rolled oats—interfere with the formation of the gluten strands. For whole grain baking we are going to borrow a chapter from Italian baking.
Italian bakers historically baked their bread with very imperfect flours, which is to say that the gluten proteins needed some extra help to create the perfect ratio of extensibility and elasticity. They countered this gluten weakness and developed gluten strength with a biga. The American baking equivalent would be a sponge. The biga is a dense mix of flour and water and a small amount of yeast. This flour ratio in the preferment engenders more acid than the poolish, and the acidity is the agent which strengthens the gluten of the whole grain flour.
We are going to preferment almost one-half of our flour and let it rest overnight in an unheated kitchen. The amount of flour in the preferment is the artisan baker’s main tool for stewarding the balance of flavor and baking performance. The next day, we will mix and rest the dough in a large bowl, still use the stretch and fold method as in previous recipes and hardly touch the dough until it goes onto the baking trays. Our goal is to maximize water absorption, create exciting and superb flavors and find a loaf size and shape that will be look beautiful and lend itself to easy eating.
1 Cup water
1 Cup whole grain rye flour; rye brings in more flavor
1 Cup whole wheat or whole white wheat flour
1/3 t yeast, taken from 1 envelope; save the rest of the envelope of yeast for the actual dough (see the next post in this series).
Follow the directions regarding water temperature and mixing instructions found on the package of yeast. Mix these ingredients and let stand for 20 to 24 hours in a warm place, around 70 degrees.
Continue with the whole grain flatbread recipe here…