Since I started milling whole grains at home this past September, articles, videos, and podcast episodes about grain cultivation and baking with whole grains have been on my radar. In turn, after listening to a Sourdough Podcast episode featuring Claudia Carter of the California Wheat Commission. I immediately reached out to her via Instagram to propose a sourdough baking experiment featuring California wheat varietals. When she first emailed me descriptions of the three modern wheat varietals* that she would be sending me I was at first concerned about whether the ‘weaker’ ones would be suitable for sourdough loaves. However, Claudia reassured me that as long as I mixed them with a higher protein flour they’d perform well.
Next, while I had done small experiments in the past in order to refine my sourdough loaf recipes. This was my first time conducting an experiment where I’d be comparing three different wheat varietals side by side. Therefore, I asked my fellow local bread writer Melissa Johnson to run her own parallel experiment in order to produce both reliable and valid results.
WB9229 – Hard Red Spring wheat – bred and developed by WestBred, a unit of Monsanto Company. WB9229 was selected for resistance to stripe rust and high protein using a modified bulk breeding method. WB9229 is adapted to the wheat growing areas of the Central Valleys of California. The primary use will be for to make raised loaf bread. WB9229 is resistant to the current field races of stripe rust in California. (more information)
Summit 515 – Hard Red Spring wheat – Summit 515 is a hard red spring wheat. It was developed by Syngenta Cereals (formerly Resource Seeds, Inc.) and released in 2011. Stripe rust resistance genes Yr5 and Yr15 were introduced by four backcross generations into the susceptible cultivar Summit and then combined using marker assisted selection at UC Davis (project supported by Research Seeds Inc.). Research Seed Inc. selected the best lines among BC4F2 lines homozygous for the two genes. This cultivar is very similar to the original Summit but is resistant to prevalent races of the stripe rust pathogen present in California. It has medium early maturity and good straw strength. It is resistant to stripe rust and leaf rust, moderately susceptible to BYD, and susceptible to Septoria tritici leaf blotch and powdery mildew. It was evaluated as Entry 1658 in the UC Regional Cereal Testing program from 2010-present for. With mellow gluten strength it is best for breads which need to be more extensible such as flat breads, tortillas, or sweet breads. (more information)
Patwin 515 HP – Hard White Spring wheat – developed by the University of California wheat breeding program and tested in Regional Yield trials as experimental line UC1743. showed outstanding bread making quality in evaluations performed by the quality Laboratory at the California Wheat Commission in 2013 and 2016 and by the milling industry at the California Wheat Collaborator Program in 2013. Patwin-515 HP carries the GPC-B1 gene for high grain protein content. Across 15 experiments, it showed an average grain protein content of 13.8%, which was significantly higher than the original Patwin-515 (12.7%). It is also good also for some baked desserts. (more information)
Recipe: As ‘test loaves’ we decided to use 330g of flour per loaf rather than our average 500g with half of the flour being one of the three CA wheat varietals (freshly milled) and half being Central Milling High Mountain (high-protein bread flour). Next, each dough was fermented with it’s own levain (1:2:2 ratio / 15% inoculation) which once again contained an even split of its respective two flours. In terms of dough hydration Melissa and I agreed on 75% (though mine ended up a hair under 77%). Lastly, salt content was 2% (fine sea salt).
Process: While each of us followed our time tested sourdough loaf preparation processes, we kept the following parameters consistent: A) A 30 minute autolyse to get a feel for each flours absorption rate B) Coil folds C) Batard shape D) An overnight cold proof E) The same baking vessel (the Challenger Bread Pan). I should note that while we both used our proofers, we used them for different portions of bulk fermention. Melissa used her’s during bulk fermentation and for an overnight retard and to help fermentation finish when she saw it was lagging. This led to her doing a 2 hour final proof at room temperature following my 20 minutes in the freezer to firm up and cool down her unbaked loaves. In my case, I decided to use my brod and taylor proofer for the last 90 minutes of bulk fermentation in order to ensure that they’d all be ready to pre-shape in the order that I was following (WB 9229, Summit 515, Patwin 515 HP). Interestingly, they were all fermenting around 75F (just under 24C) on their own prior to my putting them into my proofer which was set at 77F (25C).
In terms of baking, Melissa preheated her oven to 500F (260C) and then lowered it to 450F (230C) after loading the dough into her Challenger bread pan. She baked each loaf for 15 minutes with the lid on (covered) and and 15 minutes with the lid under the base (uncovered). Because I only have one Challenger bread pan I had to bake one loaf at a time. I preheated my oven with the bread pan to 490F (254.4C) and baked covered for 20 minutes and then uncovered (lid under base) for 15 minutes at 450F (230C).
Dough Feel: As a hard red spring wheat this varietal had the tightest and most cohesive dough feel (texture) for both of us.
Fermentation: As the strongest of the three varietals, WB9229 fermented at a rate similar to other 50% whole grain doughs in that we were able to after our average bulk fermentation time it would be ready to pre-shape.
