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Back to Basics: Culinary Fundamentals (Whole Wheat Bread)

Although this isn’t a traditional Culinary Fundamentals post, it does cover a basic cooking skill everyone should master. Baking your own bread falls under the category of essential kitchen know-how if only because it hearkens you back to a quieter time when everyone baked their own bread.

Sadly, I didn’t grow up in a household filled with the scent of freshly baked bread, or that weirdly attractive smell of yeast proofing. Nope, never. Not even my Grandmother baked bread. I’m telling you, sometimes I wonder where all this foodie obsessiveness came from.

What I did have though, was an aunt who baked her own bread and her house always smelled wonderful. That fresh baked, soft on the inside, crusty on the outside bread slathered in butter and bursting with seedy goodness. What could be more belly warming, comforting or fulfilling?

I’ve made a lot of bread in my day, and let’s just say they don’t always turn out as the recipe plans. I’m not too sure what I do wrong. Is it the flour? The yeast? Not enough rising time? Too much kneading? Ugh. Bread can be a little, well, unforgiving.

I once tried my hand at making my own sourdough starter. I Measured and mixed, fed and dumped, stirred and allowed to rest. I covered and uncovered, I kept it on the counter or in the oven with just the oven light on for warmth. And that is where the demise began. Because our house is so cold in winter (we like to turn it down a lot, it’s greener!), I kept it in the oven because that was the warmest place in the house (the top of the fridge is unfortunately, under a cabinet). Can you guess what may have happened?

Seasoned cook that I am, I always preheat my oven. Well, about four cracked glass jars and murdered starters later, I gave up (perhaps a reminder note taped to the oven temperature knob next time?). I managed to make a few recipes from the starter before I killed it, but then it was done. So much wasted flour and time and effort, and, well….you get the picture.

I’m now a big fan of just plain old yeast risen dough.

In my experience, it takes a few tries to get a recipe right, but I put this recipe together when I lived communal style with my two best friends in one of the slummiest apartments I’ve ever lived in. I ate it every day until it was gone, and I treasured every bite. Finally, a recipe that was fail-proof and complex (at least in the nutrient and taste departments).

To ensure fail-proof bread, here are some quick tips:

  • Make sure your yeast is not expired and use the correct version the recipe calls for. Yeasts are not generally interchangeable (without changing the recipe).
  • Make sure your flour is as fresh as you can get it. Hand grinding your own grain? Perfect. Store bought? Totally fine as long as it’s less than a couple of months old.
  • When rising, move your dough to the warmest place you can find (maybe not in the oven though…..)
  • For the second rise, allow the dough to fully double. Don’t rush it.
  • Don’t be afraid to knead for as long as it takes to become smooth and elastic.
  • Use as much flour as it takes to keep the dough from sticking to the kneading surface.

One Year Ago: Crab and Shrimp Cakes with Lemon Aioli

Great Grains Bread

Yield: 2 loaves
Prep Time: 20 minutes active time plus 3 hours to proof
Cooking Time: 25-35 minutes

1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp brown sugar
2 pkgs (4 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
1 cup milk, soy milk (flavoured or plain) or goat milk
3/4 cup warm water
1/8-1/4 cup honey
1/8-1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1/4 cup melted butter or oil
1 egg
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (approximately half a lemon)
1 cup grains (oats, bran, flax, sunflower seeds, etc.)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.)
2 tsp salt
5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1. Proof Yeast: Mix sugar and yeast in a bowl, pour warm water over and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, mix milk, water, honey, molasses, oil or butter, egg and lemon juice.
3. Add yeast mix to molasses mix and stir to combine. Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour, the grains and the nuts. Stir and rest for 20 minutes.

4. In a small bowl combine remaining flour and salt. Stir into dough. On a floured surface, knead 10-15 minutes or until smooth and elastic. You may need to add additional flour as you go to keep it from sticking.

5. Put dough into a greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise for one hour in a warm place.
6. Punch dough down and allow to stand 20 minutes.
7. Remove from bowl, cut into two, shape into loaves, place in greased loaf pans and cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled (approximately 1 1/2 hours).
8. Bake at 375°F for 25-35 minutes.

Maybe try a little fresh Butter on your still warm from the oven bread?

