100% Whole Wheat Sourdough

I have made whole wheat sourdough in the past but never a fully whole grain version, I typically mix in some white flour or sift out the bran, never to return. However, this entry is a true 100% whole wheat sourdough, through and through, and I have to say its taste really surprised me. Not too wheaty, not bitter, and a beautiful rise with a just-dark-enough colored crust. Some of this is due to the exceptional whole wheat flour I’m using (see below), but of course bread doesn’t just bake itself, the process is just as important.

The increased nutrition in whole wheat bread is definitely a welcome thing, but also, the taste is so completely different from my white sourdough loaf and it’s great to change things up when you bake weekly (or more than that, in my case). But, not only a change in taste of the resulting bread, but also a change in process and an adaptation of skills. I feel like baking whole wheat requires a baker to elevate their observational skills to a new degree, to watch the dough closely and respond to its ever-changing attitude as the bake progresses. It keeps you on your toes!

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

To achieve a completely whole grain sourdough I employed my 100% whole wheat stiff starter. If you don’t maintain a starter that is completely whole grain you can either convert yours over, make a new one from your existing one1, or use what you have knowing that your loaf will have just a little bit of white flour in it — not really that big of a deal as the percentage of your eventual starter in the final dough is relatively small.

Flour Selection

After an exchange of emails with an astute reader (hey, Margie!) I’ve decided to add a new section to my posts that delves a little bit into the flour selected for the current bake. Sometimes the flour will be the same as the previous post, especially since I order it in 50 pound bags these days, but when there is something new to discuss I’ll add it in this section before the recipe.

As we know flour is an incredibly important ingredient in bread, you know, since it is one of the only 3 ingredients required. With Central Milling’s new website where they’ve made ordering 50 pound bags easier than ever2, I have access to some incredible flour options, including a variety of whole wheat flour. A month or so ago I decided to pick up a bag of their Organic Whole Wheat Hi-Pro Medium Flour and have truly enjoyed its flavor when used in my white country loaf. Medium here indicates the flour is ground to a “medium” granularity, which according to them is great for mixing in with white flour, but not superb when baking 100% whole wheat loaves. They have a Fine flour option in which they indicate is more appropriate for 100% whole wheat. Pretty safe to say next order I will add a bag of this to my cart.

Central Milling Hi-Pro Medium Whole Wheat Flour

A quick note: I’ve made this exact bread using King Arthur Whole Wheat flour and found the flavor to be on the bitter side. This is due to the variety of wheat they use but if you’re hard pressed to find another alternative try their White Whole Wheat (and I opt for the organic version), it has a slightly sweeter flavor.

The finer the milling, especially for whole wheat flour, the better the result as there will be less larger bran particles to shred your gluten structure during mixing and folding. Until I’m able to procure my own mill, so I can grind at my own desired granularity, I’m slave to the large mills and their grind options. That said, there are things we can do to help prevent the bran from wreaking havoc on our dough: sifting. I’ll dig more into this later in this entry.

Ash is calculated by “burning a given quantity of flour under prescribed conditions and measuring the residue”.

The flour I’m using for this bake has a protein level of about 14%, ash of 1.5% and is a blend of hard red spring wheat. The ash percentage represents the amount of mineral content in the flour, in this case a 1.5% value indicates an extremely high mineral content with no bran sifted out, or in other words, the flour contains the entire wheat kernel (which is correct given this is a whole wheat flour). Naturally, the higher the ash percentage the higher the nutritional content of the flour.

Due to the nature of whole wheat flour and the high level of nutrients available for your starter expect that your fermentation will move along at a pretty steady clip. Keep an eye on your dough and the signs that it’s progressing according to your expectations, its easy for this dough to get away from you! I avoided leaving the dough out on the counter before its cold retard, there was no need for additional counter time for me.

Prepare the 100% whole wheat stiff levain – 8:30am

I’ve kept a 100% whole wheat stiff starter for a while now and have used it to great success. I’ve written about it in the past and my next upcoming entry will be my maintenance schedule and how to create one of your own. If you don’t have a stiff starter, no worries, your liquid version (and the one I’ve outlined previously) will do just fine here.

Mixing stiff levain

Gather the following and mix together. This levain is a stiff variety at only 65% hydration. If you’re using to a liquid levain it may feel strange to you to almost knead the mixture but don’t worry it will come together. Alternatively you could up the hydration percentage to reach your normal liquid levain viscosity.

Weight Ingredient
50g Mature stiff starter
100g Central Milling Hi-Pro Medium Whole Wheat flour
65g H2O @ 85ºF

Keep your levain in a warm area and wait about 4-5 or so hours until it’s matured enough to leaven your dough. You can see my whole wheat stiff levain all mixed up and in a tight shaped ball below.

Whole wheat stiff levain

If using a stiff levain you want to use after significant expansion has taken place but there is still a domed top (i.e. your “stiff ball” has not yet collapsed in the top-middle). If using a liquid levain you want bubbles on top and throughout and still a sweet smell to it, but almost tangy.

Sift Your Flour – 8:40am

Right after preparing the levain we will sift our whole wheat flour to remove as much of the large, chunky bran particles as possible. It is these large particles that act like little swords cutting through your dough destroying that nice gluten matrix we spend time building to trap gas and create a nice voluminous loaf. By sifting them out, submerging them in boiling water, and incorporating them later, we can treat the bran just like we would seeds or nuts and incorporate them back in gently, after we’ve strengthened our dough.

