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?