Hearty Wholemeal (Wheat & Barley) Bread

Written by Warwick Quinton. Posted in Advanced Sourdough Recipes


Using Dough Sourdough Starter (desem)

Hearty Wholemeal Bread

I don't know why I didn't get into barley grain sooner. Recently, I went to visit an old mate, Mark, from  Mark's Home Brew, my local brewing supplies shop. Home brewers are very similar to home bakers - an obsessive lot, with a lot of very specialised information about fascinating things like fermentation and so forth.

While I was there, he milled some barley grain into a very coarse gruel, and handed it to me in an ice cream container. He suggested I should add it to my powdered sourdough starter, which I've been slowly improving, by adding and subtracting stuff like this over the past year or so. I did as he suggested - indeed, I also fed my desem with it, and lo and behold, they both loved the effect.

Barley is an excellent fermentation food, one that brewers have known about for centuries. The story about barley added to sourdough ferment is coming soon, but let's just say that I'm definitely a fan of barley in sourdough ferments.

So I got to thinking about barley in sourdough bread recipes as well. As we all know, I'm a fan of big, wholesome loaves, and barley flour just has this magic effect on wheat - it softens the flavour, and yet also intensifies it. The two grains seem to be a bit of a 'perfect match' - and so what follows is what I think is a fairly subtle use of barley to bring the best out in wheat.

Too good!For the advanced bakers here, I will let you know that barley works really well with wheat, (up to about one third of the total flour weight in a recipe) - but in higher concentrations you will get heavy, very rich bread. It's a flavoursome grain, but it has very little protein. In this way, it seems a bit like rye, and I'll be exploring this down the track. The difference is that rye is really, really in your face, in terms of flavour. Barley is more subtle. It seems that barley will complement most grains, and while it definitely makes its presence felt, it won't overpower. I'm looking forward to playing with it a bit more. Stay tuned! In a nutshell, barley is best used sparingly, and as such, is really quite a wonderful discovery.

This recipe uses barley and whole wheat together to create one of the nicest wholemeal breads I've tasted. 

You'll need:

600g of wholemeal wheat flour

White organic flour



200 grams of wholemeal barley flour

400 grams of white wheat flour

120 grams of dough (desem) Sourdough Starter

750 - 850 mls of cold water

25 grams cooking salt


In order to make the most out of all these wholemeal flours, you'll want to blanch them first, and add the white flour later. This technique is also known as a 'soak'.

Take the wholemeal wheat and barley flours and mix them with all the water. Place them in your box or bowl and leave them in the fridge overnight. Wheat and barley porridge

Next day, remove the 'porridge' ('soaker') you have made, and add in the white flour and the dough starter. Mix it through with your fingers, and begin building your dough. It'll be rough and lumpy, and will require a few minutes work to bring it together.

Allow to rest for half an hour or so. Again, this is known as the 'Delayed salt' method, and is a kind of 'standard practice' for this site.

Add the salt. Work it through the dough so you can't feel it any more. It'll be quite smooth now, and very workable.

Allow the finished, salted dough to stand for half an hour.

Give it a turn and let it rest for another half an hour.

Continue this process, allowing about half an hour between turns, and you will observe a silkiness coming over the dough - it will slowly transform from reasonably solid and 'tight' to 'extensible' - a really magical thing to observe, as the alchemistry kicks in...

Altogether, this dough needs to do 'primary fermentation' (first stage, or 'bulk proof') for about four to six hours. Remember, barley is a fermentation food, so it'll be giving you a good bit of rise. That's the logic behind coaxing out the gluten development this way.


Partially gassed cut dough


Divide the dough into two 1 kg lumps, and round them off.  Put the seam at the bottom of the balls, and return to your container (This is why I like to use a plastic box here - it's got a flat bottom, so the two balls don't fall together, and is large enough to intermediate proof them comfortably).


In half an hour or so, these balls will have 'gassed up' nicely - by poking them with your finger you should see that they offer very little resistance.

Dough Cylinders




Now lightly oil two medium sized bread tins, and shape your balls into cylinders, using the flats of your hands. Spray with water, and dust with barley flour.



Slashed and ready for tins



Slash diagonally three times, (or possibly with a 'h' for hearty), and place in the tins. 




Tinned and ready


Proofing these loaves is best done nice and slowly - like all desem recipes, the punch comes at the end. So settle back, cover them with your upside down proofing box, and let them rise till they are happy and full. They won't kick in the oven, so the height you get in the tins will be the height you get in the loaf. Don't worry - the rise is solid, and won't collapse. Be patient. Let them achieve their full potential!



These are solid breads, so require solid heat. Set your oven to about 180 degrees centigrade, and hold it there. In about 45 minutes to an hour, you'll have Hearty Wholemeal Bread.

When using tins, I go for evenness of crust, so I don't wind the oven down much. I just bake till it's done, and pull it out. The secret is in temperature - it's only a moderate oven. Go even and staedy, every time.


Light Wholemeal desem









Happy Sourdough Baking!





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