The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is it possible to make whole grain Italian or French type bread?

newtobreadbaking's picture

Is it possible to make whole grain Italian or French type bread?



I want a whole grain bread, round or long shaped, that has a crispy, crunchy crust like a good Italian or French bread but I'd like the healthiness of whole grain by making it with whole wheat or white whole wheat flour along with the AP flour I have. All my flours are KA organic. I searched here first and found nothing like the kind of bread I want to make. I'm hoping for one with the least amount or no white flour at all but I don't know if all whole grain flour can ever get that wonderful Italian/French bread crust.

I'm still new to baking so if I've asked something stupid please forgive me.

Oh, in case it makes a difference, I have no stand mixer and I'm working with a small electric oven. It's larger than a toaster oven but not as big a full size one. I don't even know if I can spritz water on this kind of oven without causing a short or a shock or something. I have no baking stone, just a non stick sheet pan. I have corn meal, honey, sugar (white and brown) and sea salt on hand too.

I have a Cuisinart bread machine but I didn't like the way breads came out in it but I guess I can use it to knead if anyone thinks that works out better than by hand.

I also have three kinds of yeast in my pantry, rapid rise, and active dry and some little block of it that has to be kept in the refrigerator that the bakery guy at the market told me to get. I just never knew what to do with it. I'm also open to making a sourdough starter but I have no idea how to do that either. I saw a recipe for one here once but I really messed it up. I tried to make my own flour in a coffee grinder from wheat berries. I've seen You Tube videos on just mixing some flour and water and it will turn into a sourdough starter. I don't know if that's the right way not.

Sorry to bother people here with this in such a busy season but I would really love to be able to make my own whole grain Italian or French bread if it's possible. I still have some time to practice before I'd have to bake it for anyone other than me at the end of the month.

Thanks in advance.



PaddyL's picture

I made one of those and it's so easy it's ridiculous.  Just mix some flour and water, cover it loosely with plastic wrap, or damp cheesecloth if you can keep it from drying out, and let it sit for 4 or 5 days.  Stir it from time to time, then feed it equal, approx., amounts of flour and water and watch it bubble up.  It helps if you've made a fair amount of bread in your kitchen so it can catch the wild yeasts floating around.  Now I am positive that there are other 'recipes' out on the site for sourdough starters, and I am just as sure that others will follow me with greater ideas for starters; it's just that this is the one that worked for me.  It was begun about 8 months ago, and is still quite happy and active.

As for making Italian and French whole wheat loaves, I would take your current recipes and start substituting some ww flour for the white flour, and work it up to more ww each time.

petep's picture

I have adapted the Italian bread recipie from Peter Reinhart's BBA to what I think you are looking for.

Without changing the total flour requirements for the dough I substitute 1/2 cup King Arthur's Harvest Grains Blend and 1/2 cup King Arthur's Organic Whole Wheat flour in place of the bread flour. I also add1 teaspoon of Vital Wheat Gluten.

My results have exceeded my expectations especially when I let my biga sit for three days to develop maximum flavor.

This bread is a hit with my family and I also sell some to the local Italian Deli for use in their sandwiches. Needless to say it is also great fresh from the oven with a plate of first class extra virgin olive oil, salt, lots of pepper and an annoitment of real aged balsamic vinegar, accompanied of course by a bottle of good red wine. This is what usually happens to the first loaf deliverd to the Deli.

Good Luck,


arzajac's picture

I tried for months to get a good whole wheat bread recipe.


I stumbled upon these two sites in the same day and combined the techniques:

(I watched the videos...)


I made that dough into rolls of all shapes and have been enjoying them daily.  I recently stumbled upon this:

Shaping this dough into bâtards, scoring them and baking them under foil results in the kind of long, crusty whole wheat breads you describe.  At least, it works for me.


I take 4 cups of stone-ground whole wheat flour (from a local supplier)

2 teaspoons of sea salt

1 half teaspoon of yeast

2 cups of water at room temperature.


This is a wet dough.  Mix all the ingredients with a spoon and let it sit overnight or longer.  About two hours before you want to bake, plop the dough onto a lightly floured surface and stretch-and-fold/frissage.  Let it sit for 45 minutes.  Repeat twice without degassing the dough.  Shape into balls. let it rest for 5 minutes and then shape into bâtards or boules and place them onto parchment paper.  Sprinkle with flour and cover with plastic wrap.  Warm the oven to 450 degrees for 30 minutes. 

Score the loaves and slide the parchment paper onto a baking stone (I never tried without a baking stone).  Cover with the tin foil platter for 20 minutes.  I don't even spray the loaves with water.  Remove the tin cover and reduce the heat to 400 degrees for another 10 minutes.  By then, the internal temperature is usually about 200 degrees and the crust is perfect.  I let them cool on a rack.

That's it.  I have had excellent results every time.  If I want to make a slightly more crunchy bread with a more chewy interior, I will use 1 cup white flour with three cups whole wheat.

