The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

100% WholeWheat with Branny Levain's picture

100% WholeWheat with Branny Levain

I bake 100% whole wheat pan loaves every week for my wife's lunchtime sandwiches.  The initial formula and process came from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads.  But the good Br. Juniper's cumbersome "epoxy" method and profligate CY habit begs for simplification.  My current alternative is soft, tasty, simple and seasonally robust enough to share with fellow Loafers.  My wife loves it.

The principal departure from PR's process is the use of a single preferment that doubles as both levain and soaker.  The entire formula's [One Degree Organic Sprouted Whole Wheat] flour is 55# sieved.  Then all of and only the retained fraction goes into a day-long RYW levain.  A pinch of CY is added to the evening's final dough.  The pass-through fraction of the sieved flour is not prefermented.  Sieving only takes a few minutes.

The active preferment may soften the crumb more than a salted soaker does. Addition of a tsp/loaf of diastatic malt darkens and enhances the flavor of the crust.  We prefer White Gold Honey from WFM or Teavana -- highly recommended if you find most honeys too strong.  RYW improves keeping quality as well.  Minimal gluten development in the branny levain makes dispersing it into the final dough's milk a snap.  Achtung: this loaf's extravagant bloom necessitates scoring, which was never needed with PR's original formula.

I now use this 55# retentate levain method for our 40% fresh-milled sourdough as well.  Nihil sub sole novum and indeed, a certain Arizona Sorcerer has been known to ferment his branny sieved fractions.  Not surprisingly, a middling/branny fraction is a very active fermentation substrate, especially when sourced from freshly milled flour.

Formula (5" x 9" pan) (click for working Google xls.):


1. ~24h before dough mix (night before), combine equal parts RYW and WW flour to build starter.  Incubate overnight @ ~27˚C (80˚F).                        
2. ~12h before dough mix (morning of) : 55# sieve all flour and use all retentate for levain.  Storebought WW flours yield 20-30+% retained 55# sieve fractions.  ODO Sprouted Wheat consistently yields 31%, hence the formula above.  Adjust accordingly for your WW flour.
3. Incubate levain @ ~27˚C (80˚F) all day.                        
4. Disperse levain into final (25˚C/77˚F) milk, then mix in oil and honey.  
5. Distribute yeast through pass-through flour (optional: add 1 tsp diastatic malt).  
6. Mix flour, salt and remaining water into levain-milk mixture.  Pince, squeeze, knead, slap and fold until gluten development begins.
7. Bulk ferment ~60 min @ ~25˚C (77˚F) with a letter fold at 30 minutes.  Should see some expansion (25-50%) by end.
8. Shape and pan (margarine-coat to prevent sticking).  
9. Proof 40-60 min @ 25˚C (77˚F) until ~3/4" above pan edge.                        
10. Score and bake 20 min with steam @ 190˚C (375˚F), then ~30 min without steam at 175˚C (350˚F) until internal temp = 90˚C (195˚F).

Happy Baking.



dabrownman's picture

whole wheat bread Toad.    We like feeding the sifted out hard bits to starters and levains.  The reason is simple enough, they love it  and are most virorous that wasy and and the longer the hard bits are wet the better for the bread. 

Still think you could drop the CY and no one would notice.  Maybe it wouldn't;t rise as much but raisin yeast water levain can be pretty explosive all by itself - especially if fed the hard bits.  

Our breads have really changed for the better around here since we started using Toadies,  using toadies for porridge ( what we used to call (tang zhong or gruel) and started feeding the hard bits to starters and levain,  

Can't wait to see pictures of your SD version.  Lucy freaked out when I told her that she was being called an Arizona Sorcerer  when she tries so hard to be and Evil Arizona Sorcerer :- Well done and

Happy Baking Tom...eeerrrr.....Toad.'s picture

Hey thanks dab!

Funny you mention about leaving out the CY.  I have done that and it works fine but can make for a late night of baking.  That pinch of CY speeds the proof along enough to have the bread out of the oven before bedtime on nights when the final mix doesn't happen until after dinner.  Keeping to that workingman's bread rhythm, for those of us who aren't yet retried, just tired.

You give way too much credit for the 'toadies' but I appreciate it all the same.  Like I said, nihil sub sole novum.



clazar123's picture

Any links to where sieves are available in the US?

Such a lovely loaf for 100%. I think using the branny bits in the levain is a brilliant idea.'s picture

I bought my 55# sieve from Fantes and now find it as essential as my scale.  It's the second from the bottom on this page.  55# seems ideal for this purpose.

