Basic Whole Wheat Bread

I try to use the winter months to learn something new, a skill that I am usually too busy to undertake during the summer, when the garden is in bloom and the kids are home from school. Last year, I taught myself how to make some excellent soap, which we are still using… but this year, I wanted to learn more about the art of leaven bread. Without getting fancy, I wanted to understand how to make a basic bread that could be used for sandwiches, toast, dinner rolls, etc….

I drew my inspiration for this recipe from the CIA’s Basic Lean Loaf, which is the standard at our school. I scaled it down and made it 50/50 all-purpose (universal) flour and whole-wheat (I use one that has wheat germ flakes in it).  After many tweaks to the exact grams, I don’t even have to sprinkle my work surface with dough. The water/flour ratio is spot on! Since you will probably using a different brand of flour your results should vary only slightly, but please share with me your experiences.

Makes one loaf in a 30cm x 10cm (12″ x 4″) tin

330 g flour ( 50% all-purpose/ 50% whole wheat)
3 – 5 g dry yeast
10g salt
220g warm water

  • Weigh flours and yeast, combine in a bowl. Pour mixture on a clean work surface, create a well in the center.
  • Measure water and salt, combine. Swish the water and salt together to speed dissolution. 
  • Pour water mixture in the well. Pull the flour into the center from the walls of flour well. You want to combine it quickly, so the water is still warm when it touches the yeast.
  • Bring the dough together and knead for a few minutes 3 – 5, till it is smooth and a bit sticky to the touch.
  • Put dough in lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic or a dish cloth (tea towel) and let rise till doubled about 2 hours.
  • After two hours, turn the dough over lightly a few times, while inside the bowl and return to rest till doubled again about 2 hours.
  • Take the dough out of the bowl, knead and shape till it will either fit in your tin or in the shape of your free-form loaf or loaves.
  • Final rise, not that it is shaped let it rise again till about doubled or it is over the rim of your baking tin. Pre-heat oven to 425C
  • Bake for 20 – 30 minutes. The exterior of the loaf should be firm and crusty, yet when you knock on the exterior it should give off a hollow sound.
  • Once you remove it from the oven, remove the tin, if you are using one, so that the steam can escape and not make your bread soggy. Let cool on a wire rack.
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Panagia Festival – Exhibition

Day two of the Panagia Festival. There is a long tradition in Kyustendil where skilled women showcase their talents by displaying home made loaves of bread that were kneaded lovingly with respect to the mother of Christ. Panagia is a Christian holiday, which celebrates the Virgin Mary’s ascension in to Heaven. Enjoy the photos. 

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Panagia Festival – The Rising of the Bread

I am constantly amazed at the number of festivals that are organize by the municipality of Kyustendil; one for every season. My love of cherries makes me partial to the Cherry Festival in June, but the Panagia Festival, which celebrates the Feast of the Assumption, and the Virgin Mary’s ascension in to Heaven, according to the Eastern Orthodox religion. In christianity bread represents the body of Christ. The care and consciousness poured into making the bread symbolizes their devotion to Christ and their faith.The festival is more spiritual than gastronomic and that makes the bread more significant because it is seeped in tradition.

August 14th was the first day of the festival, it took place at the church of Kiril and Methodi in Bagrentzi, a small village located about 4 km east of Kyustendil. The focus of the day is the traditional and almost sacramental process of preparing the bread. The ceremony connected with the bread making centers on a young women and an older woman, either her mother or baba. The ritual is quite moving, seeing the torch passed down, preserving the tradition for generations to come. 
Coincidentally, one of the young girls was my neighbor Lily. She lives on my street and has played with my kids. I didn’t immediatly recognize her, but was touched by the pride she exuded being able to partake in the cermony. She assisted her grandmother (baba) preparing the bread. This was her second year participating and told me she felt a bit more prepared having taken part the year prior. She was able to anticipate her grandmother’s needs and what to do next, making to process seem like a culinary dance.

The recipe for the bread is simple and approximate, but the source of the ingredients is significant. The water is drawn from the church well, by the young girls representing purity and virtue.

The sanctified flour is then ladled from the trough and carried lovingly to the workspace. Each young girl receive her ration of bread from the elder.

