Q&A Whole Grain Breads

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Q: When I make the 100% whole wheat bread it doesn’t seem to rise as well as the other doughs, am I doing something wrong?

A: The short answer is no! It is nothing you are doing wrong, it is just the nature of whole wheat flour. Because there is so much bran and natural oil in the flour it is impossible to get enough gluten development to achieve a really good rise on the bread.

To get a higher sandwich loaf, we tend to overfill the loaf pan and let it rise for longer. If you go about 3/4 full and allow the dough to rise for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on the size of the pan, you’ll get a taller loaf. The whole wheat loaves in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day will do well with this approach.

Another way to get more rise in the bread is to add “vital wheat gluten” (also known as “vital wheat gluten flour,” to the dough. If you whisk in 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of dry grain ingredient you will have a much higher, lighter loaf of bread. It also contains vitamin C which helps to improve the dough and make it more elastic.  But you’ll need to increase the water in the recipe to adjust for the extra protein; that’s the kind of recipe testing we did for Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

“Vital wheat gluten” products are available from Bob’s Red Mill and Hodgson Mill. Both products are often in the baking section of typical supermarkets.

Q: My whole wheat loaf doesn’t get a good crisp crust! What can I do?

A: The naturally occurring oils in the flour, plus the added oil in the recipe will prevent this bread from ever getting a really crackly crust. You can bake the bread with steam to help with the crust, but it will eventually get soft again. If you want a bread with a crisp crust you will want to look for recipes with mostly white flour and no added oils.

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470 thoughts on “Q&A Whole Grain Breads

  1. Katie: Unfortunately, pastry flours don’t have enough protein to create a good gluten network for bread. If you want to use 100% whole wheat flour, first off, I’d avoid the pastry flour (use bread or all-purpose). You can further boost the gluten content with vital wheat gluten; here’s how– http://artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=142. If you use WW pastry flour without adding any VWG you will get a very dense and unpalatable result.

    That antipates our next book out in the fall!

  2. I have been making the oatmeal bread and the whole wheat sandwich bread (pg 8) as a boule rather than in a loaf pan. How should I adjust the rising time, temperature and baking time?? most recipes that use a loaf pan call for a rise of 1 hour and 40 minutes, which is much more than some other recipes. Would it be less when making as a free form boule? Do I also need to adjust the oven temperature and shorten the baking time? Thanks! Brooke

  3. Brooke: You can usually rest shorter with a free-form boule, so long as it’s a small one (about one pound, size of a grapefruit when you pull it from the bucket). If a particular dough calls for one hour and 40 min in the loaf, you can probably go 60 minutes (or even 40) if it’s a one-pound free-form. Same baking temp though; the time may be shorter by about 15%. Jeff

  4. I got your book about 10 days ago and have been baking bread everyday with GREAT success using whatever ingredients I have on hand. Even though I am an experienced baker I have never baked bread before. I found it too complicated and involved for what I was producing. Poor bread after so much time and effort could not compete with great cakes and cookies coming quickly. My entire family absolutely loves the artisan bread I am making and it is gone in an hour.

    Thank you so much for writing this book. It has added a lot to our lives.

    1)Reading about vital wheat gluten is something totally new to me. I looked it up and found Dough Enhancers. Where you say to use vital wheat gluten would you use ascorbic acid and diastatic malt also? Or would that defeat the purpose of these breads which is slow fermentation?

    2) I have a lot of bleached all purpose flour at the moment. Can I use that for the moment by adding 1/2 tsp or more of the VWG per cup of flour? Then what amount VWG?

    3) I found Bob’s Red Mill VWG and I found some sold in bulk by Barry Farm Foods that is considerably cheaper. Are all VWG essentially the same or should I stick to a name brand?

    Thank you for your help! Katyajini

  5. We’ve just found that the diastatic malt and the ascorbic acid isn’t neccesary and we try to keep complexity to a minimum. I’m sure it wouldn’t be harmful from the standpoint of the slow rise though.

    You can experiment with the bleached, but it would be an experiment for me, too! I’ve never tested what you’re proposing. Sounds reasonable.

    Feel free to try an off-brand and let us know how it works… that stuff can be expensive.

  6. Hi Jeff, thanks for your reply. I ordered the bulk VWG and will let you know how it goes. Just want to use up my bleached flour…and compensate for bleached flour if that is all I have to use!

