The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

100% Whole Grain Sourdough Hearth Bread

bwraith's picture

100% Whole Grain Sourdough Hearth Bread

100% Whole Grain Hearth Breads

100% Whole Grain Hearth Breads - Crust

100% Whole Grain Hearth Breads - Crumb

After following the recent adventures of JMonkey with 100% Whole Grain Sourdough and working on answering some of the questions concerning whole grain sourdough breads posted by Ron, Shai, and Taygirl, and wanting to make some bread my wife, who is more of a "true believer" in whole grain breads, would be happier to eat, I've decided to do some experimenting again with whole grain hearth breads. Just to be up front about this, I'm not a "true believer". I'm happy to have some "Work Horse Sourdough" or even a white "Pane Casarecio di Genzano" or a "Sourdough Pagnotta" or a "Thom Leonard CF" or the like in smaller quantities, and just eat other foods to get the nutrients and fiber from the bran and germ that might be missing due to indulging in less than 100% whole grain breads. Nonetheless, when my granola eating friends give me that disapproving look, I just feel guilty if I can't come up with a good 100% Whole Grain Sourdough Hearth Bread to settle their doubts.

With the caveats mentioned above, I still thought this bread had good flavor and texture. My wife was especially happy with it and asked me to keep a small quantity of it on hand at all times in the freezer, along with other favorites. The only other time she has made such a request was for the Sourdough Focaccia, which is an addiction, not a healthy choice.

I made this bread in two different ways. The first is a one-step approach with a very long somewhat cool rise from a very small amount of starter added directly to the final dough ingredients. The second is a two-step approach with an overnight levain allowed to somewhat more than double in volume and a soaker of the remaining whole grain flours that are combined in a final dough with salt and a little malt syrup the next day for a faster warmer final rise. Note that to satisfy the "100% whole grain true believers", I have gone to the trouble of making a whole wheat starter, which I did by taking a tiny amount of my white flour starter and feeding it repeatedly over the course of the past week with exclusively whole wheat flour. Given that I feed the starter 1:4:5 (starter:water:flour by weight) every 12 hours, there is still about 1 billionth of a part of white flour in it. Sorry, I just didn't have time to get it any closer to pure whole grain. However, I then dilute it by a factor of about 100 in the dough, so the final dough is 1/100 billionth white flour or so, just in the interests of full disclosure.

I have spreadsheets for both the two-step version (html, xls), and the one-step version (html, xls). Photos of the process, including a nice pair of roast chicken and some roast yams, later mashed, covered with marshmallows, and allowed to brown in the oven. Kids love those marshmallow covered yams, let me tell you.

Version 1 Mixing and Initial Rise

Version 1 Dough:

  • 15g 80% hydration whole wheat starter (you can probably substitute any whole grain starter, or a white flour starter if you don't mind going a little below 100% whole grain).
  • 41g whole rye flour
  • 141g whole spelt flour
  • 383g Wheat Montana Prairie Gold (high protein white whole wheat flour)
  • 375g Wheat Montana Bronze Chief (high protein red whole wheat flour) or just combine the whole wheat flours and use whatever whole wheat flour(s) you like.
  • 10g organic barley malt syrup
  • 18g salt
  • 758g water

Mixed at 9:55PM with DLX mixer on medium/low for 8 minutes, then folded a couple of times and dropped in covered rising bucket for the night. It started at 74F after mixing and dropped to 70F over a few hours. It was at about 69F the next morning.

Version 2 Levain and Soaker


  • 15g 80% hydration WW starter (same notes as above)
  • 41g whole rye flour
  • 141g whole spelt flour
  • 146g water

Mixed at 10:15 PM and let rise overnight, covered, at 70F down to about 69F.


  • 375g Wheat MT Prairie Gold (same notes as above)
  • 375g Wheat MT Bronze Chief (same notes as above)
  • 604g water

Mixed at 10:25PM and allowed to rest overnight at 70F down to about 69F.

