Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread: Attempt #1


The first loaf of bread that I ever made was an epic fail. We were living in this duplex that was both uniquely wonderful and incredibly drafty all at once. The bread…would. not. rise. I pleaded with it. I sang to it. But for hours, it sat, unyielding. Finally, after like 8 hours, I put it on top of our heated oven (these were early in my days of understanding yeast), and lo and behold, it rose! (“It had risen, indeed.”) And I baked it. And it was like midnight by this point. And the loaf of bread came out heavier than a brick. I’m not even kidding you. It was so dense that I’m fairly certain I could have used it to seriously injure an intruder.

I took a long bread-baking break after that. (woah! tongue twister!) After all, I’m a rule follower. I had followed every single step of that recipe, and still I’d failed. But, last year, over some time off from school, I decided to give it another go because I really do love the idea of making my own bread. In theory, it doesn’t take that long to put together, and if you’ve got a Saturday afternoon, you’ve got time to let it rise.


That ime, I used the Easy No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread recipe  from More with Less. And to my surprise, it worked! I had two golden-brown loaves that rose like champs and tasted like they should. This was a deliciously soft dinner bread, one that longed to sop up gravy. It sliced well and took to butter like a pregnant woman to saltines. But for all the goodness that it was, it was not sandwich bread. It wasn’t really toastable, not to mention sturdy enough to hold a sandwich. Thus….

I hold these truths to be self evident: not all grains are created equal. I want to make a whole wheat bread with my own two hands, free from the tyranny of the grocery store’s preservatives. I dream of a homemade whole wheat bread that I can pile cheese and tomatoes and lettuce and turkey on. I strive for a bread that I can slice thin enough to toast without it falling apart. And so…it is resolved that 2012 will be the year that I will find the perfect, go-to, whole wheat sandwich bread recipe.


So, I started by doing what any susie-homemaking-bread-baking wife would do…I searched the interwebs.  I actually read reviews of homemade bread recipes, looking for one that met all of my criteria…

1. Low-Maintenance: I want nothing to do with bread recipes that take days, that have unnecessary steps, or that are finicky. 2 loaves for the work of 1 gets extra points.
2. Ingredient Humility: People suggest weird things in their bread recipes. Like dried potato flakes. I have to believe that’s not essential.
3. Sandwichability: This bread needs to be able to be thinly sliced, be piled high with sandwich goodies, be slathered with butter, and not crumble to pieces.
4. Grandma-Approved Taste: I want this bread to taste like hearty, whole-wheat bread without tasting like a vitamin.

Finally, I settled on trying Peter Reinhart’s recipe. Several websites touted it as the “perfect” sandwich bread. It sounded like a good one to give my first attempt to. Want to know how it stacked up? I know you do.

bread loaf

1. Maintenance: 2/5. This recipe takes two days to make. You mix up 2 different batches of dough parts (the biga and soaker), which, as I understand them, are pre-fermenting steps that help with the flavor, texture, and perishability. While the parts only took about 10 minutes to mix up, I was still annoyed that I had to leave the actual kneading and baking until the next day. Also, for all the work of bread-making, it only made 1 loaf.
2. Ingredient Humility: 5/5. As you can see from the recipe below, it only has 7 different ingredients, all of which are as natural as they come.
3. Sandwichability: 4/5. I’m teetering on a full 5/5. This bread held up to sandwiches and toasts like a dream. Once in a while, when spreading butter, the middle of the bread “scrapes up” as you slide your knife over it, creating some minor divots…but nothing too crumbly.
4. Grandma-Approved Taste: 5/5. Our house smelled like a bakery while baking this bread. It tasted wheaty and nutty but not overly healthy.

toast All in all, a pretty decent bread recipe. And one that I may end up coming back to, for all I know. This was not a difficult bread, other than the 2-day thing. And we’ve eaten more than our fair share of it, sneaking slices from the freezer to toast for the simple pleasure of eating butter and jam on homemade bread. Try it out; tell me how you’d rate it. But for now, my search continues. I want to see if I can find a bread that rocks all 4 criteria…

Any recipe suggestions???

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread #1

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread #1

(recipe from Peter Reinhart )

(yields 1 loaf)

I didn't really adapt the ingredients of this recipe at all. The only thing I did differently from the original recipe was to use the sheer grit and determination of my forearms to mix the dough, instead of a stand mixer because I don't have one. It still worked fine. I also used a 9x5 inch pan instead of 8 1/2 x 4 inch; it still looked like a loaf of bread after all.



1¾ c. whole wheat flour

½ tsp. salt

¾ c. plus 2 tablespoons milk, buttermilk, yogurt, soy milk, or rice milk (I used milk)



1¾ c. whole wheat flour

¼ tsp. instant yeast (at room temperature)*

¾ c. filtered or spring water, at room temperature (about 70F) (I boiled water and let it cool)


7 tbsp. whole wheat flour, plus extra for adjustments

5/8 tsp. salt

2¼ tsp. instant yeast (at room temperature)

2¼ tbsp. honey or agave nectar (I used honey)

1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil (I used butter)


*Update: The "instant" yeast I used is actually "fast acting dry yeast for bread machines" from the Red Star brand. The word "instant" only appears on the front - super tiny and hard to see!


Day 1: Soaker Instructions

Combine flour, salt, and milk in a bowl and mix for 1 minute until all flour in incorporated and dough forms a ball. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours. If it will be longer than 24 hours, refrigerate up to 3 days, removing from refrigerator 2 hours before using.