Sifting out bran from whole wheat flour

I use this flour sifter to do my sifting, but there are others that can be found online that have specific mesh spacing designations so you know exactly what extraction you’ll achieve. For me, I know after using this particular sifter, and this flour, I get from 13 to 15% extraction — and that works for me.

The easiest (read: cleanest) way I’ve found to sift is to find a bowl that will completely fit your sifter inside, but stop partway down from the top. Place the sifter inside till snug and just pour in some flour, shake side-to-side to let the finer particles fall through, and collect the more coarse particles up top. I sifted out about 13% of the total flour used for this recipe, that means out of the 1000 grams of whole wheat flour for this recipe I removed 13% bran (or more accurately, 129 grams) using my sifter.

Pour the sifted, coarse bran into a small bowl and pour 200 grams of boiled water on top. Let this soaking mixture rest near your levain until we are ready to mix the dough.

Sori Yanagi Kettle

Autolyse – 10:00am

We will do a two hour autolyse with this dough. To make things easier you could mix your autolyse ingredients at the same time you prepare your levain but I wouldn’t do any less than 2 hours. Whole wheat flour, with its high protein levels, can be quite tough and resist stretching (low extensibility), a longer autolyse helps combat this.

Note: the mixed ingredients for this autolyse does not contain the stiff levain (only flour and water).

Ingredients:

Gather the following:

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
1000g Central Milling Hi-Pro Medium Whole Wheat flour 100%
750g H2O @ 80ºF 75% (see note below)
20g Fine sea salt 2%

Note: the final hydration for this loaf is going to be around 95% (750g water above and 200g water poured over bran after sifting). In fact, hydration might even be a bit higher than this as a little water was used on my hands when folding in the bran after the second set of stretch and folds.

Perform the following for your autolyse:

  1. In a thick bowl add all the flour
  2. Add 700g of your water (the rest is reserved until later when we add in the levain & salt after the autolyse)
  3. Mix these ingredients by hand until all the dry bits are incorporated
  4. Cover with wrap and keep near your in-progress levain and sifted bran until mix time (in my case in the oven to keep warm)

Mix – 12:00pm

After our autolyse has finished break up 175g (17.5%) of the stiff, ripe levain on top of the dough, pour about half of the remaining warm water on top to help dissolve things.

Whole wheat stiff levain

I mixed for about 8 minutes, in the bowl, using a combination of the “pincer” method and stretch and folds. A “pincer” motion is performed by bringing your index finger and thumb together as you work from one side of the dough to the other, when you reach the end we do a stretch up and fold over. Do this over and over until you feel like the ingredients have been incorporated thoroughly. After this you can simply do stretch and folds until the dough starts to feel a little more extensible, a little stronger.

After about 8 minutes of mixing, pour on your 20g salt and pincer through the dough to mix well. I mixed for an additional 2 minutes with salt added.

Final dough temperature: 79ºF
Ambient temperature: 80ºF (in oven with light toggled on and off)

Bulk Fermentation – 12:10pm

Transfer your dough to a container to be used during bulk fermentation and let rest for the first 30 minutes. I’ve really taken to using my Heath Ceramics super thick ceramic bowl. It helps regulate temperature by keeping the dough insulated, the dough doesn’t stick at all to the sides and it’s wide enough to do stretch and folds with no problem. Any container works well here, though, it’s really a personal preference thing.

You can see in the image below just how much bran was sifted out and reincorporated back in after the second set of stretch and folds. Follow the schedule (loosely, you’ll have to adjust for your flour, environment, and many other factors) below:

Whole wheat sourdough with bran added

After the first 30 minutes has passed, perform your first set of stretch and folds.

  1. 12:40pm – Turn Set 1
  2. 1:10pm – Turn Set 2 – After this set gently fold (using a little water on your hands) in your sifted bran, resting in boiled water (it will have absorbed all 200g and will be moist but not wet)
  3. 1:40pm – Turn Set 3 – Dough felt strong here so this was my last set, we want to avoid overworking this dough

Because of the higher protein amount in this whole wheat flour the dough looked plenty strong to me after 3 sets of stretch and folds. I let the dough rest from 1:40pm to 4:10pm to complete bulk fermentation. You can see below the strength of my dough: it’s holding its shape in the container with rounded edges, streaks across the top, and the dark brown colors show the bran reincorporated at this point.

Whole wheat dough without sifted bran

Pre-shape – 4:10pm

Take the dough out of your bulk container and divide the mass into two halves. Pre-shape into two loosely shaped boules to rest for 20 minutes.

As you can see below, we do a gentle preshape. It’s not terribly important to have tight rounded boules at this point, but if your dough feels extremely slack (mine did not) then a little extra tension here will help strengthen your dough. I really try to avoid overworking whole wheat dough at this point, especially now since the bran has been incorporated.

Whole wheat sourdough loose preshape

Cover with inverted bowls or damp towels to keep the resting dough moist.

Shape + Proof – 4:30pm, Then in Fridge at 4:45pm

After your 20 minute pre-shape rest, shape each dough mass into a taut boule. I tested one as a batard and one as a boule but for some reason with whole wheat bread I really prefer the boule shape.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t let the shaped dough rest on the counter before retarding. Your dough may need additional time, but likely not. Whole wheat ferments so fast (especially if your starter is in tip-top shape) it’s safer to just retard in your fridge straightaway.

