The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

100% Whole Wheat French bread -- is it worth the effort?

Kroha's picture

100% Whole Wheat French bread -- is it worth the effort?

Hello everyone,

I tried baking my first French bread today.  The recipe came from Laurel's Kitchen book, and it is a 100% WW bread, straight dough that ferments at cold temperatures.  I am wondering if someone has made this bread before successfully, and whether or not you liked it.  Also, if someone has another outstanding recipe, or a reference to a recipe, for such bread, I would appreciate it.  I am also wondering if WW French bread is an abomination -- i.e. is it something that is never found in France that whole grain lovers just made up?

I have been various whole grain breads, some from the same book, for a while now, so I am pretty comfortable with them.  Now, this bread did not turn out all that great.  The dough was still sticky after bulk fermentation and first rising, and during the final proofing the loaves did not rise, rather, they spread out.  I am guessing that made the dough too soft and did not add enough flour.  The bread came out looking like ciabatta, alas, without the large holes.  The flavor is great though.  I am planning on making the bread again until I succeed, and then trying to convert to dough with preferment.  I am going to read up on French breads as well.  However, I would love to know of others' experience with this bread before I proceed.

Thank you!


Caltrain's picture

Man, if there's two things I've learned from bread making, is that the only reason to ever do more work is to bake a better loaf, and that there's no wrong way to make a loaf... unless you're french. France has the so-called Bread Law, which stipulates what can and cannot be called French Bread.

Luckily for us, the French Bread Law of 1993, as it's written, only mentions "wheat flour", not if it's whole or white. So while food snobs can argue if whole wheat baguettes are abominations or not, we have the law on our side. :p

And with that, sorry I can't diagnose your problems too much but it sounds like you'll need a proofing basket to prevent the dough from spreading out too much, plus if you're following Laurel's method of just kneading the dough, you might want to look into stretch-and-folds. I've had success, albiet inconsistently, making hole-y whole wheat breads this way.

LindyD's picture

Where in France do you live, Caltrain?

What type of flours do you bake with?

Caltrain's picture

Hah, sorry. I didn't mean to imply I was French.

I'm in sunny California. I was just musing about French culture strictly from an outsider's perspective!

Patf's picture

I live in France and the nearest you can get to 100% whole wheat flour is farine complête which is a pale brown colour and contains more "debris" from the wheat than any other flour. Because of the kinds of wheat grown here the gluten content is lower than in british and canadian wheats. They now produce special bread flours which have several additives including gluten.

I have never seen baguettes made from farine complête - they just use it to make a "boule" which is very tough and chewy.

Perhaps it's heresy, but I don't like french bread - it can break your teeth! I try to get british or canadian flour.


mrfrost's picture

The higher gluten only makes it tougher!

I was surprised how tough(or chewy) french bread can be when I made my first loaf(King Arthur no knead recipe) using 11.7% protein flour.

Bee18's picture

I suggest you look at the post from the 30/11/09 : suggestions for Paris Bakeries, there is a list of them where you might find good baguettes and flour.

But then go further down to Julien in Paris, and click the link and read all of it. It's fascinating. I as a French born could not believe what I was reading about the baguette and the flour and the bread in France. It's a good lesson and  I now understand why the baguettes I tried to make with sourdhough never rised properly and ended as pieces of soft makes the challenge even bigger to bake a proper bread! it's true that I'm using SD rye in my bread because I thought it was the only way to get some better flavor I knew from by childhood, against the untasty flavor of the baguettes or the Italian bread ciabbiatta or else.

I would like to know what you think about all the arguements your little post about French flour had produced, and the info. in the forum egullet. By the way where in France are you living ? Bee

Kroha's picture

Thank you for all the responses.  Very interesting observation, Caltrain!  I feel much better knowing that my activities are legal, and not French bread police will be showing up on my doorstep.  The recipe I used calls for 3/4 whole wheat bread flour and 1/4 whole wheat pastry flour, no doubt to lower the gluten content and the chewiness.  I am not sure how that plays out in the final loaf, because mine did not come out right.  I will try the banettone and stretch and folds (I have to read up on those).

And I am very curious now and will ask question that will expose my ignorance about bread.  What makes French bread French, i.e. what are its quintessential characteristics?  I am pretty sure that the crust is a part of it, and it seems that it is supposed to be very chewwy.  What else?

Thank you!


