The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread Problems

agcilantro's picture

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread Problems

I have been making the 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread recipe from Sourdough Home, and have had mixed results.  A few times the bread rose beautfully both in the brad pan and in the oven, and the texture was fantastic.  I have, however, been unable to consistently have this recipe turn out well.

Here is the recipe: ( and a link ).  I am using King Arthur whole wheat flour, AP.

Weight Ingredient Volumetric Measurement Baker's Percentage
180 gramsWater3/4 cup54
210 gramsActive Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter3/4 cup60
30 gramsLight Olive Oil2 1/3 TBSP8.9
30 gramsHoney1 1/2 TBSP8.6
20 gramsVital wheat gluten (optional)2 2/3 TBSP6
320 gramsWhole wheat flour2 2/3 cup94
8.2 gramsSalt1 1/4 tsp2.4


I mix all of the ingredients together by hand except for the salt and 10 grams of water and let it autolyze for 30 minutes at room temperature.  Then I add the salt and mix well, again by hand.  I put the dough into the refrigerator for an overnight retard.  In the morning I take out the dough, do 3 stretch and folds and put into my oven with the light on (no heat) to ferment.  I do a stretch and fold every 45 minutes and take the dough out after 3 hours.

Then I do a pre-shaping and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.  I form it into a loaf and put it in a loaf pan to rise again in the oven for 45 minutes to an hourand a half.  Then I put it into a 350 degree F oven for 30 - 45 minutes.

My last effort resulted in a loaf that had tear marks on the top after about 20 minutes of proofing in the bread pan.  I have had little to no oven spring, and lots of problems with the dough tearing.  Other problems have included no rise during the 2nd fermentation, tearing while forming the loaf, and the dough feels very stretchy after only about 1 1/2 hours/2 stretch and folds, without very much rise.

Am I over proofing or under-proofing?  How can I tell?  Any suggestions for other recipes?

I feel that this recipe has a large percentage of starter compared to other recipes I use (1-2-3 sourdough)

Thanks for helping me solve this.

cranbo's picture

Without photos it's hard to confirm, but here's what I believe:

My last effort resulted in a loaf that had tear marks on the top after about 20 minutes of proofing in the bread pan.  I have had little to no oven spring, and lots of problems with the dough tearing.  Other problems have included no rise during the 2nd fermentation, tearing while forming the loaf, and the dough feels very stretchy after only about 1 1/2 hours/2 stretch and folds, without very much rise.

Little to no oven spring suggests overproofing, not underproofing. If underproofed, you would get good oven spring and might have tearing, and poor crust coloration. 

Tearing is likely due to insufficient gluten development. Tell us more about your mixing process overall; you say you mix by hand and then refrigerate for bulk ferment. What level of development are you getting at that point? Just wetting the ingredients, or actually kneading until some level of gluten forms? 

You might want to try the stretch&folds before the dough goes into fridge for bulk ferment. 

You also might want to try slightly higher hydration. If you are using a 100% hydration starter as suggested in the original formula, then you are looking at ~67% hydration, if I calculate correctly. WW absorbs more water than white flour, so consider bumping this up. 

I would suggest other recipes but don't know what style you're looking for. Search for txfarmer's posts for ideas on what can be done with WW.

agcilantro's picture

Thanks for your input cranbo.  I normally do some stretch and folds(4-6) to get a bit of gluten development before the bulk ferment, but not very much.  I will try for a bit more development before the bulk ferment.  I will also try doing the bulk ferment at room temperature and trying to do the retard once I have shaped the loaves.

I have tried this recipe with a slightly higher hydration previously and had better results, so I will go back to that.

I will try to include some pictures of my next loaf (probably later today).

nicodvb's picture

Lately i discovered how much a very long kneading can improve the resistence to tearing and the rise of the dough. Now I let my stand mixer work the dough for as long as necessary to make the dough completely roll around the hook and remain clinged even when the arm is raised, but generally with whole wheat flour  I use 75-80% hydratation. Try and you'll never look back at stretch and fold:) other than for shaping the dough before proofing. The bread comes out soooooooooooo soft!

agcilantro's picture

Thanks for your feedback nicodvb.  I don't at present have a stand mixer (broken and waiting to be replaced) but I will also try your suggestions of bumping up the hydration and increasing the kneading time before bulk fermentation.

When I make the 1-2-3 bread I do very little working of the dough other than stretch and folds, and it comes out very light, airy and with a nice crust.  I have been trying the same technique on the whole wheat, which apparently doesn't work.

