The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Can I get more of a rise from wholemeal flour?

punter's picture

Can I get more of a rise from wholemeal flour?

I've been making sourdough loaves for about a year now, but I always seem to make bricks with none of the big air pockets which all the pictures say you should get!  Can anyone point out where I may be going wrong?

I keep my starter in the fridge between bakes.  It's made with white bread flour, refreshed using a 1:1:1 ratio (usually 25g:25g:25g).  Before the bake I take it out of the fridge and refresh it once or twice at room temperature.Here's my starter:

I then make a sponge using 50g of the starter, 200g wholemeal stoneground bread flour, 100g white rye flour and 300ml cold water:

This bubbles away overnight (about 11 hours).  This is what it looks like the next day:

From the side it looks like this:

I then add another 200g wholemeal flour, 100g white rye flour and also 250mg vitamin C (which I've heard helps the gluten) and knead the dough.  I do about 30 seconds of kneading every 10 minutes - and repeat this 4 times.  I add salt in the 3rd bit of kneading.  I get a nice feeling dough at the end of this:

After 5 hours the dough has risen a bit:

I then knock back the dough and shape it (into a rough tube shape) and put into a bread tin to prove.

After 4 more hours the dough has risen a bit:

I then score the top:

And then bake it in the oven.  Before the bread goes in I put a tray of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create steam.  The initial temperature is 250 celsius (480F).  This goes down to 200 celsius (390F) after 15 minutes.  After another 15 minutes I take the loaf out of the tin and put it back in the oven, but upside-down, to help get an even crust.  After another 10 minutes the loaf is baked and comes out of the oven.

It tastes lovely, but I never get a good rise.  The crumb is pretty dense and I don't get large air pockets.  I have had success once where the loaf had risen by so much I actually squashed it getting into the oven.  But nothing since then has come close, even though I've tried varying recipes.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

That loaf pan is only half full. 

punter's picture

But shouldn't the dough expand to fill the pan - and rise up higher too?!  I know it has on one occasion before.  I don't want to create a bigger brick!

suminandi's picture

first thing- this is an excellent loaf of bread. It is not dense and the crumb is well formed, even if close. Second thing, rye is a low gluten flour, and this recipe has a lot of rye, so that makes a challenge. Rye tastes good, though. Finally, the bran in ww is hard and tends to make it hard to develop an extensible dough ( which is needed for big bubbles). So, I suggest two tweaks- (1) move all the rye into the preferment, the overnight first stage. And (2) Mix the flour and water of the second stage without kneading (autolyse) about 2 hrs prior to mixing in the preferment. That will allow the bran to soften. You may need to move some of the water from the preferment to the second stage to have enough water to do the autolyse. 

Overall, this recipe has more preferment than most, and, since the gluten in the preferment can tend to weaken due to the acid and enzymes, it will tend to be close crumbed. But I think moving all the rye to the preferment will leave more gluten for the main dough. I’ve tried to keep in the spirit of your recipe instead of suggesting a complete overhaul. Best wishes

suminandi's picture

Btw- keep up the kneading or folding after adding in the preferment and again the salt. I just mean, wait until the flour is well hydrated before doing whatever form of kneading you do. 

punter's picture

Thanks suminandi.  I'll try out your suggestions on my next loaf and report back.  Although I've tried several different recipes, I haven't tried doing an autolyse before so it'll be interesting to see how that works out.

suminandi's picture

I’m sorry that I didn’t notice earlier that you put all the water in the preferment. Obviously my advice won’t quite work without adjusting things. I think you could go for 65% water overall, and use the same amount in the preferment as the main dough autolyse. So:


50 gr starter, 200 gr rye, 100 gr ww, 195 gr water- rest 12 hrs

autolyse: 300 gr ww, 195 gr water -rest 2 hrs

dough: all preferment, all autolyse and add salt whenever you do. 

The dough will be a bit looser, but still workable. It may need to cook a bit longer also. 

punter's picture

Hi Suminandi, thanks for that last post - unfortunately I began my preferment before reading it!  I tried to make up ground a bit though.



50g starter, 200g white rye, 150g water - this then rested for 15 hours (I went to work and then was out all evening!)


400g wholemeal, 200g water, 250mg vitamin C - this rested for 4 hours.


I was wary of putting more water into my autolyse as I haven't worked with high hydration doughs before (or they've turned into a mess).  The recipe in my initial post is about 54-55%.  So I upped the water content a bit to make it 60%.  The dough was very sticky at first and I didn't even dare take it out of the bowl!  On the 3rd and 4th session of kneading it got better and it I was able to knead it properly on the worktop (but only with very wet hands and surface!).


