Molasses Sourdough Brown Bread

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Sweet, hearty and delicious, this is the best sourdough brown bread recipe. Made with 100% sourdough, whole wheat and bread flour, you will love this healthy and yummy bread.

This is a true family favorite recipe. I’ve been making a version of this molasses sourdough brown bread for many years, but finally decided to turn it into a full fledged sourdough sandwich loaf and it’s perfection. My kids love it. My husband loves it. I love it.

Why You’ll Love Molasses Sourdough Brown Bread

You will love the flavor of this molasses sourdough brown bread with sweet molasses and whole wheat at the forefront. The flour in this loaf is a combination of whole wheat and bread flour, giving a nice rise and lots of nutrition – sourdough plus whole wheat makes a really delicious bread. You’ll also love the method of making this sourdough bread – being able to mix it up in the evening and then let it rise all night long before baking it. It’s an easy loaf to make and it tastes delicious. I think you’re going to love it.

Sourdough Baker’s Timeline

A sample baking schedule helps me when baking with sourdough. Sourdough takes much longer to rise than commercial yeast bread. This schedule helps me plan my bake.

A note on temperature: This schedule assumes the dough temperature is 80°F throughout the process. I don’t typically ferment my dough overnight, but this molasses bread often needs a much longer rise due to the molasses, honey and rich ingredients in the dough. If your dough temperatures are in the low 70s, you will need a much longer proofing time. If it’s summer and your temperatures are warmer, the dough will rise faster and it may over-proof if you leave it overnight.

Day 1
8:00 AM –
6:00 PM
Mix levain. Cover and ferment at 78°F for 10-12 hours until bubbly, doubled in size, ripe and active
6:00 PM –
10:00 PM
Mix dough and begin bulk fermentation, keeping dough at 80°F
10:00 PMShape Loaf and Proof
OptionalAfter the bulk fermentation, the dough can be covered and stuck in the refrigerator until the next morningAllow extra time for rising if you choose this option.
Day 2Bake
7:00 AMBake: ONLY once the dough has doubled in size and risen above the loaf panThis can take a long time, depending a lot on temperature and how active your sourdough starter is. If the dough is too cold, it won’t rise quickly – move it to a warmer location and wait for the bread to rise. Don’t bake the bread until it has properly risen.

Important Ingredients in Molasses Sourdough Brown Bread

  • Sourdough Starter: Use an active/ripe sourdough starter (doubled in size/bubbly/mild sour aroma) to mix the levain.
  • Honey: Honey adds sweetness to the dough. This is a sweeter flavored bread so I don’t recommend reducing the honey, though you can if you want. It’s reminiscent of the sweet brown bread you can buy in grocery stores or eat at a dinner out – but it’s much better for you and tastes better!
  • Molasses: I use regular molasses in this recipe. For a deeper (and more bitter) molasses flavor you can use blackstrap molasses.
  • Cocoa Powder: I use a Dutch processed cocoa powder in this recipe. It does not taste like chocolate. The cocoa powder just gives the beautiful dark color and adds a depth of flavor to the molasses sourdough loaf.
  • Water: Depending on the temperature of the other ingredients and the temperature inside your kitchen, you’ll want to use either cool, warm or room temperature water. This strongly influences how well your dough will rise (especially in the winter).
  • Salt: Salt enhances flavor. Don’t forget to add it!
  • Whole Wheat Flour: I use a freshly milled HARD whole wheat flour for the whole wheat flour in this recipe. I usually like a combination of white HARD wheat and RED hard wheat. Both are high in protein (13-14%) and are milled using my grain mill. You can also use whole wheat flour from the grocery store.
  • Bread Flour: I use a good quality bread flour that I buy from my local mill. It’s around 12.5% protein content.

How to Make Molasses Sourdough Brown Bread

Mix Levain

I have made this molasses sourdough bread many, many times and typically like to use a 100% hydration levain mixed from flour, water and ripe, bubbly, active sourdough starter.

