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Whole Grain Sourdough Sandwich Bread

bwraith's picture

Whole Grain Sourdough Sandwich Bread

Whole Grain Sourdough Sandwich Bread Loaves

This bread is an attempt to improve on the results from a previous blog entry. This one also has a spelt levain, but it was designed to rise overnight with only a small quantity of 90% hydration white flour starter added. The levain was added to the dough when it was not very ripe, before it had peaked and dipped. The percentage of fermented flour is about 32%, but the less ripe starter results in flavor and dough handling more like what you would expect if you used a lower percentage of fermented flour. The whole spelt flour contributes a characteristic nutty, slightly sweet flavor to the bread. I was very happy with the flavor resulting from this combination of flours and plan to use it more often for this bread and for my favorite mixed grain miche recipe. The hydration is about 83%, which for a whole grain bread is not enough to make it very wet or difficult to handle. However, it is a slightly slack and sticky dough. It should spread out only a little bit after sitting on the counter, not like a very wet ciabatta dough that might spread out more quickly and more or less pour out of the bowl until it has been folded more.

Whole Grain Sourdough Sandwich Bread Crumb

I have posted some photos, videos of my version of doing a "French Fold" and of periodic "Folding" during bulk fermentation, and also a spreadsheet with some further information such as baker's percentages, fermented flour percentages, and hydration.


Firm Levain:

  • 90% hydration storage starter 11g (0.4 oz) (use any healthy active sourdough starter here, ideally contributing the same amount of fermented flour, e.g. use more like 9 grams of 60% hydration firm starter)
  • whole spelt flour 298g (10.5 oz)
  • water 184g (6.5 oz)

Overnight Soak Ingredients:

  • malt syrup 40g (1.4 oz)
  • diastatic malt powder 5g (.16 oz)
  • whole red wheat flour 397g (14 oz)
  • whole white wheat flour 170g (6 oz)
  • KA rye blend 57g (2 oz)
  • water 581g (20.5 oz)

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • overnight soak from above
  • firm levain from above
  • salt 17g (.6 oz)
  • olive oil 28g (1 oz)


Mix levain ingredients the night before you plan to bake. The levain is designed to rise by about double in 10 hours at a temperature of 75F. Adjust accordingly if you have different temperatures. It is not a problem if the levain rises by more than double or peaks and dips. However, if it is allowed to ripen too much, you may experience a sluggish rise or other symptoms similar to overproofing sourdough, since the amount of fermented flour contributed by this recipe is fairly high. I added this levain when it had a little more than doubled, but it was clearly not at its peak yet.

Overnight Soak

Mix all the flour and other dry ingredients for the overnight soak together well, so they are fully integrated and uniformly distributed. Mix the malt syrup and water so that the malt syrup is fully dissolved and well distributed in the water. Pour the water into the bowl and use a dough scraper to work around the bowl and mix the flour and water well enough to fully and uniformly hydrate the flour. This should be very easy and take only a couple of minutes of mixing. You can also use a mixer, but use very slow settings and do not overdo it. The idea is to just mix the ingredients. Cover and put in the refrigerator.

Mix Final Dough (next morning)

Chop up the levain into small pieces about the size of marshmallows. Wet your hands and rub the counter with water. Pour the dough from the overnight soak out onto the counter and spread it out like a pizza. Distribute the pieces of levain evenly across the dough. Press them in with the heel of you hand. Roll up the dough in one direction, then the other. Allow it to rest for a few minutes. Again wet your hands and the counter if it needs it. Spread out the dough again like a pizza. Evenly spread the salt and the oil over the surface of the dough and press it into the dough again with the heel of your hand. Roll up the dough in one direction, then the other. Let it rest a few minutes. Spread it out one more time like a pizza. Work across the dough pressing the heels of your hands deep into the dough to integrate any oil and salt that may not have already been well integrated into the dough. Roll up the dough in one direction, then the other.

Let rest for 15 minutes.