Version 2 Mixing

Version 2 Dough:

  • Levain
  • Soaker
  • 10g organic barley malt syrup
  • 18g salt

The mixing of Version 2 was done at 7:30 AM. I spread soaker out on wet counter like a big pizza using wet hands. Paint levain onto soaker using a spatula. Paint organic barley malt syrup over levain. Roll up and fold a couple of times. Spread out like a pizza again. Spread salt evenly over the dough. Roll up and fold a couple of times. It was mixed in DLX mixer at medium/low for 8 mintues, folded a couple of times and placed in a covered dough bucket to rise. The dough bucket was put in my "proofing cabinet", a spot above my coffee machine that sits at about 76F in the winter. I knew that if I want to bake "Version 1" and "Version 2" together, I would need to speed up the rise on "Version 2" a little to get them to coincide. So, Version 1 was left in a cool spot at 70F for the morning, while version 2 was placed in the proofing cabinet to get a boost.

Version 1 and Version 2 Folding

At this point both versions are in their respective rising buckets, one in a warm spot, the other in a cool spot. I folded both of them about once per hour during the remainder of the bulk fermentation for a total of 3 folding sessions each. All the folds were typical of the description in Hamelman's "Bread". I pour the dough out on a lightly dusted counter with the smooth side down, fold each side in toward the middle, from the north, east, west, and south, brushing off any flour after each fold, and then turn it back smooth side up and drop it back in the rising bucket. The remainder of the bulk fermentation, measured from the point Version 2 was mixed (7:30AM), was 3.5 hours.


At 11:00AM, both loaves were shaped into batards. Each one is about 17 inches long, and both were placed in a half sheet in couche cloths smooth side up, put in a Ziploc "Big Bag", and allowed to proof for another 2.75 hours, until 1:45 PM. The ambient temperature of the kitchen was still about 70F. Version 2 therefore proofed at an average temperature of about 74 or 73F as it started at 75F and dropped to room temperature during the final proof, while version 1 proofed at 70F the whole time.

Slash and Bake

The loaves were turned onto a peel, slashed, and put in my brick oven. The hearth temperature was about 425F and I sprayed a few ounces of water on the loaves and into the oven chamber with an orchid mist sprayer, and sealed the oven with a wet towel covered door. In a kitchen oven, bake at 425F for a few minutes with steam, then drop the temperature to 375F and allow to fully brown. The final hearth temperature was about 375F after 45 minutes of bake. The loaves had browned, the crust seemed done, and the internal temperature was about 209F.


The loaves were allowed to cool completely.


The crumb is somewhat soft, but not fluffy, the holes are irregular and mostly small, but the crumb is open for a whole grain bread. It doesn't feel dense or heavy when you chew it. The crust is crunchy and fairly chewy with a good toasty flavor. The sourdough flavor of these loaves was mild and the crumb clearly had the characteristic nutty sweetness of spelt in it, even with just 15% spelt. It was hard to tell the difference in flavor between version 1 and version 2, but version 2, with the levain, seemed slightly more sour. Also, version 2 had a wetter, more proofed feel at both shaping and slashing time, even though both had increased in volume almost exactly the same amount. When I shaped version 2, it was harder to shape, as it was more gloppy, and it ended up being longer and flatter after shaping. However, the crumb texture, the crust, and the flavor were virtually identical after baking. Version 1 held its shape better and sprung in the oven, while version 2 seemed to spring up very little but did spread out a lot during baking. Although version 2 was flatter, the crumb was slightly more open. The Whole Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread I blogged a while back had a slightly lighter and softer crumb, even though the method was almost identical to version 2 with the levain. I suspect this is because in the sandwich bread version, the loaves were raised and baked in pans at slightly warmer temperatures and allowed to proof a little longer. Also the hydration was slightly higher in the sandwich bread.

