Wholemeal Bread - what tips/techniques do you have?

Joined Dec 30, 2008
When working with wholemeal (brown) bread flour, what for you are the key tips/techniques that help you produce what you consider to be a pleasing loaf?

I'm looking for insight into everything from tips, techniques, favourite recipes.

Joined Aug 13, 2006
I find that the recommendations in the very hippy but very well-researched book "Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book" are great for making bread that rises high using exclusively 100% whole wheat flour.

To sum some of them up,

1.Knead well, and carefully. Your main purpose is not to break the gluten strands. So don;t smash or throw the dough, or stretch it quickly.

2. Keep the top surface intact. When you put to rise, use the part that was on the bottom as you kneaded and turn it up to be the top. Cover, rise.

3. Don't "punch" down the dough, but press it gently and separate it from the walls of the bowl to deflate, without ever breaking the surface of the dough.

4. Turn out onto floured board for shaping the loaves, with the top "skin" down - flatten gently and fold it inwards, all around, flap by flap, like a flower, then turn up again so what was the bottom is again the top. Cover with a towel to relax ten minutes.

5. Shape into loaf again putting the top "skin" on the floured board, flatten gently and roll the back end toiwards you, then halfway through the rolling, fold in the sides and then continue rolling. Again, turn over and put thje "skin" on top.

If you want a soft bread where butter is involved, you can get an exceptionally high rise if you knead in the cold butter, AFTER having thoroughly kneaded the bread, adding it sliver by sliver. It seems that almost the more you add the higher the rise, contrary to what would happen if you added melted butter. The explanation they give is it "greases the gluten" so the strands slide over each other easier, instead of being absorbed into the flour and making it heavy.

I've had exceptionally good results with this method, and have made high, light loaves of 100% whole wheat bread.
Joined Dec 30, 2008
Thanks Siduri.

Other than for a more dense, no-knead bread, I've recently moved away from a pure wholemeal to a blend of 50/50 wholemeal/white bread flour - to improve the opportunity for better gluten development.

I'll try going back to 100% wholemeal again and see how well I can do using your suggested techniques.

Joined Aug 4, 2000
Visit The Fresh Loaf for additional advice.

Also I'd recommend using a recipe consisting of 5/6'th's unbleached bread flour mixed with 1/6'th of rye or whole wheat flour.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
The mixed flours bread will be lighter.

Siduri's, Laura's Kitchen techniques are well taken.

The newest thing in bread baking -- even more the rage than "no knead" -- is "autolysis." As a practical matter, it's just a 10 to 20 minute rest between mixing and kneading. It allows the dough to hydrate evenly.

Kneading is a big issue. You don't want to knead too gently or too vigorously. In my experience, this is usually more of a problem either way with women than men. Odd, that. I don't know why. Don't even know if it's real -- could be a Texas Sharpshooter error. Something to ponder.

In any case, don't think of kneading in terms of "getting your aggressions out," but don't baby the dough either. Just lean into it as you go. Knead to the "windowpane" stage, then knead a dozen turns more.

Timing the rises and proofs: Use your eyes to see if the bread's risen enough to move on to the next step. Only use the clock to remind you to look.

Don't punch. You want to deflate without losing any of the cell structure or lightness. The new, "hot" technique is the "French fold." Pick up the dough, use its own weight to stretch it into a square. Fold the square into thirds, forming a long, narrow rectangle, like a letter. Turn the dough 90* and fold it in thirds again, forming a sort of cube.

The suggestions for keeping "surface tension" on the skin of the dough are well taken. I do it a bit differently, just "pulling down" aka "pulling into the center." But I don't think it matters much as long as you keep the skin as tight as you can through the process, and pull it as tight as can be before forming.

Be as gentle as possible, and retain as much gas as possible when you form your loaves. Forming, even for the pan, is a problem for many bakers.

Good luck,
Joined Aug 4, 2000
Following the autolyse, I knead for no more that about 10 seconds by picking up dough ball about 2 feet off of the countertop and allow gravity to stretch [2/3'rds of] it downwards almost for the entire two feet. This procedure I repeat 4 or 5 times and THAT'S IT. No more kneading and I get a nice open crumb that's soft.

Kneading is followed by an approx. 40 min rest period and french fold. The rest period and fold are then repeated another time or two.

