The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Tight grain and crumbly bread from Peter Reinharts Whole Grain Bread Recipes

bobbywilson0's picture

Tight grain and crumbly bread from Peter Reinharts Whole Grain Bread Recipes

I am a novice baker. I started with a couple of no-knead style recipes and my wife recently bought me Peter Reinhart's "Whole Grain Breads". I am finding that with the WGB recipes the bread tastes great, but the crumb is very tight, and is crumbly when cutting. I know that I won't get the open crumb of an all white flour loaf, but I feel like I am doing it wrong. I have also noticed that I have to stir longer than the one minute suggested, and I am also having to knead much longer than the 2/3 minutes plus a minute after rest to get some a decent window pane, which still is barely making a window before tearing. I am kneading more like 10 minutes or more to even start. One thing I will note is that I am in Denver, CO so I am not sure how much the altitude and the dryness is affecting my results. I have had a little better luck with the transitional recipes than the 100% whole wheat, but still doesn't look anything like the pictures ;) 

I think my technique for kneading isn't the best. I am mostly just mashing and folding. I have seen a couple of videos that explain the virtues of the french fold, and other very little kneading required techniques. I haven't tried them because I am not sure how the fit into the normal flow of the WGB style recipes. I would appreciate any feedback or knowledge about ways that I can make my bread a little more open and less crumbly.



inlovewbread's picture

I had some initial problems with WGB formulas being dry and crumbly. After practicing the 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf (first recipe in the book) over and over again, I found out a few things:

I found that I need to add alot more water than Reinhart suggests. This is because flours absorb differently among types and seasons of crop. It also does matter in a dry climate. I'm only one state away from Colorado, so maybe try adding more water too. I also found that I didn't have to add any extra flour during final mixing.

I don't use it every time, but Vital Wheat Gluten really helps. I found that kneading sufficiently (12 minutes by hand, 8 by machine) provides comparable results to adding gluten. (This information was brought to light in Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book- great book for whole grain breads if you havn't seen it). Anyway, vital wheat gluten will get rid of the crumbly texture and hold the bread slices together.

Another couple of things that I do that produces a non-crumbly texture is to use milk in the soaker, and to use finely ground whole wheat flour. I grind my flour fresh, using the "pastry" setting.

Try the same recipe over and over and try different variations to see what works best where you are. 

If you are making sandwich loaves in a bread pan, closed crumb is kind of what you want. You don't want air bubbles and pockets that make the bread fall apart. If you are after a "hearth style" loaf- I think it's just the nature of whole wheat that you don't get as open a crumb as with white flour. Small price to pay though for the benefits of whole wheat. :-) If the open crumb is what you really are after though, there are many techniques that produce a more open crumb like you mentioned. (ie stretch & fold). Try a formula that is written for hearth loaves, like maybe Hamelman's Whole Wheat Pain au Levain. I've had good luck with this one both flavor wise and open crumb.

Those are my suggestions! Hope this helps. 

Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

I had one loaf of PR's that seemed to need more water, a lot more water. All the rest have worked out great, especially the whole wheat sandwich bread. I use a pretty coarse ground whole wheat flour.

I use the Kitchen Aid when making his breads. I use it according to his directions. When I mix the biga and soaker they always look too dry but when I put the whole dough together it's almost always pretty sticky. I'm ready to adjust with more water as needed, though. Plan on a really sticky dough. If it's not sticky when mixing the final dough add water. I don't use the vital wheat gluten and it sounds like PR doesn't like it either.

If he says it needs to window pane, you need to knead it or use your mixer until it window panes! I've found his instructions are very specific for a reason. However, if he gives you variations, the variations work just fine. (I use soy milk for all the milk options, coconut oil for butter). The only time I had a variation not work is when I used yogurt for the milk option. I think the acidity killed the yeast. I had a really acidic homemade yogurt though so perhaps a storebought yogurt would have been fine.

Which recipes are you trying?

bobbywilson0's picture

I have been following his directions very closely. The only area where I have been unsure is the whole "adjust until you achieve the right consistency" part. My dough is often very sticky, sticking to my hands, my work surface, bowels etc. I just don't know to what degree of stickiness is good. 

I also noticed another thing that I have yet to mention. I get the floating tops too, the top seems to have been stretched so hard that it looks torn on each side.

I have tried about the first 4 recipes. They all give me consistently crumbly dense bread. I am trying to just hone in on the whole wheat sandwich loaf for now though.

bobbywilson0's picture

I haven't added any water yet to adjust. I have basically just been trying to follow his directions to a 'T'. Recently though I realized that I need to knead a lot more by hand to achieve the window pane. I don't have a mixer so by hand is my only option. I have been using milk in the soaker too. I haven't tried vital wheat gluten than sounds interesting. I am interested most in getting a consistent sandwich loaf that I can replace the store-bought stuff with.