Some Thoughts

I have had better luck with one-step versions and with two-step versions where I only allow the levain to just double and no more and with two-step versions with about 10% fermented flour, as opposed to this "Version 2", which had 20% fermented flour in the levain. I think that delivering the extra acid in a riper levain that constitutes 20% or more fermented flour causes a breakdown in the gluten structure of the final dough. This may be why Peter Reinhart's recipes in his whole grain book recommend using instant yeast with the larger levains in his recipes, which works well as many of us have verified. However, if you want to do a sourdough only recipe, my experiences so far point toward doing long slow rises from tiny inoculations, as in the one-step method, or if you are doing a two-step method with a levain, then only allow the levain to rise by double and not more before refrigerating or combining with the final dough. You won't get a big flavor boost from the levain the way you would with a riper levain, but it does allow for a convenient break in the timing, as the levain and soaker can be refrigerated for a day or two, and the the bread making process can be resumed at a convenient time.


goetter's picture

Coincidentally, I've been working for a couple of days on exactly the same thing, and came to a very similar solution as your 2-step.  My sister's recent conversion to veganism motivated me to make an all-whole-grain loaf that didn't use milk: since she can eat little enough at my table, I want the bread, at least, to be accessible.  Also, I have the ingredients for 18 pounds of Christmas Stollen dough, all white flour, cane sugar, and 50% butter, arrayed on the end of my kitchen counter like a thunderhead of potential coronary artery disease: I needed to bake whole-grain in order to maintain karmic balance in my kitchen.  And finally, just for the technical challenge, I wanted to see what I could make that didn't depend on my usual crutch of 20% strong white bread flour.

Places where my approach differed from yours:

- didn't bother to work up a WW starter.  25g of stiff (60%) starter added to 500g of flour yields a net of 3% well-digested white flour.  I figured my sister could live with that.

- 2% salt instead of 1.9%

- hard red spring wheat only, stone-ground fine.  The levain used some flour that was a couple of weeks old, while the soaker used entirely fresh flour.  No logic to this other than it's what I had handy.

- ingredients were only starter, wheat flour, water, and salt.  Like you, no milk or oil (I didn't even oil the rising bowl.  It was a stiff dough and came clean without oil); unlike you, no sweetener either.

- 40% levain, 60% soaker.  With this great a portion of levain I couldn't let it get too ripe lest my dough become too slack.  I made each with cool (60-64F) water, then gave both about 11 hours in a 68F room.

- levain at 70% hydration, soaker at 70% hydration, for a net dough hydration of... wait for it... 70%.  This made a pretty stiff dough - I was counting on the acidity to relax it a bit during fermentation.

- both levain and soaker hand mixed with a spoon for less than 2 minutes.  The final dough was mixed in the DLX for 12 to 15 minutes: I just dumped the perferments in there, ran the mixer for less than a minute, then added the salt.  The stiff doughs took a very long time to combine.  I like your pizza-topping technique for pre-blending stiff ingredients, and will definitely try that next time.

- primary fermentation for 5-6 hours in a 68-70F room (ballpark guess, I forgot to put a thermometer atop it).  Two folds in the first three hours.  Shaped as a short batard and proofed near the oven in a floured banneton for maybe 40-45 minutes while the oven heated.  Judging from the ferocity of the oven spring it probably could have used an additional 15-30 minutes of proof time.

- preheated an upside-down Lodge "Combo Cooker" (a 10" dia. 3qt cast iron deep fryer-type pan with a cover that doubles as a 10" skillet.  I invert this to make a cast iron Cloche of sorts) in a 450F oven.  Baked the loaf in the iron pan 15 minutes covered, 25 minutes uncovered.

25g starter (60% hydration)
200g flour (whole wheat)
140g water

300g flour
210g water

365g levain
510g soaker
10g salt

450F for 40 minutes

The result?  A loaf with a fine irregular crumb, excellent mechanical properties, a pronounced but gentle tang from the high levain portion and slow fermentation, and a slightly sweet, clean wheat aroma.  The crumb, while good, is a little denser in places than is ideal.  Also, an extremely vigorous oven spring plus an asymmetrical pair of top slashes gave the top of the loaf a shed-roof contour, like a roadside pole barn that's halfway collapsed, which while very pretty on the bread board makes for strangely shaped slices on the dinner plate.

