Making Whole Wheat Bread, Part Two

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<< Jonny Boy >> on flickr
The Nitty Gritty

Thinking "THESE are the example loaves?!" Read Lynn's Notes

Measuring and mixing ingredients is a major part of any recipe. But what makes bread-making different is how you work them together. Whole wheat breads create an additional problem because, well, they're harder to work with than white flour breads.

It's all in the kneading
If you read Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book by Laurel Robertson, she will tell you that you have to knead whole wheat bread doughs a very long time to get them properly kneaded--like half an hour. And while some may see that as an excellent way to get an upper body workout, I don't. And I don't have that kind of time to put into one part of bread making. So I use a stand mixer.

Bear in mind, though, most manufacturers of mixers will warn you that you can't mix them for very long in their machines. Whole grain bread dough is pretty tough. But don't let that stop you. Pay attention to what is happening, add enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, and you should do fine.

It's important not to add too much flour, though, as that compounds the problem and makes an even tougher dough. I check this by stopping the mixer and poking the dough with my finger. I want it to feel a little sticky but I don't want any dough to stick to my finger when I pull it away.

Mixer tips
I mix my whole wheat dough (enough for two loaves) in my stand mixer with a dough hook for about 10 minutes on a medium speed. This is about 2 on a Kitchen Aid and if they knew this they would shudder, as 10 minutes is not recommended in their owner's manual. One way to get around this, and save wear and tear on your mixer, is once the dough is together, stop mixing, pull the dough out of the mixer and divide it in half. Let half rest while you mix the other half for the full time, then reverse the halves. When you're done, knead them briefly together before proceeding.

You must knead bread dough until it is smooth, no little cracked areas along the edges of the dough when you form it into a ball. If you don't do this, you can still bake and eat your bread, but it won't have that fabulous texture I was talking about. It may not rise as high as it could and it will get cakey after a day or two.

Whole Wheat Bread--The Recipe

The Sponge
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1 cup whole wheat flour

The Dough
1 1/2 cups warm water
4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup gluten flour
2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil*
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt

The Egg Wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

*Recently I have been replacing all of the oil with 1/2 cup flax seed meal. It's a nice way to get that very nutritious grain into our diet easily and enjoyably.

First the sponge

The sponge before (top) and after (bottom).

In your mixing bowl place the 3/4 cup of warm water and sprinkle the 4 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast (if you prefer to buy the packets, use two for this recipe) onto it. Then add the 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Stir them together vigorously. Then cover the bowl with plastic and let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour (see, this wasn't so hard).

You will notice, when you peer into the bowl, that a lot of bubbling and expanding has taken place. It will reach a peak of expansion and then settle back down a little. That's when it's time to move onto the next step.

When your sponge is ready, uncover the bowl and add the 1 1/2 cups of warm water and 2 cups of whole wheat flour (that's right, not all 4 1/2 cups of it). Stir this in very well.

Next, the dough

Yeast can be a little sensitive. Sweet things cause it to go into overdrive and salt and oils shut it down. Before you add the remaining ingredients to the sponge temper the mixture with flour to protect the yeast a little. Otherwise you risk reducing the yeast activity and adversely affecting your final bread.

Now add the 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten, 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/3 cup honey and 1 tablespoon salt. Mix these in well. Now start adding the remaining flour about 1/2 cup at a time.

On to kneading
By the time you have 4 cups total of flour, you will have a stiff dough. Now you should put in your dough hook, or put your bread on a board to knead. Use additional small amounts (like 1 tablespoon) as they are needed to keep the dough from sticking. Test the dough for stickiness in the mixer. Looking at it won't tell you enough.

Keep working the dough as long as possible, 10 minutes in the mixer. If you are kneading by hand, you're looking at 20-30 minutes. Take a break about 10-15 minutes into it and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. You will find it relaxed and easier to work then.

When you think you've had enough, draw the dough into a ball by cupping your fingers around the ball of dough and drawing the surface toward the back. Is it smooth all the way around? Or do some cracks appear around the edges? If you want it perfect, knead until the cracks go away. Take breaks if you need to. Or just move to the next step. It will still taste good and will be a starting point for you to improve upon.

The first rise

The dough is ready when a finger poke doesn't fill up

Place this dough into a large greased bowl (preferably not metal) and cover with plastic. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until it doubles in size.

So what's a warm place? My house is kept rather cool, so I typically put my bread dough into the oven with the light on. Or leave it out on the counter and let it rise longer. Remember a cool rise for a longer period of time is a good thing when making bread.