Whole wheat sourdough shaped in bannetons

Score + Bake – around 10:50am

Baking in a Dutch Oven

Place your baking stone and Dutch oven in your home oven and turn it to 500ºF for a 1 hour pre-heat. After one hour, take one of your bannetons out of the fridge and cut a piece of parchment paper to place on top. Take your peel and then put it on top of those two and quickly invert it so the dough is now resting on the parchment paper which is resting on the peel.

Take out the shallow side of your Dutch oven and drag in your dough. Quickly place the pan back in the oven, cover with the deep side, and bake for 20 minutes at 500ºF. After 20 minutes, turn down the oven to 450ºF and cook covered for an additional 10 minutes. Once this 10 minute period is over, open the oven and take off the deep lid of the Dutch oven to vent the steam (set it next to the other half inside the oven), then cook for an additional 30 minutes or so, until the bread is to your desired doneness.

Baking on Stones

Lately I’ve been baking experimentally without my Dutch oven, placing the dough right on thick baking stones and using various methods to steam the oven. I’m working on a comprehensive writeup on the different methods I’ve tried but below is a shot of my current approach. I’m using a hot cast iron pan with lava rocks (preheated) where I toss on 1 cup of cold water right as I’m loading my dough.

Creating steam in home oven

I have more information on generating steam in your home oven on this future post, but one thing I’ll say here if you’re studying my picture above: you’ll notice I have a baking stone on top to radiate heat downward on my loaves. I’ve found this helps get nice coloring on top with a typical white loaf, but with whole wheat I’d recommend removing that top stone after about 30 minutes of bake time. With constant downward heat all the way through the bake you’ll find the top of your bread will darken much too quickly.

Whether you bake in a Dutch oven or on baking stones, wait as long as you can (preferably around 12-24 hours) before cutting. The interior stays quite tender for a long period and the flavor really develops the next day.

Conclusion

All-in-all this is definitely my go-to approach for baking 100% whole wheat bread. For my next flour order I’ll pick up some of Central Milling’s “fine” whole wheat to see the result (and update this post with my findings) — I expect more volume and little, if any, need to sift. However, for any whole wheat flour you purchase you always have the option to sift to remove those big particles like we did above. It lets you strengthen your dough with a lowered concern for damaging your dough.

All that aside, this bread was very surprising to me. I’ve made whole wheat in the past and the flavor of this bread was incredibly mild, a little sweet, and very soft. There wasn’t an overly “wheaty” taste and the crust wasn’t leathery tough, just the right level of resistance.

Crust

A soft and supple crust, beautiful coloring and wonderful rise. Precision with your scoring is slightly more important here with this bread as there is little explosive expansion, but rather, slow rise in the oven that really gravitates toward your slashes.

100% whole wheat sourdough crust

Crumb

The glossiness of this crumb was just spectacular. This is what I’ve come to look for in my bread and these loaves had plenty of it. It’s difficult to get the same open crumb with whole wheat as you would with a predominantly white bread, as we’ve discussed above, but I am more than happy with the open and light interior.

100% whole wheat sourdough crumb

Taste

Very little whole wheat bitterness found in this bread, in fact, it was almost a little sweet and very subtle “wheaty” flavors. A slightly increased sour tang at the end of each bite, most likely due to the nature of increased fermentation with whole wheat flour but not too sour, which is good as that is not my preference. Just wonderful and nutritious bread!

One hundred percent whole wheat sourdough bread

As I was enjoying a slice of this 100% whole wheat sourdough with some chopped avocados, extra virgin olive oil and salt & pepper, I was happy that I was able to adjust my process in response to its potentially moody attitude and bake a truly healthy and wonderful bread.

Buon appetito!

Weck jar with lame and starter

 

Recipe and method submitted to YeastSpotting.




  1. Slowly convert your feedings over the course of a day or two to use all whole wheat instead of a mix of white/wheat, if that’s your situation.

  2. Truly happy I can now easily purchase flour in large quantities like this, but shipping is still pretty high for me out in New Mexico.

  • LeeYong

    Awesome looking Loaf… thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you! Would love to hear how it turns out for you if you give it a try. Happy baking!

  • I have heard that instead of mixing the bran into the dough… they are taking the siffed bran and coating the outside of the loaf… this would eliminate the sharp shards of the bran to be cutting the crumb when rising… BUT!! your method of preparing the loaf seems to have worked “perfect” because your crumb looks wonderful!!… WayToGo

    When I feed my sourdough I pour out all the start except for 1 tablespoon… then add 70 grams of water and 35 gram rye and 35 of white flour… this will literally FILL 1/2 liter Weck Jar when fully risen. I am using this mature starter to make 3 loaves of bread of about 750 grams each… What I am really trying to say is… I ain’t a purest that many of you are to think that 12 grams of white flour per loaf is gunna kill me… 🙂 … OR… what I really might be saying is I am probably to danged lazy to keep track of more that on starter… 🙂

    I mill all of my whole grains myself in a Nutrimill ( http://www.amazon.com/Nutrimill-760200-NutriMill-Classic-Grain/dp/B001UI37N8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426141291&sr=8-1&keywords=the+nutrimill+grain+mill ) it mills from very fine to coarse and it is FRESH

    Now if I could just make bread that looked this nice!! WTG Maurizio I am still working on the “Country Loaf” trying to perfect it

    • Good point, we could totally use the bran as a topper or even just roll the entire loaf in it before retarding. It shouldn’t burn in the oven and would provide some nice crunch to the bread. However, did you see that picture up there of the 129 grams of bran I mixed back in? It’s A LOT! Maybe a 50/50 combination of the two would be ideal.

