The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Does Whole-Wheat flour absorb more water than regular flour?

cloud's picture

Does Whole-Wheat flour absorb more water than regular flour?

Good morning,

I tried my hand at baking my first sourdough bread the other day. Without thinking, I used whole wheat flour instead of regular bread flour, which was probably a mistake. It was wayy stickier than in the video for the recipe. It wouldnt become smooth even after 20 mins of kneading.

Was it because of the flour?

barryvabeach's picture

The flour might have been the issue. The general thought is that whole wheat requires more water than bread flour, not the opposite.  However, It is often suggested that water be added to whole wheat and mixed slightly, then let stand for half hour to an hour before adding the yeast and salt, to allow the wheat to absorb all the water -  also called an autolyze,  so it is possible that while it was very sticky, that was because the whole wheat had not finished absorbing all the water. 

clazar123's picture

Barryvabeach is exactly correct. WW has the hard, bran outercoat that takes time to absorb water. If you don't give it adequate time, the bran will continue to absorb moisture from the crumb after the loaf is baked and the slices crumble as you try to eat your sandwich.

So if the dough seems sticky, just give it a minimum of 30 minutes rest in a covered bowl. If it still isn't to your liking, add another 15-30 min. I used to mix my 100% WW dough right before bed and throw it in an oiled,covered container and into the refrig. Next morning I would let it finish rising if it hasn't doubled and proceed.Slow fermentation =great taste!

David Mackie's picture
David Mackie

Yes generally WW does require a higher hydration but then I make 80% hydration white breads also.  

I have found the key is a longer autolyse.  My bake today I went for an overnight autolyse and while I have not yet baked the loaves the dough handling was very different to my usual 30 minute to 1 hour autolyse.

I mixed the flour and water (80% WW, 20% white) with water. Note DO NOT ADD levain (starter) or salt at this point and take into account the water in the starter to how much water you add for the initial mix.  (for example I mixed 700g WW, 300g white, 700g water for the overnight autolyse.  This morning I added 200g of starter (100% hydration so 100g flour, 100 g water in the levain), 20 g salt and mixed.

I was extremely surprised at the ease of handling this higher hydration dough. Usually after an hour autolyse it is very slack and sticky and hard to mix (I mix in a Kitchen Aid at speed 2 and it usually sticks to the sides of the bowl). This time it mixed without sticking and easily incorporated the salt and levain.  (I usually do a hand fold before mixing to get the salt inside the dough).

If you mix well enough at the beginning and develop the gluten early you do not need excessive kneading. In fact I don't knead at all - you can over oxidise the dough.  I dough a series of folds to develop gluten. For whole wheat you do not need more than 1 fold - folding too much doesn't help and even helps the bran to cut the gluten strings.  Hamelman goes into this in detail in his very good book "Bread" 

Hope this helps.  I will comment on my results later today when I bake!


- My only comments about the above post is I would not oil the container - you do not need it to prevent sticking. Use a good dough scraper (I have a silicone one that works great) as you don't want oil in your dough. Also do not add the yeast/starter or salt in the autolyse. You do not want fermentation to go on all night - you want a longer autolyse to help hydrate the dough and create better gluten bonds from enzyme activity)

cloud's picture

Thank you so much!! I think I actually let my dough autolyse for almost an hour, but it was still very hard to handle.

I was considering giving up on whole wheat bread for now, but not anymore! I will definitely be taking your tips into account next time!

For how many hours do you let your dough autolyse? I´m assuming 12+ hours since you said overnight?

Also, how long do you let it rise after adding the levain?

idaveindy's picture

This is pretty much my "bible" for whole wheat breads:

The Kindle edition is on sale for US $5.99.  Normally much more, like $13 or more.  I own both the Kindle edition and a hard copy.

Also, Tartine Book No. 3, by Chad Robertson is very good for whole wheat, and ancient/specialty grains, and the price is ridiculously low, at only US $2.99, normally something like $15 or more for the Kindle version

I also own both the Kindle and a hard copy of Tartine No. 3. Man, just the photos alone in this book are worth $2.99.   

In case you didn't know, there are free Kindle reading apps for computers (Windows and Mac), and tablets/phones (Android and ios).  You don't have to have an actual Kindle tablet.

David Mackie's picture
David Mackie

Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman is the book to get. It is a bible and has a load of information. It is not a book for beginners but it tells you why you do things which helps you to learn how to create your own recipes.  He goes into great detail.



David Mackie's picture
David Mackie

So here are my results:

The autolyse was almost 14 hours.  I finished mixing at 6 pm and then did the final mix adding salt and levain at 7:45 am the next morning. Who knows maybe 4 hours gets the same results....maybe next time but overnight was easy because I could resume the next morning. I try to make it easy baking bread.

Also you will get better at handling slack dough as time goes on - just persevere. At first it seems impossible but it isn't. 

As for timing for the bulk ferment and proofing really the answer is "when it is ready"  It is hard to give time estimates because it relates to your dough temperature, room temperature, how much levain you put in...

In my case the dough temperature after autolyse was 72F which is my kitchen temperature in winter.  I had a hot oven from something else so I opened the oven door and left the dough on the oven door to help the bulk ferment.  Even so it went almost 5 hours (I left it perhaps an hour too long as I had run out to do some shopping and was late getting back).  You maybe need 30% increase in volume.  I use transparent Cambro 6 litre containers to see the ferment. You can see the bubbles on the side and easily see how much it has risen as it has a scale on the side (you can also put a rubber band around your container at the initial level of the dough).  Tip : get a good quality instant read probe thermometer.

For the proofing it went 4 hours but again my kitchen is cold and the dough temperature was about 74F after bulk ferment. I use the finger dent test to make sure it is not overproofed but also I kind of know how it looks in the bannetons when it has risen enough.

Sorry I don't have exact timing.

The loaf on the left is a cranberry walnut recipe I adapted from a Hazelnut Fig recipe from Hamelman's Bread and the right is the whole wheat (70% WW, 30% white, 82% hydration, 100% hydration levain - levain amount was 12% of the total yield (flour_water).  I keep detailed notes of every bake so I can refer to good bakes and the odd disaster. For instance this bake I baked two rounds and two batards.  I left the batards in a warmer part of the kitchen and they rose too much so they were too large to handle easily and I dropped one on the baking tiles when putting it in - it will now be used for bread pudding or bread crumbs.