Whole Wheat Sourdough

I have to warn you a bit here at the beginning: this whole wheat sourdough is a little more involved than some of my previous loaves. While I think it’s achievable for a “beginner” baker to experiment with, it may take a few tries before your results are to your liking. However, this should not dissuade you from attempting! Making a more whole wheat loaf will provide a very interesting flavor profile and added nutrients not normally found in straight white bread.

The recipe in this entry is based on Chad Robertson’s Ode to Bourdon receipe found in his absolutely epic Tartine Book Nº3, a book dedicated to natural and whole grains. My take on this has some slight modifications I’ve found to work well for me and my starter, I hope they help you as well.

So, I’ve been practicing this whole wheat sourdough for quite a while now trying to really get things working the way I’d like. I usually mix in an “experimental” batch of bread here and there to keep things interesting and to speed up my learning, but this whole wheat bread has a purpose.

My wife has recently taken up the quest to remove most refined carbs, processed sugars, and other heavily processed foods from her (and subsequently my) diet. We’ve always been healthy eaters, but this is another step further in trying to keep things simple and use the most basic of ingredients possible. Since I make two loaves of bread every two weeks or so, I’ve tried to mix in a whole wheat version with as much whole grains as I can (there is still room for me to add even more whole grains in the future) this turns out not to be as easy as one would think!

Whole wheat sourdough bread is a completely different beast when it comes to baking. Many of the plastic-bagged-breads you’ll find at the store that are “whole wheat” contain a bunch of additives to get it to rise high, and taste sweet. Who wants all that added junk anyways? Let’s make our own whole wheat bread.

Maybe I should start with a brief background on whole wheat flour, some challenges to overcome, and how it differs from white flour.

Whole wheat sourdough

Whole Wheat Flour, What’s the Big Deal?

The word “whole” refers to the fact that all of the grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) is used and nothing is lost in the process of making the flour. This is in contrast to white, refined flours, which contain only the endosperm. (Wikipedia)

Whole wheat flour retains the bran and germ, the two most nutritious parts of the wheatberry. These two, while desired for higher nutrition, causes issues when baking bread. Namely, when doing turns and working your dough they will cut through your developed gluten strands as you’re doing your turns, weakening the loaf and preventing a higher rise during baking. It’s ok though, we can work around this somewhat with a very gentle hand when doing turns and interacting with the dough.

In addition to these troublemakers reducing overall rise, they also absorb much more water than just the endosperm. We’ll have to compensate for this by increasing the overall hydration of the dough. No biggie there.

One more thing to keep in mind: whole wheat flour ferments much faster than white flour. Due to the increased nutrients (bran & germ) your starter will go into overdrive when fed with so many goodies. Keep an eye out during your bulk fermentation step, things can go too far very fast. If you’re using a clear-sided container be on the lookout for those bubbles on the sides and bottom, they are a good indicator of when fermentation is rapidly increasing.

So in review:

  • the bran & germ will effectively cut through your developed gluten strands so be gentle with turns and shaping
  • the bran & germ absorb more water than the endosperm, we’ll need to increase hydration
  • whole wheat flour ferments at a rapid pace

One last note, please read through the entire entry before starting! The ingredients and method have changed from my previous posts; like I said, a whole new beast.

Let’s get started!

Prepare the levain – 10:00pm

A slight modification to my typical 100% whole wheat levain, I do a 50/50 mix of all purpose and whole wheat here to more closely follow Chad’s recommendations in his new book.

Whole wheat sourdough

  1. 50g ripe starter
  2. 100g Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour
  3. 100g Sangre de Christo white flour 
  4. 200g H2O @ 73ºF

After mixing the above in a glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area in your kitchen overnight.

Mix the flour and water & autolyse – 8:30am

Ingredients:

A few new things I’ve added to this bread that are different from my previous entries: wheat germ and high extraction flour.

Wheat germ is a part of the wheatberry that contains a high amount of essential nutrients (Vitamin E, folate, zinc, etc.) and is a great source of added fiber. I’ve experimented with using wheat germ in the past and have had great success with increased fermentation (remember my comment about more nutrients for your yeast to consume?). I honestly think this recipe would do just fine without it if you don’t have it on hand.