      Yup, just like I mentioned, if you have a white starter it really isn’t that big of a deal if you use it, the eventual contribution of this will be very low in the final dough.

      I’m eyeing a mill, that’s for sure. Later this year, I’m hoping!

      Thanks for the comments, Paul! Keep at that country loaf, it gets better each and every time.

  • aspieeyes

    Bravo Mario another beautiful bread well done! The tecnique you applied works well for me as well. I’ve done this with freshly milled Red Fife but instead of the boiled water and bran soaker I applied the sifted bran into my sourdough build…works like a charm :)) Now, you really need to invest in that Komo mill to take your experience to a whole new level! Happy bread baking!!

    • You meant “Maurizio”, right? 🙂 No worries, people do it all the time. You’re right of course, I’d love to use this same technique on fresh milled flour — one day I’ll get that mill I’ve been eyeing!

      Thanks for the comments!

  • Altaf

    This is just beautiful and thank you for sharing. Love your posts! I make a 70% whole wheat sourdough loaf that I pepper with mashed/chopped up sprouted organic wheat berries. Like you, I ferment this almost totally (except for 15-20 min bulk) under the cool temps of the fridge in order to get some control over the fermentation rate. The only time it is outside of the fridge is for shaping. It works pretty well for me and I manage to get respectable oven spring and grigne. Well done and looking forward to more!

    • Thanks, I appreciate that! That’s an interesting way to incorporate some of the whole wheat kernel. I’ve also been meaning to experiment more with sprouting grains and I hope to get to that more in the next few months. I’ve heard the flavors are superb and it adds another dimension to your bread.

      Thanks for stopping by and the comments, hope to hear from you again on a future post!

  • lisacohen

    What a wonderful post, Maurizio!! Hear that clapping and whistling in the background?!?!!! Yep, that’s me! 😀 I am so excited to give this a try. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • Thanks, Lisa! I just love whole wheat bread, even though it can sometimes be a little bit trickier to bake than a typical white sour.

      Let me know how this recipe works out for ya!

  • Emilye

    What a lovely loaf!
    Just to double check, the final proof in the refrigerator is overnight?
    Thank you for sharing, your website is a great source of information.
    I hope you will do more posts on 100% whole wheat (or whole grain) loaves in the future.

    • Emilye, thanks! Yes, the final proof is overnight in the refrigerator. You’re very welcome, and yes I do plan to do more 100% whole grain posts coming up here soon. Thanks for following along!

  • David Pegg

    Amazing results. So do you take the ‘proofed’ doughs straight from the fridge and into the preheated oven? No ‘warming up’ time to room temperature? I will try this asap

    • Thanks, David! Correct, I do not warm up the dough before loading into the oven — straight from fridge to oven.

      Let me know how it goes!

      • David Pegg

        I had a great proofed loaf removing the heavy bran particles really made a difference. But I think it slightly overproofed it and stuck to my banneton. I will try this again soon, I’ll post you a photo if it turns out

        • Excellent, looking forward to your results. Yes, have to watch that whole wheat dough — it moves fast!

  • Jessica

    If I wanted to add a bit of honey to sweeten my whole wheat sourdough, at which stage would you suggest adding it? And should I make other adjustments to account for the additional hydration of honey (like reduce the water a tad)? Also, what size Dutch oven are you cooking this bread in? I have a 6 inch diameter stoneware French oven and am trying to figure out how many mini 6 inch boules this recipe would make.

    • I’ve never added honey, but I’d say you can add it in during bulk fermentation, after your second turn. When I add walnut oil, or other oils, I typically do it at that point. Depending on how much you add you probably won’t have to adjust hydration. I’d say you’d be safe up to about 5%, more than that you could reduce hydration a few percentage points to compensate.

      I actually didn’t bake these loaves in a Dutch oven, I baked them right on baking stones using my home oven steaming method. When I do use a Dutch oven I like my 3qt. Lodge combo cooker, perfect size for typical boules!

      Hope that helps, happy baking Jessica!

  • edna vuong

    Thank you for sharing! Your blog has done wonders for baking, which was sketchy at best! I was wondering if you’ve ever done this with freshly milled flour? I recently picked up an old impact mill and was wondering if this technique of sifting out the bran and soaking would work. Thanks again

    • Thanks, I’m so glad my site has been helping! I actually haven’t tried this with fresh milled wheat (surprisingly), but I will surely do so soon. I’m pretty sure it’ll work extremely well! Congrats on the new mill, you’re going to love the taste of fresh milled flour 🙂

      • edna vuong

        I actually tried it this weekend. It turned out shockingly well! My loaves usually grow after proofing in the fridge overnight, but it was virtually overflowing. Its crazy how much faster the loaves ferment with the freshly milled flour

        • That’s awesome to hear — yes you’re right fresh milled flour really moves fast!

