I’ve been thinking about this recipe for some time, and I’ve been tinkering with it for just about as long. I wanted to create a whole wheat sourdough bread that wasn’t all the way 100% whole grain, but still enough to bring out that assertive wheat flavor, gentle yet complex sourness, and also one that packs a nutritious punch. I wanted it to be light in hand, soft of texture, and be the right starting place for those who might not have had much experience with bread boasting a majority of whole grains. This recipe is a beginner’s sourdough recipe but with more whole grains than not. A fifty-fifty whole wheat sourdough bread to get you and your family on the whole-grain-train without them missing the characteristics of white flour1.
As you might know, I always like to experiment. To tinker. To change. Even when things are already working well I seem to dig in and just have to adjust. My previous work with whole wheat almost always utilized a stiff levain (around 65% hydration) but here I opted for 100% hydration liquid levain. I made this change mostly to see if the result would be all that different, but also because I wanted to add flexibility to this bread—knowing that I, or you out there, could make it with a stiff or liquid levain just the same. I find there are advantages and disadvantages to both but when it comes down to it as long as you adjust the total water in your recipe you’ll get a great result no matter which type of starter you maintain or levain you use.
Instead of a long levain build period, this formula calls for a shorter time from levain mix to using it in the dough. This is a handy thing to be comfortable with, it means you can get a strong, reliable levain ready to go in a shorter time period (about 3-4 hours instead of 6-7). Nothing groundbreaking here, but I like to highlight it upfront as something to add to your baking toolbox. The ability to adjust your levain to suit your schedule is handy and it means baking can revolve around our busy schedules and hectic weekends.
And finally, I played with baking this bread at a much higher temperature for a shorter period overall—I baked these fast and hot (and you can see that in the image above, a little more color all around and especially on top). Instead of baking on thick baking stones, I opted for a Baking Steel as my “deck,” which gets incredibly hot. More on this later, and before we delve into these things any further, let’s talk about flour.
My whole wheat selection here is pretty straightforward, just a good quality stoneground whole wheat (and it’s actually the whole wheat flour I use most often here in my kitchen). In experimenting between stoneground and roller milled whole wheat flour I’ve found the flavor of stoneground whole wheat to be more assertive, deep and much tastier overall. Due to the method of milling, stoneground whole wheat preserves more of the bran and germ and these particles are clearly evident when passing the raw flour through your fingers. If you don’t have stoneground whole wheat a roller milled whole wheat (this is typically what you’ll find at the market) will work just as well, perhaps with a slightly different flavor profile and less assertive whole wheat taste overall.
Generally, I prefer the texture of lower protein white flour like Giusto’s or Central Milling Artisan Baker’s Craft (both which are around 11-12% protein). To me, these generally have less of a gummy texture and perform very well for extended fermentation times. If you don’t have access to this flour any “all-purpose” flour would work well here, including King Arthur all-purpose.
Fifty-Fifty Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread Formula
|Total Dough Weight||1,800 grams|
|Yield||2 x 900g loaves|
|48g||Ripe liquid starter (100% hydration)||100%|
|24g||Giusto’s Stoneground Whole Wheat||50%|
|24g||Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour||50%|
Note that the mature liquid starter used to inoculate this build is at 100% (whereas typically I’d use 50% or so). This was mentioned at the beginning of this post and will be discussed again in the “Levain” section below.
Target final dough temperature (FDT) is 79°F (26°C).
This recipe is highly hydrated partly because there’s a high percentage of whole grains which tend to require more water in the mix (the bran and germ present in the flour can take on quite a bit more). But if this is your first time trying this loaf, I’d say reserve 100g of the mixing water and only add it in if the dough feels like it can handle the addition.
Note that the baker’s percentages listed below are with respect to the final dough ingredients and do not take into account the levain.
|453g||Giusto’s Stoneground Whole Wheat||50.00%|
|453g||Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour||50.00%|
|17g||Fine sea salt||1.89%|
|143g||Ripe, liquid levain||15.79%|
NOTE: After years of baking this recipe I’ve updated the ingredients to reflect improvements on the end result. I’ve reduced the salt percentage, removed the diastatic malt, and reduced the types of flour needed.
1. Levain – 12:30 p.m.
As mentioned earlier, I worked with a shorter levain build for this bread. To adjust for the reduced build time we’ll increase not only our inoculation of mature starter but also the water temperature. This gets the whole process moving faster, and by the time you’re ready to use this levain, you’ll notice some significant activity. See my post on the importance of dough temperature for more information!
Build the liquid levain (everything listed in the Levain Build section above) in the morning or afternoon and store somewhere around 78°F (25°C) ambient.
