How to make 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough at Home.

Fresh milled, 100% whole wheat sourdough. A challenging yet extremely rewarding and healthy loaf to make. A household staple this loaf is light, hearty and delicious.

100% whole wheat sourdough crumb shot

Working with whole grains is challenging, rewarding and exciting, but can also be extremely frustrating. I would like to note that this is not a beginner recipe and I would recommend you check out my introduction to sourdough recipe before attempting this one.

In 2016 after leaving my position as Sous Chef at Cafe Boulud in the Four Seasons Toronto, I needed a break from cooking. I decided that I wanted to stage (a free work term) in a bakery to get a better understanding of whole grains. After looking at some of the top bakeries in North America, I found a little bakery in Vermont called Elmore Mountain Bread that would forever change my life. It was here that I developed a new understanding and passion for baking with organic grains that are freshly milled into flour. Blair and Andrew helped me understand the differences in working with fresh milled flour and how I could utilize them in my home baking.

The oven at Elmore Mountain Bread

Whole grains typically ferment faster, absorb more water and create a loaf with less volume than a standard sourdough loaf. You will often find whole wheat sourdough recipes online calling for 20-30% whole wheat but this is a true 100% whole wheat recipe. In the past I have made versions of this where I sift or scald the wheat but after lots of testing I have finally settled on a formula I am happy with.

Flavour, Health and Starter Technique

The bread tastes exceptional and does not have any bitter flavour, something often found in 100% whole wheat sourdough breads. While some of this can be attributed to the grains being used, the formula and fermentation schedule play their part. Because I am around baked goods and breads almost every day of my life, I choose to make breads with higher percentages of whole grains as my go-to daily breads for my family. While many bakers strive to achieve the coveted open crumb loaf, in my opinion this loaf is more challenging, more rewarding and most importantly healthier.

100% whole wheat sourdough

While you can make this with your regular sourdough starter I have used a 100% whole wheat sourdough starter at 65% hydration to keep the loaf true to it’s name. If you don’t have one, you can convert one easily by changing your starters flour to 100% whole wheat (but keep in mind it will ferment a bit differently). You can also do your levain build using your white starter and whole wheat flour with great results, but if you want extra bragging rights you should use the 100% whole wheat sourdough starter as there will be a VERY small percentage of white flour in the final loaf due to the levain build.

100% whole wheat sourdough starter

The Importance of Flour

The flour I am using for is 100% organic hard red spring wheat kernels, milled fine on a New American Stone Mill. Canadian wheat is quite strong and has the following specs:

  • 100% organic hard red spring wheat
  • 12.5% protein
  • 1.6 – 1.8% ash content

My recommendation would be to find a whole wheat flour that is stone milled and has a high protein percentage. To test your flour for strength you can mix it with 85-90% water. Take 50 grams of flour and mix it with 45 grams of water. Let this rest for about an hour and then play with it. If the dough feels very loose then your flour will not be able to take all of the water in the formula for this recipe and you can reduce it. You should also be able to stretch the dough between your hands like you see below.

I’ve found the finer I mill the flour, the more water my dough is able to absorb and the less coarse bran particles there are to shred the gluten network. For all of you that have read my guide to milling at home please note that your dough will not handle as much water when milled on a komo or mock mill and you will have to decrease the hydration. You could also consider sifting out some of the coarser bran and using that to dust the bannetons with to help you build a strong gluten network, keeping in mind that removing the bran will also affect the dough’s hydration.

Whole grain flours contain more nutrients than their sifted counter parts and as a result will ferment faster. In my experience, doughs with a higher hydration also tend to ferment faster and this dough is a combination of the two — so keep a watchful eye on your bulk fermentations and your final dough temperature.

100% Whole Wheat Levain Sourdough Specs

Yield2 X 900 gram loaves
Total dough weight1800 grams
Pre-Fermented Flour5.65%
Levain % in Final Dough12%
Hydration89%
Note: The volume of these loaves will be less than a typically country sourdough loaf.

Total Formula

This is total of all the ingredients needed to make this 100% whole wheat sourdough recipe.

WeightIngredientBakers %
917 gramsWhole Wheat Flour100%
819 grams Water89%
69 gramsSourdough Starter7.5%
19 gramsSalt2.2%
Total Formula

If you want to scale this recipe easily and change the amount of loaves or loaf size, you can download my 100% whole wheat sourdough dough calculator.

