Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe

It’s said that if you’re going to steal, you might as well steal from the best. So I did. This is recipe is from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, a book that every serious or aspiring bread baker should own (along with all his other books). I’ll be making the 100% whole wheat version of the recipe, though I generally favor a 50-50 mix of whole wheat and white flour. If you want to go that route, simply made the starter with white bread flour instead of whole wheat flour. You’ll end up adding a little more flour to the final dough to get the right consistency, but otherwise the recipe will perform the same.

Note that you’ll be making two “pre-doughs” on the day before you make and bake your bread, one of which you’ll store at room temperature and one you’ll store in the fridge. (Don’t mix them up.)


Make the Soaker

8 ounces whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 ounces milk

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir until moistened. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature overnight.

Make the Starter

8 ounces whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
6 ounces water (preferably bottled)

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir until a ball forms. Knead the ball by hand for about two minutes until all the ingredients are moistened. Rest the dough for five minutes and knead again for about a minute. Put the dough back into the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate over night.


Make the Dough

Remove the starter from the refrigerator two hours before you plan on making the dough to take the chill off. Then combine:

the soaker
the starter (torn into pieces)
2 ounces whole wheat flour
5/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 ounces honey
1/2 ounce butter

…in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and stir on low until a dough forms, about a minute. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 2-3 minutes more. The dough should be soft and not too sticky. Add more flour or water as needed to achieve the right consistency.

Place the dough on a floured board and knead it by hand for 3-4 minutes, letting it take up extra flour as needed. For the dough into a ball, let it rest five minutes, then knead it for about a minute more. It should feel soft, pliable and a little bit sticky. Form it into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl. Allow it to rise 45 minutes to an hour, until it’s about 150% its original size.

Shape the dough and put it into a greased 4″ x 8 1/2″ loaf pan. Let it rise about another hour until it’s again about 150% its original size. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425. Place the loaf in the oven, then turn the oven down to 350. bake for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake another 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the loaf to a rack to cool for a minimum of an hour.

20 thoughts on “Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe”

  1. a simply great bread, and a great bread book. highly recommend this one to anyone who wants to try WW bread!

  2. I like to make wheat breads – grinding my own wheat berries. But I always end up with a denser loaf than I like unless I add in some white flour.

    I’d love to figure out how to dump the white flour, yet still come out with a loaf that’s similar in texture.

    1. Hey Jeff!

      Yes, grinding one’s own wheat berries into whole wheat flour is indeed a recipe for a dense bread. The flour is always coarser than a commercial grind, which means the individual starch molecules have a tougher time breaking loose and gelating. All those big shards of bran also undermine gluten development, which means fewer bubbles and less rise. You could try adding some xanthan or guar gum to the dough. That might help push it up some!

      – Joe

  3. i’m learning a lot from the tutorials on this blog! a question re this year plus old post : is the milk essential to the result, or can i substitute water or soy milk for it in the soaker?

  4. Quick question… does the term “ounce” as in “2 ounces whole wheat flour” refer to fluid ounces or weight?

  5. My bread always ends up quite dense and doesn’t usually get a nice dome, any suggestions on what I can do differently?

  6. I’m a little late to the party — by just a couple years — but I just made this and got a great loaf of bread.

    This is a great recipe and a great technique.

  7. I made this and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s a bit a work for a daily bread recipe though (I typically just throw my ingredients in a bread maker). I’m wondering how it would do if I made a bunch and froze it before the second rise.

  8. I have been baking several recipes from the blog and they all turn out great. Really appreciate your quality recipes.
    Now I’m gonna bake this bread but I don’t have a loaf tin, should I run to the store to buy one or it would be alright to shape it as a ordinary loaf and bake on the tray?
    Many thanks

    1. Hello Merve!

      You can certainly bake a free-form loaf if you like. For a true sandwich loaf, however, a tin is much better…it’ll give you more standard slices. Let me know how it goes!