I have tried this with 100 per cent white flour and it's just too gummy. 

I hope this helps.



kimes's picture

I live at 7000 feet.  Would you change this recipe any?


cdnDough's picture

You might want to look at Leader's book Local Breads and Reinheart's Whole Grain Breads.  What temperature can your little oven reach?

newtobreadbaking's picture

 Thanks so much everyone!


 Paddy L when you feed it do you throw away half of it each time and then feed it?

 Let's say you start out by mixing a cup of AP or WW flour with water. Is the next step letting that sit out on the counter for a day then the next day you throw out half of that and add ½ cup of flour and ½ cup of water and then do the same thing the next day and so on? If I'm right about any of this, instead of just throwing away half, can you put half in another container and also add ½ cup each flour and water to that and have two starters going and keep part of each the next day and keep 3 starters going and so on with this too so that there will always be plenty of starter around if you just feel like making an unplanned loaf one day?

 I've only made a few loaves of bread ever so I don't know if there is much wild yeast floating around my house but things like fruit and such get moldy very quickly so I think there is mold floating around. Is this the same thing? Oh I don't really have any recipe for a good crusty Italian or French bread. I've only had them from bakeries so I'll be starting out fresh with just trying to mix one that has a good deal of WW flour in it.


Petep, I've never seen KA Harvest Grains Blend. I'll have to look for it in my market. I guess if not they have it on their website. Oh I do have vital wheat gluten on my shelf so I can add some of that. The one time I used it I think I used like 1/3 cup of it and the bread came out like a brick, lol. Now I see you use 1 tsp. Wow I sure overdid it with the vital wheat gluten, no wonder I ended up with a brick. I'm sorry if it's a stupid question that anyone trying to bake bread should know but can you please tell me what a biga is? Is it a type of starter or shape of a loaf or a piece of equipment that is used during bread making? OMG, I'd love a bread that rates with an Italian deli. Yours must be delicious as I'm sure they want a bread that best compliments their meats and cheeses. I would love that kind of bread with EVOO and the rest or with lots of butter or just as is. Not one of my attempts at bread has ever been one that I just want to eat and eat and eat. I basically just used it to use it up and not waste it.


Arzajac I have to check out all those links. I'm the kind of person that learns best by seeing something demonstrated. I'm not too good at following recipes. No one I know bakes bread so other than seeing a video I don't have anyone to actually show me. LOL, I asked the baker at the supermarket if I could go back to the bakery and watch but he said no because only employees are allowed by the insurance company in case I'd get hurt or something. Yours sound great too. I'm definitely also going to give them a try. The good thing about bread baking is that it's not too expensive so if I mess up it's not too terrible a waste.


CdnDough, I will take a look at those books. My oven says it goes to 500 degrees but when I tested that out with an oven thermometer it only went to a smidgen under 475. It cooks everything else great like meats and veggies and things and even cookies and muffins I've made but I think bread is more dependant on exact things, like if it needs 500 degrees then it needs 500 degrees.

PaddyL's picture

I began with 3/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup tepid water and I let it sit, covered with damp cheesecloth for four days, just redampening the cheesecloth and stirring it from time to time.  Actually, I may have made it a little wetter, and I gave up on the cheesecloth and simply put some plastic wrap loosely on top.  She says to feed it by day 4, or when it's bubbly, and she feeds hers with the same amounts of flour and water.  I can't really remember what I did up to that point, probably about the same thing, but I got tired of measuring and just added some flour and water, stirred it up and let it sit another 24 hours.  It should be ready to use by then, but afterwards, you're supposed to throw half of it out before refreshing with water and flour.  I couldn't bring myself to throw any of it away, so I divided it in two, and fed half of it with white flour and half of it with ww flour.  At a certain point, the fridge was becoming crowded with starters, so I ditched the ww one and now I throw out about 1/3 cup of the white one and feed it and if I'm not using it, I just put it back into the fridge.  It is possible to do all this work without measuring anything, just going by eye and feel.  Anyway, that was 8 months ago and it's still very healthy and very active, and I use it for both white and whole wheat breads.

ericb's picture

Just my 2 cents: I think it's impossible to bake a 100% whole wheat loaf that is anything like French or Italian bread. To me, the defining characteristics of these breads are their "whiteness." Whole wheat loaves taste, look, and feel entirely different. It's like trying to bake sweet potato pie with apples. Both are delicious, but very different.


Instead on trying to recreate the lightness in both flavor and texture of French or Italian loaves, I would suggest that you immerse yourself in the rich, hardy goodness of whole wheat. I second the recommendation about Reinhart's WGB. In fact, I think it should be your first stop. In addition to having some relatively fail-safe recipes, it's simply an enjoyable read. Good luck! I'm looking forward to hearing how things turn out! Eric

cdnDough's picture

Good news that your oven can reach 450F or greater.  A few more things:

- Baking on an oven stone (or unglazed quary tiles) will give your bread a better oven spring (i.e. rise) which makes for a lighter/airy texture (i.e. crumb).  It will also help even your oven temperature.  It isn't required to start, but worth it if you find that you enjoy baking traditional breads.