If you buy wheat germ in bulk, remember to keep it refrigerated for long periods. It can go rancid much faster than other flour.

High extraction flour is easy for you to make at home, you only need one piece of a equipment: a flour sifter. This is the flour sifter I use but there are many out there. The process for making high extraction flour is easy, just pour some of your whole wheat flour on top of the sifter and shake so the fine particles drop down through the mesh while some of the more coarse bran stays on top. In Chad’s book, he doesn’t quite explain why he uses this high extraction flour in all of his recipes, but I can guess that it’s to remove the more intense pieces of bran to prevent the severe cutting of any developed gluten.

The astute reader might say to themselves: “hey you made a big deal about retaining all the essential nutrients in whole wheat flour, now you’re removing all of the bran!” Well, I suppose that statement does hold some merit. However, keep in mind we are not removing all of the bran, just the really large particles. With this high extraction flour, you’re going to be somewhere in between whole wheat (100% of the wheatberry retained) and sifted white flour (only the endosperm). So in the end this bread will have significantly more nutrition than just a straight white bread, especially since the wheat germ is added as an ingredient.

Whole wheat sourdough

With that out of the way, let’s see the full ingredient list:

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
200g Levain 20%
250g Sangre de Cristo white flour (very close to bread flour) 25%
250g Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour 25%
500g High Extraction Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour 50%
50g Wheat Germ 5%
25g Salt 2.5%
950g H2O @ 85ºF 95%

In addition to ingredient changes, we’re going to change up the method just a tad. The normal autolyse time of 30-45 minutes is about to be increased on you to a full 2 hours. Increasing the autolyse time helps to add extensibility to your dough, which is very important with whole wheat bread. If you were to do a short autolyse time of, say, 30 minutes you’d notice the dough would be very hard to mix and turn. It’s super elastic, meaning it springs back when you stretch it out. You want it to be more extensible (meaning it stretches out without too much resistance without tearing) so you get a higher rise at bake time. The balance between elasticity and extensibility is a very tricky thing, and I’ll definitely elaborate with what I’ve learned in more detail in a future entry. Increased autolyse times also reduce the bitterness found in the hard red wheat in whole wheat flour.

The best way to plan for this extended autolyse is to simply do your mixing for it 2 hours before you know your starter will be ready. For me, I mixed up my flour and water at 6:00am and it was ready by 8:00am when my starter is ripe and ready to go.

Method:

Two-Hour Autolyse:

  1. Create your 500g high extraction flour by sifting your whole wheat flour. The flour that falls through the sifter is what you’ll use now, the coarse bran that remains on the top can be reserved and used to coat your bannetons to prevent sticking instead of using white rice flour
  2. Add 850g water at 85º F to your mixing bowl
  3. Add in 500g high extraction flour, 250g white bread flour, 250g whole wheat flour, and 50g wheat germ
  4. Mix until all the dry flour is incorporated
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and keep the bowl covered in a warmish place in your kitchen

Again, for such a long autolyse you do not want to add anything except flour and water. And a shot of the dough after the two hour autolyse:

Whole wheat sourdough

After two hours, unwrap and add:

Mix:

  1. 200g levain
  2. 25g sea salt
  3. Pour on remaining 100g H2O @ 85ºF (or warmer if your kitchen is very cool).
  4. Mix with your hand until the mass becomes a bit “sticky” and water is worked in
  5. Transfer to your bulk fermentation container

Final dough temperature: 76º F

Ambient temperature: 70º F

Whole wheat sourdough

My final dough temperature was a little on the cool side, but not drastically so. This might mean a longer bulk fermentation, but we’ll just have to read the dough and wait to see.

Bulk Fermentation – 8:45am

As I mentioned in the beginning of this entry, we want to turn very gently here to avoid tearing the dough and cutting through the gluten strands. It’s going to happen, but know that when doing these turns it’s much easier to tear the dough so be gentle.