What would I do differently?  Now that I've read your amazingly detailed notes, I'd adopt your stiff ingredient pre-mixing technique.  I'd like to try a little malt syrup in the final dough.  And I think I'd bump the hydration up just a few percentage points (say, soaker at 75%, for a net of 73%.  I want to maintain the stiff levain for now), just to see what it does both to the crumb: can I open the crumb and still retain the dough's overall structure?

Thanks for sharing your recipe.

bwraith's picture


I'm curious what you would say about freshness of whole grain flour. Do you grind your own? Do you store it in a special way?

I haven't put any effort into this aspect, yet I have read many whole grain posters who insist that freshness is critical, and that fresh ground is even better. I understand the reasoning, and it makes sense.

In the recipe above, the flour is a bit old. I made it with flours I purchased about 2.5 months ago and stored at room temperature in my pantry in the plastic bags with wire ties they came in.

I departed from using a firm levain in this recipe. What do you see as the advantage or disadvantage of the firm starter? The levain in this recipe is the same hydration as the rest of the recipe, about 80.5%. I might go back to doing a levain at around 65% hydration if I try the two-step method again. The levain was very soft, almost mushy, after the overnight rise. It makes me think the firm levain would work better.

By the way, I usually use about 10% less hydration in spelt than WW. So, for this recipe, the WW hydration was 82%, and the spelt hydration 72%, for a combined hydration of 80.5%.


goetter's picture


I certainly wouldn't consider myself a "whole grain poster," either.  I just really like the taste of fresh flour, and concomitantly, dislike the taste of stale flour.  I had a good third-party source of freshly milled flour before, but now am a recent convert to grinding my own - it vastly simplifies managing multiple flours in multiple kitchens.  (My refrigerator isn't particularly large, so flours were displacing produce in there.  Also, I'd either have too much of a particular flour, so it was going stale, or else not enough.)  I store the milled flour in a tight-sealing glass jar, but feel comfortable leaving it on the countertop, as a particular flour never remains more than two weeks.  (Two to three days is more like it, except when I travel and must leave some flour for a little while.)  Hence it's always at room temperature and ready for baking, never picking up refrigerator smells.

I agree with your observation about soaking and diminished grassiness.  This is a very food-friendly bread.  One plus of my loaf's slightly tight crumb: it holds honey like nobody's business.  Just came in from a ski (we have plenty of blue-wax snow. Life is good) and, carb-starved, inhaled three slices with warm honey.  With more porous breads, a very liquid honey pours through the big holes, but this bread had just enough porosity to hold the honey without losing it.

The big advantage of the firm levain, as I see it, is in managing the hydration of doughs with a large levain component when you want to autolyse/Quellstueck/soak/whatever the remainder of the flour in the recipe.  (That particular advantage wouldn't accrue to your recipe: your levain was wet, but then your entire recipe was wet, so you didn't have to worry about where the extra recipe water would go.)  That it ripens so much more slowly is another advantage: I want something left in there, especially again if the levain fraction is large.  For firm levains, dough doubling is difficult to judge.  I ripen my levain in a transparent plastic container, eye-judging doneness by the number and size of gas cells visible through the container wall, as well as by a quick taste.

I have almost no experience with spelt, but I've worked with emmer, which is much like spelt in its glutenin impoverishment, only more so.  Same drill on dialing down the hydration.  High-fraction emmer breads are in my experience so fragile that I always spike the main dough with baker's yeast.  Otherwise I get a hearth pancake.  I'm standing down on all of those mixed-breads for a while, though, until I have the wheat process completely under control.  Compound hydration numbers are only part of the confusion....


bwraith's picture


Now that I have the DLX, I'm tempted to get the mill attachment and try it out. However, maybe that isn't the right thing. I'm curious about what you have done to mill your own flour.

