Seeking the Perfect Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

Seeking the Perfect Homemade Bread

My sourdough starter may suffer for this, but I’ve been testing out yeasted breads for you all lately. I’ve got a number of recipes up my sleeve and more to come, and only a few loaves that have turned out concave.

It is my fervent goal to find the perfect homemade whole wheat bread: packed with nourishing goodness, gentle on the digestive system (as gentle as bread can be), delicious, and soft enough that you don’t need a toaster to enjoy it. My standards are high, because my bread baking skills are low.

I generally rely on my breadmaker or stand mixer to knead the bread for me, both because I’m lazy and always short on time and because the results have been disastrous 4/5 of the times I’ve tried to hand knead bread. I’ve over kneaded, under kneaded, and more often than not simply can’t get control of the dough. It tends to get the better of me with stickiness, and I end up adding too much flour in my quest to conquer the dough and wrassle it into its rightful place. Hence: machines are the way to go for me.

The Criteria For The Perfect Loaf of Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

This perfect bread must be simple. I have to be able to make it without yelling at the recipe, the dough, or the pans.

The family must enjoy it. My husband needs to appreciate a good sandwich on this perfect bread (my kids will eat anything made of wheat joyfully, so they’re not a good measuring stick).

It must be healthy. Even though I’m still muddling through my thoughts on 100% whole wheat vs. including some refined flour, sifting the bran vs. freshly ground whole wheat, the benefits of soaked bread vs. sprouted vs. sourdough and not, I want this bread recipe to offer some options. It needs to be perfect even at 100% whole wheat, because then it will remain spectacular if white flour is added. It must have an easy soaking or sprouted method.

And since gluten is pretty well-established to be overused and underdigested, I’m docking points to those whole wheat breads that rely on added gluten for the perfect rise.

There are 30 points possible:

  1. Whole grains: 5 points for 100% whole grain bread, 0 points for 100% refined flour and 3 for half-and-half loaves
  2. Softness: Rated 1-5 on softness and viability as a sandwich bread, not just toast. 5 is the best.Points lost for crumbly bread, dense slices.
  3. Flavor: Rated 1-5, totally subjectively, on flavor. 5 is the best. Our goal is a simple bread that is not too sweet, a palate for everything from grilled cheese to PB&J to turkey and mayo.
  4. Workability (dough): How easily does the dough come together? Do you have to add a lot of extra flour? Does it consume your hands like a creature from the deep or can it be handled easily? 1 is a wet sticky mess, complicated recipe. 3 is doable, but not perfect. 5 is an easy to handle ball of dough that makes bread baking enjoyable.
  5. Good rise: How well does the bread rise, both on the first rise in the bowl and in the pan? 1 is reserved for doorstops (zero rise noticeable), 2 and 3 mean that you might be questioning your yeast or have to allow for a longer rise time than the recipe calls for, 4 is “average” and 5 is a beautiful “doubled” rise in the expected time.
  6. Easy recipes: the “laziness” factor. How much hands-on time does the recipe take? 4 points for “dump ingredients together, knead dough, allow to rise, put into pan.” Scale decreases by one point for each time the baker has to address the dough beyond those steps or has to spend more than 10 minutes in a sitting of attentive time. Recipes also lose one point if they dirty an extra pot (having to warm milk or melt butter, for example). Add one point for a recipe that can be made with the help of a machine.

Bonus or lost points for:

  • No added “stuff” (gluten, lecithin): minus 1 for a bit of added gluten, minus 2 for more than 1 Tbs/loaf of added gluten
  • Soaked or sprouted: plus 2 points if the bread is or can be soaked or sprouted easily
  • Sourdough: since sourdough is, in my opinion, the very healthiest way to prepare grains, AND it seems like it has a deficit in the “soft and light” category, sourdough loaves get 3 bonus points to keep them in contention.
  • Easy, frugal ingredients: 1 point deducted for any recipe that calls for ingredients a whole foods baker would not normally have in their kitchen, and also 1 point for any ingredients that pump up the price of the final loaf beyond $2-3.

