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Wet, sticky and floppy..

bread1965's picture

Wet, sticky and floppy..

I'm curious as to how wet and sticky whole wheat dough should be..

I'm making two whole wheat tartine loaves right now.

Levain 20; water 80; whole wheat flour 70; all purpose flour 30 and salt 2 - i used bread flour instead of AP.

After a three hour bulk fermentation with folds every half hour (kept at 80 degrees in my oven using the oven light as a heat source), I left the dough on the counter for an hour as I had to run out, came back and shaped them, left them for half an hour, shaped them again as they were floppy a bit and didn't hold their taught shape well, and after that second shaping put them in baskets. They were abit more taught, but not great.

They were very sticky to handle and very 'floppy'.. it just doesn't feel right. I'm waiting for them to proof and will bake them at some point after 2 - but no longer than 4 - hours in the baskets. 

Thoughts? I know it's a higher hydration than the regular country loaf where water is 72.5. But with the country loaf I could create a really nice taught boule. No such luck today. And as it's my day of being a dummy, I ended up placing the loaves in the baskets wrong side up, so I had to flip them out, re-flour the baskets and put them in again, So I'm not too hopeful as to how they'll come out. But I know dough is pretty forgiving, so lets see. 

Any experience with tartine whole wheat? Thanks for any insights.. bake happy! 


dabrownman's picture

The most important thing for me when it comes to high % whole grain breads is to do a proper autolyse.  For a whole grain bread like this I would do 2 hours to make sure that the WW soaks up as much water as it can.  Using Bread flour will also sop up some more water than AP too.  I think you will be fine and you will like the results very much.

Expect the dough to spread a lot if you don't retard it and get it cold.   The last thing is to remember the higher percent of whole grains the less proof you want to allow before it hits the heat. - no more than 75% since you aren't retarding it .  This isn't white bread and it need to treated a bit differently.

Happy baking the Whole Grain Way!

bread1965's picture

I'll be sure to do a long autolyse next time. But I wonder if it's possible to get a high oven spring with a whole wheat bread with as much whole wheat as there is in this recipe? And even if I did retard it in the fridge to get it cold and more manageable, could you get good dough surface tension? 

Just out of the oven. I'd say it's about as 2/3rds as high as I my white flour tartine loaf.  It smells great. will cut it open tomorrow. I must admit, I'm finding tartine less interesting when following the same day baking instructions.. I think it needs more time to develop more flavour. I think next time I'll let it sit in the fridge overnight. Thanks again for the advice! Bake happy..

dabrownman's picture

open crumb but has so may other things you just can't get with white bread.  A deep, complex earthy flavor, great aroma, fine nutrition, excellent digestibility and lower blood sugar spikes.  I don't do non retarded breads very often and certainly not high percent whole grain  ones - even 100% rye ones.  The taste and exponentially complex, flavor profiles can't be had any other way I know of.  Milling your own and using fresh, whole grains plus sprouting some of them too are the other ways to some of the most healthy ,beautiful and best tasting bread to be found anywhere......and I really like white bread too!  Most folks don't like whole grain breads any more than they like sour ones .....I like then all but prefer the darker side of bread.

Happy baking 

Danni3ll3's picture

since I had a similar same issue yesterday? I did an overnight autolyse with the flour and water (my recipe was the Ode to Bourdon which is 50% high extraction flour, 25% white wheat flour and 25% wholewheat flour with almost 85% hydration and 7% wheat germ), then mixed it with the levain and salt the next day.

I did a four hour bulk with turns every half hour, put into fridge cause I had to run out, came back 2 hours or so later, shaped (includes preshape and rest) which worked okay cause the dough was cold, and back into the fridge proofing for 5 hours.

The dough did rise in the proofing baskets the same amount as other loaves I have made but the crumb turned out to be very tight. I got just a bit less oven spring than bread1965; my loaves aren't as rounded but I got a similar height. The dough felt really soft even though it was cold when I turned it out to put in the Dutch ovens. I even scored the dough which I never do because I bake seam side up.

I mostly followed a method from Chad Robertson that outlined a long autolyse and a short 4 hour final proof in the fridge. I am not happy with the crumb. Tastes fine though. Why is Chad Robertson getting great big holes in his bread while mine turned out to be close to a brick?

