No knead to say more: 100% whole wheat bread

100% whole wheat no-knead bread

The last time I checked, more than 200 bloggers made Sullivan Street Bakery’s no-knead bread, one of the easiest things in the world. You mix flour, salt, yeast and water in a bowl and leave it out for about 18 hours. Then you shape the dough (which is as simple as folding an envelope) and let it rise for a couple hours more. After baking, you get a crusty, spongy bread that sops up olive oil like no other. The secret, as the New York Times article said, is letting time do the work.

Although a follow-up article said you can replace up to half the white flour with whole wheat flour, I’ve never seen specific instructions for how to make a 100% whole wheat loaf. In my opinion, it’s not whole wheat bread unless 100% of the flour is whole wheat. Otherwise, you get a paltry gram of extra fiber in each slice, which isn’t even worth it.

Whole wheat bread often sneaks in white flour because whole wheat is more difficult to work with. The bran is coarse and cuts through air pockets before they finish forming. Adding vital wheat gluten (protein) makes the dough “stronger” so it can rise. Also, whole wheat flour soaks up more liquid. The dough must be very soft, like a stiff muffin batter, so the yeast can move around to do its work. I’ve heard that whole wheat bread should have 100% hydration (a 1:1 ratio of flour and water by weight).

Armed with this knowledge, I added about an extra half cup of water and 1 1/2 Tbsp of vital wheat gluten. It works, it really works!

It is not as airy as the original recipe, but it passes as everyday sandwich bread. You can add more gluten (use up to 1 Tbsp for every cup of flour), but I don’t like the taste. It reminds me of a bad protein bar.

A couple notes: you do not need special instant yeast for the recipe. I read that NYC grocery stores ran out of instant yeast because people were baking like mad. To substitute regular active dry yeast, use 25% more and dissolve it in a little of the reserved water. Instant yeast is finer and more viable, which is why you can add it directly to flour and use less of it.

I had the greatest success with King Arthur’s hard red spring wheat flour. I usually buy what’s cheapest, but other brands like Whole Foods, Gold Medal and Hecker’s are more coarse. Remember, more coarse = less rise. Flour is so cheap anyway that you can afford to spend a couple more bucks on a good brand. It could make the difference between beautiful bread and a grassy tasting doorstop. On the downside, King Arthur isn’t as nutty-tasting as other brands, but it also isn’t sour and grassy (like Whole Foods).

Because the dough is so sticky, you need about an extra half cup of flour to dust your hands and shaping surface.

Also, because the whole wheat dough is wetter, you need about an extra 10 minutes in the oven.

If you don’t have a heavy oven-ready pot or don’t want such a flat loaf, you can use a standard loaf pan. Cover the top with an upside-down casserole dish or a tent of foil so it doesn’t brown too quickly. A trick to getting nice crust is to preheat a pan (not glass-it will shatter) on the oven floor and fill it with hot water during baking. I think it’s worth the extra step. Of course, if you have a covered pot, it will create its own steam. Why does steam create crisp crusts? I don’t know, but here’s an explanation on Peter Reinhart’s blog. I tried to get the best of both worlds (loaf shape and a hot covered pot) by putting a loaf pan inside a casserole dish and filling the gaps with water. The lid kept clanking as the water violently boiled. But it created an amazing brown top and permeated my apartment with the scent of caramelized bread for a day. However, the sides and bottom of my loaf didn’t brown because it was insulated by the extra glass. I also tried putting the whole apparatus on the bottom rack and turning the oven up to 500 F. The browning was better, but the crust set before the loaf had a chance to finish expanding.

No-Knead 100% Whole Wheat Bread

Adapted from the New York Times and Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery

Time: About 1 1/2 hours plus 14 to 20 hours rising

(The metric measurements are more accurate.)

3 cups (430 grams) whole wheat flour, plus 1/4-1/2 cup more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) instant yeast (or 1/4 plus 1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast*)
1 1/4 teaspoons (8 grams) salt
1 1/2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
2 cups minus 1 tablespoon (430 grams) water
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

1. In a large bowl combine flour, instant yeast, salt and vital wheat gluten. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended. Keep adding water until the dough is shaggy and sticky, like a stiff muffin batter. It should not be so wet that it’s pourable. You will probably use all of the water, but different brands of flour are more absorbent. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Liberally flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

*If substituting active dry yeast, let it proof in 1/4 cup of lukewarm water (reserved from the total water) for 10 minutes. Add the yeast with the rest of the water when mixing it in the dough.

