Whole Wheat Sour Dough Bread For The Home Baker

whole wheat sourdough bread

Please welcome Maurizio Leo, a first time contributor to the Baking Steel blog.  Maurizio has put together a thorough examination into making a whole wheat sour dough bread just for you....You can learn all about Maurizio on his blog,The Perfect Loaf.  And you can follow him on Instagram here.  

I’ve been thinking about this recipe for a while now and I’ve been tinkering with it for just about as long. I wanted to create a whole wheat sourdough bread that wasn’t all the way 100% whole grain, but still enough to bring out that assertive wheat flavor, gentle yet complex sourness, and also one that packs a nutritious punch. I wanted it to be light in the hand, soft of texture and for it to be a good starting place for those who might not have had much experience with breads boasting a majority of whole grains. Sort of a beginner’s sourdough recipe but with more whole grains than not — a fifty-fifty whole wheat sourdough bread to get you and your family on the whole-grain-train without them missing the characteristics of white flour.

As you might know, I always like to experiment. To tinker. To change. Even when things are already working well I seem to dig in and just have to adjust. My previous work with whole wheat almost always utilized a stiff levain (around 65% hydration) but here I opted for 100% hydration liquid levain. I made this change mostly to see if the result would be all that different, but also because I wanted to add flexibility to this bread — knowing that I, or you out there, could make it with a stiff or liquid levain just the same. I find theres advantages and disadvantages to both but when it comes down to it as long as you adjust the total water in your recipe you'll get a great result no matter which type of starter you maintain or levain you use.

Instead of a long levain build period this formula calls for a shorter time from levain mix to using it in the dough. This is a handy thing to be comfortable with, it means you can get a strong, reliable levain ready to go in a shorter time period (about 3-4 hours instead of 6-7). Nothing groundbreaking here, but I like to highlight it upfront as something to add to your baking toolbox. The ability to adjust your levain to suit your schedule is handy and it means baking can revolve around our busy schedules and hectic weekends. And finally, I played with baking this bread at a much higher temperature for a shorter period of time overall -- I baked these fast and hot (and you can see that in the image above, a little more color all around and especially on top). Instead of baking on thick baking stones I opted for a Baking Steel as my “deck,” -- and this thing gets incredibly hot. More on this later and before we delve into these things any further, let’s talk about flour.

Flour Selection

My whole wheat selection here is pretty straightforward, just a good quality stoneground whole wheat (and it’s actually the whole wheat flour I use most often here in my kitchen). In experimenting between stoneground and roller milled whole wheat flour I've found the flavor of stoneground whole wheat to be more assertive, deep and much more tasty overall. Due to the method of milling, stoneground whole wheat preserves more of the bran and germ and these particles are clearly evident when passing the raw flour through your fingers. If you don’t have stoneground whole wheat a roller milled whole wheat (this is typically what you’ll find at the market) will work just as well, perhaps with a slightly different flavor profile and less assertive whole wheat taste overall.

For the 50% white portion of this recipe I split between a lower protein white flour (Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour - 11.5% protein) and a higher protein “bread” flour (Central Milling High Mountain - 13.5% protein).

Generally I prefer the taste of lower protein white flour (as you’ll hear me say time and time again here) like Giusto’s. To me flour like this has less of a gummy taste and it performs very well for extended fermentation times while also able to take on quite a bit of water. If you don’t have access to this flour any “all purpose” flour would work well here, including King Arthur all purpose.

For the other portion of white flour in this recipe I used Central Milling's High Mountain flour. This is essentially a “bread” flour having a higher protein percentage and is significantly stronger than all purpose. I felt this flour would help with the higher water percentage in the formula and that it would help open the crumb up a little more. You might comment that the whole wheat will already absorb most of the high hydration but in testing this formula several times I've found that the bread flour does aid in supporting the structure of this bread, allowing it to open up a little more. King Arthur Bread Flour (the blue bag in the US) is a good choice for this portion of the recipe, or any bread flour you might already have.