- A digital scale is very useful as using weights for ingredients is much more accurate than volume measurements.

- biga is a type of pre-ferment or starter, and is often made with a small amount of instant yeast.  If in doubt, check the site glossary.

- For a whole-grain French bread, I started with the sourdough miche recipe in Leader's Bread Alone.  It is toast and sandwich bread at my house.  If you search for 'sourdough miche' on this site, you'll find quite a few variations of similar recipes.

You might want to check your local public library for any of the recommended books.  The Bread Baker's Apprentice doesn't specifically cover whole grains, but is an excellent and often recommended book.  With regards to seeing how it is done, there are quite a few videos on youtube (Mark's are great).  Beyond this, just find a recipie and give it a try.  While screw-ups can be frustrating, they are thankfully cheap when baking bread :)


SourdoLady's picture

Here is a link to a recipe that has a lot of good reviews.....

Don't be afraid to use the ginger. You won't taste it and it acts as a dough enhancer for a better textured loaf.

newtobreadbaking's picture

Thanks eDogg and thanks again CdnDough.

eDogg, I know what you mean about 100% ww being very different from Italian or French bread and I guess I knew I couldn't make it 100% ww but I was hoping to make it with a lot, maybe at least half. Things made with whole grain are just so much healthier than things made from just white flour. I've recently started to use only ww pasta and couscous. I taste little difference in the couscous but the pasta took a little getting used to. I found some brands better than others and found that to me, long thin varieties like spaghetti or linguini taste better than short ones like elbow mac or ziti.

I would attempt another 100% ww for a sandwich bread (only not so much vital wheat gluten this time so maybe no brick instead of a bread, lol.) but I really wanted a crusty kind of bread that goes better served with a meal. If I can get one that's at least 50% whole grain mixed with white I'll be happy. A few recipes that I saw before I came here only had a tiny portion of ww flour with the rest being all white bread of AP flour. I also like to use only organic flour if I can but it's hard to find organic bread flour in my area so I usually just have AP. I will check out that book for sure.


CdnDough, I'm happy that 450 is usually enough. I'll have to look into the tiles. I have never been able to find a baking stone small enough to fit my oven. I guess someplace like Home Depot or Lowe's should have the tiles. Maybe they can cut one the size I need.

The digital scale I already have. I've been measuring my ingredients with measuring cups and spoons. I think I'll start doing it by weight. It seems more exact and what most of you good bakers here do.

Ahhh, so it's a starter. Thanks. I didn't know they have a glossary here. I'll check next time. Some of the posts here are like another language to me, lol. Thanks for the other book tips and links.

I think this weekend I'll make a few attempts, well, I'll probably start Friday night since some of the recipes call for leaving things sit out for a day or two. I don't think I'll have a chance to look for tiles by then but I'll try them with what I have for now.

Thanks again. I love to cook but I think there is something more satisfying about baking your own bread than almost anything else. So far I've been the only one to see or eat any of my attempts because they were not good but I'm hoping I'll have enough practice breads to be able to actually let others see my bread by the holidays.

newtobreadbaking's picture

Thanks SourdoughLady! Wow, ginger. I never would have thought of that. Thanks for the link. I'm really looking forward to trying out some of the recipes you guys have given me. It's all the little touches like that you wonderful bakers here know about. I see the pictures here of some of the breads members bake and I'm in awe. They are amazing, better than those I've seen in bakeries.

scott lynch's picture
scott lynch

I am with petep on this one--I've had excellent success with adding a heavy load of whole or cracked seeds/grains to an entirely or mostly whole wheat dough.  You have to tinker with it a bit to get the dough right (many of the grains require soaking, so it can affect the wetness of your dough).

To me, this has it all--you get all the things we love about white bread, like a light crumb and a crisp crust, plus the chew, flavor, and nutrition of whole grains.

I run with a crowd that has a pretty high granola-factor, and at pot lucks they always flip out over these breads and want to know how they can make them.  If the kids love to eat them and the hippy mamas want to bake them, I figure it must be a good way to go.

cdnDough's picture

If you are searching for recipes, you should also check out the breadcetera blog.

swtgran's picture

Used arzajac's recipe for a great sourdough whole wheat.  I used a home ground Prairie Gold white whole wheat and a starter I had made with only the white whole wheat and water.  I made it twice, just in case my success was an accident. 

I substituted about 3/4 cup 100% starter for the yeast and decreased the water to 1-1/2 cups.  I baked the loaves in those Baparoma french bread pans instead of on a stone.  Everything else remained the same in the recipe.

The loaves were a light golden color when they had reached 200 degrees.  They were not overly sour, but had a pleasant tang.  The crust did some crackling and the crumb was filled with small holes.  I will be making this recipe again and again.  It is really easy and flavor was quite good.

Thank you posting this recipe.  Terry