The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Wholemeal sourdough problems of a newbie

TheDabblingBaker's picture

Wholemeal sourdough problems of a newbie

Hi there,

Totally new to this site, but thought I'd join as I enjoy dabbling in the odd bit of baking. I've bit off more than I can chew though (quite literally) as I decided to make a 100% wholemeal sourdough with wholemeal starter that I had lovingly prepared all week and it turned out a gooey gummy (but tasty) mess as you can see in the picture. 

I'll try to outline everything I did...bear in mind I've never made sourdough before and made bread only once. I started off my starter with regular strong white flour and water to make a thick batter, it started bubbling nicely and smelt fruity after about 2 days. I then decided to add wholemeal flour, it didn't bubble or foam as much after I did but I kept at it feeding it every day for a week (after about the 3rd/4th day I discarded half first before feeding) still maintaining a thick batter consistency. 

It smelt quite nice at the end of the week but was only producing a few measly bubbles. I also read somewhere that it's best to let it "starve" before using it which I did. So I went ahead and made my sourdough but as I was weighing the flour my crappy scales disintegrated on me and I ended up just approximating how much flour and starter I needed. I think it was about 2:1 or 3:1 flour to starter. I mixed in a good amount of salt and sugar (maybe too much) and then cold water. It was incredibly sticky and literally fell apart as I tried to knead it so added a bit more flour, still very sticky and hard to work with but I had heard this lends for better bread so I got to work kneading it... must have spent best part of 20-25 mins trying to reach the smooth stretchy texture I had seen in pictures. Eventually I managed to reach the "window pane" stage... left it for about 3 hours with a damp tea towel on top to rise. It had barely risen at all but I was too impatient to wait any longer so punched the air out. I was a bit heavy handed with it and also kneaded it slightly. Wrapped it in a heavily floured tea-towel to let prove for another 3-3.5 hours. Got the oven hot, placed some ice cubes in the bottom to get it steamy. Scored the dough and whacked it in for 40 mins ish. Took it out, it looked nice and I was fairly chuffed with myself until I went to slice a piece off. I think the crust would have blunted a chainsaw. It was rock solid... i know a thick crust is desirable but this was ridiculous. After I managed to prise it open I noticed the dough looked underbaked and moist  (despite the oven being very hot). Shoved it back in for another 15 mins and the picture is the result of all my efforts. 

I'm very keen to learn how to make good sourdough and bread in general and I'd be grateful if someone more experienced could tell me where I've obviously gone wrong.



phaz's picture

hi Jack, I'm no expert, but to start, most use their starters when they are at their peak - when it is most active. that way you know you have happy yeast that will rise a dough. sounds, and looks, like you have too much water. salt amount may have been to much, which will slow the action of the yeast considerably, if not kill it all off, if way too much is used. I've never added sugar to my sourdough, but too much can cause problems. most don't really punch down a sourdough like a regular bread. you usually want to preserve all those nice bubbles so gentle handling is best. I'd say you jumped in the deep end of the pool right off by using whole meal. try to find a basic recipe and make that a few times to get a feel for what the dough should be like and what the process is. once that is looking good, search the forum for whole meal recipes and the techniques used. I believe recipe and method will be slightly different when you're into whole meal. personally, I've never used a scale, but I've made bread before and have a decent feel for what things should be like at certain stages in the process. using a scale when starting out will only help that feel come sooner, so pick up another and use it with a proven recipe and follow the directions. it isn't hard to create a decent loaf of sourdough, it's just a little different compared to say a regular white bread.

good luck, and let us know how it goes!

cranbo's picture

It's OK, you're learning, this is all a part of the process.

The biggest problem is that your starter is not active enough. Your dough/bread is raw, gummy and rock-like because it wasn't sufficiently fermented. 

Feed your starter 1 or 2x per day, equal parts flour & water by weight. A ratio of 1:2:2 parts starter:water:flour is good. Store it in a transparent (glass or plastic) container so you know when it has doubled or tripled. 

Once your starter can double or triple in volume within 4-6 hours, you can start baking with it. Until then, keep feeding it and don't bake with it. 

Be patient, sourdough takes time in so many ways (to learn, to bake, etc.)...always watch the dough, not the clock.  

FlourChild's picture

Agree that starter wasn't active enough- you want to feed it and then watch the rise, use it at or near the peak rise.  Also, with a heavy flour like 100% whole wheat, you may want to add a small pinch of commerical yeast to the main dough (not the starter) to help with the heavy lifting.

Be careful with your salt and sugar, too much of either isn't good for yeast (though you'll reach the "too much" level with salt much faster than with sugar).  

Your bulk ferment, or first rise, needs to increase in volume to about double.  This normally takes some time, anywhere from 3-12 hours depending on how much starter was used and the ambient temperature.

During final shaped proof, even though your loaf is wrapped in floured cloth, it still needs to be covered/sealed to keep  the crust from drying out too much.  You can put an overturned bowl over it, or place it in a plastic bag, etc.

Consider using an instant-read thermometer as an aid to gauging when the loaf is done- it should read about 200F in the middle.  Once you have gained more experience you will know from looking at and feeling the weight of the loaf if it is done or not, but until then, using the thermometer can be helpful.  

Oven temp may also need to be adjusted, if it is too cool the crust will be thick, pale and dry by the time the interior is done.  Too hot and it will burn before the interior is done.  

Good luck!