Dude, I cannot believe I haven't brought this up yet. Not very long ago, I was at the store, skimming over the bulk bins in the hippie aisle (where I buy my flour, granola, polenta, lentils, etc.- because it's cheap AND I AM A HIPPIE) when the tag for vital wheat gluten caught my eye. "Add 1 tbsp. to heavy doughs for a lighter loaf."
Being a former vegetarian, it's not like I'm unfamiliar with the concept of wheat gluten. Good lord, wheat gluten (seitan, mock duck, gimme gimme) was my favorite faux-meat product, to be sure. But, the idea of adding a bit to my bread dough seemed kind of weird. So, I googled it a little bit, and then I started keeping an eye on the ingredients list of the sandwich breads I was buying, and I realized that almost all whole wheat breads have vital gluten added. Which is probably why, when I bake whole wheat bread, it's often gluey and dense, and why store-bought wheat bread is fluffier.
Let me say that I've almost completely given up on 100% whole wheat bread at home. I got some kind of bread bible from the library, I've tried tons of different loaves, and I've never had a huge amount of success. I satisfy myself by baking 2/3 whole wheat loaves, and now I add vital gluten in addition to that, and the results are totally different from what I was getting before.
Tonight was yet another pizza night- and let me just come right out and say that this geeky picture of me holding a lump of dough is really an excuse to show off my new tattoos, because they look nice in this picture.
So, behold: my new semi-official pizza dough recipe, only very slightly modified from my old standby.
Pizza dough for hippies:
(actually, this is not pizza dough for hippies, THIS is pizza dough for hippies, but whatev)
1 cup of water
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
2 tbsp. vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 tbsp. honey (use a mild honey, for your sake, like clover. I only had orange blossom and it's kind of overpowering for pizza.)
1 tsp. salt
1 packet of instant yeast
2 tbsp. olive oil
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, wheat gluten, and salt. In another bowl, combine one cup of warm (just barely warm) water, honey, yeast, and olive oil. Let it sit for a second and get foamy, then dump into the dry combination and stir starting from the middle to form batter-like dough, adding more and more from the sides until you can handle it. Knead for 5-10 minutes (although you'll notice immediately if you bake bread often enough that the vital gluten changes the texture of the dough almost immediately) and then let sit in an oiled bowl, covered, for about an hour. Punch down, (SATISFYING SENSATION) and knead back into a ball until no longer spongy. Let sit for 10 minutes or as long as you want while you prep all your pizza goodies, then roll out.
"Roll out? Oh crap! I don't have a rolling pin!" Oh, you don't? Me neither, my kid stole mine and lost it. He was pretending it was a steam roller. WHERE DID IT GO? Anyway, just cover a wine bottle with plastic wrap (or don't, if you're not a germophobe) and use that instead.
We're too lazy to get a pizza stone so I bake my pizzas on a cast-iron griddle in my oven at 475ºf.
I don't know if adding vital wheat gluten to your bread is any more or less healthy (I'm guessing LESS, but whatever, it's only a tablespoon per cup of flour) but it makes the bread a lot better if you're using whole wheat, so I say go ahead and experiment with it. I will certainly continue to do so.