Do two or three "French Folds", as shown in the video. Note that this is a good technique for developing the gluten in a wet dough that may not respond well to conventional kneading. Also, note, when I say two or three, I mean literally about 10 seconds, like two repetitions of the motion, as shown in the video. That is all the "kneading" that was done to make this bread. Place the dough in a covered bucket or bowl to rise.

Bulk Fermentation and Periodic Folding

The dough should rise by double in about 4 hours at 75F, but the folding will degas the dough somewhat, so lean toward less than double, depending on how much you are degassing the dough while folding. Also, adjust accordingly if your temperature is different or your starter is faster or slower. Try not to let this dough ferment too long. The high percentage of fermented flour in the dough and the spelt flour will conspire against you if you allow the dough to rise for too long. If in doubt, stop the bulk fermentation and go on to shaping, even if the dough doesn't rise by double.

Fold the dough about three times approximately on the hour, as shown in the "Folding" video. If the dough appears to be wet enough to relax significantly before one hour, then fold sooner. If the dough appears to be fairly stiff and holding its shape or is hard to stretch when you fold it, then fold less often or fewer times.


Create sandwich loaves using a typical batard technique or whatever method you prefer. Place loaves in typical loaf pans that are about 9 inches long by 4.5 inches wide. I sprayed the pans lightly with oil beforehand to avoid any sticking.

Final Proof

Allow loaves to rise by roughly double in about 2.5 hours at 75F. Again, adjust your proofing time as necessary for different temperatures or different starter. Once again, avoid overproofing, which is easier to do inadvertently with less tolerant spelt flour and the higher percentage of fermented flour in this recipe.


I slashed the loaves and baked them from a cold start for 1 hour and 5 minutes at 400F after proofing for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Although the dough is not as wet as some, it still should be thoroughly baked. Otherwise the crumb will be overly moist and the crust will become soggy.


When the loaves are done, remove them from the pans and allow them to cool on a rack. Do not cut into them, if you can resist, at least until they are no longer warm to the touch.


I was very pleased with the flavor of this bread. The sourdough flavor from the spelt starter is delicious, there is no bitter flavor of whole wheat that I can detect, and the spelt adds a unique and mild flavor. The bread toasts very well and carries any type of topping, since the crumb is open and light but not so irregular that honey or other wet ingredients fall right through it.


susanfnp's picture

Very nice videos. Also, the bread looks wonderful -- I love the crust color.

I'm not sure why I missed this when you first posted it. I think you were upstaged by your son ;-)


KipperCat's picture

Bill, I really appreciate the detailed instructions, photos & videos.  I look forward to trying it sometime in the future, when I have a few more basic formulas down.

Btw, I'm sending Jim Lahey's no-knead recipe to a few people, and will include links to your folding videos.


bwraith's picture


Well, the videos were more of an afterthought, but then it seems like we're always looking for these examples. Mine may be far from precisely correct in any way, but at least it's a video on Google that should be easy for anyone to download.

I'm glad you liked the crust color, but the crust was somewhat of a comedy of errors. I made the mistake of spraying the tops of the loaves with olive oil, and then as an afterthought - worried about sticking to the plastic bags - I dusted them with flour. Well, the flour wouldn't really come off, so what you see is a combination of white flour and dark brown crust. Next time, I'll leave them well enough alone, as the color without the flour dusting would have been good. If you have any suggestions for a preferred way to treat a WW sandwich bread crust before baking, I'd love to hear them.

Hah, yes we are all regularly upstaged by the young whippersnapper, so we're used to it around here.


susanfnp's picture

it seems like we're always looking for these examples

Yes, in fact we think alike. I found your folding video when, shortly after posting my folding video on my nascent blog (, I Googled to see if mine would show up. It doesn't, yet, but yours did.

Your technique is definitely much neater than mine. I was wondering if it's OK with you if I include a link to yours in my blog post. Two slighly different ways of accomplishing the same thing.
Thanks Bill


bwraith's picture

Hi Susan,

Of course it's fine with me. I see there are a few others showing up, as well, when you visit these google videos regarding kneading and whatnot.