I'm thinking the firm levain is the way to go for whole grains, especially with spelt in the levain, after trying the more hydrated levain this time around.

I also agree this bread holds honey very well. At one point, I was making a lot of very high hydration breads, along the lines of ciabatta or similar dough. Although the moist crumb is wonderful, they aren't very practical breads for carrying anything. That's how I end up with that "Workhorse Sourdough" from a previous blog entry, and also breads like Essential Columbia or Thom Leonard Country French. Those breads to me reach a happy medium with some whole grain elements, the crumb density, and the flavors.

I may give a try to spiking a WW dough. I do it all the time with sourdough focaccias, where the olive oil slows down the rise so much without the spike of yeast. I saw it was the recommended standard approach in PR's book. However, I've been happier with the flavor of somewhat milder, lower percentage of fermented flour recipes, like version 1 or even version 2 with a not-very-ripe levain. So, I'm not as motivated to try a larger, riper levain with a yeast spike. Still, just to learn what happens, I'll probably give it a try.

The skiing sounds great, as does having some great bread with honey for a snack afterward.

Thanks again for your comments.


goetter's picture

I don't know much about the DLX's flour mill, though I've considered the flake mill for crushing malt....  I'm using a Retsel Mil-Rite, a low-speed stone mill.  It is slow, but cool-running and so very kind to the flour, and bog simple to clean.  It will probably outlive me.

The DLX is a heck of a tool, isn't it?  Toinght I fed mine all 18 pounds of Stollen dough (6 pounds of flour, plus crazy amendments) in a single pass.  It was really far too much dough for the bowl's volume - I was constantly policing the top of the bowl with my hands to keep dough ffrom jumping out - but the machine itself had no problem driving through the stuff.

bwraith's picture


Thanks for mentioning the mill you use. I'll have to see if I can find some info on the web about it.

Yes, the DLX is a good design. I've been amazed how well it handles larger doughs that I now like to do in my outdoor brick oven. It makes sense to do doughs that use at least 2Kg of flour or more. When I did the Genzano loaves, it was about 4Kg of dough. That way, the oven is more full and fills with steam just from the loaves themselves if the oven door is sealed with a door covered with wet towels. Also, I'm taking advantage of the size and heat available.


bwraith's picture


Do you ever go on to sift the flour from your mill? Can you create high extraction or white flour easily? If so, is there special equipment to facilitate this?

It might be interesting to be able to create a high extraction flour and some bran for dusting or other uses.


goetter's picture

No, you can't really make white flour as such.  You can sift out the coarser particles of bran if you have a sifter or a suitably fine drum sieve (I'm still looking for the latter - haven't liked the quality of what I've found in the local restaurant supply store).  In days of old flour was "bolted" through layers of coarse cloth to make what we'd consider a very high-extraction flour.  This was extraordinarily labor intensive.  And given the shelf life of commercially milled white flour, even if I had serfs to bolt flour for me I'd probably spend their ergs elsewhere.

I am without my reading glasses this morning, and so will wax prolix about my Retsel at a later date.  (darn the tiny font on this site's input forms)  Typing blind this morning -

Oh, last night's Weihnachtsstollen party was a bust.  While the DLX had more than sufficient power, it just didn't have the volume to knead 18 pounds of rich dough effectively.  I ended up with cardamom-scented biscuit dough.   The deer will eat well today.

bwraith's picture


I had a belly laugh thinking about the gathering thunderheads at the end of the table.

I think I would drop the hydration on the 2-step version, so maybe we would both then be around 75%. I had in mind trying about 77%. I also would not let the levain ripen as much. I allowed it to go about 1.5 hours beyond doubling.

The one-step version had a good texture at the hydration I used, and the flavor is good, although mild.