      And thanks very much for the very kind words,

      – Joe

      1. Hi Joe!
        I ended up running to the store and buying a loaf tin:) Well I needed one anyway and it was just £5 🙂
        I used half whole wheat flour and half bread flour, it is just heavenly soft and delicious! Never dissapointed with a single recipe of yours.
        Thanks a lot

        1. Yeh, you needed one of them, mate! 😉

          Glad it worked so well. Thanks for the email. I’m on a winning streak at your house!

          – Joe

  9. Hi Joe!

    I know this isn’t a new recipe, but I have a couple of questions if you have the time. 🙂

    I’d like to make a really hearty whole wheat bread full of millet, oats, flax, sunflower, and shelled pumpkin seeds, as well as maybe some sliced almonds. I didn’t think to try to tweak your recipe, so I tried a *heavily modified* version of Martha Stewart’s: http://www.completelydelicious.com/2013/08/multigrain-bread-a-100-visa-gift-card-giveaway.html. While it was eventually delicious, at first it was SO dense that I couldn’t even knead it and it refused to rise. I was able to save the dough by adding an egg yolk, as well as warming a separate 1/2 C of milk with 1 T of honey and and letting an extra packet of yeast bloom in it. After that, the dough was a lot more manageable and proofed nicely. By the time I baked it, my liquids:flour ratio was pretty high (12 fl oz : 14 oz wt). But the crumb is still too dense. I can’t spread butter or cream cheese on it without it crumbling or breaking in half.

    Do you have any suggestions? Should I make a sponge like you do with stollen? Should I let the seeds macerate a bit so that they don’t absorb too much of the dough’s liquid while baking? Should I add the butter in softened chunks while kneading instead of melted into the liquids? Does it need more eggs like challah?

    Thanks a bunch and happy New Year!

    1. Hey Helena!

      Yes I can see the problem! Especially if you minimized the amount of actual flour in the recipe, the loaf would be extremely dense and crumbly. That’s because bread needs at least some developed wheat gluten if it’s going to have any elasticity or volume. That is to say, it needs a decent proportion of wheat endosperm relative to the bran, germ and inclusions (seeds and nuts). Endosperm (the portion of the wheat berry that’s ground up to make white flour) is the only part of the wheat berry that contains gluten. As you probably know, gluten is a protein with a special property. Wet it and work it and it bonds to other gluten molecules to form a stretchy mesh that captures and holds gas bubbles. The gas bubbles are of course what allow a dough to rise.

      The problem with whole wheat flour is that in addition to wheat endosperm it contains a lot of tiny, jagged shards of bran, which slice the gluten networks as they try to form. It also has fatty germ, which coats the ends of the gluten molecules so they have difficulty attaching to one another. Add in lots of other non-gluten objects like seeds and nuts, and you can see where a gluten network has very little chance of maintaining itself or even forming in the first place. And eggs only make the problem worse.

      This is why a lot of multigrain sandwich breads start out with a high proportion of whole wheat flour — and also white flour. Because that gluten is needed if the finished bread is going to have any fluff to it at all. Does that make sense? My suggestion is to try the Martha recipe again as written and see what you think. If it’s too light for you, you can always take away some of the flour and add more seeds. But take away the whole wheat flour before any of the white all-purpose flour, since the white flour is going to deliver more of the gluten that’s so essential if you want a non-crumbly bread.

      Good luck and get back to me if I can be of any more help!


      – Joe

  10. Thanks a bunch, Joe! I have no problem with adding more gluten, I was just hoping to make a nice breakfast bread with more fiber & good fats and a little less refined carbs. But bread *is* bread, after all. Sweet, delicious bread. 🙂

    Thanks, again!

    1. Ultimately yes, Helena. And I agree completely!

      Let me know how it ultimately turns out!

      – Joe

  11. I won’t make any other whole wheat sandwich bread anymore. One quick thing: Could you double-check Reinhart’s recipe and see if it calls for turning the temp down to 350 once the loaf goes in? I’ve been doing it that way for quite some time, but it looks like the recipe here doesn’t mention that; the 425 seems like it might be high for the full 40 minutes.

    1. Hey Sue! You were absolutely right. I checked the recipe and made the correction. Thanks so much!

      – Joe

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