The problem with whole wheat is all that husk material makes a mess of things. It is too heavy and it damages gluten molecules while interfering with gluten's ability to connect with itself and to adjoining molecules making a sort of net that traps bubbles, the farts of yeasty fungi, like throwing handfuls of hay into nice stretchy dough.
I noticed this making tahini from sesame seeds. This is how thick I am sometimes. The bulk bins were labeled "sesame seeds husked" and "sesame seeds unhusked"
And I honestly could not tell which bin had seeds with husks and which bin had seeds stripped of husks. And I could not tell by comparing individual seeds either. Not without a loupe and an x-acto blade. So I bought both, and at home making them into pastes realized right off unhusked means they still have husks and, man, do they ever absorb a lot water. And its sesame flavor a bit muted. And both were a lot better than commercial tahini.
And now this is the same thing going on with wheat seeds.
Maybe a powerful sourdough starter can lift husky whole wheat where commercial yeasts cannot. Maybe it can interfere with the husk's interference if it were trained on whole wheat.
This sourdough starter right here collected just this week is fascinating. Let me tell you what I learned.
It is the second of two Denver cultures collected this summer, the third of three Denver cultures activated and used, the first is re-frozen the second discarded even though it was a superior culture. They are all superior these days.
Sidebar: something struck me back then while reading those comments. People actually went to college for this. They speak about yeast and chemical leaven and give dates and names and publications and history near and ancient. They begin their comment with *sigh.*
Ewww, doesn't it make your skin crawl? They also begin, "I used to think as you do now, but then... [I saw the light]."
So much arrogance evident and pride in academic knowledge and opinion and appeal to authoritah with no mention of direct experience. Women can be surprisingly wildly carelessly competitive bitches with each other. [/sidebar]
And in the comments people kept mentioning success rates with their approaches and I found those mentions very odd because I never had a failure.
I do this all the time, sometimes have a race to activation between the airborne collection slurry and another slurry of straight flour. (They both contain the same flour, so airborne collection begins with the same organisms in the same amount before being contaminated with airborne organisms)
This last Denver culture is quite unusual. Collected carelessly over two weeks. It was sunbaked several days in a row, dried out nearly completely, was hailed on, rained on several times, wind battered for long periods, bits of plants flew in, a few tiny bugs were captured. It looked gross. The jar at top is half the liquid strained through a kitchen towel. (Coffee filter clogged, so did the Aeropress)
Two weeks is a very long time to collect airborne organisms. On a good windy day you can do the same thing in an hour, just to show how ridiculous it is to collect airborne particles for two weeks. It's like not bathing for two weeks. These are the same organisms that make your own body stink in a single day with the same conditions of moisture and heat.
The liquid in the jar was fed whole wheat flour to turn it to paste and within four hours the mass sprang to life doubled in size with visible air pockets on the side of the jar and with a sweet odor. Shockingly fast. At room temperature.
That never happened before.
I always used heat from a lightbulb. And it always took a day.
My aim is to gear it to whole wheat flour to produce 100% whole wheat loaves but those are always heavy as cinderblocks. Loaves made from nothing but milled wheat are the same thing as big pan of wheat seeds. Microscopically, the husks interfere severely with gluten strand formation, intermixed, microscopic husk particles, the material that makes great dietary fiber, slices adjoining gluten molecules as soon as they make connections and stretch like a billion tiny tight rubber bands stretching to increase elasticity within a solution of a billion tiny knives.
The flour that makes the dough cannot interconnect inside, cannot form a gluten molecule matrix. It cannot form a skin. The particles remain discrete, baking the dough is like baking sand. The loaf cannot expand as we are used to.That it expands at all is amazing. The loaves bake more crumbly.
How do you get heavy wheat loaves to puff up?
Chinese cooks add baking soda to regular flour to make noodles that stretch impossibly long. They speak of lye-water, yes, they speak of 速溶蓬灰
for their noodles, but it is the same thing, jack with the pH. Similar deal with pretzels and with steamed dumplings.
Could baking soda exaggerate the gluten stickiness in whole wheat sufficiently to overcome the husk's interference? Could baking soda interfere with the husks in some way like soften their edges so that they do not cut? Would the acid in the sourdough culture create foaming bubbles with baking soda? Once baked, would baking soda interfere with sourdough flavor?
The sourdough culture is divided into two separate jars. One jar receives 1 level teaspoon baking soda, the control proceeds as usual.
The baking soda foamed right up.
This shows baking soda can be used to produce lighter airy loaves. The reaction is immediate.
Stirred back down, the culture foamed up again.
And stirred back down again, the culture foamed up again. Better yet, when stirred the mixture appears stringy.
It was and stayed exceedingly foamy as the control proceeded its usual way, unusually fast for sourdough.
So that's it then. I found the key.
That test was done on a fermented sample. Two level teaspoons were added to the final additions of flour to achieve the noted effects. But the bread dough did not foam because its bulk did not ferment, did not develop its acid portion, and therefore will not be so flavorful. The flavor will come from wheat, not from days of fermentation.
But it could.
All that tells you when deciding on baking soda and how much to use, it gets down to how much fermentation the batch has, how developed its acidic portion. If old, then baking soda to foam right up and be ready to stick it directly into the oven, if new then baking powder to kick in when baked and allow time to rise as it will on its own with additional boost from the powder once hit by the heat. Either baking soda or baking powder will adjust the pH and affect gluten elasticity and caramelization.
This loaf was not fermented in cold storage for three days so it will not have deeply complex sourdough flavor with a heavy acidic streak cutting through it. But it is not entirely unfermented either because the starter grew over a period of a few days beginning as a few tablespoons, then a quarter cup, then half cup, then full cup, and so on incrementally over days until its last increment contained additional freshly milled flour to bring the loose airy sponge to a denser bread dough. The last increment has more flour than water and does get time to proof since it is not foaming so needn't be rushed to the oven, but not given days to ferment. The last largest portion of flour has no time at all. No acid there to activate baking soda, so baking powder would be better. However, if then the whole finished loaf fermented before baking then baking soda instead to interact with the acid that will be produced over days.