The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Questions regarding my whole wheat flour

lookahead's picture

Questions regarding my whole wheat flour

I'm just learning to bake bread and my focus is on whole wheat. Where I am (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), the flour sold as "wholemeal" in all the baking supply stores looks the same and are packed in clear plastic bags without nutritional labels. None of the store employees in any of the baking supply stores are able to tell me if the flour is high or low protein nor what type of wheat it was milled from. I'm not completely satisfied with my bread. I would like the crumb to be fluffier. I believe it is because my flour's bran flakes are too coarse. The endosperm is finely milled but the bran is coarsely milled. The resulting dough stays sticky no matter how much I knead, although it gets less sticky as I knead more. The only time it feels tacky is when I flour my hands, flour the tabletop and knead it. But after about 15 strokes or so, bits of the dough starts tearing off and sticks to my hands. I believe the coarse bran flakes prevent the formation of long gluten strains. I can never get the windowpane. I can't get the dough to have a smooth shiny sheen like shown on this webpage. Consequently, the loaf that is shaped doesn't have good surface tension. You can see from my photo that there are lots of little holes on the surface, because the gluten strains tear and can't stretch.

Question: Can someone tell me is my flour a problem?

Question: Does the prefectly made 100% whole wheat sandwich bread have a soft and thin crust similar to store bought bread?


I can get whole wheat flour that has the endosperm, bran and germ finely milled but this organic flour is imported from Europe and costs more than twice the price of the local wholemeal flour.

Here are photos of the bread I just baked from start to finish. I used Reinhart's 100% whole wheat sandwich bread formula from Whole Grain Bread.

My local 'no brand' wholemeal flour. The bran flakes are clearly visible. 


The soaker



The biga before going into the fridge


The combined final dough before kneading. I had added a 1/2 tablespoon of water as the dough seemed stiff. But on hindsight I think I shouldn't have, it made the dough very sticky.


The dough after kneading. I started with the french fold, about 50 smackdowns, which didn't result in the silky smooth dough shown in Richard Bertinet's video, although it did get more coherent. But still very sticky. I then switched to the stretch and fold for 5 times. Not much improvement. Back to the traditional hand kneading, about 150 strokes, adding flour as I went along to prevent sticking. It is now more stretchable but definitely no where close to windownpane.


The shaped dough in the loaf pan at the start of proofing. 


The proofed loaf just before going into the oven. The surface is full of little holes and the bran flakes are clearly visible. Oven preheated to 220C, baked bread at 180C for 20 minutes, turned it around and another 20 minutes at 180C.


The baked bread. I brushed melted butter on the top crust to soften it. It is delicious, crust is quite soft although not as soft as store bought bread. I would prefer a less dense crumb. Although this is already a quantum leap improvement over my initial doorstop breads.

The creases at the side are due to my parchment paper that lined my pan not straightened.




clazar123's picture

One of the challenges of working with whole wheat flour is to get the bran time to absorb water early in the process  before the loaf is baked. It also looks like with this coarse a grind that the size of the bran is impacting on the integrity of the gluten-it is cutting it as you knead,perhaps a cause of the tiny holes in the rising loaf. So another challenge to using this flour is to get enough of a gel structure to  help hold in the gases and to cushion the gluten strands a bit from the sharp edges of bran. I can think of 2 techniques and a third suggestion to try.

1. If you are following Reinhart's formula closely then you are using a soaker and a biga, both of which have a a period of time sitting-either on the counter or in the refrigerator. In Malaysia, I hope it is in the refrigerator ( I know how hot it can be). One suggestion is to take the soaker and biga towards the longer end of the time-he states it can be up to 3 day in the refrig.Try increasing the soaking time in the next few bakes and see what happens. Simply giving those chunky bits time to get soft may be all you need.

2. Use a water roux to help produce some extra gel/starch in the dough, along with the extra soaking time. Use the search box. I believe it is also called tang zhou method. It is simple and very effective.

3. Add about 1/4 cup rye flour in addition to the extra soaking time instead of the water roux method. It gives a certain amount of starch/gel to the dough matrix. It will make the dough stickier,also but don't add extra flour. Handle the dough with damp hands, instead.Rye stickiness is a characteristic of the rye starch-it can be used as glue!