When you think enough time has passed, pull the plastic back and make a big poke in the dough with a finger. Watch the hole. Did it fill up again right away? Did it fill up slowly? Or did it just sit there, a big hole, doing nothing? If the answer is either of the first two, it's not ready yet. Pull the plastic back over and go do something else for a while. Check it again later. If it's the last answer you're ready to shape the loaves.

Shaping the loaves
Shaping loaves has been a bit of a puzzle for me I've had to work it out on my own. Words cannot convey exactly what you do and pictures never seem to get at the critical bits of information. There are a couple of things you are trying to accomplish by shaping your dough that will make for a better loaf. One is getting all the air out. This kind of bread does not benefit from large air pockets. The peanut butter just squishes through them and it makes a big mess!

My first objective when I dump my now large puffy bread dough out onto the counter is to gently press all the air out of it. I'm not kneading it at this point because I don't want the relaxed dough to get stiff and elastic. That would make it difficult to shape. I ease all the air out and cut the dough in half.

The second thing I'm trying to accomplish is a high standing loaf with a perfect symmetrical mound coming out of the pan. The way I shape it will greatly affect this. I flatten each piece of dough out into a longish shape. At one end I begin to roll it up like a towel, although I'm very careful to pull the dough tight and not let any air spaces in. By pulling the dough towards me as I roll I create tension along the outside surface. This tension will improve the smooth outline of the finished loaf.

When I get to the end of the piece of dough, pulling the edge firmly I pinch the edge to the loaf. You actually pinch the dough along the seem and it will hold together. Don't tear the dough, but pinch firmly. At each end I shove the outside edge into the middle of the dough and grasp the remaining flaps and pinch them to the underside of the loaf. This takes some figuring out, but it has done wonders for making loaves with ends that don't sink down into the pan but rise up with the middle of the loaf.

The second rise
Place these into greased 9 X 5 pans. They will need to proof (another fancy word for rise) one last time. Cover them with plastic. This last rise will take an hour or less, again depending on how warm the room is. The dough should come at least an inch above the top of the pans before you put them in the oven. A finger poke is still a good option here to decide if the dough is really ready, but in this case you want the hole to fill in slightly. You need some good yeast action in the oven for a final push.

Turn your oven on to 350 degrees. While you're waiting for it to heat up, mix about a tablespoon of water with one egg and paint the top of your loaves when they are proofed. Then put them in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes.

To test for doneness, pull the loaf out of the pan and tap the bottom with a wooden handle. It should have a hollow sound. This takes a little experience but a loaf with no reverberation isn't quite done. Put it back for 5 minutes and check again.

Cool these for at least an hour before slicing. If you don't wait that long the structure of the bread will not support a knife and will mush down and stay permanently mushed when you're done mangling it. Try to be patient.

Murphy likes to bug bakers
There are a few things that can go wrong and all bread bakers are faced with variables that plague us. I'm guilty frequently of putting the loaves in the oven too soon. While the bread tastes fine and looks mostly OK, I get one side that is burst open. That's my signal that I didn't wait long enough for the final proof. I've never waited too long to put the loaf into the oven but if I had, my bread would likely be low risen and a little tough. The yeast just gave up before it got to the oven. Also, too much flour makes a low risen loaf that's rather dense. But trouble shooting bread problems is an article in itself.

Enjoy your bread, and remember you can make good bread at home, better bread than you ever dreamed--and bread that's very good for you.

Lynn's notes on making bread Jean's way for the photos -->

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Jean Sutherland stays at home with her daughter and forces her family to endure an endless regimen of home-made bread, pies, cookies and cakes. In addition she has begun cultivating a garden this year and requires her husband, daughter and teen-age step-son to cope with freshly grown vegetables in her vegetarian cooking. She hopes that the day will come when she can return to an interest in knitting and sewing but isn't holding her breath.


ranchelmarie's picture

I would love to try this recipe but I'm wondering if anyone's tried refrigerating it overnight? I've heard letting the dough rise in the fridge makes it rise better and taste better. Does anyone know which rise happens in the fridge? The first where it's just a ball or the second where it's actually shaped? Would love to find out. Thanks!