Janetcook's picture

I second Cranbo's suggestion to look up txfarmers 100% whole wheat recipes.  She goes into great detail about how to properly develop the gluten as Nicodvb has mentioned.

I bake with only 100% whole grains and I find extended kneading is important to having a strong dough and nice crumb in the end too. I didn't know what that meant until I read txfarmer's blogs and I can't believe the difference it has made!  How simple!

I know you are working on a plain ww loaf but I will add that if you ever add nuts, seeds or fruits into a dough with ww you will want to add them AFTER the gluten is very well developed.

I will also mention that sometimes I will get tearing too when, for some reason, my dough has being warmer than usual or the dough being left out longer than usual before being bulk fermented in the refrig. overnight.  The axiom of 'watch the dough not the clock' is wise indeed......

Good Luck,


P.S.  You mentioned that your mixer is broken.  If you bake with ww a lot and you decide to replace your mixer I would suggest you do some research prior to purchase.....some machines work better with ww than others do.  Wealth of info. can be found here.

agcilantro's picture

Thanks for your suggestions and feedback Janet.  I bumped the hydration to 80%, kneaded until the dough was smooth, did a bulk ferment in my oven with the light on (about 2 1/2 hours), 2 stretch and folds, did a 15 minute bench rest, formed my loaf, and when it had risen and passed the poke test (about 1 1/2 hours), baked it at 375 for 30 minutes.  Same result (see photos), but it tastes great and is a bit lighter.  But no oven rise, and the loaf felt like it would collapse if I tried to get it to rise in the bread pan any higher.



MangoChutney's picture

I agree with the comment about the size of the loaf pan.  As I read it, your recipe uses about 1 lb of flour.  I use 1.5 lb of flour for a 9" x 5" pan.  My loaf is squared off by the ends of the pan and rises reasonably well, although it has been commented here that I am probably still using a pan that is too large because I have room to dribble in a little water before I bake the loaf.  Your loaf, by contrast, does not appear to reach the ends of the pan.  I would probably use an 8" x 4" loaf pan for only 1 lb of flour.

agcilantro's picture

Next time I do this recipe I will increase the kneading, and do the bulk ferment at room temperature or in the 'fridge.  Perhaps the warm temperature in the oven with the light on is making the yeasts and enzymes break down the gluten instead of strengthening it..


Janetcook's picture

A couple of thoughts:

In your initial post you wrote that you bulk ferment the dough overnight in the refrig.  Did you do that with this loaf or was your whole process done in one day?  

What is the temp. in your oven with the light on?

Did you use gluten?

I am not at all experienced enough to be able to look at a picture of a loaf and know how to comment so my comment here can be considered almost totally useless but I will comment none the less. :-) I don't see evidence of tears on the crust. The crust color looks similar to how an enriched ww loaf does look when it comes out of my oven.... Your crumb looks relatively even and the holes do suggest that it did ferment.  The one larger hole right beneath the crust seems to be from an air pocket with your shaping - wild guess here!!!  Or it could be a bit overproofed but then there is the density of the dough around the bottom and edges and I have no clue what that means....

So I better stop commenting because I really don't know.  Hopefully someone else with more know how will be able to guide you better from your photo.


clazar123's picture

It looks to me that the loaf pan is too big for the amount of dough you have. It should be 2/3 full at the start.

It also looks like you have some oven spring, as evidenced by the separation of the slash, but the loaf has so much room to expand in the pan that it goes sideways instead of up.

I don't see any tearing evidence on the cooked crust. Did the dough feel fragile as you shaped it?

The almost-flying-crust on this loaf suggests you may need to get a little more surface tension on the loaf as you shape it. It comes with practice.

I would say it is a bit overproofed by the folds on the top. It looks like it rose slightly in the oven and almost collapsed.How do you read the poke test?

The crumb exhibits nicely developed gluten-nice thin walls on some of the small bubbles and a nicely browned crust.

You are going in the right direction-smaller pan,tighter skin, search "poke" and study some of the descriptions.

This might help:

agcilantro's picture

That is a very good observation clazar123 about the volume.  I will adjust the recipe up a bit.  

The dough did not feel as fragile this last time, but the gluten "skin" felt like it was separated from the interior mass in a few places.

The poke test felt pretty firm but I may have let it go about 15 minutes extra as I was trying to get a bit more rise before going into the oven.

Thanks for the link, I will take a look at the poke reference.