100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread that isn’t dense and hard? Yes, it’s possible! This recipe shows you how to make a delicious and nutritious sourdough bread that’s perfect for everyday breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
It’s no secret that baking with whole grains is tough compared to white 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 that also values taste and presentation.
Why Bother With Whole Wheat?
I believe that the major components of our meals should be made up of high-quality, whole foods. Bread, in particular, 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 awhile?
However, the more I have learned about the value of a high-fiber diet, I realized eating white bread was taking away from our fiber opportunities. Even “whole wheat” bread from the grocery store is often not truly 100% whole wheat, and the fiber content on the nutrition label is not impressive.
When I started tracking my fiber intake, I realized it was much harder to hit my fiber target than I thought, even with a serving of fruit or veggies at each meal. I realized I didn’t have room on my plates for many foods that weren’t nourishing.
Determined to start improving the quality of the bread my family eats, I started baking whole wheat loaves…only to get fail, after fail, after fail! While they usually tasted decent, there were many flaws in the loaves. I happen to have some very picky eaters in my family, so heavy, dense, gummy loaves of bread just weren’t going to do.
Lucky for all of you, I am an incredibly stubborn person. I have spent hours and hours reading, learning, and practicing so that you don’t have to!
I was determined to make a loaf of 100% whole wheat sourdough bread that uses no white flour, but rivals what you would see in a professional bakery. If I was going to get my young kids to eat it, I had no choice!
Can You Get An Open Crumb With Whole Wheat Flour?
An “open crumb” is what most artisan bakers spend years chasing. It’s widely believed that 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? Is an open crumb impossible with 100% whole wheat flour?
If you had asked me 6 months 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 absolutely is possible! With a caveat: it is true that white flour will be capable of a wider crumb. However, many people chase (in my opinion) awkwardly gaping holes that let your bread toppings fall through. It’s pretty, but it’s less practical for most meals and has never been my goal.
My goal is a light, airy, fluffy 100% whole wheat sourdough bread that pleases the whole family!
How To Make 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
If you are new to sourdough, or just completely overwhelmed at what you need to do to make a tasty loaf of 100% whole wheat sourdough bread, check out my recipe video embedded in this post. There you can watch me go through this whole process, and hopefully that will answer a lot of questions.
Step 1: Gather Ingredients
You will need 250 grams of hard red wheat flour & 250 grams of hard white wheat (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). Also, feel free to use all one type of wheat if that is easier for you, just know results may vary.
You will need 100 grams of sourdough starter. This starter can be actively and bubbly if you would like to feed it before hand, 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. I use unfed starter straight from the fridge about 95% of the time. I just make sure that it has been fed at some point within the last week.
You will use 425 grams of water for this recipe. Please note that I use fresh-milled flour, which is “thirsty” compared to pre-packaged flour. If you are using bagged flour, I recommend mixing in 390-400 grams of water to start, 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.
Next you need 12 grams of sea salt (or pink salt).
Finally, you can add 7 grams of diastatic barley malt powder. This ingredient is totally optional, but it is considered a dough enhancer. When I don’t use it, I notice minimal changes in the rise and crumb. However, I throw it in for the minor benefit it brings me.
Step 2: Mixing
Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl. That’s right–everything. No autolysing or extra steps–just get it all thoroughly mixed. Then leave your dough to rest for 30 minutes.
Step 3: Stretches & Folds
You will perform four sets of stretches and folds, each spaced 30 minutes apart.
To perform a stretch and fold, you grab the edge of your ball of dough and pull up, stretching it like taffy. Be careful, especially during the first set or two, as the dough is more delicate and you want to avoid tearing if possible (but if it happens, it happens). Fold the dough down to the center. Now move to the next section of dough–I like to go counter-clockwise. Stretch, and fold it to the center. Move to the next section and repeat. You are working your way around the whole ball of dough and will probably complete 8 or so stretches. Then I like to 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.
Complete 4 sets, 30 minutes rest in between each.
Step 4: Bulk Fermentation
After the last round of stretches and folds, transfer the dough to a clear container for the 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 dough to make it flat so you can mark the dough’s starting point, either with a marker or a piece of tape. Then you need to take the temperature of your dough (I stick a meat thermometer in there) and determine how much you are going to let it rise (check out the chart in this article for guidance) before moving on to the next step. Using a measuring tape if needed and doing some math, mark your target. Example: if my dough is 4 cups in volume, and I’m targeting a 50% rise, I will add 50% of 4 to 4 (so, 2+4…) and put a mark at the 6 cup line.
