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How to Make a Beautifully Risen Loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Bread

I've been reading Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. I've only made it through the first chapter ("Baking Basics"), but I've already picked up a few tips that have helped me with my bread baking.

1. Use the minimum amount of yeast possible.
Now I use 2T of yeast instead of 2T + 2 t for two loaves. I have been known to fudge up the amount of yeast to try to speed things along. Now I stick with 2 T.

2. Knead as little as possible.
I now knead for just 6 to 8 minutes. I also add as much flour as I can before kneading. I used to add about 5 1/2 cups flour and then another cup or more at the end to form the ball. Now I add 6 or more cups before kneading (as much as I can without making the mixer knock or the motor strain) and then add just a bit more flour at the end to form the dough ball.

3. A slow rise is better.
I used to often put my dough in a warm oven to speed along the first and/ or second rises. Rushing the rising process, which I was often guilty of (see above), is not a good idea.

4. To form the dough into a loaf/ log, flatten dough into 5" by 8" rectangle, then start at one end and roll up into a log. 
Pinch the end to seal it and place pinched end down in your greased loaf pan. This is also how Cook's Illustrated thinks you should form a loaf. I'd discounted this method before thinking it wouldn't make much difference, or would result in more air pockets and problems. I'm not sure why I thought I was smarter than Cook's Illustrated, but I definitely knew I wasn't smarter than Peter Reinhart and Cook's Illustrated, so I finally tried forming my loaves this way. I used to just sort of stretch and roll a ball of dough into a log shaped.

As a result of these small changes, I have been baking beautifully formed loaves with a fabulous chewy crumb and no air holes every single time. You can actually see the swirl shape in the crumb of the bread. The bread rises so well that I have to be sure not to let it rise too far or it won't fit in my favorite reusable stainless steel sandwich container. And I've been using 0 or only 1 T of gluten per two loaves. 

I'm excited to try some of the actual recipes in Reinhart's book! Incidentally, I checked out from the library (more than once) Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. It is a serious tome. The introductory chapters were long intimidating and I could never quite make my way through them. This slim beauty is much more user-friendly and I think once I get the knack of the recipes, this technique will replace my current method of making artisan bread (based on the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day books).

Note that I have added these changes and updates to my last bread recipe post as well.

Happy baking!

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