Sifting: the key to lofty whole wheat bread (Bookmarked)

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summary: recipe for 75% whole wheat bread; Ken Forkish’s 75% whole wheat bread using Michael Pollan’s method; sifting the wholewheat flour; bookmarked;

Bookmarked Recipes - last Sunday of the MonthBookmarked Recipe: sifted whole wheat bread

whole wheat bread Early this summer, we were reading Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. And we were really intrigued by his 100% whole wheat bread making method.

The bran was still undermining the gluten, either by puncturing the gas bubbles or by weighing them down, giving me a too-tight crumb. I hit on a slightly wacky idea: I would remove the bran from the inside of the bread and put it on the outside, where it could do no damage to the gluten. So, before mixing my flour and water, I sifted the chunkiest bran out of the flour, maybe 10 percent of the total volume. In effect, I was making white (or whitish) flour circa 1850, pre-roller mill […] It still had the germ, but only those particles of bran small enough to slip through an ordinary sieve. However, I reserved the sifted bran in a bowl, and after shaping the loaves, I rolled them in the stuff, making sure that every last shard of bran was taken up by the wet skin of dough.
It worked: The trick allowed me to bake an airy and delicious loaf with a toasty, particulate crust-all the while preserving my claim to a “100 percent whole-grain” bread.
– Michael Pollan, Part III: Air, the education of an amateur baker, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

I had to be out of town at the beginning of July but T reported that he tried this method with 100% whole wheat. Which amazed me. This is the “can’t we have nice fluffy white bread?” king.

And the next amazing thing was that it worked!

So. Of course, I too had to try it. But I admit it; as good as the 100% whole wheat June BBB bread was, after making it, I was afraid to use ALL whole wheat flour. I really didn’t want to make a doorstop. It was bad enough that it was impossibly hot this summer.

So, when I got home, I tried the sifting method with bread made with a half and half mix of 1000gm all-purpose and wholewheat flours. It turns out that in 500gm of 100% whole wheat flour, there are only about 4gm of “larger bits of bran”.

The resulting loaves were beautiful! The arguably hyper-critical (of sandwich bread) T, pronounced that this bread was exactly what he wanted for sandwich bread. (Sorry, no photographic proof; we ate it all.)

Then it got impossibly hot in the kitchen. Bread making, other than focaccia on the barbecue, was shelved until night temperatures dropped below 20C.

Finally, sometime near the beginning of September, there was a break in the nightmare. But, still being nervous to use ALL whole wheat, I made the 75% whole wheat loaf recipe in Ken Forkish’s wonderful book “Flour Water Salt Yeast” (75% ww; 25%unbleached AP)

Whoohooooo!! Once again, it WASN’T a doorstop. It was wonderfully nutty tasting and quite light. Not at all like the whole wheat health food breads of yore. Yay.

And the really cool thing is that even when the bread was two or three days old, it was still very good. That’s what a long fermentation period does. :-)

whole wheat bread So. What do you think? Do I dare try making 100% whole wheat bread?

Overnight 75% Whole Wheat Bread
based on a recipe in “Flour Water Salt Yeast” by Ken Forkish

Total amounts to make 3 round loaves:

  • 750g (generous 5.75 c) 100% whole-wheat flour
  • 250g (scant 1 c) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 800g (800ml) water
  • 2g (1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 21g (4 tsp) salt (please see Salt is salt, right?)


  • 500g whole-wheat flour
  • 500g water at ~96F
  • pinch active dry yeast (not more than 1/16 tsp)


  • 300g water at ~96F
  • 2g active dry yeast
  • all of the starter
  • 250g whole-wheat flour
  • 250g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 21g salt
  1. STARTER The night before baking, sift the whole wheat flour and reserve the bran bits. Pour 500g water at 96F (heat up cold tap water…) into a large bowl and whisk in pinch of yeast to dissolve it. Put in the sifted whole-wheat flour (ie: NOT the bran bits) and using a wooden spoon, stir 100 times (or not… you just want to make sure that the flour is absorbed). Put a plate over the bowl and leave on the counter in a draft-free area overnight.
  2. DOUGH On the morning of the day you will be baking, pour 300g water at 96F into a smallish bowl and whisk in 2g yeast to dissolve it. Pour the yeasted water on top of the starter (that should be bubbling merrily). Sift the rest of the whole wheat flour, reserving the lumps with the other lumps you already have. Dump the sifted whole-wheat and all-purpose flours on top, along with the salt and using a wooden spoon, stir as best you can. Plunge in with your hands and fold and turn the dough until it’s smooth and springy (5-10 minutes) Put a plate over the bowl and leave in the oven with only the light turned on. Check it about an hour later and turn the dough a couple of times then let it rise until it’s about doubled.
  3. SHAPING When the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and shape into 3 rounds. Place them seam-side down on parchment paper. Run your hands under cold water and rub the top of each shaped loaf. Scatter the bran bits overtop (the water will help them stick). Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise until almost doubled.
  4. BAKING With a bread stone placed on the middle shelf, preheat the oven to 400F. Just before putting the bread into the oven, generously spray the tops of the loaves with water, then put them into the oven (parchment paper and all) and immediately turn the oven down to 375F. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the bottoms sound entirely hollow when knocked. (You’re looking for 200-210F internal temperature).
  5. COOLING Put the baked bread on a footed rack and leave there until it is entirely cool (it’s still baking inside when it comes out of the oven). Don’t be tempted to skip this step before cutting into it. If you do skip the step, you’ll be cutting into pasty bread….
  6. REHEATING If you want warm bread (who doesn’t?), heat the oven to 400F then turn it OFF and put unsliced bread into the oven for 10 minutes. It will rejuvenate the crust and get the crumb all nice and warm so that the butter you are slathering onto it will melt correctly.


:: WATER TEMPERATURE: Please remember that you should never use water from the hot water tap. Water from the hot water tap sits festering in your hot water tank, leaching copper, lead, zinc, solder, etc. etc from the tank walls… the higher temperature causes faster corrosion. Of course, saying that it is unsafe to use water from the hot water tap might be an urban myth, but why tempt fate? Please heat the water in a kettle or microwave. Add cold water to the heated water until it is ~96F (body temperature). If you are allergic to using a thermometer, you can check the temperature by putting a few drops of water onto your wrist: if it feels warm, it’s too warm; if it feels cold, it’s too cold; if it feels like a cross between cool, warm and nothing, then it’s fine. Please note that before the yeast is added, the liquid temperature must be BELOW 120F (49C) because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.

:: FLOURS: If you can, try to get unbleached all-purpose and whole-wheat flours with zero chemical additives. Here in Toronto, we can easily get Rogers flour at the supermarket (Freshco is now carrying very reasonably priced Rogers flour in 10kg bags.)

:: SIFTER: We don’t have an actual flour sifter (I know there was one in Mum’s kitchen but I don’t know where it is now…). Instead, we just use a sieve and a wooden spoon. It works beautifully.


75% whole wheat bread

Bookmarked Recipes - monthly Bookmarked Recipes Some time ago, Ruth (Ruth’s Kitchen Experiments) created this event to urge herself (and everyone else) to actually make the several recipes they have bookmarked in various books, magazines and internet pages. For a time, Jacqueline (Tinned Tomatoes) took over hosting the event. Because she is vegetarian, she asked that submitted recipes be vegetarian OR that alternatives be given for how to make the dish vegetarian.

However, “Bookmarked Recipes”, is no longer officially happening. You might like to look at previous bookmarked recipes:



3 responses to “Sifting: the key to lofty whole wheat bread (Bookmarked)

    1. Elizabeth Post author

      Next time, Barbara; next time! When I went to make bread the other day, I chickened out and reverted to making a tried and true recipe with only about 40% whole wheat (that WASN’T sifted). I also added quinoa and buckwheat flours. The resulting bread was delicious!

      Thanks for the reminder!


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