54 comments to Back to Basics: Culinary Fundamentals (Whole Wheat Bread)

  • Mmm the bread looks pretty healthy and delicious! I love warm bread fresh out the oven!
    Sook recently posted..Year 2010 Favorites- ChocolateMy Profile

  • Definitely want to try this in my search for the perfect whole wheat bread recipe.
    I don’t think the honey or molasses has the units of measurement added – I’m assuming it’s 1/8-1/4 Cups?
    Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) recently posted..Cook What You WantMy Profile

  • This bread sounds wonderful – I love whole grain breads so I am going to have to give this one a try. I have the opposite problem – my kitchen is always very warm!!!
    Nancy@acommunaltable recently posted..Holiday Madness Survival Tip 1 – Chorizo and Butternut Squash EmpanadasMy Profile

  • Granpa Guilty

    Granpa Guilty grew up with home made bread even responsible for making it on a regular basis while his Mother, Mr. Guilty’s GrandMother,was sick for a few weeks…..nothing better for getting out the frustrations of the day than neading and punching bread dough and being rewarded with that wonderful aroma a few hours later….go Elizabeth go…..

  • Looks delicious! I can practically smell it! I grew up with a grandpa who baked his own bread, and that smell will always be comforting and happy for me!
    Ravenous Rowie recently posted..Sweet IdeasMy Profile

  • Eva

    I’ve had my trials and tribulations with sourdough starters…given up also for the time being, maybe I’ll give it a go again in a few years! This recipe looks great, I love fresh made bread that is simple to make!
    Eva recently posted..Holiday Cooking First Recipe Wild Mushroom RisottoMy Profile

  • Bread Making is the bane of my existence! Well not really but it can be so frustrating. I tried making my own sourdough…my husband refers to it as “the experiment”. I ended up dumping it after some decent but not worth the trouble not really tall enough breads. Last weekend I tried the no knead method of making bread. It was touted as easy, and a great way to keep dough in the fridge ready for warm bread at a moments notice.

    I’m not sure what I did wrong but the grey tone it developed and the once again puddle of bread dough, that resulted in something that looked like a giant pita I experienced just wasnt appetizing to me. Husband said the bread was good. He liked it, but I want something that will replace buying loaf bread lol. Looking at your pics seems you accomplished that.

    I do have a good bread recipe, think I will go back to what works (after giving this one a try of course ;D )
    Adrianne recently posted..Happy Thanksgiving EveMy Profile

  • I don’t bake as much bread as I’d like but do absolutely love the smell of bread baking and whole grains especially.
    Nisrine | Dinners & Dreams recently posted..Zaatar BurgersMy Profile

  • Ohhh, the loaf version looks so good for a big turkey and swiss sandwich. I really like that this is a full-on whole wheat bread, not a hybrid made with regular flour (those impostors!) . I don’t bake my own bread often, but this one I have to bookmark. It looks approachable and relatively fast, and I love the addition of milk and honey. But you can be sure, I won’t be grinding my own flour 🙂
    Irina@PastryPal recently posted..Dark chocolate truffles- without a temperMy Profile

  • Mr. Guilty

    Great bread Elizabeth! I had a sandwich made from this bread this morning… mmm mmmm! Keep it coming!

  • Amy

    We only had fresh baked bread during the holidays. But I agree, it is a skill everyone should have. It’s weird how fresh baked bread is considered more of a luxery these days. I can’t imagine having to bake bread all of the time like they used to.

  • joe bassett

    In this day and time you have to makeall your food. If you can veggies and buy bread they’ll poison you with bread. So fish, crsb, oyster, grow your fruits amd veggies and even make your own bread. Also have a way to purify water.

  • I’m making this next week! Can’t wait!
    dana @ my little celebration recently posted..Mix 1 Review and GIVEAWAY!My Profile

  • I just started following the recipe, and have run into a problem– the dough is so sticky that literally about 25% stuck to my fingers and I had no choice but to scrape that part off of my hands and throw it away. Is that normal? Seems like such a waste. And the kneaded dough looks nothing like the picture- it’s shiny and sticky. Am worried. We’ll see how it turns out.

    • Elizabeth

      Hi David,

      If the dough is too sticky, try adding more flour until it is smooth and elastic. Sometimes flours can be tricky when measured with cups and you may just need to add a bit more to get it to come together.

    • Ute

      David: I found that the type of flour you use makes a big difference. Make sure that you use a high quality BREAD flour. I use Bob’s Red Mill stone ground flour and haven’t had any problem at all with the dough being too sticky. Good luck with the next batch. This bread is so tasty and certainly worth the effort.

