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100 Percent Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

This bread is a favorite of mine partly because it's a rich wonderfully flavorful bread, and partly because it breaks so many rules people just know to be true.

We're told you can't make a light bread with all whole wheat flour, that100% Whole Wheat bread you have to either add some bread flour or gluten to the dough. We don't do either. We just handle the dough well, and the bread rises. Beautifully. An optional amount of gluten is included in the recipe for people who need the crutch of the gluten, or who want a slightly more risen loaf. Try making the loaf Hungarian WW Simple Sourdough Pan Breadwithout the gluten - I think you'll find you don't need it! This bread is based on a recipe in Laurel Robertson's "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book," "A Loaf For Learning." I have converted the recipe to be a sourdough recipe.

Laurel gives exhaustive instructions on how to make a whole wheat bread that will rise nicely. Her book has more than a recipe in it, it has 33 pages of the most clear, informative description of how to bake bread I have ever read. What follows is a very condensed version. I recommend purchasing her book, and reading the full directions. You may safely assume that each step in the instructions below occupy several pages in the book.

The first step is to convert your starter to all whole wheat if you don't maintain your starter on whole wheat. I do this so the final bread will be 100% whole wheat flour. I'm not a whole wheat fanatic, but for a sourdough bread to be made with 100% whole wheat flour, it has to be made with a starter that is fed on whole wheat. If you make a bread with a starter fed on white flour, the bread will probably turn out well, but the bread won't be a 100% whole wheat bread.  If you are finicky about your numbers, converting your white starter to whole wheat means there will be a residual amount of white flour in the bread, so it isn't REALLY 100% whole wheat.  How much?  About 7 1/2 grams, or about 1.65%.

I have used a number of whole wheat flour to make this bread, both commercially ground and home ground.  All worked well. You can use any finely ground whole wheat flour.

If my starter has been refrigerated, I feed it a few times until it is active and lively.

Then I convert my starter to whole wheat.  I use a small amount of it and feed it with whole wheat flour and water until I have enough to bake whole wheat bread with.  Please be aware that the cups and gram measurements in all of our recipes are approximations of one another. Most people who measure in grams do not want to weigh out 1,234 grams. 1,230 is close enough. Nor do people using cups want strange cup measurements like 3/16 cup. So, please don't think that, for example, 90 grams of flour is 1/2 cup.

FeedingStarter - Grams (Volumetric)Whole Wheat Flour - Grams (Volumetric)Water - Grams (Volumetric)
First15 Grams
(1 TBSP)
8 Grams
(1 TBSP)
8 Grams
(1/2 TBSP)
SecondAll from previous step15 Grams
(2 TBSP)
15 Grams
(1 TBSP)
ThirdAll from previous step30 Grams
(4 TBSP)
30 Grams
(2 TBSP)
FourthAll from previous step60 Grams
(1/2 Cup)
60 Grams
(4 TBSP or 1/4 Cup)

The feedings are about 12 hours apart, and this feeding schedule will give you a little bit of extra starter so you can maintain a whole wheat starter after you make this bread.

Here are the ingredients for a loaf of the bread:

Volumetric MeasurementIngredientGramsBaker's Percentage
3/4 CupWater180 Grams53%
3/4 CupActive Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter210 Grams62%
2 1/3 TBSPLight Olive Oil30 Grams8.9%
1 1/2 TBSPHoney (1)30 Grams8.9%
2 2/3 TBSPVital Wheat Gluten (Optional) (2)20 Grams6%
2 2/3 CupWhole Wheat Flour (2)320 Grams94%
1 1/4 TspSalt8.2 Grams2.4%

  1. The original recipe called for molasses or honey.  We found the loaves made with Molasses had too strong a flavor, as well as tasting too salty.  Feel free to try molasses.  If you are avoiding honey, you can also use sorgum syrup, maple syrup, or agave syrup.  The sweetener tames the rougher tannin notes in the whole wheat flour.
  2. If you'd rather not use the Vital Wheat Gluten, just use 340 grams, or 3 Cups of Whole Wheat Flour.

Pour starter into a mixing bowl. Add the water, salt, honey, and oil. Whisk together.

If you are measuring by weight, add all the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix it all together. If you are measuring by volume, add the flour a cup at a time and stir. After the first cup, add the rest of the dry ingredients. Make sure the dough is well mixed, feeling it to see if the water has been incorporated through the dough. Yes, this means you should use your fingers to feel the dough, massage it, and look and feel for dry spots where flour has not been moistened. If you find such, mix the flour into the dough and get it moistened.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for five minutes, cover the dough and let it rest for five more minutes, and then knead it until it passes the windowpane test, probably another five to ten minutes.

