Between toast for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, and garlic bread with dinner – not to mention, good ol’ bread & butter – the bread in my house goes fast. We typically go through a loaf per week. I want to share with you my favorite, the best, the most delicious, most spectacularly soft whole wheat bread recipe EVER.
We made the switch to whole wheat bread many years ago, but there was a problem: I love to bake bread but could never get a loaf of whole wheat to turn out soft. It always came out with a thick, hard crust.
A crunchy crust is fine sometimes, but I wanted a soft crust for our everyday bread.
Some things I read said you could never get homemade whole wheat bread to have a soft crust. They said it took commercial (i.e. artificial) dough conditioners to get it to turn out that way. Cue the weeping.
For a while, I gave up on the idea and kept buying bread at the store. (Of the commercial brands, we love Nature’s Own 100% Whole Wheat the best.)
Finally, a couple years ago, I found a couple recipes for soft whole wheat bread. After fiddling around with them, I came up with a recipe that we all love. This has truly become “our daily bread.”
How to Make Soft Whole Wheat Bread
In my experience, there are three keys to making delicious whole wheat bread every single time. Two, I find indispensable. The third is optional but sure does make things a lot easier.
One of the keys to baking a consistently soft and delicious whole wheat bread is to start with a high quality flour. I spent years buying the cheapest store brand flours because … well, because they’re cheap.
No lie – I bought King Arthur flour one time “just to see” and have never gone back.
The loaves baked with King Arthur are so much lighter & smoother, and the result is so much more consistent than I was ever able to achieve with other brands. (And, no, I don’t work for the King Arthur company.)
Your local grocery store will – hopefully! – stock King Arthur products. I try to wait until the store is having a sale, and then I stock up and keep the extra bags in my freezer. If your local stores don’t carry it, though, you can buy King Arthur at Amazon. Get the whole wheat and the white.
(I just checked, and it’s actually cheaper at Amazon than it is at my local store if you do Prime Pantry. I’m going to have to look into that!)
The second super important tool is a kitchen scale that weighs in grams. When it comes to measuring flour, it is soooo easy to over-measure and end up with a dense, pack-y, disgusting loaf of bread.
A kitchen scale completely eliminates the risk of over-measuring. It ensures that every single loaf is made with exactly the same amount of flour – and thus ensures the exact same result every time.
I promise you will not regret this purchase.
A Kitchenaid mixer (or comparable brand stand mixer) makes mixing and kneading bread a piece of cake.
I actually enjoy kneading bread … it’s sort of therapeutic … but even I don’t want to knead bread by hand once a week! A good quality stand mixer does the entire job for me.
I use the paddle attachment to beat the bread sponge (I’ll explain in a minute) and the hook attachment to mix in the rest of the flour and knead the dough.
My hands only have to touch the dough to form the loaves and put them in the pans.
Boy, with all that explanation, you’d think I was telling you how to build a rocket ship. Let’s get on to the actually bread baking.
Soft Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
First, warm the water, butter, and honey together over medium heat.
The mixture will be a lovely yellow & golden-brown color as the melting butter swirls and streaks over the surface.
Isn’t that lovely?
You can take a minute to write some poetry about the gorgeous beauty … just don’t drink it with a straw.
Warm the mixture just until the butter melts.
As the liquid’s heating, measure the yeast, gluten, and part of the whole wheat flour into your mixer’s bowl. Stir them together.
In a separate bowl, stir together the rest of the whole wheat flour, white flour (just a little), and salt.
(Don’t worry – all the measurements are in the printable recipe below!)
Now pour the warm liquid into the flour in your mixer bowl and beat with the paddle attachment for two minutes. You’ll need to stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl at least once.
It’ll look something like this:
This is your bread sponge.
A bread sponge is so wonderfully forgiving that, should you need to, you can cover it and stick it in the fridge overnight.
Ordinarily, though, you’ll just toss a clean towel over the bowl and let the sponge raise for 30 minutes.
It’ll get bubbly and raise up like this:
Now dump the other flour mixture you made onto the sponge.
Pop your dough hook onto the stand mixer and mix in the flour on the lowest speed.
Once the flour is pretty much mixed in, like this:
Turn your mixer up to speed 2.
That wonderful modern invention will now finish mixing in the flour and will knead the dough.