Lori K's picture

Wow.. this bread is AWESOME. Since my husband has high blood pressure, I made a few simple modifications as follows:

Replaced the vegetable oil with flax oil
Eliminated the salt
Since I have a water softener, I used bottled water
Used imitation egg (like egg beaters) in replace of the eggs (for the egg wash)

After the egg wash, I sprinkled the tops of the loafs off with a bit of natural sugar (turbinado), rolled oats and sesame seeds.


lena's picture

This recipe and process is far too complicated...I made whole wheat bread for 20 yrs & it never took this long. I discarded the recipe since I baked every week & now I don't have you have a simpler recipe?

Mine was water & add yeaat, then brown sugar and salt. Add the whole wheat flour & some white flour. Let rise. Punch down & rise again. Made 6 loaves...thnx lena

Robynn's picture

Thanks for the recipe for WW! It turned out flawlessly, though I read your instructions for how to punch in the ends after rolling about 10 times and just couldn't picture it (though you warned me!). I THINK I finally get it now after doing it the wrong way (just a little). Fam loves it - we are all organic and couldn't find Vital Wheat Gluten from an organic source yet but I will. Bless you for the dough hook idea. I've had one for years but never used it and it rendered as good a bread as could ever be had from kneading. Can't wait to branch out with this whole thing. Yeah for YOU!

Traceyleezle's picture

I found this recipe while hunting for a good whole wheat bread recipe and I love it, but I am having a problem each time. I'm getting a great rise for the first time and a pretty good one when they rise in the pan, but the minute I take them out of my warm oven to brush them with the egg wash, it's like someone pulled the plug and let all the air out, then they don't rise again in the oven when they are baking. The bread is still good, but not yet sandwich size. I hand knead for 30 minutes, with a ten min. rest after fifteen mins. Am I kneading too much? I am a very vigorous kneader. I just don't know what to do. I'm looking for perfect bread, not just good bread.

Nick's picture

I've been looking to bake a nice loaf of whole wheat bread, but all the different flours are so confusing. I just bought a big bag of whole wheat pastry flour and some vital wheat gluten. If I increase the wheat gluten, would I be able to use WW pastry flour?

I'm also looking to make chocolate bread. I can obviously add cocoa powder and extra sugar, but any idea if there are extra ingredients needed? I want a savory chocolate loaf that is just barely sweet but one that would mix amazingly once toasted with a spread of peanut butter.

- The Peanut Butter Boy:

katiedowns's picture

I am loving this recipe!! Has anyone tried freezing this dough? I would like to make a whole batch and freeze half after the first rise to have for a thaw/rise overnight in the bread pan and bake in the morning. Do you think I will be sucessful? I'd love some feedback! Thanks!

Susannah's picture

Now I really really want a wheat grinder.

Lynn's picture

I got mine after this article too, except I use mine to grind non-wheat grains now that Josie has proven allergic.

Speaking of which, Jean says this recipe works well with kamut and spelt as well as wheat.

Lynn Siprelle, Editor

Sam's picture

I am baking my first loaves of this bread...and I must say...I'm impressed with the height of these loaves...I had to move my racks around in the oven because they were hitting the next rack above them. That's a good thing.

I have a suggestion for those who were commenting that when they brush the egg white and water mixture over the loaf that it deflates the loaf...I use to make a lot of crusty french breads and I would brush the egg mixture on before letting the loaves proof for the last time...after brushing on the mixture, I'd slit the loaves a bit to prevent bubbles...on these loaves, I did the same thing...I brushed the egg white mixture on before the last rise, then, I put five slits in the top on a diagonal angle. They look so pretty in the oven, and they didn't deflate due to any brushing or sliting after they had a chance to rise.

Thanks for such detailed instructions on this recipe!

Lisa G.'s picture

I froze some in my bread pan after the first rise. It took it about 4-5 hours to rise to where I wanted it. I was trying to hurry it along, so I had it in the laundry room with the dryer going so it was nice and warm. I'd think overnight on the counter would be about right.

BuenieJ's picture

I have always baked alot of bread as I had a large family. Sometimes up to 18 loaves a week when they were all home. Now I am baking for a farm store. I can't make the dough and bake it all on the day the store is open, so it is a big help to me to make my bread dough (not shaped yet)the day before and bake it all at once. It works just fine and of course it is fresh and warm when customers come in. Some of my bread books say a slow, cool rise makes for better tasting bread as well. I don't know as my favorite is Rainbo white. I just don't care for the taste of home made bread that much, sorry to say.

Guest's picture

you want to rise your first rise in the frig
then take it out let it warm up then shape to loafs and then let it rise and bake

that is my process and i get GREAT sour taste in my whole wheat sour dough bread

i mix up my dough early thurs morning then keep it there till sat afternoon
make loafs then cook when there are done rising.

