September 29th, 2008

whole wheat bread

whole wheat bread 1

even though we ate it a lot growing up, at some point i stopped buying white bread and moved completely to whole wheat. today, white bread is frowned upon by many because of its perceived lack of health benefits, but for me, the change to whole wheat was for taste alone. whole wheat has a more rounded and nutty flavor, and it’s come to replace and enhance things like grilled cheeses and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. this was my first experience using whole wheat flour, and i was pleasantly surprised at how easily this bread came together.

whole wheat dough

this bread has both a soaker and a poolish. a soaker is a pre-ferment, which means it helps the bread taste like the dough fermented for much longer than it actually did. the soaker does not have yeast in it; the purpose is to help soften the coarse whole wheat grain and also activate the enzymes in the grains to break out some of the trapped sugars from the starches.

whole wheat bread 3

the poolish is another type of pre-ferment that is made up of flour, water and yeast. there is yeast in a poolish (very little), but it goes a long way in a very wet flour/water mixture (it’s easier for the yeast to work it’s magic in this state). when the poolish is added to the dough before baking, it not only helps fermentation but also adds incredible flavor.

whole wheat bread 2

the trick with whole wheat breads is making sure the flavor is hearty and delicious and not bitter and grassy. increasing the fermentation time helps balance the flavors, and for this reason, you’ll often find pre-ferments in these types of recipes. and while the amount of steps in a recipe like this can look intimidating, it’s really much simpler than it seems. at it’s core, bread has always been just flour, yeast, water and (often) salt.

whole wheat bread 4

i decided to test out my bread on an overstuffed grilled cheese with bacon, tomatoes and red onion. needless to say, it passed with flying colors.

grilled cheese

whole wheat bread
from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. makes 2 loaves.

1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup water (at room temperature)

1 1/2 cups whole what flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup water (at room temperature)

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/3 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
2 Tbsp honey
1 egg (optional)

1. the night before, make the soaker and the poolish. soaker: mix together the flour and water in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until the next day. poolish: mix together the flour, yeast and water. cover with plastic wrap, let sit at room temperature for 2 hours, then move the refrigerator until the next day.

2. the next day, remove the poolish from the fridge an hour before making the dough. in a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt and yeast. mix in the soaker and poolish, then the honey and egg. you may need more flour if you add the egg. stir together until dough forms a ball.

3. turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 mintues until tacky but not sticky. transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

4. divide the dough into 2 equal pieces, shape into loaves (good instructions here) and place into lighly oiled loaf pans. cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for about 90 minutes.

5. remove the plastic wrap and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. after the 30 minutes, rotate pans 180 degrees and continue baking for 15-30 minutes longer. the finished bread should be golden brown all around and firm on the sides and bottom. remove immediately from pans and cool on a cooling rack for a few hours before slicing.

22 Comments for whole wheat bread - why not leave some love?

  1. Esther says:

    We make whole wheat bread all the time, we really like it way better than white! This recipe looks interesting never seen one with three different beginning steps. We will have to try it some time!

    Esther from

  2. Dana says:

    What did you cover the bread in before you made the grilled cheese sandwich? The toasting is decadent and I wasn’t sure if you were using margarine, butter, mayonnaise… any tips?

  3. petebakes says:

    @Dana – i press some small slabs of butter on the bread (ok i slather it on) before it goes on the griddle. i try to use butter wherever i can.

  4. smorgasbroad says:

    I made this tonight!!! I think it turned out really well…haven’t tasted it though, because it’s cooling. It smells awesome. I also divided the dough into two portions, froze half, and baked the other half into two small loaves.


  5. Dana says:

    Butter, of course! It does make everything better.

  6. Rob says:

    Grrrr, this recipe makes absolutely no sense at all. I’ve done everything you’ve said but jeez, there’s not enough liquid for the flour. How does this recipe make ANY sense?!

    1 1/2 cups of water for 4 1/2 cups wheat?!

    Please tell me what I’m doing wrong.

