The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Lean 100% whole wheat bread?

JMonkey's picture

Lean 100% whole wheat bread?

I mostly bake whole-wheat breads, but I've had no luck making a lean 100% whole wheat bread that's tasty. By lean, I mean just water, flour, salt and yeast or starter. Every time I try it, though the crumb is usually tasty and chewy, the crust has a dry, bitter taste that I can't seem to get rid of.

Anyone having any luck making tasty lean whole wheat bread?

HUGO's picture

Whole wheat is what it is! it will always have a whole wheat flavor. The only solution is to cut it with ''white flour''. Whole wheat contains the ''germ'' and ''bran''. Isolated germ and bran sold in jars and it has it's own flavor. the only escape is to blend white flour with whole wheat. I suspect through the centuries white flour came into it's own to eliminate the taste of whole wheat by removing the germ and bran. Nutrition wise----whole wheat is second to none. However, what one misses in whole wheat bread can easily be replaced by eating a bowl of whole grain cereal. Personally, sometimes I blend flours. However, nothing beats a good loaf of ''white bread'' that has been cold fermented, proofed, and baked in a proper oven. (or a cast iron dutch oven with a tight lid!!! ha ha ha)

sphealey's picture

Some of the "white whole wheats" that have been developed recently are less bitter than traditional whole wheat - the bitterness has been bred out of the bran in the process of making it lighter. The one I buy (King Arthur's in the USA) still has a distinctive taste with a little bitterness, but not much.



JMonkey's picture

I actually have found that I'm not fond of the taste of white whole wheat in breads. I use soft winter white wheat for pancakes, waffles and muffins -- it's awesome. I honestly can't taste a bit of difference from white flour. But in breads it's somehow ... insipid?
I've been reading back through the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book as well as the KAF Whole Grains Baking book. They both call for starting the bake at 450 F and then reducing it to 350 (Laurel) or 400 (KAF). Maybe I've just been unintentionally burning the bread?
I'll see this weekend. Thanks for the feedback!

pmccool's picture



Whole wheat flour, particularly that made from red wheat, does have a bitter note.  Something to do with the tannins that give the wheat its color, if memory serves (and it often doesn't).  Even though I like the taste of wheat, it can be a bit overpowering; especially in breads with a high percentage of whole wheat.  And if the flour isn't fresh from the mill, then the oils in the germ tend to go rancid.  That can intensify the sensation of bitterness, too.  I haven't tried any of the white whole wheat flours yet, so can't speak to their flavor. 


As Hugo suggests, about all that can be done is to add other ingredients to moderate the intensity of the flavor.  A lot of whole wheat bread recipes that I enjoy include sweeteners (honey or molasses, typically) that offset the bitterness.  Some, like Bernard Clayton's recipe for honey-lemon whole wheat bread, include aromatics that counterbalance or complement the natural bitterness of the wheat.


I doubt that you have been burning the bread.  Even if the crust is a little overdone, you won't raise the crumb temperature enough to harm the flavor.



JMonkey's picture

That's the thing of it, though. The crumb tastes great! It's the crust that's dry and bitter. I grind my own flour and generally like the taste of whole wheat. But at a minimum, I usually add 1 Tbs of butter or oil per loaf to cut down on the dry crust, and usually add 1 Tbs of honey per loaf as well.

I'll try the temperature thing, see what happens. It may just be that I don't like lean whole wheat breads ....

pmccool's picture

if I had read your first post more carefully, I would have noticed that you specifically mentioned the flavor of the crust.  Literacy--what a concept!


In that case, maybe changing to a lower temperature will make a difference.  It could be that some of those Maillard reactions that we usually like so well are working against you in this case.  I wonder if brushing the loaves with oil or melted butter before putting them in the oven would make any difference? 


And, maybe, it might just be a matter of personal taste as you suggest.  I know that one of my early attempts at building a whole wheat sour starter produced something so sour that I wound up throwing out the bread and swearing off anything related to sourdough for 3 or 4 years.  While I think it actually worked the way it was supposed to, it just did not taste good to me.



cuorechen's picture

life is as firm and chewy as a good bread crumb
I have some experiences in making lean whole wheat bread. I use poolish method and the crust and crumb are all coming out well. 
There are some other ideas here:
1. from " The village baker": old fashioned wholemeal bread seems alwalys accompanied with porridge method. Try it.
2. mix whole wheat flour with 1/4 wholemeal barly flour. Barly flour is low in gluten. It's sweet and mellow characters will soften the whole wheat bread a little bit.

earwax's picture

I've had good luck with fresh ground 100% hard winter wheat--my leaven, though, is mostly white, so the loaves come out <8% white. I've found that the whole wheat can take more water, so I hydrate it at 70%+. Also, it takes more time in the oven to reach gellation temperatures of 205F +, so I lower the oven to about 425F or 430F to keep the crust from getting burned too much. Just water, salt, natural leaven, and wheat, and my loaves sit around uncovered--turned up on cut end--for nearly a week being eaten without staling significantly. It has some bitter tones that would be somewhat eliminated using white wheat, but I like the flavor, and the crust smells and tastes yummy and sweet.

AndyPanda's picture

I realize this is a 10 year old thread I'm responding to :)   

I had an interesting result from an experiment last night.  I bought a heavy baking steel (to use for pizza) and had it in the bottom of the oven when I baked two loaves of fresh ground hard red wheat.  I did an extra long preheat because of the steel and I baked at the usual temp (350F for 36 minutes).  I didn't bake directly on the steel, I did loaves in loaf pans sitting on a wire rack about 1" above the steel.    I noticed that the heat in the oven was much more stable (that was the experiment and that was what I was hoping for) and stayed pretty close to 350F throughout the baking time (without the steel my oven would have had heat swings way above and below 350).    

The loaves did not look at all done after 36 minutes, the crust was much lighter color.  So I waited another couple of minutes and the crust wasn't getting any darker - so I put a thermometer into one loaf and it read 208F in the center which seems to be done.   I took the loafs out of the pans and the bottom had the expected hollow thump, really light crust color on the bottom too.  

The bread turned out really nice inside and the crust tastes great!   I don't know exactly why the difference - could be because the heating element didn't have to cycle on and off so many times and because the temp didn't swing up as high as it usually does ---- I'm kind of suspecting it is because the heavy steel put the loaves in a "shadow" where the radiation from the electric element at the bottom of my oven couldn't strike the loaves directly.

I'm going to try it again and may kick the oven temp up to 375F and see how that works.