Grain Food: Baking Bread with Whole Grain Flours

Slices of whole wheat sourdough bread on a black metal background with one slice topped with butter

At some point, every bread baker wonders if there isn’t more to life than refined flour and the fluffy, snow-white crumbed loaves it produces. Don’t get me wrong: I love white flour breads myself, and I still bake them regularly. But limiting yourself to working with just one type of flour, and a mild-mannered one at that, is akin to cooking with just one spice, exclusively. There is a whole world of possibilities in bread baking beyond what white flours alone can provide, and there are ever more options for the baker ready to make the leap into using whole grain flours.

Of course, one reason we use white flour is that it is a grain that has been distilled to its structural essence—nearly pure gluten and starch, it is the scaffolding that breads and other baked goods require to have their appropriate shape and texture. Because whole grain flours contain all of the other components of the grain, they necessarily have less of these structural elements, so there is a risk when working with them that breads’ texture and rise will suffer. The good news is that in many instances results may change, but not necessarily for the worse, and there are ways to minimize these changes if that’s your goal. Meanwhile, even adding a modest amount of whole grain flour to your breads will pay major dividends in flavor, character, and nutrition.