Guest's picture

I was wondering if I would be able to use my breadmaker to do the kneading of this bread. My breadmaker has a dough setting which kneads and rises and then kneads again for 1hour and 3 minutes.

Guest's picture

This was my first ever attempt at making bread, and thanks to this recipe my first loaf turned out flawlessly. Thank you for being so detailed and specific!

Guest's picture

I'm a novice bread hobbyist and my first few attempts have been fair to middling. This recipe turned out perfectly.

Guest's picture

i just got a bread machine and am trying to find a good wheat bread recipe. this looks great. can it be done in the bread machine? i have a 1.5 lb loaf machine.

Jane Butchko's picture

Can I use this to make pizza crusts?? I have the sponge proofing right now, so there is plenty of time to wait for an answer!!


Haightbrat's picture

Finally an article that is informative and useful. I can't thank you enough for the helpful tips. I prefer 100% whole wheat bread and have never been able to make anything at home that wasn't more than a door stop. The addition of the vital wheat gluten is clearly the difference as I have made bread many times and have never had success. Although they appear to rise and proof the same, without the Gluten they are just inedible. Once again, thank you for giving me the tools to make a healthier bread than I am usually able to make. Not to dismiss white breads. I never met a loaf I didn't like.
David H.

Dean J's picture

Good lord, the advertisements that make sound may be the most annoying thing ever. I keep coming back to this site for the bread recipe, but keep cringing ever time I open your page... "Congratulations! You've been selected to receive a $1000 Walmart Gift Card." Ahck!

Lynn's picture

I hate 'em too, but they pay the bills. Sort of. Ad revenue is down about 90% this year compared to years past; I can't afford to turn anyone away. If it's any consolation, that ad's down now!

Guest's picture

I've never had luck with making fluffy whole wheat bread before and I've tried for years with many diff. recipes. This recipe turned out PERFECT the 1st time-THANK YOU!!!! We love it. We've stopped buying bread because even the kids love this bread. I too was wondering if I could refrigerate the dough after the first rise and let it rise in the fridge overnight and then bake it in the morn. Anyone tried it?

Matthew Brown's picture

I just made this recipe for the third time, each time quite successfully. This third time I made the dough in the late evening and let it rise overnight in my rather chilly refrigerator. I woke up in the morning to a beautifully risen dough. I then made the loaves and set them in pans to proof, put those in the refrigerator, and went to work. I came home after work and set the loaves out to warm up and finish proofing. It took a couple of hours more, but they did proof nicely and the final product was of high quality.

*I think it may have helped that I was very careful not to add excessive flour to the dough.

ScrappyAlicia's picture

:) This turned out so well for me. Actually, it rose in half the time listed and was twice as tall as the bread pan! Next time I will make the same recipe but use my 4 1/2 x 12 pans. Thanks so much for the lovely, light and fluffy whole wheat bread!

Lisa Dawn's picture

:grin: Thank you for this wonderful guide! I've never baked bread of any kind before. I'd been told that trying to make 100% whole wheat bread before white bread was like trying to walk before learning to crawl, but I followed your steps and my bread turned out fantastic! Thanks again!

Sam's picture

The main problem comes while mixing whole wheat dough in a mixer because within 2-3 minutes it becomes tougher and have to stop the mixer.But your tips on it to divide the dough is good one but it'll take more time.

Thanks for publishing the complete procedure of making whole wheat bread.

Jesse's picture

What can I add that hasn't been said already. The recipe is by far the best I've ever tried, and very well documented. I'm an average bread-maker and I had an excellent result with my first try. The rise was amazing for 100% whole wheat. The final product was absolutely picture perfect (I used a Kitchen-Aid mixer). Thank you so much for sharing this wonder recipe. It really means a lot to me to provide my family wholesome bread.

Mike's picture

I have enjoyed learning about making WW bread. We no longer buy bread from the store. Store bread seems to have a texture that is like putty-in fact, as kids we used to make dough balls to bait our hooks to fish in the lagoon behind the Museum of Science and Industry.

I have developed a recipe that is similar to the ones seen in this article and by others listed here, but my recipe produces a nice airy, tender crumb and a nice crust. I have found (at least with the ingredients and proportions I use) that less dough handling equates to a tender, tasty loaf.