1:10:10 Levain (ready in 10-12 hours, at 78°F): This recipe calls for a levain mixed in the morning before mixing the dough in the evening. Keep the levain at 78°F for consistent results. Levain is ready when it has doubled in size, has lots of bubbles, a slightly sour aroma and is just about to start going down from its peak height. Mix together:

  • 8 grams of ripe/mature sourdough starter
  • 80 grams all-purpose or bread flour
  • 80 grams water

If you prefer to mix the levain a few hours before making the bread, adjust your ratios and make a 1:1:1 Levain (ready in 3 – 4 hours at 78°F). Mix together:

  • 55 grams of ripe/mature starter
  • 55 grams of warm water
  • 55 grams of whole wheat flour

Ripe and active sourdough starter can be substituted for levain if desired. Read more about why I like using a levain here.

Mixing the Dough

To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the ripe levain, water, honey, molasses, salt, cocoa powder and most of the flour. I like to reserve a little of the flour (a little less than 1/2 a cup) and add it in as needed. Knead for 10-15 minutes until dough feels smooth and strong. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl or gather all together as it kneads. It will feel tacky to the touch, but should not be overly sticky. If it is very sticky, add a little bit more flour 10-20 grams at a time until it feels tacky and workable. If the dough feels too dry while you’re kneading, add a little extra water a teaspoon at a time. This dough can also be kneaded about 15 minutes by hand.

Bulk Fermentation

Once the dough is smooth and feels tacky, place it in a bowl or container and cover the dough. Keep it in a warm 80°F place for about 4 hours. Expect the dough to puff up, become aerated and begin to rise just a little. Temperature is key to the rise of this dough. If you keep the dough warmer, it will ferment faster. If the dough temperature is cooler, it will take longer to ferment. Because of the molasses and honey in the dough, this bread takes longer to rise. Keeping at the warm 80°F or higher temperature will keep the dough rising.

Shaping Dough

Dump the sourdough brown bread dough out onto a counter. Place a greased 9 by 5 loaf pan at the top of the dough to guide you on how wide to pat the dough. Pat the dough out with your hands into a rectangle shape, keeping it within the width of the loaf pan. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough up into a log. Take care to press in the dough at the seam after each roll and pinch the seam closed at the end. Pinch and round the ends of the dough just a bit to get a uniform loaf. Place in a greased pan and cover.

Proofing Molasses Sourdough Brown Bread

My biggest tip for this sourdough brown bread is to let the dough rise. DO NOT bake this bread until it has risen above the rim of the loaf pan and feels light and airy. It needs to rise about an inch or so above the loaf pan before you bake the bread. If you bake the bread too soon, your bread will be under-proofed and will taste dense and heavy. For best results, really let this bread dough rise. Place your loaf pan in a warm, 80°F place. If your dough temperature is consistent, this loaf should take about 9-10 hours to rise completely and be ready to bake. Cover the bread dough lightly or use a bread proofer for consistent results. You will know your loaf is ready to bake when it has risen above the loaf pan and when you take a finger and press in on the dough and can observe it spring back just a little bit. If it springs back all the way, it needs more time to rise. 

Baking Sourdough Molasses Brown Bread

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Bake this loaf of molasses sourdough bread for 40 minutes. Bread should register an internal temperature of 205-210°F when fully cooked. I like to let the bread cool for about 5-10 minutes in the pan before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

Amy’s Recipe Tips

  • Sourdough Molasses Brown Bread can also be shaped into two small dinner loaves to enjoy as a side to your evening meal instead of a sandwich loaf. Spritz with water and cover the top with oats before baking if desired. Proofing time will stay about the same.
  • This recipe has a lot of honey and molasses in the dough which make the dough take longer to rise. Do NOT bake this bread until it has risen above the edge of the pan and has at least doubled in size. It will take awhile if the dough is colder (78°F or lower) and it will move faster if the dough is warmer (80°F or more)

Substitutions

  • Whole Wheat Flour: Use freshly milled hard whole wheat or aged whole wheat from the store. You can substitute all-purpose flour for the whole wheat, though it may change your fermentation times.
  • Honey: Substitute brown sugar for the honey and add a little less flour while kneading the dough to compensate for the loss of liquid.

How to Store Leftovers

Leftover bread can be stored at room temperature for 24 hours. I slice and freeze anything extra in these bread bags. Pull out to defrost when ready to use or toast from frozen.

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Frequently Asked Questions

This bread dough isn’t rising. Help!

If your dough isn’t rising, it needs to be warmer. This dough takes a long time to rise due to the molasses and honey in the bread. Plan for extra time, especially if you are baking this in the winter or cooler temperatures. Read more about temperature and sourdough here.

My dough rose too much. Help!

