100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread – Fluffy & Soft!

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Whole wheat sourdough bread that isn’t dense and hard? Yes, it’s possible! This delicious and nutritious no-knead 100% whole wheat sourdough bread recipe is simple to make and perfect for everyday breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

Person holding a slice of 100 whole wheat sourdough bread.

It’s no secret that baking with whole grain flours is tough compared to white bread flour. Whole wheat flour is heavy and dense compared to the highly refined flours most of us are familiar with. This creates many issues for the health-conscious home baker who also values taste and presentation.

All the Tips & Tricks

This post is very detailed with a lot of description for the process I use. If you are experienced with whole grain sourdough (*not* white sourdough, which is easier to bake), you can skip to the recipe card by clicking “Jump to Recipe” below. However, I recommend reading the whole post to get all of the tips & tricks for success.

Jump to Recipe

For even more understanding about my whole grain sourdough process, I recommend reading my Guide to Whole Wheat Sourdough eBook! This book is completely free as a gift for signing up for my email list. Sign up below and a link will be emailed to you automatically! You will also receive weekly email updates for my new recipes.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

This light & fluffy no-knead whole wheat sourdough recipe is absolutely delicious, packed with nutrition, and simple to make once you understand the process! This recipe is great for fresh milled flour or bagged flour.

Why Bother With Whole Wheat?

The major components of our meals should be made up of high-quality, nutritious foods. Bread is a big part of the average American’s diet, and my family is no exception. We love a slice of toast with our scrambled eggs in the morning. We love making turkey pesto paninis for lunch. And who doesn’t love having a pizza for dinner once in a while?

Studies show again and again that including whole grains in your diet improves health outcomes, and whole wheat bread contains fiber and nutrients.

While there may still be some benefits to sourdough made with white flour, particularly as it pertains to enhancing digestibility, I am ultimately most interested in making truly nutrient-dense foods which means I have invested a lot of time into learning the art of homemade whole grain bread.

bowl of hard white wheat berries on gray background

Can You Get An Open Crumb With Whole Wheat Flour?

An “open crumb” is what most artisan white-flour bakers spend years chasing. Generally, the higher percentage of whole grain flour you have in your loaf, the tighter your crumb will be. Many say that if you want an open crumb, white flour is your only option.

But is that true?

If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said yes. However, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way and now I can happily say that an open crumb is possible!

With a caveat– 

White flour will indeed be capable of a wider crumb than whole wheat if those giant, gaping holes are all you’re after. However, a light, airy, fluffy 100% whole wheat sourdough bread is definitely possible.

This is a slice of 100% whole wheat sourdough bread showing the interior crumb texture.

How To Make 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

If you are overwhelmed or not understanding some of the instructions, check out my video embedded in the recipe card at the bottom of the post. There you can watch me go through this whole process, and that will answer a lot of questions.

Ingredients

You need the following ingredients for this recipe:

  • Hard Red Wheat Flour 
  • Whole White Wheat Flour – if you’re unfamiliar with “white wheat,” know that it is NOT white flour. This just refers to the color of the kernel. Here is some more info on red vs. white wheat).
    • Feel free to use all one type of wheat if that is easier for you, just know results may vary. If you have a grain mill, this recipe works great with fresh-milled flour!
  • Sourdough Starter – I use a stiff whole wheat starter fed equal portions fresh milled flour and water. You can use active and bubbly starter, but you don’t have to! As long as you have a happy, healthy starter, you can use unfed starter straight from your fridge for this recipe. It works wonderfully and provides a lovely flavor and vibrant rise. Just make sure that it has been fed somewhat recently.
  • Water – I use 425 grams of water for my fresh-milled flour. If you are using bagged flour, I recommend starting at 400 grams of water and then comparing it to the texture of the dough you see in my recipe video. If it looks dryer than my dough, work in a little more water up to 425 grams.
  • Sea Salt
  • Diastatic Malt Powder – This ingredient is optional, but it is considered a dough enhancer that may help the fermentation process. When I skip it, I do not notice much difference in the final product other than a slightly slower bulk fermentation time.
This is a countertop with bowls of flour and other ingredients of sourdough ready to go in the mixing bowl.

Step 1: Mix

Add all ingredients to a large bowl and stir to combine thoroughly. This is called a “fermentalyze” because we are going to give the flour time to absorb the water, but we are including the starter with it. I find this simpler than an autolyze and get great results.

After mixing, leave your dough to rest for 30 minutes.

Step 2: Stretches & Folds

To perform a stretch and fold, you grab the edge of your ball of dough and pull up, stretching it like taffy. Be careful at first when the dough is more delicate. You want to avoid tearing if possible.

Fold the dough down to the center. Now move to the next section of dough–stretch & fold it to the center. Repeat this, working your way around the whole ball of dough, completing anywhere from 8-12 stretches.

