The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread?

jpolchowski's picture

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread?

Hi folks. I have been on a quest to find a 100% whole wheat sourdough sandwich bread and I've had some troubles, I'm not sure if that is even a possibility. I have made whole wheat bread for a long time but recently began switching to 100% whole-wheat (except for a bread flour starter) for the health benefits, but I get pretty much no oven spring and so always end up with wide, short loaves. I have wanted to convert to a whole-wheat starter as well but given my current troubles, I'm not sure if that will happen.

The recipe I currently use is:


18 oz starter

5 oz whole wheat flour


23 oz Levain

26 oz whole-wheat flour

16 fl/oz water

1.5 oz dry milk powder

0.75 oz salt


The bread is good and I enjoy it but I'm looking for a taller, lighter loaf but not sure if that's possible with that recipe. Using whole wheat flour I know that it tends to be dense as opposed to light. On my last loaf I tried using autolyze which I think did improve the crumb-it was less crumbly, but didn't help rise at all. I haven't tried vital wheat gluten yet since it's pricey but I think that is going to be my next step. One concern I have is that my starter may be weak. It doesn't bubble a lot when I feed it, but when I bake I get plenty of rise during fermentation and proofing, so I'm not sure about that. Am I going to have to compromise, going back to a 50% whole wheat perhaps, or would vital wheat gluten or other alterations make significant changes?

On a side note, are there any recommendations for softer crust as well? It might just be the nature of it being sourdough since I have to bake at a high temp-I generally bake at 400F for about 35 minutes. I spray the loaves with water during proofing and then right before baking. I tried a milk wash once before but that didn't change anything, but I may give it a try again.


Thanks for all your help!

jennyloh's picture

I have not tried this using 100% whole wheat flour,  but using a mixed of bread and whole wheat flour,  was able to get a very soft bread using the water roux starter.  Just tried it yesterday.  And using a butter wash will soften the loaf the crust as well.  I find using high heat usually hardens the crust easily.  Perhaps lowering the temperature with a longer bake might help.  You may check out my blog for the water roux method.

pmccool's picture

but lets give it a shot.  Your starter's hydration is...?  I ask because the notion of adding 5 ounces of flour to 18 ounces of starter wouldn't work with a stiff starter.  Most levain formulae I have seen/used pretty much reverse the proportions of your formula.  In other words, a small amount of starter and a larger amount of flour, with added water.

For discussion sake, I'll assume that you are using a 100% hydration starter.  That means it is contributing 9 ounces each of flour and water, to which you are adding 5 more ounces of flour.  Your final dough, then, contains 14 ounces (9+5) of prefermented flour and 26 ounces of unfermented flour.  So your percentage of prefermented flour is (9+5) / (9+5+26) = 0.35 = 35%.  A bit on the high side, but not out of reason.  It does mean that you need a vigorous starter that can provide plenty of volume before it burns through the remaining flour.

While it is possible to produce 100% WW breads with a lofty rise and a tender crumb, it isn't as easy as doing the same with white flour.  You are already using dry milk powder, which can help with both characteristics.  You could also add a small amount of fat (butter, oil, etc.) to the dough.  Some posters report that extended kneading (20 minutes or more) has a beneficial effect on both tenderness and volume for WW breads.

As for a soft crust, that's as easy as putting the bread in a plastic bag when the bread is still faintly warm to the touch.  The moisture that would otherwise evaporate will be trapped by the bag, softening the crust.


LeadDog's picture

I make a 100% wheat bread for sandwich bread.  Here is the formula I use.

I have since that loaf increased my hydration to 100% that loaf was at 90%.  Other breads like that one I have used 2% olive oil soften the crust.

Crider's picture

Been looking through the archives and found that the url has changed:


inlovewbread's picture

Hi there,

I was also looking for a 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf using only my sourdough starter as leavening. I actually just made a loaf that I was really happy with last week. 

Do you have or have you seen Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads book? In it, the first formula is for a 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf that uses both a soaker (soaking half the flour overnight in milk, buttermilk, or water) and a biga. You can use your sourdough starter in lieu of the biga (but make sure to adjust the hydration of your starter as I don't know what yours is). You can either do a levain build the night before (just like making a biga) using a small amount of sourdough starter and mixing with about 230g flour to 180g-200g water ( I think- I don't have the book in front of me). If your starter is firm, you would use like 1-2 tbsp. or 15-25g of starter. I keep a starter that I feed twice a day now, so I always have a lot of "cast off" starter to use directly in recipes instead of doing an overnight levain build. So I simply measure off 11oz. active 50% hydration starter and add about 4oz water instead of the biga. 