Usually, with high percentages of whole wheat and/or bread flour I lengthen the autolyse time, sometimes up to 5-6 hours. The two-hour autolyse in this recipe, while not as long as 5-6 hours, does help the high percentage of whole grains fully hydrate and starts the gluten development process without the need for mixing. This will help reduce the total mix time required later in the process.
See my guide to the autolyse technique for more information on its benefits and why I used this technique in this recipe.
2. Autolyse – 2:30 p.m.
Mix the flour and water (reserve 100g water for the mix, later) in a bowl until all dry bits are hydrated. Cover the bowl and store somewhere nice and warm (around 80°F/26°C) for 2 hours. Somewhere near your levain is convenient.
3. Mix – 4:30 p.m.
Add the called for ripe levain to your autolysed dough and using about half of the reserved 100g of water mix thoroughly with your hands. You want the levain to be pretty well mixed through the dough and the added water absorbed.
Let’s mix/knead. I chose to do slap and fold for about 4 minutes, just until the dough started to show signs of a smooth surface and it was catching some air. If you aren’t comfortable with slap/fold method or don’t like it, you can do stretch and folds in the bowl until your dough tightens up and becomes slightly hard to stretch out and fold over. Medium development.
When finished mixing spread the salt on top of the dough and the remaining water to help dissolve. Pinch through the dough thoroughly and fold the dough over itself to help incorporate and absorb the remaining water. When finished transfer the dough to a tub or thick-walled bowl for our first rise, or bulk fermentation.
4. Bulk Fermentation – 4:40 p.m. to 8:10 p.m.
At 78-80°F (25-26°C) ambient temperature bulk fermentation should go for about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Give the dough 5 sets of stretch and folds during this time, spaced out by 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the dough as it approaches the three-hour mark, it will rise a bit and be quite active! See my sequence of images below to get a feel for how the dough should look and feel during the 3.5-hour rise.
Above is a picture of my dough after mixing and right at the beginning of bulk. You can see how shaggy the dough is, how wet and lifeless—it’s just sitting there in a single flat layer. There’s no rounding between the edges of the dough and the bowl, no bubbles anywhere, and if you jiggled the bowl you wouldn’t see much movement.
Above is my dough after the fifth, and last, set of stretch and folds. Look how strong the dough has become compared to the picture above. It’s holding its shape in the bowl extremely well—this is a sign for me that the dough is now strong enough and no further strengthening is needed. I will now let the dough rest, relax and rise the remainder of the time specified for bulk fermentation.
I called bulk fermentation quits when I saw the dough reach the point seen in the picture above. You can see it’s risen significantly, there are plenty of bubbles on top and just below the surface, and most importantly: the edge where the dough meets the bowl is domed & convex. If I were to wet my hand and tug on the dough a little I’d feel much more resistance and elasticity2. It’s gained strength and can hold its shape much more than at the beginning of bulk. These are all good signs your dough is strong enough and ready to be divided.
5. Divide & Pre-shape – 8:10 p.m.
Gently dump out the dough from your bulk container onto an un-floured work surface. Divide in half and pre-shape the dough into two round boules, let the rounds rest 20 minutes uncovered.
6. Shape – 8:30 p.m.
Prepare two baskets that will hold your dough during its long cold proof overnight. If you decide to shape the dough as two boules (rounds) find two round kitchen bowls and if you decide to shape as batards (ovals) use two bread baskets. Line the baskets with cotton or canvas liners if you have them, or clean kitchen towels if not, and dust them lightly with white rice flour to prevent the dough from sticking during the proof.
Moderately flour the top of the dough and flour the work surface. Flip one resting round over so the floured side is down on the work surface. Fold the top of the dough up and over to the middle and repeat for the bottom (you’ll now have a long slender rectangle in front of you). Pickup the rectangle and rotate it 90º so it’s now lengthwise facing you. Grab the dough at the very top and fold over a little way, press to seal with the main mass of the dough. Now grab this rolled over the top and gently continue to roll it down towards the bottom, tucking in the dough as you go (imagine rolling down a beach towel). At the end of this, you’ll have a tube that has essentially been rolled downward. Once shaped, transfer each to their floured shaping basket with the seam side facing up.
For an in-depth guide to shaping like this, see my batard shaping guide.
Repeat with the other round.
7. Rest & Proof – 8:35 p.m.
Cover your baskets with plastic and then place in the refrigerator at 38°F (3°C) for about 10-12 hours.
Even at such cool temperatures this dough can quickly overproof so keep an eye on it in the fridge in the morning.
8. Bake – Next Morning: Preheat oven at 6:45 a.m., Bake at 7:45 a.m.
Place your Baking Steel in your oven and preheat for one hour at 450°F (230°C). Once preheated, take out both of the baskets from the fridge and remove the plastic wrap.
