Whole Grain French Bread

Whole Grain French Bread

Guest post by Stephani, from The Cheapskate Cook.

I was perfectly happy to keep using my basic whole wheat bread. Artisan bread was scary. It seemed more fussy, and after all, everyone knows whole wheat flour doesn’t work for everything. Sometimes you need to succumb to white flour counterparts… right?

That’s what I thought until I found this recipe. That’s what I thought until I used hard white wheat berries, and that’s what I thought until I bought a french bread pan.

These three elements (the last one not being as important) changed my view of homemade whole wheat artisan bread. I can do it now. And I do it a lot.

I know it’s not realistic to tell everyone to buy a french bread pan. I’m sure this recipe will work fine without it. But I like my pan, so that’s what I use. And since I make french all the time now, so I’m happy with one cluttering the drawer under my oven. If I only used once in awhile, I’d probably start to hate it. The choice is yours.


I can almost make my other favorite wheat bread recipe with my eyes shut. However, this new recipe is such a winner it’s worth a little fuss. A few reasons:

  • It’s 100% whole grain (no halvsies on wheat flour and white needed here)
  • It costs pennies per loaf
  • Unlike classic homemade bread, this one won’t crumble during sandwich-eating (husbands who take sack lunches, rejoice!)
  • Who doesn’t love a fresh crunchy-crusted loaf of bread?
  • And it kinda makes you look like an awesome baker

Follow the recipe carefully, taking special note of my word about flour, and soon it’s possible this bread will be as easy as your old favorite recipe.


Whole Grain French Bread

A note on the flour: I experimented with several kinds of wheat berries, and hard white wheat berries trump others in this recipe. Anything darker gives the bread too earthy a taste… seriously, it’s hard lump of brown bread. Hard white creates a soft inside and beautifully browned crust that’s much closer to its white flour counterpart (although not exactly because let’s be realistic here, we’re still talking about whole grain). Check your bulk grain sources for this variety.

If you don’t have hard wheat, consider using only 2 cups of freshly ground flour and 3-4 cups unbleached white flour.

Adapted slightly from Williams-Sonoma.


  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon honey or sugar
  • 3 1/4 teaspoons (or one packet) active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 5-7 cups freshly ground hard white wheat flour
  • 1 egg white, beaten


Combine water, honey and yeast in a small bowl and allow them to sit 5-10 minutes, until surface of the liquid is foamy.


In a large bowl, combine salt and 4 cups of flour.


Slowly add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until it is completely incorporated. Add more flour, 1/4-1/2 cup at time, until the dough is too stiff to stir.

frenchbread4    frenchbread5

A heavy duty mixer with a dough hook makes quick (and easy) work of kneading the dough. I didn’t know how much I enjoyed bread baking until I had a machine to, you know, do all the hard work for me.


Whether you’re using a machine or muscly arms, knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic (and if it’s in a mixer, pulls away from the sides of the bowl).

If you add too much flour and the dough becomes stiff, simply add water a tablespoon at a time, kneading throughly, until it becomes elastic again. Do the same if it’s too sticky, but add flour.


Remove bowl from mixer, – or place dough back in the bowl – cover it with a towel, and allow it to rise for 45-60 minutes in a warm place (I use the top of my refrigerator).

Gently scoop the dough out of the bowl. It will probably stick to the bowl, but simply swipe your fingers along the surface of the bowl to unstick it. Knead it for a minute or so then shape it into a ball, put it back in the bowl, cover, and let it rise 20-30 minutes.

Left photo: Dough ready to rise                       Right Photo: Dough risen

frenchbread8    frenchbread10

Remove the dough the same way, Cut it into two pieces then let them sit for five minutes. spread each piece into a rectangular shape, then fold it in thirds and taper the ends,, making a long french-bread-loaf-shape.

Place the loaves seam side down on a greased cookie sheet and cover with a towel. If you have a french loaf pan, drape the towel over the pan, sprinkle it with flour, and place the loaves on it instead. Cover them with the excess towel draping off the pan. Allow bread to rise another 20-30 minutes.


Meanwhile, turn the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill a glass 9×13 pan (I’ve used smaller) with boiling water and carefully slide it on the bottom rack. The goal is to let the hot water fill the oven with steam. The steam is responsible for creating the signature crust on artisan bread.