If I feel that the dough is too slack, then the rest period will be decreased by 5 or 10 minutes to prevent the gluten from relaxing too much.
Joined Dec 30, 2008
Thanks all - a great mixture of the familiar and the new there, lots to work with.

Do you generally expect to achieve sufficient gluten development to pass the windowpane test when using 100% wholemeal/brown flour (note: without adding vitamin C or introducing additional gluten) or do you not apply this measure to wholemeal/brown flour?
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Yes, I do. But...

You're venturing into nuance land and dragging me along.

One has to be tolerant of the dough's limitations; but I almost always expect to get to windowpane. That said, it's been a very long time since I've gone 100% dark whole-wheat.

It's not easy to overknead by hand, especially if you're not too rough, and because you can feel overknead as a toughness which comes after smooth and satiny. I don't worry too much about kneading a long time to keep trying for windowpane. But, even if it doesn't pass windowpane, it's one heck of a satiny ball of dough.

It's possible my recommendations aren't suitable for the particular sort of bread you're talking about. As I said, it's been a long time.

If you're interested in a simple "whole wheat" bread (that's actually got a lot of white flour in it), PM me your email, and I'll send you my recipe for walnut-orange wheat bread.

Joined Aug 18, 2007
For a totally relaxed n laid back attitude to bread, try googling Paul Hollywood. celeb chef i no, but a traditional taught by his dad. uses freash yeast which in case you didnt know, you can get free at tesco bakery
Joined Aug 7, 2009
I like to use the "stretch and fold" or "french fold" Technique where instead of kneading you have 3 folding sessions with a 50 min resting period . Works great for wet doughs 70% or higher.

Stretch and fold is simply stretching it and folding it . Handy thing to use If you don't feel like hand kneading or pulling out your mixer or buying an expensive one.

I usually make four 2 lb loafs a week and my kitchen aid mixer simply cannot handle that much dough and there is no way I'm going to make the investment of a 500$+ mixer for a more specialized mixer.

one advantage I found from regular kneading is during the first fermentation you can stick your dough in the fridge for 2 days . The cold temperature slows down the process and more acid is built up thus more complex flavors.
I once made pizza dough and let it ferment in the fridge for 5 days and it was still good. good way . good way to prep if you want to divide the work on different days so you don't have to be a slave to your own bread.
I've read articles where someone making sourdough let their dough ferment for 2 weeks!

There is a no knead technique where you just incorporate everything and let it sit at room temp for 24 hours must be at least 70 % hydration ( in bakers percentage)

one thing to keep in mind is Wet dough will not stick to another wet object.
so a wet counter top and wet fingers will not stick though this will add more water and change the formula I've never found it extremely damaging to the dough.

you may find that bakers speak their formulas in bakers percentage.
The flour is always 100% and lets say for example water is 70%
if there is 1000g of flour then there is 700g of water.

some recipes ask for milk powder and it's not recommended to use regular milk because it has an enzyme that damages the gluten unless
it has been UHT pasteurized (the milks that don't need refrigeration ) or you scald your own milk over 180 F. ( let it cool so you don't kill your yeast)
Milk 87% water according to my baking book so if that means 13 % of it is what makes the milk powder. so you can replace some the milk powder with regular milk and take into account how much water you should take off and the water you lost after scalding as well.

I like adding Orange juice to my whole wheat loafs. it takes away that slight bitter taste from the whole wheat. Last week I forgot to add it and I could taste notice a difference.

when baking your bread you can have a tray of hot water or a pan of hot water. I like to use a metal pan and put it on a rapid boil and place it in the oven while its preheating (in the bottom rack) This creates steam that will give the bread a stronger crust and a darker colour ( mallard reaction :D)
spraying your loafs with water ( a mist)every 15 minutes will make your crust even more crunchy. But some may find it too thick so this part is optional or do it only once or twice to your own liking. Makes fabulous toast for breakfast. I love that CRUNCH.

Cooling your loafs are also extremely important , I cool them at least 50 min before slicing. Inside the bread is still cooking so if you cut it too soon it might be a little doughy.

Loaf Pans I highly recommend the big nonstick loaf pans. just wipe it with a little olive oil and the loaf falls right out. Don't use silicone. The loaf doesn't hold a good shape and it also does not get a good colour .9x5 is a good size.

Depending on the Size of your oven only add the max amount that can fit on the middle rack. I once tried baking 8 loafs and the bottom rack quickly got burnt bottoms.