Korin (legendary Japanese knife emporium) also sells stainless steel sieves, but frame and meshes sold separately.  They have #50 and #65 but not #55.

Others use prospectors'/geologists' sieves but I prefer stainless steel/food grade if possible.


isand66's picture

I love this formula Tom.  Thanks for sharing.  I have not been a big fan of Peter's formulas for whole wheat breads but I think this one is awesome and I will have to try it.  Just finally broke down and ordered the Sieve as I've been procrastinating spending the money on it, but it was well overdue.  Which mill are you using for your flour?

Thanks for sharing this great loaf.

Ian's picture

Thanks Ian.  I think you'll love the bread even more than the formula :-).  My sieve has become such a valued tool both for store-bought whole wheat flours as well as parked right under my KitchenAid mixer's KGM grain mill attachment.  I happen to have a shallow stainless steel salad/mixing bowl with a ~13" diameter rim into which the sieve just fits.  So I can hold both and shake together.  Amazingly efficient sieving.

I will eventualy, inevitably upgrade to a real, dedicated mill.  I know which ones I like and when the time is right, I'll choose one and spring.  The KA is fine as long as I'm only milling 40% of the flour for one of our weekly bakes, and am willing to run the sieve's retentate back through the mill four times (which I routinely do to achieve 45% retained and 55% pass-through).  Milling more than that becomes impractical for the KA with all the remilling required.

Thanks for your comment, Ian!

Tom's picture

Thanks Wilson,

My table above, and the spreadsheet of which it's a screenshot, was designed from the Bread Bakers Guild of America's specification as described in a 2009 issue of their newsletter Breadlines. My only deviation from theirs is that somewhere along the line I started omitting the seed/starter from the overall formula in the first column. I would have a very hard time indeed baking bread without that tool telling me how much of everything to include.  And of course it makes scaling a snap. 

You are probably aware of Dado and Jacqueline Colussi's Breadstorm, a marvelously sophisticated yet simple digital tool for designing and sharing bread formulae. Ian (Isand66 above) seems to have become an ardent user. But that's the only such tool I'm aware of, so go for it and let a thousand flours bloom!



varda's picture

and looks great.   I am not quite following your yeast water method, maybe because it's been a long time since I dabbled in such.    More details please!   -Varda's picture

Hi Varda!

I'm honored to get a comment from a pro :-).  I hope your summer season is going well.  I'm in awe of anyone trying to bake bread as a business on any scale, from you and Khalid to Ananda and beyond.  Hats off.

Raisin Yeast Water turns out to be incredibly simple to maintain and use.  I dabbled in it when I Iearned about it a few years ago (my first blogpost here used it) but didn't bother again until this past winter when I had some (natural levain but not sourdough) formula ideas that required it.  Method is easy-peasey:

TO PREPARE: Put a dozen or so raisins (I use organic Thompson Seedless) in a pint mason jar.  Fill 3/4 with water and add about 1 T honey (cheap stuff -- not White Gold!).  Shake it up, loosen lid and leave at room temp.  Tighten the lid and shake once or twice a day for a few days.  Liquid will become cloudy (the desired bugs) and bubble a little when shaken.  Now it's ready to use.

TO USE:  Mix 1:1 (100% hydration) the RYW (sans raisins) with flour.  Incubate overnight.  Put rest of mason jar in fridge.  The RYW starter should double by morning and smell like wet flour, not like sourdough levain.  Use as you would a SD starter in a formula. 

OR, I confess, you can make the levain directly for your bake (skipping the step of making a starter seed the night before) by mixing RYW with the flour of your formula .  For example, using 247 gr of RYW in the formula above.  This works for the formula posted here because any flavors the RYW contributes are masked by the enrichments to a bread like this.  No guarantees this shortcut won't add detectable flavors to unenriched breads.  I've used this shortcut when I've forgotten to set up a levain the night before for a bake of my wife's sandwich bread.

TO REGENERATE: A few days before next bake, take RYW out of fridge and pour it 1/2" or so deep into clean mason jar.  Dump the old raisins (and don't be tempted to freeze them for a raisin bread: yuk).  Add new raisins (or apple or pear peelings -- they have plenty of the right bugs on their skins -- I used crabapples for my first RYW!) plus water to 3/4 full and another T of honey.  Shake, etc. as above.