Links: Video of Martha Stewart jumping on the bandwagon and making the bread.

Comments (31)      Email Email      Print Print

23 Comments »

  1. bee said,

    thank you, thank you, thank you. just what i was looking for. – bee

    March 6, 2007 at 1:04 pm

  2. alexandra said,

    Well done. you did it. And thank you. love your blog.

    March 16, 2007 at 5:11 pm

  3. Jessica said,

    Bee and Alexandra, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate the compliments.

    March 16, 2007 at 10:13 pm

  4. Mina said,

    This just came out in my local paper. I’ve tried the proportions in the original recipe but substituting whole wheat flour (bulk Arrowhead Mills from my local coop, hard red, fine ground, not “white” or “pastry”). Used active dry yeast, didn’t know about using extra. Let it sit for about 20 hours, expanded a lot and got bubbly/puffy, still pretty gooey but workable with enough flour on the board and hands. Used a crock pot crock and lid to bake it, at 450 F. Result: It rose the standard amount (about double on final proof), has good flavor, but the crust is *very* hard, and the inside is somewhat gummy. I know a lot of the comments about this bread praise the “crisp” crust but my result was excessive. And I wonder about the interior wetness, re: your recommendation to use even more water with WWF. Should I bake it at a lower temperature? I am pretty experienced at cooking but not at bread. When I used to have more time I used to do some of the recipes in Laurel’s occasionally, with good results. I wonder if you can explain what makes the center so damp, or how to make the crust less hard.

    May 11, 2007 at 10:20 pm

  5. Anne said,

    This sounds wonderful! Has anyone had experience making more than one loaf at a time? I live in hot Texas and hate to heat the oven for just one loaf!

    May 12, 2007 at 10:08 pm

  6. Jessica said,

    Mina, it sounds like the crust is cooked before the inside has a chance to finish. I would bake it at 425 and/or use a couple tablespoons less water. You definitely do need more water with whole wheat flour, but I think your area (Texas) is more humid than where I am. So you can back down on the water a bit. Bread baker Peter Reinhart once told me to do what the dough dictates.

    May 18, 2007 at 11:23 pm

  7. Cynthia said,

    Finally, someone with a true desire to make a 100% whole wheat loaf of bread without the extra days of working with a starter and with the perfect amouts of gluten and water. The browning factor is a bonus.

    Luv ya!!
    Cyndy~~

    Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no
    other name under heaven given to men by which
    we must be saved. Acts 4:12

    Blog Discovery at http://morethanserendipity.blogspot.com/
    Click to subscribe

    July 4, 2007 at 1:50 pm

  8. kahling said,

    hi,

    i have a quick question. i am making it in the loaf pan, do i put it in the loaf pan for the second rise before it goes into the oven? or do I heat the loaf pan in the oven first?

    thanks

    July 22, 2008 at 1:45 am

  9. pooh said,

    Where can I find the “vital wheat gluten”? I haven’t tried making this, but look forward to it because it seems really easy. Hope so, anyway. Thanks for your answer.

    October 19, 2008 at 8:48 pm

  10. valerie said,

    Hi, I am new to bread making and found your recipe for 100% whole wheat. Would you have any ideas what adjustment should I make if I am grinding my own flour using Prarie Gold Spring Wheat Berries. I plan on using my romertopf clay pot and I live at 9000 feet. Challenging I know but I am determined. Any suggestions or ideas are appreciated.

    June 2, 2009 at 10:48 am

  11. Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said,

    Valerie, those are good questions. I’m not familiar with grinding my own flour and high-altitude baking. You might want to try the forums at http://www.thefreshloaf.com/ or e-mail Peter Reinhart at [email protected]. He’s an excellent teacher.

    June 2, 2009 at 12:54 pm

  12. C said,

    Hey Trying out the bread recipe. I’ll let you know how it goes! I didn’t let the yeast set in water though!! Maybe add that at the beginning of the recipe I read the bottom of the recipe when I was already done, oops!