If it rose too much, bake it now. It may have over-proofed because the dough was warmer than you thought. Next time, check on the dough periodically. Use cool water to cool the dough down and keep it at a lower temperature for rising.

Can I cold ferment the dough to break up the rise?

Yes. If you want to split the days up for baking. Make the levain and bulk ferment on the same day. Then refrigerate the dough after the bulk fermentation. The next day, shape the dough and let it rise before baking. You may need to add a little extra time to the rise to compensate for the cold dough.
Note: This dough is not going to rise much in the refrigerator because the cold temperatures slow down the wild yeast and bacteria.

Molasses Sourdough Brown Bread

Amy
Sweet, hearty and delicious, this is the best sourdough brown bread recipe. Made with 100% sourdough, whole wheat and bread flour, you will love this healthy and yummy bread.
4.43 from 7 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Fermentation Time 23 hours
Total Time 1 day 10 minutes
Course Bread
Cuisine American
Servings 1 loaf

Equipment

Ingredients
  

Levain (1:10:10, about 10-12 hours at 78 °F)

  • 8 grams sourdough starter ripe, bubbly and active
  • 80 grams all-purpose or bread flour
  • 80 grams water

Molasses Sourdough Bread

  • 150 grams levain ripe, bubbly and active
  • 270 grams water
  • 130 grams honey
  • 60 grams molasses
  • 20 grams cocoa powder
  • 10 grams salt
  • 275 grams whole wheat flour hard whole wheat – freshly milled or aged
  • 330 grams bread flour 12.5% protein content

Instructions
 

Mix Levain (1:10:10, 10-12 hours at 78 °F)

  • To a small bowl, weigh 8 grams of active sourdough starter, 80 grams all-purpose or bread flour and 80 grams water. Mix together until a thick batter forms. Cover lightly and set in a warm (78°F) place to ferment for about 10-12 hours. The levain is ready when it has doubled in size, is bubbly and slightly milky sweet smelling.

Molasses Sourdough Brown Bread

  • Kneading: To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the ripe levain, water, honey, molasses, cocoa powder, salt, whole wheat flour and bread flour. I like to reserve a little of the flour (a little less than 1/2 a cup) and add it in as needed. Knead for 10-15 minutes until dough feels smooth and strong. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl or gather all together as it kneads. It will feel tacky to the touch, but should not be overly sticky. If it is very sticky, add a little bit more flour 10-20 grams at a time until it feels tacky and workable. If the dough feels too dry, add a little extra water. Whole wheat flour absorbs water at different rates depending on which flour you use, so you may need to make a few adjustments as you knead. This dough can also be kneaded about 15 minutes by hand.
  • Bulk Fermentation: Transfer the dough to a see-through container and cover with a kitchen towel. Set the dough in a warm place (80ºF is optimal) and let rest for 4 hours. The dough will puff up a little and become aerated during this time.
  • Shape: Turn the dough out onto the counter. Place a greased 9 by 5 loaf pan at the top of the dough to guide you on how wide to pat the dough. Pat the dough out with your hands into a rectangle shape, keeping it within the width of the loaf pan. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough up. Take care to press in the dough at the seam after each roll and pinch the seam closed at the end. Pinch and round the ends of the dough just a bit to get a uniform loaf. Place in a greased pan and cover. You can watch a shaping video here.
  • Rise: Let the bread rise in the pan for about 9 hours at 80ºF until the dough has risen up over the edge of the loaf pan. Depending on the ambient temperature and how active your yeast is, the rise could be shorter or much longer. If you notice no change and no rise, put the bread in a warmer place (oven with a light on or bread proofer). Do not bake the bread if there is little to no rise. The dough should rise above the loaf pan before baking.
  • Bake: Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Bake loaf of bread for 40 minutes. Bread should register an internal temperature of 205-210 °F when fully cooked. Let bread cool for a few minutes in the loaf pan and then remove to a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing and enjoy!

Notes

Whole Wheat Flour: You can use freshly milled HARD whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour from the grocery store in this recipe. The better quality wheat you use, the better this loaf will taste. Choose a flour that has a higher protein content (around 13%) and keep in mind that different flours absorb liquid differently, so you may need to add a little more water or a little more flour depending on how your dough comes together.
This is a hearty loaf of bread. In my experience it takes longer to rise than a traditional loaf of sourdough bread. The extra molasses in the dough slows down the fermentation, but it is worth the wait! I like to mix this dough up in the afternoon/evening and let it rise overnight in a bread proofer, especially in the winter and cooler months. When the temperatures rise, this bread will rise faster.
Keyword brown bread recipe, molasses sourdough bread, sourdough brown bread, sourdough brown bread recipe
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Recipe Rating




29 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Delicious!! I’m tempted to add raisins in it next time to be just like brown bread in a can taste.

