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"Can I use whole wheat flour exclusively without adding white flour when making bread?"

Dear Anne and Sue,

Can I use whole wheat flour exclusively without adding white flour when making bread?

—From Chris Gifford, Mesquite, Texas


Still have more questions? You'll find more answers in our archived monthly feature articles by the Inquisitive Cooks.

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Hi Chris,

It's a surprise to many that the flour in whole wheat bread is seldom 100 percent whole wheat flour. This is because dough made solely from whole wheat flour doesn't form a structure that's cohesive enough to hold in the carbon dioxide slowly released by yeast. Nor is it elastic enough to expand during baking. Since a weak framework gives little support, 100 percent whole wheat bread is dense with a markedly lower volume.

Despite their name, most whole wheat breads contain some all-purpose flour because of its gluten-forming potential. Adding moisture and mixing the dough forces two of flour's insoluble proteins, gliaden and glutenin, to combine. Kneading helps these proteins adhere to each other, and changes the bonding between the particles of flour, forcing the molecules to line up and form the long elastic strands we call gluten. As dough is worked, gluten becomes increasingly cohesive and, therefore, strong.

Because the sharp edges of the flakes of bran in whole wheat flour actually cut strands of gluten as they form, it's customary to begin with some all-purpose flour (1/4 to 1/3 of the total amount of flour) to develop a strong network of gluten. Once that gluten network is established, you can add other grains once the kneading is well under way. The more whole grains you add, the heavier and smaller the loaf.

Using whole wheat and other grains in making bread is part of the fun of creating healthy, tasty breads. You may be most pleased with your bread, however, if you use a little all-purpose flour as well.

Good wishes -
Anne and Sue



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