The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

100% WG Wheat; 40% Rye Banana; Starter Issues...

IceDemeter's picture

100% WG Wheat; 40% Rye Banana; Starter Issues...

It's been "one of those days" for the past couple of weeks, for weather (barometric pressure and temps all over the place), for scheduling, and for baking.

I started last week with the intention of doing a three-stage levain build out of 10g of my rye NMNF starter and then letting it retard in the fridge for a day or two.  I was in and out of the house and not really watching what was going on with it, but hadn't been too surprised when there wasn't any visible growth after the first feed, but was quite shocked that there was no signs of life at all after the second feed.  Following SOP, I discarded the amount of the second feed, repeated it, and went to bed, assuming that it would be fine over night.  

No joy in the morning, though --- no signs of life at all, although it didn't have the "wet flour" scent that I get out of an autolyse, for instance, but instead had that sour / tart / acidic scent of a well-aged starter.  I had no way of knowing whether it was the main starter that was the issue (it's been in the fridge since Feb 10, so it's been a while), the flour (it was freshly ground whole rye, but maybe I went too fine / too fast and over heated it), or the water (I always use filtered tap water that has been sitting out for at least a few hours to dissipate chlorine --- but it is spring, and there can be more minerals in the water due to run-off, or more chlorine in the water as they "shock" the system).  I didn't have time to think too much about it, so I stuck that one in to the fridge labelled "issue", and started again with 10g from a branch-off from the main rye starter that I'd stuck in to the fridge as "insurance" back in early March.  

Well - there wasn't a lot of joy happening with this one, either.  I ended up bringing it with me, and discarding and repeating the second feed a total of 3 times through the day (putting all of the discards in the "issue" container).  It finally seemed to show some movement right before bed, so I gave it a good stir and left it overnight.

Next morning, it hadn't quite doubled, but had shown some action, so I discarded the last feed again, and went for one more try.  I also started another one with 10g from my durum version of NMNF, and fed it with freshly ground hard red wheat (to see if it was the water).

The wheat one exploded happily in to life and doubled after the second feed, so I gave it the third feed and put it in to the fridge after it doubled again.  The rye one didn't double, but did grow about 40%, so I discarded one last time and tried again (added it to the "issue" jar), and then it did just double in the next four hours.  I gave it the third feed just before bed-time, and it was doubled and ready to go in the morning.

I now had two levains (had only planned on one), but figured that it would be nice to have a 100% whole wheat loaf using the wheat levain, and to do my husband's favourite rye banana loaf with the rye levain.  I knew that I wouldn't have a whole lot of solid time to spend on things, so figured that this would also be a good opportunity to see what would happen by following a method from one of Alfanso's bakes to use the fridge during bulk ferment to slow things down and make shaping easier, and still to do a retarded proof after shaping.

I wanted to keep things fairly simple, and also wanted to clean out some odds and ends of grains that were hanging out in the pantry, so my 100% fresh milled whole grain wheat loaf came out as:

39.3% soft white wheat
20% red fife
14% durum
13.3% hard red
13.3% spelt
79% hydration

It didn't come out as a "brick" by any means, had a reasonable oven spring, got close to the dark bake that I like, and did have the light but full crumb that I want in a "sandwich" loaf:


I had found that the loaves from the last bake had seemed to taste more dry than I liked, so I baked this one covered at 450 for 25 minutes, then uncovered at 425 for a further 30 minutes, only until it hit 203 degrees inside.  That solved my issue of "too dry tasting".

My rye banana loaf was our now "standard" of:

40% rye
60% AP
47% bananas
6.7% toasted oat bran / wheat germ porridge
6.7% toasted almonds
81% hydration (includes water content of bananas)

I didn't get a chance to start this one until later in the day than the WW one.  It didn't "feel right" to me during the stretch-and-folds, so I didn't chill it during bulk ferment, but kept it at room temp until it had risen about 30%, then shaped it and got it in to the fridge for a retarded proof.

It still wasn't feeling "right" to me the next day (I just couldn't get a feel for if it was under or over or proofing at all), but it came out of the oven okay:

It seemed to rise and open up fine, and the crumb and flavour were just what I wanted, so the "not feeling right" must have been from my worry about whether the recalcitrant starter was actually going to work or not.

All went well, and I had a couple of fine loaves to keep us in sandwiches for our busy days out and about...

Except - well, "issues" and "those days" continued in next blog...


alfanso's picture

While my 62% stiff levain isn't quite an NMNF - I use the instructions I printed off from TFLer Mariana for my refresh, I have also seen some sluggish results before the "expiration" time is up on these stiffer levains.  But they always seem to spring back to life as long as I refresh every 4-6 months.

I don't know if you do anything similar to this: Just for safety sake, when I do a refresh I reserve some of the old levain in plastic wrap for a while until I'm certain that the new levain is healthy and active.  Also a similar amount goes into the freezer and/or as dried flakes in a jar.  Just double insurance and a Freudian anal bent, I suppose.

The whole grain wheat loaf looks lovely and I like the lift on the profile picture.


IceDemeter's picture

but this doesn't seem like the time or place to get in to Freudian anal bends  ;)

I not only have a bit of the original starter still hanging out in the fridge, but have the wheat version, and bits and ends of a number of different levain builds all hanging around in there.  I always build a bit more than needed, maybe 10-30g, to make sure that I have enough, and my frugal little self (yes, I'm cheap...) won't let me throw them out.  I end up with them in random containers in the fridge for a few weeks, and eventually I mix them all together and use them to make pizza dough, or another loaf, or sometimes just toss it in with a muffin bake.

This is the first time that I've had the original seem to crap out on me (although I'm pretty sure now that it was a water issue last week --- I've been dealing with way more mineral build-up than normal on everything in the house), but have lots of options still viable to use.  I froze a few bits this time (4 x 25g balls), and won't be using up any of the older versions until I've successfully raised a loaf with the new one.

I haven't tried drying any yet, but that is on my list of "things that must be done"!  The idea of having multiple types of back-ups (frozen / dried / living with relatives / left-over levains / different aged refreshments) definitely appeals to me (we are NOT going to discuss which personality "quirks" that it appeals to, okay?!).  I also won't be counting on the frozen or dried back-ups until I've proven that they can be successfully brought back to life...

Ah well - 'tis a fun obsession, managing to keep a civilization of wee beasties thriving and striving and dying and being revived...  Gotta have something to keep myself occupied in retirement!

PalwithnoovenP's picture

Don't know if my starter is an NMNF one and I don't even know it's hydration level but it's quite stiff but after 4 months it readily doubles in 12 hours just after the first feeding. Me too; before discarding, I keep the "discard" in the fridge until I'm sure my refreshed one is really alive then I throw it out to ensure a clean fridge. :D It's hard to have numerous jars of starters in the fridge! 

Both loaves look delicious but the rye banana one really caught my eye.

dabrownman's picture

slow and needs to be refreshed.  After it has been in the fridge for so long I have changed the recommendations.  I build the 3 stages without tossing and then let the levain double after the 3rd feeding stirring after 4 hours, at the 12 hour mark, even if it takes 16 hours total to do so.  Redoing the 2nd feeding again and again seems to weaken it too much if it hadn't done anything at the 8 hour mark and just slows things down.  I am down to my last 20 g or so and will refresh mine this week too after being in the fridge for more than 4 months.

That 100% wholegrain turned out wonderful and the banana bred has to be tasty too!  Well done and happy baking ID