Bee18's picture

For me not to like French bread is really an heresy, I don't live anymore in France where I born but every few years I'm there. The fabrication of the bread since my childhood had move towards industrialisation & as such lost it's quality. The only way to get good bread is to buy it from an "Artisan-Boulanger" forget super market.And yes the famous baguette parisienne is known for it's crustiness and fewer and elastic crumbs. You don't brake you teath on the right crustiness. The parisienne is only based on white flour, but in the south last year in Montpellier I bought a baguette made with a mix of white, rye and barley... it was delicious, not so crusty. brownish inside and really good. Since then I decided to bake my own, because the english/australian bread sold as precut loaf is an abomination, you will never brake your teeth on it, it will take your denture out of your mouth before you will choke and suffocate. I tried the Italians, the like French etc... without success. It was then that I really began to miss France.

My choice of flour in Australia is not as wide as in other countries, but I'm finally making a good bread with sourdough (rye organic), white flour bread and a little bit of organic barley using the method of no knead bread. It's nice it's crusty it has enoug crumbs to make a narrow sandwish, but it lacks all the fantastic smells of the French flour.Just as the fromage de chevre or any other French style fromage made out of France lack the peculiar savor of the French one's. It's all about the soil and the grazing of the animals of each region etc..

If France is wordly known for his bread butter cheeses and meat, there are good reasons. It's not the Chef that make the food so good it's the genuine product that make it's cuisine so good. Believe me I tried French Restaurants here...and I will never try again.

I'm sure that you can buy any flour you want in France, from good to excellent quality. But again forget super market... look for the millers, the renowned bakeries, use google, and you will find the flour you want. The whole meal flour discribed seem to come straight from the shelves of a super cheap mammouth super market. I wish I could import a good quality of flour from France but then the price of it and the quarantine customs laws will make my piece of bread the price of a Gold Souverain. At least I can buy some cheeses and butter but as well at Gold price.

I discovered that to bake bread is a difficult art, and the more you try, the more you fail, the best the results finally come.

I wish you to find your way, someone is going to France soon and wrote about his list of backeries'visit in one of the last posts it might be worth to be in contact with him.

Good luck, Bee

rossnroller's picture

I suspect you're not fully informed about the bread in Australia. Of course the supermarket sliced fluff is garbage, but there is a thriving artisan bread scene if you bother to investigate a little.

Melbourne, for example, is the country's sourdough capital, and Australia and the US currently lead the world in a sourdough bread revival that is little short of a revolution (both in amateur and professional kitchens).

Of course, SD bread is a tradition in much of Europe, and I'm certainly not claiming superiority to the best of the Euro baking. Germany was where I first discovered what truly great bread was. And I agree that Oz does not have the same flour, or probably the variety, that you can get in France and elsewhere throughout Europe.

Nevertheless, there is a pretty good variety available here, especially of organic flours - you just need to track them down. And going by the raves from global authorities for some of the SD bakeries here, the flour can't be too bad!

Your comments re French restaurants in Oz are derived from a data base of how many? Yes, there are some poor ones that cater to pedestrian tastes, but there are certainly good French restaurants here - again, they just take some tracking down.

French aside, have you really explored the restaurant food in Australia? Sure, there are a lot of mediocre restaurants, especially among the mid-priced to higher-end ones, but there are some damned good establishments around, also, and some real innovations with food if you're interested enough to go searching. In terms of multi-cultural offerings, I doubt there is anywhere else in the world that can match the diversity here, and when you get truly skilled chefs experimenting with fusion dishes, it can be pretty exciting (although less skilled chefs can produce some muck in the name of 'fusion'). The best places are either very cheap or very expensive, though, in my experience.

You might like to check Heston Blumenthal's assessment of Melbourne and Sydney restaurants before you get too fixed in your opinion. There is no question he knows what he is talking about, and his own credentials are legendary. Gourmet Australia magazine is a good mag to get up to speed on the best of what's on offer here. I would have dismissed it as yuppie hype before I read a few issues. It's good reading and the writers featured know their stuff.




Bee18's picture

Hi rossnroller,

If I was living in Melbourne I will probably know what you are talking about, unfortunatly I'm living in Sydney. But I read about the "SD Oz capitale Melbourne."

I'm not really interested to try more French restaurants. My point was to say "leave  to Cesear what belongs to Cesear" No one can transfer the quality of certain products of this very rich France. I was taken aback by the post of Patf living in France and trying to buy British or Canadian flour!

Here and in other countries I enjoyed the local cuisine, or the multicultural cuisine: asian, indian, greek, kurdish, turkish middle eastern.

I lived in other countries and every time friends wanted to impress me with a French Restaurant which was the top of the top, for me who grew up there until I was an adult it always have been a disapointment. Until I understood that what the difference was, was the basic products.

The only place were I enjoyed French Pastry, made out of France was in Montreal, in a shop named la Gascogne if I remembered right.

