I have written about tips to help whole wheat bread rise before (I have incorporated some of them into the list below). My advice is to try all of these ideas until you find a recipe and a process that works for you every time you use it, then stick with it! Here are suggestions that have worked for me:
- Use a dough enhancer. I have a homemade one that I love and think it works better than anything you can buy in the store. You can see my recipe for homemade dough enhancer here. I use 1 TBS per cup of flour.
- Most recipe instructions tell you to let the dough rise in a warm place. That doesn't always work for me when I am making whole wheat bread. I find that you need the environment to be a bit hotter than 'warm'. I let mine rise in 110 - 120 degree environment. You can do that in the oven, a dehydrator (such as one of the Excalibur Food Dehydrators like the Excalibur 2900ECB 9-Tray Economy Dehydrator, Black), outside in a Sun Oven, or any other very warm place you can find.
- Watch the dough ball, not the recipe. I don't follow recipes exactly, I use them as a guide. Many times when I am trying a new recipe, I find that it isn't working as written because the dough ball isn't the correct consistency for my environment. Now, a dough made of all whole wheat isn't going to look the same as a dough ball made of white flour (at first). Instead, it will look a little bit too wet and sticky. After the dough comes together, let it rest to allow the bran to absorb the liquids in the recipe. Then you should find it has a more 'normal' look. If it doesn't, adjust the recipe until it does. Sometime this requires more flour or water than you think you should add. For example, if it is raining outside, you may need less water! If you live in the desert, you may need a bit more. If you live in a different part of the country from me, you are going to need to adjust the recipe for your environment. Both of us may require different adjustments. So, watch the dough ball. It's consistency will tell you when you have the correct amount of flour/liquid - not the recipe.
- The reason whole wheat bread has that heavy feel is because the bran has rough, sharp edges that tend to damage the gluten strands as they develop. If the gluten strands get cut, the gas that causes the bread to rise escapes and the bread doesn't rise well. Therefore, it ends up thick and dense. One of the ways you can combat this is to remove some of the bran from the flour. I learned this trick when I started making whole wheat angel food cake from food storage. What you do is to gently sift the flour to remove some of the bran. Sifting the flour will remove approximately one tablespoon of bran out of the 3 cups of flour. Sift gently to remove the maximum amount of bran possible. Less bran means less cutting of the gluten strands as the bread develops. Now, you aren't removing all the bran - just some of it, so you still get the health benefits of the whole wheat flour. Sift before you measure the flour for the recipe.
- Use whole wheat bread flour. Personally, I have never seen this in a store. I don't even know if it is available over the Internet. I make my own. You can see all my flour recipes here. I will also repeat it below. It's easy and simple:
- 1 cup whole wheat flour or 1 cup whole wheat all purpose flour (all purpose whole wheat flour is 1/2 cup hard wheat and 1/2 cup soft wheat)
- 1 TBS vital wheat gluten
- 1/8 tsp vitamin C powder (you can also find vital wheat gluten in the grocery store with vitamin C added - if you use that you can omit this ingredient.)
- If the recipe calls for milk, substitute buttermilk, yogurt or kefir. Mix the dairy product with the whole wheat. Don't add anything else yet. Mix into a dough ball. (You can use a machine set on the dough cycle if you would like.) Let it set from a few hours to 24 hours. Then add the rest of the ingredients in the recipe and knead together. (Again, you can use a machine but make sure all the ingredients are incorporated and it looks like a normal dough ball.) This is supposed to make the whole wheat more nutritious by releasing more vitamins. I have read this on the Internet many times in many different places. I will believe it when I see that an analysis has been performed in a lab. I soak whole wheat because I believe the bread rises better! Really! I don't do it all the time, sometimes life gets in the way and I need the bread in a hurry. However, I have noticed a higher rise when I do soak vs. when I don't.
- Really knead the bread. I knead by hand. I would say normally, white bread dough needs about 300 strokes before the first rise. That isn't enough for whole wheat bread. Whole wheat dough needs between 600 - 700 strokes to really develop the gluten. Try it just once and you will see such a difference! If using a machine instead of hand kneading, adjust the time accordingly. You may need to experiment here to find the best kneading time for whole wheat.
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