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I've been experimenting with whole wheat sourdough bread for a few weeks now. My starter uses T110 wheat flour at 100% hydration, and bubbles nicely. I make the bread using:

  • 1.5c T150 wheat flour, 1.5c T150 spelt flour
  • 1/4c starter (also tried with 1/2c)
  • 70% hydration (by mass) with bottled water
  • about a Tbsp of honey
  • about a Tbsp of olive oil
  • about a tsp of salt

(I don't really want to use whiter flour for health reasons.) My goal is to have something as soft as a loaf of sliced bread from the store (it's just a goal, even if not really possible with what I'm using).

So far, all the loaves I've made have basically entailed mixing everything together at once, kneading, rising, then baking. The result is soft, but kind of dense, and a bit crumbly (in spite of my efforts to knead it more and more...). I suppose I'm overproofing it, too (I leave it sit out for about 10 hours, as it takes that long to finish rising, and when I put it in the oven I have to be gentle or it will deflate). I've read stuff saying that they let it rise 4 hours, but at that point I've only gained about 50% volume.

So, does anybody have any suggestions for how I can get my loaf to be softer, lighter, and less crumbly?

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Could you post some quantities? – ElendilTheTall Sep 19 '13 at 13:51

Since spelt flour doesn't have much usable gluten, that will contribute to softness but not structure. That could be some of your crumbliness right there.

To get a bit more volume and some more structure, you could try doing a second rise. Let it rise until almost doubled, punch it down, fold it a couple of times, then mold it and let it rise again. This should give the dough more strength. You can also add a couple of teaspoons of vital wheat gluten per cup of flour to make the dough stronger.

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Oh, duh. :) I'll fix that... – Kricket Sep 19 '13 at 15:12
I notice you say the hydration is by mass, but the other measurements are by volume. Do you have weights for the rest? – SourDoh Sep 19 '13 at 15:21
Nope. To be honest, it seems like there's so little of them that I just eyeball it. A splash of olive oil, a little pile of salt in the palm of my hand, a spoonful of honey. I might be lowballing my estimate of the olive oil (maybe it's 2-3 Tbsp), but the others are probably about right. – Kricket Sep 19 '13 at 15:23
How are you calculating 70% hydration by mass if you don't know the mass of your flours? – SourDoh Sep 19 '13 at 15:24
@Anpan It's not artificially increasing the amount of gluten. It IS increasing the amount of gluten. Everything in the dough is added to it artificially. There is no naturally occurring bread. – SourDoh Sep 20 '13 at 21:20

From what you've said, I suppose you just put the starter in and let the loaf rise. While there are special kinds of bread that are made this way, it generally requires exact control over temperature (and ideally, moisture).

I'm not entirely sure if you actually are using the starter in the bread or if you've fed the starter already and are putting "actual" sourdough in the bread.

In any case, you are using too little sourdough in your recipe: If I read your recipe correctly, you're only using 8-16% sourdough in the bread. For wheat and spelt breads I'd recommend 30% sourdough. 50% for rye breads.

The reason that your bread is dense is that you have too little yeast in your dough. There can be several causes for this, so without an exact description of what you have done (what, when, how long, temperature), I can only guess at some of the most common ones:

  • It's too cold. Yeast likes it around 25°C.
  • You have too little sourdough in your bread dough (see above)
  • You left the sourdough sitting without food for too long. Yeasts are the first microbes that die of starvation in sourdough
  • It was too warm. Anything above 40°C will kill your yeasts.

You may also find some useful information on sourdough starters on my lengthy answer to another question here: sourdough starter

One additional note: fat, oil and salt will alter (usually slow) the fermentation in the sourdough. Only add them to the final bread dough or if that particular recipe actually requires you to do it.

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