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Dough Schedule

To help simplify the process I have created some sourdough schedules. This schedule is meant to be used as a guideline but as we know the dough is boss so pay attention to your dough and let the schedule help.

100% sourdough dough schedule

Mix the 100% Whole Wheat Stiff Levain – 9:00am

If you don’t keep whole wheat starter around you can use your normal sourdough starter to do this build. I like to keep the stiff levain build at around 65% hydration which may look and feel different if you are used to keeping a liquid levain. While I recommend using a stiff levain for this dough you could use your liquid starter, just keep in mind the dough’s overall formula hydration will change.

WeightIngredientBakers %
53 gramsWhole Wheat Flour100
34 grams Water at 26°C/80°F65
69 gramsLevain130
Total Yield 295%, 156 grams.

Note: This build has a 50g levain buffer built in to help perpetuate the starter.

I like to mix this in a bowl then add it to a jar rather than mix directly into the jar so that I can really get the build mixed well as it is a relatively low hydration. Add your 26°C water and starter into your bowl and mix them together. Add the flour and knead the dough into a ball and place it into a jar. At this point I place an elastic at the top level where the levain is so I can monitor how long it takes to triple in size. Store the levain in a warm place at 26°C/80F.

Signs to look for to ensure that your stiff levain are ripe are a domed top that has not yet collapsed and it has tripled in volume. You should also notice that if you break into it it will have a strong egg-like smell. The video below shows what my the stiff levain looks like before mixing my 100% whole wheat sourdough.

Depending on your environment and starter this will take between 3-4 hours. This stiff Levain build is something that I learned from German Master Baker Michael Shulze. It works great for doughs of high whole grain or high hydration that need a lot of strength. The video below shows a ripe levain just before mixing the dough.

Autolyse – 10:00am

While you could do an autolyse for longer, I have tried 1 all the way to 6 hours autolyse’s with this dough, I find I get the best results at 90-120 minutes. I’ve noticed that when using 100% whole wheat my gluten network will actually be weaker if I let it go for too long. Too short an autolyse and the dough does not have ample time to absorb the water properly, nor will it have time to relax and will have low extensibility. This makes the dough hard to fold and hard to shape.

WeightIngredient
864 gramsWhole Wheat Flour
735 grams Water at 26°C/80°F
I have removed 50g of water from the final to help mix in the salt and levain.
  1. Add the flour to a large bowl or mixer.
  2. Add 735g of the water to the flour and mix until combined leaving no dry bits.
  3. Cover and leave in a warm place ideally the same as your levain build.

Please note: that this autolyse is WITHOUT the levain AND the salt.

Mix the Dough – 12:00pm

WeightIngredient
50 gramsWater
19 grams Salt
106 GramsStiff Whole Wheat Levain
Final dough ingredients mixed in after autolyse.
100% whole wheat sourdough Levain
!00% stiff whole wheat levain ready to be mixed in.

Break up the stiff levain over your dough. Use about half the remaining water to mix in the levain. While you can mix this by hand I opt to using my spiral mixer and mix the dough on 1st speed for about 5 minutes (about 7 on a planetary or Kitchen Aid style mixer) to ensure the levain is mixed thoroughly. If you are using your hands you can mix for about 10 minutes using your hand like a claw and pinching the levain into the dough.

Once incorporated you can take one corner of the dough and stretch it over working your way around until the dough feels strong. At this stage allow the dough to rest covered for about 5 minutes. After resting the dough add the remaining water and salt and mix on 1st speed for another 5 minutes (7 for a planetary and 10 for hand mixing).

Rest the dough for another 5 minutes and do a final mix of 5 minutes on second speed (6 for a planetary and 10 for hand mix). While this may seem like excessive mixing we need to build a strong gluten network to be able to hold the coarse bran as the dough rises and expands. Think of the air bubbles trapped inside as balloons. As they dough expands they expand and with the expansion get weaker and easier to pop. If we do a good job of developing the dough, the balloons will have as stronger exterior that allow them to stand up to the coarse bran in this 100% whole wheat sourdough bread.

