The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Whole Wheat = Dense Loaf?

WoofMeowOink's picture

Whole Wheat = Dense Loaf?

Hello everyone, I just joined the forum yesterday, after having a disappointing first attempt at baking my very first load of bread from scratch. I will be relating what I did in the hopes that someone will help me understand what I might have done wrong. My apologies for being wordy, but I want to make sure all the relevant details are disclosed at the beginning in case the smallest one makes a difference.

I used the "Braided Loaf" recipe of Baking: Easy to Make Great Home Bakes by Carole Clements. The loaf came out edible, but dense and too crunchy on the outside. The recipe is as follows:

Ingredients: 1 package active dry yeast,  1 tsp honey, 1 cup lukewarm milk, 4 tbsp butter (melted), 3 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 egg (lightly beaten), 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp milk for glazing.

Preparation: 1) Combine yeast, honey, milk and butter, stir, and leave 15 minutes to dissolve. 2) In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture and egg. With a wooden spoon, stir from the center, incorporating flour with each turn, to obtain a rough dough 3) Tranfer to a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in a clean bowl, cover, and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1.5 hours. 4) Grease a baking sheet. Punch down the dough and divide into three equal pieces. Roll to shape each piece into a long thin strip. 5) Begin braiding from the center strip, tucking in the ends. Cover loosely and leave to risein a warm place for 30 minutes. 6) Preheat oven to 375*F. Place the bread in a cool place while oven heats. Brush with the glaze and bake until golden, 40-45 minutes. Set on a rack to cool completely.

My alterations: I used 2 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup white flour; and used almond milk instead of cow's milk.

My preparation: I followed step #1 as best I could. I warmed up the milk a little too much I think, so I put it in the fridge for a couple of minutes to cool, and on the table for a couple more minutes. By the time I combined the ingredients in step #1, the milk was not as hot...though I am thinking it was still a little warmer than lukewarm. I did see the yeast dissolve and foam up to 2X its volume.

I also followed steps #2 and #3 as best I could, though at first, the dough seemed to be a little dry and pieces of it were not stiking together. After kneading for a little bit (maybe a good 7-10 minutes), all the dough was finally combined and smooth. I was able to shape it into a pretty round loaf before I put it into a bowl to let it rise. I wasn't sure what to cover the dough with, so I used seran wrap to cover the bowl. Also, I let the dough rise for about 2 hours and 15 minutes, rather than the 1.5 hours of the recipe, since at 1.5 hours the dough hadn't risen enough.

I followed steps #4-6 according to the recipe, with the exception of baking time, which I altered by adding 1 or 2 more minutes. I should also say that my oven is not the best (it's an electric, cheap one unfortunately), and I did not have an oven thermometer to check the temperature. I basically relied on the oven's own preheating report.

As stated above, the loaf was edible--especially the next day, after storing it overnight in a sealed plastic bag. But it was dense (I almost want to say "very dense" but perhaps that's a bit of an exageration).

Needless to say, I was disappointed, and want to know what I might have done wrong. Thanks much for your help! 

susanfnp's picture

Welcome to The Fresh Loaf!

I'm sorry your first bread-baking experience was disappointing. If it's any consolation, rest assured that most if not all of us have had a lot of disappointments at first. So don't be discouraged!

In general it is difficult to make a simple substitution of whole wheat flour into a recipe that was written for white flour. For one thing, whole wheat flour absorbs more water than white, so adjustments need to be make in the liquid ingredients. Also, the bran in the WW flour is like little shards of glass slicing through your gluten, so it is very difficult even for the most experienced baker to achieve a whole wheat loaf that has as open a texture as an all-white loaf.

My suggestion would be to follow recipes exactly as written at first while you are getting more comfortable with the bread baking process. If you'd like to bake with WW flour then I think you'll have better luck if you start with a recipe that was deveoped for WW. There are a few on this site if you search around. JMonkey is one member I can think of off the top of my head who bakes spectacular loaves with whole grains.