Yes, that’s right. A bread recipe could potentially earn more than the 20 possible points. In a world where high school kids can get over a 4.0 grade point average, we might as well give a lousy loaf of bread the same opportunity.

Winking smile

The Contenders

  1. Sweet and Simple (includes soaked version)
  2. Essential Eating’s Sprouted Bread and Rolls
  3. Claudia’s Bread (includes soaked version)
  4. Our Favorite “Happy” Rolls (includes soaked version)
  5. Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day: Sandwich Bread and 100% Whole Wheat Recipes (less yeast version for soaking)
  6. Tammy’s 100% Whole Wheat Bread (includes soaked version)
  7. Nourishing Traditions Soaked Buttermilk Yeasted Bread
  8. King Arthur Flour’s 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Here is a touchpoint post on how I bake bread: Katie’s Basic Bread Baking Techniques (or lack thereof) If you have questions about any of my processes or choices, you’ll find answers there!

72 thoughts on “Seeking the Perfect Homemade Whole Wheat Bread”

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Kelly,
      We went gluten-free and I had to stop the series. 🙁 But…Tammy’s bread is amazing, as is the Happy Housewife rolls. 🙂 Katie

  1. Pingback: Get Real: Breads and Cereals | OAMC from Once A Month Mom

  2. Are you still accepting bread entries? I’ve also been on a search for the past few years and have recently found two recipes that I absolutely LOVE! They’re tied in my book…one has extra “stuff” in it, and the other has an extra rise. Let me know if you want me to send them!

    1. Sure, Sharon, send ’em over….I’m still not sure how I’m going to finish this series with a possible gluten sensitivity in the house AND moving to a new house…maybe in the fall! 😉 Katie

  3. Katie (PuraVida Homesteader)

    Katie,

    I LOVE this post! Those are the same criterion I would use. Well, except presently while I await my stand mixer’s fixing (see above) or get a Vitamix, or both. Coming soon my DH promises especially once he saw the inside of my grain (I mean coffee) grinder after I ground wet grains in it… 🙂 Good thing we don’t drink much coffee anymore!

    Long tangent, but right now I”m also looking for one that doesn’t need to be kneaded. I have a recipe for dump bread, but doesn’t include soaking. Once I master that, I’ll post it on my blog. I’ll let you know if you’re interested when I post it.

    Thank you so much, LOVING your blog!

    Bless you!
    Kaite

  4. Pingback: 2/3 Whole Wheat Bread • Saving by Making

    1. Kimberly,
      I’m willing to add one to the list, but I don’t know if I’ll get through all of them! It will be kind of fascinating to compare people’s recipes to see what the similarities are though. Share away! 🙂 Katie

  5. Sarah @ Mum In Bloom

    Another tip for you… this bread cookbook tells you how to make your bread 3 ways.. either by hand, machine, or mixer. All the breads are whole grain as well. I first got the book from the library & was so impressed that I bought it with a gift certificate I got for Christmas.

    “WHOLE GRAIN BREADS BY MACHINE OR HAND” by Beatrice Ojakangas

  6. Sarah @ Mum In Bloom

    I was looking everywhere for a “foldable” whole wheat sandwhich bread & found this great recipe that turned out really well.. and foldable! I haven’t posted my results yet, but it was very very good 🙂

    Whole wheat sandwich bread (ABM)
    1 1/4 cups water tepid water
    2 Tbs olive oil (or any oil)
    3 Tbs orange Blossom honey (or your favorite flavor)
    2 Tbs lecithin (can omit. Get it at health food store. $8 for a huge bottle of powder helps it to rise better)
    1 Tbs Vital wheat gluten (Necessary if you want a “foldable” bread, this is what makes the bread have the consistency of store bread and rise to normal heights)
    2 Tbs powdered milk (opt)
    1 tsp salt
    3 cups whole wheat flour (I grind my own!)
    1 1/2 tsp yeast (I keep mine in the freezer, along with any extra wheat)

