The Fresh Loaf

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basic 100% whole wheat sourdough learner formula needed

franbaker's picture

basic 100% whole wheat sourdough learner formula needed

The quest continues, after a week being forced to focus on other things...

My most recent loaf (yesterday) seems like baked starter. Surprisingly, it is getting eaten. Thank goodness for home-milled Red Fife, it will compensate for a lot of failings! I think I should have known that something was up when the dough started bubbling as I was mixing it. I'm going to stay away from recipes with any added honey. Something in my starter gobbled it right down.

What I really need is a basic, 100% whole wheat flour-water-salt-starter formula at a hydration below 80% to work with until I get a good feel for the dough and the process. I really need to work on judging when the dough is developed sufficiently, and fermented the right amount.

And, weirdly, that really basic formula seems to elude me! Tons of recipes have added stuff, sweeteners and fats and other stuff like "vital" wheat gluten or dry milk powder or potato flakes...  and all this "stuff" just confuses the issues for me.

Here are my thoughts for a basic loaf:

Morning of day one: take starter from frig, start feeding it every 4-6 hours to get it activated and sweeter (my other eater doesn't like sour bread).

Evening of day one, or morning of day two: mill enough flour for one loaf (suggestions welcome) and autolyze with plain water, holding some back to dissolve salt in the next day. What percent hydration to aim for, so that the dough will rise nicely but not be too difficult for this novice to work with (80% might be the max I can handle at the moment -- less would be better, I think).

Morning of day two: feed starter; watch closely.

Need to know how to tell when starter is ready -- float test? When to try it? Does scooping some out to test disturb the rest? Can you use the blob you floated or sank?

When starter is ready, mix with flour and water. How much starter to use? (I maintain mine at 100% hydration.) Dissolve salt in small amount of water held in reserve and mix that in (when? at the same time as the starter?)

Knead until dough is developed, since I need to learn how to judge when that is. My thinking is that I've been under-kneading; I've read that it's impossible to over-knead whole wheat by hand; but what if the flour has had a nice long autolyze? How thin does the windowpane need to be? Why would dough get stickier the longer you knead it? Or go through phases of getting slacker and stickier, then sort of tightening up, then getting slacker and stickier again?

Bulk ferment. Okay, don't try to get it to double. Poking with a wet finger doesn't seem to give the expected results. In a translucent container, what should the bubble population look like?

Shaping: once I'm getting risen dough that seems like the right texture and is not crazy sticky (like the most recent dough) or crazy slack (like some earlier doughs), I can start working on this...

Scoring: if the dough's texture is close to correct, this goes alright.

Baking: the main thing that seems to go right, although sometimes I overcook...  even five minutes before the time is supposed to be up, the internal temp may be 5-10 degrees F above expected...  and yes, I use two oven thermometers on opposite ends of the oven.

Eating: oddly, this still happens pretty well, in spite of repeated partial (or even almost total) bread failure!

All thoughts on the above suggested process are welcomed :-)

franbaker's picture

to write that I figure the amount of salt should be about 1.5-1.8%

dabrownman's picture

and if you don't want to use a rye levain use a WW one instead

franbaker's picture

Thank you! I've bookmarked it, and am going to write it down, too. I do have a rye starter that seems very active. At 100% hydration it got very stiff, so the last two feedings have been at 120%. I could work back toward 100% and give it some WW as I get it ready to try this formula later in the week. Thanks again!

dabrownman's picture

water worked in say as  double hydration to get to 78% as a starting point and see how that feels .  I would be at 100% hydration with fresh milled wheat and do 150 slap and folds to start it off and then 4 sets of stretch and folds on 30 minute intervals.

Can't wait to see it.

franbaker's picture

The starter/levain is growing. I've been refreshing my rye starter with Red Fife so the one I'll be using is only about 12% rye. (Really want the taste of the Red Fife, but my rye starter does seem like it's the most active one.)

I think I'll start with a bit of an autolyze or soak, instead of the 20 minute rest after mixing all the ingredients. It seems to me that the freshly milled WW flour likes more than 20 minutes to get fully hydrated. I doubt I'll need extra extensibility in the dough, and could mix in the salt at the beginning, which seems easier to me at this point. I'm also thinking of reducing the salt by a gram or two; 1.5% salt would be 8.25 g, 1.8% would be 9.9 g, so I'm thinking 9 g would be fine. Maybe mix the freshly milled red fife, the salt, and the 320 g water an hour or two before I think the starter will be ready (and how to actually judge that is still a bit of a mystery to me; I'm guessing rising actively, but not yet at its peak). I'll set up a cup with 70g of water to try to work in after I work the starter in, to get the dough up to 80% hydration; I'll set up a second with the last 110g of water to work toward 100% if that seems like a good idea at the time. That way I'll have it there, at room temp, and not get confused and make accidental miscalculations in the middle of kneading.

I've rearranged things and gotten myself a granite pastry board I can place on a table that's the right height for me, to facilitate kneading, and have been watching youtube videos about the slap and fold technique, so I'm going to try it. Since I have less upper body strength than most people, I figure I should do at least 150, maybe the 300 that some people do. But pay attention to the dough. I've read that it's impossible to over-knead bread dough by hand, but I sometimes wonder if I've occasionally overdone it, in my efforts to make sure I've not underdone it. Kind of hate to count, because, once I get into a counting habit, it can be difficult for me to lose it when I don't need it any more, and my mind finds it tedious over the long haul. But worth the risk, I think. I would like to do the stretch and folds, because I think it helps me get a better sense of what the dough is doing.

The ambient temperature in my kitchen is 80 dF this morning, and I can probably manage to keep it within a couple of degrees of that all day, so that should be helpful; no temps in the upper 80s or 90s today :-)

If his fermentation times work, then I've probably been overfermenting all along here. I tend to let it go "just a little bit longer, just to be sure", but the last loaf was so sour that I've hopefully been cured of that.

dabrownman's picture

are 2 different things.  I have been making whole grain bread with hime milled flour for many years and 100% hydration is no problem for me.

If I were you I would make the bread at 80% and see what it looks like after 80 slap and folds and then move up the hydration to where it starts to feel like you like it better.  There is no magic to 100% hydration.  I have never used red fife and do not know how much water it can take.

I would do at least a 2 hour autolyse and no more than 3 with the salt sprinkeld on top so it is not mixed in - it sucks water away from the dough and justs gets in the way of what an autoyse is supposed to do.  Some people do longer autolyses but at 80 F things happen twice as fast than 68 F when it comes to enzyme activity.

I would sift the bran out and put it in the levain too.  it will just make the crumb better and the levain more active.

Slap and folds for this dough will not be like doing them with white flour so if it is too uch just stop and take a 5 minute rest and start again.  What you do the first 30 minutes makes no difference to the dough.  Don't think about over kneeding.  You could do 300 slap and folds and not even be close.  You could do 50 every 10 minutes  3 times and all will be well.  You have several hours of stretch adn folds to follow so no worries.  Really slap it down hard and stretch it out width wise as you fold.  80% hydration is pretty stiff for whole grain slap and folds so if you have to add more water to do them then fine.

Fermentation times are never correct.  Watch the dough and not the clock.  Temerature tells the tale not time.  Everything happens much faster in my kitchen at 86 F than one in Toronto of SF at 68 F.  When the dough doubles, it is bulk fermented enough regardless of time.

have fun and watch the dough

franbaker's picture

At 10:20 the starter was increased by 50% and looked very active, so I ground my flour and mixed it with water and salt (and yes, now I think you are correct and adding the salt was a mistake, as I'll get to below). I added the 320 g of water and couldn't even work all the flour in with the dough wisk, so I added the 70 g of water to bring it up to 80% hydration right then.

At 11:05 the starter was doubled and passed the float test, so I decided it was time to get going, in spite of less than one hour soak.

Mixing and kneading got a bit broken up and delayed at the beginning as I tried to figure out how to do it by hand while a nasty cut on my left thumb is only a little bit healed. Took a few minutes to figure out that a very small piece of fresh Duoderm applied to said cut would do the trick as long as I tried to mostly keep the tip of said left thumb out of the dough (do not ever, ever try to work with sticky bread dough while wearing a nitrile glove. Oh, sorry, I'm sure you'd never be that stupid -- I have no idea *what* I was thinking!)

By 11:22 I was working with the dough in earnest. It was already very elastic and not sticky as soon as I had the starter mostly mixed in. I think the salt had really tightened up the dough. So I gradually worked in more water until it was stretchier and stickier, like the doughs in the slap and fold videos. That adjustment took the first few minutes of slap and folds, and I lost count more than once. Slapping and folding was lots of fun, but at 11:47 I stopped because the dough seemed pretty good, although it would still get sticky again pretty quickly when I stopped kneading it, but I was concerned about kneading as the dough was developing at that point, since I'd started to mix the starter in more than a half hour earlier.

I had 72 g of water left over, so I'd added 38 g, which works out to 87% hydration.

At that point the ambient temp was 82 dF, so I'm doing the stretch and folds at 40-minute intervals, thinking that things are going to move along quickly, if how quickly the starter got going and the ambient temp are good indications. I didn't see your reply to me until after the first set of stretch and folds. 

At 12:28, the ambient temp was up to 82.5 dF, so I cranked up the air conditioning; 40 minutes later, it has at least stabilized.

At the second set of stretch and folds, at 1:12, I could tell that the dough had risen some, and it seems more cohesive, but it still really wants to stick to its plastic tub.

I have difficulty judging when the dough has doubled when I'm doing stretch and folds.

I've been taking photos, which helps me remember what the dough looked like from one time to the next, but my phone is not uploading images to "Photos" for some reason, and Lightroom insisted on updating before it will do anything -- photos just starting to show up now. If you can point me to where on the forum I can learn how they should be formatted for me to upload them, I can attempt, if that would be helpful. I really appreciate all your help and advice -- my goal is to be able to bake bread the way you do someday!

dabrownman's picture

I have tried several times but this site just tells me that they are too large to upload.  I would sent a PM to Floydm and ask him.  he knows everything since he created the site.

You need to set your sights higher than me if you want to be a good bread maker:-)  I can get to you fair to Midland like me.

Bigblue's picture

Dab, under what circumstances would you do a short, 20 minute AL, compared to a 3 hour or longer AL, with the same temperature? 


dabrownman's picture

Autolyse according to the man who coined the term Professor Clavel.  A chemist who reinvented SD bread in France.  He actually discovered the autolyse process in a 1490 French cook book so bakers had been doing it for hundreds of years at least and he came up with the name autolyse because it somehow reminded him for the chemical term autolysis even though it isn't the same at all:-)  He was the one who specified flour and water only no salt and no levain or yeast for an autolyse and recommended longer times for more whole grains in the mix.

Since most of my levains are retarded and need a bit of warming up, even my white flour autolyses get a hour as the levain gets back to room temp from the fridge.

Everything in bread making is relative to something else and we have at least 8,000 years of previous bakers who were fine experimenters.   That is why there is really not much new to do in bread making that hasn't been done - it just needs to be re-discovered by later bakers who have forgotten what previous ones did.

franbaker's picture

I was very worried about my loaf as it went into the oven. Pre-shaping and shaping were difficult, as the dough didn't seem to develop a "skin", an issue I've encountered before. I also have difficulty with flouring the board, especially when using a wet dough, as the dough just seems to suck it up. So, I got rid of the flour and used a dough scraper as extension of one hand, and actually managed to pretty much shape my batard in the method shown in the San Francisco Baking Institute video about high hydration dough shaping and get it into my banneton (which I apparently did not flour adequately). I let the loaf proof an extra ten minutes, but, since I've over-proofed in the past, I decided that it was go time after that. As I turned it over onto a piece of parchment paper, it stuck horribly to the cloth lining of the banneton in places (and I've never had that particular problem before). I had to carefully peel it off, and then it resembled a rather tall pancake. Still no real skin, but I attempted to score, put it in the hot clay baker, and baked. It got to 210 dF about 5 minutes early. The crust was pale, and there were no ears. But I did get some oven spring! The loaf was not tall, but perhaps a bit taller than the one from the recipe I was using. I like the crumb; it's a bit dense, the holes are smaller than the photos from the recipe, but I'm fine with that as long as there are enough of them and they're well distributed. Nice and moist. In a burst of confidence I'd planned to have the bread ready to pile baked feta, roasted tomatoes, and beans & greens on at dinnertime, and that actually worked, and received the verdict, "I like it". The fact that it did come out reasonably well was partly chance; I still don't feel confident of my ability to judge dough development and fermentation; I need a lot more practice, and will try your suggestions next time.

I'm going to try to upload a couple of photos.

I guess not, I don't see an 'upload' button -- maybe I have to start a new thread to upload photos? Will attempt.

Anyway, I'm pretty pleased, and looking forward to eating more of the bread, and baking again soon.


dabrownman's picture

rice flour and gently rub it into the skin before flipping it into a well rice floured basket.  Do not use flour - it will still stick - use rice flour only.  I hate it when all that work is deflated because there wasn't enough rice flour used.  I'm glad you put more water in when needed though.  Getting to know the feel of the dough is a good thing for sure.  Luckily the next bake will be easier and better!  NIce!

texasbakerdad's picture

Thanks for the post, I am going through similar growing pains. My experience with 100% whole grain is limited as is my experience with leavens. Having said that, I have baked a lot of bread, made a lot of pizza doughs, and brewed a few beers/meads/ciders. That has given me a feel and some knowledge for certain things like yeast and how dough should feel.

A couple of things I have learned that you might find useful.

  1. With yeast starters (this includes yeast starters for beer making), you are looking to produce lively bubbling. Once the starter looks bubbly, you know you have quite a few happy yeast cells. I am thinking a float test is overkill, instead, look for lots of bubbles (a clear container helps). I'll attach some photos at the bottom.
  2. Resting dough makes a huge difference. Anytime you mix ingredients together for the first time, wait 10 minutes after you are done mixing before you try to do anything else with the dough (like kneading or folding). Rest after dividing and preshaping.
  3. Think of the fridge usage and flavor seperately. Most flavor comes from adding time to your rise, to your proofing, to your preferments. The fridge is mostly a tool to allow you to slow things down. So, if you rose the bread for 6 hours in the fridge or on the counter, then, great, both will have a ton of flavor. My understanding is that the fridge encourages slightly different flavors, but, the more important thing is the amount of time. So... don't worry too much about what percentage of time you had the dough in the fridge vs room temp, instead worry about whether or not the dough has risen enough, or soaked long enough to properly autolyse, or fermented long enough to develop the right flavors.
  4. Trying to improve my pizza recipes has taught me that the longer it takes for me to make dough, the easier the dough will be to work with. The more breaks I take, the better off everything is. I have yet to destroy a dough by leaving it in the fridge too long. The only problem I have with taking too much time is overproofing, but, if I ever worry about overproofing, I use the fridge to slow things down.
  5. My father in law taught me to make bread without a recipe and to add water until it looked right. This was very helpful, because I learned that the amount of water in the dough can vary considerably and the dough will still rise, bake, and taste great. More water means longer bake times and probably higher temps. Baking bread without a recipe and by feel was a very fast way for me to learn about dough behavior.
  6. High hydration doughs need time to develop. Let them rise slow, let them rest, and you will be amazed at how much easier the dough is to work with.

I am still learning, take my advice with a grain of salt. Hopefully the more seasoned veterans will point out anything I wrote that is incorrect.

franbaker's picture

I wrote you a nice reply, and the connection got severed!

You're lucky to have your father-in-law's help. I wish I new someone IRL who bakes bread, even though the people here are wonderful, having someone actually look at, and feel the dough, with me, would be super-helpful. The only class I've been able to find around here is a 3-hour, for-credit baking class in the culinary department at the community college. That would be a bit much for me at the moment.

But learning to bake bread is still a lot of fun, and most of the mistakes are still edible.

dabrownman's picture

when I am there with a someone new I can get them to know stuff and get farther ahead much faster.  Seeing someone do it with you and telling you what to look for is so much faster.  But, learning on your own has its merits too.  You will never forget and once you have the feel f the dough the hydration required for different grains and mixed and know when the dough is properly fermented and proofed and have gained the hand skills there is no holding you back:-)

franbaker's picture

believe me! I'll be incorporating all your suggestions into my next bake. I see all kinds of added seeds and other good things in my future...