The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What tips do you have for getting a nice 100% whole wheat boule?

icantbakeatall's picture

What tips do you have for getting a nice 100% whole wheat boule?

I mill my own white wheat flower and I cannot seem to get a 100% wheat boule to rise nicely at all. I've tried a couple no-knead whole wheat breads and just regular whole wheat breads (all with commercial yeast) and none of them turn out good. Thanks for any suggestions!

barryvabeach's picture

In general, a 100% whole wheat loaf will not get the same rise as a loaf with  All Purpose or Bread Flour.  Things that can help with home milled whole wheat include increasing autolyze time and increasing hydration.  Some suggest extensive kneading, others suggest the opposite.  Some here sift out the bran, others sift it out, then add it later at the end of the kneading based on an assumption that its presence during the early stage of kneading leads to torn gluten.  Some have reported success by stopping bulk fermentation when the loaf has risen 30 % or so.   100% whole wheat certainly presents challenges,  but stick with it, and take notes,  and you should be able to find out what works best for you and the flour you are using. 

idaveindy's picture

Welcome to TFL.  And welcome to the home-milling club.

Two books about whole wheat bread:

  1. Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads:
  2. Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, updated edition, all whole wheat formulas:


Home-millers to follow here are barryvabeach, MTloaf, DanAyo, SheGar, danni3ll3, ifs201, UpsideDan, TopBun, dabrownman and apologies to others I have forgotten (deblacksmith?).

In my experience, Fresh-Milled flour has 7 "things" I need to allow for:

1. fresh milled is thirstier, takes more water, than store-bought WW.

2. fresh milled takes more time to soften, so use 30-90 minutes of autolyse, depending on granularity (particle size).

sidenote: because of 1 and 2. if I make a combo Fresh-milled WW and white flour loaf, I autolyse only the Fresh-milled WW because the white flour would "steal" the water first.  So in that  case, I add the white flour (and some water) when I combine in the levain.  I'm sure there are other ways to do it.

3. Fresh milled is Tricky, in that you think you over-wetted it, but then it absorbs and it feels underhydrated, but then it eventually slackens. So after you learn by trial and error (keep meticulous records of weights) and "dial it in", then you have to trust it to end up at the right spot of hydration.  you sort of have to learn three or four  different "feels", one at each stage, (depending if you add salt in a separate stage -- salt tightens dough, temporarily.)

4. Fresh milled ferments FAST!  I use 3.5% prefermented flour for an overnight bulk ferment, or an overnight proof.  Fresh-milled, like most store-bought WW, maybe even more than store-bought WW,  keeps on fermenting in the fridge, more so than white flour does in the fridge.  The fridge won't "stop" WW from fermenting/aging/breaking down.  

Or with commercial yeast, use half the yeast you do with refined white flour.

5. Fresh milled flour has oil from the bran and germ  Store-bought WW has had some oil evaporated off, and might not even have had the germ in it, depends on brand. So I use little to no oil compared to store-bought WW.

6. If I over-hydrate a dough, and feel like I need to add flour to adjust, I add _white (refined) flour_ (AP or Bread flour) because it will absorb water quicker than fresh milled WW.  The late addition of WW and especially fresh milled WW won't get as hydrated/soaked as well as what was in there from the beginning.  In other words, to "salvage" an over-wet dough at some point in the bulk ferment, I use white store-bought  flour.

7.  good oven spring on a boule or batard (ie, not a pan-loaf, like sandwich bread) generally requires under-fermenting. Do not let it rise (first or second rise) as much as you do with a loaf baked in a pan.  First rise (usually called bulk ferment) can be 30-50% increase.  2nd rise (usually called final proof) even less. 


A previous discussion on home-milling white wheat berries and Kamut:

Your mileage may vary.


icantbakeatall's picture

Thank you very much for the tips! For the no knead, it was looking very good after a couple stretch and folds, and then when I woke up the next day it didn't seem to rise as well. So I feel like maybe wheat can overproof easier, but I'm not sure. I'll add less yeast next time. It didn't look very nice when I baked it, but I think that has something to do with it sticking to the banneton and me having to quickly reform it. :(

barryvabeach's picture

I assume you have you own mill, if so,  you need to mill a bit of rice -  white or brown does not seem to make much of a difference,  but rice flour is fantastic in bannetons, dough generally won't stick to it. 

