The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

50% whole-wheat sourdough

davidg618's picture

I've been homing in on a 50% Whole Wheat sourdough loaf, made with a levain built entirely with Whole Wheat flour. This quest has been ongoing (but relaxed) for about a year, and recently I've been close: flavors are especially to our liking, crumb al dente as we like, and nearly as open as desired, but still room to improve. Today, I think I've hit it.


My previous attempts' short-falls were all dough strength related, in two words: slack dough. And slack dough directly led to shaping difficulties, flat loaves, and closed crumbs.

Getting to this point has been evolutionary.

I've only been baking sourdough a little more than two years. For the first six months I religiously mixed and kneaded doughs in my KA mixer, usually following the formulae authors' recommended mixing times and mixer speeds (generally 2 or 3 minutes on speed one, often followed by 1 to 3 minutes on speed 2). Early on, I learned about Stretch-and-Fold; never a fan of hand-kneading I adapted it quickly. I was mostly content with the results, but, prompted by TFLer suggestions, I switched to hand-mixing, and for about a year except for speciality doughs, e.g., Foccacia, Brioche, the mixer gathered dust. I learned how dough "feels" in all its various stages. I also developed a skin rash, on my mixing hand only, that may--and I emphasize "may"; I've not yet seen a dermatologist--be attributable to flours or sourdough.

For the past four months I've returned to mixing doughs in the mixer, and wearing latex gloves when I S&F, or hand manipulate dough. The rash is clearing slowly.

At the same tiime I was in the middle of my quest to bake a satisfactory 50% WW loaf. I'll define satisfactory; these are in priority order:

1. Good, strong wheaty flavor

2. Al dente crumb; i.e., when you mash it, it springs back; when you bite it, there is resistance.

3. Open crumb. Now I'm not looking for gaping holes. I want irregular size aveoles,  the biggest of which occupy no more than the thickness of a good sandwich slice--about 3/8ths of an inch radius. I frequently use sourdough breads for sandwiches. Unquestionably, sandwich-making is its singlemost use. So, I don't want mustard or mayo dribbling on my shirt front. I also think #2 is closely related to #3--if you don't have 3, you don't have 2.

4. Eye-appealing loaves. If I can have 1, 2, and 3 I'm a happy baker; if I can also have 4 I'm an elated baker.

So, back to the evolution.

Two changes from my earlier routine are, I reasoned, the keys to this success.

1. I now machine-knead the dough on speed 2 for 7 minutes, following a 1 hour autolyse. Subsequently, I still S&F 3 or 4 times at 1 hour intervals (3  or 4 depends on the perceived tenacity of the dough).

2. I retard the dough at reduced temperature (54°F) for 15 hours.

Furthermore, I believe these two changes are coupled, meaning it requires both to achieve the desired open crumb. I haven't found a corraborating "expert" reference yet, but I'm certain I perceive a change in dough's attributes occuring between S&F's and the beginning and end of retarded fermentation. I retard dough primarily for flavor development, but I'm convinced, too, it also conditions the doughs' physical behaviors.

I got the idea for this two changes from two TFL members: #1 from TxFarmer's blog, and #2 from an e-discussion with Proth5.

The formula for this bread is simple:

100% hydrated levain  30% (all whole wheat flour except seed starter)

Whole Wheat flour       35%

Bread Flour (KA)         50%

Salt                                    2%

Hydration                     68% 

Preheat: 500°F

Bake: 450°F with steam 15 mins; finish bake 450°F (steam removed)

I've also changed the way I refresh my seed starter. Following Debra Wink's guidance, now, when I build levain for baking I make enough extra to completely replace my seed starter with fresh levain. I normally build levain using bread flour. This time I built the levain using Whole Wheat flour. Consequently, I also built a small amount of levain with bread flour to refresh my seed starter for the week.

As usual, I after mixing the dough, and refreshing my seed starter I still had levain left over. I mixed the two together, fed the mix 1:3:3 with a 50/50 mix of Bread and Whole Wheat flours, and popped it into the refrigerator overnight. This morning, while I worked the bread baking, I let the leftover levain come to room temperature, and work another three hours. While the bread loaves were proofing I made a 50% Whole Wheat version of my Sourdough Biscuits ala Cookie (see and ).

It's been a fun Whole Wheat Sunday

David G



Mebake's picture

This is a 2nd shot at Hamelman's Whole wheat levain (sourdough 50% wholewheat), after improving my steaming technique.


Mebake's picture

This Whole Wheat and Whole Rye, was baked from Jeffrey Hamelman's BREAD under Soudough Rye section. It involves yeast in the final dough, with Rye sour as the flavour.

This bread has a mild rye flavor with a mild acidic tang. i liked it!


saumhain's picture

I am living at my aunt's these days and it has been a real pain in the arse getting used to baking in here. The kitchen is like twice smaller than mine, the oven is electric which is good, but feels just... weird.

However, I managed to make three loaves already, all Hamelman's: with olives, 50% whole-wheat sourdough

and whole rye and wheat sourdough.

They all turned out really good and delicious, but the one with olives was obviously the best. That's exactly why no picture of it - it was all gone before I could grab my camera.

Subscribe to RSS - 50% whole-wheat sourdough