Additionally, I added a small percentage of diastatic malt (dry malted barley flour) to this recipe because the majority of the flour I used is not malted. While malt is not mandatory for this bake I find a little added to the mix aids in achieving a wonderfully colored crust and will also increase fermentation and enzymatic activity. Its use is optional.

Fifty-Fifty Whole Wheat Formula


Total dough weight: 1900g Pre-fermented flour: 5.5% Hydration: 87% Yield: 2 x 950g loaves

Levain Build

WeightIngredientBaker's Percentage

50gMature liquid starter (100% hydration)100%

25gGiusto's Stoneground Whole Wheat50%

25gGiusto's Artisan Bread Flour50%

50gH2O @ 90ºF100%

Note that the mature liquid starter used to inoculate this build is at 100% (whereas typically I'd use 50% or so). This was mentioned at the beginning of this post and will be discussed again in the "Levain" section below.

Dough Formula

Target final dough temperature (FDT) is 79ºF

When I list a recipe as “beginner” I usually like to reduce the hydration (the amount of water) in a recipe. As you increase water the dough becomes stickier, more slack and generally acts more like a rebel instead of following orders. The hydration amount listed below (86.39%) is definitely high, but we are also using quite a bit of whole wheat which typically takes on quite bit of water. With that said, feel free to reduce hydration, to say 78-80%, especially if this is your first attempt at a bread with this level of hydration. Once you get a feel for it, slowly increase the water as you become comfortable handling that rebel. 

Note that the baker’s percentages listed below are with respect to the final dough ingredients and do not take into account the levain.

Weight                                                   Ingredient                                                   Baker's Percentage

466g                               Giusto's Stoneground Whole Wheat                                     50.00%

244g                               Central Milling High Mountain Bread Flour                          26.18%

222g                               Giusto's Artisan Bread Flour                                                   23.82%

805g                              H2O @ 90ºF                                                                               86.39%

10g                                Diastatic Malt (see note below)                                               1.05%

21g                                 Fine sea salt                                                                               2.30%

132g                               Mature, liquid levain                                                                14.14%


1. Levain - 12:30 p.m.

As mentioned earlier, I worked with a shorter levain build for this bread. To adjust for the reduced build time we’ll increase not only our inoculation of mature starter but also the water temperature. This gets the whole process moving faster, and by the time you’re ready to use this levain you’ll notice some significant activity.

Build the liquid levain (everything listed in the Levain Build section above) in the morning or afternoon and store somewhere around 80ºF ambient.

Usually with high percentages of whole wheat and/or bread flour I lengthen the autolyse time, sometimes up to 5-6 hours. The longer two-hour autolyse in this recipe increases the elasticity of the whole wheat and bread flour, slackening things just a bit more to allow maximal expansion later when baking.

2. Autolyse - 2:30 p.m.

Mix flour and water (reserve 100g water for mix, later) in a bowl until all dry bits are hydrated. Cover bowl and store somewhere nice and warm (around 80ºF) for 2 hours. Somewhere near your levain is convenient.

3. Mix - 4:30 p.m.

Add the called for ripe levain to your autolysed dough and using about half of the reserved 100g of water mix thoroughly with your hands. You want the levain to be pretty well mixed through the dough and the added water absorbed.

Let's mix/knead. I chose to do slap and fold for about 4 minutes, just until the dough started to show signs of a smooth surface and it was catching some air. If you aren’t comfortable with slap/fold method, or don’t like it, you can do stretch and folds in the bowl until your dough tightens up and becomes slightly hard to stretch out and fold over. Medium development.

When finished mixing sprinkle the salt on top of the dough and the remaining water to help dissolve. Pinch through the dough thoroughly and fold the dough over itself to help incorporate and absorb the remaining water. When finished transfer the dough to a tub or thick-walled bowl for our first rise, or bulk fermentation.

4. Bulk Fermentation - 4:40 p.m. to 8:10 p.m.

At 78-80ºF ambient temperature bulk fermentation should go for about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the dough and adjust your bulk time because with this much whole grain the dough can quickly go over. See my sequence of images below to get a feel for how the dough should look and feel during the 3.5 hour rise.

