The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Wholewheat Sourdough Malfunction

aly-hassabelnaby's picture

Wholewheat Sourdough Malfunction

Hello everyone,

I have a young sourdough starter that I've used with plain flour quite a few times and it worked fine. So two days ago I decided to make a wholewheat sourdough loaf. I read a lot on TFL looking for help coming up with a formula and here's what I did. 

50 grams starter (50/50 starter)

100 grams WW flour

100 ml water + 5 grams molasses

I mixed that and left it at room temperature for about six hours then added the following

175 ml water + 375 grams WW flour + 10 grams salt

The whole thing was left overnight to ferment but I wasn't greeted with a risen dough in the morning. I did the stretch and fold several times during the day and every time I stretched it I could see it tearing apart. It was slowly puffing up throughout the day which gave me the confidence to keep going. 

Just before going to bed I went for another stretch and fold only to find that some of the water has leeched out of the dough. I did some quick kneading to re-integrate the water but it came back this morning. I shaped it into a batard as much as I could but it was still tearing apart and after almost two hours of bench proofing it was still basically the same size. 

I went ahead and baked it anyway with steam at my oven's maximum temperature and I pulled it out at an internal temperature of 94ºC. What came out was a tight brick like object with a nice aroma but little else. 

It's clear to me now that I must have done a few things wrong and that's why I am posting this here. Any advice is much appreciated. 

dabrownman's picture

I would let the sponge sit on the counter until it doubles rather than using a 6 hour clock - closer to 12 hours may the when it doubles.

2nd - whole grains are much more thirsty than white flour.  Your dough is very dry for that much whole grain in the mix, at 62% hydration, so when you manipulate it with stretch and folds it will tear instead of stretch so you can fold it.  I think once you get the hydration up to 80% (adding 90-95 g of water to the dough liquid) or so your problems with this will go away.  I would make this bread at 90% hydration.  I would also add a 1 hour autolyse to make sure the whole grains get wet and absorb the water properly.  Whole grains will ferment much faster than white dough so watch the dough and not the clock.  Leaving it out overnight may cause problems if the kitchen is too warm.

Happy SD baking

Ford's picture

Some molasses contains sulfur dioxide to keep it from spoiling (fermenting).  Check your label to see whether it has sulfur dioxide.

aly-hassabelnaby's picture

Well that's something I haven't read/heard before but I've used the same molasses with an earlier loaf and it worked fine.

hanseata's picture

The first step, feeding the starter, seems okay (but why did you add molasses at this time? No sweetener needed, the wild yeasts have enough food in the flour). Was the starter active after the six hours?

DBM is right about the hydration level. If you change a formula with white flour to whole wheat, you have to add 14 grams  more water for every 56.5 grams/1 oz whole grain flour you use.

You don't mention how you worked the final dough, but it principle it should have risen sufficiently overnight. How much growth did you expect? 1 1/2 times would be your (maximal) goal for an almost 100% whole wheat bread. If you start stretching a whole grain dough after an 8-12 hours rise, you can expect it to tear very easily.

S&F-ing it over a whole more day definitely beat the horse to death, therefore, after some more rise, the dough finally separated. Nothing more could happen overnight, there was no rising potential left.

If you had shaped the dough in the morning after the overnight bulk fermentation, your bread would probably have been fine. Breads that need such long bulk rising time, start out with a very small amount of starter (a few grams).

I would always advise you as a beginner to start out with a proven recipe, as they are many here at TFL, and not try to come up with your own. (I had my share of "bricks" when I started baking my own breads, but that was before TFL time, and I had no good instructions to guide me).

Happy baking


clazar123's picture

I see you are located in Cairo,Egypt. I would say that your "room temperature" may be a little different than mine in the higher latitudes of the Midwest,USA. Mine is running anywhere from 18-24C (65-75F). Your (probably) higher temp will have a tremendous impact on your preferment and bulk fermentation times. Ideal temp for yeast growth is about 28C (82F). You may need to either find a cooler location in your kitchen or add a little salt to the preferment to slow it down. I concur with NOT adding molasses to the preferment. Add it to when you are mixing the final dough. The preferment (the starter,water,flour mix) should be used while it is still active and bubbly. This may take only 3-4 hours at warm room temps.

Definitely add more water to your dough, mix lightly (it will be quite ugly) and let it sit for at least 30-45 minutes. It may be quite sticky but after it sits, it should be at the tacky stage.  This time allows the bran bits of the whole wheat to absorb water now rather than after you have baked it. Now is the time to knead or S&F a bit. Let it rise to almost double. At warm temps-this may take anywhere from 3-8 hours-depending on the activity of your starter.

If your experience has been that the dough is tearing apart in clumps with an almost hairy appearance to the edges,rather than because it is tight and tearing, this means that there has been way too much warm fermentation and the gluten molecules are actually breaking apart. When those bonds break, they release a water molecule so you have damp or wet dough. This dough will not make a loaf of bread.

Whole wheat is a whole different bread making experience than using AP flour. Rye is also totally different.Hot weather/tropical baking also has special considerations-esp when using natural levain (sourdough).

Have fun!


jkandell's picture

I bake in hot Tucson az.  I agree with what everyone else said. With whole what,  I'd suggest you use a stiff starter (2:1 flour to water ratio by volume) and same ratio in builds; more room for error due to slower fermentation. 

aly-hassabelnaby's picture

Thanks a lot everybody for the useful feedback. I'll keep these notes in mind and try this again. I didn't know that whole wheat flour requires a higher hydration percentage. I've used it before as a part of the total flour in a recipe but I didn't really notice a difference.

As for kitchen temperature, 28C sounds like a normal kitchen temperature to me, it definitely goes higher than that in the summer and when the oven is on.

@Karin, you're right about proven recipes. I'd love to try one of yours.