    August 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm

  13. alice said,

    i noticed vital wheat gluten at the store the other day and i’ve been googling it trying to figure out how to use it in whole wheat breads. i just tried to do a 1/2 whole wheat loaf in a loaf pan, inside my dutch oven, and it came out pretty well but sadly i knocked the pan around trying to get it inside the dutch oven and so it deflated quite a bit and got kind of dense. this post is exactly what i was looking for, though. i’m going to give this a go next week. thanks!

    September 16, 2009 at 1:28 am

  14. Nancy said,

    Hi!
    I too am wanting to use Jim Lahey’s recipe to make a whole wheat loaf. The problem with the original method is in fact, gluten development. Having been a maker of truly 100% whole wheat bread for years, I can tell you that additional gluten is NOT needed IF the bread is kneaded. Kneading well develops gluten in ww flour. In white flour, resting for long periods of time is enough to develop gluten structure, but not in ww flour. Others adapting his method are kneading for several minutes first, then following the recipe as written. This is an alternative to those who may be opposed to adding gluten – I don’t like to add it, it feels like cheating to me, and it’s not natural. Unfortunately, without a strong network of gluten strands going thru ww dough, it doesn’t have enough structure to rise. I wish there was an easier way around this. sigh. Kudos on your recipe!

    September 27, 2009 at 10:34 pm

  15. Samantha said,

    Are you using regular salt or kosher salt?

    February 23, 2010 at 6:38 pm

  16. Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said,

    Hi Samantha, I used regular salt. Kosher salt is about double the volume but the same weight.

    February 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm

  17. Pamela said,

    I heard about kneadless baking and this blog has helped answer a few questions about the whole process. I just went and got what I knead ;) and will be trying out later today! Can hardly wait!! Thank you for the information, great blog!!

    April 15, 2010 at 2:36 pm

  18. Noelle Ray said,

    Hallelujah!! (Sounds of heavenly choirs…). I did it!! I just made (and my son and I ate half) of the bread!! It was crusty, chewy and holey too. I always like to sprout my wheat–I dehydrate it and then grind it just like flour–and I wasn’t sure if it would work with this, but it did!! I wonder if sprouting it softens the grain a little when it is ground later. Anyway, I used 2 TBSP of gluten because sprouted wheat has less gluten than regular. I had to use more water because that type of flour soaks up more water. I used the corn meal which added a lot to the texture. It was a little flatter than would be ideal, but the crust was crusty and the interior was moist and yummy. Thanks for the whole wheat suggestions. They worked great.

    April 21, 2010 at 2:10 pm

  19. C said,

    Just made this, it’s delicious and easy! Never made bread before, but I’ll definitely be making this one again (and often, I hope).

    August 10, 2010 at 5:59 pm

  20. janet said,

    I’ve made this white bread many times and in different proportions of white to wheat. Will try the WWF recipe too. I’ve made it in a large double baguette pan covered with foil and it came out great. I’ve made it in a covered cast iron casserole and that is great too. I LOVE THIS BREAD!!!

    May 23, 2011 at 3:08 pm

  21. Donna said,

    Thanks for this recipe. I’ve made good no knead WW bread using no gluten. The trick is the really wet dough, IMO. And long rising time. With those 2 things, I don’t think you need extra gluten. I use Kroger house brand WW flour, so nothing fancy. I do add about 2 T. brown sugar for more carbs for the yeast to eat. But be sure the dough is extra wet. It takes a long time to thoroughly wet WW flour, it will soak up a LOT of water, so you have to start with a soupy dough. I shape the wet dough on waxed paper with a LOAD of flour on it. I use wheat bran for bottom of the loaf. After you’ve done it a few times, you can finesse it, making it more dry so you get a higher, rounder loaf. But not until you really get a feel for how much water the WW flour absorbs.

    August 7, 2012 at 1:32 pm

  22. Nicolle said,

    I live in Norway and can’t find vital wheat gluten, what do I need to do to make a ww loaf without it? If I have to knead it, when do I and how long? Do I need to add sugar for the yeast to rise? Any advice would be great!
    :) thanks
    Nicolle

    February 26, 2013 at 8:34 am

  23. Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said,

    Hi Nicolle, unfortunately there’s no substitute for vital wheat gluten. If you can’t find it online, try 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 all-purpose or bread flour, and decrease water to 1 3/4 cups. You can up the percentage if you’re happy with the initial results, but there will be less rise. Unlike other recipes, this one doesn’t need sugar or kneading.

    March 9, 2013 at 8:44 pm

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