Good luck and know that you will find lots of help and moral support here.


staff of life's picture
staff of life

Make sure you're using whole wheat flour that's appropriate for bread making.  King Arthur and Wheat Montana are two brands that come to mind.  Some whole wheat doesn't have a high enough protein content.

Rosalie's picture

If you don't want to mess with white flour but really want to jump into whole grain, I recommend The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book.  Her recommendations about kneading 600 times can be tempered with advice from TheFreshLoaf about folding.  But the whole book is whole grains, and it starts out with a bread lesson.


dolfs's picture

I just blogged about my Multigrain Oatmeal Whole Wheat Sandwich bread. While it is not 100% WW (it uses 1/3 bread flour), it is not dense, and tasted delicious!


See my My Bread Adventures in pictures

WoofMeowOink's picture

Thanks much for the quick replies!

Susan: I did consider following the recipe 100%, but I have a way of wanting to do things my way. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. I think in the future I will have to take your advice and just follow recipes as they are given. As you say, that's probably the best course of action while I learn about baking. 

Staff of Life: I was using King Arthur this time. I did not know that not all whole wheat breads are created equal, though. So thanks for the tip! 

Rosalie: Recommended books from you baking gurus, are actually something that I was going to ask next. Thanks for the tip! 

Dolfs: I'll check out your recipe! I actually just baked a Irish Soda bread, which includes 1 cup whole wheat (I did follow the recipe!) and which seems to have turned out great; a yummy break pudding that smells great; and am finishing a whole wheat loaf that despite my having followed the recipe 100%, already looks like it won't be turning out very well. Its texture reminds me of acne scars, and it didn't rise all that much. So, if this last loaf is in fact another disappointment, I'll try your recipe next week. Thanks!!


raisdbywolvz's picture

You can get a better crust by applying steam for the first part of the baking process. It will be thinner and crispier. Put a shallow pan on the bottom shelf (some folks put it on the bottom of the oven, I don't know if one's better than the other) while the oven preheats. After you put your bread in, toss a cupful or two of hot water into the pan and close the door. The steam does its magic and your crust comes out great!

I've found that my oven doesn't hold on to steam well, so I use 2 cups of water and it works great.

If you're looking for a nice, thin crust that isn't quite as crispy, when it comes out of the oven, brush it with melted butter.


WoofMeowOink's picture


I'll definitely try the melted butter trick! Thanks!! Now that you mention this trick, I think I remember we used to brush melted butter on Honey Whole Wheat at the bakery I used to work years and years ago.

Not sure about the steam trick, though. My oven is a cheap electric one (electric stove/ other choice for me at this point). Can you use the steam trick with those types of ovens? I don't want to cause a short circuit! :)

(My apologies if I sound unbelievably ignorant).

raisdbywolvz's picture

Sure, you can. Just put a shallow pan on the bottom rack when you preheat -- a broiler pan works -- and pour a cup or 2 of water in when you put the bread in the oven. Be careful, of course, because everything's hot. But there's no reason in the world it shouldn't work.

Some people toss ice cubes in the pan as it's easier than aiming a cup of water, but others say it lowers the oven temp too much. Experiment.

You can also just use a mister bottle and quickly spray the oven walls and the loaf every 3 minutes during the first 5 or 10 minutes of baking. Be careful that you don't get any water on the light bulb or it will break.


WoofMeowOink's picture

Awesome! Thanks much Wolf!! I'll definitel try it then. :)

raisdbywolvz's picture

Glad to be able to help!  Have fun and let us know how it goes.


jolynn's picture



It sounds as though your dough may have been too dry. Whole wheat absorbs a lot more water than white flour and so you need to add more liquid than called for when you substitute WW for white flour. One of the most challenging things when you first start bread baking is to BACK OFF THE FLOUR! The tendancy is to add more and more flour to keep the dough from sticking (especially if you are kneading by hand). Try using a dough scraper instead and let the dough autolyse (sit undisturbed for 15 or 20 minutes) after you first mix the ingredients together. This helps develop the gluten and makes the dough a little easier to handle. Good Luck and keep at it! It's a lifetime of learning.