I hope Bread1965 doesn't mind my totally hijacking his thread which I realized I am doing after typing it all out. 

bread1965's picture

Don't mind at all.. I can't help you other than to say that your comment about the dough being "soft" was something that I remember striking me when I placed my loaves on the bench and into the dutch ovens as well. And they actually developed / cracked open seams immediately after flipping them out of my baskets onto the bench. I thought the whole thing (pun intended) was odd..

dabrownman's picture

In this case you only have 25% whole grains but you do have some high extraction (which in my case would be about 80%) and some germ.  I'm not there to feel the dough but I think i would start out at about 76% - 78% hydration and hold back 2% water to mix in with the salt later as a double hydration process

I think another potential bigger problem is with an overnight autolyse.  What happens in an autolyse is that water activates the enzymes in the flour and hydrates the starch and proteins so that they can be attacked by the enzymes.  So the amylase a and b are attacking the starch and breaking it down into the sugars that the we beasties will metabolize later to make acids, CO2 and ethanol.  If there is too much sugars as a result the microbes can't eat it all, it gets in the way and you can end up with a gummy crumb that is sweet.  We aren't trying to make beer here.  We just want enough residual sugar to brown the crust well.

The other thing that happens is that the protease enzymes start attacking the gluten protein chain bonds that are formed when the flour gets wet.  The  break them and slice the gluten strands up into smaller amino acid chains.  The rough edges of the bran can also slice and dice the gluten strands too.  Most of the protease enzymes are in the low extraction (bran) portion of the flour

With white flour breads you never have to worry about protease action breaking down your dough and making it too slack using normal temperatures, autolyse, ferment and proofing times.  But whole grain breads are a different story.  You have a lot more protease to begin with and, at room temperatures, they are warm enough to really get their protein bond breaking work done at a fairly fast clip and the longer you let them work, as in an overnight autolyse, the more gluten damage they can do.  Sprouted grains are even worse than whole grains. 

The reason that white no knead breads work is that as soon as the flour gets wet it starts making gluten strands, even without kneading and there isn't much protease to mess with them. 

I think a room temperature autolyse overnight is causing mire harm than good.  Too much sugar and too many gluten chains being broken.  I like to autolyse white breads for an hour and whole grain ones about 2 or 3 hours - longer than that I let them soak in the fridge where the enzyme activity is reduced dramatically.  Every 18 F increase in temperature makes for a doubling in the rate of enzyme activity.

It is a balance of time, temperature, flour type and water.  When one gets out of whack then weird bread things happen.  I also don;t like messing with whole grain breads to develop the gluten too much mechanically or by hand either because this action is what can cause the bran to slice away unless it it softened properly.

The way to soften the bran properly in whole grain breads is to get it wet and let the acid the LAB work on breaking it down for as long as possible.  I sift out the hard bits and use them to build my 3 stag - 4 hour each levain builds for whole grain breads.  Then we retard them for 24-36 hours before they hit the mix.  I want that bran in contact with water and SD for as long as possible to soften it up as much as we can.  You don't want  it to be messing with with the gluten that is developed and once it is developed you don't want to be man handing it. 

When the levain comes out of the fridge you stir it down to redistribute the food and let it warm up.  Once it rises 25%, about 2 hours, you can use it and this is just the right amount of time to the autolyse with the high extraction dough flour and water.

Once everything is mixed, I don't like doing slap and folds after an hou, so do 3 sets of 30 each on 20 minute intervals.  I don't like doing stretch and folds after 2 hours so do 3 sets of 4 each on 20 minute intervals.  Whole grain breads are not like white ones.  After 2 hours I just let the dough rest on the counter untiol it rises about 25% max - no more.   and then into to the fridge it goes for a bulk retard or I pre-shape and then shape it for a shaped retard.

I prefer shaped retard when we want a more open crumb.  Working the dough one more time, to shape it, when it comes out of the fridge after it has risen beautifully in the cold just makes for a more closed crumb.  If using a shaped cold proof just make sure it doesn't over proof in the fridge.  Whole f=grain breads are faster and you want them to hit the heat a less proof.  So your 18-21 hour retard for white bread will only be a -12 hour one for a while grain bread.  I get a bit more than that by using a low/ small 10% pre-fermented flour for the levain.

