The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

help with whole grain sourdough

Kroha's picture

help with whole grain sourdough

Hello everyone,

With some trepidation, I have now tried baking sourdough bread, twice.  It has been a flop, and, just in case, today I killed my starter and started a new one.  I realized that I did not refresh it correctly (from 100 g of 100% hydration started I removed 50 g, and then to the remaining 50 g added 25 g water and 25 g flour, when the correct amounts, I think, should have been 50 g of each).  Not surprisingly, it has been only somewhat active, but before realizing my error, I attributed it to bad luck.

But back to the baking.  I tried 100% whole grain sourdough.  Below is the formula, which I found on this site.

The fist time I kneaded it by hand, and the second time in my brand-new DLX, which I am just figuring out how to use, with great help from old posts on this site.  The first time I made it as 100% sourdough, and today I added 1 g of yeast because I suspected that my started might not do the job.  The final dough seemed a bit too tacky both times, but I left it that way thinking that it would improve after bulk fermentation, but it did not, and remained a bit tacky and slack, so that I could not even score it.  The gluten was fairly well-developed, as far as I could tell.  I weighed the ingredients and followed the directions, and the dough seemed to do OK, besides being slack.  The loaves (one round and one batard) went into the oven somewhat spread out and flat-looking and had zero oven-spring.  They did not collapse either.  They just came out looking more like flat breads than loaves.

I am wondering if someone has ideas on what I am not doing right.  The bread has great flavor and great crust.  So far we have have been enjoying it in the form of croutons.  I would love to make it well. My husband, who loves sourdough bread, believes that it is just too complicated and unpredictable to mess with, and I should just leave it alone.  I MUST, MUST, MUST have my, "Here is the great loaf, I told you so!!!"  moment :)

Thank you for your advice!


Overnight Whole Grain Sourdough with Wheat, Spelt & Rye


This may be my favorite hearth bread. When made well, it has an open crumb, which is unusual for 100% whole grain breads, and a deliciously sour and nutty flavor.

Overall Formula
Whole wheat flour: 60%
Whole spelt flour: 30%
Whole rye flour: 10%
Water: 75%
Salt: 2%

5% of the flour is in the starter, which could be whole wheat, whole rye or whole spelt, and can be  60% hydration or 100% hydration.

Whole wheat flour: 300 grams or 2 generous cups
Whole spelt flour: 150 grams or 1 generous cup
Whole rye flour: 50 grams or a generous 1/3 cup
Whole grain starter: 40 grams if stiff (a dough ball about the size of a golf ball); 50 grams if wet (about 3-4 Tbs)
Water: 375 grams  or 1.5 cups + 1 Tbs
Salt: 10 grams or 1 and 3/8 tsp

Dissolve the starter into the water, and then add the salt. Mix the flours together well, and add to the water. Mix until everything is hydrated.

Dough development and the first rise
However you develop the dough, it’ll need to rise at room temperature for 8-10 hours. Use the wet finger test to see whether it’s fully risen in the morning.

Be gentle. You want to retain as many of those air bubbles as possible. Rounds and batards are the traditional shapes.

Second rise
You can let it rise for another 2 to 3 hours at room temperature. You can also speed things up (and increase sourness) by placing the dough on an upturned bowl in the bottom of a picnic cooler, throwing a cup of boiling water in the bottom and covering it quickly. After an hour, throw another cup of hot water in. The rise should only take a couple of hours this way.

Score the bread as you like. Hash marks are traditional for rounds, and batards usually take a single, bold stroke down the center or a couple of baguette-style slashes.

While you can certainly bake this bread on a cookie sheet, it benefits from a stone and some steam, or a covered baker. However you do it, bake at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes.


Yerffej's picture

The successful execution of this bread requires a few different skills. 

The first being a good working knowledge of bread dough in general.  The feel and the changes brought about by altering the hydration of a given recipe and also changes brought about by technique variations.

Secondly, experience with whole grains is essential as they present challenges far beyond those of working with mostly white flour.  White flour is most forgiving if you do not get it just right.  A formula with 50% whole grains will also allow for error but 100% whole grains know no such forgiveness.

Finally, there is the sourdough element and that is another whole set of skills needed that will come in working with sourdough again and again and again.

As for this particular recipe it presents even greater challenges with the substantial inclusion of rye and spelt. 

My conclusion is that you have chosen a recipe that is about as difficult as can be for someone new to sourdough.

I would suggest (quite strongly) that you get a good sourdough starter going and when you have mastered that, move on to using that starter in recipes with which you are familiar and comfortable.

You have really tackled a very difficult recipe and I have not even mentioned the shaping skills needed to make this one work.