The Fresh Loaf

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some success with atta bread, but suggestions welcome

gauri's picture

some success with atta bread, but suggestions welcome


Just wanted to share some success I had with atta (Indian whole meal flour) bread. I had posted ages back in this forum that I was struggling, and with lots of suggestions and loads of experimenting, I've finally managed loaves that seem alright!

I used atta- made from hard winter wheat berries that we buy in bulk every April which I got ground at a local flour mill. The recipe was part Laurel's kitchen and part suggestion from another local bread baking enthusiast. The recipe was as follows:

Atta- 4 1/2 cups

Water- 1 3/4 cups

Curd- 1/4 cup

Ghee (clarified butter)- 1 tbsp (We had just made fresh ghee, and had some of the buttermilk granules that get solidified in the process of making ghee, so I used that)

Fresh yeast- 1 tsp

Honey- 3 tbps

Salt- 2 tsps


I warmed the water, added honey and yeast. Then I added the curd and 1 1/2 cups of flour. This mixture I stirred 100 times (I suppose this becomes somewhat similar to the roux method I have read about somewhere). Then I added the rest of the flour and salt, and mix until it just comes together.


I then kneaded the shaggy dough I had for 300 strokes. It was quite a sticky dough and completely stuck to both my hands. To knead then, I scoop the dough with both my palms and then push away from me, then scoop again and push. So even though the dough is stuck to my palms, it gets a good workout.DOUGH AFTER 100 STROKES




I let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours. 









Then I deflated the dough, rounded it into a ball and let it rise again for about 45 mins.

Then I deflated again, and rounded, as Laurel's kitchen suggests, and then stuck the dough into a loaf pan. By this time, the dough is no longer sticky, but I'm hopeless at shaping loaves, and just dont know what to do with a slithering mass of dough!


I let it rise until about 1 cm above the rim of the pan. Then I sit it on the oven while the oven pre-heats. I have a tiny oven that takes about 10 mins to heat up. Then I put the loaf in together with 6-7 ice cubes to steam the oven up, and voila!



Some mistakes I learnt from:

1. The dough is sticky, but needs that much moisture since the temp outside was a hot 36 C.

2. I was baking with 3 cups of flour for a long time, but dint realise my pan was too big for it. If there isnt enough dough to fill the pan, the bread does not rise as much. Since working with 4 1/2 cups, I'm getting a much better rise.

3. This loaf conatained the dregs from clarifying butter (making ghee). In an earlier loaf, I used the whey left over from making paneer (a sort of Indian cheese, I guess, where we add something acidic to boiling milk and it curdles). The acidity definitely helped with the yeast action.

4. The oven spring I get is minimal, but adding ice cubes helps since the crust doesnt form quite as quickly, allowing the bread a little more time to rise. This is particularly useful in small ovens like mine, where the crust gets quite close to the filaments. I could be wrong here however.

5. The kneading takes practice. After about 2 yrs of irregular baking, and at least 50 loaves of various qualities, I can just about say that I'm beginning to get a hang of it. So when unsure, its best to count- 300 strokes of pushing the dough away with the heel of your palm, and then bringing it together is a must. When I started 300 strokes took me 15 mins, but now I have a satisfactorily silky dough in 10 mins. 

My big questions at the moment are:

1. You can see the crumb- should I expect a better rise with 100% atta bread?

2. How do I shape the loaf? The dough is silky but slithers, and its quite a lot. I manage to shape it on flat surface, but have no clue on how to get it in the pan.

3. I have read about maintaining the surface of the dough to get a better rise. But since my dough is so sticky, I can almost never maintain the surface. Anything I can do about this?

Sorry for a long post, but hope this helps other who may be trying to bake with atta dough in India, where good wholewheat loaves do not exist!

clazar123's picture

Great looking loaf and a good pictorial documentary of the process.Let me see if I can answer some of your questions. 

1. You can see the crumb- should I expect a better rise with 100% atta bread?

You got a wonderful rise from this dough. I think once you become more adept at shaping a wet dough, some additional rise may occur. The most common problem after that will be over or under proofing of the final loaf. I will address that after I answer the questions here.

2. How do I shape the loaf? The dough is silky but slithers, and its quite a lot. I manage to shape it on flat surface, but have no clue on how to get it in the pan.