As I was going to be out at work all the following day, I put the dough into the fridge to delay things a bit.  I got it out of the fridge in the morning, knocked it back, shaped it and put it in the tin.  This was then left to prove all day (10 hours).  After that time it looked like this:

The dough had risen a lot more than before, but it had lost any skin and wasn't keeping a nice shape.  I decided to cut my losses and bake it anyway!  It turned out like this:

It seems to have filled in all of the tin (right up to the edges), but then turned into a mess above that. It didn't rise any more when put in the oven.  That said, inside there are more air bubbles and it still tastes good!  Progress in a way...

I'll be brave and try the 65% hydration recipe and equal amounts in preferment and autolyse as you posted next time.  I'll be baking at the weekend, so I won't have to use super long timings in the fridge.  Fingers crossed!

suminandi's picture


That looks great. Even though the bubbles are small, they are nice distinct cells. I bet this loaf toasts much crunchier than the last loaf. 

Since this worked for you, why not stay with it? My main suggestion would be that the 10 hr final rise seems too long. You mention that it lost shape after that length of time. I would think about 2-3 hrs at room temp or 10-12 hrs in fridge would be right. 

Hold off on upping the water until the current thing works. Dealing with floppy dough requires a different kneading style ( french fold also called air kneading works, look for youtube videos). Though time and folding works too, as you’ve found. 


punter's picture

Thanks!  It's all fun and we eat everything we bake.  I've only ever had to chuck out one dough (and began new starters 2 or 3 times in the past year).  I'll look up those kneading techniques too.

punter's picture

Those videos on french fold / air kneading were very useful. Reading descriptions don't really give you the whole picture, whereas watching someone do it is very straightforward.  I've increased the hydration in my bread and finding this kneading to be working well for me.  My fears of getting sticky dough everywhere have been sorted!

DanAyo's picture

Considering the whole grain and rye the bread looks fantastic. I wouldn’t expect large holes with the ingredients used n that bread. Stick with suminandi’s advice.


dabrownman's picture

so that it bakes when properly proofed.  Put the pan on the scale and then turn it on so that you have tared out the tin weight.  Fill the tin with water and see how much the water weighs.  Since you only want an 85% proof for whole grain breads like this one, divide the weight of the water by 1.85.  This will give you the weight of the the dough that should go into the pan to properly fill it.  Make sure to do a good shaping on the dough like you did on the first loaf of your post.  When it it rises 1 inch above the rim of the pan in the middle, it is properly proofed and ready for the heat of the oven.  Bake at 450 F for 18 minutes with steam and then turn the oven down to 425 F and bake with fan on if you have convection till  207- 208 F on the inside.

This bread will never have an open crumb like a white bread since this is basically whole wheat bread but it will be tasty and healthy.

Happy baking . 

DanAyo's picture

First off, Of can’t tell you how much I appreciate your tips. Lucy’s Rule of 15 is a great one. Just a few minutes ago I used it to calculate a Levain. Prior to Lucy’s Rule it was a mathematical circus ;-)

You dough weight to pan calculation may become another great one for me. Does the calculation assume that a cup of dough weighs 8oz? Or is the weight close enough to get a ball park idea?

Oh, I tried the Toadies AND I’ve become a “Toadie Man”... ANOTHER THANKS FOR THAT ONE.


clazar123's picture

Your write-up is very good. It allows some good questions to be asked and a picture is worth a thousand words!

Your starter needs to be more active and have a higher yeast count. This is done by feeding at least 3 times (about every 12 hours) and having it at about 27C (80F) while it eats. This will encourage yeast growth. It should raise itself double in just a few hours. Then it is ready to use in bread. Your starter looks good but it looks/sounds weak.

When you say you rested the preferment and the autolyse-what temp. was it at? Did you leave the preferment out on a counter or was it at refrigerator temp for 15 hours? That is a long time to leave a preferment at a warm temp. It may have been well past it's prime.

WW is generally has a denser, more even crumb, especially if it is made with rye. The flour is usually coarse and doesn't lend itself to making a crumb with large holes. This is a 50% rye loaf so it will be very sticky and very tricky to get the proofing correct for this dough. At 10 hours in the pan at room temp. (if I understand correctly), this dough is very overproofed and the gluten is deteriorating. That is why it is tearing and had no oven spring at all. As the gluten bonds deteriorate, they release more water so the dough can become wetter and heavier as the bubbles break because the gluten can no longer hold them in place.

So to get more rise, here are my recommendations:


2. Use rye to feed your starter if you want but reduce the rye in the preferment. Use WW,or AP flour.

3. Beef up your starter. Go on a feeding of twice a day and have it at 26C to encourage yeast growth. Right now, I would bet you have a lot of lacto in the starter and not so much yeast.

4. Expect your preferment to be ready in 4-8 hours (or less depending on the activity and temp) at room temp.

5. Expect your bulk fermentation to be 4-6 hrs to double-unless the room is cool-below 22C or so.

6. Expect proofing to be 1-2 hrs at room temp (unless room is cool or it was retarded in the refrigerator).

Refrigeration to retard can be used on the preferment-after it has ripened. You grow the yeast and put them to sleep with cold.Let them warm up about 30 minutes before using.

The dough can be cold retarded, also. It may need about 1 -1 1/2 hrs to come up to room temp and start waking up but not more. Then raise to about 3/4 double.

Oft times, I set up my preferment in the AM, went to work with it on the top of the refrig (it is warm there) and used it that evening to mix a slightly wet WW dough. I would then put the dough right into the refrigerator. It still rose overnight in the refrig and was almost ready for shaping in the am. If it wasn't risen enough, I would let it sit out until it was done-it never took more than a few hours.The dough was now tacky because it had time to absorb the water into the branny bits. It took a few hours of proofing as it started out chilly but usually baked up wonderful.

So keep baking and asking questions!



punter's picture

I do refresh my starter regularly and do this a couple of times before each bake.  However I'll try keeping it out of the fridge for the next week or so and see if that makes a difference.

It's pretty cold here (UK) at the moment.  The house temperature gets up to 19C (66F) when the heating's on, but can get down to 15-16C (59-61F) at night.  I imagine this will lengthen some of the timings a bit!

When the preferment and autolyse were resting they were at room temp (i.e. 19C max).  I've been looking at some different timing options, some involving retarding in the fridge and others without.  I'll try them all and report back!

I'll try using white bread flour instead of rye in a couple of loaves as well.  I also like baking with barley/oat flakes and seeds - these give really interesting textures and tastes.

Next one is tomorrow!  I'm planning on creating a preferment in the morning.  Then mixing the dough and kneading in the early afternoon before baking in the evening.  The only aspect I'm not completely sure on is when to start the autolyse.  I've seen in a different thread that adding salt to the autolyse can keep it stable for longer - so could I start this at the same time as the preferment?

punter's picture

So I've been busy baking and didn't have time to post the results!

24th Feb loaf:  I used 200g white bread flour instead of rye in the preferment (also added 50g wholemeal flour too).  I started the autolyse at the same time (7am) but added salt.  This was 59% hydration.  I left the preferment and autolyse all day, then mixed together at 3pm.  I shaped the loaf immediately in the tin.  The dough didn't seem to rise that much until I put it on top of a radiator.  It then rose a bit before I baked it at 9pm.

Still a dense loaf but it held its shape!

28th Feb loaf: Preferment made using white bread flour again.  This time 60% hydration.  I started the preferment in the morning (7am).  Autolyse at 5pm, then mixed the dough and kneaded between 7 and 8pm.  The dough went in the fridge overnight.  I shaped it the next day at 7am, then put it back in the fridge.  The tin was taken out of the fridge at 1pm and it was baked at 5pm.

This seemed to have risen a bit more than previous attempts - and the holes in the dough were definitely bigger.

4th Mar loaf: I decided to try 65% hydration with this loaf.  The preferment was left overnight, with the autolyse started early the next morning (6:30am).  I mixed the dough and kneaded around 9am.  Bulk ferment then until 3pm.  Then it was shaped and put in a newly-bought banneton (trying a new shape).  I baked it at 6pm.  Results were quite different to before!

This is the dough as I turned it out of the banneton (massive relief it didn't get stuck!):

And this is the baked loaf:

The dough didn't appear to have risen too much in the banneton, but it had a massive oven spring!  I was very pleased with this one!  Does the shape of the loaf contribute to the amount of rise, or is this a consequence of the increased hydration?

9th Mar loaf: Very similar to the above recipe, but I had to use the fridge again during the bulk ferment and proof.  The dough had stuck to the banneton while in the fridge and it was a bit of a mess when I put it in the oven  Fortunately it still held some kind of shape as it baked, but I think it was over-proofed:

It tastes amazing, even though it is a bit on the ugly side!  Perhaps I should leave the bulk ferment for much longer while it's in the fridge.  Then take it out, shape and place in banneton/tin and leave for a shorter proof at room temperature?