Shaping: As a result of keeping the hydration percentage the same for all three loaves this dough was drier feeling than the others. So while it was elastic and not too difficult to shape; it felt like it would have been more extensible if it had a bit more water in it.
Appearance: WB9229 achieved the most oven-spring for both of us. Also, its light brown crumb was slightly less open than Summit’s, but we both agreed that with higher hydration it would achieve even more oven-spring and open crumb. Of note, my first slices had some wild crumb which evened out further into my loaf.
Flavor/Texture: Melissa and her husband Chris: WB had a lot of grain flavor and moderate sourness. The contrast between crust crispiness and crumb chew was good. Barry: Soft toothsome texture and a great nutty whole grain flavor which reminded me a bit of red fife.
Dough Feel: Compared to Patwin 515 HP Melissa felt that this dough was a little tighter and a little less sticky. In my experience it was definitely the smoothest and easiest to mix and coil fold.
Fermentation: We both found that WB 9229 and this varietal fermented at a similar rate. As the second dough that I mixed, I tried my best to make sure that this dough’s bulk fermentation was just as long as its predecessor (5.5 hours).
Shaping: Despite being a touch sticky after bulk fermentation, I found that Summit 515 HP was just as easy to shape as WB 9229. Melissa described this dough as Summit was “moderately elastic” during shaping.
Appearance: Both of our loaves achieved great oven-spring. The crumb was the most open of the three for Melissa who also commented that it had “some large holes indicating the gluten didn’t hold up to the pressure of expansion.” I felt that my crumb was somewhere in between the other two varietals interms of openness and lighter in color than WB 9229. Lastly, the crust of Summit loaves was the darkest in color, but the color differences weren’t drastic for me. Especially between the WB 9229 and Summit (see photo above for my loaves – L-R WB9229, Summit 515, Patwin 515 HP).
Flavor/Texture: Melissa and her husband Chris: Summit’s bran flavor was strong and the sourness was very mild. The chew was okay but there was some less than smooth texture. Barry: Fluffier/lighter textured crumb. A nice wheat aroma and flavor, but less bold than WB 9229. Similar to a good 100% white flour forward sourough loaf with some mild whole grain/herbaceous notes.
Patwin 515 HP
Dough Feel: Patwin felt the loosest and stickiest, likely due to its having the weakest gluten and lowest protein content.
Fermentation: Patwin fermented the fastest, which for Melissa “could have been its position in the proofer” or the wetter dough feel that we both experienced. However, I should note that once I put all three bowls of dough in my proofer so that they’d all be fermenting at the same temperation, I was no longer concerned about one of them fermenting faster than the others.
Shaping: Despite it fermenting the fastest I personally stuck to the order that I set when I mixed my doughs and shaped my Patwin 515 HP dough last. As the stickiest of the doughs it took a bit of extra flour on my hands to final shape. Melissa noted that she needed to stitch her shaped dough after transfering it to its banneton (proofing basket) in order for it to hold its surface tension. I also stitched my dough, but I always do so when shaping it into a batard (oblong) loaf (see photo above).
Appearance: Patwin 515 HP achieved good oven-spring, but it was the least of the three loaves (these parameters). Patwin’s crumb had the lightest color due to it being a white wheat and was a pale yellow. I personally may have baked my Patwin loaf a few minutes longer than Melissa i.e. my crust was noticeably darker (see her loaves below).
Flavor/Texture: Melissa and her husband Chris: Patwin had less of a (whole) grain flavor and a moderate sourness. The chewiness was good, and the overall texture seemed “smooth.” Barry: Softest texture of the three with a noticeable grain sweetness in the crumb and crust.
This modern wheat experiment* was a great learning experience for the following three unique reasons. Firstly, it served as an opportunity to bake with three of California’s most commonly grown heirloom wheat varietals. Secondly, turning it into a collaboration helped me gain a deeper appreciation for both the friends that I’ve made through sourdough baking and using the sourdough process to get the most out of heirloom gains. Thirdly, waiting to discuss tasting notes till we had both cut into and tasted our loaves made learning that we picked up on the same differences in texture and flavor even greater. Taking this a step further, when I discussed my tasting notes with Claudia shortly thereafter, she was elated to hear that Melissa and I had picked up on the textures and flavors that she has when testing these wheat varietals with her team.
Future plans: I personally am looking forward to baking with all of three of these wheat varietals again and zeroing in on their ideal functions, hydration percentages, and ability to complement and/or enhance the textures and flavors of other heirloom grains (wheat and otherwise). With WB 9229 having the most whole grain flavor, I could see myself testing it within my “base recipe” which contains 60-65% high gluten flour (or bread flour), 20-25% whole grain wheat, and 10-15% rye. Summit 515’s oven-spring capability and flavor may complement ancient grains and other mild tasting wheat varietals. Lastly, as a white wheat, I can see myself using Patwin 515 HP mostly to add a fluffy texture to loaves that already have gluten strength from higher protein grains (flours).
If you have not already done so, check out my podcast interview of Claudia Carter by clicking here.
*Future experiments will involve heirloom grains and therefore I decided to include the term ‘heirloom’ in the name of this series.