Desired Dough Temperature – 24°-25C/75.2-77°F
I like to keep this dough on the cooler side because as mentioned this dough will tend to ferment fast and the fermentation can get away from you VERY fast to pay close attention to your dough and takes it’s temperature during the bulk fermentation.

Bulk Fermenation 12:30pm – 4:00pm

I like to keep bulk fermentation for 100% whole wheat sourdough between 3-3.5 hours. While I typically bulk ferment between 26°-28°C I like to keep this dough between 24°-26°C. The dough ferments very fast due to the high quantity of whole grains and the fresh milled flour and I have much better results with a slightly cooler bulk ferment.

After mixing, transfer the dough to a dough tub or bowl that you will use for the bulk fermentation and allow it to rest for 60 minutes. If doing a small batch of two loaves, I use an old ceramic bowl as the ceramic will hold a temperature and help you achieve your optimal fermentation temperatures. For larger batches I use a cambro container.

Give the dough 3 sets of folds at the 60, 90 and 120 minute marker. Using wet hands, stretch the dough up and throw it over itself away from you. After the final fold let the dough relax for the remainder of the bulk fermentation. If you notice the dough is a bit slack you can add in an extra fold at the 150 minute market but try to give the dough ample time to relax before shaping.

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At the end of the bulk fermentation I look for about a 30-40% rise in volume. Remember 100% whole wheat sourdough is difficult so pay close attention to your dough.

Divide and Preshape 4:00pm

Dump the dough onto your work surface. I don’t use any flour when I pre-shape my doughs as I find it unnecessary but if you are worried about the dough sticking you can dust with a little whole wheat flour. Divide the dough in half using a bench scraper. With the scraper in one hand and the dough in the other pull the dough on the table stretching it into a round shape. If the dough is sticking to your hand you can lightly flour your hand but if you have a well developed dough this is not needed.

Let the dough rest uncovered for 30-45 minutes. I like to leave the dough uncovered as I find drying the surface of the dough makes it a bit easier to shape.

Shape – 4:45pm

If this is your first time making 100% whole wheat sourdough I highly recommend shaping this as a boule as it is much easier to shape than a Batard. Lightly flour the top of your loaf and flip it over on to the table. Bring the bottom up and seal. Stretch the sides out and bring them into the center to make a tight package. Bring the top down about 1/3 of the way and pull the sides in. Now take the dough and roll it lightly to give an oval shape.

After shaping allow the dough to rest on the table for 2-3 minutes then flip it over and place it into the banneton seam side up. For this bread I use a mixture of rye, rice flour and coarse bran to dust my banneton but you could use strictly rice flour. The combo of bran, rye and rice flour gives a great look and texture to the finished loaf.

Cold Fermentation and Final Proof 5:00pm – 8:30am the next morning.

Let the dough rest (covered in a reusable bag — I like to use a clear plastic shopping bag that I use over again) in the banneton for about 10 minutes then place it into the fridge overnight 3°C (38°F). As I have mentioned this dough can ferment really fast so it’s best not to leave it out of the fridge for too long. I also don’t like to let this dough cold ferment for too long as it can develop too much acidity and start to break down the gluten. The cold fermentation will give your loaf a better shelf life, more intense flavour and make it easier to handle/score when you bake it. This dough is best baked after a 10-14 hour cold ferment.

100% whole wheat sourdough
This dough is ready to bake from a cold ferment.

Baking 8:30am – 9:30am

Place your dutch oven with the lid on, inside your oven and preheat to its max setting for about an hour. I use a challenger bread pan but any dutch oven will work. Remove the preheated dutch oven from the oven and take the lid off. Place a pre cut piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan and gently flip the loaf out onto the parchment paper. Using a lame at a 45° angle score your bread. Place the lid back onto the dutch oven and with the side cracked, spray water (about 15 sprays) onto the lid of the dutch oven before closing. You can also add a cube of ice but I prefer to spray into the pan.

100% whole wheat sourdough

Place the dutch oven back into your oven and immediately lower the oven to 243°C (470°F) and bake for 22 minutes with the lid on and 14 minutes lid off. If the loaf is getting dark drop the temperature to 232°C (450°F) for the final 10 minutes of the bake. Keep in mind all ovens are different so you may need to adjust your baking times and temperatures accordingly.