  • Ute

    I discovered your website a couple months ago and having been making this bread recipe faithfully every week. It is delicious, wonderfully healthy and is now my absolute favorite!!!

  • debbey

    want to make this but substitute for egg and molasses. should milk also be lukewarm or at room temperature? your advice will be great help.

    • Elizabeth

      Milk can be room temperature, I like to warm it up a bit first. Egg substitutes can be found in most grocery stores. The molasses on the other hand, I’m not sure what you could substitute for that.

  • Monta

    I ground my own wheat and made this bread today. It was delicious. Love this bread.

  • Dalia

    I live abroad and don’t have unsulphured molasses, or molasses for that matter. I do have maple syrup, but I think that takes away the “unsulphured” part. Is that a problem? Should I just double the honey and skip the molasses altogether? I’m planning to make this over the weekend (wooh!).


    • Elizabeth

      Hmmm, the molasses adds a certain flavour to the bread, but you could definitely just add more honey. I think maple syrup might not work as well.

  • Clarise

    Hi, I tend to do this for my diabetic father for break first. Can I ignore egg and molasses ? As diabetic can’t take more egg and sweet in his diet . Please advise.

  • Monica

    This recipe looks wonderful! I just bought a grain mix from a Amish bulk foods store and I’m itching to put it in some bread! I use a breadmaker (just started making bread a few weeks ago). Can I use the same ingredients you have listed (for the breadmaker)? I know the order of ingredients for my specific machine, I just wasn’t sure if this recipe wasn’t suitable for a bread maker. Thanks!

  • Tony

    This is a terrific recipe!! Thank you so much for posting it! I bake bread every day or two and have been making a rustic white Italian bread – Pugliese, for a couple years now. I have wanted to migrate to whole wheat and this is the first recipe I tried. It’s fantastic. Wife won’t let me try any other recipes now. I settled on a few oat groats and mostly flax seed for the grains, with hazelnuts, and I use olive oil wherever oil is called for. For those that have asked, use the molasses as specified. You will lose a distinctive bit of flavor if you don’t.

    I find whole wheat is in many ways so much easier to work than the (wet) white flour dough I had been used to. I like to shape my breads into rustic style rounds for baking and one of the tricks I found to ensure a good loft on this wheat bread is to turn the loaf in tight on itself into a high tight mound at the point the recipe calls for putting it in a loaf pan to proof. The dough is still wet enough to reseal itself and it will help it to maintain a little extra loft for the baking.

  • Devon

    Loved this recipe! However, I had a glitch – I baked one loaf in a metal pan and one in a glass pan. The loaf in the glass pan did not cook through all the way and I had to cook it much longer. Any ideas why this happened?

    • Elizabeth

      Glass baking pans take MUCH longer to warm through than a metal tin. So while the top of your bread begins to bake, the bottom has to wait for the glass to heat up first, which can result in a loaf that is not quite done on the inside but done on the top. I always use metal tins for baking bread.

  • Jay

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I love your recipe. Do you have any ideas for making a whole wheat flatbread?


  • I made this bread in Vietnam! Surprised that the humidity here didn’t ruin the bread! It’s amazingly hearty, moist and full of nutty flavors. It looks just like the picture.
    Only two questions regarding the recipe: 1) What is the preferred amount of honey and molasses? I definitely recommended 1/8 cup instead of 1/4 cup. 2) Also, what is the recommended time for baking? 25-35 min is a length of time that is difficult to gauge. Since I’m not a bread baker, I was unsure as to what the bread should look like or feel like when it’s done. Would I over bake it if left in oven too long? Does I put a tooth pick in it and it’ll be done? Otherwise, this is a great, hearty recipe that wasn’t very difficult to try out as a non- bread baker! Definitely recommend this recipe!

    • Elizabeth

      It depends on how sweet you would like your bread to be. On the more savoury side, go with less…sweeter, go with more. As for the times, the bread is done when the crust is a golden brown and if you tap it, it sounds hollow, not full. Glad you liked it!

  • Jay

    I made your bread…..Loved this recipe! I took some bread to work and also to my family….a hit. I didn’t have any soy milk so I used almond milk. Turned out great. I’m making the garlic naan this week.

    Thanks again,


  • Shannon

    This recipe worked out fantastically! It’s the best bread I’ve ever baked! Thanks for the recipe!

