Here are the two things I made for the first time this month: (1) a copycat delivery pizza (I am nothing if not classy, also, in case you were wondering, making chain delivery pizza instead of ordering it was as gratuitous as you would expect but also as delicious) and (2) 100% whole wheat bread. I’m going to go ahead and say one balances out the other, and I come out even on the health scoreboard (and way ahead in terms of doughy carbs).
But in all actuality, my first forays into baking with whole wheat have been so delicious, and tender, and light, and fluffy, and all of the things I associate with not-whole wheat flour, that I might not go back. (In other words, here I come, whole wheat delivery pizza.) Part of that is thanks to a few handy tips and tricks for baking with whole wheat, but a ton of it is because of a magical baking gem I only just discovered a few months ago, thanks to King Arthur Flour — white whole wheat flour. It sounds like it should be some kind of all-purpose and whole wheat blend (or, okay, that’s just what I thought it was at first), but it turns out it is 100% whole wheat, just milled from a lighter grain than the darker whole wheat I normally think of, for a flour that’s “light in color, mild in flavor, and as healthy as ever.” Or, to sum up in two words, flour wizardry.
I dipped a toe into whole wheat baking with this half-whole-wheat pie crust last week, but white whole wheat really got its chance to show off in a whole wheat version of Hokkaido milk bread, my old, favorite stand-by. In some ways, milk bread epitomizes everything I love about totally naked, wheat germ-stripped away white flour — long strands of gluten, a bouncy, pillowy texture — and so if anything were to test the mettle of white whole wheat, it would be milk bread. But lo and behold, it was everything I hoped it would be.
Just as KAF suggests in their baking guide, replacing 50% of the bread flour by weight in the original recipe and changing nothing else will yield a Hokkaido milk bread that is practically indiscernible from the original — a little bit less lofty and sky-high, but pillowy-soft and snowy-white, and just as creamy and light in flavor. But a 100% (or nearly, minus the tangzhong) version was what I was really after, and so the version below zaps out all the bread flour except the 1/4 cup for the tangzhong, and takes KAF baking guru PJ’s advice in adding a few more tablespoons of liquid (plus a healthy bit more butter, just because). The result is a milk bread that isn’t identical, that forgot to put on sunscreen at the beach and got a little tanner, but is still every bit as glorious — still sheets of feathery-light dough pulling away at the seams between buns, soft and squishy and chewy, just slightly sweet and rich with egg and dairy, but also a little bit earthier and nuttier and full of flavor. It’s not the milk bread of my Asian bakeries past, but in many ways, it’s so much better.
I was head-over-heels for the King Arthur Flour products I used for this post: light but sturdy Wisconsin mixing bowls, the handiest dough caps ever, this fantastic Thermapen that I’m convinced is going to solve all of my candy-making and chicken-cooking woes, Baker’s Dry Milk, and SAF Instant Yeast. And, of course, white whole wheat flour! On top of the all the goodness from white whole wheat flour, KAF’s is extra neat because it’s Identity Preserved — grown from certified seed, with sustainable practices, and you can trace every bag back to the field it came from. Thank you so much to KAF for sponsoring this post, and to you for reading.
As KAF's baking expert PJ notes, baking with whole wheat will usually go well if you add two teaspoons or so more liquid per cup of whole wheat flour used. This recipe for whole wheat Hokkaido milk bread goes a little farther and ups the liquid by a little less than two tablespoons per cup, and doubles the butter, which I found added a creaminess that beautifully balances any slight bitterness from the whole wheat. There's also a long rise built in to help with hydrating the dough, building gluten, and softening the bran. Note that this recipe is almost 100% whole wheat (with a bit of bread flour for the tangzhong roux), so it won't taste like the milk bread you find in most Asian bakeries -- but it's every bit as soft and fluffy. For a version with some whole wheat but truly an identical taste to the bakery version, replace half the flour by weight with white whole wheat in this recipe (adding two more teaspoons of milk, if desired).
