Looking for whole grain bread recipes and tips
January 14, 2011 1:19 AM   Subscribe

Looking for whole grain bread recipes and tips to help me transition from all-white bread.

I bake a lot of bread, pretty much all of it white. I want to start making whole grain bread (both for health reasons and to experiment with different flavours) but I need a bit of help. Whole wheat flour seems to behave very differently to white flour, and my loaves inevitably turn out dense and stodgy.

I'm looking for great whole grain recipes (not just wheat - I also want to bake with spelt, rye, etc) and tips to help me improve my whole grain breads. My usual sources - the fresh loaf and the Bread Baker's Apprentice - are mostly focused on white breads.
posted by primer_dimer to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I used to have the stodge problem but now do the following things differently, which seem to have helped:

1. use 50% whole wheat flour 50% white. (Or sometimes 25% whole wheat)
2. use extra liquid in the whole wheat breads. The dough should be much stickier. It doesn't even really matter if you can't knead it properly, since gluten doesn't develop properly in wholemeal bread anyway (or so I"ve been told)
3. let rise for longer, and only ever even attempt these breads on a warm summer's day.
posted by lollusc at 2:49 AM on January 14, 2011

Best answer: The Artisan Bread in Five folks have a new book on 'healthy' breads, many of which are up to 100% whole wheat. The trick is to add extra gluten to the mix (I think it's called 'vital gluten' in the US). For example:

Whole wheat and flaxseed bread
makes four 1 lb loaves

1/2 cup ground flaxseed
7 cups whole wheat flour (scoop and sweep)
1 1/2 tbsp granulated yeast
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/4 cup gluten
3 3/4 cups lukewarm water

Mix dry ingredients, add water, stir with a spoon to make a wet dough, cover loosely, forget about it for a while (a couple of hours, depends on your temp). Refrigerate. When you want to bake, dust dough with flour, pull off a 1 lb bunch of dough, shape into a boule, dust and leave to rest for 90 mins while you preheat an oven with a metal tray in the bottom and a pizza stone in the middle to its hottest temp. Slash the boule, open the door, slide onto pizza stone, pour a cup of hot tap water in the tray, close the door, turn temp to 230oC / 450oF, bake for 30 mins, remove from oven, allow to cool on a rack.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:35 AM on January 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Check out the Tassajara Bread Book by Ed Brown. It's my personal favorite and encourages the use of grains I've never even heard of.
posted by The White Hat at 5:23 AM on January 14, 2011

Best answer: I love breadmaking and I've been trying to get more into ryes and whole wheats as well. I've had some success recently. I'll second using only part whole wheat, rye, or other coarse flour and at least half white flour. I find that North Dakota Mills Bread Flour from Sam's Club is a nice halfway point between overbleached white flour and coarse bread flour. I use it for everything. You may have a different brand near you, but I'm sure you can find a similar one.

I also love "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" and I use the Whole Wheat recipe (page 270 in my copy) from there often, sometimes with minor tweaks. The most useful thing I learned from that book is that the coarser and/or denser the grain you use, the more you have to sponge, soak, or otherwise pre-treat the flour mixture.

Another trick I have learned is the temperature and humidity when rising the dough is critical. Since I live in Minnesota, it's almost always too cold or too hot to place the dough outside, so what I do (that works very well) is after the first knead (I use a Kitchen-Aid mixer) I boil some water in a pot and then put the pot and the dough bowl in the oven (without turning it on) and let the water steam the dough to the right temperature and moisture content. It seems to work quite well for me.

Another recipe that I like quite a bit is:

1 Cup water (at the proper temperature for your yeast)
.25 ounces yeast
1TB Honey
1-2/3 cup bread flour
1-1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 TB melted butter
1tsp salt

Prep the yeast in the water with the honey. Subbing milk is also good, but makes a slightly denser bread. Once the yeast is active and foamy, just dump the rest together and mix and knead as you would with any bread recipe. Let the first rise complete, punch down, and place in a greased 9x5 loaf pan for the second rise. Once at about the lip of the pan, bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. I usually bush with an egg or butter wash (depending on my mood) after baking, but this is not at all necessary.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 5:34 AM on January 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Have you tried Irish soda bread? I use something like the following recipe, which is so quick and easy and tasty.

- 1lb wheatmeal flour (can add oats, flaxseed, different seeds etc to make 1lb)
- 2 level tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
- 1 tsp salt
- Spoon of sugar if you like

(mix all the dry ingredients well)

- 2 tbsp oil

(drizzle over the flour mixture)

- about 2/3rds of a pint of buttermilk (or if you have none, try regular milk soured with lemon or vinegar, or I've seen cream of tartar or yoghurt used)

Mix most of the milk into the dry ingredients and mix with a fork. It should be quite wet, just wet enough to hold all in your hand in a ball. Plop the ball down on an oiled and floured baking sheet. At this stage I sprinkle with sunflour seeds. Pat it down with floured hands until it's round and 1-2 inches thick. Cut a big cross almost to the baking sheet (to let the fairies out).