  1. 9:15am – Turn Set 1
  2. 9:45am – Turn Set 2
  3. 10:15am – Turn Set 3
  4. 10:45am – Turn Set 4
  5. 11:15am – Turn Set 5 (very light set of turns)
  6. 11:15am – 1:00pm – Rest on counter untouched

Note that a “set” here is 4 stretch and folds for me. I reach under my dough, pull up, and fold over the other side I do that 4 times. For this loaf in step 6 I only did 3 very light turns, the dough was strong enough and I did not want to risk tearing.

Here’s a snapshot during the bulk with a couple more folds to go:

Whole wheat sourdough

By the end of bulk fermentation the dough looked a little puffy and jiggly in the bowl. You won’t see as much puff as you would with white bread, but the dough should not look like it’s completely flat in there. You want a little rise in the center, or in other words, it holds its shape more than when you started.

As you can see below there is some life to it:

Whole wheat sourdough

Pre-shape – 1:10pm

Take the dough out of the container onto your work surface and sprinkle some flour on top before dividing. Divide the mass into two halves and lightly spin each half with your dough knife in one hand and your other hand to create some light tension on the top of the rounds. Let this pre-shape rest for 20 minutes.

Lightly dust your two linen-lined bowls with the bran you’ve reserved when creating your high extraction flour. Alternatively you can use your good ol’ trusty white rice flour.

Shape – 1:30pm

I decided to do both loaves as boules for this recipe. Creating a boule for me is much more straightforward and I didn’t want to handle the dough too much. I’d recommend you take this course as well.

Whole wheat sourdough

Make sure to create a nice taut surface on your boules to ensure they have that desired oven spring. You don’t want to over work them and press out all the gasses, but you should have a nice tight skin on the outside. Practice here is key.

Proof – 1:45pm

After you’ve shaped them into nice taut boules, gently place them into their bannetons and pop ’em in the fridge for their proof.

Whole wheat sourdough

Score + Bake – 7:30pm (the SAME day, at night)

So normally I would have tossed the boules into the fridge and gone about my business knowing they wouldn’t be ready until the morning. Well keep in mind what I said up above: whole wheat flour ferments at a much more rapid pace. To ensure I did not over proof my dough, I performed the “finger dent test” several times throughout the day and evening. At about 6:30pm I noticed the loaves looked like they were ready to go, the finger dent sprung back slowly and did not completely fill in. Bake time! I am curious to know what would have happened if I would have waited until the morning to bake, would these loaves have been more open? Next attempt I’ll bake one and retard one until the morning.

Place your baking stone in your oven at the bottom 1/3 position and turn it on to 510ºF for a 1 hour pre-heat.

After one hour, take one of your loaves out of the fridge and cut a piece of parchment paper to place on top of the basket containing the dough. 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 and the peel.

When scoring these whole wheat loaves, don’t go too deep! Since there is less rise than with white bread, you want to score lighter than you normally would so you can coax out a bit more rise while still guiding the loaf in the direction you want. On one loaf I did a very light “X” shape and the other my usual crescent slash. Both came out very nice.

Place the dough into the combo cooker and cook covered for 20 minutes at 500ºF. After 20 minutes reduce the heat to 450ºF, leave the dough covered, and cook for an additional 10 minutes. After this time, take the lid off and and cook for an additional 30 minutes at 450ºF, until done.

Conclusion

I was not expecting such a nice rise from these loaves. I mean, really, I was totally shocked and very pleased. I have baked many whole wheat loaves that have come out a little on the flat side and these just made my day.

The taste is just sublime! Such a complex flavor with a hint of sourness at the back. There’s a slight hint of bitterness, to be expected with this hard red wheat, that might be removed even further with a longer autolyse… That’s an experiment for a future entry.

I’ve definitely found a whole wheat recipe that’s so good it will be my main go-to recipe for my family’s weekly whole wheat loaves.

Crust:

Nice and thin and very soft. The coloring is just great and the cracks and fissures are much more than I had expected. It’s not overly hard rustic like my country loaf, perfect for sandwiches and cheese plates.

Whole wheat sourdough

Crumb:

Nice and soft with a good spring to it. The crumb could definitely be lighter, more moist, and a little more open. I’ll continue to work on this in future bakes with better shaping and tweaks to the ingredient list. This crumb is just perfect for sandwiches.