  7. Have you ever tried spelt flour? I am sensitive to wheat so have tried your boule recipie with spelt, I have found it most likely similar to the 100% whole wheat flour issues that others have mentioned; though am not positive… mainly its a very dense bread. I noticed the my last batch rose a LOT more than my first batch in the initial 2 hours of rising and that was with 1/4 cup less flour. I am wondering if it would rise/bake better if I parbake all my loaves and not ever get it in the fridge. I noticed it decreased in size once I put it in the fridge… Anyway, curious if you have any ideas for me. I love the book and the concept!!! I am also looking forward to this book 2… – Heather

  8. I would like to bake the 100% whole wheat loaf, page 76, as a free form loaf using the Dutch oven method. For a 1 1/2 pound free form loaf of 100% WW bread, at what temperature should the Dutch oven be preheated, what temperature should the bread be baked, and how long should the bread be baked…covered and uncovered? Thanks for your reply.

  9. With that loaf, don’t change the temp— pre-heat the Dutch oven.

    Overall baking time shouldn’t change either, about 50% covered, 50% of the time un-covered.

  10. I would now like to bake the ww sandwich bread on page 78, in free form rather than in a loaf pan. Also, I would like to bake in a covered Dutch oven. At what temperature should I preheat, at what temperature should I bake, and at what length of time? Also, please indicate the temperature I am striving for.
    Thank you in advance.

  11. I would like to bake the ww sandwich bread on page 78, in free form in a Dutch oven. What temperature must I preheat, what temp must I bake and for how long? Also, could you comment on the difference in texture I can expect between the 100% ww on page 76 and this one?

    Thanks for your reply….love the book and the method!!

  12. Janet: The page 78 bread bakes up lighter than the 100% WW loaf, noticeably so. There are also more diverse flavors in it, while the 100% WW is just whole wheat flavor, that’s it.

    Preheat the Dutch oven to the bread’s recommended temp for at least 20 minutes. Zoe tried 25 degrees higher and liked the crust more (lower when you put in the oven). My guess is that won’t make any difference for whole wheat because of the natural oils in wheat germ– they tend to soften the crust anyway.

    Usual baking time applies; remember to open the pan halfway through.

  13. Hi,
    I was looking for any suggestions on using the 100% whole wheat dough for pizzas- I assume you would have to lower the temp?
    any hints would be appreciated,

  14. Hi Mandy,

    I would still bake the pizza at a fairly high heat, but maybe drop the temperature to 500, instead of 550.

    I do whole wheat crusts all the time at this temperature.

    Enjoy! Zoë

  15. I love your book! I started with the Peasant Bread and we loved it. Last week I made the 100% WW bread. The first batch (the 2nd day) was good — made it free-form on the stone. The second batch I made into small rolls (brushed with butter) and they were dense and didn’t rise much after the rest or in the oven. But by the 4th day, the remaining dough was very stiff and tough to scoop. It was in a food container with the lid placed over top, but not sealed. The Peasant loaf dough lasted longer than this without the same problem. Any ideas? After reading the comments here, I’ll adjust the next batch a bit. But I was wondering if anyone else ran into the problem with the dough getting “stiff” in the fridge. I looking forward to experimenting a bit — flax seed, oat bran, etc. Your next book will definitely be on my Christmas list!

  16. Thanks so much Jeff. I’ll be picking up some VWG before I make it again. For now, I left the remaining WW dough (less than 1/4 of the original batch) in the container, and yesterday I made a batch of the master recipe right on top. I added a little more water to account for the stiff WW dough. It rose incredibly and has a bit of the fermented smell. I think it will add character to the white loaf and (it seems) rise well. The first loaf is resting now. I’ll let you know how it goes.
    Thanks so much for the quick reply. I just wanted to make sure that the very stiff dough wasn’t a problem. I’m so enjoying this book and I’m looking forward to branching out into some of the more specialized recipes soon. Maybe a sweet bread for Easter!

  17. Just a follow-up, the batch of dough made “on top of” the remainder of the very thick WW batch was great. My husband says it may like it best of all I’d made so far. It was “wheaty” but less dense and certainly easier to work with. Now I feel more comfortable experimenting a bit. Thanks again for the inspirations and all of the help through this Web site.

  18. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you for letting us know that it was successful! I’m so glad you got the loaf you wanted and are feeling more confident to experiment!