If using a french loaf pan, carefully slide the towel and loaves off of the pan. Lightly grease the pan then slide or lift the loaves off the towel and onto the pan. If using a cookie sheet, just leave them there and continue with these directions: Use a bread knife to very gently make 3-5 diagonal cuts across the top of the loaves, about 1/4-inch deep. Don’t press the knife down into the risen dough. Instead let the knife the cut the dough on its own.

frenchbread13    frenchbread12

Place the egg white in a small bowl, add a pinch of salt and beat them together. Reserve egg yolk for another recipe. Gently brush the egg white across the top of the loaves. This step is optional, but it takes the texture of the crust up a notch.

Pop the loaves into the oven (open it carefully so you don’t get hit with the hot steam) and let it bake 30-35 minutes, until crust is golden brown and bread sounds hollow when you tap it with your knuckles.

To preserve the texture, let the bread cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into it.


Use for sandwich bread, toast, garlic bread, french toast casserole, or bruschetta. Or enjoy it straight up plain, like we do.

What about you? Have you ever tried homemade artisan bread? 

About The Cheapskate Cook

When Stephani and her husband got married, they lived in a renovated shed and had a grocery budget that matched. As a passionate whole-foodie, Stephani was determined to continue eating healthy, minimally-processed foods on their shoestring budget. So The Cheapskate Cook was born. You can follow the fun on her blog, where healthy meets frugal, or keep up with it via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Grain Mill Challenge Experience: This challenged inspired me to try whole grain baked goods I'd never made before - monkey bread, french bread, bagels, and more. If you're used to the white flour counterparts, whole grain is hard to get used to. However, freshly ground flour makes all the difference. I've completely lost my taste for white flour - in fact, whenever I have to work with it, the smell makes me crinkle my nose. It's nothing compared to the scent of warm, freshly ground flour. Without my grain mill, I think I would lose a lot of motivation for making healthy baked goods from scratch. I have no intention of going back.

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10 Responses to Whole Grain French Bread

  1. Jennifer says:

    This sounds so delicious! I don’t have a grinder – do you think I can use store bought white wheat flour? Does fresh ground truly make a difference? I am trying to convince my husband we should get a grain mill – but he doesn’t think it will make a difference.

  2. Thanks! If it was me, I would use half store bought whole wheat and half white flour. I think ultimately you don’t save much money by grinding your own flour, however, the taste and health benefits will be the biggest difference between store bought and freshly ground. This post and some of the links have more info: http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2008/04/is-buying-whole-grains-cheaper.html
    Before I got one, I just used a friend’s grinder. Every week or so I popped over to their house, they ground me some flour, and I paid them. It worked out really nicely – all the benefits without the huge initial cost of the grinder. Slightly less convenient, but it worked until I eventually got one. Hope that helps!

  3. Tasha says:

    I don’t have a grinder for fresh flour but the recipe sounds so good! I have the bread rising right now. Can’t wait!

  4. Big john says:

    I made this bread today and it was delicious. I have been baking whole grain breads for years but I have used oils in my recipes. This bread turned out very good and much better than expected. I could not wait until it cooled off. My grandchildren begged for it with butter on top.

    I will be using this recipe again and again.

  5. M.L.. says:

    Am making this right now, and I’m frustrated over one thing: it isn’t rising much. I used pre-ground white wheat flour; the yeast got good and bubbly, and the dough felt fabulous while kneading. (I love to kneed by hand.) It just isn’t rising much, though! Nowhere in your recipe do you really mention how much it should rise. Could you please include that detail for folks like me? Right now, it’s at the loaf stage, and I’m giving it some extra time, in a really warm place, for it to rise a little more. . . . don’t know how it will work out. Would love some feedback, because I like the recipe. Thanks!

  6. amanda says:

    Could I make this with soft white wheat? That is all I have on hand, if so what changes should I make? Thank you!

    • The Cheapskate Cook Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) says:

      Yes, you can! Shouldn’t change too much. Simply watch the texture of the bread – start with less flour and add more as necessary while kneading. Some people might recommend a little more yeast. I haven’t worked a lot with soft wheat so I’m not sure.

      • amanda says:

        Thank you so much. I will reply with how it turns out. I am vegan so I will not be using the egg white wash either.

        • The Cheapskate Cook Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) says:

          Great! The egg wash adds a nice touch, but most of the time I skip it, and it still turns out great!

  7. Cindy says:

    I made this yesterday, and it turned out wonderfully! I don’t have a grain mill, so I used half whole wheat flour and half white. The loaves look lovely and have a nice, chewy texture. The crust is soft too (which I love). Thanks so much for a healthy French bread recipe!

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