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Whole Wheat vs White Flour

One of the first things you hear as a baker is that whole wheat flour can't rise as well as white flour. You've probably also been told why.

Whole wheat flour doesn't have as much gluten or protein, we're told. Looking at the results of our flour tests, we see that two of the highest protein flours are whole wheat flour. One is the Hungarian High Altitude Whole Wheat Flour at 13.3% protein and the Wheat Montana Prairie Gold at 15% protein. We're also told that the whole wheat grains have jagged edges and that that deflates the dough instead of letting it rise.

Still, Laurel's Loaf for Learning converted for sourdough rises nicely. In her book, "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book", Laurel Robertson tells us that if we handle the whole grain dough carefully, delicately and appropriately it will rise as well as white flour.

Recently I tested Hungarian High Altitude Whole Wheat and Sam's Baker's and Chef's Bread Flour. I was stunned to see that the Simple Sourdough Pan Bread recipe rose as well with the whole wheat flour as the bread flour.

Before baking, the loaves were almost identical,Comparing the rise of a whole wheat and white bread except for their color. When looked at straight on, the peak of both loaves were about even.

When the bread came out of the oven, the Comparing the baked whole wheat and white breadswhite bread loaf had shown more oven spring than the whole wheat loaf. This was a surprise as the Simple Sourdough Pan loaf usually has no real oven spring.

And here we have a look at the sliced loaves. Because of the oven spring,Whole wheat vs white bread, the cumb shot the white loaf sprang ahead, but both are nicely risen, have a soft crumb and are nice sandwich breads.

Two quick comments - no gluten was added to either loaf. The vertical line in the wheat bread was where I stuck a thermometer into the loaf and then foolishly cut the bread at the same spot. Of course, I didn't notice that until days later... after the bread been eaten.

With care, you can make great bread with whole wheat flour.  Whole flours tend to absorb more water than refined flours, but tend to do so more slowly than refined flours, so patience is a virtue.  As you develop the dough, give the dough time to absorb the water.

Many beginning whole grain bakers panic because the dough is too wet.  They add flour, and then the flour starts absorbing water and the dough goes from too wet to too dry in a short period of time.  The panicked baker adds more water, turning the dough into soup.  The baker swings like a pendulum from too wet to too dry until they get it right be accident, or just give up.

My suggestion is to mix the dough, knead it for 5 minutes, cover it and let it rest for 5 minutes, and then knead for another 5 minutes.  The dough will settle down during the rest period.  I try to not add more flour or water until the second kneading.