This recipe is for little dinner rolls, and yields a little more than the regular loaf recipe to make 24-36 dinner rolls (or about 1 1/2 of the regular loaves). You can enjoy these plain with a little butter (my favorite) or in little sliders. See Notes below for an easy balsamic-chicken version that I have pictured.
- for the tangzhong:
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
- for the rest:
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
- 4 1/2 cups (525 g) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
- 1/2 cup rolled oats (optional; if not using, you may want to add another 1/4 to 1/3 cup White Whole Wheat Flour)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp milk powder
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 eggs
- 6 tbsp (3/4 stick, or 85 g) butter
- for baking:
- 1 egg and a splash of milk or cream (optional)
- 1/2 cup rolled oats (optional)
- The night before baking: In a small saucepan, whisk together 3/4 cup water and 1/4 cup bread flour until no lumps remain. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, for about 2-3 minutes. The mixture should thicken to a gel-like consistency. As soon as lines appear in the mixture when stirred, remove from heat and transfer to a small, clean bowl. Let cool to room temperature.
- Next, heat the milk briefly to just above room temperature, about 110 degrees or lukewarm to the touch. I do this simply by microwaving it for 10 seconds. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and set aside for 5-10 minutes for the yeast to activate. The milk should foam.
- In the meantime, sift together the white whole wheat flour, oats (if using), salt, sugar, and milk powder in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl or a measuring cup, whisk together the tangzhong, cream, and egg.
- When ready, add the milk and yeast mixture to the wet ingredients, then make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until the mixture forms a loose, shaggy dough. At this point, let the dough rest for 20 minutes before kneading.
- Knead for 4-5 minutes, or until the dough forms a semi-smooth ball. The dough will be very, very sticky, though it should hold its shape and should not be gloppy. I found it sufficient to "knead" by using my spatula to fold the dough in on itself repeatedly.
- Add the butter to the dough in batches, two to three tablespoons at a time, kneading after each addition. Add the next batch of butter only after the first has been fully incorporated. Here, I found it easier to use my hands -- the butter should help the dough from sticking to your hands. Knead for an additional 4-5 minutes, or until butter is fully incorporated. Dough will still be a bit craggy. No worries. The long rise will help.
- Place the dough in a large bowl with plenty of room and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel (or these wonderful dough caps). Let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator, about 10-12 hours or at least 6 hours. The dough should be fine for up to 24 hours. If planning to do a two-day rise, decrease the yeast to 1 1/2 tsp. (Note: The dough will also be fine with a traditional 1- to 2-hour rise on the countertop at room temperature, but I prefer the overnight rise to give the whole wheat flour time to hydrate and the gluten extra time to develop. Also, this longer rise will soften the bran nicely.)
- The day of baking: Line a 9x13 glass or metal baking dish with parchment paper, or butter it well. Once the dough is doubled, turn it out and roll it into a large rectangle. Cut into 24 equal pieces (for regular dinner rolls) or up to 32 or 36 for mini dinner rolls. For each piece, tuck the edges into the middle of the ball to form a smooth-topped ball, and roll a few times to create a bit of tension on the top. (Here's a great video illustrating how. If you're shaping these cold out of the fridge, this dough will be sturdier and less soft than the video shows, but the concept is the same.) Place seam-side down in the baking dish with the sides barely touching the next ball. Let proof until nearly doubled, another hour or so.
- After about 40 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Test the dough by pressing gently with one finger; when the indentation bounces back slowly but remains visible, the dough is ready to bake. Whisk an egg with a splash of cream and brush the egg wash over the dough. Sprinkle with oats, if you like. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until golden-brown on top. When it’s done, the bread will sound hollow when tapped (or, if you have one of these most magical Thermapens, should be about 190-200 F in the center). Let cool briefly, then enjoy warm.
To make into balsamic-chicken sliders, take 1 lb cooked and shredded chicken breast and mix with 1/4 cup mayo, 1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Slice the little rolls in half and layer with chicken salad, lettuce, and avocado, and enjoy.