Here is an image of the latest loaf I did as a transitional multigrain

Hosted by

Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

Not sure what you mean by floating top? Do you have pictures of the floating tops? Perhaps you're not getting a tight enough shape to the loaf? Watch a few videos on ways to shape a loaf. JMonkey has a video that you can search for on here that is the best I've seen.

What kind of whole wheat flour are you using? Try using King Arthur's. It is really high in protein and seems to develop gluten nicely.

Yes, this is a sticky bread. Use wet hands and it will stick less, rather than a heavily floured surface. Perhaps try the stretch/fold techniques rather than so much traditional kneading? Also, resting for 30 minutes after all ingredients are added helps.

Do you have a food processor? Some people do a minute in the processor but I've never tried that.

Have you tried retarding this in the fridge and then pulling it out in the morning, doing some stretch/folds? Does this make any difference at all?

I actually use the recipe from the Whole Grains rather than BBA's. I just glanced at the one in BBAs just now but not closely enough to see the differences between the two. Are you using the one from BBA?

bobbywilson0's picture

By floating top, I mean that the top of the bread pulls away leaving tears and stretched looking marks. It seems like it is from not being stretchy enough on the sides to rise and so it tears from the pressure on each side. I will try and take a photo of what I mean there. I will have to check out that video thanks :)

I am using King Arthur's.

Yeah I think I may have added more flower than I should have, and will use wet hands in the future instead. The 30 min rest seems interesting and will have to try that too. I should be taking notes each time so that I can debug some of my problems.

I don't have a food processor big enough to do the bread in.

I have typically been doing the biga in the fridge over night first. Is this what you are referring to?

I am using the recipe from Whole Grain Breads.

busy lizzy's picture
busy lizzy

What exactly is vital wheat gluten and if you did add it to a recipe how much would you add?  Do you add so much per cup of flour? Thanks Busy Lizzy

Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

Vital Wheat Gluten is the protein part of wheat in a concentrated form, sometimes with dough enhancers. It is sometimes added to increase the gluten in breads. I will use it in specific circumstances only:

Making a substitution of whole wheat flour for high protein flour-since I don't have high protein whole wheat flour I will add vital wheat gluten.

Since my whole wheat flour performs to my liking in most other recipes, developing plenty of gluten, I don't generally use it. Some people use it routinely, adding a tablespoon or two in every loaf they make. It's a personal thing. Just like some people prefer high protein flour and others prefer AP flour for most of their baking. It will give you a chewier, higher rising loaf.

For tenderness, add oil, egg, milk. For higher rising, vital wheat gluten, diastatic malt, improved techniques.

dsoleil's picture

I bake out of Rheinhart's WWB almost every day.  What I have found and have read from interviews with him is that if he says sticky, it will stick to your hands.  If he says tacky, he means that it is like touching a post-it note.  It feels a little sticky, but won't stick to your hands.  

I've found the greatest success in getting a dough consistency that is JUST over the line from sticky into tacky.  Especially if you are using bread pans rather than free-form, it should be easier for you to shape a loaf and get it into the pan without too much frustration.  

I will disagree though with inlovewbread on the nature of whole wheat breads.  I have actually had some excellent success lately in achieving light, airy, open breads with 100% whole wheat.  It is possible.  Using traditional techniques though, you'll usually get a more dense loaf.  I'm zeroing in on the techniques right now for the lighter loaves and hope to post more soon.   

bobbywilson0's picture

I have baked about 4 loaves since I started complaining about dry, crumbly bread. I took the advice from above, and also have since Bought Laurel's Kitchen Bread book. This book is great at explaining process, and little tips and tricks that really helped me out as a beginner. I am happy to say that I have solved my issues and am making moist not crumbly bread. The first thing that helped was being liberal with water on my hands and on the kneading surface. The second thing which maybe more important is kneading for more like 10+ minutes instead of 2 or 3. 

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

What kind of sweetener did you use? It strikes me that there would be a considerable difference in the end result if one used honey instead of sugar. 

I baked up a loaf of the WW sandwich loaf over the weekend and I found the directions to be spot on.  (I live in Ohio.) I used my Kitchen Aid to do the preliminary mixing and then switched to hand kneading for the final steps. I added no additional water or flour and I ended up with a dough that felt amazingly supple, neither too sticky nor too dry.  For the sweetener, I used brown sugar because I felt that maybe the honey would alter the moisture ratio too much.  I came up with a loaf with a dense crumb, which is what I was looking for in a sandwich bread, and a sweet and intense wheaty taste.  Nothing profoundly different, but a nice result.  (By the way, I found the taste was much improved the next day.)

I found an awful lot of repetition in the book, but I still think his "epoxy" method is worth trying. Though I think I would have found another name for the technique.  I get his reasoning for using this terminology (2 inert substances combined to create a desired reaction) but epoxy denotes something thick and gluey, which I wouldn't think is a very good mental image for any kind of bread.