    Put into bread machine in order listed. Use whole wheat setting and I turn my crust color to “light”. I start the machine and watch it to make sure I don’t need to add a tsp more water or a Tbs more flour. Depending on your climate you may need to adjust the water/flour to make a proper loaf. It should ball up on the spindle, not be a wet mush on the bottom. It should be slightly “tacky” when you touch the loaf (yes, while it’s spinning you can touch it and tell) and the dough should be moving around in relationship to the spindle (not just spinning on top of it). There’s some room in between these two points, so don’t worry if it’s not exact. Don’t be too quick to add water to whole wheat. It takes about 4 mins of kneading on my machine before I add flour or water. Mostly, I’ve needed to add flour, so I cut down on the water in the original recipe. It takes about 4-5 mins for the wheat to absorb the water and equalize out. My dough always looks like it’s WAYYY too dry, but then needed extra flour. So I cut the water from 1 1/3 cups to 1 1/4 cups stated and it worked out better for my kitchen.

    I got the recipe from this blog
    http://mamasnuthouse.blogspot.com/2007/08/whole-wheat-sandwich-bread-abm-foldable.html

  7. Thank you! I have been meaning to find the perfect recipe for so long, and I just haven’t done it. My two attempts were horrible. Can’t wait!

  8. Can’t wait! I’d have made the scales 1-5 and the total 25 because I like to have a “neutral” option. :>) I’ve collected so many bread recipes that I will never live long enough to try them all – but I don’t want to try them all, I just want to find one that is good!

  9. I think I’d give a bonus point for sourdough because it is easier to digest and doesn’t spike the blood sugar as much. I’m not a huge fan of sandwich bread, but I’ve made this recipe and it’s great.

    http://www.sourdoughhome.com/100percentwholewheat.html

  10. We use this recipe for bread I make in our Zojirushi bread maker but it would also work for handmade bread: http://www.breadbeckers.com/store/pc/Zojirushi-Bread-184p2754.htm. I use 4 cups of flour, omit the gluten and lecithin, and use the egg if I’m making sandwich bread (but not dinner rolls or other variations). You can also add 1/4-1/2 cup freshly ground flax seed for extra nutritional punch. I like having the flax in but think it does detract somewhat from the flavor.

  11. I’ve had this perfect bread that you seek because my mom makes it regularly! Unfortunately, I don’t know how to make it myself. My role is sprouting and drying the wheat berries for her, then she takes over. Her bread is 100% sprouted whole wheat, and it is huge, soft, flavorful–just awesome. I know that she usually does add a little gluten, but she’s also made it without, and it was just as great (though not quite so massively tall).

  12. I’m definitely interested in learning more and having sandwich bread made from 100% fresh milled whole wheat. Maybe when giving results – let us in on your families “tastes” when it comes to bread. Do they typically like sweet? nutty? . . That sort of thing. I just got a grain mill and have only made bread twice (4 loaves) in two weeks. I used the whole wheat recipe from passionatehomaker.com. It’s a soaked recipe. The first time I didn’t use vital wheat gluten and did use flaxseed and millet. The second time – I used the wheat gluten. It has the same flavor both times, but Actually had a better rise without the gluten. It also has sliced great for sandwiches (not cooked), French bread, grilled cheese and one loaf I rolled with raisins and cinnamon for a swirl bread (big hit by the way!!). My husband, and three toddlers all love it. So I recommend trying that one as well – and I can’t wait to see your results! I want to try new recipes, but would hate to have “wasted time” when I do have one that has been great so far. Though – I don’t have a lot to compare it to!

    1. Elizabeth,
      Great recommendation! I know Lindsay’s stuff is often great, so I’ll copy that recipe down as well. We’re going to be eating a lot of bread around here…anyone want to come over for tea? 🙂 Katie

  13. Funny you should post about this, because just yesterday, I made a 100% whole wheat bread {in the bread maker} and I couldn’t believe how perfect and soft it turned out. I’d never made one like this before and I was simply amazed…and it tastes wonderful. I am a little confused, though. Are you taking suggestions for recipes? Or you already have in mind what you’ll be working with? Love the rating system. 🙂

      1. Oh good! I just emailed it to you, as I thought it would be easier than commenting. 🙂 This will be a great series!

  14. We LOVE whole wheat bread at our house! Can’t wait to see how it goes!

    I’ve never made bread before, but you are able to make it easy and taste great, I’ll definitely try it!