This morning I had some toasted version 1, and it was delicious with a little bit of butter and honey. It also was good accompaniment for the chicken soup made from the roasted chicken bones of last night, which surprised me. I usually find whole grain breads a little overpowering with foods, but I think the grassy flavor is reduced by the overnight soaker and the sour flavor is mild, so this bread can function as an accompaniment for food, more like a white flour bread.

Thanks for sharing your method in such detail. It makes it possible to learn about the effects of variations you may not have tried yourself.


charbono's picture


In his latest book, Reinhart recommends salting whole grain flour soakers kept at room temperature, in order to keep the enzymes under control.  You didn't do that.  What are your thoughts on the issue?

Moderate acidity strengthens gluten, but high acidity weakens it.  How do you predict where the line is?



bwraith's picture


You make a good point about the soaker, and PR's recommendations. I have previously refrigerated the soaker, which may have a similar effect on the enzymes. I don't know for sure. I can't notice much difference, but maybe there is a very slight gumminess to the crumb. It doesn't really detract though. Maybe I'll try salt in the soaker next time and see what happens. I attributed the floppiness of Version 2, with the levain, to the extra acid in the levain, but maybe it had to do with enzyme attacks, as PR mentions, which might be alleviated by the salt. Thanks for mentioning PR's salt in the soaker point.

As far as the acid question, I'm not sure about the scientific answer. However, from experience, I find that any more than about 20-25% fermented flour can cause problems with the dough breaking down, especially with recipes that have a high proportion of whole grain flours. I've found that either using smaller fermented flour percentages, like 10% or less, or making sure the levain is only allowed to about double in volume before refrigerating or incorporating in the final dough gives better results with whole grain recipes in particular. Since I prefer mild breads generally, and maybe in particular I don't like overly strong sourdough flavors from red whole wheat levains (that's why I tend to do spelt and rye levains), so it's fine with me to stick with the more mild results from 10% or less fermented flour or not very ripe levains.


JMonkey's picture

Interesting write-up, as always, Bill. I've got some malt syrup, so I'll have to try that out next time around.

As for fresh flour, I do think it tastes better than bagged, but not that much better, so long as it's high-quality flour that's not been on the shelf very long. I used to use King Arthur whole wheat flour, and was never disappointed.

I'm in Goetter's camp when it comes to home grinding. I suppose I qualify as a true believer (though I do make white flour loaves from time to time), so 90% of the breads and quickbreads I make are from whole wheat flour. And I bake all our our breads. At that rate, it's a whole lot cheaper and more convenient to buy 50 lb bags of whole berries and grind them when you need them them.

Once again, great looking loaves -- I really, really envy that oven in your backyard ....

bwraith's picture


Thanks for the summary on grinding your own flour. I may just have to try it, finally. I've been very happy with the characteristics of this loaf, and it seems like it may take hold and become a regular. The kids repeatedly cut slices of this bread to have along with mugs of chicken soup, so they were happy with this whole grain loaf, too. They usually would take the whiter loaf, but a piece of the "Workhorse Sourdough" was left alone in favor of the whole grain this time. For some reason the whole grain loaf combined very well with the chicken soup, and the kids were into it.

The oven has been a blast, no question. The first couple of loaves were a disappointment, somewhat burned outside and underbaked inside. Now, I've learned better how to fire it up to the right temperature and let it drop down for baking. I've discovered I can take advantage of the higher heat shortly after firing to sear meats or sautee items, then bake bread when the heat has moderated and evened out, then use the oven for roasting or wait a little longer and use the lower temperatures later on to braise or slowly roast meats and vegetables. To have the timing right for cooking dinner in the oven, the baking needs to be done earlier, so the overnight rises aimed at baking around 1PM work well.

Thanks for posting your recently blogged recipe on 100% Whole Grain SD. I've tried similar recipes and felt like I was close to a good result. Your post inspired me to get back working on whole grain sourdough, and I'm happy I did.