Then pick the dough up, roll it’s edges under itself, and flip it over so the smooth side is on top. See my video for a demonstration. Let it rest.

this is a person stretching and folding the whole wheat sourdough in a glass bowl.

Complete 4 sets, 30 minutes rest in between each. You can check the progress of your gluten development development at any time by performing the windowpane test. Pull up on a section of the dough and try to stretch it into a thin sheet with your fingers. If the gluten development is good, it should stretch without tearing. See the photo below (from a different recipe, but demonstrates this concept) for a reference.

hands doing window pane test on dough ball inside stainless steel mixing bowl

Step 3: Prep for Bulk Fermentation

After the last round of stretches and folds, transfer the dough to a clear container to let the dough do its first rise (called “bulk fermentation”). Choose either a large liquid measuring bowl with volume measurements on the side or use a clear plastic tub with straight sides. Avoid curved bowls with no volume measurements–these are very hard to use to monitor an accurate rise percentage.

Wet the back of your hand and press down on the top of the dough to make it flat so you can mark the dough’s starting point, either with a marker or a piece of tape. 

We are going to measure our bulk fermentation by the rise, not the time. Too many factors impact timing and it will be different for each person, and it’s different each time you bake! When you judge the fermentation by the rise based on the dough temp, you will get much more consistent results.

Take the temperature of the dough with a thermometer (dough temp it is not always the same as room temp because so many factors impact dough temp, not just the air). Consider where it falls on the chart below, and keep that percentage rise in mind.

If your dough temperature is:

  • 65F –> 100% rise, ie: full doubling of dough.
  • 67F –> 90% rise 
  • 70F –> 75% rise (3/4 of the way to doubling)
  • 73F –> 65% rise
  • 75F –> 50% rise (risen by half its volume)
  • 78F –> 40% rise
  • 80F –> 30% rise
This is a dough with a thermometer in it reading 74 degrees F.

My temperatures above were learned from the Sourdough Journey’s article on the Mystery of Bulk Fermentation. It is a great read for more information on why temperature matters. 

Mark the starting point of your dough, and then measure how tall the dough is. Multiply that measurement by the percentage determined in the chart above, and then add the initial measurement back to that. Using a measuring tape if needed, mark your target.

Example: if my dough is 4 cups in volume, and I’m targeting a 50% rise based on my temperature, I will add 50% of 4 to 4 (so, 2+4…) and put a mark at the 6-cup line.

This is a bit nerdy, but I’ve found that excellent whole wheat loaves require this level of detail while you’re perfecting your process. As an intuitive baker myself, it was hard to accept doing all this measurement business, but it was a game changer for me.

I can’t stress how important it is to truly understand the process of bulk fermentation to produce quality whole wheat loaves. The Sourdough Journey website is a wealth of information.

If you want more information as it pertains to whole grain dough specifically (as the Sourdough Journey’s experience is with mostly white bread flour), then you can get my free eBook where I go more in detail. See the “All the Tips & Tricks” section near the top of this post to get this eBook.

Step 4: Ferment

Now that you know how much fermentation you need to do, cover your dough and let it do it’s thing! This can take anywhere from just a couple of hours on a warm day, to most of a day during the winter.

This is a glass bowl of fermenting sourdough with marks showing the target rise.

Step 5: Pre-Shape

When the bread dough has reached its rise target, dump it out onto a clean work surface. You can use some rice flour to prevent sticking, but I don’t find it necessary. Perform a few stretches and folds to shape the dough into a ball, then use a bench scraper to turn the dough over so the smooth side is on top. Do a few tuck & rolls to tighten the shape. Let rest for 20 minutes.

Step 6: Shape

After a 20-minute rest, I do the final shaping. There are lots of methods for this, but I like to roll it into a batard shape and use an oval banneton. Use a bench scraper to turn the dough back over, smooth side on the bottom. Gently press down with your hand into a rectangle. Use your bench scraper to help you scrape one edge up, then gently pull it over to cover about 2/3 of the dough. Press down gently to seal the edges. Repeat on the other side and fold that edge over the top of the other. Press to seal.

Now grab the short edge and gently roll it up like a burrito. Pinch the ends together. Use a bench scraper to help you pick up the dough and place it in the banneton, smooth side down and seam on the top. Pinch the seam together on top to tighten.

This is someone shaping the sourdough batard on a dark counter with a basket to the side.

Cover and let sit for 1-2 hours until it starts to puff. I find it helpful to give it a head start on the proofing at room temperature before going to the fridge, but this is something you’ll have to play around with because everyone’s home, fridge temperature, etc. is different. During the summer, I skip the counter rise. During the winter, I find it necessary.

