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How to Make Hearty & Flavorful Whole-Grain Bread

Do you want to learn how to make whole grain bread? If so, there are a few things that you knead — er, need — to know.

Whole grain bread

Read on for tips and a recipe to learn how to make whole grain bread.

Photos via CakeSpy

Whole grain bread is a great addition to your bread baking repertoire.

It boasts a nutty, full-bodied flavor and delivers plenty of nutrition in each slice. However, many bakers are surprised to learn that making whole grain bread isn’t quite as simple as subbing a whole-grain flour for all-purpose or bread flour.

There are a number of considerations that can effect the outcome of your bread. Let’s explore some handy tips for baking whole grain bread, which we’ll follow with a great recipe for a delicious whole grain loaf studded with wheat germ, millet and oats.

6 handy tips for making whole grain bread 

1. Whole grains aren’t just whole wheat.

It’s true: whole wheat is a type of whole grain, but it’s far from the only one you can use in bread-baking. “Whole grain” simply means that the whole kernel of a grain is included: bran, germ, endosperm. The grain can be ground or cracked, but no part of the grain is actually extracted or removed. This means that whole grains retain all of their nutrients. This post includes a list of some common whole grains.

2. Sticky dough is a good thing.

In general, whole grains and whole-grain flours are “thirstier” than their non-whole grain counterparts. This explains why your bread can be overly dry if you simply substitute whole-wheat flour for white flour in a recipe.

Our recipe includes a few tablespoons more water than usual, to compensate for the extra hydration required for the whole grains. Depending on the type of whole-wheat flour you use, this can make the dough stickier in the beginning. This is totally fine! The whole grains gradually absorb the liquid, which means that once baked, the loaf will be pleasingly moist. 

3. Rising times may vary.

Whole grains are denser than refined grains. As such, the yeast has to work a little bit harder to make whole-grain bread dough rise. This means that the actual rise time can vary, and in some cases can be up to double the amount of time required for a white bread dough. Refer to visual cues such as how much the dough should increase in size for best results. 

4. Knead it just right.

Kneading is important in helping you attain the perfect texture and structure in your bread. However, with coarse whole grains, don’t overdo it. Particularly if folding whole grains into your bread dough, you don’t want to create too many pockets of air, which can happen when you over-knead. Be sure to follow your recipe’s cues.. 

5. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

Adding whole grains to your bread doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You can start small, by swapping about a quarter of the flour called for in a recipe for whole-grain flour. You can add a little more each time. This will help you get a handle on the small adjustments (added liquid, decreased kneading) which need to be made to ensure success.

Whole grain bread

Whole grain bread recipe

Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf

  • 1¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (105 F)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 packet yeast (0.25 ounces) 
  • 3½ cups whole-wheat flour 
  • ½ cup wheat bran 
  • ½ cup millet, divided
  • ½ cup rolled oats, divided 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 

Step 1:

In a large bowl, combine the water, olive oil, honey and yeast. Let it sit  for a minute or two, until the mixture looks slightly foamy. 

Step 2: 

Add the whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, ¼ cup of the millet, ¼ cup of the rolled oats and the salt. Stir to combine; once moistened, switch to your hands and knead the dough until it begins to feel pliable and elastic, about 2-3 minutes by hand. The dough should feel slightly wet. If it feels extremely dry, add a few more teaspoons of water. 

Step 3: 

Form the dough into a ball, and place in a large oiled bowl. Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap; let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in size (this can take anywhere between 1 and 3 hours depending on the temperature in your kitchen). 

Step 4:

Deflate the dough. Form the dough into a log and transfer it into a well-greased loaf pan, with the seam (if any) aligned down. Scatter the remaining oats and millet on top; press gently to ensure that they stick to the dough. 

Deflate dough

Step 5:

Cover the dough and let rise again until it forms a dome over the rim of the pan. Near the end of this rising period, preheat the oven to 350 F.

Risen before baking

Note: To keep errant bits of oat or millet from making a mess in the oven, I like to put a pan on the rack below where I will bake the bread, to capture any escaped bits and keep things clean.

Step 6: 

Bake the bread for 40 minutes, rotating at the 20-minute mark. If needed, tent the top with foil if it seems to be browning on top too rapidly. Remove the bread from the oven, and let cool in the pan atop a wire rack. Remove the bread and serve. 

Whole wheat bread

Store leftovers in a paper bag for up to 3 days, or freeze the bread for up to 1 month. 

Have you ever made whole grain bread? 

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One Comment


I have been using my Breadman bread machine to make whole wheat bread, for about 7 yrs, now. The first years, everything was hunky-dory, then I bought a house about 5 yrs ago, and it seems that the bread has not risen right since. Obviously, I’ve used various bags of flour, yeast, flax, gluten, olive oil (or regular oil), honey and salt. I’ve tried hand kneading at the last machine kneading. I’ve tried using the whole wheat cycle, the basic cycle, putting it in the oven (covered) to rise, increasing the yeast, decreasing the salt, changing the water temp and amount. If I get a reasonably flat loaf, I consider that a success, any more. I’ve had it rise beautifully (although, not lately) only to crater in the middle. Sometimes it rises a little then falls when it starts baking. Sometimes it rises a little, but not much. I am using the same recipe I’ve always used, and basically the same ingredients. I’m at my wit’s end. I’ve even proofed my yeast, once, to double check, but after 5 yrs of new bags of everything, that hardly seems useful. HELP!!!


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