Directions for Making Really Good Wholewheat Bread Using the Sponge Method

I can't remember how many times I've posted these directions on various newsgroups and mailing lists. I've never had anyone write back and complain that it didn't work well. A lot of people have written back saying that it did work well and that they loved the bread.

I've been making whole wheat bread for a long time, about 30 years. I use whole wheat bread flour. BREAD FLOUR: from hard wheat intended for baking bread. This is important. You can buy it at various places online - WaltonFeed,,, WheatMontana, others. Natural food stores should also have whole wheat *bread* flour. Best of all is to have a mill and grind it freshly yourself. Really fresh flour makes a very superior bread. I have a grain mill now and I'm grinding the wheat freshly each time I make bread. Luxury!

Sometimes I will use some white flour with it, to lighten it up a bit. I've never used high gluten flour when making bread by hand, although I use a little when I make bread with the bread machine.

I'd recommend a cup or two or unbleached white flour (or white bread flour) in a recipe which makes two loaves (that is, a cup or two of white flour to about six to eight cups of whole wheat flour) at first, until you get used to making it all whole wheat. Once you're used to it, you'll probably want to drop the white flour.

This recipe assumes that you know how to make bread, it is *not* complete directions as to how to recognize when the bread has risen enough, how to knead, etc.

I use the sponge method, I first learned this from the "Tassajara Bread Book," and my recipe is basically an adaptation of one in that book. This method takes a bit more time, but not more work, and I think the results with whole wheat flour are *much* better with the sponge method. This makes two loaves. [Some people have said it makes three loaves in smaller loaf pans. Or two loaves and some rolls.]

First make the sponge:

3 cups water
* 1 and 1/3 TBS yeast
* 1/3 cup honey
* 4 cups whole wheat bread flour

To make the sponge: mix the yeast with a little of the water (warmed), and let it bubble up (to make sure it's OK). Add the rest of the water, and then mix in the honey and whole wheat flour. Then beat about 100 times until it's very smooth.

Let the sponge rise in a warm place until about doubled in bulk. 45 - 70 minutes.

Fold in the rest:

* 1/3 cup oil
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 cup cracked or whole millet - (optional but nice, or you can use rolled oats instead, or just skip the optional ingredient)
* more whole wheat flour - (enough to make dough of the right consistency, maybe about 3-4 cups more)

Knead very well. Let rise until about doubled in bulk - again about an hour. Punch down.

Let rise (again! - you're now at the 3rd rising) for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until about doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Form into loaves and let rise in the (oiled or Pam'd) bread pans for about 30 to 45 minutes. Whole grain bread tends to stick to the pans, so non-stick bread pans are really, really useful here. I use non-stick bread pans and spray them lightly with Pam or similar.

You can brush the top with an egg-wash (beaten egg white with a little water) for a shiny crust, if you want to. Cut slits or crosses in the top to let steam escape. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45-70 minutes. Top will be shiny brown when done, sides and bottoms also golden brown, and loaf will go "thump" (deep thump) when you tap it on the bottom (after removing from the pan).

I think the most difficult part of bread-baking (by far) is knowing when it's cooked enough, but you get a feel for it.

Sometimes, as mentioned above, I use one or two cups white flour instead of all whole wheat. If you do this, use the white flour when you're making the sponge (first step) so it can have more time for the gluten to develop. It's good either way.

This takes almost all day (really, it does, you're letting it rise 4 times counting the sponge!) but you aren't actually *doing anything* with it most of the time, most of the time you can be doing something else. You do have to be home at intervals, though.

9 July 2006

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