The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Tips/Tricks for Whole Grain Breads

martin6's picture

Tips/Tricks for Whole Grain Breads

What are your tips and tricks for making a good whole wheat bread? I've made 3 breads so far from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain book and they've all somehow turned out denser than I'd like with uniform and small wholes in the crumb.


So I'm in search of kneading tips, additives such as bromated whatever flour and anything else that's effective in creating a lighter loaf.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Martin.

First thing is to accept the fact that whole grain breads are going to be "denser" than those made with flour from which the bran has been removed. Big holes in the crumb require long gluten strands, and the bran acts like little knives to cut the gluten strands during mixing. That said, full gluten development with enough mixing and folding will help some.

If you want a much lighter bread, the easiest way is to make what Reinhart calls "transitional breads" in his book. Make breads with some whole grain and some white flours.

In the universe of purely whole grain breads, Reinhart's techniques - using pre-ferments and soakers - will lighten the breads and improve their flavor, so you have good formulas at hand with his book to guide you.

Others with more whole grain baking experience than I may have more guidance for you.


preacher1120's picture

Now, I love that dense texture from whole grain, but some folks in my family want loaves that are a bit lighter.  I found that I could satisfy them by adding a tablespoon or so (per loaf) of Vital Wheat Gluten to the dry ingredients.  I found it at Wal-Mart, but I'm sure that any grocer would be happy to order it for you.  It was very inexpensive and adds just enough gluten to noticeably lighten the loaf.   Go easy, though.  Too much will bring a bitter flavor to the finished product. By adding the gluten, I can still use 100% whole grain which I just love.

MaryinHammondsport's picture

I have baked several of the breads from Reinhart's book and I agree, they are denser than store bought. I also agree that this is characteristic of home-made 100% whole grain, when compared with grocery store whole grain. It's just not recipes from this book -- any whole grain I bake at home is denser than store bought and denser than homemade white.

Using part white flour and adding gluten are definitely going to help.

I suspect that grocery store "whole grains" are light as they are because of things that we don't put in our bread -- dough enhancers, for example, other than the gluten. If we wanted those we might as well buy the bread at the store.

Have you tried White Whole Wheat flour? This is WW flour made from white as opposed to red wheat, but it does have all the grain in it. That might help a little.


charbono's picture

For a lighter loaf, make sure you have adequate hydration and avoid any unnecessary bench flour.  For a less fine grain, back off of the kneading some and add some stretch-and-folds.


jolynn's picture



I grind my own flour, which can be a little coarser than the purchased sort. In either case, I find that if I soak the flour overnight in the amount of water called for in the recipe, the bran is softened and the texture of the finished loaf is lighter. I also add more water (a few tablespoons) after the dough has been well kneaded which helps make for a less dense bread. Good Luck!

clazar123's picture

After poking around on this site and the web, it seems there are some common suggestions for making a well-flavored,not too dense whole wheat loaf of bread.

1.Type of wheat-The general consensus seems to be that hard red spring wheat has a better flavor than other wheats. It seems to have adequate gluten but may benefit from a small addition of vital wheat gluten. Hard red winter wheat and hard white winter wheat are also capable of producing nicely textured loaves but  the red is stronger flavored and possibly a little bitter and the white may seem bland flavored.

2. All whole wheat recipes need to hydrate more completely in order to produce a lighter textured,higher risen loaf . Various means are discussed as to how to accomplish this. No consensus on this. Choosing a preferred method may depend on the equipment available, comfort level of the baker with different methods, time or lack of time.

3. Whole wheat loaves benefit from longer,slower rises. THis is probably a sub-heading of hydrating the wheat because a longer rise may allow the wheat elements to absorb more water. The  implication to me would be that it needs to start life as a wetter dough and should end up less sticky at the end of the rise as the microparticles of wheat absorb the moisture.Another implication is a lower amount of yeast so it does not rise too quickly. 

Comment:My grandmother taught my mom to do 2 bowl risings and 1 loaf rising. That doesn't seem to be happening anymore and I'm not sure why. Would 2 risings be a way to help hydrate the whole wheat loaf? I don't know what flour or type of yeast grandma used-I suspect it was a cake form as this was in the 1930's.She made bread for the whole family every week-8 kids!-so I think she'd do pretty well. 

4. Whole wheat bread needs to cook at a lower temp for a little longer in order to dry out the crust and interior. Kind of like concrete work-wet it,let the bonds form and then dry it out slowly to hold it's shape. Dry it too fast and the shell is brittle and the interior weak and mushy. (Working on a home project)

 I'm going to try these principles at my next baking round and see what happens.

subfuscpersona's picture

My grandmother taught my mom to do 2 bowl risings and 1 loaf rising. That doesn't seem to be happening anymore and I'm not sure why. Would 2 risings be a way to help hydrate the whole wheat loaf? I don't know what flour or type of yeast grandma used-I suspect it was a cake form as this was in the 1930's.She made bread for the whole family every week-8 kids!

I'm assuming that Grandma made loaves baked in loaf tins (not baked freeform on a flat surface).

As a home baker, she probably used active dry yeast. If she used whole wheat flour, she probably purchased it already milled. I don't think there were many home grain mills sold in the 30s.

I doubt whether home bakers had been introduced to the concept of allowing the dough to rise overnight in the refrigerator in the 30s. (Historical note: this is in contrast to recipe books for home cooks from the 1800s, which took advantage of the frequent fact that the home was poorly heated in winter and often got quite cold, even in the kitchen. Those cookbooks often talk about allowing the bread dough to rise overnight.)

