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.

Ingredients: (85% hydration)

  • 200g whole wheat sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 1000g organic whole wheat/wholemeal flour (11% proteins) 
  • 835g water
  • 20g salt 


  1. [Day 1, Friday, 23:00] Scaling. Start by scaling the ingredients using a balance and put them on the table to ensure that nothing is forgotten.
  2. Mix water + flour. Just until well combined. Do not knead at this stage, just ensure there is no unincorporated dry flour resting in the bowl and that's it. 
  3. [Day 2, Saturday, 9:00] Sourdough starter. Add the starter over the dough and mix with a standing mixer for 10 minutes.  After mixing, let the dough relax for 1 hour at 26ºC.
  4. [Day 2, Saturday, 10:00] Salt. Add the starter over the dough and mix with a standing mixer for 10 minutes.  After mixing, let the dough relax for 1 hour.
  5. [Day 2 Saturday, 11:00] Divide and Stretch and Fold. Take the dough out of the bowl put it on the slightly wet table board and divide it into 2. Stretch and fold each piece on the board and place them in squared glass bowls. I also separate 40g of dough in an aliquot jar so I can follow the volume increase. Let them sit covered for 1 hour.
  6. [Day 2, Saturday, 12:00] Lamination. Take each piece out of the bowl and do the lamination. Let the dough rests covered for 1 hour. 
  7. [Day 2, Saturday, 13:00] Coil fold 1. Start now a set of 4 coil folds performed straight in the bowls. Do the first coil fold set in each glass bowl and let them sit for 1 hour.
  8. [Day 2, Saturday, 14:00] Coil fold 2.  Do a second set of coil folds in the glass bowls and let them sit for 1 hour.
  9. [Day 2, Saturday, 15:00] Coil fold 3. Do a third set of coil folds for each dough and let them sit for 1 hour.
  10. [Day 2, Saturday, 16:00] Coil fold 4. Do the fourth set of coil folds for each dough and let them sit for 1 hour. 
  11. [Day 2, Saturday, 18:00] Shape the loaves on the lightly floured board. By this time, the dough in the aliquot jar indicated a 40% volume increase. Place the dough face down into well-floured bannetons. Repeat the process for the second piece of dough. Cover the bannetons with a plastic bag and place them in the fridge overnight.
  12. [Day 3, Sunday, 9:00] Score. Before scoring, you need to preheat the oven at 270ºC. I baked these loaves in a wood-fired oven but in a classical oven, you should follow basically the same temperature.
    Take the dough out from the fridge and reverse the banneton on a pizza peel on which you sprinkle semolina. Score and decorate the bread as you like.  Immediately after, slide the loaves into the hot oven. 
  13. Bake at 270ºC for 20 minutes with steam. After these 20 minutes, reduce the temperature to ~220ºC and continue to bake for 25 minutes. In the wood-fired oven, the exact temperature is difficult to control, so during the bake, it went gradually down from 270ºC to 200ºC at the end of the bake.
  14. [Day 3 Sunday, 9:45] Cool. The bread needs to cool for at least 2 hours until it reaches room temperature. The cooking process continues slowly even after taking the bread out of the oven, so this is why it is important to not skip this step and to resist cutting it too early. If you can, of course...
  15. [Day 3, Sunday, 11:45] Cut. Now is the big moment to enjoy a slice of bread... 


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