The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Yes! Whole Wheat Sourdough!

Rosalie's picture

Yes! Whole Wheat Sourdough!

I'd tried the sourdough route before and had to quit.  The main reason, I think, is because I keep my thermostat at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and I had a hard time creating a proper environment for the starter and the bread dough.  Brod and Taylor to the rescue!  I didn't have to rig up a styrofoam ice chest with an electric light bulb.  I just had to order the box that you can set at any temperature between 70 and 120 (1 degree increments).

It was no problem creating a starter.  It had been no problem the last time, either.  I think I used rye to get started last time.  But this time it was 100% whole wheat, start to finish.  I used Mike Avery's instructions in his book and on his web site as my main source of information.  He recommends getting started with whole wheat.  But when it comes to maintenance, that's a different story.  He indicates that refined flour works better for that.  But I don't buy refined flour any more, not with my NutriMill and my little granary downstairs.

So the problem became finding a source of whole wheat sourdough info.  The theory is that whole wheat was the main flour used in the 19th century by the sourdoughs.  I don't know if that's true, but still refined flours are a recent invention, compared to sourdough-type starters, which are centuries old.

My first try at baking bread with the starter was an adaptation of Mike Avery's basic (white flour) sourdough recipe.  Edible.  It's always edible.  But otherwise not very good.  Then I looked through my own books and found Breadtime by Susan Jane Cheney.  You can't tell except by examining the recipes, but it's all whole grain.  I don't think there's a refined grain in the book.  And there's a section on sourdoughs.  So that was the recipe I used.

It took some persistence, including some fancy timing-manipulation (I had to refrigerate the dough at one point).  But in the end I had a loaf that actually rose in the oven, the big test, in my opinion, of success.  It's not holey, like some of the other loaves I was eyeballing on this site today, but they're not whole wheat either.  Sticking close to the recipe this first time, I came out with two large loaves, each of which I cut in half; I held one half out and froze the other three.  I'm currently working on the second of the four pieces, and I swear it gets better with each slice.

Still, the loaf was rather dense.  Breadtime has a variation on the basic sourdough that includes 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast.  Unless I'm under the gun, I'm going to avoid this form of cheating (which I call sourdough-flavored bread).  (I also have lots of gluten flour, which I may try just to use it up.)  The starter is very young, and presumably the it will become stronger with practice.



Mebake's picture

Inspiring , Rosalie! Whole wheat starters are better off refrigerated, as they ferment and sour faster than their white counterparts. I admire your persistence to bake solely with SD, as do many here on TFL. 

Awaiting your SD wholegrain breads!

Rosalie's picture

Between bakings, which are not particularly often, I keep my starter in the fridge.  But I'd do that even if it weren't ww.  So I don't understand your comment.

Mebake's picture

A mis-understanding,

I was referring to a Mother ww starter/ mother dough (Desem) that is always refrigerated, and is fed weekly. It retains its vigor, and unique flavor when kept refrigerated.


MangoChutney's picture

Thank you for mentioning the book by Susan Cheney.  I was able to get it used for about $4.00, through Amazon.  It seems like a useful book, although some of the technicalities are not precisely correct.  For instance, she says that pearling barley polishes away both the germ and the bran.  The germ, of course, is in the center of the grain.  This is untouched by pearling.  Only the bran is lost by pearling.  There are lots of little sidebars with miscellaneous information.  She seems to know what she is talking about overall despite the occasional slip-up.  I am glad that I bought it.

I was particularly interested in her chapter on "natural rise" breads, which turns out to be her way of referring to fruit yeast waters and other leavening which are not based on yeasts from grain.  Although she does not give a recipe using fruit yeast water, she does mention it along with other alternatives for which she does give recipes.  These are not things I have seen in hardcopy before.

 Edit:  I was incorrect.  There is a recipe which uses apple cider yeast.  Great!  *smile*

Rosalie's picture

I'm so easily impressed.  Another 100% whole wheat sourdough.  In my own kitchen.  With my own hands.

I can't believe it's been six months since that last loaf.  I have used the starter since, on pitas.  But I was getting tired of looking at all the mold on my starter.  So I finally pulled it out and salvaged 9 grams out of the 64 grams (1/4 cup) I kept from the last use.  Fortunately, one doesn't need much starter to start.  A little bit doubled several times makes a better starter to throw into the recipe.  A couple days later I needed to find a recipe. was my source.  Mike Avery has a whole wheat recipe at  Here's the essence of it:

180g Water
210g Active WW Sourdough Starter
30g Light Olive Oil
30g Honey
20g Vital wheat gluten (optional - I didn't use it)
320g Whole wheat flour
8.2g Salt (1 1/4t)

Mix, knead, let rest and knead some more, get a windowpane, rise twice, put into greased 4x8 loaf pan, rise again, slash, bake at 350 for 30 minutes, look at it and decide whether it needs to go up to 375 or down to 325 or stay in place, bake for another 15 minutes or so until innards reach 195 or 200 (assuming not high altitude), let cool.

I was patient - a key ingredient, I think.  I used and blessed my Brod&Taylor proofing box for the starter and the dough.  The dough was pretty wet.  I was using my KitchenAid to knead, and it only goes so far.  I frequently take the dough out to finish kneading by hand, but this time I also switched it over to stretch-and-fold, which seems to be a magical technique.

As before, I had to refrigerate the dough when I was ready to embark on the first rise.  And, in fact, I can't count my rises, because I'd let it go for a bit, decide that it was a little puffy, and apply a little stretch-and-fold to it.  But, in the end, I had a bee-you-ti-ful loaf, which rose wonderfully in the oven with three slashes instead of the prescribed one down the center.

Now, I'm determined to finish this entire loaf by myself before I take off on a trip next week.  Breakfast, lunch, snacks, wherever I can slip it in (and on a diet, too!).  It is SO GOOD!!

So, thanks, Mike.  And you out there who want whole wheat sourdough, Mike Avery is your source.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

You'd left a note for me through and looking here I was curious why on earth you made the white bread recipe with whole wheat flour when there was a recipe on the site tailored for whole wheat flour.  I see you did find that better recipe.

I always encourage people to weigh their ingredients.  It reduces the madness some bakers run into.  And I encourage people to use bakers percentages for the same reason.

Whole grain flours absorb more water than refined flours.  In the case of wheat. about 20% more.  However, they do it slowly.  So, if you use the same amount of water with whole wheat as white, you start with a wet dough that quickly becomes much too dry.  I talk about that in our whole grains class.  My usual suggestion, whether kneading by hand or with a mixer, is knead 5 minutes, let the dough rest for 5 minutes to let the flour absorb water, and then knead for 5 more minutes.  With effective kneading texhniques, that's enough.  If you skip the rest, you'll probably need to knead longer.

Anyway, thanks again for the kind words!