Experimenting with grains: my weekly 100% whole wheat sourdough

I know I'm not the only one, but COVID quarantine was the perfect time for me to get into a kitchen adventure that I'd been eyeing for years: sourdough. It had always seemed a little too high maintenance. I even attempted a starter back in 2015, but because I wasn't in the rhythm of baking with it, it never really got off the ground. But with so much time on my hands, and Breadtopia.com as my bible, I had much more success this time.

I quickly realized that with a bit of practice I could prepare a beautiful loaf of sourdough with white flour. But where did that leave me? I wanted to eat my homemade sourdough for breakfast every day, and I know that white bread isn't nutritionally the best way to start my day. I started experimenting with sourdough recipes that incorporate whole wheat flour and whole spelt flour, and before you knew it, I was reading about all about the benefits of milling your own whole grain flour. My dad and I were both fully absorbed in bread baking at this point, and we decided to purchase a Mockmill: a stone mill that will grind your own flour from any grain you can get your hands on. Since we have been quarantining in different households, this means that I will often mill him flour and drop it off on his front porch. It's quite the system.

Armed with my new grain mill, and my pantry filled with everything I could get my hands on from Breadtopia's grain selection, I set out experimenting. Of course, I made some recipes that I found online. But ultimately, I was determined to: A) bake 100% whole grain bread. Refined flour has its nutrients stripped, resulting in a low-protein, low-fiber, low-micronutrient, and low-flavor product. On the other hand, whole grains are one of the healthiest things you can eat. And B) systematically experiment with all of the different types of wheat I could get my hands on. To do this, I wanted to develop a consistent recipe so that I could evaluate the flavor and texture of breads made from each type of wheat. 100% whole grain breads are always denser and flatter than breads made with a percentage of white flour, because the outer shell of the grain (the bran) interferes with the dough's ability to hold air while it bakes, resulting in less rise. Still, I wanted to see how different grains affected this and determine my favorites.

The following is my recipe for my weekly 100% whole grain bread. It is a fairly straightforward 75% hydration loaf that seems to perform well with a variety of different types of grains. I add a little bit of maple syrup for 2 reasons: 1) I've read that a bit of sugar to jump start your wild yeast can help with the rise for whole grain breads, and 2) the bit of sweetness can counteract any bitterness you get from some types of grains. I've also tried some different add-ins and variations to add some intrigue to each loaf. The point of this recipe is to be a blank canvass, and to be as easy as possible, so you will see that it is very minimal on the gluten development steps, and relies more on fermentation time to get good structure.


100g sourdough starter (fed)

375g water

20g maple syrup (optional, I have omitted it and the recipe still works well)

500g milled wheat berries of choice, or whole wheat flour (any variety)

12g salt

My favorite add-ins:

8g chopped fresh rosemary

8g caraway seeds

Substitute 125g of the whole grain flour for 125g of ground flax

Start the recipe either in the evening or first thing in the morning.

  1. Use a whisk to combine the sourdough starter, water, and maple syrup until smooth.

  2. Add the 500g milled wheat berries (I mill straight into the bowl), then sprinkle the 12g salt over top.

  3. Use a plastic/rubber spatula to stir everything until well combined. You will have a wet, sticky dough.

  4. Cover the bowl (I love these reusable plastic covers from Breadtopia). In 30 minutes, use your spatula to stir and stretch the dough again for about 30 seconds. Do the same thing once more after another 30 minutes.

  5. Leave the bowl covered at room temp overnight (or all day, about 12 hours).

  6. The next morning (or that night), shape your dough and place into the proofing basket (you can use a bowl if that's what you have). Cover the basket and leave to proof. You have 2 options here: Proof in the refrigerator all day or overnight (about 8-12 hours), or proof for about 90 minutes at room temperature.

  7. 30 Minutes before you are ready to bake your bread, preheat your oven with your baking vessel inside to 500 F. After 30 minutes, flip your bread into the baking vessel, score, cover, and place back into the hot oven.

  8. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 450 F. Bake another 10 minutes. Remove the lid, and bake anywhere from 10-20 minutes uncovered, until the bread reaches your desired color.

  9. Cool for at least 1 hour on a wire rack before slicing.

So as I said... I've been experimenting for quite a while now, and the results are in. What are my favorite grains? I want to mention that pretty much every grain has made a delicious loaf. They weren't all the most beautiful, but that wasn't the fault of the grain, just my inconsistent technique! I also indicated below whether the wheat is an ancient, heirloom, or modern variety - you can read more about that here. That said, we'll start from the bottom.

Kamut - 5/10 (ancient wheat)

This was a particularly sour loaf, and while I do enjoy that, it was a little overwhelming. The texture was also the densest of any of my 100% whole grain loaves. That said, I do love the beautiful golden color, and I'm determined to try some more variations on my recipe with kamut to have more success.

Yecora rojo (modern wheat) - 6.5/10

There was nothing really wrong with this loaf, the wheat itself just had a very mild flavor in my opinion, and it was one of the closer crumbs that I produced. Still an excellent neutral loaf, and I think it would be nice with some add-ins.

Hard white spring wheat (modern wheat) - 7/10

Like the yecora rojo, I just found this loaf to be quite mild in flavor. However, it had a fairly open crumb and soft texture for 100% whole grain. I have also used this grain mixed with rye and buckwheat, and it performs well there too.

Red fife (heirloom wheat) - 7.5/10

The red fife has a really interesting flavor compared to the other hard red wheats. It tastes almost cinnamon-y. I have also made a cinnamon raisin loaf with the red fife which was really nice, but I imagine that if you added savory add-ins, it could go the other way as well. The crumb was neither very open nor very closed, but I personally prefer the flavor of some of the other wheats.

Turkey red (heirloom wheat) - 7.75/10

The turkey red baked up very similarly to the red fife, but I preferred the more neutral, nutty flavor, so it just edges out the red fife.

Spelt (ancient wheat) - 8.5/10

I have probably baked 5 of these loaves with 100% spelt, and it's because every time I do, they have such a lovely texture. I find that the crumb is very open for a whole grain bread, and the flavor is deep and almost chocolatey to me. The loaves usually come out intermediate in terms of sour level. It's a great all around loaf. Spelt has also been one of my favorite grains to use for pizza crust, waffles, and other baked goods.

Einkorn (ancient wheat) - 9.5/10

I have to leave room for the possibility that a grain I haven't tried yet is even better! But seriously, I have made several 100% einkorn loaves now, and they are my absolute favorite. It has a very buttery, nutty, complex flavor, and the loaves always have a chewy, springy irresistable texture. It's hard to believe to me how delicious it is, since Einkorn is one of the oldest varieties of wheat. I was actually pretty nervous to try it after my experiences with kamut, but I've been pleasantly surprised. Get yourself some einkorn and give it a try!

Hope you enjoyed this documentation of my whole wheat baking so far. There are many more grains still to try!

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