Making a bread using only wholemeal flour and no white plain flour is a challenge. It tend to give a very dense bread which only bread lovers might appreciate. I’ve had several failed attempts in this bread type before trying a recipe from the cookbook Brilliant Bread which did give a nice, not too dense whole wheat bread!
Why is a whole wheat bread hard to make?
When baking bread one of the important steps you take is to knead and fold the bread dough. By doing this a network of gluten is formed. Gluten are proteins in wheat flour which can orient themselves in such a way they form a cohesive network. This network is what helps bread to hold on to air bubbles, be flexible enough to expand when rising and overall giving an airy structure.
In order to form a network, the gluten proteins have to be able to move around and find one another. If there isn’t enough moisture, this is hard for them to do. Also, fats can sit between the proteins, preventing the formation of the gluten network. (This is exactly what you want when make a pie dough though!)
When making a whole wheat bread it’s the other wheat components that sit in the way of this network. Whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat grain. Thus the flour doesn’t only contain the endosperm (the center of the flour), see below in the image. It’s the germ and bran that contain a lot of vitamins, minerals but also fibers. These fibers tend to get in the way of making a whole wheat bread.
Making a good whole wheat bread
In order to make a good, fluffy whole wheat bread practice is required. It’s harder to get this bread right, but if you’re a bread lover, it will be worth the effort. Here are a few tips that will help you make you’re best whole wheat bread:
- Use plenty water: when making whole wheat bread you always need relatively more water than for a regular white bread. The fibers and other complex carbohydrates will absorb a lot more water.
- Take your time: it’s best to start your bread by mixing the ingredients and leaving them for a little while (30 minutes should be good). This allows the flour to absorb water and makes it a lot easier to knead!
- Knead plenty: since the gluten network isn’t that strong, more gas will escape during the rising process. By kneading more than you regularly would you strengthen this gluten network, helping to hold on to water.
Whole wheat bread recipe
The recipe I used comes from the British Bake-off cookbook from James Morton: Brilliant Bread. I must admit, my bread wasn’t perfect yet and could still do with some improvement, but it wasn’t too dense at all!
- 500g whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- ½ tsp salt (if you like your bread salty, you can add up to twice as much, I prefer mine a little more bland)
- 400g water
- Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the water (best if the water is at room temperature or slightly warmer to help the yeast grow).
- Leave on the counter for 30 minutes (covered with plastic wrap).
- Mix in a stand mixer (or by hand, if you're a good kneader, I'm not, so I use a KitchenAid with dough hook for these harder to knead breads). I tend to mix for 15 minutes at speed 1-2. It should have become noticeably more flexible.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise for 1,5 hours, or until it has risen considerably (they often say it should have doubled in size).
- Push the dough down and knead it shortly. They shape it into whichever shape you like, for instance a nice ball.
- Tip: this makes quite a large bread, in my experience the bread becomes a little more fluffy if you split the dough in two halves, somehow it seems to push the bread down a litle less.
- Cover and leave for another 30-45 minutes.
- Pre-heat the oven at 210C (heat it to 230C if you prefer a slightly thinner crust, I prefer a lot of crust).
- Scorch the dough with a nice pattern on the top (see on the photo below, I used cross hatched lines).
- Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. If you have a Dutch Oven, put the bread in first with the lid on for 15 minutes. Then take the lid of and continue baking.
- After the 45 minutes the bread should be nice and brown, feel free to bake it longer if you prefer a dark brown. The bread should sound hollow when you tap on the bottom.
- Note: if you turned up the temperature, reduce baking time by 5-15 minutes to prevent burning.
Good luck with this great bread and let me know how it went! If you want to understand the role of ingredients in bread better, have a look at my post dedicated on the topic.