Perform 5 sets of stretch and folds during bulk, spaced out by 30 minutes. After the fifth set of stretch and folds let the dough rest for the remainder of bulk. Keep an eye on the dough as it approaches the three to three and a half hour mark during bulk, it will rise quite a bit and could spill out of your bowl.

Below is my dough after mixing and right at the beginning of bulk. You can see how shaggy the dough is, how wet and lifeless -- it's just sitting there in a single flat layer. There's no rounding between the edges of the dough and the bowl, no bubbles anywhere, and if you jiggled the bowl you wouldn't see much movement.

Below is my dough after the fifth, and last, set of stretch and folds. Look how strong the dough has become compared to the picture above. It's holding its shape in the bowl extremely well -- this is a sign for me that the dough is now strong enough and no further strengthening is needed. I will now let the dough rest, relax and rise the remainder of the time specified for bulk fermentation.

I called bulk fermentation quits when I saw the dough reach the point below. You can see it’s risen significantly, there are plenty of bubbles on top and just below the surface, and most importantly: the edge where the dough meets the bowl is domed & convex. If I were to wet my hand and tug on the dough a little I’d feel much more resistance and elasticity. It’s gained strength and can hold its shape much more than at the beginning of bulk. These are all good signs your dough is strong enough and ready to be divided.

5. Divide & Pre-shape - 8:10 p.m.

Gently dump out the dough from your bulk container onto an un-floured work surface. Divide in half and pre-shape the dough into two round boules, let the rounds rest 20 minutes uncovered.

6. Shape - 8:30 p.m.

Prepare two baskets that will hold your dough during its long cold proof overnight. If you decide to shape the dough as two boules (rounds) find two round kitchen bowls and if you decide to shape as batards (ovals) use two bread baskets. Line the baskets with cotton or canvas liners if you have them, or clean kitchen towels if not, and dust them lightly with white rice flour to prevent the dough from sticking during proof.

Moderately flour the top of the dough and flour the work surface. Flip one resting round over so the floured side is down on the work surface. Fold the top of the dough up and over to the middle and repeat for the bottom (you'll now have a long slender rectangle in front of you). Pickup the rectangle and rotate it 90ºF so it's now lengthwise facing you. Grab the dough at the very top and fold over a little ways, press to seal with the main mass of the dough. Now grab this rolled over top and gently continue to roll it down towards the bottom, tucking in the dough as you go (imagine rolling down a beach towel). At the end of this you’ll have a tube that has essentially been rolled downward. Once shaped, transfer each to their floured shaping basket with the seam side facing up.

Repeat with the other round

7. Rest & Proof - 8:35 p.m.

Cover your baskets with plastic and then place in the refrigerator at 38ºF for about 10-11 hours.

Even at such cool temperatures this dough can quickly overproof so keep an eye on it in the fridge in the morning.

8. Bake - Next Morning: Preheat oven at 6:45 a.m., Bake at 7:45 a.m.

Place your Baking Steel in your oven and preheat for one hour at 500ºF (or 525ºF if your oven can go that high). Once preheated, take out both of the baskets from the fridge and remove the plastic wrap.

You'll notice my dough has risen somewhat but not a significant amount. Instead the dough has relaxed to fill my proofing baskets and is perhaps a little more puffy (the loaf on the right was a slightly higher final dough weight and will result in a larger loaf).

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit over the top and place over the basket, then place a pizza peel or small cutting board over the top. Quickly invert each basket onto the parchment and peel/board. Using a sharp razor blade fastened to a stick, scissors, or a very sharp knife carefully score the top of each loaf at a shallow angle to the dough, just deep enough to cut below the top skin we created at shape time.

I like to score whole wheat loaves at a very shallow angle, this helps the loaf attain maximal rise when in the oven. If you score at a straight 90º angle with the dough then as the dough rises it sort of splits open instead of “peeling” back. You want the dough to have some resistance at the top as it starts rising from the heat in the oven.