If these ideas don't help, I would wonder if the grain has been ground too hot. This can cause damage to the starch and it doesn't form good gluten.It tends to be stickier after kneading as the gluten is breaking down and relaeasing water. There are discussions about "atta" flour in India that is usually used for flat breads. Is the flour you have predominantly used for flat breads? Are there any local bakers who use this flour for dough and do they have any special techniques? Do you think this can be an issue?

The crumb structure of your loaf actually looks pretty appealing.The color is beautiful! Was it dry or crumbly?It doesn't look it. It may also benefit from a little more fat (increase the oil/butter to 2-3 tbsp). I think his recipe is a little lean on the fat.

Good post! great explanation and nice pictures.



Chuck's picture

Disclaimer: I have not done this myself; the following is just a wild guess.

Old-style milling involved using screens to remove the larger bran particles. That's what I'd try before considering paying a whole lot to have flour shipped in. I believe the original word is "bolting", and the relevant screens are sized 60, 80, 100, etc. for different sized particles. Less-traditional markets may avoid the older terminology and call these "flour sieve" instead.

In my experience, the typical length of an "autolyse" for white flour is way way too short for wholemeal flour. I've been putting all my wholemeal flour into poolishes that sit in a warm refrigerator (or a cool place ?-) for a day or even two days, and it seems to be working well.

flournwater's picture
subfuscpersona's picture

... I certainly can second them.

First - amazing bread! I'm astounded you get such a great loaf with such coarse whole wheat flour. Kudos to the baker - you deserve it.

Second - your flour is really coarsely and unevenly milled. I also was going to suggest sifting your flour. In your photo of the dough after kneading I see not only a lot of large wheat particles but even what look like unbroken kernels that escaped the commerical milling. If you can sift these particles out your flour should perform better.

Third - An autolyse (long soak) is also an excellent suggestion, once you've rid your flour of the larger particles. If the weather is hot (and you can't refrigerate), add a pinch of salt to the soak water to prevent fermentation.

Again, your loaf is terrific. Don't worry too much about getting a windowpane. A number of good baking books say that it is difficult to get a windowpane if your flour is coarsely milled. You're clearly on the right track with your current techniques.

Best of luck in your baking. Do post back to update us on what you decide to do and how it works for you.

=== PS === Great photos and explanation. Really helps us understand what's going on.


lookahead's picture

Thanks everyone for your suggestions and compliments. Your compliments are rather hasty, as the photo further below will attest!  :)


My soaker and biga was kept in the fridge for 55 hours, warmed to room temperature for 5 hours, then combined with the other ingredients as per Reinhart's formula.


I am certainly keen to try the water roux in my next loaf.

But how much water roux should I make?

And when I incorporate it into the bread formula, how much of the formula's flour and water/milk should I reduce? Reduce by exactly the same amounts as used to make the water roux?

Do I add the water roux to my soaker or my biga?


My crumb was soft and moist (just nice, not soggy moist), it held itself well when I applied peanut butter and the actual colour is a lighter shade of brown, like the crust colour on the second last photo. My camera didn't capture the crumb colour properly. This loaf is certainly quite good, although I wish to improve further. A little larger air pockets and 10-20% higher rise would be more visually appealing, plus causing it to be fluffier too.


The sifts I have seen locally all have rather small holes. I'm afraid if I use them on this flour, ALL the bran will be sifted out, defeating the nutritional purpose of baking whole wheat bread. 


Autolyse: I already use the soaker and biga. When I combine them, the liquids added are honey and sunflower oil. The autolyse will not be relevant in this instance?



Today I baked another loaf using the same formula as the above. I didn't use any of your suggestions as I haven't read it then. 

Here is how it looks like - a wonderfully crafted piece of brick!  :D


I experimented with no kneading, only using the stretch and fold. After combining the soaker, biga and the other ingredients into the final dough, I stretched and folded it once and let it rest covered for 30 minutes. This was repeated 3 more times and then put to bulk fermentation. After an hour, the rise was perhaps 1.2 times of the original volume. I know something's not right this time. Usually I get 1.5 to 2 times increase in risen volume after 45 minutes. Later, on reviewing Sourdough Home's webpage on the stretch and fold technique, I realised I didn't let the final dough rest 45 minutes before doing the first stretch and fold. Could this be the critical failure factor? I also didn't let the dough rest for 45 minutes (I did 30 minutes) between stretch and folds. Was this also a factor?