  • Mia

    Hi Maurizio,

    I really want to try making this 100% whole wheat bread as it looks and souns AMAZING but I generally try to use spelt instead of wheat (I could buy some wheat flour though, if I need too), my question is do you think I could follow this recipe but use wholegrain spelt instead? What things might I need to tweak?

    • Mia — thanks! Yes, you can definitely use whole grain spelt just the same way I used wheat here. You can sift just the same. The only tweak would be watch the hydration of the dough when you use spelt. I’m not sure if your flour will need more or less water. You could start with the hydration listed here and then adjust up/down until it feels right — a few trials might be necessary. I’m sure you’ll get delicious bread, spelt is incredible! I am working with it right no on an upcoming post I hope to have out soon.

      Happy baking!

  • Harry Lister

    Hi Maurizio
    When I added the bran to the dough the bran tended to remain in clumps which were difficult to break up, and I ended up having to work the dough a lot and pinch individual clumps of which there were many. I certainly couldn’t just fold the bran in. What do you do to allow the bran to disperse easily?
    Thanks

    • Harry,
      Yes, it can be difficult to reincorporate the bran without mixing like crazy and pressing those precious gasses out. I found what worked best was to spread the bran in a layer on top and also tuck some under the dough. Then, wet your hands and also splash a bit of water on top of the bran to help it fall apart more readily. At that point you should be able to gently massage the bran through the dough along with a couple folds and squeezes.

      it’s not completely easy going but it’s very similar to mixing in seeds or nuts.

      I hope that helps!

  • joe_n

    Hi Maurizio,
    Re-incorporating soaked bran is such a great idea. Have you heard of the term “bolting flour” for this process?
    It seems superior to using commercial “high extraction” flours. It definitely is cheaper!

    For my bake, I milled Central Milling Hard Red Whole Wheat and sifted out the “bran” ( I only got 8.2%). I weighed the flour and “bran” to check that the sum of the 2 separate weights was the total starting weight.

    The brown part looked like bran but some discussions on sifting suggest that what is separated out might include non-bran parts of the wheat kernel. What do you think? I am satisfied that enough of the bran was separated because the resulting dough handled so well.

    I soaked the bran for 7 hours with just enough cold water to moisten it and it ended up really soft. I worked the bran in right when combining the levain and autolysed dough. Gas deflation at that point was not an issue.
    My “heavy hand” in getting the bran back in the dough did not seem to hurt the gluten development because the dough turned billowy soft and full of air after a couple of S/F sets during the bulk fermentation.

    I was a little fearful of going above 87.5% hydration but I may try to go higher next time.

    After making it through a trial bake, I am much better able to appreciate all the details you are giving us on the write ups! Thanks!!

    • Thanks, Joe! Yes, definitely have heard of bolting flour, and I do this sometimes when I mill my own flour fresh. Definitely cheaper.

      Yes, when sifting your own flour it’s inevitable some other parts of the kernel will come out as well. At a proper mill they are better able to precisely control the extraction as the flour is milled (typically in rollers) because the bran/germ will flake out and they can sift that out. But for the purposes of this loaf, like you said, it works pretty well!

      I appreciate the comments, Joe — look forward to hearing from you again on how my recipes work out for ya! Happy baking 🙂

  • Chemfun

    My plan is to soon experiment with sourdough. I’ve been using the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes per day method this year.

    I’ve been using about 450g fresh ground hard red winter wheat.

    If I make a batch at least weekly, how long could I soak the bran before it spoiled? It would save me time to sift my flour and use soaked bran from the previous batch. I could then incorporate the soaked bran immediately into my dough. In this way, I could continue with my low time intensive dough method, and benefit from the soaked bran not cutting through my gluten.

    • You could probably keep the soaked bran for at least a week if you kept it in the fridge most of the time and then take it out early to come up to room temp before using in your dough (you don’t want a large mass of cold ingredients in your dough to slow down activity). I think that’d work quite well!

  • KF in VT

    Hi Maurizio! I bought some Central Milling WW flour at my local store (in VT) and made a whole wheat loaf with it. I found the flavor kind of funny – spicy is the only word I can think of – and decided not to use it anymore sadly. I wonder if it just traveled too far or sat with other things that tainted its flavor. But I have a good source of hard red winter here and have been using that with good success. I don’t get as large holes as you have but then again I am not good at following directions 🙂 and do a lot by feel! I appreciate your site and thoughts, ideas, and strategies – it’s taught me a lot! Ciao!

    • Darn! Well it’s actually a really great thing to use flour that’s as local as possible. I know out there in your area there are some fantastic farms and millers, happy to hear you have a good source! Central Milling is not too far from me and I’ve had nothing but success using their flour, but again, they are relatively close by!

      Thanks so much for the comments, really happy to hear you’re enjoying my site! Happy baking, ciao! 🙂

  • Luis G. Rangel B.

    Ciao Maurizio! First, congrats for this amazing page, it has been a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m getting started in the world of sourdough. Using a recipe for a starter given to me by my brother in law I tried to make a whole wheat starter, but failed, repeatedly. I also have tried your starter recipe with whole wheat but I’m on day 4 and things don’t look so well. Could you give any advise for using 100% Whole Wheat starter or maybe a recipe given the case is different from the one you have published?
    Grazie mille! Saluti da Barcellona!