A well is made in the center of the flour and the water and re-hydrated starter are added. The flour is pulled into the middle from the sides. Once a consistent ball is achieved, it is kneaded till smooth and elastic. The dough is then rested. During the resting, the fires are stoked and everyone celebrates with song and dance.

In addition to the official ceremony, The Bread House in Gabrovo descended on Kyustendil to share the traditions, culture and methods of making bread. Nadejda Savova, who is working on her phD in anthropology at Princeton University in The United States, shares her passion for Bulgarian culture, which has been organically incorporated into her doctoral pursuits. She teaches Eastern Orthodox iconography and traditional Bulgarian bread making techniques. Savova is one of the founder of the Bread House initiative. Through her travels around the world, she has set up numerous outposts, sharing the traditions and culture associated with bread. One of her criticism of food culture in Bulgaria, is that while food is extremely important culturally and the value is understood in a social context, but the appreciation for the quality of ingredients and the taste of local cuisine is lost.
The fires are optimal and the bread is ready for baking. The ceremony concluded with further celebration and dancing.

Gabriel was a huge hit with the kids. They were quite eager to give a cuddle to the youngest guest by far at the festival.

In the grand Bulgarian tradition a horo… with the youngest participants in jubilant celebration. In years down the road, I expect these girls will be helping their mothers and babas prepare the bread.

The next day of the Festival was dedicated to the displaying of bread and other goods, which have been artistically crafted to represent the talents of the bread makers in the villages surrounding Kyustendil. My next post will highlight the exhibition.

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JoVan – the Dutch Bakery

The first time that I met John Hulbosch (aka JoVan the Dutch Baker), it was a few months after I moved to Sofia and was having an early bite with a Dutch friend of mine Koos.  When I heard about his bakery I was immediately intrigued. It opened in 2005 and is still going strong.

From the street I could smell the aroma of freshly baking bread. The counter and shelves were abound with all sorts of breads, it was truly and international variety of bread styles to suit all whims and fancies, not only Dutch.
While they offered ready to eat freshly baked sweets and savory treats, I wanted a small fresh roll to nosh on, but they seemed to only have larger loaves on display. I was drooling to bite into a crusty loaf, but didn’t want to have to a) eat it all (I could have, but would have felt like a glutton afterwards) or b) carry it around with my on my long walk around Sofia.
I ended up just grabbing some “American” cookies, which were good, but I don’t like raisins in my chocolate chip cookies. I wish that I lived in Sofia, because I would be getting my daily loaves straight from JoVan’s. They also offer delivery service, which you can check out on their website, but I doubt Kyustendil will be on their future expansion lists… at least not for now.

Also, check out this great article about John on

Angel Kanchev Street 37 (ул. Ангел Кънчев, 37)
Sofia 1000 Bulgaria 
Monday / Saturday from 08.00 to 20.00 
Sunday from 09.00 to 15.00
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Слънце и Луна/ Sun & Moon: InkeTinke

While strolling through Sofia the other day, I came upon Sun & Moon: InkeTinke location that I was previously unaware of.  Unlike their flagship location on William Gladstone St., this shop lacks a restaurant, but still worth adding to your natural grocery shop repertoire.

The shop has small but varied selection of goods, juices, canned goods, herbs, pastas, sweet treats and more.

The decor is relaxed and hip, with plenty of information lining the walls with going ons around Sofia related the the natural and organic scene.

All of your stone ground grain needs will be met and then some with their vast selection. If you have visited their website you can better understand the decisions they make about the numerous nutritional benefits of choosing whole-grain bread and bread product and the stone-ground grain processing methods.

The counter sells fresh bread and other scrumptious baked treats. There are also more grocery items lining the back wall. The lady at the counter was quite helpful and willing to answer any questions that I had about the shop, bread etc…

If you feel like enjoying your baked goods in house, they have a nice little sitting area and reading room. It is quite quaint and inviting.

I really enjoyed this little coffee corner. It could probably use with less counter clutter, but I think that is why it appeals to me. It is gives this warm feeling that you are hanging out at a friends house.

For more info please visit their website or their Facebook page
Uri Venelin st. 1 (close to Shishman st.) 
tel: 0899 92 33 78 
Working time: Monday-Saturday 8.00 – 21.00H Sunday closed
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Mulit-Grain Whole Wheat Bread

I had written two posts about bread making in the beginning of March: Wetter bread dough… Less kneading and Part 2: Wetter bread dough… Less kneading. These posts were inspired by an article in the New York Time by Harold McGee, whose book On Food and Cooking is currently occupying much of my time, as I am slightly obsesses with food science.