Remove the loaf from the oven and tap the bottom to make sure its baked. Place the loaf on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before slicing. It is REALLY hard but try to wait at least an hour before slicing.

100% whole wheat sourdough

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Final Thoughts

This dough took me a long time and many attempts to really get it right. Don’t be discouraged if you are not successful your first try as it took me years to fully understand how to work with this dough. When you first try this formula do not go crazy with the hydration as it really depends on your flour.

I use very strong Canadian wheat that has the ability to hold water and stand up to a long fermentation. If you wanted to play it safe you could start with 75% whole wheat and 25% bread flour but keep in mind that bread flour does not have the ability to absorb water the way that whole wheat does.

Overall this bread tastes incredible and does not have the dense structure or bitter taste that many 100% whole wheat sourdough formulas yield. It is healthy, hearty and has become a staple in our household.

If you liked this recipe write up please consider supporting this blog or downloading my 100% whole wheat sourdough calculator.

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Recipe Card

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100% whole wheat sourdough

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough

  • Author: Matthew James Duffy
  • Prep Time: 4 hours
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours 40 minutes
  • Yield: 2 1x
  • Category: Sourdough
  • Cuisine: Baking

Description

Fresh milled, 100% whole wheat sourdough. A challenging yet extremely rewarding and healthy loaf to make. A household staple this loaf is light, hearty and delicious.


Ingredients

Scale

For the levain:

  • 53 grams whole wheat flour
  • 34 grams water at 26C
  • 68 grams levain

For the Dough:

Autolyse:

  • 864 grams whole wheat flour
  • 735 grams water

Mix In:

  • 50 grams water
  • 19 grams salt
  • 106 grams stiff whole wheat levain (from the above build)

Instructions

For the levain:

  1. Mix all the ingredients until well combined.  Let rise for 3-4 hours in a warm place at 26°C/80F.

For the Dough:

Autolyse:

  1. Add the flour to a large bowl or mixer.
  2. Add 735g of the water to the flour and mix until combined leaving no dry bits.
  3. Cover and leave in a warm place ideally the same as your levain build.

Mix in:

  1. Break up the stiff levain over your dough. Use about half the remaining water to mix in the levain. 
  2. Mix well and allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining salt and water and mix until well combined. 
  4. Rest the dough for 5 minutes.
  5. Mix the dough until well developed 
  6. Desired Dough Temperature – 24°-25C/75.2-77°F

Bulk Fermentation:

  1. Allow the dough for bulk ferment at 24°-25C/75.2-77°F for 3-3.5 hours.
  2. Perform 3 sets of folds on your dough at 60,90 and 120 minutes. 

Pre-Shape

  1. Using a bench knife, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. 
  2. Pre-shape each dough into a round ball.
  3. Rest the dough for 30-45 minutes.

Final Shape

  1. Lightly flour the top of your loaf and flip it over onto the bench. 
  2. Bring the bottom up and seal. Stretch the sides out and bring them into the center to make a tight package.
  3. Bring the top down about 1/3 of the way and pull the sides in.
  4. Take the dough and roll it lightly to give an oval shape.
  5. Allow the dough to rest on the table for 2-3 minutes then flip it over and place it into the banneton seam side up.
  6. Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes before covering and placing into the fridge. 
  7. Cold ferment the dough for 10-12 hours. 

Baking

  1. Place your dutch oven with the lid on, inside your oven and preheat to its max setting for about an hour. 
  2. Remove the preheated dutch oven from the oven and take the lid off.
  3. Place a pre cut piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan and gently flip the loaf out onto the parchment paper.
  4. Using a lame at a 45° angle score your bread. Place the lid back onto the dutch oven and with the side cracked, spray about 15 sprays from a water bottle onto the lid of the dutch oven before closing.
  5. Place the dutch oven back into your oven and immediately lower the oven to 243°C (470°F) and bake for 22 minutes with the lid on and 14 minutes lid off.
  6. Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing. 

 

 


Notes

  • If this is your first time making this bread I highly suggest you read my full writeup.
  • 100% whole wheat sourdough can ferment fast.  Keep an eye on the bulk stage of fermentation. 
  • This dough requires a really good mix to ensure enough gluten development to handle all the coarse bran.