Into a preheated hot oven (220degC) for 15-20mins to give a brown crust, then turn down the oven (180degC) for another 20-25mins until it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.

Let me know how it goes if you try!
posted by hannahlambda at 6:18 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

IMO, you kinda need to embrace the density of whole grain breads. A whole grain bread is just plain going to be solid and suited to a different type of eating experience than white bread. Traditional all-rye bread is dense enough to kill a man, but sliced thin and toasted with some good butter? Heaven.

If you desire the lofty crumb of a white bread with a little extra health, try adding soaked cracked whole grains to the bread. Otherwise, learn to enjoy the different textures you can get. Look into some recipes for flat breads, since they can be great with whole wheat. Sourdough can also get a little more oompfh out of some grains (rye in particular) because the acidity helps set the bread. Plus it tastes awesome.
posted by pjaust at 7:20 AM on January 14, 2011

I am by no means an accomplished baker, but I've been getting very good results with the wheat bran enriched bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It's just white bread with bran thrown in so it's not nearly as hard as trying to work with whole wheat flour. (In fact it's just the basic recipe with 3/4 c of wheat bran subbed in for 3/4 c of the flour.) As I said, I'm no baker, but I imagine it might work out okay to try substitute in some bran in a traditional bread recipe as well.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 7:25 AM on January 14, 2011

To keep a light texture limit the whole wheat flour to no more than 50% and perhaps no more than 30% of the total flour, at least while you get your feet wet here. Also, add vital wheat gluten. A little goes a long way and it really helps make a nice airy whole wheat loaf. You can modify recipes with these or look for ones that contain these ingredients.

You can also experiment with white whole wheat flours but that seems tangential to your goal of experimenting with new flavors. These flours provide whole wheat fiber etc. with white bread texture and taste, or at least that is the promise.
posted by caddis at 7:36 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am bad at yeast breads but this one from King Arthur turned out well for me recently.

I used the molasses, I think; didn't have dry milk on hand so I left it out; did add in 3 generous tablespoons wheat gluten; used white whole wheat flour instead of regular whole wheat. I mixed it in a stand mixer with the regular attachment (not dough hook).
posted by lakeroon at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2011

I haven't made whole grain bread for years, but somebody recommended Vital Wheat Gluten (you can pick it up in your baking aisle at the supermarket) and it made a huge difference.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2011

I've had much better results using whole wheat pastry flour. It's made from soft wheat instead of hard winter wheat, contains a bit more gluten, and is more finely ground.
posted by Miko at 7:56 AM on January 14, 2011

Whole wheat pastry flour has less gluten, not more, making it less suitable for bread. What you want is a flour intended for bread use. It is great for cookies, pies, cakes, and such.
posted by ssg at 8:36 AM on January 14, 2011

High gluten flour is also available, which you can mix with whole wheat flour as others have suggested for just white flour. I think this may be marketed as "bread flour" as opposed to "all-purpose". As others have mentioned, adding a bit of vital gluten can help things along.

I also have the Tasajara Bread Book by Ed Brown, which basically has one main yeasted bread recipe (which would qualify as a whole wheat recipe) and a bajillion variations to it. Brown's recipes in that book, and his regular Tasajara cooking book typically provide loose guidelines for things and encourage you to develop your own thing, which I guess conforms to him being a Zen monk.

If you're not doing it already, making a sponge a bit ahead of time instead of just going full-blown into making the bread dough also supposedly increases the loftiness and gluten production of a dough, allowing the yeast to develop without the presence of salt or other things that impede its work. Basically, you just add half the flour of the recipe (along with the yeast, milk, and sweetener) until you get a thick batter, then let that sit for a bit before adding the rest of the ingredients
posted by LionIndex at 8:45 AM on January 14, 2011

making it less suitable for bread

Oops, you're correct that it's lower. However, I do use it for bread and the bread comes out fine - more tender than regular WW flour.
posted by Miko at 8:50 AM on January 14, 2011

...of course, I'm comparing it to the dense bricklike bread you get from using ww flour alone, not to white flour bread. I do agree with pjaust that you have to embrace a different idea of bread when you go to whole grains. The loaves I end up with don't rise high, and kind of slump to the sides of the pan, but the result moist and bready. Sometimes I mix it half-and-half with regular ww. Also, it's great for making pizza crust. White bread has some great eating qualities but it's okay with me if that kind of light, high, bubbly bread is an occasional treat.
posted by Miko at 8:59 AM on January 14, 2011

Best answer: I agree with the other people who have suggested vital wheat gluten. The little box of Hodgen's Mill says to use 1 TB per cup of whole wheat flour but I've seen other sources say up to 2 TB per cup. I usually use somewhere in between.