  15. I tend to go the half whole wheat/half white route in order to get a nice loaf. I’m very interested in your results!

  16. I’ve been using a ww recipe that calls for 15-17 cups of ww flour and I use 2 cups rolled oats, then split the rest between hard white and spelt and it turns out super soft!! I have been putting gluten in but think I will try it without it next time to see what happens. I hear that oats really help make it soft.

    1. Chris,
      Do you add the rolled oats just as they come out of the box – not cooked or blended to be smaller or anything? That’s a good one if it makes a nice soft loaf! 🙂 Katie

  17. Oh, I am so looking forward to what you come up with! I’ve been on the same mission (and one for whole wheat cookies) for what seems like years now!

  18. Wow, 100% whole wheat, with no gluten, but great for sandwiches and soft? You are ambitious!

    Do you take off points for adding ascorbic acid/vitamin C or powdered milk as a dough conditioner?

    1. Lisa,
      Not sure about the vitamin C – haven’t used it in any recipes yet b/c it’s one of those things that’s harder to find! I wouldn’t use powdered milk, so it can’t lose points b/c it won’t happen, I guess. I’m boring like that!

      And yes, I’m realizing this might be a tad ambitious, along with all the bread I’m going to have to make!!

      🙂 Katie

  19. I’d say equipment would be an important addition to your list. I have a Bosch Universal Mixer that will ALMOST do it all for me and I use Marmee Dear’s recipe for 5-6 loaves at a time (from her Bread Basket cookbook). I can make 10 fabulous loaves in about 2 1/2 hours. With the Bosch, only one rise is needed. But I know everybody doesn’t have that option.

  20. I’m looking forward to this series! I’m curious though about how many times you try each recipe? I feel like there are a lot of factors that effect a loaf, and even though I’ve been making the same recipe for months, It doesn’t always come out the same.

  21. I’ve been making a soaked 100% whole wheat bread recipe from the book “Wholesome Home Cooking: Preparing Nutrient-Dense Foods.” It has actually been turning out really well…I use hard white whole wheat instead of hard red, just because I like the taste better, but it works with either. No added gluten or anything. It does have an egg, which I think contributes to its softness. As long as I don’t add too much flour, it works great.

  22. I am definitely staying tuned for this one! I have been researching and experimenting for the last year and like you and PICKY! Would you please make note of what kind of wheat you are using. Most of the time I assume it is hard red, but I know a lot of people use hard white nowadays.

  23. I have become know as the a big failure in the bread department since only grinding my own flour. I am hoping this will change my failures into successes.

    LOVE your blog by the way. It is good food for thought! God bless your efforts to help us all.

    1. Amy,
      I have had some troubles since grinding my own, too – I wonder if it’s those sharp little pieces of bran cutting our gluten?? I’m excited to try some of these “no knead” and “stretch and fold” methods that aren’t so heavy on the kneading. 🙂 Katie

  24. If it’s not already on your list, you MUST try the wet-dough method in the book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Dr. Jeff Hertzberg!!! You will LOVE it!!

    Easy, healthy and delicious. I’ve been using their recipes for a couple years now. I almost always have a bowl of dough in the fridge ready for loaves, crackers or pizza. The options are endless!

    They also have egg and butter-enriched dough recipes for challah, brioche and the like.

    ENJOY! I look forward to all the posts. 🙂

  25. A friend of mine told me about this recipe:

    http://www.breadbeckers.com/store/pc/Slightly-Sweet-But-Simple-Bread-184p2753.htm

    I do not yet buy my grains from them, but I have been using this recipe for a few months now with success, and approval from my husband & 2 young daughters. I omit the lecithin & vital wheat gluten and use either butter or olive oil for the oil. For the 5 cups of flour, I’ve been using a mix of spelt, hard red, & hard white…mostly 3 c. hard white, and a cup each of the spelt and hard red. I’ve tried it both with the 1/4 c. and 1/2 c. of honey and it is good either way!