I recommend the rest period for all doughs, as this gives the flour time to absorb moisture and the dough to settle in. It's easier to let nature do this than to keep kneading. I find that it takes less time to knead the dough if I let the dough rest. This is especially critical with whole grain flours. While whole grains will absorb more water than refined flours, they do so more slowly than refined flours. Many beginners add too much flour because they think the dough is too wet. Then the flour absorbs the moisture and suddenly the dough is too dry. More water is added. The cycle continues. When the baker either gets it right or gives up in disgust, there is much more flour and water than the starter can deal with in a reasonable time frame so the bread rises slowly. So, I suggest not adjusting the flour and moisture until after the resting period.

Having a plastic dough scraper handy is a good thing, as you can scrape up the stuff that sticks to the kneading surface, so it can be incorporated back into the dough. About half way through the kneading, the dough will get a lot less sticky, even without adding much flour.

Try not too add too much flour. (I usually add about 1/2 cup per loaf in the kneading process.) In my baking classes and in corresponding with people through this site, I find the biggest problem most beginning bakers have is adding too much flour and having too stiff and dry a dough. Up to a point, wetter is better. In all my classes students are amazed at how wet the doughs they make are, and realize they'd been making doughs far too dry.

Form the dough into a ball, and then, holding the ball in two hands, tuck the surface of the ball into the bottom of the ball, which will cause the surface of the ball to stretch and form a gluten cloak on the outside of the ball of dough. Don't stretch the dough so much that you tear the dough.

Put a bit of oil in the bottom of a bowl, put the smooth side of the dough onto the oil. Turn the dough so it's lightly coated with oil. It doesn't matter at this stage if the smooth side is up or down. Once the loaf is covered with oil, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise about 1 1/2 hours in a warm place.

When the dough has doubled in size, gently deflate the dough by pressing your fist into the ball and then pressing the dough with your fist.  Next fold over the sides of the ball to form it into a new ball, and put back into the mixing bowl. Again, let the dough rise covered in a warm place until doubled, which will take about 1/2 as long as the first rise.

Again, gently deflate the bread, and form a loaf, and putSourdough Whole Wheat Nutritional Analysis the loaf into a greased 4 x 8" bread pan. (I use "Baker's Joy" to grease my loaf pans.)

Put the loaf aside to rise, which should be a bit faster than the second rise. Don't let it over-rise!

A quick consideration - the more times the dough rises, the more sour the bread will be.  Also, each time you deflate the dough and let it rise again, the finer the crumb structure will be.  So, you can have a milder bread by letting the dough have fewer rises.

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Slash the bread with a single slash down the center of the loaf. Pop the bread into the oven. After 1/2 an hour, look at it. If the loaf is quite brown, reduce the temperature to 350F/175C. If the bread is pale or pinkish, raise the temperature to 400F/200C. You may want to use those temperatures for your next loaf. If you are at high altitudes, or you use glass bread pans, you may need to adjust the temperature further (see "Baking at altitudes.")

Let it continue baking another 15 minutes. Pull the bread out and check it for doneness. I prefer to pop the loaf out of the pan and stick a quick reading dial thermometer into the bottom of the loaf. I think it's done when it reaches 190 F inside. However, at altitudes less than 5,280 feet, I'd probably shoot for 195 or even 200 F. (At 7,703 feet, where I live, the boiling point is 198 F, so trying for more than 200 F is just gonna burn the bread.)

Let it cool, slice and enjoy! I've made about 15 loaves of this bread as I write this and all are light, open grained, and delightful. I'd never have believed I could make a light whole wheat bread if I hadn't seen it!

An update - Since I put this recipe online back in April of 2001, I've made thousands of these loaves and they were a favorite at two bakeries. It's still a favorite recipe. Some people tell me that the sourdough makes the micro-nutrients in the whole wheat more biologically available. That may be, but for me what's important is that it tastes great.

17 thoughts on “100 Percent Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread”

    1. Unless otherwise noted, all our sourdough starters are at 100% hydration, or equal parts of flour and water by weight.
      -Mike

  1. Good morning! My first go at the whole wheat bread was delightful, after following your conversion. However, after maintaining the WW starter for a few weeks on the counter, my second dough was a rock. I wonder if you can tell me how you MAINTAIN the WW starter, if it’s different than the feeding that you note above. I do live at 9097 feet above sea level. Thank you!

    1. Not knowing what you have been doing, I really can’t comment on what went wrong for you. I feed my starter twice a day, with each feeding being enough to double it in size. To 50 grams of starter, I add 25 grams each of flour and water. It is a living thing and needs to be fed consistently.

