Yes, it is possible to make a loaf of 100% whole grain bread with a light crumb, chewy crust, and real flavor.
Total prep time including kneading: about 20 minutes
Unattended time: about 4 hours
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
3 cups whole wheat flour ("white" whole wheat works well)
1/4 cup fun stuff such as flax meal, bran, oatmeal (optional)
2 1/2 TB gluten
2 1/2 TB dried milk powder
2 tsp salt or to taste
2 1/2 tsp yeast
About 2 cups lukewarm water
2 TB plain yogurt (optional)
Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. I use a whisk for this. Mix the warm water and yogurt (if using yogurt). Slowly mix the water in to the flour mixture, pausing a few times to incorporate the moisture before continuing (You may not need to use it all). A sturdy spatula is ideal for mixing, and a stand mixer with a bread hook is also great. Stop adding water when you have a thick, pliable dough. Turn dough out onto a countertop and, using a bench scraper, stretch and fold the dough over itself a few times. Cover with the bowl and let rest for an hour. Thereafter, at approximate 45 minute intervals, revisit that dough several times to again stretch and fold the dough over itself a few times. If a few intervals stretch into hours rather than 45 minutes, don't worry.
Then, 90 minutes before the time you want the bread to finish baking, shape the dough into the shape you like, and place on a floured baking tray for its final rise. Cover with a towel. Let rise for 25 minutes, then preheat your oven to 400 and let the dough continue to rise for another 20 minutes while the oven preheats.
Remove the towel, slash the dough as you like, and slide the baking tray into the hot oven. If you have a mister, spritz the dough a few times to assist with creation of a chewy crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until rapping on the loaf yields a nice "hollow sounding" thump. Let cool for 10 minutes, if you can wait that long.
Note: Larger volume shapes, like boules, will require longer in the oven (more like 30-35 minutes)
Another Note: While the approach is simple, there are many variables that will affect exactly how your loaf will look coming out of the oven: temperature, water:flour ratio, water at your house vs the barn (hard or soft), humidity, the kind of wheat, the grind of flour, the proportion of other additives, the proportion of yeast ‘food’ like milk powder to flour, the time for each rise, etc etc! So every loaf has a character of its own. That is part of the fun - I hope. Remember, it will taste great!
Photo and recipe: Tod Dimmick