I steamed my oven in my usual way, described here in my post on how to steam your home oven for baking. I baked these loaves hot and fast. The goal was to bake the exterior to a nice dark color, and also bake the interior, but take the loaves out before they completely dried out inside. With whole wheat I like my loaves to be much more tender and moist and I found this baking schedule achieves that.

Bake at 500ºF for 20 minutes, then remove the steaming pans from inside the oven. Bake the loaves for an additional 10 minutes at 500ºF, then turn the oven down to 450ºF and bake for an additional 18-22 minutes until done to your liking. Keep an eye on these from the middle of the bake all the way to the end as the prolonged high temperature can quickly scorch the outside of the loaves.

Note that these times and temperatures are what work well here for my oven, my altitude (about 5280 ft. above sea level) and my environment. The first time you try this recipe keep a a close watch over the dough in the oven to adjust as necessary.

For the past few months (maybe even longer) I've been baking in my oven on a Baking Steel instead of my usual baking stones. I've found several benefits to using this: it gets incredibly hot, it's able to transfer its stored heat much more effectively to the food, and the physical height of the steel is much less than my previous baking stones (a minor thing but important when trying to pack so many things in the oven). Oh and I can't fail to mention the fact that baking sourdough pizza on it is a dream, I finally am able to get a pretty killer crust (recipe coming soon!).

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 1-2 hours.


With this much whole wheat it's always a challenge to get a tall and airy loaf but the addition of the bread flour, high hydration, and relatively tight shaping have helped achieve that. Along with the nice rise the soft and tender interior and dark, crunchy crust play off each other to create a balanced bread that is both flavorful and light in the hand.

One modification I'd love to try is to use white wheat instead of red wheat for the 50% whole wheat portion. White wheat is one of my favorites to use, mostly because of its mild, laid back flavor but also I conveniently have a new 25 pound bag of raw white wheat berries sitting in my pantry ready to go (and nowadays it's almost always used in my weekly sourdough sandwich bread). This change might reduce the overall assertiveness of this bread, but it would be exciting to see the change in flavor profile.


I love this dark crust, and because of the hot bake the interior did not dry out in the slightest. Sometimes it can be hard to achieve this but a little tweak to the baking schedule really did the trick. I plan to try this in the future with my other recipes, the crust results speak for themselves!

I almost always prefer the batard shape over a boule, mostly because of how the bread slices up (not too wide, and a little taller), and this bread is no exception. I enjoy how the crust peels back as the bread opens in the oven, it contributes to that tall loaf with a really pleasing aesthetic.


For 50% whole wheat I couldn't be happier with the crumb. As you know the higher you go in whole grains usually the more dense your bread will be, but I think the relatively high hydration and mix of flours has helped achieve a really light loaf that has uniform openness throughout.


This bread has an assertive wheat flavor but not so much that it's overpowering; it really showcases the stoneground wheat and doesn't let it play second role here. There's a tad more sourness peaking through but it's actually a very complementary flavor to the wheat, adding a touch more complexity and depth. I'm not big on overly sour bread and for me this was just right.

If you'd like more sourness try to proof a bit longer or add even more whole grains, and if you'd like less do the opposite. Just be weary of the timetable I've laid out here when modifying the whole grain percentage, as you know more whole grains means increased fermentation.

I like the idea that this recipe is a starting point for those who might not have a lot of experience in working with whole grains (or even if you do!). With this gateway bread you can adjust the percentage of whole wheat up or down to suit you and your family’s tastes. It’s a good jumping off point with a majority of whole grains and a base formula for our endless tweaking and testing in search of that perfect loaf.

Buon appetito!

Click here to view more recipes from Baking Steel!

Get your first Baking Steel

Baking Steels and Accessories

Shop our complete collection of carefully crafted Baking Steels and other baking and pizza making accessories.

Shop Now


Here's the secret sauce. Literally.

View Collection

Cooking Classes

For all the aspiring master chefs out there, we've got you covered.

Learn More