Scoring you loafs is important if you don't want an ugly loaf that looks like it exploded. just a simple line lengthwise is good enough

making a preferment dough before hand adds a whole lot of flavor to your bread. pretty much what you do is you mix flour water and yeast and let it ferment overnight. I like to use a 200% hydration because its easier to incorporate to the final dough afterwards since a 70% would be difficult to incorporate by hand especially if you are making large batches and using the "stretch and fold" where no kneading is required. I incorporate 50% preferment dough.

When I'm mixing my dough personally I like to use 2 wooden chopsticks because
1) avoids sticky fingers
2) easy to clean
but it does require some strength *flex*

autolysis as explained above is also a very good thing to use.
Although true autolysis means you do not add salt while your bread is soaking I found that this made little or no difference to the final product.

There is a fabulous dough calculate in the fresh loaf where someone posted. I use it to tweek my own recipes. Its on excel and it calculates everything for you.
here is a link
Dough Calculator Spreadsheet available | The Fresh Loaf

Sorry if this post is a little messy :lol: probably a heck load of grammatical error .
Joined Oct 19, 2009
Some extremely good information being mentioned here.
Just to add on a point which I saw mentioned; cooling is extremely important for two reasons: 1) to allow steam to carry out the moisture of the very-wet loaf as it leafs the oven, and 2) to allow the starches to begin to retrograde (stale) before slicing.

A loaf is not ready for slicing until 2-4 hours after baking.

Whole wheat flour is suprisingly forgiving. I usually incorporate the tinyest bit of high gluten flour in a 50/50 (with wholewheat) poolish and incorporate that into the dough at about 25% (therefore the mix is about 88% wholewheat). I find it gives me enough strength to get to windowpane, however if not then one may consider adding pure gluten into the mix.

Remember that glutens are strengthened by salt (2%) and by mineralised water.

Suggestions when working with wholewheat.

Keep your dough (a little) wetter/softer than normal
Use mineral water/not tap water
Always add 2% salt
and as BDL and others state; always autolyse the dough for upto 30 minutes.
Joined Dec 30, 2008
Thanks for the tip bughut, I'll check him out .:thumb:

Not at all, it's a great post, very thoughtful and much appreciated. :cool:
Joined Aug 4, 2000
BDL stated <<It's not easy to overknead by hand, especially if you're not too rough, and because you can feel overknead as a toughness which comes after smooth and satiny.>>

Following a 20 minuter autolyse, the dough is kneaded. After my first few (5 or 10) seconds of kneading by stretching (hanging with elongation), I notice the dough becoming tougher and it starts to 'rip'. And I try to halt the kneading just before that stage so the final product stays tender, otherwise I'll get the same open crumb that's tougher all around. :laser:
Joined Aug 4, 2000
"...UNsights..." YES, by all means yes!!!

As to the 'elongation' during kneading: do allow the dough to stretch by at least 12 inches. Any shorter and the dough ends up tough although with an open crumb and so impose some real stretch into the stuff.
Joined Oct 19, 2009
Kokopuffs, when you use this technique, do you check doneness by 'window pane'?

Perhaps I'm being somewhat sceptical...
Joined Aug 4, 2000
Naaaaaaaahhhhh. I've never bothered checking for the windowpane. Really, I've never checked for it. During the proofs as long as I see bubbles near the surface larger than 1/2 inch I'm happy. The lower the hydration, the smaller the bubbles. :peace:
Joined Aug 7, 2009
There are 3 types of of mixes

short mix
improved mix
intensive mix

when you do a window pane (stretching a piece of dough and look through it)
a short mix will have a lot of gluten strands
improved will have relatively less gluten strands
intensive mix when it is clear and you see no strands.

Short mix will have softer dough with more flavor but since the gluten isn't fully developed not as much air is retained thus there is less rise with a smaller volume and you will see larger holes in your loaf. this is often done with wetter breads. When I first started I tried making my white bread a short mix and the flavor was amazing as well with the softness but it makes a lousy sandwich because it's so small. A longer fermentation time is required for this.

improved mix is between short and intensive

intensive mix - the gluten is fully developed so there will be more retained resulting in a better rise ( more volume). the bread will have smaller holes as you are familiar with a regular loaf.

imo, short mixes make better breads if you just want something to munch away on the same day you bake it and intensive mixes are for sandwiches

here is a pretty good read
Baking A Sweet Life Blog Archive San Francisco Baking Institute - Artisan Bread - Day Two!.
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