Whole wheat sourdough

Taste:

So tasty guys, really, it’s very good. This is a great departure from my normal country loaves and really mixes things up. The complex taste of the whole wheat brings something to this loaf I’m not used to after baking white bread for so long. Now I’m going to have to bake 4 loaves every two weeks just so I have both options at each meal…

Whole wheat sourdough

So after much practice I’m finally headed in the right direction. In future bakes I’ll try to open the crumb up more to obtain a lighter crumb, play with varying autolyse times to reduce even more bitterness, and I also would like to try using hard white wheat instead of red wheat (have to find this, first).

I hope your results are as smashing as mine! Drop a comment below if you need any guidance and I’ll see if I can help. Happy baking!

Oh and by the way… I just have to share this breakfast I made with last week’s country loaf. I had some leftover bacon, local veggies, and my Lodge combo cooker was already dirty from making bread, might as well use it! The rustic country loaf stands up to a meal like this and is great for soaking up the tomato and eggs. Crazy good.

Tartine country loaf

Buon appetito!

 

Recipe and method submitted to YeastSpotting.



  • I’ve been attempting the Tartine No. 3 loaves as well and this loaf has been one one my better ones yet! It’s still a struggle for me to get the ideal crumb I’d like (proofing is so much faster like you mention) but since switching to an entirely rye starter things have improved (pun intended).

    Just want to mention to check your oven temps and timing in the recipe above – you didn’t mention to reduce the temp of the oven at 20 mins although you do mention to keep the cover on the baking bread.

    If you haven’t tried the sesame wheat loaf yet, I recommend that as your next mission!

    Delicious read as always 🙂

    • Thanks for the comments! I was also very surprised at the quick proof time, good thing I was checking. I’m definitely going to play with this some more and try to let it go just a bit longer… I’m hoping that will open things up a bit more. Do you have any other findings with this loaf? Anything else besides the rye starter helping things out?

      Thanks for the correction on the bake times, that would lead to a seriously dark loaf 🙂

      I’m going to give the sesame wheat loaf a go here very soon. I’ve done the recipe in the first Tartine book and it came out very good. I’m eager to give this one a shot.

      Thanks again and happy baking!

  • Andrej

    The crumb is lighter and more evenly open if you dissolve levain in water.

    • That is a great suggestion, thanks! I assume you mean to dissolve the levain with the reserved water that’s added after autolyse. I’ll give that a shot the next pass at this bread.

  • Andrej

    In all your recipes you add your leaven to a large mixing bowl and then you pour in H2O and mix with your hands until it is completely dissolved. That definitely helps to evenly distribute microorganisms later in the dough.
    Maybe in this last case you leave a little bit more reserved water (150ml?) that’s added after autolyse.

    Amazing blog btw.

    • Exactly what I was thinking as well — that’s a great suggestion. I’m going to give it a shot next time I bake this bread.

      Thanks, really glad you’re enjoying my write-ups!

      • Interesting discussion guys!
        I was just reading the original Tartine book this weekend, and wondered why the levain was dissolved in water at the start. Thanks for the explanation.

        • You want to dissolve the levain in water to ensure the culture is more evenly dispersed throughout your dough when you do mixing. This way you do not have a bunch of levain never mixed in with other parts of the dough!

  • ml

    Great bake, as usual! Regarding the levain mixing comment, I read “somewhere” that if you beat the levain, actually with a mixer, with water & a small amount of the flour it opens the crumb. Anyone ever heard of this? Also, I noticed that you replaced the white whole wheat with white flour. Any particular reason? And, have you ever tried sifting all of your wheat flour? Just wondering what that would be like 🙂
    ml

    • Thank ya!

      I’ve never read that comment about mixing the levain in with a mixer, an interesting concept. I definitely try to do as much as I can with just my hands, but this might be something worth trying out at least once.

      The reason I didn’t use white whole wheat is simply because I didn’t have any on hand. I just found that you can actually get King Arthur White Whole Wheat at Whole Foods, so I’ll pick some up and try with this flour next time.

