Pain de Campaign - finial
Poilane was and is correct. A sourdough miche of whole wheat is great bread. It is the "Pain de Campaign" that I was seeking. Such bread can be baked at home, and it is not that hard for someone with some experience with sourdough.
A miche is better without yeast or white flour. Yeast speeds rising, so there is less flavor. White flour also diminishes flavor. I use fresh, (organic) stoneground hard red wheat with 10% spelt, 2% rye, and 2% chickpea flour. That little bit of spelt does help with texture, and the rye speeds fermentation and gives more flavor. My starter (old dough) is about 20 % of final dough weight. Salt is 2.2 % added mid- way through stretch and folds. The dough is fairly firm, so I do not bother with a banneton. (I form a good boule. Hydration was a little more than 70%, for whole wheat, that is a firm dough.) Fermentation time varies with temperature, yesterday, the kitchen was ~70F, and it took about 16 hours from mixing the dough to taking it out of a 450F oven.
The loaf was 1.6 kg. Crumb is about the right density for a sandwich bread. It is good with soups and stews, and has a slightly acid, definite bread flavor. It will not over power a fried egg sandwich, but it has a clean definite flavor.
The dough was mixed/kneaded in a 6 -liter plastic tub with a tight fitting lid. Stretch / folds and final loaf formation were done on the counter. Final rise was done on a piece of parchment paper sitting on the peel.
Bake it big, cut it into quarters, it freezes well.
And no, I do not bother sifting out the bran from half the flour. I have the sieves, I have done that. I like the bread better with the bran in it. If I was serving the bread with delicate Ille de France menus – Never mind, I do not cook bland stuff any more. I make sure my potatoes taste like potatoes and my bread tastes like bread.
Why does everyone put white flour and yeast in their recipes for Poilane style bread? It just makes the bread, bigger, fluffier, and mediocre. I have eaten a lot of mediocre bread. I try to serve my friends better bread.
I was pointed into this style of baking by a story of a party in St. Petersburg, just after WWII when the available food was tea and a quarter of a loaf of "dense brown bread'! This pushed me back toward baking big loaves of dense brown bread - bread that was not made from high hydration dough produced by bakers that want to produce big bread as fast and as cheaply as possible. This was a story of bread as real food - the staff of life.
I looked at all the images I could find of miche from Poilane. I decided (rightly or wrongly) they were not raised in banneton. That meant a firmer dough! I started working with firmer doughs. These needed longer fermentation - costly for a bakery, but no problem for me.
Letting the dough sit before kneading (autolyze) is a extra step for a professional baker, but no problem for me, and it made "kneading" easy. Stretch and fold is an extra step for a professional baker (more cost), but no problem for me. Coil folds are an extra step for a professional baker (more cost), but no problem for me.
Overall, ignoring the issues faced in running a commercial bakery lets me bake better bread with almost no effort other than looking at my dough when I go into the kitchen to get another cup of coffee. When I touch the dough, I adjust hydration by either using wet hands or floured hands. It is not much change to hydration, but it helps. However, I can pop the dough into the cooler and ignore it for 24 or 48 hours.
Long ago, I went to "Fashion Week" in Paris with my wife. We spent the next week walking up and down the streets of Paris tasting/eating anything and everything that looked or smelled good. Yesterday's miche is about as good as any bread we had in Paris, or anywhere in Europe for that matter. It was baked at a home, and I expect you can bake bread just as good or better. Period.