    • Luis — thank you so much I appreciate that! I think you could definitely follow my guide to creating a starter with 100% whole wheat (I typically use a mix of white flour and rye flour). The process should be overall the same. What specific issues are you running into? If you’re not seeing any activity just stick with the process: discard a portion each day and feed with new flour and new water. Eventually you’ll see activity and your starter will get stronger.

      if you need more specific advice feel free to shoot me over an email (the Contact link) at the top and I’ll help you out!

  • maccompatible

    Hey! I just made this loaf the other day and it was wonderful! Quick question, how do we get away with retarding this bread for so much significantly longer than your sandwich pan loaf recipe?

    • That’s great to hear! I think there are a few minor, but significant, differences between the two. This recipe utilized a stiff levain (which in my experience tames fermentation a bit compared to a liquid levain/starter) and also the flour used here was aged whole wheat whereas my sandwich loaf used Grist & Toll which is milled right when buying. My theory is the combination of the two is what results in the disparity!

  • Anjali Shah

    Love all your posts. I am obsessed with tartine no 3 style breads and your posts answer so many of my questions. Thank you!

    • Thanks so much Anjali, really happy to hear that. Happy baking!

  • maccompatible

    Ok. So you said AT LEAST a 2 hour autolyse. What’s the upper limit for autolyse time. Would mixing it the night before and combining the levain and salt in the morning? I.e., would 8-9 hours be too long for the autolyse step?

    • Hard to say what the upper limit is, I’d think that depends on the flour used. I find really long autolyse times work well with mostly whole grain flours but when a very long (3+ hour) autolyse is done with a mostly-white flour recipe the dough becomes extremely extensible and hard to strengthen back up. For a recipe like this, with this much whole grain, an overnight autolyse would probably work quite well — in fact I used to do this occasionally.

  • Sarah

    Hi Maurizio, I’ve just discovered your site and have quickly become obsessed!
    I’m a newbie to this world and am confused by one thing in each of your recipes that I’ve looked at – the amount of levain used in the recipe is less than the amount that you make up at the start. In this recipe you’ve made 215g levain but only used 175g in the dough. Is there a reason for this? Could I scale it back to make just the amount that the recipe calls for? What do you do with the extra?
    Thanks for the incredible resource that you’ve created here!

    • Sarah — really glad to hear you’re enjoying my site! I tell you, sourdough really takes over, doesn’t it 🙂 You can definitely scale back the levain if you’d like. I prefer to make a little extra just to be 100% sure I’ll have enough to cover the recipe requirements at mix time. Sometimes if you make exactly what’s called for you might be several grams short as it can be hard to scrape every bit out of the container, etc.

      Hope that helps, glad to have you along and happy baking!

  • Thomas

    Good morning Maurizio,
    I have to say this post is very informative with loads of good information. I am definitely going to start sifting the flour, soaking a re-incorporating. I have one question regarding the crust. The method and baking temperature I use is very similar to your method, however, I often find that the crust is incredibly tough and almost impossible to cut through on the bottom (cooking in a pre-heated dutch oven). It seems that this thick/tough crust might be an unavoidable result of whole wheat sourdough bread making. I was wondering if you could describe the crust that this method has yielded and if you also found it to be a bit tough. Thank you very much sharing your knowledge and experience.
    Respectfully Submited.

    • Thanks Thomas, really happy to hear that! The thick crust is not related to sourdough per se, it’s more related to the Dutch oven and other things. I find when I bake in a DO I do get a slightly thicker crust that gets cooked just a bit more than the rest of the loaf. You might want to try reducing the temperature of your oven a bit, reducing the time the DO is preheated, or finally you could coat the bottom of your dough with something such as raw wheat germ (or cornmeal) to help insulate. One of these things, or a combination of them, will definitely help reduce the bake on the bottom!

      Hope that helps and happy baking Thomas!

      • Thomas

        Great advice, I appreciate the quick response and I’ll give each of these a try!

  • Andrey Tkachuk

    Hey Maurizio, was just curious what was your reason to go up as high as 95% on hydration? I thought 70% was the typical target? Thanks, Andrey

    • Hey, Andrey! Hydration is a very relative thing and it’s very specific to not only the type of flour you’re using but also the batch that you might use (each batch of flour can have different water absorption characteristics). With whole grains, specifically this 100% whole grain recipe, it’s possible to push the hydration very high and still have a totally workable dough. The added bran/germ in whole wheat flour compared to white, sifted flour allows this flour to absorb much more water.

      Hope this helps!

      • Andrey Tkachuk

        Great, thanks! Your 100% whole wheat looks amazing!

  • Renetta

    Wonderful blog! I have been baking with sourdough for just a few weeks now but I really love it.

    This recipe looks wonderful but I live off grid without a fridge, so could you tell me if it would at all be possible to adjust it so it can be done without fridge? At night te temperature in my kitchen is as low as 9 °Celcius at the moment, would that maybe be sufficient?

    • Thanks, Renetta! Glad to hear you’re having a good time making sourdough at home.

      9ºC is still a bit on the warm side for a long overnight proof with this dough recipe. You could, instead, avoid the long, cold proof and let the dough ferment at room temperature for 2-4 hours and bake it straight away. The flavor will be a bit different, but you’ll have delicious bread nonetheless.

      Alternatively you could experiment with lowering the levain percentage drastically (perhaps by half?) to see if this would let you do a long 8+ hour proof at 9ºC. That will take some experimentation on your end, I’d say give it a try and see how it turns out. If you’d like to send over some pictures of the result use the Contact link at top to shoot me an email.

