Whole Wheat Bread - No sugar, No Oil

A few years ago, I set a New Year's resolution to bake bread every week. Baking yeast bread was something that shook my confidence in the kitchen. I could do it, but not consistently well.

That resolution sent me on the search for a fantastic whole wheat bread recipe. I tweaked one I found on VegWeb, and posted it last February. But then, I discovered that whole wheat bread didn't need sugar, molasses, and oil to be delicious. It just needed flour, salt, yeast, water, and some time.

I've been baking the Whole Wheat Bread recipe in this post for the last 8 or 9 months. We eat a lot of bread in this house, so I usually bake it once a week (yielding two loaves). I pick a day when I will be around the house most of the morning. It does take a long time to make this recipe, but the longer the yeast has to develop, the more complex the flavors become!

Step 1: Make the overnight rise dough

Simply stir together the all purpose flour, yeast, salt and warm water. The dough will be very sticky and wet. I sometimes use my hands to make sure it is mixed well. Then, let rise at room temperature overnight. I have put this in the refrigerator to rise too, but I found that the flavor is better when at room temperature.

Step 2: Mix in the rest of the ingredients

In the morning, it will look bubbly and will have grown considerably! It's magic!

I like to use a stand mixer to mix the rest of the ingredients. For a while I did mix the ingredients by hand and then I discovered how much easier using a stand mixer was. That being said, don't fret if you don't have a stand mixer. Just consider this step part of an arm workout!

Make sure that the dough is mixed together well - the color should be uniform. The dough will also still be quite sticky. This is good. Turn it out on a floured surface and knead just a couple of times so that the dough isn't too sticky to work with. This dough will be wetter than a typical bread dough.

Step 3: Stretch the dough

After the dough has rested for about 2 hours, it will be double in size. It's now time to stretch the dough! Typically, bread is punched down at this point. We don't want to punch down this dough, we want to keep the air bubbles we are creating and help the yeast to continue to develop flavor.

So, grab the dough and stretch it as far as it will go without breaking (about 6-8 inches) and set the stretched end in the middle of the ball. Repeat with the remaining three sides of the dough ball. Then, turn over the ball in the bowl - be gentle! Let rest for another hour or so.

Step 4: Stretch the dough again

After the dough has risen again, you will repeat the stretching process one more time. Turn the ball over again and let rise for another 30 minutes, just enough time for the dough to come back together as a solid ball.

Step 5: Shape the dough into loaves

As with all the other steps, remember to be gentle. As an experiment once I divided the dough in half and with one half of the dough I barely shaped it. I just gently pinched edges together. With the other half of the dough I kneaded it a bit and then shaped it into a loaf, just like I would have with any other bread recipe. The difference in texture between the two loaves was significant. The loaf I had shaped vigorously was very dense; whereas, the loaf I had been more gentle with was light and airy. Lesson learned: Be gentle!

Step 6: Bake the dough

If you have a baking stone, I imagine it would work great here. I don't, so I just bake my bread on a baking sheet in a hot oven (475 degrees Fahrenheit). The bread is done when it is golden brown on the top. Let cool on a wire rack before cutting or freezing.

Tip: If you have a cat or a dog, be sure to leave the bread in a place they can't reach it. Freshly baked bread smells amazing! No one, not even your pet, can resist it. I have learned this the hard way. I have gone out to run errands and come back to discover little nibbles on my freshly baked bread. Sadness! Let cool in a safe place!

Whole Wheat Bread
2 loaves | 13 hours (30 minutes active) | Print

Using a stand mixer makes this process quicker and easier; however, you can get the same result by making it by hand. Also, measuring flour by weight is much more reliable than by volume. If you have a scale, use it here. The four is essentially divided in half - 1 lb. in the overnight rise and 1 lb. in the short rise.

Overnight Rise Ingredients
1 lb. (about 3 1/4 cups) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
12 ounces warm water

Finishing Ingredients
3 ounces (about 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons) vital wheat gluten
13 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt
11 ounces warm water
  1. Combine the all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt and yeast in a medium bowl. Stir in 12 ounces warm water until you have a very wet ball of dough. Cover loosely and let rest at room temperature overnight (or about 8 hours).
  2. Place vital wheat gluten, whole wheat flour and the final 1 tablespoon of salt in a bowl; stir to combine. Add the warm water. Using a dough hook for your stand mixer, stir for about 30 seconds until most of the flour is damp (just to prevent it from flying all over your kitchen). Scrap in the overnight rise mixture and turn the stand mixer on medium-low speed to combine; this takes about 3-5 minutes. (If combining by hand, use a wooden spoon to stir the overnight rise mixture with the finishing ingredients until it becomes to difficult to stir. Then, turn out on a floured surface and knead.) The dough will be uniform in color and texture when done. It will also be quite sticky. Scrap out to a flour surface and knead briefly so the dough is easy to handle. This dough will be softer and wetter than the typical bread dough. 
  3. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover loosely. Let rise for about 2 hours, or until double in size.
  4. Instead of punching down the dough like most yeast bread recipes, you will stretch the dough. Imagine the dough being a clock. Grab the edge at 12:00 and pull up as far as the dough will stretch, about 6-8 inches. Lay the stretched piece in the middle of the clock. Repeat this process at the 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 locations. Gently turn the dough over so the stretched pieces are on the bottom of the bowl and the top of the dough is smooth. Let rise for about 1 hour.
  5. Repeat the stretching from the previous step. Let rest for about 30 minutes. 
  6. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle a thin layer of flour on a baking sheet and set aside. (You can also use two loaf pans instead of a baking sheet.)
  7. Gently remove dough from bowl and place on a floured surface. Try to limit how much you shape the dough. We want to keep all the air bubbles we have created; this will give the bread a lighter texture. Cut the dough into two equal pieces. Gently shape into loaf shapes. Place on the prepared pan and cover with a towel. Let rest for 30 minutes.
  8. Bake bread for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack before slicing. Freeze the extra loaf by wrapping tightly in plastic before placing in the freezer. 

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