We recently moved from Ohio to Seattle, and my perfect recipe for whole wheat bread was suddenly not so perfect (i.e. a complete failure!). Whether it's humidity, air pressure, or something else, who knows?! I did lots of research, tried more bread recipes, and then my husband jumped in and really made my day by turning out a beautiful, perfect loaf of 50% whole wheat/50% white flour bread!
I'm back to using our regular recipe for wheat bread (including the extra ingredients in the additional notes section), and it's turning out fabulous again. I couldn't be happier! I love whole wheat bread and I have a grain mill + some buckets of wheat + an internal desire to bake yummy bread at least once a week so that means I just have to be able to make a good loaf here, right? :)
Here is what I've changed to successfully combat my yeast bread issues in Seattle.
More gluten. I had previously been using 3 tablespoons of gluten per 3 cups of whole wheat flour. I'm now using 4 tablespoons of gluten for 3 cups of whole wheat flour. The gluten I'm using is 75% protein; some gluten I've used in the past didn't specify a protein percentage, but vital wheat gluten (also called gluten flour or just plain gluten) is required to be at least 75% protein.
More flour. In Ohio, I used 3 cups of flour/gluten total. (Meaning I took out 3 tablespoons of flour and replaced it with gluten, using 3 cups total.) Here, I am using 3 full cups of whole wheat flour, in addition to the 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) gluten flour. I'm still using 100% Prairie Gold hard white wheat.
Finer flour. Or maybe flour that's the same. I'm not exactly sure, which is odd considering I grind my own flour in a Wonder Mill on my kitchen counter. The first time I ground flour here, I used the normal bread setting, but the flour seemed slightly coarser than normal for some reason. The bread seemed to be having difficulty holding up on itself (not collapsing, or being too dense at the bottom) so I started grinding on the finer pastry flour setting and that has worked well.
(Whole wheat flour that is ground more coarsely has sharp little flakes of bran in it that effectively cut the gluten strands as it's being kneaded! Gluten that is developed properly is what makes a smooth, elastic dough and produces a bread with an elastic, even texture.)
Longer knead time. One of the whole wheat bread recipes I tried recently said to knead the dough for about 10 minutes, allow to sit for 20 minutes, and then finish kneading. Doing that seemed to help produce the smooth, elastic dough I wanted.
Now, I incorporate that 20-minute rest by turning off the bread machine (dough cycle) after 10-12 minutes, setting a timer for 20 minutes, and then re-starting the bread machine (dough cycle).
More lecithin. Along with powdered ginger and citric/ascorbic acid, lecithin is one of the natural ingredients we add to our bread as "dough conditioners". Lecithin helps produce an even texture and retains moisture, giving homemade bread that soft, fresh-from-the-oven feel/taste even after several days.
I increased the lecithin to 2 teaspoons per 3 cups of whole wheat flour and it seems to help give the bread enough support to be fluffy in the bottom half as well as the top!
Higher oven temperature. I've been baking my bread at 375*F instead of 350. I still don't have an oven thermometer, so it could very well be that this new oven just isn't as hot as it should be. Everything else seems to be baking normally in this oven, but yeast bread is more sensitive, so... I'll just do what works. :)
I'll still be doing some experimenting, but I'm very thankful for the progress I've made so far! These changes seem so minute, but somehow they're making a huge difference!
Is anyone else out there working on perfecting whole wheat sandwich bread? :) I'd love to hear your tips! And if something's not right with your loaf, too, feel free to ask for help in the comments section! :)