That is about all i know about how to open the crumb of a whole grain bread - with, experimentation and practice with your particular grains and flour.

That is how i get a open crumb using while grain breads.  High % rye breads are totally different beast altogether.

Hope this helps.

Happy whole grain baking

Danni3ll3's picture

Your answer certainly makes sense as to what happened to my dough. 

Just to clarify a few things, the high extraction flour I used has 20 to 25% of the bran sifted out according to the miller when I talked to him. On his website, it says it is 70% extraction but I think I would believe his word over a website. So you were right about the high extraction flour type. 

The white flour was labeled White Wholewheat flour which I interpreted as wholewheat flour made from white wheat rather than red. So that actually bumps up my percentage of wholewheat flour to 50. 

When I made this loaf previously, I utilized AP flour at 13.3% protein since I couldn't find white wholewheat. I also had a much shorter autolyse of one hour with the leaven included.  Hydration was similar although I used 10 g less in the brick loaf. Both were bulk fermented at 80-82F (in the oven with the light on and the door cracked open).

I did 6 folds over 3 hours then divided and shaped with the first loaf. From what you are telling me, it sounds that I should be doing my folds early and then leaving the dough alone for the remainder of bulk. Maybe I misunderstood but Robertson said to keep folding until you can't complete a series without pressing the gas out. I then thought you proceeded directly to dividing and pre-shaping. Maybe I should go back to my Forkish ways of folding 3 or 4 times in the first two hours and leaving the dough alone for the rest which is what I think you are saying in your post in addition to doing slaps and folds in the first hour with everything 20 minutes apart. I will definitely try this. 

Proofing for both were in the fridge but my first loaf stayed in there for 12 hours rather than 5. The crumb was a lot better than my brick but it still didn't equal the pictures in Tartine 3. 

Your comment about the bran cutting the strands may have been part of the problem as well although my thinking was that the overnight autolyse would soften it enough for that to not happen but then again I didn't take into account the enzymes breaking down the gluten strands during the long autolyse. Speaking of sifting out the bran and letting it soak, how fine of a kitchen sieve do I need or will a regular flour sifter work?

And thank you so much for your detailed answer. This will really help when I try this again once we have eaten the bricks. And I want to thank Breadman also for letting me highjack his thread. Hopefully, somethIng in DBM answer helps your bread making too. I know I learned a lot. 

PS Excuse the typos. Typing on a phone keyboard is a pain. 


Danni3ll3's picture

Further to my other comments, I saved your post to reread it carefully and wondered what is the percentage of levain that you use in your loaves. I find your process of buildIng the levain unlike anything I have read so far. So a few questions:

1. Do you use a liquid starter (100%)?

2. I gather you feed your starter every four hours for three sessions, the last being built up enough to have enough to use in the recipe. Then you put it into the fridge for 24-36 hours before you use it in the recipe. Do I have that right?

3. And last but not least, what percentage of levain do you use in your wholewheat bread?


dabrownman's picture

over 3 builds to about 120 g total and then retard it for up to 24 weeks in the fridge with no maintenance and use 5-10 go of it every week to build a progressively larger 3 stage levain for what ever bread I am baking that week.  I use between 8 and 15% prefemented flour in the levain total depending on the time of year and how cold it is in the kitchen - winter 15% and summer 8%.

Once the levain is built I retard it for up to 36 hours before using it in the dough.  An autolyse is flour and water only to hydrate the flour and give the enzymes a head start before the levain and salt hit the mix.  Once the levain  hits the mix it now fermenting rather than autolysing and defeats the whole purpose of the autolyse.  Here is a post on how I keep my starter an do levain builds

I don't make the levain with a certain amount of prefermented flour based on what grain is being used  Temperature and how much time I have to get the bread done are the determining the levain amounts.  Hot means less levain and less time means more levain.  The higher the temperature the faster things move along when it comes to the wee beasties in SD and slower always means better bread when it comes to flavor - the most important thing.  So when it is hot you use less levain to slow things down to get better flavor and it you have the time you use less levain to allow the maximum time for the wee beasties to work on the dough before it is fermented, proofed and has to hit the heat of the oven