    Happy baking! Zoë

  19. Hi, I have 4 hungry boys and a hungry husband. We eat a lot of bread. So I got a really big bread pan… 17 inches long and the usual width, its just really long. How can I make your whole wheat bread in a pan that big? How can I shape it? You caution that you shouldn’t knead or handle the dough too much, how much is too much? It seems like when I don’t shape it, it doesn’t come out quite as well. I tried Peter Reinhart’s Biga/Soaker method and I shaped it and that loaf did better and I think it was the shaping. Also what is the difference between the Biga/Soaker and your method? Do you have a fermentation, autolayse and the other steps somehow in your method?
    Also, with his method he has you weigh your ingredients, could I convert your recipe to weight? Or are there weights in the new book? I can’t hardly stand it that it won’t be until October for the new whole grain book. I can’t wait!! I want to make your method work as well as the Biga/Soaker method because your method is SO much easier!

  20. Jennifer: The length isn’t that much of an issue, the important thing is how far from the crust to the center of the bread. If you use a really wide and high pan, that can throw things off– those need more baking time, or even a lower temp and a MUCH longer baking time (so the center is done before the crust burns). You should be able to shape the large loaf as you’ve been doing. Briefly “cloak” as in Chapter 5, then elongate, then into a nonstick pan (grease first).

    The biga/soaker method is nice, but it adds a lot of work so we didn’t do it. You allow a portion of dough to pre-ferment with only a little yeast, replenishing and throwing away half as it builds up to full volume over a couple of days. Then that gets mixed with the full mass of dough. It’s an ancient and lovely method, but too time-consuming for most of our busy readers. We achieve comparable full flavor by storing the dough– as you’ve noticed, the flavor matures as the dough ages.

    About weights: we will have a weight conversion chart in the second book.

  21. I recently learned about no knead bread and subsequently purchased your book. Love the concept and have had good results with the resulting breads. I am most interested in whole grain breads and normally that is what we eat and look forward to your upcoming book. I hope you will have options for adding seeds and grains to the recipes and many hearty bread recipes.

  22. Thank you for you response to my question regarding grinding grain. I do have another question. I must have missed a reference to hamburger buns but Iwould like to know if I have to do anything different to make the buns. Can I just make the bread recipe and form buns.

  23. Hi again,

    I am having a wonderful time with the ww recipes. I don’t like the 100% so I’ve replaced some of the white flour with more ww flour in the liter version. Each time, I replace a bit more and I am keeping track of the results so I don’t duplicate. Here’s my questions: 1) my SO doesn’t like the crust! Yeah, I know that the whole process is designed to give you wonderfully crusty bread but… is there a way I could bake a loaf and have it come out with a softer crust? 2) I tried the Chris Kimball recipe – crust was better but the bread not as tasty as the others. So, which ingredients) in the Chris Kimball recipe might be giving the bread a softer crust? BTW, I put the Kimball recipe thru the nutrition analyzer and it has 5 grams of fiber for a 14 slice loaf, which is not too shabby for us South Beach dieters. Any help would be appreciated – so I don’t have to keep two kinds of bread in the
    ‘fridge. (also – if two of us ate, it wouldn’t have time to get stale). Can’t wait for the new book!

  24. Hi Suzan,

    If your SO wants a softer crust you can eliminate the steam, this will reduce the crustiness of the loaf. You can also brush the loaf with butter or oil when it first comes out of the oven, while it is still hot and that will soften it right up.

    Enjoy! Zoë

  25. Hi Jeff, Zoe,

    I love the book! This method saves so much of my time I can’t even begin to thank you! I have a question about about wheat flour. The last batch of the master recipe I made I swapped out 2 cups of all purpose for whole wheat. The dough looked about the same as 100% all purpose batches. However, my loaves tend to spread out like pancakes while resting prior to baking. I’ve tried letting it rest as long as an 1.5 hours and shaping the dough more like a ball, but they all ended up the same. What am I doing wrong here?

    1. Did you adjust the water? Generally I’d add more water when using more WW, but it already sounds too wet. What do you think of the 100% WW bread when you do that as a freeform? Jeff

  26. hi there, I have had your book for two weeeks now and I am enjoying baking bread every day and impressing all my friends with my bread baking skill. I have been making the master recipe using King Arthur white wheat flour and it has been great though a bit dense, any suggestions to lighten it up? Do I need to add more water? Also, I am just trying my first batch of the 100% whole wheat recipe and you mention that it is good baked as a free form loaf, is it baked the same way as the master or do I bake at a lower temp? Thanks and I will be buying the new book this week!