    1. April,
      How funny that this is the first recipe I posted! : ) Do you melt the butter? I didn’t melt my coconut oil but have already had a question about using butter, and I wondered if it could just go in “soft” and not melted. Thanks!! 🙂 Katie

      1. I do melt the butter, but only because I never give it enough time to let it sit out and soften. The only concern I might have with softened butter, as opposed to melted, is that might take more time to rise (or maybe not?).

  26. Um, SO EXCITED about this!! You are making our lives so much easier with this experiment. Can’t wait to see the results!

  27. Susan Alexander

    I LOVE this idea. I haven’t tried baking much whole wheat, but have been SO disappointed in what I’ve tried. I’ve fairly well give up on 100% and vowed to stick to 50/50 for now… I would LOVE to see what you can come up with! 🙂

  28. I’ve been on this quest for years now! It will be interesting to see your results. I struggle with the same kneading issues, so I either use my bread machine or no-knead recipes. My favorite so far is the Healthy Artisan Bread in 5 minutes method. I make it without the vital gluten and with part whole and part refined flour.

    1. I second that! Zoe and Jeff are geniuses! We can omit the vital wheat gluten if it’s not being stored long. I’ve made loaves, crackers and pizza dough from the basic master recipe. The whole wheat enriched doughs are great too! (Stollen, challah, etc.)

  29. This journey reminds me of the book 59 Loves. It was my favorite read last year! It was fascinating to learn about the history of bread along with the story of a man on a quest for the perfect loaf. Granted his wasn’t whole grain, but fascinating none the less. You would love it! Especially when he travels to Europe to teach the monks how to bake 🙂

    Check it out: http://www.williamalexander.com/bread/index.cfm

    1. Wow. Oh, I hope I don’t have to make 52 different recipes! This series is supposed to be a winter thing… 😉 Katie

  30. This sounds great and I’m very interested in the results, as I struggle to get a good loaf of bread. I only use my bosch to kneed, since kneading by hand just doesn’t work for me. Any tips on the kneading process by machine would be helpful – I never know what “cleans the side of the bowl” actually means for kneading, and I struggle with how long to knead it.

    Maybe a rating for how the same recipe does when soaked vs. not soaked – rise & texture? I think that my 100% whole wheat loaves don’t turn out as well because I first soak my grains. My mom’s 100% whole wheat loaves (she doesn’t soak her grains) turn out much nicer than mine… My loaves tend to be either mushy & heavy, or crumbly & heavy – never working for sandwiches, so in addition to making bread, I also have to buy bread for sandwiches.

    Thanks for all your hard work!!!

  31. The perfect one is out there – I highly recommend Marily Moll’s Whole Wheat Bread Recipe – (http://articles.urbanhomemaker.com/index.php?article=83)

  32. Amy of Progressive Pioneer

    Hi Katie,
    I saw some traffic coming from your blog to my bread recipe and I have to agree with the commenter; it’s SO easy and delicious! I think it might even score over a 20:) It’s my mother-in-law’s recipe, so I can brag freely- it really is the best I’ve come across!

  33. wow, awesome idea! i’ve been making your honey whole wheat sourdough bread and have been enjoying it, though my sourdough doesn’t always cooperate with my best intentions.

    i’d like to add one more thing to the mix and this is totally selfish on my part, but i got a bread machine for my birthday – well-meaning friends who know i’ve been baking bread almost every weekend. i promised my husband i would break it out and use it. can the bread be made in a machine?

    hmm, now that i’m thinking about it, you probably don’t have a bread machine. rats.

    1. Neveen,
      I do have a bread machine, but I’ve never used it for sourdough b/c of the necessary long rise time. However – I have a bread machine sourdough recipe in my file that is on the list for this project!!

      🙂 Katie

  34. Hey Katie,

    It’s been awhile since I’ve commented, but this post brought me out of lurking.

    I’ve started using Progressive Pioneer’s whole wheat bread recipe and recommend it because it’s so insanely easy.

    Here’s the link: http://www.progressivepioneer.com/progressive-pioneer/2010/03/no-fail-whole-wheat-bread-its-not-dense.html.

