A foolproof recipe for a light, airy, no-knead whole wheat sandwich bread. A high ratio of water to flour and sourdough give it the perfect structure.
In the past I’ve tended to add some wheat gluten or all-purpose flour to my wholegrain bread recipes. That’s because whole wheat flour is low on gluten and without the extra gluten muscle provided by vital wheat gluten or all-purpose or bread flour, it is not easy to produce a loaf that doesn’t taste and feel like a brick.
But I — and many readers — don’t always have wheat gluten on hand and we also don’t want the wholegrain bread to be only part wholegrain. So for a long time now I’d wanted to come up with an all whole wheat sandwich loaf that would not need any gluten nor any refined flour but would still have a light, airy structure. I have that bread for you today.
You do need one essential ingredient for my Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread: sourdough. The gases in the sourdough are really useful in giving this bread that wonderful hole structure and airiness, so it’s definitely worth the trouble of making the starter– I explain how to in my sourdough starter post. All you need is some flour and yeast and water.
I had to revive my starter because it had been sitting, neglected, for weeks in my refrigerator. I found some pretty nice instructions on how to do this here.
This is a very sticky dough, almost like a ciabatta dough. You see, when you let a wet dough sit for a while, the water helps develop the gluten without any real work from you. And yes, I really mean very little work, because this is also a no-knead bread — or a minimum knead bread.
The no-knead whole-wheat sandwich bread turned out just perfect, as you can see — flavorful and not dense at all, with a great hole structure. I wanted to shape this into a sandwich loaf, so I baked it in a loaf pan but this created a big problem the first couple of times I tried this loaf. No matter how much I floured the pan or how much cornmeal I sprinkled on the greased pan, the finished loaf was difficult– almost impossible to unmold. I tried lining the pan, first with tinfoil (not a great idea because the dough expanded into the foil’s crevices and I had to strip off tiny bits of foil from the finished loaf) and then with parchment paper, which worked much better. So the foil does work but I definitely recommend the parchment paper.
You could also just try making this a free-form loaf, like a ciabatta, if you wish.
Now, the recipe for a fabulous no-knead whole wheat sandwich bread.
- 2 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 tbsp turbinado or other unrefined sugar
- 5-6 cups whole-wheat flour, either durum or regular whole wheat works fine
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 2 tsp salt
- Mix 1/2 cup of water and the sugar and yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and set aside about 10 minutes until the yeast froths.
- Mix the sourdough starter into the remaining water. Add to the yeast.
- Add 4 cups of flour and salt and mix with a spoon or with the dough hook if you're using a mixer.
- Continue adding flour, half a cup at a time, until you have a sticky and soft dough. It should have the consistency of a ciabatta dough. I needed all of the six cups on a rather moist day in my town, but you might need less if you're working in a dryer climate.
- Spray a large bowl with some oil, pour the dough into the bowl, and spray some oil on top to coat and seal the dough. Cover tightly with a plastic bag or plastic wrap and set the dough in a warm place to rise for two hours.
- After two hours the dough should have risen all the way to the top of the bowl. Turn it out onto the kitchen platform and fold it over once or twice. You don't need to knead it. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover again and let it rise for another two hours.
- Line two loaf pans with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spray with some oil.
- Remove the dough onto the kitchen platform and divide into two. Shape each half into a loaf, making the top as smooth as you can. I do this by tucking the sides underneath. The dough is still quite sticky, so work fast or it will be hard to shape.
- Place each loaf in a loaf pan. Dust some flour on top of the loaves and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Set the loaf pans in a warm place and let the loaves rise for an hour or until they begin to dome over the top of the loaf pans. Remove the kitchen towel as the dough rises over the tops, or the towel will stick and deflate the dough as you remove it.
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the loaves in the oven and bake 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake another 30 minutes.
- Remove the loaves to a rack and let them stand about 15 minutes or until the pans are cool enough to handle. Unmold by turning out the loaves to a rack. Let them cool, right side up.
- Slice and serve.