    1. CC: You generally cannot just swap a whole wheat product (even WWW) for AP in our recipes, the result is too dry. That’s the subject of our second book (http://tinyurl.com/pe8yr9). Increase the water until the consistency is about what you’re used to with our white recipe (see videos at http://artisanbreadinfive.com/?page_id=63).

      For free-form, use the temperature we have for the loaf pan for 100% WW, otherwise the same as for the Master. Jeff

  27. Hi, Jeff and Zoe: Any tips for high-extraction bread flour? I’ve been given a 50-pound sack.

    We increased the liquid and the rising time, but our first attempts came out a little damp.

    1. Hi Leah,

      What a gift! Which recipe are you trying it in? It is like a whole wheat flour with less bran, but all the germ. It will have a nicer amount of gluten, which is why you might need slightly more water in some recipes. I would say if you are using it in place of whole wheat flour you might just use it 1 for 1 in our recipes without increasing the water? I’d have to play with it in our recipes to know for sure, but our recipes may be wet enough to deal with the extra gluten!

      Thanks! Zoë

  28. OK Zoe & Jeff I need help with HBI5 Master recipe PLEASE: I’ve had really good success with ABI5 – it weaned us from our grocery’s expensive loaves. Although I have to say the WW recipes I tried from it were so so (I chalked it up to me not paying enough attention during recipe building). I tried the master recipe from the video (pre-publication) and it was so so as well I chalked it up to the fact I didn’t have any vital wheat gluten on hand but Bread improver, so I swaped it out 1:1. It contained VWG but I had no clue the proportions. So I bought the book, waited for my retailer to stock VWG and went through the process again yesterday. I was VERY conscious to follow the recipe. Today I made the master loaf in a 2 lb loaf tin. It was a brick – the crumb was dense and the crust was tough – flavor was fine though. I actually weighed the dough 2.1lb, made sure I barely touched the dough during shaping – used the same techniques that were successful with the ABI5. The dough sat in fridge for 24 hours before baking. As per instructions filled the tin 3/4 waited for 105 minutes rest before heating my oven to 450 (new oven, temp confirmed with internal oven thermometer). Loaf had not risen much at all on the counter, but had spread to fill the tin. It did not crest over the tin though – so I was hoping for significant oven spring – which I was used to getting with ABI5 loaves. Spritzed the loaf with water, slashed and cooked with steam as per the book. After 45 mins internal temp of bread was only 172 degrees based on my thermapen. So I popped back in the oven @ 350 to bring it up to 205 – maybe that accounted for the crust, but I was more disappointed in the crumb. My only thought was the dough did not seem as wet as ABI5 and I thought that it should be more so. My kitchen also was cooler today than breadbaking during summer about 70 degrees according to the house temp. (I’m in St Louis and it’s been raining all week) Perhaps I should have let it rest longer? I’d done that in the past with WW breads and thought I’d probably overproofed. They have just never risen. Could it be the flour? I doubt it I’m using bobs red mill 100% whole wheat. The yeast is a new jar of red star. I’m stumped but undaunted. Please give me the benefit of your expertise, so I don’t have to feed yet another WW brick to the local ducks…or continue to get my WW loaves from Whole Paycheck. THANKS IN ADVANCE

    1. Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for your note, we will try to get your WW breads baking up nicely!

      It sounds like your dough may have been too dry and therefore would not have the nice stretch it needs to rise well. Have you had a chance to watch our videos about the new book? http://artisanbreadinfive.com/?page_id=63 Check them out and see if your dough looks like ours. If your dough does look wet enough, then I think you may want to allow it to rest longer, especially if your kitchen is on the cool side. Especially a loaf pan bread is very thick and will benefit from a longer resting time.

      Thanks! Zoë

  29. Thanks Zoe, I appreciate the help. I hauled out the old Zo breadmaker and programmed the homemade version to have the olther 2lbs left of my dough rise for the allocated time specified in the recipe to try to eliminate the proof temp as a variable. Again it was a dud, didn’t rise at all during rest and was heavy. So back to the drawing board. I have checked out your utube video again. I’m going to follow it to the letter and do a boule. I’m also going to make it in my new bucket (I have been using the KA stand mixer with the paddle) Honestly that is the only thing that I can think that I am doing different. I will report back. I have never felt so baking challenged!