You’ll notice my dough has risen somewhat but not a significant amount. Instead, the dough has relaxed to fill my proofing baskets and is perhaps a little puffier (the loaf on the right was a slightly higher final dough weight and will result in a larger loaf).
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit over the top and place over the basket, then place a pizza peel or small cutting board over the top. Quickly invert each basket onto the parchment and peel/board. Using a sharp razor blade fastened to a stick, scissors, or a very sharp knife carefully score the top of each loaf at a shallow angle to the dough, just deep enough to cut below the top skin we created at shape time. With my bread lame, I like to score whole wheat loaves at a very shallow angle, this helps the loaf attain maximal rise when in the oven. If you score at a straight 90° angle with the dough then as the dough rises it sort of splits open instead of “peeling” back. You want the dough to have some resistance at the top as it starts rising from the heat in the oven.
I steamed my oven in my usual way, described here in my post on how to steam your home oven for baking with the only modification being I do not have the baking stone on top. I baked these loaves hot and fast. The goal was to bake the exterior to a nice dark color, and also bake the interior, but take the loaves out before they completely dried out inside. With whole wheat, I like my loaves to be much more tender and moist and I found this baking schedule achieves that.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the steaming pans from inside the oven. Then, bake for an additional 30 minutes until the internal temperature registers around 206-210°F (96-98°C). Keep an eye on these from the middle of the bake all the way to the end as the prolonged high temperature can quickly scorch the outside of the loaves.
Note: these times and temperatures are what work well here for my oven, my altitude (about 5280 ft. above sea level), and my environment. The first time you try this recipe keep a close watch over the dough in the oven to adjust as necessary.
For the past few months (maybe even longer) I’ve been baking in my oven on a Baking Steel instead of my usual baking stones. I’ve found several benefits to using this: it gets incredibly hot, it’s able to transfer its stored heat much more effectively to the food, and the physical height of the steel is much less than my previous baking stones (a minor thing but important when trying to pack so many things in the oven). Oh and I can’t fail to mention the fact that baking sourdough pizza on it is a dream, I finally am able to get a pretty killer crust (check out my sourdough pizza recipe!).
Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 1-2 hours.
With this much whole wheat, it’s always a challenge to get a tall and airy loaf but the addition of the bread flour, high hydration, and relatively tight shaping have helped achieve that. Along with the nice rise, the soft and tender interior and dark, crunchy crust play off each other to create a balanced bread that is both flavorful and light in the hand.
One modification I’d love to try is to use white wheat instead of red wheat for the 50% whole wheat portion. White wheat is one of my favorites to use, mostly because of its mild, laid-back flavor but also I conveniently have a new 25-pound bag of raw white wheat berries sitting in my pantry ready to go (and nowadays it’s almost always used in my weekly sourdough sandwich bread). This change might reduce the overall assertiveness of this bread, but it would be exciting to see the change in the flavor profile.
I love this dark crust, and because of the hot bake, the interior did not dry out in the slightest. Sometimes it can be hard to achieve this but a little tweak to the baking schedule really did the trick. I plan to try this in the future with my other recipes, the crust results speak for themselves!
I almost always prefer the batard shape over a boule, mostly because of how the bread slices up (not too wide, and a little taller), and this bread is no exception. I enjoy how the crust peels back as the bread opens in the oven, it contributes to that tall loaf with a really pleasing aesthetic.
For 50% whole wheat I couldn’t be happier with the crumb. As you know the higher you go in whole grains usually the denser your bread will be, but I think the relatively high hydration and a mix of flours have helped achieve a really light loaf that has uniform openness throughout.
This bread has an assertive wheat flavor but not so much that it’s overpowering; it really showcases the stoneground wheat and doesn’t let it play the second role here. There’s a tad more sourness peaking through but it’s actually a very complimentary flavor to the wheat, adding a touch more complexity and depth. I’m not big on overly sour bread and for me, this was just right.
If you’d like more sourness, try to proof a bit longer or add even more whole grains, and if you’d like less do the opposite. Just be wary of the timetable I’ve laid out here when modifying the whole grain percentage, as you know more whole grains means increased fermentation activity.
I like the idea that this recipe is a starting point for those who might not have a lot of experience in working with whole grains (or even if you do!). With this gateway bread, you can adjust the percentage of whole wheat up or down to suit you and your family’s tastes. It’s a good jumping-off point with a majority of whole grains and a base formula for our endless tweaking and testing in search of that perfect loaf.
If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look!
A version of this post also appeared on the Baking Steel blog as a guest post.