Wholemeal Pan Rustico Recipe

A rustic loaf with a shiny crust
Rustic wholemeal bread is here! (Scroll down for recipe.)

Pan rustico, or 'rustic bread', is a round or freeform loaf. This version is made with an overnight sponge for extra flavour.

I recently tested a Homemade Pan Rustico recipe using mostly white flour. I loved the slightly yeasty taste that developed with the overnight sponge. The texture of the loaf was soft and slightly crumbly: very light inside whilst also having a pleasing crust.


In my endless quest to eat as healthily as possible, I won't be serving up white bread on a regular basis (much to the disappointment of my family.) I prefer to bake with mostly wholemeal flour. Could the pan rustico recipe cope with being totally wholemeal?

The other thing I didn't like about the original pan rustico recipe was the addition of sugar. I've written about sugar in bread dough previously here: Why Use Sugar In Bread Dough? and my usual stance on the subject is that it is unnecessary (except in some specific cases) and can be omitted. Would the pan rustico work ok without the sugar?

Read on to find out what happened when I put it to the test.

First attempt

The original recipe (see link above) calls for a mixture of white and brown flour. The sponge is made with white flour and the dough is made with a ratio of 3:1 white:wholemeal.

(Incidentally, if you're wondering what 'the sponge' is, please visit the pan rustico recipe link above and it's all explained there.)

The first time I tried making the recipe using only wholemeal flour I followed the original recipe and used the same proportions of yeast, salt and water. I omitted the sugar entirely.

Jnorris235 left an interesting comment on my previous pan rustico article:

This reminds me of the old Tassajara Bread Book* recipe (my hippy 60’s first cooking book at college!). It was the only way to get well risen wholemeal bread by giving the yeast time to expand without the heavy lifting of ALL the flour.
*I've added that affiliate link. Check out the book! It looks really interesting. It's on my wish list.

So, I had high hopes that an entirely wholemeal version of the pan rustico would rise well.

It was underwhelming.

The sponge looked lively enough, when I returned to it the following day. The dough mixed up well but was a little stiff. I thought, at the time, it needed a little more water, but I persisted, in the interests of making a direct comparison.

Crumb shot showing that the loaf is quite dense, dry and unrisen

It didn't spring up much in the oven. The crust was dull and unexciting. The resulting bread was fairly dense. You expect that from wholemeal, and it was tasty, but I thought I could do better.

Second attempt

The second time I made the pan rustico using only wholemeal flour, I increased the hydration of the dough

I made the sponge as per my (well, Dave's) original recipe and then calculated how much water we would need to give the dough a 75% hydration (see recipe below).

The dough was much easier to work with and felt as though it would stretch more than the first attempt.

Indeed, it rose better and felt lighter and more springy as it went into the oven.

A well risen dough prior to baking

I wanted to do something about the crust so I gave it a skilly wash.

The resulting bread had a tasty, shiny looking crust with a pleasant crispiness to it. The crumb was soft and open (I mean, as soft and open as you could expect with wholemeal flour) and the loaf was deemed a success.

Slices of bread showing a more risen shape and open crumb

I now feel confident to share with you the proportions I used to make a successful wholemeal pan rustico.

The recipe

For the starter sponge:

150 ml water
7g instant yeast (such as Fermipan Red*)
125g wholemeal flour
*Affiliate link to a good deal on Amazon. If you're baking regularly, this is definitely the most economical way to buy yeast. It'll keep in the sealed packet for months, can be frozen and will keep well once opened if stored in an airtight container.

For the dough:

244 ml water
7g yeast
400g wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp white or cider vinegar

Please see the previous post about Pan Rustico for more details about the method.

Did you try it?

If you've made either of these pan rustico versions, or made some adaptations of your own, I'd be very interested to hear about it. Please comment below. (Comments help more than you know, with getting search engines to notice my content - thank you!)


  1. I made the first pan rustico, is it supposed to be so unmanageable?
    It's so wet, I practically poured it onto s baking sheet & let it do it's own thing,
    It spread out a lot & didn't rise much, it was never going to being as wet as it was,
    It had a lovely texture though, the next one I made in an 8" cake tin.
    looking forward to trying this one.

    1. I also found the first one really difficult to manage because it was so wet. I kneaded it for a full ten minutes to try and get it under control (only just!) and then decided to 'plump up' the dough a bit, mid fermentation stage because it was spreading out so much. I proved it in a bowl to try and contain it better. I think that hydration level is needed to achieve the lovely texture but you could reduce the water slightly so you can actually shape it. This one is easier to handle! Thanks for leaving a comment :o)

  2. Thank you, I'll try that.

  3. Just dived in to the study to send you this quick note between second and third helpings of your Pan Rustico. First alongside a bowl of pasta, the second with Bleu de Bresse and the next one in a moment with apricot jam.

    This is the best loaf I've made in my life - and I started making bread in the 1970s, following Coventry Cathedral's recipe.

    We live in Caen with two "artisan boulangers" within 5minutes walk. But I suspect they might be seeing less of me in the future. I said to Mrs W I suspected this would become my regular Monday job and she looked horrified: "What about the rest of the week?!"

    1. Woo hoo! This has to win the award for comment of the week! (Sorry, no actual prize - but it's such a great comment, thank you!) This is wonderful news - we must tell Dave! Did you make the wholemeal or the mixed one, with some white flour? This comment has made my day :o)


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