My only other suggestion is to use Vital Wheat Gluten. I was really uncomfortable with using it before. I wanted the quality, height, texture of the bread to come from the method rather than an extra ingredient....but my family prefers the sandwich bread I make with vwg added and so do I, so I've come to like it as an ingredient (in sandwich bread). I need a bread that I can spread cold peanut butter on...adding vital wheat gluten not only improves the rise/height of the bread and texture, but makes for a stronger crumb. If you add too much, it can add a "rubbery" quality to the bread so I use about 1/2 of the amount suggested by the brand. (some brands of vwg suggest different amounts, like 1 tsp per cup of flour, or as much as 2 Tbsp. per cup!) You can adjust the percentage of vwg to your liking.

Also, if you go with PR's basic recipe, you may have to adjust the hydration. I live in a drier area, but also the type of whole wheat you have may absorb liquid differently than others. I find that I have to add about 15% more water/milk than called for. You may have to add more or less. I found that with whole wheat, leaning on the wetter side is better.

Good luck- hope this helps! 

jpolchowski's picture

Thanks for all the responses. I have seen Peter Reinhart's book but haven't read it in-depth. I will have to check it again using that recipe you mentioned. I unfortunately don't know too much of the scientific side of bread baking so don't know about my starter's hydration. I feed it equal quantities of flour and water by weight, but sometimes slightly less water to keep it fairly stiff. I also think I'll give vital wheat gluten a shot as well and see how that goes. I wish I had some test subjects so that I could do more practices =)

catfuzz's picture

I also use the Whole Grain book by Peter Reinhart...the sandwich bread is excellent, one of the best I have every tried.  I will never go back (nor look back) at white again :)


Here is a picture of my 100% whole wheat bread made with freshly milled organic Hard Red Spring Wheat using the sandwich bread recipe from Peter Reinharts Whole Grain book:


Whole Wheat Bread

FourPointer's picture

Will you post the recipe for Peter Reinhart's sandwich bread?  It looks delicious!!

catfuzz's picture

umm..I would love to post the recipe, but I don't think I should, as I only have used the one straight from the book (not alterations) and would possibly be copywright protected?  I did see one if you search on the recipe name on the internet....the best course would be to take the plunge and buy the book, every receipe is a gem!


HeidiH's picture

Straight from the horse's mouth (US Copyright Office):

"Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook. "

So the answer is YES and NO, however you word the question.

mimifix's picture

Technically it's legal to post the ingredient list, only. Add the directions and that is copyright infringement. Catfuzz had a nice suggestion - purchase the book. That way you support Peter Reinhart and his excellent work.

clazar123's picture

I make 100% WW sandwich bread all the time. The key to making a loaf that doesn't crumble when you spread peanut butter on it is that it must be well hydrated.This means you must have enough water in the recipe but more importantly-you must give the dough time to absorb the water. Whole wheat dough should feel wetter (or stickier) when you are done mixing than the white bread dough you are probably used to. Then you let it sit for at least 30 minutes and maybe even overnight in the refrigerator. This allows all the bran bits to absorb water so it doesn't rob the water from the crumb the minute it goes into the oven and afterward.There is a noticeable difference in sticky/tackiness after it has sat for 30 minutes. I often mix my 100%WW,sourdough leavened bread up in the evening and then put it in an oiled,covered container in the refrigerator for the night. The next day(it may have doubled in the refrig) take it out and let it set on the counter for an hour or so. Shape,proof(poss longer due to the cold),bake. The dough will be a lot less sticky in the morning then when you put it in the refrigerator and will prob. feel like the white dough you are used to.

Another important aspect of whole wheat dough is to make sure you develop the gluten. It doesn't take an excessive amount of kneading-just sitting and doing stretch and folds can work wonderfully. Remember bread is a gel matrix (the hydrated starch) and gluten strands (water and protein) that trap the gas produced by the yeast as it digests the flour and sugars in the mix. So you need the right balance of gel,gas,gluten strands and then heat applied at the right time to set it in place.

You starter may need to be fed twice a day for a few days to give it some oomph. Mine is usually the consistency of a thick pancake batter but still pourable. It's just easy to work with at that consistency but everyone finds their own likes on this. I also use AP flour simply because it is the cheapest alternative. All it takes is a few feedings with an alternate flour to convert it over and I may do that with a rye loaf planned but generally just use a white starter for ease of use for any type of flour.

Almost forgot-I agree that a little oil (couple tablespoons per loaf) or butter will also help the texture.

The crust-just throw a clean towel over it while it cools. It stays softer but still breathes.

Experiment. Have delicious fun!