The Very BEST Whole Wheat Bread is the softest, moistest, fluffiest, freshest-staying, homemade, 100% whole wheat bread you've ever tried!
This bread, y'all. This bread. I titled this Whole Wheat Bread recipe "the BEST" and I'm not even exaggerating here. I've baked many a whole wheat bread recipe over the years, and this one is head-and-shoulders above the rest.
Hundreds of raving comments (since I first published this recipe six years ago) can't be wrong...right?! So I decided to update this old post with tons of additional information and tips to help ensure your bread making success!
THE BEST Whole Wheat Bread
Here's the deal...what makes this bread so amazing is that it stays soft and fresh for days after it's been baked.
Just about all homemade bread tastes fabulous fresh out of the oven. But then whatever isn't initially eaten tends to dry out a bit as the days stretch on, particularly in the case of wheat bread.
But this bread is just as good on the third day (if it lasts that long!) as it was on the first. Seriously! I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't experienced it first hand myself. It's like store-bought, stay-soft bread without the preservatives. Forgive me for going all Scarlett O'Hara on you, but as God is my witness, I'll never make another whole wheat bread recipe again!
The Best Whole Wheat Flour for Bread Baking
One of my bread making tricks is that I like to use white whole wheat flour when I make bread. Even though it has the word "white" in its title, this flour is 100% whole wheat.
Traditional whole wheat flour is milled from red wheat; white whole wheat flour is milled from (hard) white wheat. Its lighter grain results in a milder flavor and lighter texture than the whole wheat flour to which most of us are accustomed.
Don't be fooled by the taste, though...white whole wheat flour is unrefined and 100% whole wheat! It's nutritionally the same as its red wheat cousin. I buy King Arthur brand unbleached white whole wheat flour, but I'm sure there are other brands out there that would work just as well.
How to Make the Best Whole Wheat Bread
Not only does this whole wheat bread turn out better than most, but the recipe is actually simpler to make than most! Some of the steps may seem a bit unconventional to an experienced bread maker. But if you give this recipe a chance, I think you'll be pleased with the results.
- Fit your stand mixer with a dough hook. Measure out flour, vital wheat gluten, and instant dry yeast into the bowl and mix until combined.
- Pour in very warm water (between 120°F and 130°F) and mix for one minute. The water needs to be hot enough to activate the yeast but not so hot that it kills it.
Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Uncover the bowl.
Beat in salt, oil, honey, and lemon juice.
- Add more flour, mixing it in one cup at a time until well incorporated. Allow the dough hook to knead the dough until it becomes smooth instead of sticky and pulls away from the side of the bowl.
This typically takes 10 to 15 minutes but may take as little as 5 minutes.
- Grease and/or line your pans and set aside.
- Turn on the oven to 350°F. After exactly one minute, turn it back off. This will preheat the oven to lukewarm...just enough to give your loaves the perfect warm spot to rise!
- Turn the dough out onto a greased surface.
Divide it equally in half and shape it into two loaves.
Transfer the loaves to the prepared bread pans, pressing the dough into the corners.
- Place the pans in the warm oven and allow them to rise for 20 to 40 minutes, or until they are nicely domed and as high as you wish your final whole wheat bread loaves to be.
- Once the loaves have risen to your liking, turn on the oven to 350°F WITHOUT TAKING THE BREAD OUT OF THE OVEN. Set the timer for 30 minutes. I know, I know...sounds weird. But trust me.
- Your bread is done when it's golden brown on top with an internal temperature from 190°F to 200°F on an instant-read thermometer. Turn the hot loaves out onto a rack to cool completely.
And that's it. One step at a time...you can do this!
What's a Bread Sponge?
Let's talk about step #2 for a moment, shall we? I believe that the biggest factor that makes this bread stay so soft and fresh is the step in the recipe calling for you to make a sponge. Now I'm not talking about the kind of sponge you keep by your kitchen sink. In bread making, a sponge is a very moist dough that just begins to rise as it gives the yeast a head start. After it's had some time to do its magic, you add more flour and ingredients and proceed with the recipe. The sponge in this recipe only needs to sit for about 10 minutes. But apparently that's all it takes to achieve this bread's wonderful texture.
