The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Whole Wheat - Barley - Rye Loaf a Rock... Why?

pmac100's picture

Whole Wheat - Barley - Rye Loaf a Rock... Why?

Hi folks...

First time poster here. I'm a casual bread baker, maybe about 10 loaves a year (although I'd like to do more...). Mostly varieties of white and whole wheat breads, once in a while some sort of multigrain.

I decided to try a recipe out I read online, which was basically whole wheat, barley and rye flours in equal proportions.

The result was a loaf that was so hard, it could be mistaken for a stone and could not be cut with a knife. My daughter took it outside to throw on the sidewalk, it barely dented! I think I could've pounded nails with it...

Anyhow... what would cause that? The loaf barely rose, but I expected that per the instructions. I know the yeast was good, having used some from the same batch the day before in a french bread which rose quite well. Is it a moisture issue; needing more water? I've had problems in the past using rye flour - never really have been able to make a good rye-based bread.

Thanks for reading...

cranbo's picture

There was probably not enough moisture/water. Something that has a high proportion of whole grain flours probably will feel sticky and in need of flour. Resist the temptation! Whole wheat absorbs more water...

...then of course rye is just plain sticky and difficult to handle.

I think the trick is to just handle these kinds of breads with a dough closer to a batter. They will be wet, sticky and difficult if not impossible to knead. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and then bagged for the night so the inside moisture (however little there may have been) travel to the crust?   

A third (33%) of each flour makes not one type of flour dominant so I wouldn't expect a problem with rye but the barley...  the combination of three rather different flours on their own...  two of them make rather dense loaves.  All three great absorbers of water.  Cranbo suspects hydration, I would have to agree from the limited amount of information.  

Have you got a link to the recipe?  Did the dough rise at all?  Was there any special handling of the flour or were they just mixed together before water was added?  Did you use steam?  Was the dough cold risen or warm proofed?

I would soak that brick loaf in water first before putting it out to the wildlife.  You might find it handy to keep around to crack open last fall's hickory or black walnut harvest.  :)

I think I read something on Hyperbole on games on can play with a brick.  (caution: some fowl language and adult rated)   

pmac100's picture


Thanks for the replies. I tried to link to the recipe but was flagged as potential spam (search on "opulent farmers bread", Mother Earth News). Basically, six cups of flour (equal parts rye, barley, whole wheat), 2.75 cups water, salt, yeast.

Mini Oven - dough hardly rose at all, but the recipe warned of that. Dough was set to rise overnight, pushed down, rise again the next day. Had it rise in a glass bowl near my wood stove - plenty of ambient heat in the room!

Sounds like more water might be the key. I'm trying again...

BTW, only did half the recipe...


pmac100's picture

One more point... the recipe had the loaf cook at 400F for TWO HOURS... which seemed like a very long time...

... and now that I think about it, if I was only doing half a recipe, I probably should've cut the cooking time...

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Opulent farmers bread   

page 4  

Things I noticed...  "has a sticky crumb until the finished loaf has rested overnight."   

Which means, don't cut it right away, wait until the next day.  I would bag it too for the night.

Another point, the dough looks dry in the recipe I'm guessing  78% hydration.    May have to add water a tablespoon at a time and see.  

cranbo's picture

Let's see, just guessing here:


  • 6c mixed flours =~ 750g (very rough estimate using 125g per cup)
  • 2.75c water =~ 649g
  • 1-1/8 tsp yeast = ~3.55g (about 1/2 a packet)
  • 2 tsp salt =~ 13.72g


So the formula yields a dough with:


  • ~87% hydration
  • ~0.4% yeast
  • ~1.82% salt


Hydration looks a little wet, but that could change dramatically depending on actual flour weight...which is why it's important to measure by weight not by volume. 

I think personally there is too little yeast in this recipe. If you're set on it, try it again using 1 whole packet of yeast (aka 2.25 tsp, 7.1g or one packet). Of course, it will rise much more and much faster, so overnight at room temp might not work (although overnight in the fridge would probably work just fine). 

I see why they are using so little yeast in the original recipe, because they are letting it rise at room temp overnight, then degassing and shaping the next morning. 

The recipe is pretty vague about rise times, but on the final rise, you should wait for the dough to nearly (but not quite) double. Also, after degassing the next morning I would immediately shape and let rise before going into the oven instead of leaving for a 3rd and final rise. 

Finally, the cook time is long (2 hours) but it's only 400F for the first 15 minutes, then 350 for 1 hour, then 325 for 1 - 1.25 hour. In general, 2 hours at these temps seems way too long to me, I would go for 1 hour. 

pmac100's picture

Well, that's interesting... the version of the recipe in the print version of Mother Earth News doesn't have the temperature changing - reads 400 degrees for the whole 2 1/2 hrs. That's a BIG difference.

I tried again - used more water this time. Big difference. Just came out of the oven, had risen, not hard as a rock, had the nice "drum" sound when tapping on the bottom. Look forward to taking a bite tomorrow.

Mini Oven - bag the bread for overnight - does it matter if it's plastic or paper?

Cranbo - not used to using weight measures on the flour, always volume, but I understand your point.

Question - recipe called for cooling upside down. Why? Is cooling on a rack just as good?

Thanks for all the input...

cranbo's picture

Good to hear that this next loaf turned out better. 

I'd bag overnight in paper. Plastic typically keeps in too much moisture. 

Cooling upside down? I don't see how it would make much difference in this recipe. In some cases, upside down cooling is used when the dough's own weight may cause the bread to fall, but I don't think this applies here. I can also see if it was baked in a pan, you could possibly get more steam rising up to the bottom crust to soften it...

Aunt Jane's picture
Aunt Jane

Probably cooked to long. Get a testing thermometer and check for done-ness. Probably @ 200 degrees. and you can use "dough prep", (gluten) to add to the loaf to help it rise. Unless you are going gluten free It will help a bunch!