  • If you find your loaves are overproofed (no oven rise but airy, even crumb), do not do a counter-proof and put the loaf directly in the fridge right away.
  • If your loaves are coming out under-proofed (dense, gummy crumb), then you will want to increase the time the loaf sits on the counter before going into the fridge.
  • You want to see that your dough grows in size about 10-20% during the proof. Whether or not you let it counter-proof before the fridge will depend on the weather, house temp, dough temp, etc. Getting this right is trial and error while you learn the variables of your kitchen.

Place in the fridge for at least 8 hours, or as long as 48 hours. You can bake it when it’s convenient for you!

This is a side by side showing the dough at the beginning of the proofing period and at the end when it gets puffy.

Step 7: Bake

What Pan Should I Use?

For whole-grain breads, I recommend a small to medium-sized baking vessel. The density of whole grain flour will make it challenging to get a very tall oven rise without providing some limits to the spread of the dough.

Many sourdough baking cloches are designed for white flour and are larger than needed for whole grains. You can still use them, just know that it may not give you the rise you’re hoping for. 

While many people use 6-qt dutch ovens for white sourdough loaves, I recommend a smaller size for whole grain sourdough to get the best results with the oven rise. I suggest a 3-quart size that is deep (such as this one). (Tip: for cast iron (enameled or not), throw some rice or cornmeal under your parchment paper so the bottom doesn’t burn!)

Stoneware/clay bakers are another option but may require slightly different baking instructions to avoid drastic temp changes.

I loved using a Pampered Chef 3 quart stone baker in an oval shape because of the way it hugged the loaf and prevented spreading.

However, I’ve since broken it because they’re a little bit delicate, so be careful with stoneware and avoid drastic temperature changes when using it.

Nowadays, I’m either using a 3-quart Dutch oven for boules or the LoafNest my husband got me for batards. I’m still on the hunt for a new Pampered Chef baker at thrift stores, too!

This is a red 3-qt dutch oven and a blue loafnest pan sitting on top of a stove.

Preheat

Put your empty baker + lid into the oven to preheat. Set your oven to 450 and preheat the baking vessel. When the oven is heated, pull your dough out of the fridge and turn it out gently onto your dough sling or parchment paper. Using a dough lame or knife, score your loaf down the center.

Remove your baking vessel from the oven and carefully place your dough into it. Spray your dough 10-15 times with a water bottle and then put the lid on. This will help create steam and keep the crust from setting too early before the rise is finished.

Put your baker into the oven and bake at 450 for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the baker. Lower the heat to 425, and bake for an additional 12-15 minutes. Take the internal temperature of your bread to ensure it’s fully baked–aim for at least 205°F.

Step 8: Cool

Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to cool completely on the cooling rack before slicing. Give it at least 6 hours if you can. Slicing too early can turn the crumb gummy.

I hope your 100% whole wheat sourdough bread turned out even better than you expected! Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.

Quick Tips

-Proper fermentation is key to a good loaf. How much you let your dough rise matters. Review step 3 above if needed.
-Proper proofing is important, too. Learn to watch your dough and know what signs to look for.
-Try a 3-qt baking vessel. If your dutch oven/pan is too big, the dough may spread out more than rising up (a common issue with whole wheat dough).
-Spray the top of the dough with water before baking to create extra steam for a good rise.
Let the bread cool completely before slicing to prevent a gummy crumb.

Storage

Store bread wrapped in beeswax wrap, a bread box, or a linen bread bag. Try different storage options to see what works best for you.

This is a slice of whole wheat sourdough bread being held in someone's hand to show the open crumb structure.

Other Fermented Recipes

Want to try some other healthy fermented foods?

For more sourdough recipes, try my 100% whole wheat sourdough bagels, my cranberry sourdough recipe, and my whole wheat sourdough cherry knots.

My red wheat sourdough is similar to this one but without any hard white wheat.

For fermented recipes outside of baking, you’ll love my fermented cherry tomatoes with basil and garlic and my fermented cucamelons recipe!

Don’t Have a Starter?

If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can start with my easy whole wheat sandwich bread recipe that uses instant yeast.

If you try this recipe, please leave a comment and review! I’d love to hear how it goes!

Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Fluffy and soft whole wheat sourdough bread that uses no refined flour!
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Fermentation Time & Proofing Time12 hours
Total Time13 hours 15 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Breakfast, Side Dish
Keyword: 100% whole wheat sourdough bread, fresh milled flour recipes, whole wheat sourdough
Servings: 12
Calories: 148kcal
Author: Holly Lee

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 250 grams Hard White Wheat Flour
  • 250 grams Hard Red Wheat Flour
  • 425 grams Water If not using fresh-milled flour, start with 400 grams of water to start–add a little more if needed.
  • 100 grams Sourdough Starter
  • 12 grams Sea Salt
  • 7 grams Diastatic Malt Powder optional

Instructions

  • Into a mixing bowl, add your 250 grams of hard white wheat flour, 250 grams of red wheat flour, 100 grams of starter, 425 grams of water, 12 grams of salt, and 7 grams of diastatic malt powder (if using). Using a mixing spoon or a lightly wet hand, mix all the ingredients together until they are thoroughly mixed. Let rest 30 minutes.
  • Perform your first set of stretches and folds. Grab an edge of the dough and lightly pull until the dough is sufficiently stretched without breaking, and fold the flap of dough into the middle. Work your way around the whole ball of dough doing anywhere from 6-12 stretches and folds total. After completing all folds, pick up the ball of dough & roll it over to move the smooth side to the top. Cover & let dough rest 30 minutes. Repeat this process 4 times for a total of four sets of stretches & folds with 30 min rest in between each set.
  • After the final set of stretches and folds, move your ball of dough to a clear sided container with measurement markings. (Or use a straight-sided container you can measure yourself. Curved bowls make this difficult). Lightly wet the back of your hand and flatten the dough to gauge the starting volume and mark the starting point.
  • Stick your temperature probe into your dough to check the temperature. Mark your approximate target for your percent rise. You will need to experiment to find what percent rise works in your home for the season you are in. See the notes section for a chart to help you with this step.
  • Let your dough bulk ferment. Depending on temperature, this may take anywhere from 2-6 hours or more! Do not watch the clock, watch the rise based on your dough temp.
  • When your dough has completed it's target rise, turn your dough out onto a clean work surface and preshape the dough by lightly stretching and folding the dough into a smooth ball, then use abench scraper to lightly flip it over so the smooth side is on top. Let the dough rest 20 minutes.
  • Complete your final shaping. You can make a boule (easiest) by flipping the dough ball back over & repeating the stretches and folds, then flipping it back again & doing some tuck & rolls to create surface tension. Be careful not to tear the dough! You can also shape into an oval batard by pressing the dough into a rectange, tri-folding the dough onto itself, and rolling it up like a burrito. Place your dough smooth-side down into the banneton, and then pinch the seams on the dough together to create more tension.
  • If it is winter or your dough temp is cool, you may want to let the dough counter-proof for an hour or two. Then, cover the dough and place in the fridge for anywhere from 8-48 hours. If the dough is warm, you can put in the fridge right after shaping.
  • When you're ready to bake, put your clay baker or dutch oven into your oven to pre-heat. Set your oven to 450 degrees.
  • When the oven is ready, pull your dough out of the fridge and lightly turn it out on the counter onto a dough sling or piece of parchment paper. Score your dough down the middle (or however you'd like). Carefully remove your pre-heated baker from the oven and remove the lid, then gently move your dough into the baking vessel. Spray your dough 10 times with a spray bottle filled with water. Put the lid back on your baker and put your baker into the oven. Set your timer for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the lid after 30 minutes. Then lower the heat to 425 and bake for 12-15 minutes more to darken the crust.
  • Remove the bread from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Allow the bread to cool down to room temperature before slicing.

Video

YouTube video

Notes

**Sourdough has many, many variables involved. Each brand or type of flour can behave differently. Your home’s environment may be different from mine in temperature, humidity, sourdough starter microbes, etc. You may need to repeat this recipe several times tweaking different things to get the best results for you.
**Take your dough temp and use the chart below to help you decide how much to let it rise. If this part doesn’t make sense to you, make sure you read the full post.
  • 65F –> 100% rise, ie: full doubling of dough.
  • 67F –> 90% rise 
  • 70F –> 75% rise (3/4 of the way to doubling)
  • 73F –> 65% rise
  • 75F –> 50% rise (risen by half its volume)
  • 78F –> 40% rise
  • 80F –> 30% rise
**If you don’t have a spray bottle for water you can lightly flick a small amount of water onto the dough with your hands.

Nutrition

Calories: 148kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 390mg | Potassium: 99mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 0.1g | Vitamin A: 2IU | Calcium: 22mg | Iron: 1mg

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7 Comments

  1. This looks like a great recipe! Thank you for sharing. Have you ever tried dividing and putting it into 2 loaf pans for sandwich bread loaves?

    1. Hi Jenny! I think I have done that before and it worked fine–I think this size recipe would probably just need one loaf pan. FYI I will be posting a whole wheat sandwich bread recipe soon, too, so be on the look out for that one!

  2. I am currently perfecting my sourdough technique by following Tom’s The Sourdough Journey videos. But I really want to finally make a 100% whole wheat loaf, and my search brought me here! I can’t wait to try this out once I feel I have enough experience under my belt, it looks fabulous. Tom’s information and dedication to using the scientific method to de-mystify sourdough and help people be successful is unmatched by anything I’ve seen online or in published books. I can’t believe he isn’t more well-known yet.

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