While you wait, you can read a book, look at your phone, give yourself a manicure…
First, it’ll look like this:
And finally, like this:
You’ll know the dough is finished kneading when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a single soft-looking ball (or column, as the case may be). It takes my mixer about 4-6 minutes to reach this point.
Throw a clean towel back over the bowl, set it in a warm spot, and let the dough rise for about 45 minutes until it’s doubled in size.
It will look something like this:
Punch it down!
The kids usually love to help with this part.
After you’ve punched it down, let the dough rest for about 5-10 minutes. I’m not real sure why this is important, but all the cookbooks say to do it.
While you’re waiting, grease your pan(s) with a solid fat. Since I prefer real food over unnatural things like vegetable shortening, I use butter. If you use an oil, the dough will absorb it and stick to the pan – so a solid fat is a must.
The recipe below will make enough dough to fill two standard 8×5 or 9×5 loaf pans or one 12×4-1/2 long loaf pan.
When I started making our daily bread, I bought a set of long loaf pans so that a single loaf wouldn’t disappear so fast! This is the set I use. I’ve had them for a year and a half now, have baked at least a hundred loaves of bread in them, and am still perfectly happy with them.
If you’re using two loaf pans, weigh your dough and then divide it so that you have two equally-sized loaves.
When you’re ready, put your shaped loaf in the prepared pan.
Apparently, I didn’t try very hard to smoothly shape the loaf above. The more smoothly you shape the dough, the more “bakery like” your baked bread will appear.
Throw a towel over the loaf and let it raise for about 20 minutes.
Check on the rising loaf after 20 minutes. If it’s risen above the edges of the pan, go ahead and preheat your oven.
If it’s still below the edges of the pan, give it a little while longer.
(Be mindful of how long your oven takes to preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Knowing how high the bread should have risen before you turn the oven on might require a bit of trial and error.)
Here’s a loaf just before I put it into the oven:
Oh my, doesn’t that look good?
Bake for about 30-35 minutes. (In my oven, it takes exactly 34 minutes for a single long loaf. Your oven may be different!)
Test the done-ness by tipping the bread out of the pan and thumping the bottom with your thumb or knuckle. If it sounds “hollow,” the bread is done.
You can also insert an instant-read thermometer into the loaf to check its temperature. When it reaches 190 degrees, it’s done.
Yeah, I should have shaped the dough more smoothly. Any loaf of freshly baked bread is lovely in my eyes, but this one could definitely be prettier.
Take the bread out of the pans immediately and place on a wire rack to cool.
I’m not sure I ever manage to cool a loaf completely before we cut into it and start eating.
Look at that thin crust! I never used to get that with my old recipe.
Who can resist a slice (or two or three…) of hot buttered bread?
We’ve been known to go through 3/4 of a long loaf before the clock can pass an hour. Of course, there are six of us – that’ll be my justification.
To achieve the soft crust, allow the bread to cool completely. If you cut it while it’s still hot, the crust will be crunchy – but I promise it turns commercial-loaf-soft once it cools.
I hope you love this soft whole wheat bread recipe as much as we do! Scroll down for the printable recipe.
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- 2 cups water
- 1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
- 1/4 cup honey (or slightly less)
- 12 grams yeast
- 1 teaspoon gluten
- 570 grams whole wheat flour, divided
- 175 grams white flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
- In a medium saucepan, heat water and butter over medium heat. When butter is melting nicely, add the honey and stir. Continue heating and stirring until butter just melts.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, gluten, and 420 grams whole wheat flour.
- Add warm liquid to flour mixture and beat with the paddle attachment for two minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Cover with a towel and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the remaining 150 grams whole wheat flour and the white flour in a separate bowl.
- After sponge has risen, add the flour mixture and combine with the dough hook attachment. Continue kneading until the dough forms a ball and stops sticking to the sides of the bowl.
- Cover with a towel and allow to rise for about 45 minutes, until doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes. Grease loaf pans.
- Divide the dough into two equal parts, form each into loaves, and place in prepared pans. Cover with a towel and allow to rise about 20 minutes.
- When the loaves are about 10 minutes from being risen enough, preheat the oven to 350º F. When oven is preheated, place the loaves on the middle rack.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bottom sounds hollow when thumped.
- Cool loaves on a wire rack. For softest crust, allow them to cool completely before cutting.