Most of the bread I bake is about 60% whole wheat and 40% white. It's light enough not to overwhelm sandwiches this way. I use King Authur White Whole Wheat and White Bread flours. I started baking bread again last year and discovered how useful it is to make a sponge first. I start with 100% of the water called for in the recipe, 100% of the yeast and about 1/3 of the flour or a little more (it usually ends up being the white flour for convenience), cover and let it stand under my counter lights where it's warm.

Here are the 3 recipes I make the most often:

Whole Wheat Bread

3-3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1-3/4 cups warm water (about 105 F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons molasses
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

Measure flour and vital wheat gluten into a medium bowl and whisk together with a fork. Add water and yeast to a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with dough hooks. Scoop up about a cup and a half of the flour mixture and add it to the water and yeast. Combine well with a fork, cover the mixture, and let stand for 45 minutes to an hour. This sponge will bubble up and expand.

Add the olive oil, molasses and salt to the sponge and whisk in with a fork. Begin adding the remaining flour a cup at a time. If you plan to knead by hand, use a large wooden spoon to work the flour into the dough. Then, turn the dough out into a large cutting board and knead for 10 minutes. If you are kneading with a stand mixer, start the mixer now, and let it run while you add the flour. You may need to stop the machine once or twice and work some of the flour into the dough with a spoon. Once the flour is incorporated, let the machine knead the dough for 5 minutes. You will probably need to knead the dough by hand in the bowl for a minute to form it into a smooth ball.

Place the dough into an oiled, medium bowl. (This can be the bowl that you measured the flour and wheat gluten into earlier.) Cover and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for an hour, until doubled in size.

Oil a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Shape dough to fit the pan. Cover and allow to rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Heat oven to 350 F, and bake bread for about 30 minutes.

To test your bread for doneness, turn the loaf out of the pan and rap sharply on the bottom with your knuckles; your loaf should sound hollow. If it doesn't make a sound, bake a little longer.

Herbed Ciabatta Sandwich Buns

1-1/4 cups warm water, about 105 F
1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup bread or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried, chopped
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, or 1 tablespoon mixed fresh herbs
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups whole wheat flour (or more as needed)

Add water, yeast and all-purpose flour to a medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with dough hooks. Combine well with a fork, cover, and let stand for 45 minutes to an hour. The mixture will bubble up and expand.

Add herbs, vital wheat gluten, sugar, salt, and olive oil and combine with a fork. If you're using a stand mixer to knead the dough, start it now. Add remaining flour, stopping to combine the last of the flour with a fork if necessary. Let mixer knead dough for 5 minutes on low, or turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes. If dough is sticky, add more flour as necessary, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time.

Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for an hour, until doubled in size.

Shape dough into a rectangle about the size of 6 slices of bread, 8 x 12 inches. The dough will be slightly less than 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 6 buns. Transfer buns onto an oiled baking sheet. Reshape, and place with edges touching. This will give you a defined edge when you're ready to cut the buns open for sandwiches. Allow to rise until doubled in thickness, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Millet-pepita Bread

1-3/4 cup warm water, about 105 F
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1-1/2 cups white flour
3/4 cup millet
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted pepitas (or sunflower seeds)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons agave nectar (or honey)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
2-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or more as needed)

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together water, yeast and white flour with a fork. Cover and let stand for 45 minutes to 1 hour. This sponge will bubble up and double in volume.

Add millet, pepitas, oil, agave nectar, salt and vital wheat gluten and mix into the sponge with a fork. If you're using a stand mixer with dough hooks to knead, turn it on now. Work the whole wheat flour into the rest of the ingredients. You may have to stop your mixer and work the last of the flour in with a fork or wooden spoon.

