managing whole wheat in the baguette
Bread is very basic: yeast, water, flour, salt. It is the crispy crust and the large holes throughout that add character to the bread. Strands of gluten formed during the mixing process are key to creating the light, airy inside of the ideal loaf. Without these gluten strands, you have a soft, dense and uninspiring result.
the wonders of gluten
Whole wheat can be a bit tricky when making bread. The bran and germ contain protein, but not the sort that form gluten. Additionally, the bran contains pentosan gums and the germ contains glutathione, both of which stunt the development of gluten. But the kicker is that during the rising process, the flakes of bran in the dough can cut through those beautiful gluten strands. All that is left is a deflated loaf and a disappointed baker.
working with the bran
Or is there hope for the proud whole wheat loaf? Indeed, there are ways around some of the difficulties that arise when working with whole wheat. Firstly, a bit more water is needed than with a fully white wheat loaf. The protein in flour is what holds most of the water. Thanks to the bran and germ, whole wheat flours are higher in protein, and will thus require more water. Additionally, coarser grains will require more time to absorb the water, so it is important to rest your dough for a sufficient length of time. I find the whole wheat flour available in the Netherlands to be significantly coarser than that which is available in the U.S. In fact, the whole wheat flour in the U.S. is so finely ground and the bran so thoroughly mixed throughout that you can hardly tell the whole grain is in there.
differentiation in whole wheats
The larger grains of bran in Dutch wheat give the loaf a nice, rustic appearance, but this coarser meal will not rise as well as its more finely ground counterpart. In the Netherlands, the whole wheat flour from Ekoplaza is ground more finely than that from the Albert Heijn or the stone-ground flour from various windmills around the area. The difference is slight, but reason enough to set aside the coarser grind for use in baked goods that do not rely so much on the formation of gluten strands.
endosperm to the rescue
But the problem with the texture of whole wheat flour is most easily overcome by enlisting help from a once-spurned source. It is the endosperm, the lonely leftover of the refined milling process, that is suddenly the savior. While it offers little in the way of nutritional value, the endosperm has two important proteins, glutenin and gliadin, which form gluten. Admittedly then, this super-starchy, quickly-digested mass has a significant role to play when making a whole wheat baguette.
mixing it up
When making bread, I use a range from 50-100% whole wheat. Sometimes a lighter result is desirable, though I find the sweet, nutty flavor of a fully whole wheat loaf to be the perfect compliment to any meal. When making your own, start with equal portions of refined bread and whole wheat flours. You can adjust the amount of whole wheat to your own taste until you have your ideal loaf!