For optimal results, make this whole wheat bread as directed. However, the recipe will still work (and even turn out great) incorporating a variety of substitutes. Just keep in mind that changing the ingredients may result in a different taste and/or texture in your final loaves. Switching ingredients could also require you to tweak an amount or a step, such as needing to add extra flour and/or kneading a bit longer to achieve the proper dough consistency. But if you're willing to experiment a bit, people have had success with the following substitutions...
(NOTE: Many of the below recipe tweaks have been taken from the comment section. I have not tried all of these substitutes myself.)
- Flour. You can make this recipe with regular (as opposed to "white") whole wheat flour. Or you may substitute all-purpose white flour for around half of the whole wheat flour. You may also use freshly ground whole wheat flour (milled from red wheat or white wheat). Just keep in mind that fresh milled flour is much "airier," so you may need to allow it some time to pack down before measuring it out...or just plan on using extra flour, as necesary. Also, with any flour substitution, you may need to slightly adjust the amount of flour added at the end of the recipe. For example, if the dough seems extra sticky and doesn't start pulling away from the bowl in a timely manner, you can work in additional flour (one spoonful at a time) until the texture seems right.
- Vital Wheat Gluten. This ingredient helps whole wheat bread recipes rise, and it encourages soft and chewy loaves with that stay-fresh quality. That being said, if you don't have any on hand or prefer not to use it, many people report having made this bread successfully while leaving out the vital wheat gluten.
- Yeast. I recommend using instant dry yeast (sometimes called "quick rise" or "rapid rise"), as directed in the recipe. You might have success if trying regular active dry yeast...but then again, maybe not. 😉 If you do decide to gamble on active dry yeast, my research indicates that to substitute it for instant dry yeast, you should multiply the amount by 1.25.
- Lemon Juice. If you don't have any lemon juice on hand, you may substitute another type of acid in its place. Orange juice, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar would all work.
- Honey. You may reduce the honey, if you wish. Also, maple syrup or agave may be substituted for the honey.
Other Recipe Notes
- The stand mixer pictured in this post is a classic, 5-quart, tilt-head KitchenAid.
- You may halve this recipe to make only one loaf of bread.
- You can also make this bread by hand...just prepare your muscles for all of that kneading.
- People have also reported success in halving the ingredients and making this recipe in a bread maker. But I don't own a bread maker and I'm not sure of the specifics...so you may have to experiment on that one. 😉
The only difficulty that I ran into the first time I made this bread is that it stuck to my loaf pans, despite the fact that I had generously greased them. Nonstick pans are recommended for this recipe, so if you've got 'em, use 'em! But since I prefer baking in my stoneware pans, I figured out a way around not using nonstick.
I grease my pans with coconut oil and then line them with parchment paper, using the coconut oil to adhere the paper to the pan. I find that if I cut a piece of parchment paper the length of each pan and allow it to somewhat stick out the sides, then I only need to cut two small pieces of paper per pan for the ends that remain uncovered. The key is pressing the parchment paper down and smoothing it as much as possible so you don't end up with a bunch of creases in your bread.
How to Store Your Whole Wheat Bread
This recipe makes two loaves, so I like to keep one wrapped (I use Glad Press 'n Seal) and stored in the pantry for eating. The second loaf I keep wrapped up in the refrigerator until we're ready to enjoy it.
I have a bread box, but I still prefer keeping my loaf wrapped inside of the bread box. And when I cut off the first slice, I store that end piece pressed against the cut end of the loaf as a kind of "cap" to help prevent it from drying out. When we're ready for the second loaf, I take it out of the fridge and store it at room temperature in the bread box.
