When I finally got my copy of Michael Ruhlman's latest cookbook Ruhlman's Twenty, the first recipe I made was this beautiful cast iron bread. It is now my go-to bread recipe, producing a round loaf with a tender crumb, a chewy exterior, and excellent volume. This loaf also has a lightness you don't expect from 100% whole wheat bread. With only five ingredients (seven for my adapted version), the recipe is simplicity in edible form, and makes, as my husband says, an "amazingly good" bread.
Though the version in Ruhlman's Twenty is made with all-purpose white flour, I made a whole wheat version using freshly ground white whole wheat flour. For the most consistent results, I use a digital scale to measure the flour and liquids by weight. To reduce the kneading time for the whole wheat dough, I used the autolyse technique, mixing the flour, instant yeast and liquids together in the mixer bowl, then covering the mixture and letting it sit for an hour. This helps hydrate the dough and develop the gluten with less work. After the autolyse period, I worked the salt into the dough using my hands, and then kneaded the dough for ten minutes on medium speed in a mixer until the dough achieved a proper windowpane when stretched.
Borrowing an idea from the website Breadtopia, I substituted beer and vinegar for a portion of the total water required, adding a very subtle undertone of sourdough flavor. If you'd like a little stronger sourdough flavor, simply increase the amount of beer and vinegar to your taste, but keep the total amount of liquid at 330 grams for 500 grams of white whole wheat flour.
Since whole wheat flour contains less starch than refined white flour by weight, it helps to develop the flavor further by letting the dough sit overnight. In this recipe, Ruhlman offers an option to complete the second rise overnight in the refrigerator. I shaped the dough into a round for the second rise and put it on a large piece of parchment paper in the refrigerator, covering it loosely with plastic wrap. The next morning, I used the parchment paper to lift the mostly risen dough into the 5-quart cast-iron dutch oven, placing the parchment paper and dough directly into the dutch oven. This keeps the bread intact without losing any volume in the transfer.
Besides the excellent loaf Ruhlman's recipe produces, the thing I like most about this recipe is being able to take the dough straight from the refrigerator the next morning, and after an hour of letting it sit at room temperature, to simply bake it. For a solid recipe with great results, and one that is easily adaptable into a 100% white whole wheat version, this cast iron bread from Ruhlman's Twenty definitely takes a place among my all-time favorites.
Whole Wheat Cast Iron Bread
(adapted from the cookbook Ruhlman's Twenty by Michael Ruhlman)
500 grams white whole wheat flour (freshly ground if possible)
2 grams/1 teaspoon instant yeast
230 grams water
85 grams pale lager beer
15 grams apple cider vinegar
10 grams/2 teaspoons coarse-ground kosher salt
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
salt for sprinkling
5 quart cast-iron dutch oven
an instant-read thermometer
(Important note: I don't include volume measurements for the flour or liquids in this recipe because variations in weight with those two ingredients can make a noticeable difference in the outcome of the bread. A cup of all-purpose flour, commercial white whole wheat flour, and freshly ground white whole wheat flour all have different weights for the same amount of volume, and the method people use when measuring by volume can differ a lot too. It's also easy to have slight differences when measuring liquids by volume, and when making bread, even a couple of tablespoons of liquid can make a difference in the outcome as well. For very small increments of weight, like the salt and yeast, I included the volume measurements because some cheaper digital scales don't always register such small amounts very well. Also note there is a difference between using coarsely or finely ground salt when measuring by volume. If you use a finely ground salt instead of the coarse kosher salt, you may need to decrease the total amount of salt to one teaspoon).
The afternoon/evening before:
Measure the flour, using a digital scale, into the mixer bowl. Stir in the teaspoon of instant yeast. Measure the liquids using the digital scale and add to the flour. Mix well until the liquid is completely incorporated into the flour. Cover and set aside to autolyse for an hour.
After an hour, stir or work the salt into the mixture. Using the dough hook, knead the dough on medium speed for ten minutes until you can pull a windowpane from a small piece of the dough. Remove the dough, roll into a loose ball, and place it back in the mixer bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm area until doubled in bulk, from two to four hours. After the dough has risen completely, remove the dough and shape it into a tight round by rolling it between your hands on the countertop, gathering and pinching the ends together on the bottom, and rolling again to finish. Place the dough on a large piece of parchment paper, cover the dough with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator overnight.
The next morning:
Using the parchment paper, remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it in the cast-iron dutch oven. Using scissors, carefully trim the paper back evenly all the way around the dutch oven so the edge of the paper is below the rim of the dutch oven. Also carefully cut vertical slits into the paper surrounding the dough so that the paper lies flat against the sides of the dutch oven, letting the dough rise evenly. Cover the dutch oven with its lid, and let continue to rise in a warm area for one hour.
While the bread finishes rising, preheat the oven to 450ºF. At the end of one hour, remove the lid on the dutch oven. Drizzle almost a tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough and very gently smooth it over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little salt. Score the top of the dough in a cross pattern, using a razor blade or serrated knife, about 1/4-inch deep. Place the lid back on the dutch oven, and place the covered dutch oven containing the dough on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid, lower the oven temperature to 375ºF, and bake the bread an additional 10 minutes until the top is deep golden brown. The internal temperature of the bread should be at least 200ºF when tested with an instant-read thermometer.
Makes one approximately 9-inch round loaf of bread