Success with Mainly Whole Grain Sourdough and Cold Bake

I’ve been on a quest for the past 1-1/2 years to make a mainly whole grain sourdough with decent ovenspring and an open crumb. I finally did yesterday and even got ears for the first time! I tweak it every week, and my schedule makes it so that no two bakes go through exactly the same process, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to make it again, but I have some points to take away from it.

This time I used 518g flour (85% whole wheat, 10% rye, 5% white bread flour), 90% hydration (part was whey from yogurt I make), and 150 g starter (combo of WW, Rye and Wh). Since I tweak the ingredients every week, I don’t think that really enters into the success. For this one I did an autolyze of about 6 hours, then a 6-day bulk fermentation with a stretch and fold each morning if I remembered (probably 3 or 4 total), being careful to not overproof on the final rise (I think this is where I often go wrong), and a cold bake in a parchment-lined clay baker (I planned on preheating, but changed my mind because my oven takes 50 minutes to preheat and I wanted to serve the bread at dinner).

I’ve done cold bakes before with varying success and compromised expectations. For this one, I suppose it wasn’t 100% cold because the oven was on for 5 minutes before I put the bread in. I baked it for about 40 minutes covered and about 10 minutes uncovered (I go by the smell). The crust is never as thick as I would like (we like thick, well-done crusts) but I’ll take it!

I’ll say again I think the main thing was getting the final proofing right. That has always been the trickiest for me, not just knowing when it’s ready, but having my schedule work. But with the cold bake, that takes a lot of guess work out of it since I don’t have to figure out when to start preheating the oven. By the way, the bread tastes great, too!

With the very long bulk fermentation, it means I have to start the next one now!


That’s a beautiful loaf.

At what temperature are you doing 6 days of bulk fermentation?

I do the BF in the fridge. I took it out the morning of the bake and let it sit on the counter, shaped it around noon, proofed on the counter, baked it around 3:30. All in a cool kitchen, around 61F.

And thanks, glad you like how it looks! It made great toast this morning.

Wow that is really great. Someone has told me that I shouldn’t do a cold bulk fermentation in the fridge with sourdough which is what I like to do with my commercial yeasted bread. I guess you’ve shown that is certainly not the case that cold bulk fermentation can really work well.

I’m going to have to give that really long bulk a try.

I have been doing what I think of as long cold proofs by doing the bulk at room temperature over night for about 16 - 18 hours, then shaping, and then putting the proofing basket into the fridge for another 16 - 18 hours (start Thursday evening, bake Saturday morning).

Nice result and I hope you are able to reproduce it without too much trouble.

I just fed my starter and started the autolyse for my next loaf (really need to plan ahead!) so we’ll see if I can reproduce it. I’m writing up notes on the process since I can never remember from one bake to the next!

Paul, I just noticed that the bread in the photo next to your name looks a lot like what I just baked!

This is the third or fourth time I did such a long BF. It was born of necessity - for some reason I couldn’t get around to baking so it sat in the fridge longer than planned. Given that I didn’t get the great ovenspring and crumb until my 4th time makes me think the long BF wasn’t the main success factor, although it certainly didn’t hurt.

I’ve written a couple articles here at Breadtopia about how I bake whole grain, sourdough leavened bread. This one is a kind of recipe / methodology for the country loaf I usually bake every week:

This one is how I understand sourdough bread baking. There might be some stuff in there that could be helpful in nailing down what matters and what doesn’t in getting good results: