Step-by-step tutorial to make soft 100% whole wheat sandwich bread with a 15 minute sponge and only 1 rise. This may be the recipe that finally frees you from store-bought bread!
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I'm so glad you're here - let's finally make perfect, whole wheat sandwich bread!
A number of years ago, before there were blogs, I taught myself to make bread. Through those few years of trying to get it right, my family ate many leaden loaves of bread without complaints (for which I'm eternally grateful!) in my quest for an easy, 100% whole wheat loaf that made great sandwiches and toast.
I've experimented with many different flours (Barley-Rye-Spelt bread, anyone?) and in the end adapted a great recipe that's quick and easy and turns out a consistently good loaf.
This is the recipe that allowed me to stop buying our sandwich bread - really.
I don't want you to have to go through all that, though, so I'm sharing a step-by-step tutorial so that you can start turning out great loaves right away - and free you from store bought sandwich bread forever!
First, though, why bother learning to make your own bread?
- It tastes WONDERFUL.
- You know exactly what's in it.
- It takes less hands-on time than running to the store (a revelation to me, like most of our other pantry basics!)
- It's cheap - these two loaves cost about .75 cents each (and I'm probably over-estimating).
- It just makes you feel good.
- It tastes WONDERFUL.
Convinced? Me, too!
I want to encourage you that you, too, can make bread... I promise. Just give it a try and DO NOT be discouraged by any loaves you may turn out that aren't perfect (they're still good for toast and breadcrumbs)- it's all a part of the learning.
Trust me on this - I know. Just keep practicing.
How to Make Soft 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
1. Make The Sponge
Combine warm water*, yeast, and 2 cups of flour in the bowl of a stand mixer (this can, of course, be mixed in a bowl by hand- I've just never done it that way...) and let it sit 15 minutes to create a sponge.
*Note: I use warmest tap water without a problem, but if you're unsure, you want to use a thermometer and have your water between 105 and 110 degrees - hotter than this will kill the yeast!
PRO TIP: this is the Kitchenaid mixer I use, after burning out my Artisan lift-top with all the whole wheat loaves I was making weekly. It is an investment, but the benefits are worth it to me, since it does the work of mixing and kneading (as well as being used for other baking recipes).
2. Add oil and then add the honey
Look at how all the honey just slides right out of the cup when added after using it for the oil - no scraping needed. A lovely little trick.
3. Add salt and 4 cups of the flour
You can also add the vital gluten here, if using. You'll mix until the dough starts to look like this:
4. Change to the dough hook and knead
Remove the paddle attachment and change to the dough hook to knead (or for those doing it by hand, turn out on floured surface).
5. Knead for 6-7 minutes (or 10 minutes by hand)
After about 6 minutes, the dough should be cleaning the sides of the bowl. If it is sticking to the sides during the kneading process, you can add a little flour, a tablespoon at a time.
Be careful not to add too much - the dough should feel tacky to your finger when you touch it, but not slick to it. It's okay if the dough still sticks to the bottom of the bowl- in fact with whole wheat it usually will.
BIGGEST TIP: Don't add too much flour - the dough should not roll out of the bowl on its own.
6. Prepare The Pans
Grease two 9 x 5 inch pans* while the dough is kneading. You can use oil, butter, or even line with parchment.
I use a Mr. Misto filled with olive or avocado oil (so I don't have to buy a spray from the store) reusable and frugal! In order to get it in the corners I use a small silicone brush- no stray pieces left like from a regular brush.
*Update TIP: If your loaves aren't rising as much, try making the bread in smaller pans. I now use these 8.5x4.5 USA loaf pans which I love because they don't stick at all!
7. Turn the kneaded dough out onto a floured surface and cut in half
On counters that can't be used for dough, I use a tea towel dusted with a bit of flour- the dough doesn't stick as much, so you use less flour, plus it's easy clean-up.
Smoosh the dough down into an even-looking oval shape that you can cut in half with a dough scraper or regular long knife.
8. Shape the loaves
- a) Pat each half into a fairly even oval the length of the pan. (I used to sweat over trying to shape a loaf - using a rolling pin and making it big, then I realized its not rocket science it only needs to be big enough to roll up a bit.)
- b) Roll up gently.
- c) Pinch the seam together and then pinch the ends and bring them in toward the seam...
- so that it looks like d) when shaped.
9. Place Shaped Loaves into Pans
Fit the shaped loaf into your prepared pan and repeat with the other loaf.
Another reason I like using a towel to shape them: I simply take the tea towel, shake it off gently over the sink, and use it to cover the pans. You can get out a new towel or use plastic wrap if you shaped them on a cutting board.
10. Let The Dough Rise
Set the pans in a warm place. Don't worry too much about this - the counter is fine, even the top of the fridge - just no cold drafts.
I did have a cupboard right above our heating vent that was always warm in the winter, so I'd often use that. But when it's warm out, the counter works fine.
Timing: Set a timer for 50 minutes, then turn the oven to 350 degrees to preheat for the last 10 minutes of rising time.
When the loaves have risen 1/2 inch to 1 inch above the pans (1 hour for the loaves pictured above), put them in the preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, then turn them around for even cooking and bake another 15 minutes, for 30 minutes total.
Notice one is bigger than the other? It really isn't about perfection around here - the bigger one seems to have a growth on the side, too - it's a bubble and I just don't worry about these things!
12. Take the loaves out of the oven
Remove the loaves after 30 min. To make sure they are done you can do a test, turning them out and knocking on the bottom for a hollow sound, but if your oven is truly at 350 they will always be done at 30 min. - I never test with this recipe anymore.
Let the loaves cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then run a spatula around the edges right away to loosen any sticking parts.
PRO TIP: See that completely flat spatula? It's one of my favorite cooking tools - this spatula is just the BEST. It's plastic, but sorta sharp for a spatula, so it gets EVERY last bit of dough from a bowl and is better at loosening things out of pans than knives because it's not sharp enough to actually cut through anything.
13. Let Cool On Racks
Turn the loaves out onto racks and let cool at least 30 min. to 1 hour before cutting or you're going to smush the bread down when you try to cut it! I know it's hard, but have patience, it will be worth it in the end.
Then, if you're like me, cut off one of the lovely ends, spread it with just a bit of real butter and bite into that soft, crispy wonderfulness...there's just something about fresh-out-of-the-oven bread!
Cool the loaves completely before storing or freezing.
Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread FAQs
The standard answer is to store bread wrapped in a bag (linen or plastic) at room temperature for 2-3 days and to never refrigerate it because that makes it go stale faster.
However, it will often mold before we eat it, so I do regularly refrigerate our bread! It's perfectly fine for toast and will soften up with a warming in a toaster oven.
Also, a tip is to separate the loaves into halves if your household doesn't eat that much bread and freeze the parts you aren't using for later.
Double wrap each loaf in plastic bags (reused from produce bags work) and freeze until you need them, up to 4 months. You can freeze whole or cut before freezing (I always cut before so the slices are easy to remove). They freeze beautifully and you'll never have to run to the store for bread again!
This is one of the most-asked questions I've gotten over the years. Since I don't have a machine and the machines all have different capacities, I'm pointing you to this article from King Arthur Flour: How to convert your favorite recipes to a bread machine.
Update on Using Vital Gluten: As of November of 2010, I no longer add the extra gluten listed in my original recipe. I've read that Americans get too much gluten in our daily diets and I just feel better not using it. My loaves are still fine for our family, but are probably not quite as high as the loaves pictured here. I've listed it as optional now in the recipe.
Soft 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
- Two 9x5 inch OR 8.5x4.5 inch loaf pans
- 6 to 6½ cups whole wheat flour*
- 2½ cups warm water between 105-110 degrees
- 1½ tablespoons instant active dry yeast OR regular active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/3 cup oil**
- 2½ teaspoons salt
- 1½ tablespoons vital wheat gluten OPTIONAL (I don't use this anymore)
- Combine water, yeast and 2 cups of the flour in a mixing bowl. Set aside to sponge for 15-20 minutes, until risen and bubbly (warmer weather takes 15 min, cooler temps usually needs 20).
- Add honey, oil, salt, (plus gluten, if using), and 4 cups of flour. Mix until dough starts to clean sides of bowl. Change to dough hook (or turn out to knead by hand), and knead 6 to 7 minutes (10 by hand). Add only a few tablespoons of flour at a time if dough sticks to sides, being careful not to add too much.
- Form into two loaves and place in greased 9x5 pans (or 8.5x4.5 inch pans for a better rise). Allow to rise in a warm place for about 60 minutes, until 1/2 to 1-inch above pans (you may need 15-30 minutes longer if your kitchen is cold, but don't over rise or the loaf will fall when baked). Preheat oven to 350 degrees ten minutes before rising time is done.
- Bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through if needed.
- Immediately remove from pans to cool on a rack. Allow to completely cool before slicing.***
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