Grandma's schedule was probably to start making the dough in the morning with the expectation that it would be baked in the afternoon. Two rises "in the bowl" plus the final rise "in the pan" would have helped hydrate whole wheat flour plus allow for some yeast multiplication over time.

Remember also that, even in the 1930s, there were many more commercial flour mills and wheat grain shipped to those mills was more likely to be grown regionally. A consequence of this was that flour had a bit of a quality control issue - the home baker might get a bag of flour that wouldn't perform well. The practice of "two rises in the bowl" would not only help hydrate whole wheat flour but also strengthen the gluten.


PaddyL's picture

I give most of my breads two rises in the bowl and one in the pans.  It does help produce a much lighter loaf.

clazar123's picture

Grandma needed to feed a crowd.The story is she made large loaves and lots of them-every week.She would also bake any coffeecakes,rolls or sweets once a week. 

Grandma was a city girl but very self sufficient. She may have bought flour from the local grocer but then again may even have ground her own or even a combination of both,depending on availablility-esp in the depression and war time. Grain mills have been around a long time- that's why women were so strong! My mother used to talk about the starter "working" on the stove so they may even have used self-grown yeast. Modern yeast was probably viewed as a great boon when  bread could be made so quickly.Active dry yeast came out in the 30's and must have been initially expensive so it was probably something she did not have financial access to. 

Today I am trying the long slow rise with a wetter dough than normal and using 100% WW(combo of hard red spring and whiteWW). I reduced the yeast in my  recipe to 1 tsp (down from 3tsp),didn't incorporate all the flour-the dough is tacky and slightly sticky and I have it in for the first rise. I mix my dough in a Kitchenaid and normally would have kneaded it by hand for a while after the mixing but I intend to do that after the first rise to incorporate any additional needed flour. I did not add any additional gluten but the dough seemed to have good gluten formation even on the initial mixing. We'll see. I hope I'm not reporting on how to make bricks!

PAddyL-I've been reading a lot of the forum entries and yours is the first mention I've seen about doing 2 risings!  I may just try my regular recipe next and use 2 risings to see if it is any different from what I am trying today.I am looking for a lighter WW loaf and better flavor.

Thank you,both! 


MaryinHammondsport's picture

Well, I'm not a contemporary of Grandma because I was born in the 30s and didn't start baking until the early l950s. But I remember doing two risings and also using cake yeast. It was just the way you did it. I still do use two risings occasionally, especially with whole wheat, and I have done it with hand-shaped loaves as well as pan loaves. There is plenty of yeast energy available.

It's just another way to make bread -- no one way is the right way, lots of ways work very well in almost every area of endeavor. It's a matter of finding what works for you, and being willing to adapt when you get an indication that another way is better in that specific instance.  


clazar123's picture

Sage advice about many aspects of life.

My loaves actually ended up with 3 bowl risings! A family situation came up just as I was getting ready to punch it down after the second rising. I punched it down,placed it in the refrigerator and took care of business. Amazingly, the refrigerated dough rose in about 2 hours! I proceeded to set to rise in the loaf pans and bake. I did bake at a lower oven temp than I usually bake at-375 which did take longer .

The bread turned out with a great texture and lightness. I think multiple risings does benefit WW flour. The taste was excellent-prob from multiple factors-type of flour primarily and also from the many risings. I ended up with a mix of home-milled flours.Freshly milled hard,red spring wheat was the majority,white WW and Kamut milled several weeks ago. My mill is not the best and the flour is a little coarser than I would like but it seems to still produce a great texture and good gluten.I can't complain-it was 1.99 at the local Goodwill. (Regal Kitchen Pro).I had just entertained the thought of grinding my own flour when I found it. Serendipity.

I think I will continue to use some of these techniques-less yeast (1 tsp for 2 1/2 loaves), several bowl risings,allow wetter dough, baking at lower,longer temp.  

Happy baking and regards to all. 






Cafemich's picture

I know I'm late to this post, but was inspired to add a comment in case someone out there is researching whole wheat bread tips.

The only thing missing from all these great tips is that whole wheat bread needs more kneading than white bread. You can get very high, light loaves with 100% whole wheat if you knead it enough. I normally do 15-20 minutes by hand, or at least 8 minutes in the DLX. If you're using finely ground WW flour you can actually get a windowpane. 

When I've made Reinhart's recipes by the book they do turn out denser than my normal WW loaves. I wonder if it's because he only has you knead a few minutes. 


clazar123's picture

Time has passed and I've baked many more loaves (and fewer bricks!) using the homeground WW.I bought  a NutriMill grinder,baked every weekend and learned so much. It's so interesting looking back on prior posts-I was on a path and did pretty well-thanks to this site and the nmany experts! I now have a favorite daily WW sandwich loaf and a daily fruited breakfast bread that I make every weekend.I am working on a soft,white loaf and can make a mean ciabotta (tho I'm working on the consistency of success with that one).I've had much fun with specialty recipes and love the beauty and creativity of the people on this site.Very inspiring.

I just recently started adding 1 egg to my WW sandwich loaf and also increased the mixing time in the Kitchenaid.It has made a huge difference in the texture-much softer and higher. I still follow all the above suggestions-long rise (usually overnight in the refrigerator),low yeast,sourdough base,a little tackier dough at the start of the rise,stretch and fold rather than kneading.

Enjoy the journey in good company! I do.