      Happy baking!

  • Vangelis Mousikas

    Hi there!
    I’ve been baking with sourdough for some weeks now, and I’m really excited.
    I followed this recipe to the letter, and, even though the taste of the bread was very good, with a nice crust, the crumb was still a bit dough-y inside. Any idea why this happened? Is there any tip? I would really appreciate your advise. Thanks in advance. 🙂

    • If the interior tastes a little doughy, or gummy, there’s a few things it could be. The first cause is usually underbaking this bread — it’s really important, especially with 100% whole wheat, to fully bake the loaf. If you have an instant read thermometer make sure the interior is at least 210ºF. Second, let the loaf fully cool for several hours after baking to ensure everything sets, if you cut too early the interior can become gummy. Finally, some of this might just be due to the actual flour and the fact that it’s 100% whole wheat. My loaves typically are not gummy but just keep in mind the texture will be much different than a mostly-white loaf (for the better, I say!).

      I hope these suggestions help!

      • Vangelis Mousikas

        Thank you for the quick reply!
        Much appreciated.
        I will let you know what happened next time.

  • Todd Kruger

    Would a longer (~12 hr) cold rise in the refrigerator be too long?

    • It really depends on how developed (how much fermentation) your dough has undergone. You could certainly try it out and see if the flour/dough can handle the longer proof. With pan breads I love to push the proof even past that but the structure of the pan helps keep the dough into shape.

  • Mohammed

    How long do you bake with steam? I always go for about 20 mins, but I found that for higher hydration do 80+ the inside still wet even after cooling it completely before cutting. Do you recommend baking longer with steam or raising the temperature!

    • I typically bake with steam for 20 minutes, this bread I went a little longer. If the inside of your finished bread is gummy or moist it could be due to over hydration of the dough (dial back the water in the recipe), under proofed dough or not enough bake time. Chances are it’s simply that your bread could use a bit longer time in the oven, if you have an instant read thermometer make sure the interior of the loaf is at least 210ºF to ensure it’s fully baked.

      Hope that helps!

      • Mohammed

        Thanks,

  • Kathy

    I have recently started making sourdough loaves and really love your site. I made this loaf yesterday and while it didn’t come out perfect, it was slightly sour (which I love) and tasted fantastic. I use King Arthur flour and when I used my strainer (I don’t have a flour sifter which I will soon remedy) all the flour went straight through. When I tried this with some locally produced WW flour from my farmers market I could easily separate the large bran from the flour. My question is, when making this loaf, can I skip sifting the bran out and just use the King Arthur flour as is from the beginning? Will it be affected by not having the added hydration that the bran soaks up?

    • Thanks so much Kathy! You can definitely skip the sifting part of this recipe. I like the added step of doing this to help moisten the large bran/germ pieces to soften them but it’s not mandatory. Have a good at this without sifting and see how you like the result. King Arthur Whole Wheat is nice flour, it should work out well for you!

      If you find the dough to be overly dry (since we did not soak) just add a bit more during mixing until it feels right to you. You can always increase the hydration as you get more comfortable with this recipe.

      Thanks again and happy baking!

  • D. B.

    Thanks for your site! I’ve never really baked bread with any success before so I’m a newbie. I love sourdough french bread but need to add whole wheat into my diet and my daughter insists on everything organic here. I have an old dutch oven that belonged to my folks and am thinking I might try your recipe. Your pictures are beautiful and makes the process seem doable. Also appreciate the link to the Central Milling Website. if I’m brave enough, I’m going to try…

    • You’re very welcome, glad to have you along! You should definitely give this a try! I am sure you guys will like the result, it’s super delicious (and healthy).

      Let me know if you have any questions — happy baking!

  • Chris Mitchell

    This looks great – thank you! Just one bit that confused me: you start the levain at 08:30 and say you need to leave it for 4-5 hours, which means it would be ready between 12:30-13:30. But at 10:00, you do the autolyse stage, which uses the “ripe levain”. But by 10:00, the levain won’t be ready for another 2 or 3 hours?

    • Sorry, the table for the autolyse was a bit misleading (per your comment I just fixed the table to not include the levain). The levain is not added to the autolyse ingredients (a true autolyse is only flour + water). The levain is added to the autolysed dough later, incorporated in the Mix step.

      Sorry about that!

      • Chris Mitchell

        Thanks very much Maurizio – all makes sense now 🙂

  • Ravi Vijay

    Hello Maurizio, I have a two quart dutch oven (lodge). Do you think that I will be able to fit in one of these loaves in that ? Also for making just one loaf , can I just halve all the ingredients (including the levian) ?

    • I’m not sure if this bread would fit in the 2 qt. version, mine is 3.2 qt. You could reduce the total dough weight here to ensure it fits, perhaps by 100g for each loaf. I’d start that way and if it looks like you have more room in the dutch oven scale it back up.

      Yes, to make one loaf instead of two just halve everything (even the levain).

      Happy baking!

  • Pascal Pellaudin

    Hi & thanks. This bread is so good!!! <3

  • Mickey Dogotch

    Hi! I am s.o excited that I found this! I am to the stretch and folds and my dough is wetter than yours photographed due to my using my normal starter and not a stiff starter as you did. My concern now is how I am going to be able to bulk ferment this and get it out of my bannetons. It seems that any flour I add to keep it from sticking will just be eaten up by the wet dough. Any suggestions for me? Thank you!!