      I have not tried sifting all my whole wheat, again, another good suggestion to try out! With even more high extraction flour I would think the crumb would open up even more with the trade off being less nutrients in the final loaf. Maybe using the white whole wheat adds enough nutrients to offset the loss there, just a thought 🙂

  • Megan

    Great recipe. I think I’ve made it 4 times now. The first time it was pretty good, but with an undercurrent of bitterness. Enough so that I was thinking I should just stick with the country loaf. It was especially disappointing since I was using some fancy organic stuff in a cloth bag. But then I read that bitterness indicates the flour is old. I found out there is a small flour mill not far from here that is very popular with artisanal bakers. Bought a small bag of whole wheat from them, and it was completely different. No bitterness at all.

    • Megan,
      Wow 4 times, that’s great practice. You’re right, you can really pull out some bitterness with so much whole wheat, you do have to be careful. I’ve also heard that stale flour can lend bitterness to your result but haven’t ever experienced it — glad to hear this could really be the cause!

      I’ve been using some locally milled white flour and I’ve experienced much better bread with it, I really think local is the way to go if you’re lucky enough to have a mill nearby.

      Out of curiosity, did you do an overnight autolyse with this bread? I’m not sure if you’ve seen my newer post on 95% whole wheat, but I’ve found an overnight autolyse makes the result even sweeter.

      Thanks for sharing and happy baking!

  • Benjamin Wilson

    Hi Mauricio – thanks as always for your great posts! My schedule for breadbaking is to prepare the levain and autolyze right before bed and then start the bulk fermentation early the next morning so that I can have the loaves proofing in the fridge by noon or so when I go to work. Do you have any suggestions on how to adapt to this timetable? Is it okay to autolyze for this long, and if it’s cool (55-60ish degrees), is it okay to let the levain build that long? Thanks!

    • Benjamin — you’re welcome! That schedule definitely sounds good, just make sure the percentage of mature starter you use to make your levain is around 20% or so, that should get you 10-12 hours of a fermentation window before it’ll be ready to use (depending on the flour choice you use). You want the levain to be expanded and bubbly when you are about to use it, but you don’t want it to have significantly fallen and become extremely sour smelling. It should still smell slightly sweet with hints of sourness.

      I hope that helps!

  • Cinzia

    Ciao Maurizio, I have a question regarding quantities. You might have addressed this somewhere, but I just can’t find it. My question is, if your recipe calls for 200g levain, why do you mix 200g of each flour plus 200g water with your 50g starter? Wouldn’t it yield more than 200g? And what do you do with the rest? discard it?

    • Yes, that’s correct. I actually no longer do this — when I make a levain I make only what’s required for the recipe (plus a little extra just in case). If you look at more of my recent recipes you’ll see the levain build is quite a bit smaller. One reason to make extra like this is to give yourself a little buffer if you don’t get to using your levain at the right time as there will be a little extra food for your starter to consume.

      Feel free to reduce the levain build in this recipe to suit!

  • will

    am i correct that your hydration here is much higher than Chad’s Ode to Bourdon in Tartine No 3? He lists 85% hydration and you’re going all the way up to 95%. or are you measuring it differently some how?

    • Yes, I’m definitely pushing the hydration in this recipe! Lots of whole grains and the ones I used for this were able to take on quite a bit of water. If 95% seems too high for your flour dial it back and add it in as you notice it’s able to handle it. You can always add more water, hard to remove it 🙂

  • Claire Henry Enemark

    Hi Maurizio!

    Your blog has been my saving grace during my personal bread baking renaissance, thank you for all the hard work and dedication you put into it! Quick question, I was wondering if you’d ever experimented with re-milling the extracted large pieces of bran (from the “high extraction” method you mentioned) and then re-incorporating them into the bread? I see on your 100% WW sourdough recipe you reconstitute it with water and add it back in, but was wondering if the bran was simply milled finer, would it still cut into those nice gluten strands we’re always trying to cultivate? Thanks Again!

    • Claire — really glad to hear that! That’s a great idea and I have seen it done before but I’ve not personally done this. The mill I have mills my flour extremely fine so I’m pretty happy with the results, but I would imagine re-milling would help make the flour even finer with less cutting action. It would be a fun experiment to do!