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How much water for whole wheat bread?

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People like myself fiddling with whole wheat versions of the Lahey no-knead bread have realized that whole wheat flour takes a lot more water than AP flour. But how much more? In today's page from www.realbakingwithrose.com, Rose Levy Beranbaum gives a fine recipe for a whole-wheat epiphany loaf. In the course of it she mentions that typical bread requires a hydration rate of 66% but that whole wheat, because bran absorbs so much water, needs about 88%. That works out to 1/3 more water. However, if you add that much more water to a recipe for very slack dough, like the Lahey recipe, which is already hydrated at 80% you can end up with more water than flour! Conclusion: When you increase the amount of water, hold some back. Let it rest for about an hour to autolyse and allow the bran to absorb the water. Then add more if the dough is too firm.

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been looking for ways to adapt the lahey bread to use 100% whole wheat and this detail is a great help. I am beginning my next round of baking tonight, so I'll try your recommendation!

    1. This is terrific information. I made the loaf with about 1/3 white whole wheat flour and it came out very well. I weighed the flour this time, instead of measuring: 16 oz flour and 12 water. The texture was just right. When I'd measured flour by volume before I must have been using too light a hand because the dough was too wet to handle.

      1. I made my second loaf with 1/3 whole wheat and 1 5/8 cup water, and about 1/4 tsp more salt than the intial recipe called for, and it turned out very well. Much tastier than the first one, where I followed the printed recipe exactly.
        Then I saw the video and 1) I noticed that Lahey scooped the flour which, according to my King Arthur Book, gives you more flour per weight than spooning the flour into the cup, and 2) that in the video he uses 1 1/2 cups water.
        So I made my third loaf with 50% whole wheat, scooping the flour and using the smaller amount of water. Which means that right when I probably should have used more water, I used less water and more flour. It rose a lot, but bubbled very little, and right now it is doing its 2 to 3 hours final rise. We shall see.
        Small detail: I added chocolate chips and walnuts.
        By the way, on all occasions I used Active Dry Yeast, not Instant.

        1. As an update to my post of a couple of days ago, I have been eating that 50% whole wheat, with chocolate chips and walnuts, and I really like it. It does not have the airy crumb that you can achieve with the 100% AP white flour, but it's very satisfying. If you want to see a photo and read all about it you can go to this ridiculously long address http://web.mac.com/stone0579/iWeb/pia...
          or you can go to www.stoneafterstone.com and click on the "blog" photo.