Hearty Molasses Brown Bread

One of my all-time favorite breads is this honey whole wheat bread made with whole wheat flour from our local mill. It is slightly sweet and has the beautiful flavor or freshly milled whole wheat. Another favorite bread that we can’t get enough of is from the Cheesecake Factory. Their brown bread is so yummy. This hearty molasses brown bread is a combination of these two breads. It is made with half whole wheat flour making it hearty but is sweetened with honey and molasses. This gives it the sweetness of the Cheesecake Factory bread. In short: this bread is fantastic. My kids gobbled up both loaves as soon as they were out of the oven and they’ve been asking for more ever since.

Jump to Hearty Brown Bread Recipe

Whole Wheat Flour

Hearty brown bread starts off with a combination of all purpose and whole wheat flour. Not all whole wheat is created equal. If you want a real rundown and the nitty gritty behind the different flours available, check out this post. The short version: I like to use a hard white wheat flour. I buy my flour from our local Weisenberger Mill and it is freshly milled and delicious.  You can also grind your own wheat. I used to do that for years but have had trouble finding affordable hard wheat berries in Kentucky, so I transitioned to buying from the mill. If you don’t have access to wheat berries or a mill check your local grocery store. This King Arthur Flour’s white whole wheat flour is a good bet.

Vital Wheat Gluten

One of the properties of whole wheat flour is it doesn’t rise quite as much as traditional white flour. The rise is impeded a bit by the bran flakes in the wheat which “cut up” the dough and stop it from rising as well. Insert: vital wheat gluten. Vital wheat gluten ups the protein content in wheat which increases the strands that trap the gas bubbles, resulting in a better rise. I love using vital wheat gluten in all of my whole wheat breads. I buy it in bulk from Amazon, here. It improves the spring, rise and tenderness of whole wheat bread, and adding about a teaspoon for every cup of whole wheat flour does wonders in my baking. With all that said, if you don’t have vital wheat gluten you can leave it out. You may not have as much rise, but it will still taste delicious. I would also substitute bread flour for the all purpose flour in this recipe if I wasn’t going to use the vital wheat gluten.

A Trick for Viscous Liquids

One of the things I’ve learned over the years of baking with particularly viscous liquids like honey and molasses is to spray the measuring cup with a little bit of cooking oil. You can also pour whatever oil is needed for the recipe into a measuring cup first and add it to the bowl before adding the honey or molasses to the same measuring cup. This helps the honey or molasses slide right out of the measuring cup. You may still need to use a spatula or stick your finger in there to get it all the way out. In this recipe I spray a liquid measuring cup with cooking spray and then fill it up with ½ cup honey and then add the ¼ cup molasses right on top of the honey and pour it in the mixer. It makes a world of difference!

Hearty Brown Bread Dough

The dough for this brown bread comes together in a stand mixer really quickly. You know when to stop adding flour if you pinch off a piece of dough, roll it into a ball in your fingers and there is just a little bit of sticky residue left. As you knead the dough, the flour will become more hydrated as you go. You may need to add a little bit of flour at a time (a Tablespoon or two as you go) to make sure the consistency is tacky and not sticky. 

Free-Form Loaf Shaping

I like to shape this bread into two free-form loaves. I pull the sides up to the center of the dough and form it into a ball giving it tension and shape. After the dough rises for a second time, take a bit of water and brush it over the top of the dough. Keep in mind, because we are using whole wheat flour, you won’t see as big of a rise. Sprinkle on some oats and then pop in the oven for some delicious hearty brown bread. You could also shape this bread into rolls if you wanted a smaller, hand-held, version.

Sweet and Hearty Brown Bread

This hearty brown bread has a beautiful sweet flavor but also the richness of the whole wheat flour and cocoa powder. It is really one of our favorite breads to make and eat. Sweet and hearty, this bread is sure to be one of your family favorites too!

Hearty Brown Bread

Sweet and hearty, this brown bread is tender and delicious. It is made with whole wheat flour, honey and molasses and is the perfect bread to sop up some soup or eat with a schmear of butter. Yum!
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Rise Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 50 minutes
Course Bread
Cuisine American
Servings 2 loaves


  • 2 cups warm water the temperature of baby's bathwater
  • 1 Tablespoon instant yeast
  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup molasses not blackstrap
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2.5 cups whole wheat flour hard white wheat is my favorite
  • 1.5 Tablespoons vital wheat gluten leave this out if you are using bread flour
  • 2.5 – 3 cups all purpose flour or bread flour
  • 1 Tablespoon quick cooking oats reserved for topping


  • To a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook add warm water and instant yeast.
  • Spray a liquid measuring cup with cooking spray and add 1/2 cup honey and 1/4 cup molasses to the measuring cup.
  • Pour the honey/molasses into the yeast mixture. Add the cocoa powder and salt.
  • With the dough hook running, add the whole wheat flour and vital wheat gluten. Add the two cups of the all purpose flour and continue adding flour a little bit at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and is tacky (not super sticky). You should be able to pinch off a piece of dough, roll it up into a ball and have very little sticky residue on your fingers. Check out this post for how to tell when to stop adding flour.
  • Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes, adding extra flour as needed, a Tablespoon or two at a time.
  • Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap to rise. Let rise for 1-2 hours until just about doubled in size (it may not rise quite as much due to the whole wheat flour).
  • Punch down the dough and separate into two sections. Shape into a rustic circular loaf by turning the edges of the dough under until it forms a smooth, tight loaf. Repeat with the second section of dough.
  • Place loaves on a lined baking sheet and cover to rise. Let rise about an hour.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Using a pastry brush, brush the loaves with a little bit of water. Top lightly with the quick-cook oats. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until done. Let cool (if you can) and enjoy!


This dough can also be shaped into two traditional sandwich loaves and baked in 1 pound bread tins, my favorite linked here (affiliate link). 
Keyword brown bread, hearty bread
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  1. Such a gorgeous loaf of bread!! I love that you use fresh flour from your local mill. Thanks for sharing!! 🍞😋❤️