 

Keywords: 100% whole wheat sourdough

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12 comments
  1. Hello!

    I am very curious to try this recipe myself. The whole wheat flour I can find is not strong enough I would say. I am therefore wondering, do you think a stone-milled wholegrain spelt flour could work? Have you ever tried that?

    Regards from Sweden!
    /Madeleine

    1. Hey Madeleine,
      I have tried that and I am working on a 100% spelt bread for the site. I have found that my spelt can only take about 72% water and does not really require a long autolyse. It is a very different grain and ultimately different formula. If you do try it I’d love to hear your results. You could also try with your WW just decrease the hydration to around 75% as a starting point.

  2. Hey Matt,

    I just want to thank you for this recipe and for the detailed description. As an enthusiastic amateur home baker I struggled always a lot with more whole grain breads. I’ve tried with a 70% whole grain loaf and it really worked, your machine mixing method helped a lot. I’d be curious how to machine mix with lower whole grain % (like 50%, 30%). I’ve searched a ton on the net but there is no guides anywhere!
    Keep up the good stuff. Cheers from Budapest.

    Csaba

    1. Hello Csaba,
      Thanks for your kind words. You can check out my 50% whole wheat sourdough recipe that has just been posted to see the mixing process. I also plan to write a guide on mixing that will cover your questions.
      Happy baking,
      MJD

  3. Matt,
    I am just a hack sourdough baker but getting better! I like your site and also your instagram posts that give me tips on what to look for as I am baking. Examples of this include the hydration stretch test and the “looks like a pumpkin” test when mixing. Even today on instagram you posted about elasticity and extensability. So great to get this insight in order to improve my skills. So glad I came across your instagram and website. Keep up the great work!
    thanks,
    Dave

    1. Hey Dave,
      Don’t give up hope! It’s all about repetition and really learning how the different doughs behave.
      Thanks for your kind words and happy baking!

  4. I just started baking sourdough with fresh milled whole wheat. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe and methods!!! May I ask what kind of proofing basket is that in you picture? So cool! Thank you again, I can’t wait for your book to come out!

    1. Hello Heli,
      Glad you are enjoying the blog. We try hard to make things comprehensible as the goal is to help people be successful in their baking. The bannetones are made out of wood pulp. They work great, I also really like the lined wicked baskets from TMB.
      Happy baking!

  5. I tried this method for the first time today, using Patwin flour from Community Grains. The dough seemed to develop good gluten strength (with 30 total minutes of hand mixing!!) and did not seem over-proofed after the bulk fermentation… but it got pretty flat in baking. Any suggestions? Maybe less hydration for this particular flour?

    1. Hello Cathy,
      Not all wheats are created equal. You could try and use less water in the dough. I have also found that the dough can feel great
      all the way to the bake and then no or little oven spring. When this happens I decrease my bulk fermentation at my next bake.
      You could also try decreasing the levain.
      MJD

  6. Hi Matt, thanks for posting this recipes and all the details! I had a couple of questions, if you have time.

    Mostly I’m curious about the use of a stiff starter. Can you explain a bit about the role it plays in this bread and why it’s the better choice compared to a liquid starter for this type of bread? What impact does the stiff starter have on the dough? Anything I can do to improve my whole grain fresh milled loaves will be so welcome.

    I’m going to make a stiff levain to try it out for my 100% whole grain fresh milled loaves, which I’ve been struggling with lately. I keep a liquid starter normally, so I plan to add some of that starter to your recommended 100/65 water/flour mix for the levain. I saw that you use 130% starter in your levain build. Would the percentage of starter need to be adjusted up or down since I will be using a liquid starter to build my stiff levain?

    Thanks so much!!
    Matt (@quartet1977 on insta)

    1. Hey Matt,
      Thanks for your kind words, my reply is a bit delayed as we have a 1 month old and it has been hectic!
      I like to use a stiff starter as I have found it adds extra strength. I also am using 100% whole wheat
      as I want the loaf to be really be 100% WW (although I guess there may be 1-2 g from the inoculation if you use a white starter).
      You do not need to adjust the inoculation as I am doing the same if you are doing stiff then stiff you might need a few extra drops
      of water.
      Hope this helps,
      MJD

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