In this series on baking great 100% whole wheat bread, Part 1 covered getting great whole wheat bread flour (see 100% Whole Wheat Bread Baking (Part 1)), Part 2 covered the basic recipe and the other ingredients needed (see 100% Whole Wheat Bread Baking (Part 2)), and this post covers mixing and kneading the bread. The final post (Part 4), will give the details on rising, shaping, and baking.
Place the flour in a large bowl, mix in the salt, and make a well in the middle of the mixure.
Dissolve the honey in the 2 1/4 cups water and add the oil (if using). Pour the liquids and the yeast mixture into the well in the flour. Stir from the center and combine the ingredients to make a smooth batter. Coarser flours take longer to absorb water, so allow a few minutes for complete absorption of the water (depending on the coarseness of the flour grind) before evaluating the dough.
At this point, the dough should be evaluated to determine whether it’s too stiff or too watery – this is something that you get better at over time. With clean hands, feel into the dough and decide whether it needs more water or flour. It should be sticky and wet, but it shouldn’t be waterlogged. It also shouldn’t be too stiff, or it’ll turn into a bread brick.
If more flour or water are needed, return the dough to the bowl, add 3 or so tablespoons of flour or water (depending on whether it’s too stiff or watery), mix well, and reevaluate. Proceed with kneading when the dough consistency seem perfect to you.
For really great whole wheat bread, it’s necessary to knead. We accomplish this using an automatic Bosch mixer, and generally knead the dough for 15 to 20 minutes (or about 600 strokes if done manually). Like the Nutrimill, I don’t think the Bosch mixer was inexpensive when we bought it; however, it’s made so many loaves of bread now that it’s turned into an excellent value (and we’d never have stuck with making our own breads if we’d had to knead it ourselves).
After adequate kneading, the bread should be very smooth; and when gently pulled, it should stretch without tearing. It should lose much of its wetness and become a more uniform beige color. The pictures above and below illustrate what the dough should look like at the beginning and end of kneading.
Once kneading is complete, all that’s left is the rising, shaping, and baking; and that will be covered in Part 4 of this series.