The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Question

kmp's picture

Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Question

Hi all,

 I've been baking from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain cookbook for about a month now. I'm not an experienced bread baker, but I've slowly been increasing the hydration of my dough, learning to shape slack doughs, and improving the crumb of my hearth breads. 

I'm having a bizarre issue with my pre-doughs (the soaker and the biga in Reinhart's terminology); both the soaker and the biga tend to develop a greyinsh-brown film on top. If I leave the soaker out at room temp, this film becomes pronounced and very hard (I lose a good portion of the dough by trying to pick it off).  It's diminished by storage in the fridge, but still noticeable as a darker coloring, only on the top of the dough that is exposed to air.  This seems to happen whether I use water, buttermilk, whey or milk as the liquid in the recipe, and it happens both with yeast (biga) and without (soaker).  It seems to get worse with time (if I leave the pre-doughs in the fridge for 2 or 3 days it is more pronounced than after 24 hr).

Does anyone have experience with this?  It doesn't seem to always happen; I've been using the same batch of flour (25 lb batch of organic, freshly-milled hard red wheat flour from a local farm); I haven't gotten around to buying a different source of flour from the store and checking it out.

Anyone know what this is, or have ideas as to how to prevent it? 

Thanks much,


home_mill's picture



Yes, it happens with me also. I just leave it as it get mixed back into the dough.

I don't think it causes any harm.


stiilll's picture

I mean the same.This is what I meant for that.I will just leave as a mixed back.Thanks for sharing.

swtgran's picture

Same here. I asked the same question a while back.  I, too, just mix it all back in.  I figure I have stirred dark hooch back into sourdough for years, with no ill affect, so this might be a similar issue?

kmp's picture

Maybe it is simply sugar that is being released from the flour?  I, too, simply stir it back in, but if I leave the soaker out at room temp the film gets really hard - impossible to stir back in really (which is easily fixed by refrigerating both the soaker and the biga).

 Glad to know it is not just me; I guess the geek in me was just wondering what caused it.  It does not seem to affect how the dough performs or (more importantly!) how the bread tastes.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Are you covering your bowl with any kind of lid, plate, plastic, foil or whatever?  That might reduce any dryness showing up.  I prefer to use glass lids from my frying pans. 

cnlindon's picture

Here is an email reply from Peter Reinhart from when I had the same problem several months ago:

"Hi Chad, That's a great looking loaf! The surface of the soakers and bigas will sometimes darken due to oxidation--no harm but if you want to avoid it, lay some plastic wrap directly on the surface of the dough to keep it from reacting to the air. How did it taste? P"



kmp's picture

Thanks for the comments.  I do cover the bowls - the biga is usually in a glass ARC bowl with a platic fitted lid; the soaker generally covered by Saran wrap, covered with a damp kitchen towel if it doesn't want to cling.

Maybe I'll try a room temp soaker again, but with plastic wrap pushed down to the surface of the dough, and then cover the whole thing with a damp towel. Otherwise, it is no big deal to refrigerate the soaker, as I have to let the biga come up to room temp before the final mix anyway. Regardless, it doesn't seem to affect the taste of the breads, happily.

I'm trying Peter's Wheat Thin-esque cracker recipe today (made the dough yesterday) as well as the NYT no-knead bread recipe.  We shall see how it goes! 

jonquil's picture

Hi, I made Mr. R's breads several times this winter, "rye sandwich meteil" with a yeast starter I designed using his instructions, not sourdough, and his "German-Style Many Seed Bread" (only ww flour, no white), which is out of this world if you ever lived in Germany, you gotta try this.

The only problem I have with his recipes is my sloth. After making it once meticulously, I usually don't adhere to his instructions the second time and forget something. These two breads have to be hydrated as he says, believe me, or they become crumbly.

Anyway, wrapped both starter and soaker in plastic wrap and left out on table. Kitchen between 58 and 64 degrees all winter (I'm a cheapskate), and no grey film. So maybe the yeast doughs don't get the film, are yours all sourdoughs you are trying? 


Windischgirl's picture

I bought myself his book for my birthday present (my co-workers are worried about me...they wonder why I didn't go for jewelry or clothes!).

Have NOT had a problem with film or crusting; I use a big rubber band to hold the plastic wrap firmly onto the rising bowl. I wonder if the crust is the result of low humidity in the kitchen, or the brand of flour, needing a bit more hydration.

I think I might have encouraged another convert to home baked bread; the bookstore clerk was remarking how much she likes homemade bread but "doesn't have the time." I told her that Peter Reinhart's new technique was the answer to her problems!


Paula F

Philadelphia PA