100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

I am approached many times by people who want to start baking bread with sourdough and they ask me for some starter. Most of them have never baked any bread or they tried once or twice in the past. The discussion usually starts like this: "I am so excited that I have starter now, I would like to start baking bread with sourdough and I can make my own whole wheat bread!" When I hear this excitement I am happy for them but on the other side, I know that they started already with the wrong foot. I am always replying the same: Do not start with whole wheat, start with white bread flour, master one recipe and then, you can add and increase gradually the amount of whole wheat flour. But the excitement is that high that they do not listen to me. They go straight at home, and make bread with  50% or even 100% whole wheat flour, just because they know is healthy. 
Then, they come back to me with remarks like... I think it was something wrong with the starter because I've got a flatbread with a very dense crumb. Needless to say that knowledge and skills to bake whole wheat bread are a prerequisite.
I've heard this story too many times and I keep saying: "Whole wheat flour is not for your first sourdough bread, no matter how healthy it is!"

To bake a successful whole wheat bread you need first to understand some things first.

Flour comes from wheat berries. Wheat spikes hold the wheat berries. If you press a wheat spike with your fingers, you’ll notice that the wheat berries are popping out from the spikelets. If you blow away the chaff, the grains remain.
Each wheat berry has 3 parts: 
  • the endosperm (83%) is the biggest part and contains starch granules, iron, B vitamins
  • the bran (14.5%) - is the outer layer that contains fibres, proteins, B vitamins and trace minerals
  • the germ (2.5%) - is the embryo of the seed, contains lipids, B vitamins and minerals
Flour is obtained through the reduction of the wheat berries into smaller particles.

Whole wheat flour is tricky for many reasons and I will just list some here:
  • Whole wheat is ground wheat berry with nothing removed from it. This means that almost 15% is bran and makes your bread a failure if you do not understand how to treat it.
    The bran requires more time to be hydrated, I would say at least 4 hours minimum.
    The bran is very thirsty, it needs a lot of water to hydrate properly. That's why the hydration of my dough is 85%. You may use a trick to sift the bran and hydrate it separately from the flour. 
  • The bran blocks the gluten network development because it acts as a barrier between the protein chains that want to bond. This means that your dough lacks extensibility and cannot hold gas as a white flour dough would do.
  • Whole wheat contains less protein percentage. At least in my region. I buy local and organic every time I can. Local means Belgium that has less sun than Mediterranean countries. Less sun means also less gluten/protein content. Usually, I find in Belgium only 10-11% protein content flours. You might not face the same if you live in sunny Italy for example. Although it is not an issue to have less gluten in the flour, this has a direct impact on the openness of the crumb.
  • Whole wheat ferments faster so you need to cut the fermentation earlier.
The main benefit of whole wheat bread is healthiness. 
Through simple milling, we obtain what it is called whole wheat / wholemeal flour that includes all the 3 elements of a wheat berry. To arrive at a white flour, the germ and the bran has to be removed through a sifting process. With them, fibres, vitamins and minerals also go away. 

The best is to mill your own grains and to use it fresh. In this way you are sure what you put in your bread. Of course, assuming that your wheat grains are also organic.

Most of the white flours is starch. Starch is a form of sugar. Even if the sourdough starter eats a part of the sugars in the fermentation process and make it healthier for you, you'll get less sugars in the whole wheat. For those of you being on a diet, you are often recommended whole grain bread. Whole wheat flour has fibers, minerals and vitamins that a white flour lost in the processing processes.
So, what is important to know before making whole wheat bread? Watch the video from above and you'll find out.

Sourdough Ciabatta with Biga

There is a story about this bread. Although it looks like it was there since ever, in fact, this specific bread was invented only 40 years ago. French bread was very popular then and still is, all around the world. Italian bread was also great but maybe not as popular. One baker, Arnaldo Cavallari, from a small town near Venice, invented in 1982 a type of bread that suited sandwiches as well as its French competition, the famous baguette.

The ciabatta (translated literally means slipper) had a full success and in few months it became very popular in Italy. Many Italian regions made adaptations to the recipe and many variations were created.

But its success didn't stop in Italy. Two years after, was introduced to UK, and 5 years later to US.

The original ciabatta (called Ciabatta polesana) has a high hydration dough based on a high-protein flour and an open-crumb with big alveoli.

I made ciabatta before following recipes from books (Pumpkin seeds ciabattaCiabattaCiabatta with sunflower seedsCiabatta with pumpkin seedsBuckwheat ciabatta) but I have to recognise that it was just recently that I've discovered its secrets. I am however not ashamed of them because they were part of my journey. Without them, I wouldn't have learned to look for more, to always search for perfection.

All ciabatta attempts I made were perfect as taste but there was something missing.... those big alveoli. I know that as a beginner I was not fully understanding the importance of strong bread flour. I changed my method, I added water, and yes, I can declare that 90% is the highest hydration I ever used with white flour. Baking sourdough bread for my family every single week during all these years improved my skills, and here I am, standing in front of my open crumb ciabatta.

This recipe is easy but it is not for a novice. Handling very wet dough is a nightmare for somebody just starting baking bread. But even if you do not have high skills you can do this recipe if you follow closely the instructions I gave in the video. I also give tips and tricks and I also try to explain why you should do things in a way or another.