Day 1: Biga Instructions

b) Mix together flour and yeast. Add water, stirring to combine. With wet hands, knead the dough to ensure all the flour is hydrated and dough feels tacky, about 2 minutes. Let dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead for 1 more minute. Dough will still be sticky, but it will get smoother.

a) Transfer dough to a clean bowl, cover with greased plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours (up to 3 days). Remove from fridge 2 hours prior to mixing final dough. It will have risen slightly.


Day 2:

Chop the biga and soaker balls into 6 pieces each of approximately the same size using a knife and place them in a bowl. Sprinkle the pieces with a little flour to prevent sticking if needed.


Combine the biga and soaker pieces, adding the salt, yeast, honey, and butter. Mix using dough hooks or the strength of your mighty forearms using a wooden spoon. Mix until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and is soft and slightly sticky. Add more water and flour as needed during this process. *(See note below about stand mixers.)


Turn dough out onto a floured work surface, turning the dough to coat. Knead the dough for 3-4 minutes, incorporating just enough flour so the dough feels tacky, not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a clean, lightly oiled bowl.


After the 5 minute rest, knead for 1 final minute, ensuring that the dough is soft and tacky. Make any final flour or water adjustments as needed. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the oiled bowl, rolling to coat. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 45-60 minutes until dough is about 1 1/2 times its original size. **(See note about rising dough.)


Once risen, turn dough onto a lightly-floured work surface and shape into a loaf. Place dough in a well-greased 9x5 (or 8 1/2 x 4) inch bread pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature for 45-60 minutes until dough is about 1½ times its original size (it will have crowned over the top of the pan).


Preheat the oven to 425*. When the dough has finished rising, place in 425* oven then turn down the oven temperature to 350*. Bake for 20 minutes at 350*, then rotate the pan 180 degrees to ensure even browning and bake 20-30 minutes more. Bread is done when the loaf is a rich brown on all sides, sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, and registers at least 195* in the center.


Recipe Notes:

*(If you have a stand mixer, do this instead: Mix using the paddle attachment on low speed for 1 minute until dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the biga and the soaker are evenly combined. Add more flour or water as needed; dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl and be soft and slightly sticky.)

**(Getting dough to rise can be tricky. I always resort to turning my oven on to around 230* and setting the bowl/pan on top of the oven so it's getting some heat. This seems to work consistently for me.)

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20 thoughts on “Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread: Attempt #1

  1. Our favorite sandwich bread is a buttermilk bread — the recipe is on our site. If you don’t have a bread machine, you can make it by hand – just be sure to warm the buttermilk so as to activate the yeast.

    We also like two wheat breads – one is my childhood favorite sandwich bread, and the other a honey oat bread. Let me know if you want these recipes.

    Good luck in your quest. This bread looks tasty … but the whole 2 days to make thing isn’t entirely appealing :)

  2. Our fav is the Honey Whole Wheat bread recipe in More With Less. Way to bake the hell outta some bread tho! I’m proud of you.

    • I remember your making that bread…but I think I’ve maybe made it too? Can it hold a sandwich? P.S. Your my breadspiration. I would never have made bread if you weren’t in my life, probably. P.S.S. I think you were maybe around when I made my first loaf…you know…the brick…do you remember that?

      • I think you did the no-knead bread from More with Less, right? was that the brick fail? I don’t know. The Honey Whole Wheat one isn’t super sturdy. It’s more of a dip in soup type of bread, but it’s really good and doesn’t take TOO much work. As of late you’re my food-spiration. While I’m heating up another frozen pizza, you’re making frickin moroccan couscous salad. Sheesh!

  3. This bread turned out great. It tastes just like store bought whole wheat bread. Do you have any tips on slicing the bread into thin, sandwich width slices?

    • So glad you tried and liked it! A couple of things you could try: if you’re taking it out of the freezer to thaw & eat, try slicing it while it’s still a little frozen. Otherwise, let it cool completely and use a good bread knife (I know, soooo helpful.) My slices weren’t as thin as store-bought slices, but thin enough to get in my toaster, which worked for me. I’ll try some different things next time I make it and let you know if I figure anything else out.

  4. Hi! Its been YEARS since I last baked a fresh loaf of whole wheat and found your page in the process. The only question I have for this recipe is concerning the yeast. For the yeast in the biga, as well as during the final mixing process, do you put the yeast in dry? In past recipes I have always used active dry yeast so I guess you could say I’m unfamiliar with instant yeast. Just want to cover all bases before I jump back into bread making as to not get discouraged!!


    • Great question Keri!
      You do put the yeast in dry, during both the bigs and final mixing stages. The instant yeast is just “fast acting dry yeast for bread machines” (according to the jar label I have). It looks and feels very similar to active dry yeast, apart from the label.
      If it helps at all, I used the Red Star brand – and the “instant” yeast you’re looking for in this recipe comes with a blue label, while the active dry yeast comes in red.
      Either way, you add it dry in both steps.
      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any more questions, and good luck with your bread endeavors..breadeavors!
      P.S. I added this information to the recipe – thanks for pointing out the confusion!

  5. I really like the 3 wheat breads that Mel from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe has posted. ….I know I have used the 2nd one for sandwiches!

  6. Oh and I meant to say Peter Reinhart is AMAZING, but as far as quick, easy to make breads not so much. His are more putzy.

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