  • Meghan

    I am literally making this bread right now and found that rather than a sticky or wet dough, mine was fairly dry. Once the flour has been added, what can you do to recover from that? I’m concerned that I haven’t worked the dough enough… I’m not clear on the smooth and elastic – my dough appeared pretty dry.

  • Katherine

    I’ve been making this all week and no matter how I change things around, it’s been very consistent. We love the flavor but it is very dense. I get a good rise but NO oven spring. Sometimes it seems that any jostling or removing plastic wrap etc on the way to the oven causes them to deflate and then not rise at all. I am new to bread making so perhaps starting with a whole grain (I’m using whole grain white) was a bit too ambitious! I should also add that I’m dividing the recipe up into individual sandwich style loaves. Any tips??Perhaps this is just a heavy bread recipe? – yet even so, it should rise in the oven, shouldn’t it?

  • Katherine

    I bought new yeast and new flour… and repeated both this recipe that we love, and tried the bread machine one. The new yeast seemed to make all steps rise even higher – but zero rise in the oven. Obviously I’m doing something wrong. The bread machine one turned out to be a brick, too, even with the vital wheat gluten (also freshly purchased). I did use the whole wheat setting rather than the rapid rise you mention – maybe that makes a difference? The add-ins I’m using on both are a golden flax and regular oats. Either of those a problem?? You didn’t specify on the bread machine one if you are supposed to activate the yeast first or just throw it in – so I just threw it in thinking the bread machine is supposed to work all the magic. Perhaps this was a screw up too? Thanks for any tips you have, the flavor of this recipe is great, and your bread machine one looks so fluffy, I feel like you must have all the right answers! =D

    • Elizabeth

      Hi Katherine,

      Okay, first off, if you do use the bread machine, use the rapid rise setting. The whole wheat setting causes you loaf to rise more than once, sometimes this means it will rise the first time but it can’t make the second rise for whatever reason. Also, bread doesn’t rise once you’ve started baking it. It needs to rise before you put it in the oven, unless you have a “proof” setting on your oven.

      Your add ins are a-okay, no problems there.

      And no you don’t activate the yeast before putting it in the bread maker, the machine does that for you…you do have to keep the yeast at the very highest point of the pile of dry ingredients though, if it hits the moisture before the machine turns on, it will cause the reactions to happen too soon.

      Sorry you are having so much trouble! Hopefully we can sort it all out, because there is nothing like having the ability to consistently make fresh baked bread at home!

    • Katherine

      I think I’m doing something wrong at the second rise. The yeast fizzes great on activation. The first rise I do in the bowl covered with a moist towel, and it rises well here, too. I let it rest, and then shape it into loaves and let rise a second time, but this time I get the least amount of rise. My guess is either the yeast doesn’t like being handled during shaping or it’s just starting to die off for some reason? When I google, I see, too much flour, too little flour, too much kneading, too little kneading, wrong temperature – but I don’t have the skill to know which way to go. lol, thanks again, I’m determined to figure this out!

  • Meghan

    I hope you can help me! I have made this recipe two times now and can not seem to get my bread to rise after put in the bread pans. The flavor of the bread is perfect but i just cant get the bread to rise over the rim of the pans. I am new to bread making so I am not sure if or what I could be doing wrong. All my ingredients are also fresh and I am not using a bread machine. I hope you can help because I would love to perfect this recipe!

    • Elizabeth

      Hi there Meghan! Usually the fault lies in the salt, the yeast or the flour when things will not rise. You are POSITIVE everything is fresh and working 100%? Is the bread rising in a warm enough environment? In the winter, I put mine in the oven (turned off) to keep it warmer. Finally, is the pan the right size? Other things could be too much salt or kneading the dough too much. I hope I can help you figure this out!

  • Cathy

    I sent an email to Elizabeth@… and I wasn’t sure that was the best place to ask a question. So, I am asking here also. I am going to bake this wonderful bread Great Grains Whole Wheat.
    I noticed that it was all whole wheat. I am learning but notice that many people who are bakers say it needs white flour to help it raise or it is too heavy? Question: Your recipe for this bread is all whole wheat, so how did it turn out without being heavy?

    P.S. I learned that is your replace some of the flour with ¼ cup of vital wheat gluten for raise & ¼ c. Potato Flour for over all texture it improves the bread?


    • Elizabeth

      Yes, vital wheat gluten will definitely help make it fluffy, though you wouldn’t need more than 2 tbsp at the most. It is actually not very dense compared to other recipes. very light and fluffy for whole wheat.

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