  30. Hi Zoe, It appears it was the water. I made a new batch and I’ve got a much better product now. I ended up adding another third of a cup of water till it felt more like the white artesean dough. I followed your recipe, waited 20 minutes for it to absorb and felt it again and it was still too dry (ie. like the last batch) so I gradually added the water till it felt “right”. This batch did get a better rise on the counter too. I also made sure that the loaf reaches at least 200 degrees to ensure that the extra hydration was baked out.
    The verdict: The crumb is creamy and much less dense than before even if the crumb still a bit tighter than the WW loaves we were buying commercially, but I think it is definitely on the way. Thank you for your guidance.

    Any tips for getting a more open crumb?

  31. Hi Everyone,

    Wanted you to know that I had great success with the pumpkin brioche. I upped the spices and baked it in a loaf pan and it was terrific. Also, for some reason, it didn’t get stale. We had it loosely wrapped in the ‘fridge and it took a week to eatt. The last piece was as good as the first! My question: my game plan is to make 1/2 recipe of anything I try and always bake in a larger loaf pan. Do you have any general guidelines for this? Some of the new book recipes give specific instructions; some don’t. Right now I have the WW/flaxseed bread rising and I am going to try it at 350 degrees until it’s done.

    1. Hi Suzan,

      I’m so pleased that you made and enjoyed the pumpkin brioche. It doesn’t dry out because of the pumpkin puree, so it lasts longer than some of the other breads.

      The additional time needed for resting and baking the loaves depends on how much larger you are making them. If you let us know the size of the loaf we can better help you figure it out.

      Thanks and enjoy! Zoë

  32. Hi – what I’ve been doing is making a half recipe and using all the dough for the loaf. I put it in the larger pan (probably two pounds of dough). My house is cold so I warm a cup of water in the microwave and then put the loaf in there to rise. Rising times have varied; that’s not as big a concern to me as the baking temperature. I have been using 350 degrees and just watching the bread until it thumps. However, I am not sure if there is a more scientific way of going about it. I have not tried the flaxseed bread I made yesterday but it took almost an hour to sound like it was done.


    1. Suzan: I think you’re baking too cool. Most of our non-enriched recipes bake at 450, not 350. Also, use an oven thermometer to be sure you’re not running cold or hot. Jeff

  33. For all breads made to date, the bookmentions using cornmeal on the “peel”. I want to try “limpa” (artisan bread book). It mentions using “whole wheat covered peel”. Am I to use whole wheat “flour” or wheat kernels?

    1. Hi Hal,

      You would want to use a whole wheat flour. The corn meal is too strong a flavor and coarse of a texture to be a good fit for the limpa. You can also use parchment paper under the loaves.

      Thanks and enjoy the bread! Zoë

  34. Hi there,

    I’ve just recently received your book, and unfortunately I am having a really hard time to get my hands on vital wheat gluten. I live in South Africa and it seems impossible to find this in our stores, or not in bulk volumes.

    I know that this is a vital part of your recipe success, but considering that without the availability of vital wheat gluten that your entire book is practically of no use to me, is there anything I can do to substitute vital wheat gluten with a more common found ingredient that will yield pretty similar results?

    It would really be fantastic if there is a workable substitute so I can actually start making your mouth watering recipes!

    1. Hi Alwyn,

      Can you find bread flour or other flours that are high in protein? The higher protein flour will give you the stretch you need. This means you will have to stick to the recipes that have a portion of white flour or the breads will be dense.

      If you have health food stores or co-ops they may be able to get you the vital wheat gluten?

      Thanks for giving the breads a try. Zoë

  35. i loved the class you gave in AZ last week and i’m about to make my challah, but it’s not the time to try a new way… can i use your ingredient list but assemble and bake in the traditional way? (i.e. mix warm water and yeast, let foam, add to dry ingreds, and let rise, punch down etc…?)_
    thanks. will get up the courage to try your way next week! by the way did you find Maya’s lesson in 6-braiding on U-Tube?? 🙂

    1. Miriam: You can, but you won’t be able to store it because of the punching down– that knocks the gas out of the dough. Haven’t had a chance to check out Maya’s braiding lesson… Jeff

  36. any chance you can shoot me a quick answer? i’m going to make the dough in a few minutes! wondering if i might be able to add the VWG to my recipe which uses 6 – 7 cups flour… i usually use about 2 cups of it white whole wheat. still want to know you’re answer tho to the question above that i wrote earlier. thanks so much.

  37. thanks jeff! added VWG to my recipe and can’t wait to see if it’s any different then usual. will hopefully try your recipe next week!

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