I don't want to load up the forum, but if any of you folks want to see my recipe and to perhaps try it, please say so and I will send it along.


kdumas's picture

Mike, I'm very interested in your recipe. Please send to me via email if its not too much trouble. Many thanks!

All about bread!'s picture

Hi Mike,

I'd love to have a copy of your bread recipe. I'm all for trying different ones to find the "perfect" one for my family!



Green's picture

I would be interested in receiving your WW bread recipe that you mentioned.

Thank you!


Sarah T's picture

Hi! I was excited to try this method as I've been disappointed by 100% whole wheat recipes in the past. The dough rose very well the first time. It was doubled after less than an hour. But it did not rise much the second time. It was barely up to the top of the pan after an hour. I baked it anyway, and it rose a bit more in the oven, but still came out pretty flat. Any suggestions about what I'm doing wrong?? Thanks so much!

teresa garner's picture

Lately I have been using broth instead of water in pretty much everything ..Can you substitute broth for water for this recipe?

Mary of Gluten Free's picture

Good to read that this recipe works well with kamut and spelt as well as wheat. My daughter is celiac so I am going to experiment with the various grains which do not contain gluten. Will come back with the results.

Horse handler's picture

I have just begun to being diagnosed with RA and heard limiting gluten can help. Can this recipe be successful without the additional gluten flour?

Guest's picture

I have made this recipe many times without the gluten and it comes out fantastic. I too have been challenged with RA for the past 31 years....long time, lol. And the many hand kneadings of the bread is a form of exercise and relaxation for me. My daughter at home says it is the softest bread that she has ever eaten. This time I brushed olive oil and zaatar at the top and it smelt and tasted so good.
Thanks Jean for sharing....

Anthony Nugent's picture

I run a boarding school and I enjoy cooking, especially baking, but I do not have much experience baking bread.
We recently adopted a new food policy where we buy nothing with white, bleached, refined, sugar, corn syrup, etc, so I have been trying different recipes for whole wheat bread. The bread I was making was too dense for the students who are used to soft white fluff, so I searched the internet for answers.

I am very grateful to find your posting and recipe! The information is really wonderful for getting a good understanding of how to make good bread, and the recipe from the first time has given us a delicious healthy alternative we can all enjoy!

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

momma of 3 under 3's picture

Well, I enjoyed the process but I was not thrilled with the finished product. I felt like it was too "grainy" and it didn't rise well the second time. I think this may be from it sticking to my plastic wrap. I guess I need to spray it next time. I am also wondering if I used too much flour. It was a bit dense and the second rise wasn't a rounded rise more of a flat top rise. I will try it again. Thanks for the thorough directions though.

Russell Johnson's picture

I just made my 1st two loaves of bread. They came out great!! Even rose on the ends same as the middle! Before this I was creating bricks.
Thank you so much!!!


Guest's picture

I love everything about this bread, but my first 2 loaves taste too yeasty. This recipe also calls for a lot more yeast than the other recipes I have tried. Is the taste supposed to be really yeasty or am I doing something wrong? thanks, Erika

Rightthinker-Andrea's picture

The perfect wheat bread can be simple! I've worked long and hard to perfect wheat bread-a delicate crumb and light texture, great flavor, healthy ingredients and fewer steps!

The key is using a whole white wheat flour..not WHITE FLOUR, but a lighter grain wheat, as well as SAF instant, no proof yeast, grapeseed oil, and an all natural dough enhancer.

Check out my recipe here:

I bake all the bread for our large family, and we use it for sandwiches, toast,'s great!

Try this recipe and let me know how it works out for you! No need for lots of steps and rock hard, dense and heavy bread!

Guest Matthew's picture

I want to try your recipe. But I have had a long standing problem with the second rise. I have greatly reduced the flour I put in it and make sure I sift the flour. Your recipe calls for more yeast than I have used so I may try more yeast next time. I use a Kitchen Aide mixer the tips on kneeding the dough will help.

My problem is that I get a great first rise and even in the refrigerator. I put the loaves in the pans and set aside for the second rise and the dough never rises past the top of the pan. This has happened so many times I just don't want to waste the ingredients anymore. Any suggestions?

Guest's picture

If you don't get enough rise in the pan try putting the dough on a sheet. With a heavy dough i find the pans add to much resistance and the loaf won't rise above the pan. The sheet will give it plenty of room and it will rise how it should.

Rach D's picture

How do i go about using flax meal instead of oil, do i need to use for water? when should i add it in the recipe?

Lynn's picture

It's a 3-to-1 ratio. More here.

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