Whole Wheat Starter and Bread Help Request

After 17 1/2 hours - this morning 1/31/11

 Would appreciate comments, please.  Had high hopes for whole wheat bread from Master Formula from Peter Reinhart's Whole Wheat Breads, but need to keep working on it.  Have made the recipe twice now; first time got mixed up and put in the entire bowl of starter! (probably about 1.5 x more than recipe required).  Dough was very loose after bulk proofing, and practically fell apart during shaping and panning.  Needless to say final bread was pretty flat, had many cracks, and was very crumbly.  Very tasty though, with butter or olive oil, at least after first hour.  Next day was very dry, as I expected.


Second time determined to do better - carefully weighed starter, etc.  Still was surprised by very loose dough and while not as many cracks, and bread does hold together better, there was virtually no surface tension when I was trying to form the batard.


Am thinking of possible causes - immature starter?  overproofing at bulk dough stage?  Sorry no pictures of those disasters, but below you will see the starter I am working with now.  History of this starter is as follows:

Began new seed culture on 1/21/11, with pineapple juice, diastatic malt powder, whole wheat flour and filtered water.  Proceeded through phases and created the mother starter from seed culture on 1/26/11.  Within 5 1/2 hours, had risen to at least 3x volume.  Degassed and stored in refrigerator.  The second bread mentioned above was made from this starter on 1/28/11 using the master formula mentioned above, with an overnight soaker of scalded milk, salt and whole wheat flour (flour ground finer in my (clean) coffee grinder).  Per the master formula recipe I used starter, soaker, whole wheat flour (organic), salt, commercial instant yeast, honey, and butter.  The dough was very sticky and hard to work with...I used organic white bread flour, as little as possible, to knead with because it seems to make it easier.  Mixed for 4 minutes or so, switching to dough hook after 1 minute.  Kneaded for 4 minutes, rested for 5, kneaded for 1 min longer.  Then the very loose and unsatisfactory dough and bread described above.


Yesterday, 1/30, took about 1T from refrigerated starter, and refreshed with 100g wh wheat flour and 100g water (this means 100% hydration, right?).  Has been at room temperature here in southern California ever since (maybe 70+ degrees F during the day, 55 - 60 at night?).  7 1/2 hours later (see first photo) had more than doubled, but decided to leave overnight in case this starter is too immature, and also to see what would happen.  This morning, 17 1/2 hours later, took second photo - still not falling as you can see, and more surface bubbling. 



Here are my specific questions:

1.  How can I tell if the starter is ready for me to start baking with it?  Some of the references say when it doubles in 8 - 16 hours; some say feed it every day for 10 - 12 days.  

2.  If I am to feed it every day for 10 - 12 days, then clearly it will rise past its doubling and probably fall before I feed it again.  Does feeding daily really mean every 24 hours?  

3.  In general, if I am to refresh it twice before using, does that mean refresh it right after it has doubled?  In the case of this starter, that would have been before 8 hours.  Or do I wait to see how high it will get...which will mean catching it on the downward trend, because that's the only way I will know that it has peaked?

4.  Specific suggestions about the dough process?  I am seeing lots of references to folding rather than kneading.  I have made a few of the commercial yeast wet dough breads in the Bread Baker's Apprentice, and understand the process of the folding rather than the kneading - not my favorite because I really love the kneading part.  If overproofing is indeed the problem, I probably need to do some specific marking on the bowl so I can tell when it has really risen to 1 1/2x rather than just guessing.


Thanks so much in advance for your help!  I have enjoyed reading all the posts, and I look forward to being as experienced in the wild yeast and whole wheat process as I am in the artisanal commercial yeast process.



25 users have voted.


joshuacronemeyer 2011 February 1

 Hey pollyanne,


Nice starter!  I'm mostly going to ask for more information, but i'm not above jumping to conclusions either, so I'll venture a guess and suggest that there is nothing wrong with your starter.  In your post you describe your dough as "very loose after bulk proofing, and practically fell apart during shaping and panning"  It sounds like a hydration problem, but I'm not sure if you mean it is very dry or very wet by your description.  It would be useful for you to talk about the proportions of flour, starter and water in your recipe and how long you ferment and proof.  Also what kind of flours you are using.  If your dough is too wet you can end up having a hard time shaping, and end up with flatter loaves.  Also, if your flour doesn't have sufficient protein content you can end up with little gluten development which makes it hard to shape a satisfactory loaf.  Good luck!

pollyanne 2011 February 2

 to your questions:

1.  Hydration problem:  Yes, I think this is a distinct possibility.  The dough did not seem dry at all; maybe a bit wet..but very very light and so fragile that it would not hold the shape...I am used to developing surface tension by folding under and pinching, but I could see that nothing was stretching and holding (thinking of gluten strands not there?).  The second time I even folded the batard over on itself lengthwise and pinched to see if I could get a stronger shape, but still unsuccessful.  I used breadboards tipped up diagonally at each side to support the dough during the subsequent rising.

2.  Proportions of ingredients:  Still have a bit of a mental block with the baker's formula for proportions....but for the second batch, when I used the proper amount of starter, it was thus - 429g of soaker (227g wh wh flour, 4g salt, 198g scalded and cooled nonfat milk) + 397g starter + 56.6g wh wh flour + 5g salt + 7g instant yeast + 42.5g honey + 28.5g cooled melted butter.

3.  Proofing times:  Bulk proofing - about 75 min? (this may be where I ran astray; recipe said 45 - 60 min, but I got busy working and left it a bit longer).  "Shaped" dough - about 60 minutes I think.

4.  Flour type:  all organic whole wheat purchased from bulk bin at local "big corporate" health food store.

Looking forward to further comments - again, thanks very much.

pollyanne 2011 February 2

 fed it 6pm Monday (26 hours since last) using 150g existing starter, 150g wh wh flour and 150g water.  In 3 hours was almost doubled.  7:30 this morning (after 13 1/2 hours) had fully doubled, bubbly, good banana smell.  By 1pm (19 hours) is slightly down and smells just a bit sour.  Unless you tell me otherwise, will discard some and feed again this evening.  Perhaps I could bake with it tomorrow?  By then it will have been 12 days since started the seed culture.

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