    Now, I use sprouted wheat flour to ramp up the nutritional value. I’ve also been adding 4 TB of gluten per loaf, though the recipe doesn’t call for it. I’ve made it twice now and I bake it for a solid hour, versus the 30 min. she calls for, because it’s a wet dough and that has translated into a bit of a gumminess in the middle of the two batches I’ve baked so far. It’s not that the dough is raw but but not quite right–though still tasty, and that added moisture means it doesn’t dry out and crumble to bits like many other wheat bread recipes do.

    I need to make another batch this weekend, so I’m going to fiddle with the recipe and reduce the amount of water just to see what happens.

    But it’s a tasty recipe where the Kitchen Aid does all the kneading work and the dough only requires only one rise.

    Looking forward to reading this series!
    Erin

  35. Steph (The Cheapskate Cook)

    Great idea, Katie! Why is the perfect whole wheat bread so elusive?
    Here’s an idea: How about measuring/rating the amount of ACTIVE time the recipe requires? By active I mean the amount of time you will spend actually working with it (kneading/pouring ingredients, etc.).
    I don’t think rising or soaking time should count against the bread since soaking it may increase the nutrition. However, the amount of active time required for the bread is really important to me – and I’m sure I’m not the one, lol!

  36. My-Home-Remedies.com

    I’m agog with anticipation over the results. Can’t wait to see the winner! I’ve been dying to find a great bread recipe as well. I love the added comments, it needs to be inexpensive and easy to find ingredients.

  37. I am so with you on this. I would love to add to that (lol, as if you didn’t have enough criteria!) that no extra “vital gluten” be added. We usually eat gluten free and have been trying to add healthy, soaked whole grains back in. =0)

  38. So excited for this series! My husband and I were just talking about our bread, and he confessed that he has never been very happy at all with any of the whole wheat loaves I’ve made… And frankly neither have I…

    Can’t wait to see your findings.
    Oh, and the “No extra, fancy ingredients” is a biggie for me as well. I don’t make recipes that require me to go on a 2 week treasure hunt to find… I’d rather improve my breads by improving my technique or adjusting the regular ingredients, etc!

    1. Jill,
      Absolutely…totally adding that one, although since I don’t like fancy ingredients, I might not even include any recipes with them anyway! 🙂 Katie

  39. Wendy (The Local Cook)

    Oooh, I’m so excited you’re doing this! I got a new KitchenAid for Christmas since I killed my last one doing too big of whole wheat batches in it.

    1. Katie Gonzalez

      I killed mine doing the same thing. What gives? I thought they were cadillacs!!! In my frustration, I found this link:
      http://www.ereplacementparts.com/

      They sell kitchen aid replacement parts with easy to understand videos. Waiting for my DH who doesn’t trust me with anything mechanical. 😉 ie – he wants to “have fun” doing it himself.

      but it looks so easy, I may just do it myself. I’m tired of paying for a loaf or 2 of bread for him each week for lunches! Even if it is organic. 🙂

      It appears that we managed to kill the gears and they’re only about $10 bucks to replace. FYI

      If nothing else you could give your other one away, working.

  40. Great idea! I’m looking forward to seeing your posts. I’m always looking for new bread recipes to try out!

  41. Jackie @ Crest Cottage

    SO excited! I actually just made a whole wheat bread recipe that came with my stand mixer. It was delish, but didn’t have much rise. It was still light, and we loved it, but without the rise it was really too small to be sandwich bread. Can’t wait to try your recipes out!

    1. Jackie, I think that was my first attempt at whole wheat, and it was dismal at our house. These will be better! 🙂 Katie

  42. Erin from Long Island

    Also….will I have to sell my first born to afford all the ingredients?

    I love this, btw. Pure genius and I can’t wait to see how it progresses

  43. Erin from Long Island

    What about something like amount of ingredients or availability of ingredients….lump together as ease of putting it all together

    Will I have to go to three stores, order something online, and dirty every measuring cup to make it?

    1. Erin,
      I love the way you think. I hate having to warm milk in a saucepan, for example, so that’s gotta lose points or something. This is going to end up a 50 point scale when I’m done! 🙂 Katie

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