3. I have read about maintaining the surface of the dough to get a better rise. But since my dough is so sticky, I can almost never maintain the surface. Anything I can do about this?

The idea is to get a mild surface tension across the top of the dough. One author called it a "gluten cloak" and it helps contain and shape the loaf as it rises, much like a balloon contains and shapes the air it contains. Review shaping vids on this site and on Youtube. 

You may need to get a little more comfortable handling wet or sticky doughs. Some bakers use damp (not wet) hands and a little water on the kneading surface. Some use oil. Using flour is a mistake (in my book) because it is so easy to overflour and dry the loaf out.I keep a small bowl of water nearby and dip my fingers into it to just make my hands slightly damp. The best thing is just doing it over and over. It gets easier. The first few times you will prob use too much water and the dough may get stickier.Use the search box "sticky dough" "handling sticky dough".

You should also look into the "stretch and fold" technique-even if just for the shaping. A good plastic dough scraper can be helpful for a sticky dough in a bowl.

If it is feasible to do, you can cold retard the dough (refrigerate overnight) for the bulk ferment (for the first rise) and the dough will become much less sticky as more of the water is absorbed into the bran. This will also help the crumb be softer and not crumbly after it is baked.

PROOFING-this is the next thing you will encounter.

Look at the picture labeled "After 1 1/2 hour" above with the fingerpoke in the dough. That is what a fingerpoke will look like in an over proofed dough-IF it was the final proof in the pan. Look up "fingerpoke test" in the search box.

After final shaping and the dough is "proofing" in the pan:

 A dough is UNDER proofed if the hole springs back immediately. Think of what's happening to the dough structure. The gluten strands are strong and bouncy and have more stretch to go. The bubbles of air remain intact as you push on them and push back without any of them breaking.

A dough is OVER proofed if you poke and the hole remains indented or comes back a little bit and very slowly. The walls of the bubbles are so overstretched that they break and the indent remains.

A dough is PROPERLY proofed when you poke and the hole fills in mostly (prob not all the way) slowly but not too slowly and it may feel a little springy. Some of the bubbles break but some of the gluten strands remain strong and bounce back. Takes time/experience to get used to that.

Long post but lots of info. You have come so far! keep going!


gauri's picture

Hi Clazar123,

Thanks so much for your detailed reply and I'm sorry for getting back to this so late!

I have another question that I hope you can help with- when is the cold retard done? After kneading the dough fully, or after just incorporating the liquids into the flour? Once in the past I needed to stick some dough into the refrigerator and I found that the centre of the ball continued to rise until it managed to cool down, while the edges of the dough dint rise much since they cooled down faster. So if I knead the dough and then put it in the fridge, should I flatten it out so that it cools down more uniformly?

Thanks a lot for your help. I plan to bake again tomorrow, am intending to increase hydration and leave out one rise as dabrowman suggested. Will get back with more pics and possibly a comparison with the earlier loaf.


dabrownman's picture

atta bread but don'e have it ground at a mill - just buy it in the Indian Aisle of the Chinese grocery store.  Atta weighs 160 g per cup and water 235 g per cup.  The honey is about 50% water.  Your hydration, percent of water to flour is 57% discounting the little amount of water  in the honey.  I don't know what curd is, is that paneer curds?  Will ignore that for now.  Your hydration is very low for a whole wheat bread.  You are getting to bagel hydration.  Mine is around 75% or 2.3 C of water for 4.5 C of flour.

I don't knead my atta breads but use stretch and fold technique to promote gluten development, holes in the crumb, better rise and better spring.  I also don't have the dough rise 3 times before baking.  One rise after stretch and folds, then pre -shape into a loaf, then final shape and then the 2nd rise in the loaf  tin.  Asking yeast to rise a dough 3 times is a lot of asking.

Watch the stretch and fold and shaping videos here and on youtube.  They willl helpyou a lot and you bread will much better for it.  I too am a trained architect - retired but spent my career designing and then buildinghem as  project manament  and site supervising as a GC.

Nice baking non the less.  Your loaf looks delicious.

gauri's picture

Hi dabrownman,

Thanks a lot for your detailed comments and sorry for getting back so late.

