The Fresh Loaf

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100% whole grain sourdough-what am I missing?

Lady Saiga's picture
Lady Saiga

100% whole grain sourdough-what am I missing?

My formula that makes beautiful, mild, high, open, chewy loaves at 80-someodd percent whole grain, makes moist but closed, low, somewhat crumbly 100% whole grain breads. They aren’t GOOD bread, they’re just BREAD. I need to know what to tinker with next, to make my formula work at 100% whole grain.

I use a wet starter that remains at room temp. I maintain using 10g starter, 10g whole grain rye flour and 16.5g warm water. I refresh once or twice a day with occasional 24+ hour lapses as my memory permits. It remains quite active and slightly frothy.

My standard formula works this way:

The morning before a bake, I make slightly more starter. 11g starter, 11g whole grain rye, 19g water.

That evening, I use all the morning’s starter, adding 41g whole rye flour and 68g water.


The morning of a bake, I remove 10g starter for maintenance. The rest I add to 140g whole wheat flour and 232g water. I give this 2 hours at room temp to mature.

Simultaneously I prepare a hot soaker by boiling a pot of water and measuring out 375g boiling water and 375g tap water, then adding 820g whole wheat flour. I mix roughly and let it sit the 2 hours while the starter matures.

At the two hour mark I add 200g whole wheat flour to the soaker and give it 20-30 minutes to hydrate. I sprinkle on 24.3g salt and knead this dough 15 minutes. I then incorporate my starter, which is very wet, with a fold-and-punch motion until it is smooth.

The dough gets 5 hours in a warm room to bulk ferment with 6 stretch and folds during the first three hours. It bulks up nicely and I feel good gluten development.

I turn out without deflating, divide, and tightly round two loaves and proof them seam side down in bannetons no more than an hour at room temp. They grow very fast at 100% whole grain, and I suspect one problem I’m having is over-proofing even at the one hour mark. I refrigerate the second loaf but even so the first one oven-springs more than the second. I don’t slash, instead letting the seam side (which is up, Ken Forkish style) open naturally.

I bake in a dutch oven 475F, 30 minutes with the lid on and 17 minutes with the lid off.


As I say with at least some white flour, say the final 200g of flour being white, this makes a loaf I am very proud of. With 100% whole grain, it is not a bad sandwich bread but it isn’t what I call a fine hearth bread. I have even choked a couple of times on crumbles while eating toast-NOT a sign of good texture!

I also miss out on the distinctive chewiness of sourdough. Flavor wise, I would like to develop the flavor (not necessarily the sourness) a more. The hot soaker does improve sweetness and softness but I know it probably does the structure of the bread no favors. My thought process with it was also to soften up the bran better, to allow better extensibility; but it isn’t working out.

I tried reducing the hydration this past weekend and it resulted in an identical texture. No change, for better OR worse.


What should I try next?

dabrownman's picture

the less bulk ferment and the sooner it need to hit the oven.  With a 100% whole whet bread you want it in at the 85% proofed mark and no more.  I'm guessing you are over fermenting and over proofing if the bread comes out flat.  It is so easy to do.  Don't watch the clock - watch the dough instead.

pmccool's picture

Examples: "I give this 2 hours at room temp to mature."  "let it sit the 2 hours while the starter matures"  "The dough gets 5 hours in a warm room to bulk ferment" 

If timing, not development, is the driver for various stages of the process, then "I suspect one problem I’m having is over-proofing even at the one hour mark" is probably a good diagnosis.  Better that you pay attention to what the dough says about its readiness instead of watching the clock.

What is the temperature of the ingredients?  Of the starter/levain?  Of the dough?  Of the room?  All of those will have a profound affect on the rate of fermentation. 

Even though the levain builds seem to be in the 165-170% hydration range, I would be concerned that they aren't really mature after just 2 hours, depending on temperatures.  The 5-hour bulk ferment may be too long in "warm" temperatures, especially since it appears that you try to minimize degassing during shaping.

The texture issue can be addressed in a couple of ways.  You might want to try putting just 200g of the whole wheat flour in the hot soaker/scald, while also setting up a room-temperature autolyse of the 820g whole wheat flour in parallel.  That will give all of the whole wheat flour a nice long soak, allowing the bran to absorb moisture, which will cut down on some of the crumbly texture in the finished bread.  The other trick is to engage in some extensive kneading of the finished dough; say 20-25 minutes by hand or 15 minutes or more by machine.  This also helps smooth out the texture of whole-grain breads, whereas the stretch and fold approach is less helpful in producing tenderness.

Best of luck with the next batch.


MJ Sourdough's picture
MJ Sourdough

May i ask why you are using boiling water to soak the flour? not a criticism, just never came across this before. Unless you are making the bread in a cold area and need to get things up to the high temp. thanks!