I checked out your video and your blog. Neat site, beatifully done. The video was very clear. I hadn't tried doing it all in a plastic container like that, but I can see the advantage of it, especially for a dough that is still not well developed or if you want to avoid water or flour on the counter. I had seen that video, by the way, while just randomly checking out some of the "related videos" that came up in google when I was working on my videos.


zolablue's picture

Bill, this looks like a great recipe to try.  I've been wanting to try spelt and luckily found it locally the other day quite by surprise.  However I found I did not love white wheat flour when I used it previously and really would rather not buy it again.  Would you think I could substitute whole wheat graham flour for the white or even for all the red and white wheat part since it is such a sweet flavored grain?  I'd love to try this recipe soon.

Or, tell me the truth, am I being rotten not to just do it right the way you designed the recipe?  (I can take it.:o)

This bread is beautiful and your crumb is outstanding.  I didn't care for the flavor of the WW sourdough I made but since I only did it once I feel I should try again.  This formula looks good to me and your description of the flavor makes me think it would be a good choice.  And the graham flour I keep harping on (sorry I love the stuff) would make it really good, I'll bet.

bwraith's picture

Hi Zolablue,

I would use the flours you like in it. I find that I don't like the white wheat all by itself either. However, I also find all red wheat to be slightly bitter sometimes. For some reason, the bland flavor in the white wheat is offset by the stronger flavor of the red wheat, I think. A miller who has both white and red wheat products said their bakery liked to mix them together in many of their recipes. I tried it and decided it was good. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying the flours you prefer. Let me know how it goes. I still haven't figured out what "graham flour" is, so if you know, could you give me a lesson?

I would think your fast rising and mild starter would go well with whole grains, but let me know how it goes.

Remember my rise times are slower than for your starter, so you should probably expect to ferment for much less time than I have suggested if you want to avoid overfermenting it.


Paddyscake's picture

was mentioned in the food section of The Oregonian not long ago. What I liked about it was that you could sub 1/3 of the total amount of white flour in a recipe with white whole wheat for baking cookies, cakes, etc. to add a bit more fiber, nutrition to your baked goods. I've baked some banana bread, cookies and found no taste difference. I just feel that if I am going to bake some treats, I might as well make them a little more healthy. Now, If I could only find a way to cut the fat and sugar and have it taste great. I know they say you can sub unsweetened applesauce or prune puree for just doesn't cut it for me.

zolablue's picture

It is just whole wheat flour but supposed to be slightly more nutritious than regular whole wheat.  You can read about it here:


Also, I have to mention that when I was trying to get Memo’s brown bread to come out authentically I used Bob’s Red Mill graham and it neither looked or tasted anything like the Hodgson Mill graham flour so, again, I’m not sure why the differences. 


Hodgson Mill’s WW graham is just more coarse and for some reason it has this exquisite sweet flavor that not only makes Memo’s brown bread so tasty (I know, I’m biased) but enhances everything else I use it in.  I have substituted it in Columbia, Thom Leonard, your sourdough Pagnotta (which you know I’m nuts about) and others that call for whole wheat.  I had about decided never to buy another whole wheat flour again because the flavor is so incredible.  Ok, I know you are YAWNING now but I can’t tell you how good it is. You would have to see for yourself.


Also, I’m just chuckling while I’m writing this because I think I can see your eyes rolling back in your head.  But indulge me one more note; the coarseness of the grain makes for simply mouth-watering crunch and flavor on Memo’s bread when toasted. 


Have you heard enough?  (lol)

zolablue's picture

You can sorta, kinda see the difference in texture here and also it says the graham has more nutrients.  Just interesting stuff for a techy kind of guy like you. :o)

browndog's picture

This one's puzzled me a while, because graham and whole wheat flour appear by most definitions to be the same thing, that is, flour ground from whole wheat. Apparently the difference is that in graham the endosperm of hard wheat is ground seperately and fine, then coarse-ground bran and germ are added back in. I read somewhere that you can duplicate it by mixing white flour with wheat germ and bran but darned if I know in what proportion. I don't get why graham should be any different nutritionally, but if so it must be in the milling.