100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Week Eighteen: 100% Whole Grain Breads


Just so you know, it’s not easy finding recipes for 100% whole grain bread, let alone good recipes.  See, it’s not just a matter of switching whole wheat flour for white flour in your favorite recipe.  If you’ve ever tried that, I know how disappointed you were!  Your bread ended up flat, heavy, and dry, with a sawdusty texture, right?  What gives?!

To figure out what happens to bread when you use whole grain flour, you have to understand the grain itself.  Lets use wheat as an example, since it’s the most common in breadmaking, and pretty representative of many grains as far as this discussion is concerned.  The wheat kernel (also known as a wheat berry) is made up of three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.  The bran is the outer covering, and provides fiber and B vitamins.  The germ is the part of the grain that grows into a new wheat plant, and contains the only fat in the kernel, along with vitamins and minerals.  The endosperm is the remaining 85% of the grain, and provides carbohydrates and protein.  Here is a good diagram of what it all looks like put together.

In milling whole wheat flour, the whole wheatberry is ground up together.  But for white flour, the bran and germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm.  Yes, this means that it’s less nutritious, since most of the vitamins and fiber are taken out; but in the end, it makes for a fluffier bread.  This is because the bran is sharp, and acts a bit like little knife blades in a dough.  When you form gluten (the tough, rubbery substance created when wheat flour is mixed with water) in a whole wheat dough, the bran actually cuts it, and the germ simply gets in the way of it forming at all.  Without a good gluten structure, your dough has no way to trap the gases produced by the yeast, and therefore has a poor texture.

And not only that, but the bran and germ (as I mentioned yesterday) both absorb more water than the endosperm alone, meaning a whole wheat dough will be drier than a white dough, if mixed in the same proportions.  You can solve this problem by making a wetter dough, and letting it sit longer, therefore giving the brand and germ a chance to fully hydrate.  But then, if it rises too much, the gluten will become overdeveloped (more on that later in the week!), and that bread will also have a poor texture.  So what can be done?  Luckily, there’s a few simple ways to overcome the hurdles presented by a 100% whole grain bread.  I’ll discuss some additional ways in the next few days, and focus on this one for today: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

So you’ll never make a perfectly airy baguette with only whole wheat flour.  Let’s aim a little differently, and go for a great American-style sandwich bread instead.  Try working with what whole wheat flour gives you, instead of forcing it to do something it never will.  When making a good sandwich, one doesn’t want giant holes in a slice of bread, since your ingredients will fall out.  Whole wheat bread will never make giant holes!  Perfect!  Additionally, while a hard crust makes for a fabulous bread to eat on its own, it becomes a difficult obstacle to navigate in a sandwich.  And how do we get a soft crust?  By adding milk and butter to the dough, of course!  Both of these ingredients contain fat, a.k.a. “shortening”, because it shortens gluten strands.  This, in turn, means that we don’t have to worry so much about the bran cutting the gluten strands, since we’re trying to do that anyway.  Win!

This dough bakes into a tender, close-crumbed loaf, absolutely ideal for making sandwiches.  You’ll never worry about errant bits of lettuce or mayonnaise falling out of big (but otherwise lovely) holes in your bread; nor will you have to fret about choosing flavor over nutrition – you get both with this one!

One last thing: obviously, this bread contains none of the preservatives included in your average grocery-store sandwich bread.  This is great for your body, but if you don’t plan on eating it within a day or two, I strongly recommend pre-slicing and freezing it.  It will only take a minute to toast and thaw if prepared that way.  But please, please, please, don’t refrigerate it!  A refrigerator is just a big bread-staling machine!  Commercially-produced breads can stand up to it, due to all their added dough conditioners and enhancers; but this wholesome little guy just has no defense.  Treat your bread properly – it’s there to nourish you!



100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 1 loaf

2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (1 package)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
16 ounces (about 3 3/4 cups) whole wheat flour, divided
1 cup hot milk (120º to 130º F)
1/2 cup orange juice 
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the yeast, salt, sugar, potato flakes, and 14 ounces (about 3 1/4 cups) of the flour, setting the remaining flour aside.  Add the milk, orange juice, and butter.  Using the dough hook and scraping the bowl as necessary, mix at low speed until the dough forms a cohesive ball, about 6 or 7 minutes.  Add the reserved 2 ounces flour as needed to achieve the proper consistency (the dough should be slightly sticky, but not at all liquidy; see note 1 below).  Increase the speed to medium-low and mix for 1 minute more, until some gluten strands begin to form.

2.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead a few times until it forms a smooth round.  Transfer the dough to a lightly-oiled bowl, cover, and let rest in a warm place about 45 minutes.  The dough should not quite double in size.

3.  Lightly oil a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.  Without punching down, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Gently press and roll the dough into a loaf shape (it will deflate a little; this is okay), pressing the seam to seal.  Tuck the ends under, and set the dough in the prepared pan, seam side down.  Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise another 45 to 60 minutes, or until not quite doubled in size.  Preheat the oven to 350º F.

4.  Bake the bread at 350º F for 10 minutes.  Loosely tent the bread with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 190º F in the middle of the loaf.  Remove from the pan and let cool on a rack thoroughly before slicing.


1.  If your weather is very dry, you may not need to add any of the reserved flour; but if your weather is humid, you may need to add all of it.

2.  You can rub the finished loaf, hot from the oven, with a bit of butter to ensure a soft crust and pretty shine, if you like.

3.  FYI, the orange juice is in there to reduce bitterness produced by a less-than-perfectly-immaculate whole wheat flour, and doesn’t impart any flavor of its own.  If you have a pristine, ground-that-morning whole wheat flour, you should substitute water instead; otherwise, I recommend using it.

4.  This bread should be eaten within a day or two, stored at room temperature; otherwise, it should be sliced and frozen, wrapped tightly.

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4 Responses to 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

  1. Belinda says:

    Your King Arthur recipes turn out much the best.

  2. Beth says:

    Yes, I’m a big fan of King Arthur: both the flour and the recipes! Thanks for the comment!

  3. Yay whole grains! I’ll have to give this one a try.

  4. Beth says:


    Yay, you found the 100% whole wheat week!

    This bread turned out pretty well, but if you make only one, try this one. It’s absolutely the best 100% whole wheat bread I’ve made.

    Happy baking!

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