Curds is what you would call yoghurt, we just call it curds more commonly in India!

I will look into stretch and fold, but to be honest I very much enjoy kneading the dough and see it transform in my hands. I will increase the hydration of my next dough.

I need to get a measuring scale. For now, I would like to develop a feel for how the dough should be. I cook a lot of Indian food, make lots of chapatis and parathas (our flat breads) and approximate for all those doughs. I know bread is vastly different, but it just makes sense to get a feel for the dough first. But if I need a better rise, I realise I will need more accurate measures.

I will also cut back on one rise.

Thanks again,


clazar123's picture

It was good you included the g/cup in your calcuklations, dabrowman. I have found that using commercial or even generally accepted weight measurements when converting a recipe using volume can be very subjective. My atta weighs in at 140g/cup by the way I fill my cups and the measuring cups I use. My daughther's measure is 1 cup atta=130g. It was an interesting and eye opening experience for me.

If I was measuring these cups-it would be 630g flour and 394 g water=62% hydration even without the moisture of the curds (yogurt) and honey. Not too bad.



dabrownman's picture

If I take it out of the bag, aerate it wth a whisk, spoon it into a cup and then scrape - I get 141 g.  If they use the dip and scrape method then the dough is on the dry side for me even including the yogurt and honey but OK but still on the dry side if whole duram atta flour is measured the other way.  But that's for me.  Whole hard wheat berries are wildly thirsty if freshly ground and very thirsty if not.   Cups are not the best way to measure when making bread because it is hard to diagnose a problem if one arises.  The picture shows a dense bottom and up against the sides of the tin with the top and middle OK.  This is probably just a minor shaping issue that will be easily fixed with some video tutoring and practice.  A nice loaf otherwise - no worries.

HeidiH's picture

I make a lot of breads that are a percentage of this flour and a percentage of that flour, e.g. rye and white, whole wheat and white, etc.  I've noticed, when using the same scooping motion in the different bags of flour that the resulting weight of a scoopful can vary by as much as 2:1!  This has made a total measure-by weight believer of me.  It is also SOOOO much easier than cup measuring. 

I use the two bowls + scale so if I get too much of something in the bowl I can take it out or just readjust my calculations: small bowl on scale, set to zero, put in first ingredient, dump in big bowl.  Repeat with each ingredient.  Voy-lah!

vmonika's picture

Hi Gauri,


Thank you for such a detailed post.  Since this post is from 2 yrs ago, do you have any latest suggestions or improvements from last 2 years?  If so could you please share the details?  I'm a new baker and have been looking for aatta bread recipes for a long time.  I'm going to try yours as it is the only recipe found online that looks really great.

Thanks in advance,


frangipani's picture

Wonderfully informative post. Am going to try making this loaf tomorrow. It's been two years since this post - if you are still active, do report any further experiments!

gauri's picture

Hello,Thanks for your comments. Yes I have continued baking and have made a number of tweaks to the recipe and method. Listing some here:

1. No separate second rise: First, as suggested in the comments in this thread, I now do the second rise in the pan itself.

2. Sticky dough with bran for adjustment: I generally add a bit more liquid (definitely about 2 1/4 cups of liquid for 4 1/2 cups of atta. Its nearly the same amount as listed above but I fill the atta more lightly. I still dont measure (which I know I should!) but adjust depending on how the dough feels. So if the dough feels very sticky even after fully kneading, I sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of oats or wheat bran and knead a bit more. As the dough the rises, the oat/ bran absorbs extra liquid and the dough is more handle-able when shaping.

3. Stretch and fold sequence: I've made some changes to deflating and shaping. After the first rise, I deflate the dough and spread into a sort of square shape. I then do a couple of stretch-and-folds as follows - I fold the top third of the square onto the middle, and then fold the bottom third onto the middle also. I am left with a long strip. I then fold one end of the strip onto the middle, and then the other end onto the middle as well. I am left with a lump of dough again. I then repeat - spread into square, fold thirds onto the middle. I then let this rest while I prepare my pan.

