40% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Usually, when beginners start to make sourdough bread, they venture into using organic whole wheat flour and they easily get disappointed. But working with whole wheat (US) / wholemeal (UK) flour has its secrets that beginners need to learn first.

For this recipe, I hydrated the whole wheat flour the evening before. Hydrating flours before adding the sourdough starter begins the gluten network development, meaning that the windowpane test will pass. Those big bran particles partially block the gluten development resulting in a dough that breaks easily. This means that the CO2 bubbles created later in the fermentation process might escape.

This is a wet dough of 81.3% hydration. But bran has a high water absorption and makes the dough easy to handle. Bran also gives a darker colour to the dough and later to the crumb. But bran contains fibres, proteins, B vitamins and trace minerals that give a higher nutritious value to the bread.

I made a detailed video about the characteristics of wheat flour, please find it here.

During bulk fermentation, all steps performed are to improve the dough structure. Whole wheat flour has a weaker gluten network (because of bran presence), so the structure should be in focus for a more open crumb.

When adding more than 20% whole wheat flour to a recipe, you need to take into account the specificities of this flour.

  • It needs a longer time to hydrate.
  • More coil folds will help with the structure.
  • Bult ferment at 50-60% volume increase for a more open crumb.
  • Expect a slightly denser and darker crumb compared to regular white flour loaves.
  • Expect also a smaller and heavier loaf.

It is in your hands to apply the right techniques and steps to make it perfect.

Whole wheat flour provides a richer nutty flavour to the bread, even when it is combined with regular wheat flour. Whole wheat bread is also healthier, as it includes all the fibres, vitamins and minerals of the bran and germ. It also has a slightly lower glycemic index (GI) than white wheat bread.

What do you think? Will you give it a try?

How to succeed with a sourdough bread recipe?


When I started to bake sourdough bread, I was only baking following a recipe. I baked like this for years. Sometimes it was successful and sometimes not. There was a secret that I didn't know back then. I knew that there should have been something that would have turned any recipe into a successful one. But for years I've got distracted by important events in my life, and I gave up searching for it. I continued to bake bread during this time, and yes all the loaves were perfectly edible with a great taste.
One day, a friend of mine challenged me to bake bread without a recipe taken from a book and to look to make my own recipes. I got scared in the beginning as I didn't trust myself that I could do it. The first thing I had to do, it was to understand proportions in a dough,  like hydration, inoculation and so on. With all these clear, I started making my own recipes. But it was not enough. It was frustrating to see that sometimes it was working and sometimes not. What was the secret behind it? What could have made my baking consistent?

When the pandemic stroke us, I was already baking sourdough bread for some years. Almost everybody started to bake bread and the flours shops were empty. I had then to search for other sources of flour than my old good supermarket bread flour. I had then to chose other available flour brands. I've tested other flours before but I couldn't make big difference between them so I came back to my old and very accessible bread flour from the supermarket.
But this time, things were different. Being all the time at home allowed me to keep my sourdough at room temperature and to feed it 2 or 3 times per day. With this life change, I committed myself to search of the secret that I have not found beore, the secret of making incredible good looking bread. I was missing the consistency in baking bread with an ear. I desperately wanted to learn more. What was the secret to obtaining all the time an ear on the bread and a nicelly raised bread?
Things were linked: I needed a new flour, and I wanted a good one. My sourdough was spoiled with feeding at room temperature and got more active than when kept in the fridge. I added to this a bit of research. I bought a book to understand the science behind bread making. From there, I felt like putting together a puzzle. I had many pieces of the puzzle in my hands but I was missing some of them. The picture started to contour. I recall the first time I've got the ear after starting this improvement process. I felt I made a big step into understanding sourdough bread making.