Yes, this is nerdy. This is type A. Some of you are rolling your eyes. However, I’ve found that excellent whole wheat loaves require this level of detail, at least while you’re perfecting your process. Feel free to just wing it if you want, but I can’t promise good results. 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. Hands down, the best resource I have come across is The Sourdough Journey. Click the link to read a very helpful article on that site that will explain percentage rise. I use the chart on that page to determine the rise for all of my loaves. It was written with white loaves in mind, but I find the percentages also apply to 100% whole wheat sourdough bread. What doesn’t apply is the “time” column–the time on the charts will be very different for whole grains. Use the percentage rise as your guide.
Step 5: Pre-Shape
Put a bit of rice flour down on your work surface and dump the dough out from it’s container to pre-shape. All I do is some easy stretches and folds, then use my bench scraper to help me turn the dough over so the smooth side is on top. See the video for more detail on this, as well as my shaping. Let rest for 20 minutes.
Step 6: Shape
After it’s 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. See my video for how I shape it, or shape it however you prefer.
Place your shaped loaf upside down into the banneton so the smooth side is on the bottom. This confused me when I first started baking, but yes, it is supposed to be upside down. 😉
Cover your loaf and 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!
Step 7: Bake
Choose a baking vessel for your bread. You can use a dutch oven or stoneware/clay bakers. I have been using a Pampered Chef 3 quart baker in an oval shape that is perfect for batards. I like to use this baker because it hugs the baked loaf more than a dutch oven, which can be an extra crutch/support when trying to get a higher rise on your whole wheat loaves. But a dutch oven works beautifully, too. (Tip: throw some rice or cornmeal under your parchment paper in the dutch oven so the bottom doesn’t burn! This isn’t needed in a stone baker, but it’s a handy tip for cast iron).
Put your empty baker + lid into the oven to preheat. Set your oven to 450. 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 lower your loaf into it. Spray your dough 10 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.
Step 8: Cool
Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to cool completely on the cooling rack before slicing.
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.
100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
- 1 Mixing Bowl
- 1 Mixing Spoon
- 1 Gram Scale
- 1 Food Thermometer
- 1 Proofing Basket/Banneton optional–can use a towel lined bowl or loaf pan if needed
- 1 Parchment Paper or Dough Sling
- 1 Bench Scraper
- 2 tbsps Rice Flour optional–for shaping and dusting your proofing basket
- 1 Spray bottle of water
- 250 grams Hard White Wheat Flour I used fresh-milled flour
- 250 grams Hard Red Wheat Flour I used fresh-milled flour
- 425 grams Water If not using fresh-milled flour, start with 400 grams of water
- 100 grams Sourdough Starter
- 12 grams Sea Salt
- 7 grams Diastatic Malt Powder Optional! Not required to make a good loaf of bread.
- 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 6-10 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. Let dough rest 30 minutes.
- Perform your second set of stretches and folds, repeating the process from step 3. Let rest 30 minutes.
- Perform your third set of stretches and folds. Let dough rest 30 minutes.
- Perform your final set of stretches and folds. After your stretches and folds are complete, 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 check the total volume.
- Stick your temperature probe into your dough to check the temperature. Using an expo marker or piece of tape, mark the starting point.
- Next, mark your approximate target for your percent rise. This will depend on temperature. My dough was 72 degrees, so I aimed for a 60% rise target. If your dough is cooler than 70, you may want to aim for 75%+. If it's much warmer than 75, you may want to stop at a 30-40% rise. You will need to experiment to find what percent rise works in your home for the season you are in.
- Allow your dough to rest during this bulk fermentation stage. Depending on temperature, this may take anywhere from 2-6 hours or more!
- When your dough has completed it's target rise, spread a tablespoon of rice flour down on your work surface. Turn your dough out onto the surface and complete your preshape. I like to do this by lightly stretching and folding the dough into a smooth ball, then using my bench scraper to lightly flip it over so the smooth side is on top. Let your 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. Watch my video to see how I do this.
- Dust your banneton with a tablespoon of rice flour. Place your dough smooth-side down into the banneton, and then stick the dough together to create more tension. Watch my video to see how I do this.
- Cover the dough and place in the fridge for anywhere from 8-48 hours.
- 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.
- Once your baking vessel is pre-heated, 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.
- Gently move your dough from your counter into your baking vessel.
- Spray your dough 10 times with a spray bottle filled with water. If you don't have one, you can very lightly flick a small amount of water onto the dough with your hands.
- 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.