Whole wheat bread from scratch, straight from your own oven. Slather it with butter and you have heaven on a plate.
What is better than the aroma of freshly baked bread right as you pull it out of your oven?
It may be one of the best smells ever. Homemade bread is a delicious thing. I love eating a slice of whole wheat bread fresh while it’s still warm, slathered with butter.
Whole wheat bread from scratch is amazing but sometimes it just doesn’t turn out how you had hoped. Maybe it’s dry, maybe it’s too crumbly, or it might feel like a brick.
Baking with whole wheat flour can be a bit hard when you first get started if you are used to white flour or if you are simply new to baking. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make great whole wheat bread from scratch. It just takes a bit of practice and knowing a few secrets to help you make bread that you will love.
5 Secrets to Baking Whole Wheat Bread From Scratch that You Will Love
1. When in doubt, use less flour
It is always tempting to add more flour to your dough if it feels sticky. You can always add extra flour but you can’t take the flour out.
If your last loaf was dry and crumbly, it could be that you add too much flour. Next time add a little less than you think you will need.
2. Let the dough rest
Dough made with whole wheat flour needs time to rest before you knead it. It is a process called autolyse. If you already follow the soaking method when you are making bread then, this goes hand and hand.
Autolyse is as simple as mixing the liquids and flour together and letting it rest for at least 20 minutes but preferably at least an hour or more.
Whole wheat contains bran and germ. During the autolyse, the flour absorbs all of the water and becomes fully hydrated as the enzymes in the flour start to break down, stimulating the proteins in the flour and the gluten begins to develop.
Simple sugars in the grain are also broken down those will help feed the yeast or starter when it is added.
The results is a loaf of bread that is not too dry, requires less kneading time, and has better overall texture. Always start with slightly less flour if the recipe gives a suggested range of measurements. After it has rested you can add more flour if the dough is still too stick, usually about 1/4 or less at a time.
True autolyse calls only for flour and water but I sometimes go ahead and add my other liquids, including sourdough starter when I am baking with sourdough.
If you follow the soaking method, you are by nature allowing for autolyse. When I am making whole wheat bread using the soaking method I err on less flour and then add a bit of unrefined flour the next day when I am ready to let it rise.
3. Don’t over knead
Kneading your bread is what further develops the gluten but if you let it go too far your bread will not turn out right.
An easy way to see if your dough is ready is to try the “windowpane test”. You take a small lump of your dough and stretch it gently between your fingers. If it tears right away you know that the gluten is not fully developed. The bran in the wheat is a bit rough so unlike if you try this with dough made from 100% white flour, you will see some tearing from the small particles in the flour.
It is possible to over-knead, but I wouldn’t be too worried about it. It is fairly hard to do, usually, 10 minutes is sufficient.
When making sourdough I do tend to be a bit lazier when it comes to kneading because the slow rise continues to develop the gluten on its own. I’ll knead for a few minutes then, fold the dough over every hour or so when I walk through the kitchen.
4. Don’t forget the salt and add it last
Have you ever tasted bread that is bland and boring? It’s probably because there was not enough salt in it or no salt at all. Salt brings out all the other flavors and makes them shine.
Salt should be added after the autolyse because it affects gluten development. You want your gluten to develop, so adding salt last improves the bread’s structure. Don’t freak out if you forget if you mix it in with your yeast or sourdough starter. It’s not the end of the world.
5. Use freshly ground flour
Have you ever tasted whole wheat baked goods that just take off or a bit bitter?
Wheat berries have oil in the bran. This oil is released when wheat is ground. In just 12 hours the oil starts to oxidize and slowly turns rancid. This rancidity is what gives whole wheat flour from the store its bitter taste. You have no clue how many months the flour has been sitting around before it made its way to your home.
It’s not going to harm you but it definitely doesn’t taste amazing. People go back and forth on whether fresh ground flour has more nutrients or not. Personally, it comes down to flavor for me (and saving money too).
Flour from the store is also very dense, which is results in, you guessed it, dense bread. Freshly ground flour has a slightly nutty and mellow flavor to it. It is light and airy from having been through the grain mill.
You will be shocked by the difference in the taste and texture of your bread when you switch from whole wheat flour from the store to freshly ground flour.
Bonus Tip: It is actually cheaper to buy wheat berries to grind yourself than it is to buy flour preground. At Azure Standard (where I buy my wheat berries), you save at least 10 cents per pound. While that is not much, it still adds up.
A grain mill is an investment, but it is a worthy one to make, even if you have to save up for it. Don’t limit yourself to only looking online for a mill. Check thrift stores, estate sales, and garage sales. I saw a high-quality grain mill for a steal at an estate sale not long ago. I had to resist the urge to buy it to keep on hand for “just in case”.
Currently, I have the WonderMill but have my eyes on the KoMo Mill and Flaker. Realistically I will probably be investing in NutriMill Harvest soon and will save up for the KoMo or possibly a MockMill.
Sometimes adding vital wheat gluten to a recipe can help improve the structure of the bread and make it less crumbly because whole wheat contains less gluten than most white flours.
Over prooving (rising) bread can also cause the structure of the bread to weaken and be a bit crumbly as well.
Whole Wheat Breads: