The Fresh Loaf

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100% Whole Wheat Sourdough--A Saga and a Question

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davec's picture
davec

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough--A Saga and a Question

When I first made my sourdough starter, and it appeared strong enough to use, I began my baking cautiously, with a couple of loaves in my bread machine. The first was a basic white bread from a sourdough book I found on our bookshelf at home. I simply scaled it for my machine, added the ingredients in the order my machine expects, hit the basic bread button, and let it go. It was a little wet, so I added a little flour in the mixing stage, but that's all. The bread came out fine. If anything it was a little higher than the normal recipe with yeast I was used to. I thought, "this sourdough stuff is easy. It's just like using commercial yeast."


So then, I proceeded to try to convert my favorite 100% whole wheat bread machine recipe to sourdough. I built myself a whole wheat starter over a few days, and proceeded to convert. My book called for 1 ½ cups of starter for a 2-pound loaf, so I subtracted the amounts of flour and water in that amount of starter from my recipe, and proceeded as in the first loaf, this time using the whole wheat button. This loaf didn't rise nearly as high as my normal whole wheat loaf, so it was a bit heavy, but the taste was great. I decided I'd better learn more about baking with sourdough.


That led me to the yahoo sourdough and bread machine groups, to breadtopia.com, to thefreshloaf.com, and to other sites. I learned about bigas, and poolish, and levains, and preferments, and autolyze, and French fold, and stretch-and-fold. I learned about how to make my breads more sour, or less sour (conflicting advice, to be sure). I learned about oven spring and how to achieve it (conflicting again). I learned about cloches and bannetons; baking stones and quarry tile; and much, much more. And along the way, I tried to apply what I was learning to producing my whole wheat bread with sourdough starter.


I tried letting my machine do the kneading, then stopping it to let the dough rise slowly, then using the bake cycle to cook it. I tried adding another rise, after kneading the dough a bit by hand. I tried making a wetter dough, and using the French fold technique instead of kneading. I tried using a presoak before mixing in my starter and other ingredients (other than flour and water), letting the dough rest for an hour, doing a few stretch-and-folds, wait 30 minutes, stretch-and-fold, repeat twice more, let it rise until doubled, stretch-and-fold a few more times, shape into loaves, let rise in loaf pans, retard overnight, let rise a few more hours, and bake in the oven. Each attempt has been another step backward from my first, naïve bread machine attempt. I am now consistently producing the famous doorstops.


I am, of course, a novice at all this. But, I am clearly not getting good gluten development, and not getting good rise. On the chance the problem might be my whole wheat starter, I made a loaf of New York Times no-knead bread, using 1 cup of my starter, and 2 ½ cups of white flour. It turned out great.


My ultimate goal is to be able to make my weekly 100% whole wheat loaf in my bread machine, using sourdough instead of yeast. But, at this point, I just want to produce a good loaf, even if it is completely by hand.


Do any of you wiser, more experienced hands have any suggestions?


Dave


 

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Dave,  I'll give this one a try !!!


I share a story a bit different than yours in the sequence of events but very similar in the elements involved.  I took the turn towards whole wheat sourdough a few years ago but approached it mostly from the trial and error plan.  All the reading on various techniques came later.  I baked doorstops, deflated hunks of "just what IS that", various quasi loaves that had to be good for you because no one would eat that for the taste, and then more doorstops of varying but intriguing densities.


I have never used a bread machine, so I am guessing a bit, but I would be very surprised if a bread machine could duplicate what I now do to create what many have told me is some of the best bread they have ever tasted.  I say this not as a matter of bragging but to let you know that I eventually did meet with success after about a year of every day, or every other day, whole grain bread baking.


I bake with home milled organic rye and wheat.  The rye is used for my starter and the wheat for my bread.  As a side note I also bake rye bread but that is a whole different beast.  I use 100% of the grain with nothing sieved out.  A year of whole grain baking taught me that it is mostly about feel and technique and I strongly doubt the ability of a machine to replicate the feel of human hands and to then respond accordingly.


I have helped guide a number of people into successful whole grain baking but always with the use of hands, and again, not a machine.  My method assumes that,  as a starting point, you are already proficient at making white bread and that you have a feel for that dough or in this case the use of white flour and sourdough.  If you have not made such bread without the use of the machine I would strongly suggest that you put the machine away for now and bake white sourdough bread by hand.  Do this over and over again until the the process and feel of the dough becomes second nature to you.  Once you have those sensations memorized in your hands you are ready to proceed on the path to successful whole grain baking.


Again working by hand, make your regular white flour sourdough recipe but substitute 25% of the flour with whole grain flour.  You will notice a bit of a different feel to the dough but nothing really all that drastic except that maybe the dough requires a bit more water.  Make this recipe a few times until you are comfortable with it and then increase your whole grain flour to 50% of the flour in the recipe.  Here you will notice some more changes but your hands will know what to do based on your previous experience.  Keep the dough a little wetter and stickier than before and resist all temptation to add more flour to firm up the dough.  From here you simply substitute 5% more whole grain flour each time you bake and you are just 10 loaves away from successful whole grain baking.  If you do this without trying to jump ahead and hurry up the process you WILL meet with success.  No more doorstops, no more chunks of bread to feed the birds in the Winter months, just rich tender aromatic loaves of pure wheat.


My whole process today is as follows;  I get my rye starter fully charged up with at least two room temperature refrshings at 8 hour intervals.  Then I use about 12 ounces of starter that is at about 90% hydration.  I weigh out 24 ounces of freshly milled whole grain flour and 17 ounces of room temperature filtered tap water.  The starter and the water go into the the bowl of the KA Mixer and I mix them using the dough hook.  With the mixer on #2 I begin adding the flour a large spoonful at a time until about half of the flour is in.  I then add two and 1/2 teaspoons of course sea salt and then finish adding the flour spoonful by spoonful.  When all the flour is in and being kneaded by the machine I assess the dough to see if it needs just a touch more flour or water.  I know from my hand mixing/kneading experience just EXACTLY how the dough should feel.  A bit too much water and the shaped loaves will sag.  Too much flour and the loaf will not rise sufficiently and be somewhat dense.  There, inbetween, is the perfect sweet spot that I know by feel.


Now I continue kneading on speed #2 for about 20 minutes.  I then transfer the dough to a glass bowl, leave it covered at room temperature for one hour and then put it in the refrigerator for at least 8, and up to 24, hours depending on my schedule.  During this period the dough will firm up just a little bit.  After the cold fermentation the dough comes out of the refrigerator and I do one very gentle fold on a wet work surface and then put the dough into a room temperature bowl to continue rising.  I do a second very gentle fold, again on a wet surface with no flour, after one hour and then let the dough finish rising.  The total time of rising after leaving the refrigerator is between 3 and 6 hours depending on room temperature.  When the dough has risen to about 140% of its original size I very gently shape it into one large or two smaller boules.  I proof the loaves in a closed environment with hot steamy water for about one hour.  The loaves are then slashed and put onto a hot stone in a 550 degree steamy oven that has been preheated for an hour or more.  I baked at 550 for ten minutes and then reduce the heat to 450 degrees for 35 more minutes.


My current process would not have worked for me if I had not first learned the feel of the dough by hand.  I did not begin using a mixer until I had first manually mastered the technique.


I hope that this helps you,


Jeff

summerbaker's picture
summerbaker

These are the most helpful comments that I have read so far on how to make whole wheat sourdough.  I've tried it a couple of times but my loaves have not come out to my satisfaction.  I really was expecting the dough to come out like white sourdough ("baby's bottom" and all) and it was not happening.  It is really nice to know that it is not SUPPOSED to happen!


Summer

davec's picture
davec

Jeff,


That does help, thanks.  If I understand correctly, you are saying that the whole wheat dough should feel exactly the same as all-white dough, whether one is using a machine, hand kneading, stretch and fold, or "French fold", or any combination of techniques to develop the gluten and prepare the dough for shaping.


Aside from my whole wheat bread machine bread, all my breads the last year or so have been no-knead.  That was realtively easy to convert to sourdough.  Of course, that means I don't have much experience with the feel of dough.  I guess I'll have to break down and gain some.


Dave

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Dave,


Whole wheat dough definitely does not feel the same as all white dough.  White dough is the easiest and most forgiving dough to work with in gaining a feel for what any dough feels like.  As you make mistakes with white dough you will bake a bread that is less than ideal but very much homemade, edible, and simply delicious.  The same cannot be said for mistakes made with whole grain dough which is not forgiving if you do not get it just right.  I suspect that this broad range in white dough is why bread machines basically work.   Any small to moderate mistakes in the dough will still yield a reasonably respectable loaf of bread.


What you are training your hands to do is know the feel of dough, any dough.  You will know what does and does not work and how the slightest changes in the dough and your technique have a significant effect on the final loaf.


White dough is often compared to a baby's bottom in texture and feel and this is definitely a good basic description realizing that there are tremendous variations within the world of all white dough.  Whole grain dough is wet, sticky, grainy, and on the edge of but not quite gooey. 


A feel that no baby would be happy to have on their bottom!!!


The important factor is that your hands know what they are touching and feeling.  This is experience that you will find essential as you transition into whole grain baking.  Think of it as going from the minor leagues to the majors.


The entire process is mostly about technique like so many other things that involve a but few simple ingredients.  Wine comes to mind, it is all grapes but what a world of difference from one bottle (technique) to another.


Jeff

davec's picture
davec

Jeff,


From your comments, and from the amazing variations between the successful methods of various experts on these forums, yourself included, it appears to me that baking is very much a matter of art, and very little a matter of science.  Since my bread machine can make a very successful 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf using active dry yeast, and since I don't have a lot of desire to become a true baking artisan, I may well abandon my quest for 100% whole grain sourdough.  It sounds like there are an awful lot of unwanted loaves of bread between my current skill level and that goal.


Dave

beeman1's picture
beeman1

I have been making 100% whole wheat sourdough. I don't see how it would be possable in a breadmachine. I got ahold of a desem starter and have been trying various no knead or minimal knead recipes and getting very good results. I have been using a cusinart Brick oven to keep the heat down in my kitchen and to save on LP gas.

davec's picture
davec

I'd love to hear the details of which recipes and methods have been successful for you.  I doubt I have the patience or the appetite for bread to develop the necessary skills to bake true artisan bread, but I've been very happy with my no-knead adventures.  It's just that I haven't been able to successfully exceed 1/3 whole wheat with my no-knead bread.


What recipes have worked for you?


Dave

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I am not expert but I,too,have been on a journey with bread the last 6 months.I used to be a sourdough purist but wanted to stop baking bricks.So, here are some suggestions to boost your success (I hope)


1.Your starter may be too young to give consistent results. I have found that young starter tends to give inconsistent results. It looks bubbly and active but there is no rise on random bakings! And if I let it rise too long (over 15 hrs) it is too sour-the lactos have taken over!The best remedy for this is to continue baking with your starter-keep it going-make it continue to grow. Meantime I add a small amount of commercial yeast to the mix for a boost in rise. There goes the purist. I have found over time that it requires less and less yeast for the boost assist. I now only use it when I have a true time crunch. My culture is matured.


2.A bread machine handles every dough the same way-no matter the recipe.That is different to how a human handles dough.You may have to work on developing a recipe that will work with your bread machine's characterisits-soaking time-kneading time-proofing time.Check the whole wheat settings to see if they can accomadate whole wheat. That said-generally, whole wheat has a few unique characterisitics-it requires more moisture in the recipe, more time to absorb that moisture and a lower baking temp and slightly longer baking time to properly moisten the crumb and dry it out adequately during the bake. It might also need an addition of vital gluten in order to develop adequate structure in the short time frame you want to accomplish a loaf. Making sure there is a little oil and protein in the recipe will also improve the crumb. It may be that mixing it and then pausing it for a period of time will help with hydrating the whole wheat. Experiment with smaller loaves first.Shoot for a dough that is tacky when first mixed but that is noticeably less tacky or even smooth after an absorption period.


3.Go with a hybrid recipe-try adding all purpose flour-(a brand name,please, I have found the store brands way too weak for bread). I used to be a purist, here,too but found the AP gives a better structure.I was tired of eating my sandwich with a fork after the second day.WW tends to dry out quickly.

davec's picture
davec

Thanks for the suggestions.  I think you may be on to something about the maturity of my starter.  Mike Avery at sourdough home (http://www.sourdoughhome.com/) says a new starter needs to be from 30 to 90 days old before putting it in the refrigerator.  I started refrigerating mine as soon as I could make bread with it.  A couple of days ago, I took both my starters out and started feeding them every 12 hours.  The WW one is in a graduated canning jar, so I can clearly see the levels.  It is not quite doubling between feedings.


I do hate to keep wasting starter at each feeding, though.  Can't bake bread twice a day, with only 2 people at home.


I have tried soaking, retarding, etc., with poor results.  Of course, it took me many failures to develop a yeast-based 100% whole wheat recipe that my machine could handle, so I'm not surprised I can't hit this one out of the park the first few times at bat.  The frustrating thing is that my very first attempt, whithout knowing any of these techniques, was the best loaf yet.


As for the hybrid, I don't see the point.  I'd prefer to have to use a little yeast, rather than cut the whole wheat.


BTW, my successful bread machine recipe with yeast is:


4 cups whole wheat flour


4 tsp vital wheat gluten


14 fl oz water


3 TBS honey


3 TBS olive oil


1 1/4 tsp kosher salt


2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast


3-4 TBS wheat germ (I don't measure, I just sprinkle some in.)


I do have to adjust the hydration level sometimes during mixing, which usually means adding a little water.  But this recipe always works.


 


Dave

clazar123's picture
clazar123

You have to remove most of the culture so that you can then grow more and get a balanced yeast/lacto culture.I think an important key to a successful culture is to use it often and removing before feeding when it is started emulates that. BUT-I tend to dump all my discard into a separate container and use it for pancakes,quick breads and just flavoring other baked products. I don't depend on it for the rise but the flavor it adds is wonderful. Of course you have to compensate for the extra flour/water in the recipe.


I have a very imprecise system that works ok for me.I bake on weekends and what I found works for me is to take a small amount of my starter and put it in a quart,widemouth jar on Wednesday PM. I feed probably twice a day (maybe 1/4 c flour-equal volume warm water) and stick it in a warm place,if I remember to, when I'm home. My house is usually at 63-68F so it is rather cool but if I put it in a warm oven,I might kill it-oven too warm on low. I don't remove anything the next few days, I just add.By Friday night it is very active and I have enough so I mix up my overnight bread recipe about 8PM and pop it in the refrig.It uses about 1 c starter. Next day,take it out to warm,stretch and fold over the next few hours,shape,rise and bake. Done by noon.


I re-feed and bake again Sunday or Monday or I put it back in the fridge til I bake again.It's very hardy-sometimes it gets left out til the next wednesday.If I see it Monday or Tues, I'll feed it or put it back in the refrig.

jim jozwiak's picture
jim jozwiak

I think the main problem with 100% whole wheat is that a dough that can be kneaded and shaped at about 60% hydration doesn't make very good tasting bread; but a dough at 80% hydration can be fermented overnight and will not fall and tastes great although it is just too sticky and goopy to knead and shape.  So if I want good-tasting bread that looks kind of stupid, I just mix it up and put it in the loaf pan to rise.