I knew my dough wouldn't rise any further so I flattened it gently and shaped it for the loaf pan. I placed it above my fridge towards the back where it's quite warm. After 45 minutes of proofing, it only reached half the height of the pan. I wasn't surprised. I had little hope left on seeing the bulk fermentation results. Could this be a yeast problem? I used a packet of instant yeast opened last night (to make the biga) and kept it fully wrapped in cling film in the fridge. Or my flawed application of the stretch and fold caused insufficient gluten development, preventing any yeasted CO2 from rising the dough?


Lastly in the oven, I absentmindedly turned on the top heating element, turning the oven into a broiler, instead of using the bottom heating element as I usually do. That charred the bread top, no, brick top.

clazar123's picture

We all have loaves like this occasionally and seldom  are able to pinpoint why. Just bake again.

You are doing plenty of soaking/autolyse. Your loaves will never quite be fluffy with that coarse a flour. If they taste good, enjoy them. You have a wheat version of pumpernickel (heavy German rye deliberately made that way).

Look around and see if you can get even a regular colander that will have holes small enough to get the larger pieces of bran and grain out but large enough to allow most of the flour to pass thru. You may already have one in your cupboard. Like this:

or this:

Once you have sifted out the largest particles, you have a few options. 1.Add back a small amount on the initial mixing, 2. regrind the large pieces (coffe grinder?blender?), or 3. pre-soak and add to the dough after the dough is well mixed the same as if you were adding nuts to a loaf.

As for the water roux method, I take just 1 tbsp of the flour and add 5 times that amount of water from the recipe (that is always the ratio for the roux 1 part flour to 5 parts liquid). Again-these are just subtracted from the amounts in the recipe.The roux  is prepared and added to the dough when mixing all the components together (soaker,biga,final ingredients). This is the amount I use when I make a 2 loaf recipe, like Reinharts whole wheat. There is a maximal amount of roux per recipe but I never went beyond the point described.  

As for the question about is it critical to wait 45 minutes before the 1st S&F? I don't think it matters that much. With the dough behaviour you are describing for the 2nd loaf, I don't think it would have been successful anyways. I don't know why (yeast issue?)but I suspect that loaf was a different set of issues, that it was probably a fluke, if all your other loaves were about the same as the initial description above. Statistically it is an "outlier"-different than the usual- and not to be worried about unless it becomes the norm.

So you have a few more things to think about and try . Bake often-each bake is a success for some reason.

Have delicious fun!



lookahead's picture

To add to my above post, my brick exuded a strong and unpleasant smell when it came out of the pan and when it was sliced. I don't know if the smell should be called yeasty or wheaty. May I know the cause of this? 

Chuck's picture

If it happens all the time, an unpleasant & overpowering yeasty taste and smell most often indicates too much yeast in the recipe. The amount of yeast may be a teeter-totter between a little too much tasting funky and a little too little not rising. You're looking for the "Goldilocks amount" ...just right (not too hot like Daddy Bear's porridge, not too cold like Mama Bear's porridge, just right like Baby Bear's porridge).

If it only happened once and the recipe was the same as worked before, then "I dunno".

IMHO, Stretch&Folds are easier and more convenient than kneading and work quite well by themselves if you're working with relatively strong reliable flour and you also use plenty of rest/autolyse/retard.  But where the flour is problematic, I'd stick with mostly kneading  ...especially since your pictures show that it clearly worked at least once. (I'm an old software supporter, an environment where the key lesson was always the same: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it.")

(With luck, the funky too-much-yeast flavor and odor may go away too  ...but that's just an optimistic wild guess on my part:-)

hanseata's picture

like the Pain au Levain with Bran and Vinegar that I baked from Jan Hedh's "Swedish Breads and Pastries". It had a serious error in the amounts of the ingredients, the bran was 10 x higher than it should have been (250 g instead of 25 g). I would also sift your flour, like the others suggested.

I have been in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur in 1976 - it was a wonderful trip.


nicodvb's picture

First of all,  for my likings your loaf is fantastic and it also has a splendid hue.