  2. 5 stars
    This recipe is amazing!!! I have tried others and by far this recipe hits it on the head!! I will not use any other recipe again.

  3. I hate when people change a recipe and then ask how it will work… but here I am! Ha! Have you tried this without the store bought bread flour? I would like to do all fresh milled! Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. I haven’t made it without the bread flour. I think it can work though. It won’t rise quite as high and may come out a little more dense. I’d use a white hard wheat if you have it.

  4. 5 stars
    So Amy-if my dough is not tacky should I add a little water?
    And if the dough is on the drier side will that cause it to rise less?
    I o/n in fridge then kept it in the proofer box at 80°. I forgot to add the chocolate but love the taste and texture!

    1. If it’s not tacky, add a little extra water. I usually like to reserve a little of the flour and add it in as I’m mixing the dough and as it needs it. It won’t cause the dough to rise less, but it may take a little bit longer with the extra flour. Too much flour can also make the crumb more dry.

      1. I didn’t add the -½ c of flour you suggested to hold back, but I won’t be afraid to add water as I did think the crumb was a little dry but I loved the flavor and chewy texture. I will keep trying until I get it.
        Another question- would it be easy to double?
        Thanks for responding.

  5. I am not great at converting grams to cups. Don’t have this recipe already converted to cups somewhere?

    1. I don’t have it converted. I’ve found cup measurements to be pretty inaccurate when making bread because everyone measures flour differently. Some people use 120 grams of flour per cup and others 160 grams. My cups are usually around 140 grams flour per cup. That can make a big difference in a loaf of bread.

  6. 1 star
    Was so looking forward to tasting this bread, but after HOURS of rising (mine took 18hrs to get above the edge of the baking pan), I hate to say the taste was pretty horrible. The bread was definitely hearty but just not to my liking flavor-wise…or my husband’s (who will eat just about anything and like it) either. Sorry, Amy- not one of your better recipes.

    1. I’m sorry this wasn’t one you loved. I’ve made it over 10 times and my family can’t get enough of it – but it is definitely a unique flavor profile. And yes it does take a long time to rise from the molasses in the dough.

  7. 5 stars
    Is honey substituting note correct where you say to add more flour due to the loss of liquid? I’m so not use to following a recipe to a “T” in trying to learn when to add or subtract an ingredient. Would the windowpane test help to determine if dough is moist enough or???

    1. It should actually be less flour. I’ll go in and fix that. The dough should feel tacky, not overly sticky and not dry. If it is dry, add a little more water. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour.

      1. Should the dough be stretchable for those of us who don’t get sticky or tacky? I’m just trying to get a different feel for the dough😭

    1. I have never tried that substitution before. I think you could do that, but you may need less flour in the recipe. The flavor of this loaf really comes from the molasses. I haven’t had dark muscavado so not sure on its flavor profile.

  8. 5 stars
    I have made this 5X once doubling recipe and have learned to read my dough and finding I need to ADD Water. The last time I didn’t overnight in fridge and after a 12 hour rising time it has always raised to just under the lip of the 9’ x 4’ pan. Even going to over 14 hrs it never rises any taller, but of course it more than doubles in size, very soft and love the flavor but very dense. All this being said my question is this, is it possible to have a good bake w/o the rise over the edge of the pan because I am just not getting it. Anyone else with this issue? I am tempted to add a little yeast – say it ain’t so!

    1. Because of the molasses and honey in this dough, it does take a LONG time to rise. I even hesitated sharing it because the rise time is so long. BUT, it’s one of our favorites and it will rise, just takes awhile. If you have a proofing box, I would set the proofer to 85 degrees and let it go longer. It just needs to be warm enough and give it enough time.

      1. Oh my. I will set the proofer box higher and just wait. It’s unbelievable but I love taste and even at it not having risen to its fullest! Glad you shared it

  9. Amazing! I have made it several times and taken it to work. It is truly the best Brown bread recipe out there!