Since this is fresh homemade bread with no preservatives, it will start to mold after several days. So keeping that second loaf in the fridge until we're ready for it buys us some extra time. You could also successfully freeze the second loaf if you prefer. However, we usually eat it soon/fast enough that refrigerating suffices.
If it takes your family awhile to work through two loaves of bread, another winning alternative would be to give the second loaf away! I mean, who wouldn't love the thoughtful gesture of freshly-baked homemade bread?
If you have never baked homemade bread before, I encourage you to try it. It may seem intimidating at first and the various steps do take a bit of time, but overall, it truly is easy. And if you are already an expert baker, then I hope you'll add this recipe to your repertoire!
Now go forth and make bread!
And psssst...if you happen to love this bread recipe, I actually adapted it to make The Very BEST Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls! Your holiday table won't be the same without 'em. 😉
Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
The Very BEST Whole Wheat Bread
- 3 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
- ⅓ cup vital wheat gluten
- 4 teaspoons instant dry yeast, "quick rise" or "rapid rise"
- 2 ½ cups very warm water, 120°F to 130°F
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ⅓ cup coconut oil, melted and cooled (OR vegetable oil)
- ⅓ cup honey
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together 3 ½ cups white whole wheat flour, vital wheat gluten, and quick-rise yeast until well combined.
- Add the water and mix for one minute, scraping down bowl halfway through. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Uncover the bowl and add the salt, oil, honey, and lemon juice. Beat for 1 minute.
- Add the remaining 2 ½ cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing well between each cup. Knead the dough in the mixer (still using the dough hook) until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and feels smooth rather than sticky. This usually takes 10 to 15 minutes, but if your dough pulls away and loses its stickiness sooner, it could take as little as 5 minutes.
- Grease two nonstick bread pans measuring 8 ½" x 4 ½" x 2 ½" to 9" x 5" x 3" each (or grease two regular bread pans and then line them with parchment paper). Preheat the oven to lukewarm by setting it to 350°F and then turning it back off after exactly 1 minute.
- Turn the dough onto a greased surface. Evenly divide it into two loaves. Form and place the dough into the prepared bread pans, gently pressing it into the corners.
- Place the pans in the warm oven and allow them to rise for 20 to 40 minutes, until the dough is nicely domed above the tops of the pans. Without removing the pans from the oven, turn on the oven to 350°F and set the timer for 30 minutes. The bread is done when the tops are golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 190°F to 200°F on an instant-read thermometer. Once the loaves are baked, immediately remove the hot bread from the pans to cool on a rack.
- I use coconut oil in this recipe. It works wonderfully and doesn't make the bread taste like coconut at all. However, you may use sunflower, safflower, or another light-flavored vegetable oil, if you prefer.
- Kneading and rising times are approximate and depend on many different variables. The dough must be kneaded until it pulls away from the bowl and is no longer sticky, even if that takes shorter or longer than 10 to 15 minutes. Also, the dough should be allowed to rise in the pans until it is as high as you want your final bread to be.
- White whole wheat flour is 100% whole wheat flour that yields a lighter taste and texture than regular whole wheat flour.
- Other types of flour (regular whole wheat flour, all-purpose white flour, freshly milled wheat flour, etc.) may be substituted for the white whole wheat flour in this recipe. Just keep in mind that the final flavor and texture of the bread may turn out different. Also, if you use an alternate flour (particularly freshly milled flour, which can be less dense), you may need to slightly adjust the amount of flour added at the end of the recipe. For example, if the dough seems extra sticky and doesn't start pulling away from the bowl, you can work in additional flour, one teaspoon at a time, until the texture seems right.
- If you don't have any lemon juice on hand, you may substitute another type of acid in its place (such as white vinegar or apple cider vinegar).
- Vital wheat gluten helps whole wheat bread recipes rise and yield soft and chewy loaves. That being said, if you don't have any on hand or prefer not to use it, many people report having made this bread successfully leaving out the vital wheat gluten.
Recipe adapted from Deals to Meals.
Post originally published on July 8, 2013.