If I were in your position I would sift the flour as much as possible, soak the bran+kernel chops (with all the salt called for in the recipe), make a water roux with 10% of the remaining flour and mix all together in the final dough. During a long soaking the flour softens and the kernels absorb water that they release after the bake to relent the staling.

Divide et impera always works well!

lookahead's picture

I've found Bob's Red Mill whole wheat flour in a premium supermarket with a premium price to boot. Well, that's because it's imported and had to be shipped over half the globe. I won't be using it but I've got a question. The packaging says it includes the bran and wheatgerm intact. Now since the oil from milled wheatgerm will turn the whole contents of the flour packet rancid in a short time, how can the packet still have an expiry date that is months away? And the packet is not displayed within a store refrigerator.

Does it really include wheatgerm?

MangoChutney's picture

I have only ever heard good comments about their flours, although I don't buy them because I mill my own.  I have bought whole seeds (not grain) from them, and these were satisfactory.  According to the product labels displayed on their website, their whole wheat flour "keeps best refrigerated or frozen".  This is printed on the lower righthand corner of the front label.  I would suspect your local supermarket before suspecting Bob's Red Mill, of deception.

lookahead's picture

For this loaf, I used the same as before wholemeal flour with coarse bran and finely milled wheat endosperm. 

Passing it through a colander, most of the bran was collected in it. Not a good solution. I returned all the bran into the almost white flour.


This loaf is again made based on Reinhart's 100% whole wheat sandwich formula. The variations I have is to use about 3/4 tbsp less honey and to use a water roux in the biga. By the way, I weigh all the ingredients except for the yeast, salt, sunflower oil and honey, which are too little to effectively weigh. I made 200g of water roux (34g wholemeal flour and 170g water) and incorporated it into the biga. Total flour used was 510g. Quantities stated are for one loaf. The biga and soaker were put in the refrigerator for 2 days.


After the various ingredients were combined into the final dough, I rested it for about 15 minutes. It was soft and sticky. I tried the French fold and gave up on it as the dough was not soft enough to do it. I tried the stretch and fold. Despite being gentle, it tends to tear rather than stretch. So I then gave it the conventional hand kneading, about 250 strokes. I dusted the table and my hands with flour whenever it got sticky, which was about after every 20 strokes.


Prior to this loaf I had made two which I experimented with no flour dusting during kneading or stetch and folds, instead wetting my hands and the table to prevent the dough sticking. The result was a dough that got wetter and wetter after handling, in fact after bulk fermentation, it resembled thick batter more than dough, soft, limp and very sticky, not tacky. It was difficult to shape, sticking to the table as I rolled it and there was no surface tension at all. This two loaves turned out very poorly.


So back to this current dough. By the time it was ready for bulk fermentation, it really resembled dough - coherent, tacky, supple but can stretch without tearing. I feel that the flour added through many times of dusting was essential for the dough to reach this state. After the rise, I could easily shape in into a roll and there was noticable surface tension. The volume approximately doubled during proofing. There was no oven spring perhaps due to slightly more rise during proofing. I'm afraid I did not take any photos of the dough for this bread.


Baked the same way, preheated to 220C and turned down to 180C for 40 minutes of baking, turning the bread once midway. And here is the result! 

Everything's just right. The rise height was adequate, the crumb was soft and fluffy. The air pockets are just right and didn't make the crumb dense. Peanut butter could be applied without tearing the crumb. The crust was thin and soft but yet have 'give' when pressed. The colour was a nice light brown. The bread smelled of wheat. This is my first 100% wholemeal loaf without a thick and hard crust and I am so pleased. This is also my first loaf where I had to be careful when slicing as the crust could have been so easily crushed and ripped apart. I think the crust is just right, without being overly soft like factory made bread.


The crust had none of the little holes seen in my previously posted loaf. This was because the dough was coherent enough that I could shape it with surface tension. 


I made 2 loaves, as gifts for my family when I visit them this weekend.


In summary, the difference between these loaves and the previous attempts which resulted in excellent results for the first time, using my very coarse bran but finely milled endosperm flour, was the inclusion of a water roux in the biga and not hesitating to dust my hands and tabletop with flour when kneading. Many thanks for all the suggestions given by forum members, which contributed to my improved bread making.