RYW is so easy to maintain since most of the time it's refrigerated (my SD culture never gets refrigerated and is therefore more demanding to keep happy).  It has terrific levaining power, behaves more like SD than CY and adds little if any flavor to breads.  And, as with many consumables, its rewarding to grow your own.



dabrownman's picture

YW preferring the apple kind that gets fed cherries too when in season.  i save all the spent fruit and use it in banana bread, panettone, babka, fruit cakes etc.  Very yummy!  Not as good as snockered dried fruits but....what is?'s picture

Ok, my yuk conclusion is based on a data set with n=1, so I'm open.  We follow similarly nothing is wasted household ecology hereabouts and I dutifully froze away spent RYW raisins for several weeks this past winter.  Thereupon I used them in a usually wonderful Durum Raisin Toast Bread (that I really should post) and damn if they didn't sully an otherwise delectable loaf.  Maybe they carried a wayward population of bugs from the RYW but I haven't been tempted, until your comment above, to save them since, for baking at least.  I thought they'd be like a magnificent centuries-old brandied fruit I used to maintain.  Not.

Stay cool down there friend,


varda's picture

HI Tom,   No honor here.   Being a (semi) pro just means baking a ....load of bread mostly for people you don't know.  It does not mean knowing everything.   In any case, thanks for your succinct tutorial.   Do you feel that you get reliable results from YW?   I guess back in the day when I was playing with it, it felt like hit or miss.   But your process looks pretty tight, so maybe results not so variable?  -Varda's picture


Did I say you know everything?  :-)

I've found the RYW protocol I just scribbled for you to be as bulletproof as just about anything I've found in bread baking.  Far more than sourdough culture maintenance and usage, no doubt because I maintain the latter exclusively at room temperature, which varies 20˚F seasonally here.  One benefit of RYW over CY is that, while it is a very active leavening agent, RYW is not as frenetically active as supercharged genetically tweaked CY that can easily run away from you (which SD rarely does). 

For me, it's also a luxury to be able to shove the RYW in the fridge after I make a starter with it, then haul it back out ~3 days later to subculture (read: refresh).  Maybe I'm more comfortable with it because I have done a lot of microbiology and it's just growing another yeast/bacterial culture, but in this case not a pure one (multiple species).  No sterile technique required either!  I've even thought to borrow a shaker from the lab and grow my RYW culture in an erlenmeyer flask.  Wouldn't make a difference other than to grow to saturation faster with continuous aeration on a shaker.  Enough turning the kitchen into a clinical lab though.

One caveat:  A while back my SD culture suddenly and worryingly lost its character while retaining its leavening power.  Repeated refreshment did not rescue it and I had to go back to a dried backup that I keep for just this sort of eventuality.  I suspect I contaminated my SD with RYW -- maybe a jar or container used to grow my SD wasn't washed sufficiently free of RYW that had been in it previously.  Gotta be careful about that.  And back up your SD culture often.

I don't know of any case of a commercial operation using RYW, although I'm not sure how I'd know.  I'm not exactly tuned into  commercial baking circles.  I assume that's what you're thinking, for your micro-operation.  It is another way to naturally leaven bread without adding the acidic SD notes that some find distasteful. 



varda's picture

Right now I have two 100% whole wheat sandwich breads in my repertoire - Reinhart's which irritates me for I think the same reason it irritates you.   And Syd's pain de mie made with a water roux with white flour replaced with whole wheat.   This is very yummy but rich so I don't make it often.   Frequently at the market people come up and ask if I have any 100% whole wheat breads and then walk away because I don't.   The same thing happens with gluten free but that's ok - plenty of suppliers of gluten free goodies have jumped on that bandwagon stepped in to supply that market.   No need for me to join in.  But anyhow, I have my eye open - I think I'll give this a try.   Big market starting on Saturday.   I'll see how many whole wheat hounds are out there.   Thanks for all the details.  -Varda's picture

Hope you have a good market Saturday.  I don't know how much better one can get with 100%ww sandwich bread than this, without additives like KA's "dough enhancer" (what IS that?) or vital gluten or ...?   However, there's always fresh milled, where one can manipulate flour fineness and thus perhaps crumb softness.  I look forward to that someday.

Let me know if you have any questions about the formula and process.  Happy to contribute.  Those 100%ww aficionados are stubborn buggers.  I know.  I'm married to one.



golgi70's picture

Good lookin fresh miller 100% ww. Must be delish. 


josh's picture

Thanks Josh,

But I use store-bought ww flour (One Degree Organic Sprouted), not fresh milled, for these 100% WW loaves.  Some day I'll have a mill with that kind of capacity and hopefully soon.  But it would make for a long milling and sieving session with my KA KGM attachment mill.



golgi70's picture

but the sifting kept in my brain and I just switched in my mind that you were milling yourself.  None the less a fine loaf.  

Oh if you like to sift you'll love to mill your own grain.