SeasideJess's picture

Hi friend,

I also bake using 100% fresh-milled whole wheat. I can't help you with a no-knead method: I haven't seen that for 100% whole wheat. But my method is pretty straightforward. First, though, there are 3 critically important things I had to learn to be successful.

First, the wheat: you must use hard wheat varieties that are "bred for bread." Types that will reliably work are

  • Hard red winter wheat
  • Hard red spring wheat
  • Hard white winter wheat
  • Hard white spring wheat

There are probably other specialty wheats that will also work (turkey red) but those you can be sure of. And just at first, until you've made 4 or 5 good loaves, don't use any mix-ins and don't add any heritage (spelt, Kamut, etc) wheats.

The 2nd tip is to use 73% to 75% hydration, no more, no less. More water makes the dough fragile and hard to work with, while any less you risk it being too dry to rise well.

Third tip: autolyse. Let the water and flour soak for an hour before adding any salt or doing any kneading. Just mix the water and flour until no more dry flour is visible, then stop and cover the bowl with a lid for an hour. I have found it is very important not to knead at this stage. If I knead/mix too much at first the gluten develops before the flour/bran is hydrated and the dough gets weirdly stringy and much harder to deal with. 

Use those tips and you will have the foundation for good bread. The following is my general procedure that works for my home-milled flour loaves. This will not make a super holey bread, which is difficult to do with 100% whole wheat. This technique will make moist, chewy, light bread with lots of tiny holes. 

Here is my general procedure. 

Knead for 5 minutes:

After an hour of soaking, spread the gloppy, mushy dough out on the counter, sprinkle on the salt, fold the dough over to enclose the salt, and spread on your leavening. For leavening you can use a paste of active yeast, water, and flour, or sprinkle on instant yeast. Then knead the dough (which will be very sticky and gloppy and sort of splitting layers at the salt) for 3 to 5 minutes. Use a dough scraper to keep pulling it together at first. After 3 minutes the dough will be mixed, smooth, and elastic. If it is 75% hydration it will probably still be quite tacky, but it will prefer to cling to itself, rather than you or the counter. 

Bulk Proof:

  1. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover and let it rise all the way. It should be very soft, tall, bubbly and puffy. 
  2. Flour the top of the dough lightly, flour the counter lightly, dust your hand in flour, and swipe around the dough edges gently, dusting your hand in a bowl of flour between each swipe, to detach the dough from the bowl. Turn the dough out onto the counter top down.

Fold (this finishes developing the gluten and gives the dough structure)

The dough will be slack and sticky. Use a dough scraper and the back of your lightly floured hands and forearms to lift and spread the dough out as far as it wants to spread without tearing. It will spread out really far, like a pizza dough.  Then roll or fold it up from side to side, and roll or fold it up from top to bottom. (Use the dough scraper if needed to detach it from the counter when rolling or folding.) Try not to tear it.

2nd rise:

Clean and very lightly oil the bowl and put the dough back in the bowl, seam-side down, to rise again for half an hour..  

Final Shaping, Proofing, and Baking

  1. After half an hour, lightly flour the counter and dough, and turn the dough out and spread it again. Be gentle. This time it won't spread as far.
  2. Gently stretch the sides up over the center to shape it into a boule and develop tension. Use the dough scraper to pick it up and place it seam side down on the counter for a few minutes to let the seam seal closed. Then pick it up with the dough scraper and put it upside-down into a heavily floured banneton for the final rise (seam side up.) Flour the dough so that as it rises and the sides contact the banneton, they don't stick. Preheat your oven. The final rise will take around an hour depending on how warm your kitchen is.
  3. When the dough is tender and just a little quivery, put a sheet pan or room-temperature dutch oven upside down on the banneton and slowly turn it all over, then gently lift the banneton off. Rough handling will make the dough deflate. Spray or paint the dough with water, don't score it, and cover it with a stainless mixing bowl or put a lid on the dutch oven. Bake for 20 minutes, uncover and finish baking.  

I hope this helps! I know it is more work than the no-knead method, but for me, at least, the 100% whole wheat just needs a little more love in order to be successful. Altogether there's 2 minutes mixing, 5 minutes kneading, and about another 5 minutes folding and shaping, so not too bad. And the bread is worth it!