4 Essential Tips for Making Hearty Whole Grain Bread
Whole grain bread has a nice, nutty flavor; a pleasingly hearty texture and density; and it’s a healthful alternative to processed white bread. But when it comes down to making the bread, you can’t simply swap out the flour in a recipe.
Whole grains react differently than “regular” grains in the baking process. This doesn’t mean the process is difficult, thought! But you do need to know a few things so that your loaves come out with the perfect texture and flavor.
What is a Whole Grain?
“Whole grain” means that the entire kernel of a grain is included: bran, germ and endosperm. They can be ground or cracked, but they retain the entirety of their nutrients. Common whole grains include but are not limited to:
- Rice, both brown rice and colored rice
- Wild rice
How are Whole Grains Different from Whole Wheat?
Whole wheat is a type of whole grain, but it’s not the only one. All of the above are whole grains — wheat is just a single type. So while whole wheat can be a whole grain, whole grains are not all whole wheat.
1: Whole Grains are Thirsty
Whole grains absorb more water than regular white flour (even higher-protein bread flour). That means a whole grain bread recipe needs more moisture. Otherwise, your bread may come out dry and crumbly.
So how do you hydrate the flour properly? According to King Arthur Flour, the “baker’s percentage” of water for whole grains could be as high as 90 percent. Sound sticky? It won’t be for long. The added moisture gives the whole grain bread a wonderful texture.
2: Whole Grains don’t have to be Added as Flour
Whole grain flour is not the only way to incorporate whole grains into your bread. You can also fold in toasted wheat berries, quinoa, oats or other grains into your bread for tasty and healthy results.
While these grains might require a little more moisture in the mixture, they wouldn’t count as the amount of flour in the recipe; they would be more like a folded-in addition, as chocolate chips are in cookies.
3: Give the Bread Extra Time to Rise
Have you ever noticed that whole grain bread is heavier than white bread? It is, and that means the yeast has to work harder to raise those grains.
Typically, whole grain bread requires a longer — sometimes double the time — rising time than white bread dough. Follow your recipe to know what to look for (such as dough that has doubled in size) and allow more time than you might expect.
4: Don’t Overdo it with the Kneading
Kneading is an important part of the bread-making process. But with whole grain breads, you definitely don’t want to over-do it.
In general, whole grain flours are coarser than the more tender white flour. Especially if you’re adding whole grains to the bread, they can actually cut pockets of air in your dough, which can deter the bread from rising in the way you’d like. Avoid over-kneading whole grain breads for best results.
5: Get Started a Little at a Time
Is all of this information making your head spin? Working with whole grains might be easier if you start gradually.
Start with your go-to bread recipe and swapping a quarter of the flour for whole grain flour. The next time you make it, up the amount. You’ll more incrementally get a feel for working with the dough, the moisture and so on. Or, start easily with a quick flatbread such as chapati, which uses whole grains but doesn’t require yeast or leavening.