My challenge continued after reaching the so desired ear. I wanted to bake a more open crumb bread, although pure open crumb has never been my target. I would rather say, to have a more aerated crumb in loaves that normally was denser. Also, I wanted to try other tastes from more flours.
On my way, I found the so much wanted secret. Although I have suspected it so long time ago, I have never thought that this would change so much the success of any recipe. The secret was a combination of factors:
  • The first was understanding bulk fermentation, understanding what is happening during this time. Fermentation is a fantastic natural process and o controll it, you need first to understand it.
  • The second was the quality of the flour. You need to know your flour and understand what to expect from it. If it is brand new flour, you need to test it. I had before other brands of flour in my hands, but what I didn't have before were the skills to make the best out of it. For me, all flours were the same before. Not even adding extra gluten didn't make any difference. This was because I didn't know exactly what to look for.
    My search for flour was twofold: one to find a high gluten flour coming from a sustainable source and the second was to find organic flours (if possible local) that would diversify my recipes.
  • The third was to understand my sourdough starter. I found a better place for it on top of my wifi router. My Maya became very active at warm temperatures and I started learning its signs. Once, I remember feeding it with an organic flour that made her very inactive. I had to select then, the perfect "food" for it too.
  • The fourth was to aquire new skills. My old skills, although learned from other bakers needed an upgrade. This is how I turned to Kristen's youtube channel and Instagram page. I've learned so much from her very detailed instructions, tested them and I have kept many of the techniques. It  is funny that although I've been inspired by her techniques, I've never tested her exact recipes. It will not be fair to say that only Kristen was my inspiration in my way, Trevor's book was another big one. And others also, but maybe with a lower influence.
On my learning path, I filmed and uploaded my bakes on youtube. If you are a beginner with sourdough bread, I recommend filming your bread making process (even just for yourself) to later rewind and make a self after bake critique. In this way, you are practically learning from your own mistakes. The more you bake and observe, the more you learn.

I've learned a lot in the last year but I still feel myself at the beginning of this trip. There are so many other things to try: other types of flour, other types of bread and so on. I think the list there can be so creative. I struggle with little time to put in practice and on youtube my loaves, but yes, I bake at least once a week, I test new recipes and most important, I put on the table an amazing bread for me and my family.

I stopped a bit and looked back. I started this path of creating my own recipes, but there are so many nice recipes in sourdough books or over the web. Nowadays, I use these books for inspiration only, without following the exact recipe (ingredients or directions). I wanted to go back, pick a recipe and follow it exactly to see what I would get. 
For this little challenge, I picked the Basic Sourdough Bread recipe of Kristen from FullProofBaking and let me tell you how it went.
The first bake with the exact ingredients and steps (even the same temperature) turned out OK but not outstanding. The high hydration dough (of 80%) didn't pose problems for me. What was wrong then? The crumb looked under proofed, with big holes (like tunnels inside) and very small bubbles around. For the next bake, it was clear that the bulk proof had to be extended. But there was another aspect: the bread looked a little flatter than I would have expected. Adding extra coil folds would have improved the shape.
With these in mind, the next bake was on the right track. I didn't change the hydration but worked on the above-mentioned aspects: I've let the dough to bulk ferment up until 75% instead of 50% volume increase and I made 5 coil folds instead of only 3. The result you can see in the photos and in the video. The result is not exactly like Kristen's and it will never be. The reason is simple: I do not have the same starter with the same behaviour, I do not have the same type of flours, not the same environment and even not the same skills.
But yes, I was able to bake bread that I am not ashamed of. I was actually very pleased with the result and with the incredible taste it has. 

The secret to succeed with a sourdough recipe, in general, is not to follow it by the book but to adapt and use the right techniques to it. Sometimes you can even adjust the ingredients if you know that the flour you are using is higher or lower in proteins. Usually, a recipe does not indicate the protein content of the flour to use. In US, bread flour usually has >13% protein content but my supermarket bread flour has 10% protein content. European bread flour is usually much lower in protein content thus the water content needs to be adapted accordingly. 
It might take you a few trials to be satisfied with the result of a recipe, but all the time, observe and improve is the key.

 I hope the tips and tricks mentioned above or in the video will help you too in succeeding with a sourdough bread recipe.