Knead with a mixer on low for 5 minutes or turn dough out on a floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes. If your dough is too sticky to work with, add more whole wheat flour a tablespoon or two at a time. When the dough has been kneaded enough it will not stick to your hands and will spring back when touched.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover loosely with a clean dishcloth or paper towel. Set aside to rise until dough doubles in size, about 1 hour. Shape into a rectangle and press into a large 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Cover again and set aside to rise until doubled, about 30 - 40 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 F. Bake for 35-40 minutes. To test for doneness, turn bread loaf out of the pan and rap on the bottom with your knuckles. If it makes a sound, the bread is done.
posted by zinfandel at 10:44 AM on January 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have no comment on the actual baking points since I have no knowledge in the area, but this is tangentially related. I wonder if you can get whole white flour (or "white whole" flour).*

Some months ago, I went to the grocery store and spotted a loaf of bread among all the whole grain contenders. It was labeled "whole white wheat bread" or something. I stared for a while, completely befuddled as to how this thing could exist. How can a bread be WHITE and WHOLE at the same time? Wouldn't the culinary universe implode? I decided to buy it because it was on sale, and it seemed like something interesting to try out.

Well, shit. That was the best whole grain bread I ever had. Soft, moist, tender just like white bread, but with whole grain goodness? Why isn't EVERYTHING made with this stuff?

I need to get back to that grocery store and buy loaves to freeze.

*White wheat, or white spring wheat.
posted by Ky at 11:54 AM on January 14, 2011

My project last summer was to decode home-breadbaking. I baked a lot of bricks and doorstops, but it was worth the effort. I've written up my recipe and technique which uses a bit more than 1/3 whole wheat flour. E-mail me if you'd like and I'll send it to you.

Here are two books that helped me:
Alexander, William. 52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2010. A fun and even inspiring account of the author's effort to perfect home-baked bread.

Wood, Ed. Classic Sourdoughs: a Home Baker's Handbook. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed, 2001. Here are recipes and all you need to know about wild yeast including how to capture it in the wild.

Plus, I've just discovered this website. I haven't explored it much, but it looks interesting.
posted by partner at 1:25 PM on January 14, 2011

Hello fellow baker!
Miche-a-point-calliere from Hamelman's Bread (the best bread bought I have ever read, incidentally, and well worth your pennies) is the best 100% wholemeal loaf I have ever made. Easily. Especially with an overnight ferment.

Here is the recipe. Note, this is a very gloopy dough. I personally find I need to bake in loaf tins otherwise it's way too flat. Also, depending on the strength of your starter, I have found most of Hamelman's recipes needs a longer rising time than stated. Still, a great bread that I make every single time I bake.
posted by smoke at 4:30 PM on January 14, 2011

Something to watch out for: A lot of whole wheat flour has amylase and aziodicarbonamide added to it. They make the bread fluffier. Unfortunately they also trigger asthma attacks in susceptible people. Check the ingredients list.

Nthing the suggestions to go with gluten flour and extra fluid. Also try adding interesting seeds like flax seeds and sesame to give it textures that will distract you from the density. Use different forms than sandwich bread so you don't expect the white bread texture. Eat your bread with robust flavours like garlic and strong cheese instead of mild ones like jam. Use it a sop for broth where white bread would turn itself into pap.

I already like to throw ground almonds into my bread to make it higher protein and keep it vegan. You could try adding that ingredient to your transitional recipes while you are adjusting.

And finally, don't forget to drink extra fluid yourself. If you make a switch to a diet with more roughage your fluid intake also needs to go up to process it comfortably. This may help with the feeling that whole grain bread is less digestible.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:52 PM on January 14, 2011

White Whole Wheat Flour is a whole wheat flour, with all the nutrition of whole wheat, but it's milled from a different kind of wheat. That gives it a lighter color and milder flavor than ordinary whole wheat. (And yes, it's a stupid, confusing name.)
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:42 PM on January 14, 2011

This is a good thread with much practical advice and links to some great stuff. Several people have mentioned a pre-ferment or a sponge. This can help with both texture and flavor, especially texture in a whole wheat dough, and they are currently the rage in artisan baking. Look for the terms 'poolish" and "biga." Zinfandel describes how you can do this with any recipe, good on her, very helpful. The only thing I would do differently for my own recipe is let that sponge go longer, say overnight.

If you look around the internets you will find that many of the recipes are for 100% whole wheat bread. That should give you an indication of how powerful this technique can be. Making a dense loaf of that is easy; making one with a more traditional bread structure not so much. The poolish really helps. Of course this technique is not limited to whole wheat breads and in fact the best Parisian style baguettes often use a poolish. For breads with a mixture of whole wheat and white flours, this Rustic Wholegrain Italian-Style Pagnotta looks interesting as does Tartine's Whole Grain Seeded Bread (yes, that is in Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP site; she may look like she never eats but she has a lot of great foodie stuff in there). Those last two recipes do not call for vital wheat gluten but I would probably add it at the 1 TBSP per cup of whole wheat flour rate.
posted by caddis at 5:38 AM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, fantastic answers all! Thanks for all the tips and recipes - I will set aside some time to read them thoroughly.
posted by primer_dimer at 11:09 AM on January 15, 2011

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