Back in February, when I received my latest Martha Stewart Living magazine, they had a section on cooking about making bread, using one simple recipe and making variations to produce 4 different loaves.  At the time, Angel and I were on the LCD, so our bread intake was limited to those that contain whole grains and high fiber, which lead me to try the multigrain bread recipe. I tried this recipe on 3 separate occasions with slight variations, each time producing mixed results.  Despite using a thermometer to make sure my liquid ingredients were at the right temperature and the room temperature for the rise was correct, it would still produce a very dense loaf, tasty, but quite dense.

After dabbling with the recipe, I had moved on the the wetter loaves and less kneading philosophy of bread making, but I still had the multigrain loaf from MS in the back of my mind, I really wanted to make it work, but couldn’t figure out how, until I learned about dough hydration.

The original Martha Stewart recipe included cup and spoon measurements rather than weighed measurements, which isn’t a good sign because cup measurements are not as accurate, as there are many variables.  According to the original recipe, you have 56 oz of flour and 18 oz of water, which if you calculate will be 32% hydration (liquid weight ÷ flour weight = dough hydration).  A basic loaf by James Beard was 60%, and some of the wetter doughs that was experimenting with were quite higher than that.  Aside from the flour to water ration on MS recipe, the rise time was quite short, which they made up with more yeast to quicken the leavening. Too much yeast in the recipe could give the final product a very yeasty taste.

After spending way too much time pondering the science of bread, I decided to make my own loaf keeping the flavors of the MS multigrain loaf (honey, raw sunflower seed, flax seeds, whole oats) but, using the principal of the wetter bread… less kneading and the results were terrific.  I was very pleased at how my experiment turned out and I will now share my recipe with you!  I am very proud of this bread and if you are a baker, please try and share your experiences with me!

Casey’s MultiGrain Bread
.10 oz  active dry yeast
4 oz warm water (110 – 115F/43 – 46C)
.5 oz honey

14 oz warm water
2.5 oz honey
1.5 oz melted butter
15 oz whole wheat flour (about 2 3/4 cups)
15 oz white flour (about 2 1/2 cups)
.5 oz kosher salt
4 oz soaked bulgar*
2 oz whole oats
1.5 oz flax seeds
1.5 oz raw sunflower seeds

For starter: add the honey and warm water, stir till combined, make sure the temperature is between 110 – 115F/43 – 46C then add the yeast, stir and let sit for 10 minutes till foamy.

Combine flours and salt, whisk till incorporated.  Stir melted butter, honey and warm water together till combined and set aside.

Add foamy yeast mixture, flax seeds, whole oats and sunflowers seeds together with flour.

Stir till partially combined, then add the water, butter, honey mixture and stir till it comes together in a coehisive ball.

Knead the dough for about 3 – 4 minutes till slightly sticky/tacky.  Then let it rest for 30 minutes in a large oiled dish covered with plastic wrap that has been oiled so, the dough doesn’t stick during the rises.  
After the dough rests, knead for 6 – 7 minutes to activate the gluten. If the dough gets too sticky, don’t use any additional flour, but a bench scrapper to manipulate the dough.

After kneading, return dough to the oiled bowl and let rest in a warm draft-free area for an hour.  The temperature in my house was about 73F (23C), which is good.

After this rise, in the bowl, gently press out the air
 and fold into thirds with the seam on the bottom.

Cover the bowl and let rise another hour. After the hours passes, repeat following step: in the bowl, gently press out the air and fold into thirds with the seam on the bottom.

After the second rise, repeat the deflating and folding in the bowl, but let rise for an hour and a half.

After the third rise, divide the dough in half, and shape into a mound with the edges tucked underneath (or in an oiled bread pan) and place on a lined baking sheet (I use a Silpat).  Let rise for another hour and a half.  If you are not keeping track we are at 5 hours of rising!!!

About a half an hour before the end of the last rise, pre-heat your oven to 450F (235C).  If you want to sprinkle some extra seeds and oats on top, prepare and egg white wash, with some water and brush on to your loaves, then sprinkle with seeds. Also, I cut an “X” into the top of the loaf to ensure even heating.