I've got one question. This 2 loaves slid of out my pan effortlessly with no stuck on bits on the pan's insides. Whereas my previous loaves required a little prising with a knife to get them out and there were little bits of stuck on bread on the pan's insides. I greased the pan's sides with butter and lined the bottom with parchment paper every time. The interior of the bread always read about 90C with my dipstick thermometer whether the loaves turned out well or not. What causes the difference?

clazar123's picture

Great improvement! Beautiful loaves!

Oven spring:   I usually don't see a lot of oven spring on 100% whole meal loaves.

Wet hands for kneading: The trick is to dampen the hands only. Dip fingers in a bowl of clean water and rub around your whole hand like you are applying lotion. Lightly press onto a towel so hands are barely damp. You need to do this often.The idea is to keep the dough from sticking toyou but not to add any water to the dough. Working with sticky dough is never easy but you develop a technique over time. If the dough is sticky from starch/gel (as in a rye or when using a roux) it is easy to overflour while kneading. Remember the flour added during kneading has not soaked in water long and will tend to pull moisture from your crumb after baking and make the loaf crumbly. Try adjusting your formula slightly for the next bake by adding a little less water (in the formula) and see how it turns out. You want to get the dough slightly sticky on the final mix so it becomes tacky by the time to finally shape it.

Dough tearing during stretch and fold: If it tears very easily (despite a very light touch) and seems to get really damp, that is a sign of overfermentation and enzyme action. The dough is litereally dissolving in front of you.For this I would suggest no more than 24 hours in the refrigerator and see how that goes. However, since the dough obviously didn't fail, it probably was a handling/resting issue. Since whole wheat dough can be rather thick, I find I need to coax it into a flat shape before folding.Let it rest at least 20 minutes so the gluten relaxes before trying to stretch. I make a small disk and then put my fist under the middle and lift slightly so the weight of the dough pulls it larger (kind of like making a pizza round). I continue to put my hand under the dough and just let the draping action pull the dough larger-moving my fist around the whole shape, from center to edge. Hard to describe.

Prepping bread pan: I generally use a light coating of oil/lecithin mix( 3 tbsp oil,1 tbsp liquid lecithin mixed and lightly brushed on pan) or some kind of pan release spray. I also dust the pan with oatmeal or flour of some kind.

Whole wheat stays fresh in packaging: It may be that they remove the oxygen when they pack it. I know the food packaging industry here can evacuate the oxygen from packaging and replace it with nitrogen so the contents stay "fresh". I don't know if Bob's does this but they are a quality product when it leaves theur facility-handling in the store (or ship) is another matter).

Obviously the roux method really worked for you! So glad!

Have delicious fun!


subfuscpersona's picture

If I read your post correctly, you chose *not* to sift your whole wheat flour. Rather, the major change you seem to have made is the inclusion of a water roux.

You say

This loaf is again made based on Reinhart's 100% whole wheat sandwich formula. The variations I have is to use about 3/4 tbsp less honey and to use a water roux in the biga.

I'm delighted you've found your solution. Your bread looks fantastic.

Would you care to elaborate how your changes solved your original problem? How did the water roux contribute to a better loaf?

I, for one, would be very interested.

Anticipating your response - thanks in advance - SF

lookahead's picture

I did sift this flour with a colander. But as almost all the bran was sifted out, I chose to return all the bran back into the flour. Otherwise, I might as well just bake with white flour. The water roux, I believe, contributed to the softer crust and crumb. The improved rise and fluffiness, thinner crust, I believe is due to my kneading, which allowed gluten development. And my ability to knead it properly and make the dough look and feel like dough was because I dusted my tabletop and hands with flour. Previous attempts to knead without flour dusting ended up with a sticky mess that stayed sticky and couldn't form a dough that looked and felt like dough. Bear in mind that I work with my local wholemeal flour that has the endosperm finely milled and the bran very coarse. I think there is no wheatgerm in this flour. So what I've done works for this flour but may produce different results for other flour.


Bob's Red Mill flours: I was referring to what's printed on the original packaging and I do not imagine any deception on the part of the manufacturer nor retailer. I was just wondering how the manufacturer can have milled wheatgerm in their whole wheat flour without the whole flour turning rancid. I read somewhere about heat treatment to stabilise wheatgerm. What is this about? Perhaps this treatment by flour manufacturers allow for milled wheatgerm to be kept fresh for long periods.