    • I hope the bake went well! If the dough never really firmed up or became manageable during bulk it can be very challenging to preshape and shape. Next time you do this bake reduce the water so things are more manageable.

      Another thing you could do is pop the dough into the fridge for a couple hours to help it firm up before diving, this will make that process a little easier!

  • Michelle

    Hi Maurizio, I really enjoy your blog. How much time would you recommend for the 2nd proof at room temperature, rather than leaving it in the fridge overnight?

    • Thanks so much, really glad to hear that! It’s very dependent on the dough. I would say around 2 hours but keep an eye on it and use the “poke test” to determine when it’s done. With this much whole wheat it can over proof on ya pretty quick. I’d say after an hour on the counter (at 72-75ºF) start preheating your oven.

      Happy baking!

      • Michelle Bowen

        Hi Maurizio, I have a few more questions if you have the time:
        – how do you decide on a hydration point? (since higher hydration doughs are tougher to work with, do you add as little water as possible?)
        – when do you know bulk fermentation is complete? (does the poke test apply here too?)
        – when is your dough strong enough? how do I avoid overworking it?
        – when is the autolyse period done? (similar to Nikola’s question above)

        Thank you so very much!

        • Lots of factors go into hydration, but typically I like to push the hydration high, but not excessively high. For a mostly whole wheat dough, like this one, the hydration has to be quite high to get the results I’m after. 100% whole wheat flour can take on quite a bit of water and I get the softness and open crumb I’m after when I push the hydration percentage 90+.

          Determining exactly when bulk finishes can be challenging, especially with 100% whole wheat. Typically I look for when the dough starts to show signs of strength (elasticity), it’ll want to spring back when you tug on it a bit. Usually there will be bubbles on the surface and below, and the edge where the dough meets the bowl will be slightly domed.

          The level you strengthen the dough depends on a lot of factors. You want the dough to be strong enough to trap gasses produced during fermentation but not so strong that it cannot expand out when baked in the oven. There’s a balance between the two, elasticity and extensibility, that takes time and experimentation to find.

          You can really do an autolyse for as long as you want. I find that the longer the dough is autolysed the more extensible it becomes (ability to stretch out). You can of course do no autolyse at all, if you prefer.

          I hope this helps! These are all really key questions and are the hardest to answer definitively since the answers depend on the dough itself: how it’s developing, fermenting, etc.

          • Michelle Bowen

            Hi Maurizio — I cannot thank you enough for your thoughtful responses!

            So elasticity is strength, and it’s tested by tugging on the dough and seeing how it springs back. And elasticity can be built through bulk fermentation. Extensibility is how stretchy the dough is, and can be built through autolyse.

            One last question, how does hydration affect elasticity and extensibility?

            Truly truly appreciative of your time. This is very useful for anyone wanting to go off-recipe. If I may, I would like to gracefully recommend a blog post on the topic!

            • I’ve found, usually, the higher hydration the greater the extensibility of the dough. With that said, there are a lot of assumptions there, mostly with the flour type. I’ve found greater extensibility with white flour than whole wheat but that’s not always the case, it’s very flour-dependent. Just know that usually as you increase water the more strength you’ll have to work back into the dough.

              Yes, these are all great topics for a future blog post!!

              • Michelle Bowen

                Thank you! Yes, whenever you get around to it, it would be super helpful!

      • Michelle Bowen

        Also, how do you know when to perform the next set of stretch & folds?

        • I find 15 minutes is the shortest time I need between folds. You want the dough to fully relax out before doing another set. If the dough is very weak and/or highly hydrated this could happen very quickly, and conversely if the dough is much stronger it takes more time.

  • Guiseppe C.

    do you cover the boules in the refrig. overnight?

  • Patricia Perez

    I’ve been using your recipe with my wet levain with good results. Today I finally used your stiff levain recommendation and let me say WOW! What a difference both in flavor and rise. Also, as I mill my own wheat (mix of hard red, and soft white) I’ve extended the autolyse from about 6-8 hours with great results and less kneading needed. 🙂

    • Really great to hear that! I find with a 100% dough a stiff levain really works well; both performance and taste. Thanks for the update and happy baking!

  • Nikola

    I tried following this recipe and it is the best! Thank you. But I wonder if it is possible to make this bread using more sourdough starter so I can bake it in like 6, 7 or less hours from the first step. Do you know how much time should I bulk ferment, how many stretch and folds, how much should I proof it etc. I dont mind getting more soury bread so it is not an issue for me. My current room temperature is about 25°C or 77°F, so I think it can be done even faster. The reason I want to make bread as fast as posible is because I dont have much time and Im a bit impatient tbh. Have you ever tried something like this?

    • Happy to hear that, Nikola! You can speed up parts of the process, for sure, but there is a limit. Usually 3 hours is the least amount of time I like for bulk, anything less than this and I find the dough just doesn’t develop the same way. For the proof, however, you always have the option to counter-proof the dough instead of using a cold refrigerator overnight. Once you’re done shaping and the dough is in its basket, just leave out on the counter for 1-3 hours until the dough is ready to bake. Depending on the dough condition, at 77ºF it should be close to 2 hours or so (for this recipe). Use the “poke test” to determine when the dough is ready to go into the oven.

      Hope that helps!