Whole wheat bread recipe that yields soft, fiber-rich slices with a hint of sweetness. Ready to make fresh sandwich bread that tastes better than store-bought versions?
Wheat bread is a great option for those looking to add whole grains to their diet. The robust nutty flavor and chewiness also add an intriguing taste and texture combination. If you usually just buy wheat bread from the store, you should be aware that most brands still use all-purpose flour to help keep the bread soft.
This recipe uses 100% whole wheat flour without sacrificing taste or texture. It also bumps up the amount of extra nutrients like fiber, calcium, iron, and potassium in each slice. Perfect for a grilled cheese sandwich, peanut butter & jelly for the kids, or simply toast it up and spread warm butter on top.
Using 100% whole wheat flour
This type of flour is milled with the bran and germ, unlike all-purpose flour that has just the endosperm. The protein content is also upwards of 13 to 14% making it dense and arid. Fear not, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to prevent the bread from drying out.
Benefits of adding a sweetener
Honey adds a hint of sweetness and helps keep the bread moist. It’s a humectant, which attracts water and holds it in the crumb for longer. Sugar is essential for yeast fermentation. The yeast uses the sugar as fuel to produce gas and other byproducts to add flavor, rise, and tenderness. Maple syrup or molasses add flavorful caramel notes and give the bread a darker appearance.
Working with yeast
I use active dry yeast for a steady and effective rise. The organisms dissolve in warm water and sugar first to wake them up. Use a liquid heated to between 100 to 110ºF (37 to 43ºC) for this type of yeast to work properly. Alternatively, you can substitute Instant yeast for more rapid fermentation, reducing rise time by almost 50%.
The role of butter
Mix softened butter in the dough to add tenderness to the crumb. A little bit of fat coats the proteins and reduces gluten formation. Since wheat flour is higher in protein, this prevents the bread from getting too tough when kneaded.
Properly kneading the dough
I use my stand mixer with a hook attachment to more efficiently knead the dough. It’s important to gradually add the flour to the wet ingredients, about 1 cup at a time. This allows for better incorporation and hydration control. The flour amount may need to be adjusted depending on the conditions in your home, as more dryness or humidity in the air can have an effect.
After a brief resting period, knead the dough on the lowest speed level to ensure a gradual development of the gluten network. When the sides of the bowl become clean, a dough ball will form that should feel smooth and elastic. It’ll be slightly sticky but should bounce back when poked.
Let it rise
Let the dough ferment in a greased bowl at room temperature, or make an oven proofing box for those chilly days to help the yeast stay bustling. The first rise is ready when doubled in size and stays indented when pressed. There will be a lot of gas trapped inside the dough, so punch it out before the final rise.
When the dough is ready to shape into a loaf, simply knead it a few times to make a smooth cylinder. Place it in a 9×5-inch greased loaf pan and let it ferment one last time. It should grow to about an inch over the rim.
To add extra fiber to the bread, I like to sprinkle rolled oats on top right before baking it. To help it stick better, lightly brush egg wash on the surface. The egg yolk will also deepen the golden-brown color on the crust as it bakes. This step is optional.
Baking up a perfectly domed loaf
With the preheated oven at 350ºF (177ºC), add the loaf pan, and then just wait for the incredible smells to fill your kitchen. I recommend loosely covering the crust with some foil after 20 minutes. The higher amount of sugar in the recipe browns quicker than white bread, so the shield will prevent the surface from burning.
Take the bread out of the pan so the condensation doesn’t soften the crust. Let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. It’s hard for my family to resist, so we just wait until it’s cool to the touch but still warm enough that butter slathered on each slice melts. It’s so good!
Ways to make a softer loaf
Bran is like a sponge that soaks up available water and reduces the moisture of the interior crumb. The solution is to add more liquid to the dough and to let it sit for at least 20 minutes right after the first mixing step. This gives the water time to mellow out the bran and germ so it doesn’t feel so coarse when bitten into.
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Whole Wheat Bread
- ¼ cup warm water
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup whole milk
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash
- 1 tablespoon rolled oats
- Add warm water heated to 100-110ºF (37 to 43ºC) and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer, stir to combine. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it sit for 10 minutes until foamy.
- Add warm milk heated to 100-110ºF (37-43ºC), honey, salt, softened butter, and 1 cup of flour. Use the dough hook attachment and mix for 1 minute on the lowest speed setting. Use a spatula to scrape the sides and bottom after 30 seconds.
- Add 1 cup of flour, then gradually increase to medium speed until the dough just starts to come together, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining flour and mix on medium speed until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl, 30 seconds.
- Let the dough sit for 20 to 30 minutes to absorb the water and soften the bran.
- Knead on low speed until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, about 6 to 7 minutes. If the dough still feels very sticky, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing for 30 to 60 seconds each addition. Do not exceed ¼ cup of extra flour, too much will make the dough tough and not rise properly.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead until a smooth ball forms, about 1 minute.
- Lightly grease a mixing bowl with oil. Add the dough inside and turn it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 to 2 hours.
- Lightly grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan with oil or cooking spray.
- Punch the dough down while still in the bowl, and then transfer it to a lightly floured surface.
- Knead the dough 2 to 4 times to create a smooth ball and then roll into a 9-inch long cylinder. Press the side and bottom seams together to seal. Place it in the loaf pan with the seam-side down.
- Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm area until it reaches about 1-inch above the rim, about 1 hour. At about 30 minutes before the bread is done rising, set the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat to 350ºF (177°C).
- In a small bowl whisk together egg and 1 tablespoon of milk. Gently brush the top of the bread with a thin layer of egg wash. Sprinkle oats evenly over the top, crushing some into finer pieces.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then loosely tent the top with foil so that the crust doesn't darken too much.
- Continue to bake the bread until the top is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches between 190 to 200ºF (87 to 93ºC) in the center, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Let the bread sit in the hot pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Slice the bread when it’s about room temperature or cool enough to handle.
- Recipe Yield: 1 large loaf
- Use the microwave to warm the milk and water (about 45-seconds).
- Instant Yeast Substitution: Add the same amount of instant yeast for active dry. Add it directly to the dry ingredients. Warm water and milk to 120-130ºF (48-54ºC). The rise times may be reduced by nearly half since instant yeast is more active.
- Store bread at room temperature in a resealable plastic bag for up to 3 days.
- Slices can be frozen for up to 30 days. To reheat, toast for the best texture.
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