      After the feeding above, I have 100 grams of starter. I can feed it 50 grams each of flour and water, or I can discard half the starter to keep the amount reasonable, feeding the remaining 50 grams of starter 25 grams each of flour and water.

      We talk about ways to refrigerate and revive a starter, which may help you, but if your starter isn’t healthy when you refrigerate it, it won’t do well after refrigeration.

  2. Is that a picture of the actual loaf from the recipe? mine was only half the height ( I doubled recipe and made 2 loaves). They were good tho’!

  3. Hi Mike,
    I have made this recipe about 6 or 8 times. One time the rise in the bread pan was way over the top, and the bread turned out wonderful. Every other time, I have made bread that is dense and about 2-3 inches tall. I have tried to let the last rise, in the pan, go longer, but when I do the outside of the bread rips, and it falls in the oven.
    I am making this recipe right now. I did the kneading until I got a windowpane, did the first rise at room temperature (70 degrees) for an hour and a half, did the degass (the dough had only risen about a half), then the second rise for 1 1/2 hours (again, not a lot of rise, but the gluten was developed and the dough was very elastic). Then, I formed the dough into a log and put it in a 4×8 bread pan. It has been rising in my oven, with a bowl of hot water, for about 3 1/2 hours, and it is still about an inch below the top of the bread pan. At this point, I don’t know whether to go ahead and cook it (probably won’t rise at all) or wait another 3-4 hours for it to rise above the pan.

    1. Hi Steve, It’s hard to know what is happening in your kitchen. The flour can play a role – a coarse flour doesn’t rise as well as a finely milled flour. Feel your flour, is it gritty (not so good), or fine (better).

      One’s starter is also a consideration. Your starter should be able to double in size between feedings. At 100% hydration, if a starter can’t raise itself, it can’t raise your bread.

      As to baking it, once you bake it, it will not rise further. We’ve had this bread rise overnight from time to time.

      -Mike

  4. This turned out fabulous. Made it exactly as written using the gram measurements and a bit of molasses. Making it again now. Might try a tad higher hydration.

  5. Hi,

    I am planning to use this recipe soon. I do have the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book so I was glad to find this recipe online. Do you think it would work as well to bake in a dutch oven? And should I heat the dutch oven first, as some other recipes advise?

    Thank you.

    1. This is a rather wet dough so I don’t think it would do well in a Dutch oven or as a boule. I suggest baking it in a bread pan to make a sandwich loaf in the text of the recipe.
      -Mike

  6. I do just the one bulk rise with a few stretch and folds. Then before shaping I do not deflate the dough, just gently shape. {I always have to add more water than the amts given as it is so dry here.} I get much lighter bread by preserving those lovely air pockets, and my bread is not so sour tasting.
    I use 100% organic sprouted wheat flour: One Degree is the brand. It seems to have plenty of gluten. Vitacost carries it usually, but all the flour is out of stock. My local health food carries local (Methow Valley, WA Bluebird Grains) hard red wheat flour which luckily is not out of stock, and I will try that next time!

  7. I have a few questions…
    After the fourth feeding of the starter, do you wait another 12 hours before making the bread?
    If you do not want to use the starter after the fourth feeding, should it be refrigerated until ready to be used?
    If starter has been refrigerated, should you leave it on the counter before making bread? How long?
    thanks

    1. Hi Andrea,
      Instead of looking at the clock, you should look at your starter. I like to use a starter after it has reached a peak and just as it starts to collapse. How long that is depends on your starter, how you feed your starter and the temperature of your kitchen. In Colorado, 12 hours worked fine. In Texas, using the same starter, 12 hours is far too long. My suggestion is to watch your starter and see how long it takes to reach a peak, and how long it stays there.

      I don’t use refrigerated starter fresh from the fridge. I have never done it, though I know some people do. I time my starter feedings so I can use the starter when it’s ready. Yeah, life happens, things change and maybe you won’t be ready when your starter is. In that case, I’d feed it again and try to use it the next time it’s ready.

      From what I read, the key questions on using a starter from the fridge are how long it’s been there, and its condition when you refrigerated it. If your starter was doubling between feedings, you put it into the fridge when it was at a peak and it’s only been in the fridge a day or two, I’d go ahead and use it. Remember, the fridge isn’t like some sort of science fiction suspended animation. Your starter is still working, it is still converting starches to sugars and eating the sugars to produce gas and alcohol. When my starter has been in the fridge more than a few days, I feed it until it is again doubling between feedings.

      When I intend to refrigerate a starter, I feed it until it is reliably doubling between feedings, feed it one more time, and then put it in the fridge. A very freshly fed starter survives refrigeration better than a more mature starter.

      Hope this helps,
      Mike

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