I do everything I can to slow things down as much as possible including sprouting grains for better flavor and nutrition.  For a Friday noon bake IO start the sprouts at 8 AM the previous Monday.  I build the levain using the sifted bran on Tuesday and retard it until I have to mix the dough on Thursday to get an 18 hour retard .in for the bulk ferment or shaped I can bake at noon or so on Friday.  It is an original, unusual and unique process for making the very best breads - especially whole grain sprouted ones - my personal favorites.  I certainly isn't for everyone.  There are few people who care to,  or can afford to,  waste 5 days to make a loaf of bread.  But there are even fewer who can actually enjoy some it:-)  The method is really bits and pieces stolen from other bakers here at TFL and cobbled together in a strange if weird process:-)

No Muss No Fuss Starter 

I started experimenting with temperatures a fe years ago to see how they affect LAB and Yeast reproduction rates in SD  along the lines of Ganzel's research confirming that high and low temperatues promote LAB over yearst.  Last year I did some experimenting with bran along,with another Fresh Lofian, to see how feeding bran to starters and levains would effect the total acid in the finished dough and bread.  The experiments confirmed that the acid increases dramatically using bran for food due its buffering effects that allow the LAB to continue to produce acid at lower pH;s than they normally would be able to,  This is important since the flavor of whole grains can mute the sour in bread and I love the sour and the acid in rye breads is what reacts with the amylase to provide the structure in rye breads since it has little gluten to do so.  Without the acid rye breads would be bricks and they are dense enough even when they have an open crumb:-)

So now I feed my starter and levains with rye bran and or the bran from what ever mix of whole grains I am using in the bread.that week.

Happy baking 

Happy baking .


Danni3ll3's picture

Based on your two previous posts, does the following plan make sense and roughly follows what you do?

1. Tuesday, sift wholewheat flours and use bran and high extraction flour if needed to feed 5 g starter (1:1:1). I dot care for bread that is distinctly sour so adding flour to the bran may moderate this. Repeat 4 hours later but with the entire 15 g (1:1:1) of starter, and repeat 4 hours later with entire 45 g (1:2:2) starter to end up with 225 g of levain. I need 150 grams so that will be plenty. Put into fridge till Thursday morning. 

2. Late Thursday morning (11am), autolyse the flour (500 g high extraction, 250 g wholewheat, 250 g white wholewheat) with 80% hydration (save the other 5% to add with the 25g salt). Autolyse for 3 hours and let the levain warm up for 2 hours after stirring it. Room temp is 70-72 degrees F. 

At 2 pm, Add levain and salt, mix. Add last 50g water if needed. Stretch and fold the dough every 20 minutes for the first two hours(not fond of the slap and fold, although I may try your method after all). Leave alone for the next two hours till 25% risen. 

Divide and preshape. Bench rest for 30 minutes and do final shaping. Put into proofing baskets and into fridge for 12 to 14 hours. Keep an eye on proofing. 

3. Friday, bake as per usual in DO. 

Thanks, Danni

Filomatic's picture

Fascinating.  Another bookmarked post ...

drogon's picture

My answer to how wet & sticky wholewheat dough should be is simply as wet and as sticky as you want it to be!

However, you're following a particular recipe that I've no experience of, but by the sounds of it - fairly wet & sticky is what I imagine it'll be like. The pictures looks mighty fine to me though. Well done!

The closest I make is an 80% hydration wholewheat overnight yeasted bread (My attempts at sourdough make good bread, but it's far too sour with my usual methods). For that, I do a 2-hour autolyze which really softens everything up and makes it easy to knead - although I'm usually using a machine as I often do 4 large loaves worth (2120g flour + 1700g water). After kneading, it's stretchy, but holds itself into a nice firm boulle for the overnight ferment, but in the morning it's transformed into a much stickier/wetter substance and takes a few stretch & folds to become workable so I can scale and shape it (into tins) before final proof and bake. Nice bread, but not sourdough - something I need to work on.

But echoing what dabrownman says - long autolyze and get it into the oven way sooner than you might think it takes to prove.




bread1965's picture

Thanks Gordon - I'll give the long autolyse a try and likely use the fridge to help dough development and improve the flavour profile. Bake happy...