    • Meg says:

      Rob, you must have made a mistake somewhere. I made this today and was very cautious with my flour because of what you had said. My dough turned out to be quite nice after 4 1/2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 cups of water, one egg and two tablespoons of honey. Make sure you’re using a liquid measuring cup for liquids and dry measuring cups for dry ingredients. Also, don’t pack down your flour; use the spooning method when measuring flour (spoon flour into measuring cups). Hope this helps. Good luck!

    • Deb says:

      I have to agree. I am in the process of making this bread right now and the dough is very dry. When I read the article before the actual recipe it mentioned the fact the poolish is a very WET/FLOUR WATER MIXTURE. My poolish was not wet. 3/4 (liquid measuring cup used) to 1 1/2 cup of flour was not wet!!! We will see how this turns out. I will comment after the bread comes out of the oven.

  7. Flounder says:

    As to the dryness….I have to agree….put 2 points. First, I live in Minnesota, and it is drier then hell up here in the winter, or until the humidity hits in June. So I typically end up using a bit more water then the recipes suggest. Plus, I have noticed a difference between brands of different flours. I have made 2 batches of the euro peasant bread, & the 2nd batch used 3.25 C of water, whereas the 1st batch needed on ab 3.1 C. I made the deli rye (it’s rising right now) I ended up using ab 3.2 C of water instead of 3. Secondly, I learned this from my mom, use liquid measuring cups/untensils for liquids.

  8. Rachel says:

    Hi there–

    I’d love some advice from anyone who has made this bread. I’m doing everything to the letter. The dough looks great, rises well, smells fantastic while it’s baking….then the loaves seem to fall while in the oven and I’m left with two whole wheat bricks. Any thoughts??

    Thank you!

    • swimmim says:

      You are either over proofing your bread (letting it rise too much), or your oven is not hot enough while it is baking. I would try raising your baking temperature by ~15-25 degrees, and DO NOT Open the oven door to peek. Look at the bread with the oven light through the door.

  9. A Baker says:

    Not to be rude but theres a mistake in the recipe mentioned above. The soaker needs 1.75 cups flour and 0.75 c milk or water and 1 tsp salt. The final dough needs 7 tbsp flour. This ( is a more accurate reproduction of Reinhart’s original recipe.

  10. Laura says:

    It sounds like you may be over proofing your dough.

  11. Laura says:

    I’m presuming that you followed the recipe that you have posted here, rather than the one that A Baker posted with corrections?
    From what I can see in your pictures, I like the look of your crumb better. It seems to have a more open crumb.

  12. Kelsey says:

    So, the bread will still turn out even with no egg?

  13. A Fool at Heart says:

    You got me, pete. This bread sucks. No way with such recipe you will get anything edible.

    Kelsey, the bread will not turn out with or without an egg.

  14. Karim says:

    I just made this today after starting the poolish and soaker last night, i needed a bit of extra flour after adding the egg since the dough was still too wet to knead properly… with all the other successes i’ve had with your recipes, i’m sure this will turn out wonderfully!

  15. Paul Ellsion says:

    This bread worked fine… I have made it three time now… and very happy with the flavour… I double the recepie… and today added some onion that had camelized… I checked out the “original recipe” but think there is too much yeast…I do not use the egg but had lots of liquid. Keep baking – started making bread when I was twelve and now I am 56. Paul

  16. Nusaybah says:

    This recipe looks wonderful. I have seen this method many times and will look forward to making this this coming week. One thing to always remember and make allowances for is that humidity in your home and environment make you adjust the liquid or flour in your recipe. I have been making bread for over 45 years and always found my main wheat recipe needs adjusting to humidity.

  17. Cheryl Thompson says:

    Isn’t there any butter, shortening?

  18. gary says:

    I have just read his book. I just made the soaker and made the poolish. My soaker is dry, and my poolish looks like dry dough.nothing like your picture. I used a glass measuring cup Pyrex .Did I do something wrong.I do not have a scale to weigh. Help please.

  19. Alec says:

    Dough is DRY! Do you have weight measurements for this recipe? That would help me decide if I’m packing the flour too much, or if the problem its the flour. Thanks!

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