Put the bread in the oven on the lowest rack and reduce the oven temperature to 400F (205C), let it bake for 40 minutes, but watch it at the end, in case the top gets too brown.

I am very proud of this bread recipe.  I made it twice so far, the second time, I wanted to get exact weighted measurements and the results were even better.
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Part 2: Wetter bread dough… Less kneading

This post is the continuation of Wetter bread dough… Less Kneading!

If you take a moment to read McGee’s article Better Bread with Less Kneading, you will see he suggest to use a recipe that is under 75% hydration (weight of the water less the weight of the flour), but if you calculate the quantities of water and flour associated with the Golden Whole Wheat Loaf recipe from the New York times, which accompanied McGee’s article, you can see that they require 11 oz whole wheat flour + 7.75 oz bread flour + .75 oz wheat bran = 18.5 ounces of dry ingredients and 2 oz water for yeast mixture + 16 oz =18 ounces of wet ingredients.  Using McGee’s formula to calculate dough hydration divide total liquid with by total flour weight you will get a dough with 1.02% hydration.  I am not sure if this is a error, but why link his article, with a recipe that was way over the recommended hydration percentage?
Today, I attempted this recipe again, which was where I noticed the supposed discrepancy.  I decided to adjust the weight of the flour, so that dough hydration would be exactly .75%. I bolded and italicized my changes.

Adapted Whole Wheat Golden Loaf recipe:

1 teaspoon dry active yeast
14 oz (about 2 1/2 cups) whole wheat flour
9 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) bread flour
1 oz (about 1/2 cup) wheat bran
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Olive oil cooking spray
Cornmeal, for sprinkling

In a small bowl combine yeast with 2 oz warm water (105 to 115 degrees) and stir to dissolve. In a medium bowl combine whole wheat flour, bread flour, bran and salt.  Add yeast mixture and 2 cups cool water (75 to 78 degrees) to dry ingredients; mix by hand to make a granular mass.

Knead about 2 minutes; dough should be very loose and sticky. If necessary add 1 – 2 tablespoons cool water.

Oil a large mixing bowl and a sheet of plastic wrap; set aside.  Transfer dough to a very lightly floured work surface and knead until somewhat cohesive, 3 to 4 minutes, using as little flour as possible and a scraper to lift and turn dough.  Return dough to bowl and place oiled plastic wrap over surface.  Allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Return dough to work surface and knead again 6 to 7 minutes: dough should be soft and loose.

Return to oiled bowl and cover again with oiled plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature for one hour.

Knead dough while still in bowl, gently deflation with your fingertips.  Fold in thirds like a letter, then bring ends in and turn over so seam is underneath.  Let rise again for one hour.

Repeat folding and turning process, and let rise again until doubled in volume, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  When dough is fully risen, an indentation made by poking your finger deep into the dough will not spring back.
Sprinkle a large baking peel generously with cornmeal, or a lined sheet pan with parchment paper.  Divide dough into two equal pieces, shaming each into a tight boule (slightly flattened ball).  Place loaves on peel or pan, leaving about 4 inches between them to allow for rising.  
Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise again until nearly doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.  If loaves begin to grow together, put in oven before they touch.

Thirty minutes before baking, heat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a small cast-iron skillet on floor of a gas oven or lowest rack of an electric oven.  Place oven rack two rungs above pan. If using a baking stone, place it on the rack.  Fill a plastic spray bottle with water.

Score a tic-tac-toe pattern with a sharp knife or razor blade on top of each loaf.  Slide loaves into oven. Mist loaves 6 to 8 times, pour 1 cup hot water into skillet and quickly close oven door.  After 1 minute, mist again with water, and close oven door.

Bake 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Continue to bake until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, another 13 – 18 minutes.  Place on a rack to cool.

2nd Attempt .75%

1st Attempt 1.02%

As you can see by the two photos above the second attempt is more visually appealing and had a more loaf like shape, where as the first was flatter.  The most important aspect… taste, well the first was quite moist, but I like a nice crust, so my adapted recipe will be the one that I stick with.  According to my family, there really couldn’t tell the difference as they were hacking off multiple slices…

If you are a bread maker, I am eager for your thoughts on dough hydration.  I had lots of great feedback on my first post about other impacting factors such as the difference in flours from the United States to Bulgaria and humidity.  Looking forward to your comments!

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