4. Changing pans: I have started using a square pan (7x7x2.5 inch) rather than my earlier loaf pan (which is 9 x 4.5 x 2.5 inches). Now the same quantity of dough has a larger volume in which to rise, and I feel I am getting a slightly less dense crumb than earlier. Especially towards the base of the bread since the dough (folded as above in #3) spreads both outwards and rises. If using a loaf pan, I would reduce the overall quantity of dough by about 30%. (Sorry about these approximations, I that is how I am doing it!)

5. Shaping practice: My bread get shaped much better - not only the square pan ones but even the loaves. I wish I could say why or how, but I cant. I suppose its just practice. That's what every says and you dont really believe it. But I've been trying to bake bread for 5 years and have managed pretty good loaves for the past two years, so I guess it is just practice. After working on many loaves, your hand just figures out how to do it.

6. Proper second rise: I went through a phase of really bad crusts. I now realize that was because I wasnt letting the dough rise properly the second time. When the second rise is not sufficient, the dough rises like mad in the oven, but then the top begins to harden quite quickly. The huge rise with a crisp crust was leading to the sides of the loaf being cracked wide open. The key here is to let the loaf rise until really doubled in volume. I now get loaves that are nearly three times the volume of the original loaf and do not come apart when slicing.

7. Add-ins: To this basic recipe, I have added seeds, nuts, dates, figs. These are best added after the first rise. I just mix them in during the stretch-and-folds to get them evenly distributed. My favourite add-in however was a onion, coriander, bell pepper and green chilli that I made rolls with. I spread the dough flat, cut it into thin strips, spread the onions etc (all finely chopped), rolled each strip like you would a cinnamon bun. Let the rolls rise until double and bake. Its yum!

Hope this helps. I'll try and post pics of more recent loaves when I bake next.

Happy baking!


frangipani's picture

Thank you thank you for the updates, this is very helpful and inspiring. Will bake an atta loaf with your recipe and inputs this weekend and report.

Kudos for continuously trying for five years!

frangipani's picture

Hi Gauri,

I tried out the recipe yesterday, with 4.5 cups of flour and 2 cups of water. The dough was VERY STICKY!! I have no idea how you knead such a sticky dough - I could not do 300 strokes, my hands kept getting full of the dough every two or three strokes. I had to oil my kitchen counter and do it that way finally, but it remained quite sticky.

The dough rose to double within 90 minutes and I stretched and folded twice and put it in a loaf pan for a second rise. It rose to the top of the loaf pan within an hour, and I baked it at 190 C for 35 minutes, with ice cubes in the bottom tray.

Well, it didn't spring in the oven at all, and while the top was nicely done, with a soft crust, the bottom remained soggy and underdone. In fact, the loaf sank a bit in the center, I think. It was very late at night by then and my baby woke up just at that time so I just removed it from the pan and let it cool instead of trying to bake it for longer.

The taste is okay, given that the bottom half was so soggy and the middle so dense. Only the top couple of centimetres had a nice crumb. But what might have gone wrong?

I think I used way too much water. It is also in the high 30s C here in Calcutta but also very very humid. So I think I need to account for that and use much less water. Or at least, incorporate it slowly as I knead, rather than all at once?

The bread seemed to rise okay, even though I would have been happier with a larger second rise and some oven spring. But I was surprised at how far only 1 tsp of fresh yeast went - I realize I have been using way too much yeast, nearly 2.5 tsps per 250 gms all this time.

Also, the ice cubes at the bottom are probably unnecessary too. Next time I'm going to try a half-loaf, and omit that. I might also try baking for longer than 35 minutes.

Given that this was my first 100% atta bread though, I'm happy it's edible with some heavy toasting and buttering. Will keep trying!

frangipani's picture

Also, I wanted to ask, I have a hand-mixer that comes with a dough kneading attachment, those long spirally spindly steel hooks. Since the dough is so sticky in the beginning, can one use this until it comes together better? Or is the hand-kneading "bring towards you and push away" action necessary and different from what the dough hook can do?

arunamahesh's picture

Hi Gauri

Those initial pics of atta bread are really beautiful. For loaf pan, I always stuck to 3C and as you stated, it comes out not this tall. 300 strokes is just wow:). You got this structure without vital gluten addition is just amazing. 

In my experience atta bread is bit tricky. No gluten makes it crumbly at 100%. Adapting Peter Reinhardt's recipe for 100% whole wheat works for Atta too. In that case vital gluten can be halved.