Four months ago I began trying to bake my "personal-best achievable" loaf of 50/50: Bread Flour/Whole Wheat Flour Sourdough. The measures of success, for me, are: FLAVOR, an al dente, moderately open crumb, and eye-appeal. Nearly all my mostly white flour sourdoughs are made at 68% hydration, and I preferment 28% of the flour building the doughs' levains. Consequently, when I started my quest for the PBA half-WW loaf I set the formula with 68% hydration, and I prefermented 56% of the Whole Wheat Flour (28% of the total flour) building the levain. Immediately, I was delighted with the bread's flavor, and al dente crumb, but the dough had been very slack, and the loaves, while not exactly "flat as...", did their best to emulate pancakes.
In subsequent loaves, continuing with the same ingredients and ratios the flavor got even better through overnight retardation, but the dough seemed to get slacker, and IHOP began to worry they had a new competitor.
Three month ago I began to worry my starter's levaining power was weakening. It sometimes took twice as long to proof.
Not only were my 50% WW loaves belly-flopping from slack doughs, but the oven spring I'd been experiencing in all my other Sourdough loaves was lessening.
I gave up trying to create the PBA WW loaf, and tried to figure out what I was doing wrong in my heretofore bomb-proof sourdoughs.
I've got a new starter. It's agonizing birth--all its problems due to my ignorance--is documented elsewhere, the life-saving mid-wife: Debra Wink.
The new starter has provided very satisfying successes with my "go-to" mostly white-flour sourdoughs, the past three weeks.
It was time to try again for the hitherto elusive BPA 50% WW sourdough loaf.
First try: Same ratios as prior, same ingredients, all Bread Flour in the levain, machine kneaded after autolyse (Kitchenaid mixer) 3 mins. speed 1, no retardation, DDT 76°F
The flavor is good, but, subjectively, not as good as remembered from the earlier retarded loaves. The crumb is delightfully al dente, and moderately open. The dough was slack; not as slack as during the abandoned quest, nevertheless, most of the oven-spring went sideways, but still better than any previous loaf.
Second try: same ingredients
Differences: 14% of the total flour prefermented in the levain build, all Whole Wheat flour (1/2 as much as the previous bake); Dough Hydration reduced to 65%; ice water and chilled dough used in the mix (DDT 54°F); machine kneaded (Kitchenaid mixer) 2 mins. speed 1, 7 mins. speed 2. (I also performed three S&F at one hour intervals, the same was done in the previous bake); dough retarded (54°F) for 17 hours.
The flavor is excellent: multi-layered, with a distinctive sour end note. The crumb is camparable to the first try: delightfully al dente. The oven spring was considerably more vertical. Subjectively, despite the lower hydration, the crumb is more open than the first bake.
I feel I'm back in the grove. Next try I'll increase the dough's hydration to 67% keeping all else, ingredients and procedures, the same.