The bread in Sydney in the last 10 years that I'm living here had considerably changed. A lot of efforts had been done to propose better and better bread to the public. New bakeries opened every few months: the vietnamese people who learned from the French are the one to try and offer something similar, but for me again it's too far from what my palate knows, and again too much white bread, no SD,no rye SD, no artisanal product.

If you can tell me if there is a better white bread flour than Laucke ( wallabies bakers) that I can buy here in Sydney be my guest tell me.

Now at the setting sun of my life, I discovered and enjoy to bake every week a small loaf of bread based on my own rye SD, white flour, barley or organic wholemeal flour and sometimes I add a little bit of citric acid, in a cast iron pot and we make a degustation of it with fresh butter, salami, pâtés, smoked salmon and of course French imported Goat cheese or Roquefort Papillon or fresh white cheese that I make by myself.

I'm sorry if you have felt under an unfair attack by me about what Oz has to offer. I didn't meant it like that.  I love Oz so much that if I had the choice between staying here or going back to France I will stay here, it's the best country in the world. Not crowded, not too expensive, with nice and welcoming people, and a good weather.

Are you a Chef or an Artisan Baker ? I repeat my apology if I have hurt your feelings. Bee



Bee18's picture

Thank you Ross for your prompt reply. I was really concern about the way you had misunderstood my first comment.

I read about the flour you are talking and other flour from WA but they don't sell them in NSW and don't even send them by post.. at least not in small quantities.

Following this discussions about french flours and bread, I read this fantastic articles in the posts: Suggestions for Paris Bakeries and the link under Julien in Paris = Personnally I was looking for this explanation already one year, and no one was able to tell me this about my own country bread. If you like to read go for it it's really good.

By the way to live in France somewhere in the country is probably the ultimum in matter of foods and beautiful landscapes, but you need to be very wealthy to afford it. otherwise the "metro, boulot, dodo" in Paris is really nothing to dream about!

Here with not much in your pocket if you are not a shop alcoolic you can have a very good quality of life. I share my time weekly between Sydney and a beautiful place into a forest full with only australian species of trees plants flowers birds and animals, near Roberston, in winter I cook on a wood fire stove ( one like our gran gran mothers used) and making my own bread is just the perfect thing to do in this natural environment.

Cheers, Bee

rossnroller's picture

It's just that every so often I bump into French folk who will hear nothing good about food (or anything else - even fireworks for God sake!!) outside France, and it annoys me that people can be so ridiculously biased towards their own national produce! One French couple claimed that the Sydney NY Eve fireworks was "nothing compared to our fireworks in France" and added "you Australians don't know about fireworks" - as if it was a national shortcoming and my personal one as well! And of course, the claim is simply stupid. I could understand it coming from a Chinese national, perhaps...

Anyway, you are clearly not in the category of blinkered Francophiles I am referring to! And I note that you are well mindful of the diversity of cuisines available here. I take your point about regional produce making a crucial difference to the quality of a cuisine, by the way. In fact, regional food - and I mean street food and traditional provincial food specifically - is one of my great interests. I crystallised my ideas about this during a magical food sojourn in Malaysia a couple of years ago. I cannot find Malaysian dishes here that are anywhere near the superb quality of street food at a tenth the price in Malaysia, and I have no doubt it is the same for French and other cuisines. It has far less to do with the expertise of chefs than with the availability of local regional produce.

That said, in many cases there is better quality raw produce available in Oz than in the country of origin of many cuisines, and when that is the case, it's all up to the chef! In some cases they deliver in spades, while in others they fall short. And as is generally the case, mediocrity prevails more often than excellence!

No, I am not a chef or a pro baker - just a food freak and a committed domestic cook for many years....oh, and an addicted amateur home baker of artisanal breads like your good self and virtually everyone else here!

On flour, I haven't used the one you mention, although I have noticed that one of the Fresh Loaf forum stars, Shiao-Ping, does - and she manages to turn out some pretty amazing bread. I think it may be worth your while seeking out your local bulk organic supplier. I use Eden Valley organic flours in my breads (the white one they simply call premium bakers' flour), and I find them really excellent. However, they are located in the South-West of WA, so may be hard to find over your way. I'm sure there are some others that will be available to you, though.

Cheers and good baking!



kathryn's picture

I am an Australophile, having spent a year in Hobart eons ago.  Also ate some fantastic food there (Muir's Fish House and others) and wish it were a little closer to Indiana.  Hope that makes up for the French in some small way. But we digress... I also would like to make some good French bread.  I can't fault them on this.


Patf's picture

Sorry to upset you with my comments about french bread. I should add that it is about the only thing I find to complain about in your beautiful country.

Like you, I am in the setting sun period of my life, and like a few familiar things such as soft english bread. Also my teeth and gums are rather delicate now!

Enjoy your baking - Pat.