Sunday, August 24, 2014

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Inspired by Michael Pollen's book Cooked and several Science Friday guests, I started experimenting with whole wheat sourdough bread about a year ago.  I've played around with the recipe, and now that I have something that I like, and that gives me consistent results, I'm sharing it here.

First you need a starter, which you can make or purchase.  I don't honestly remember whose instructions I followed to make mine, but I'd suggest trying these from King Arthur Flour.

Once the starter exists, store it in the fridge and feed once a week with 1/2 cup of all purpose flour and 1/3 cup of filtered water.  Filtered or distilled water is crucial, because tap water is treated with chlorine to prevent microbes from growing in it.  This is great for our well-being, but terrible for sourdough, as it may kill the microbes you're working so hard to feed!

Get the starter out of the fridge at least 2 feedings before you plan to mix your dough.  Pour off the layer of alcohol on top (this is normal) and then feed with:

1/2 c all purpose flour
1/3 c filtered water

Keep the starter at room temperature, and feed every 12 hours.

To make the bread:

Mix together in a medium sized bowl:

1 c starter
3/4 c filtered water

add:

2 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1 1/4 t salt

stir with a spoon or spatula to form a shaggy dough.  

This is what a shaggy dough looks like:


(I had to look that up the first time I read it in a bread recipe.)

Close the bowl with a lid (Tupperware is great for this!) and allow to rest for 12 to 24 hours.  How long depends on your climate, your sourdough starter (it is different in different locations) and the time of year.  The yeast and other microbes in your sourdough need time to do their work.  Your dough is ready for the next step when it has grown and looks like this:



At this point, for a less tangy bread, knead in:

1 tsp baking soda

If you would like the full sourdough bite, skip the baking soda and kneading.

Form into a ball, 


close the bowl with its lid, and let rest a few hours until doubled in size.


Place a covered casserole (the cool kids use a dutch oven) in the oven and preheat both casserole and oven to 425*F.

Once the oven is up to temperature, bake in the covered casserole or dutch oven for 35 minutes.

 before baking

after baking

Remove from the dish and cool on a wire rack.

You can test if your bread is done by holding it in one oven-mitted hand, and "thumping" it with the other.  A loaf that is fully baked will give a full satisfying thump. 

Sourdough is interesting stuff.  The wild yeast and other microbes in the starter are a combination of yeasts and microbes that were already living in your flour, and the yeasts and microbes in your kitchen.  This is why sourdoughs from different places will have a different flavor.  I brought my starter with me to my summer job, only a 4 hour drive away, and it was different there than at home.  I didn't taste a big difference, but it was much more active--generally lighter and frothier at my summer residence than it is at home.

Keeping this in mind, I encourage you to use this recipe as a launching off place.  Your kitchen is different than mine, and your sourdough will be different too.  Feel free to experiment with the amount of moisture in your recipe, resting times, cooking time, and anything else you care to play with.  A good scientist changes only one variable at a time, and records his/her methods and results each time!

Once you know how long your dough needs to rest at each step in your kitchen and climate, you should be able to bake bread any day, even in the middle of your work week, if most of your intervals work out to 12 or 24 hours.  I love that this recipe doesn't require a lot of time at any given step since there is almost no kneading, so while you make it over the course of 3 days (including starter feedings), it takes less than an hour of actual effort.

Here's the short and sweet version of the recipe, easy to copy and print and without the pictures:

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Remove starter from refrigerator at least two feedings before use.

Mix together in a medium sized bowl:

1 c starter
3/4 c filtered water

add:

2 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1 1/4 t salt

stir with a spoon or spatula to form a shaggy dough. 

Seal bowl and rest for 12-24 hours.

* optional:   At this point, for a less tangy bread, knead in:

1 tsp baking soda

Form into a ball,, seal bowl, and let rise a few (up to 12, depending) hours until doubled in size.

Preheat covered casserole and oven to 425*F

Bake in covered casserole at 425*F for 35 minutes.

Remove loaf from casserole and cool on wire rack.

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