It can be hard to get homemade whole wheat bread as soft and fluffy as the loaves we see at the grocery store. All too often, our loaves end up like dense heavy bricks. But there is hope! A few baking tricks can help us get much closer to the pillowy whole wheat loaves we crave.
The reason why whole wheat loaves end up so dense is because whole wheat flour has very little gluten as compared to white all-purpose flour. Gluten is important for giving the dough - and final loaves - structure. Without it, loaves tend to end up flat and dense.
One trick is to add some white all-purpose flour along with the whole wheat flour. Even just a little white flour has enough gluten to give the dough better structure. White and whole wheat flour can be substituted one-to-one, so just play with the ratio of the two until you end up with a loaf you like.
If you want to keep your bread 100% whole wheat, vital wheat gluten is your new best friend. This stuff is super-concentrated gluten flour, and it really helps to give low-gluten doughs better structure. Add one tablespoon of vital wheat gluten for every 2-3 cups of flour in your recipe. You can find it in the natural food sections of most grocery stores these days, or order it online from a place like King Arthur Flour.
To make softer loaves, try letting the dough rest for about 20 minutes before kneading. This gives the flour time to absorb the water and softens the grains of whole wheat. There are some other ingredients that can be added to any recipe that also help make a softer texture: potato flakes (1/4 - 1/2 cup), honey (2-4 tablespoons), milk (replace some of the water), and butter (2-4 tablespoons) (all amounts are for a recipe making 2 loaves).
What other tricks do you have for getting softer, fluffier whole wheat loaves?
Related: How to Knead Dough: The Video
(Image: Emma Christensen)