It goes without saying that sourdough bread is tastier than yeasted bread. However, it also requires more patience since the sourdough fermentation tends to be slower. The effects speak for themselves though and even the simplest bread made with white flour can taste absolutely amazing.
The recipe presented below yields two large loaves baked in 2.5 lb loaf tins. The bread contains 80% bread flour and 20% wholemeal rye. The hydration is on the higher side, at 70%, and there’s also 2.5% each of salt and oil. The proportions can be adjusted according to one’s needs, but I go with these exact numbers. Below the recipe I also include ingredient proportions for smaller tins.
- 40 g rye sourdough
- 80 g wholemeal rye flour
- 80 g water
- 960 strong white wheat flour
- 140 g wholemeal rye flour
- 740 g water
- 30 g salt
- 30 g neutral tasting oil (rapeseed, grape seed)
Prepare the sourdough levain by mixing sourdough, flour and water in a bowl. Cover and leave on the counter for 8 hours.
Disperse the active levain in water, add salt and oil. Add all of the flour and mix until it’s fully hydrated. Do not knead. Leave covered for an hour.
Fold the dough 3-4 times every 30 minutes, until a strong gluten mesh is formed. Next, leave covered for bulk fermentation. The dough should increase its volume by half. This usually takes 2-4 hours.
Split he dough into two loaves (around 1050 g each) and preshape them into tight balls. Leave on the counter for a few minutes so that the gluten may relax, after which final form the loaves and place in load tins. Final ferment in the fridge, covered, for 8-36 hours. Final fermentation can also take place in room temperature, in which case the dough is ready for baking after it increases its volume by around 50%.
Slide two baking trays into the oven: the lower one will support the bread and the top one will enclose the bread in a tighter space, isolate it from the top heater and concentrate the steam. Preheat the oven to 230°C (446°F) and place a steam source on the bottom tray, e.g. a metal can filled with boling water.
Score the bread before baking. Bake for 30 minutes between the two sheets, then remove the top one and the steam source and finish baking for another 15 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool down.
Ingredient proportions for different tin sizes
My tins are rather large, 31 by 12 cm, a rough equivalent of 2.5 lb ones. I usually go for 600 grams of flour, at least for a bread of considerable hydration. Sometimes it’s necessary to use smaller tins though, reducing the amount of flour to 500 or 400 grams. Below is a table with a few tin sizes I happen to use:
|31 x 12 / 2.5 lb||25 x 11 / 2 lb||21 x 10 / 1.5 lb|
|sourdough||40 g||34 g||26 g|
|rye flour||80 g||68 g||52 g|
|water||80 g||68 g||52 g|
|wheat flour||960 g||800 g||640 g|
|rye flour||140 g||115 g||95 g|
|water||740 g||615 g||495 g|
|salt||30 g||25 g||20 g|
|oil||30 g||25 g||20 g|
In case of using loaf tins, the gluten mesh needn’t be as strong as in the case of a free standing loaf since it doesn’t need to support the bread vertically. This means that if there’s no bread flour available, all purpose flour should also do fine. I’ve tested this with all purpose flour with 11% protein content and the bread came out all right.
Sourdough bread has a unique taste and aroma that can’t be reproduced with baker’s yeast. And since I’ve grown a strong and healthy sourdough, why not use it? I’ll bake a loaf of wheat sourdough bread, fluffy on the inside, crunchy on the outside. The full recipe with the ingredient amounts and more information can be found on the blog.
The process of making sourdough bread takes time. In my case, it’s 36 hours, which covers three days. On the first day, or rather night, I mix a leaven just before going to bed. I will need some sourdough, flour and water. The sourdough needn’t be fed. The type of flour also doesn’t matter as long as it’s on the ingredient list. I happen to use coarsely ground wholemeal rye flour.
I begin by pouring water into a bowl that I’ll be using to mix the dough on the following day. Next, I add the sourdough and stir it a little so it’s somewhat dispersed. Finally, I toss in the flour. I mix the ingredients so that all the flour is wet. My leaven will sit covered on the counter overnight. During this time, yeasts and bacteria will multiply and should be in top shape in the morning.
On the next day, first thing in the morning, I proceed to mix the dough. I’ll be using strong white wheat flour. I’ll also add a bit more wholemeal rye, which adds a bit of complexity to the bread’s taste. Furthermore, I’ll need salt, water and some neutral tasting oil, though fat is technically optional here.
I pour the water into the bowl with the leaven I prepared the previous night. I refill the pot with some more water. I’ll need it later to wet my hands. I disperse the leaven in the water and while I’m at it, I also add salt and oil. Once everything is well mixed, I toss in all of the flour. Since this is a batch of five loaves, using a dough scraper as a mixing tool is hard work, so after a while I switch to using my hand. Although I wet my hand, the dough sticks to it anyway. Unmixed dough is extremely sticky, so there’s really no way of preventing it from covering my hand.
I only mix until I see that all of the flour is wet. When I don’t see any dry bits anymore, I cease mixing and remove the dough that’s stuck to my hand. This is when the pot of water is the most useful.
I cover the dough and let the ingredients hydrate well. Fermentation has already started at this point, and so has gluten formation. The dough will rest on the counter for an hour.
When an hour has passed, I can see the dough is already more cohesive. With a wet hand, I detach the dough from the sides of the bowl and then transfer it to a fermentation vessel. There’s a lot of dough, so it’s not exactly easy. A smaller batch would easily ferment in the bowl, but in this particular case, a larger container is needed.
At this point I also give the dough its first fold. I believe folding such a big volume of dough is the easiest using a coil fold. I lift the dough on one side and tuck it underneath itself. I rotate and repeat this on all sides. The gluten mesh isn’t yet formed at this stage, but I can already see how the dough’s surface is becoming smoother.
I repeat the folding procedure, always with wet hands, in 30 minute intervals. I fold the dough 3-4 times. During the final fold, I perform the windowpane test to make sure the gluten mesh is adequately formed. I should be able to stretch the dough very thin, almost translucent, before it breaks.
After the last fold, I leave the dough to bulk ferment. It should increase its volume by at least half, although a strong gluten mesh paired with a strong sourdough can make the dough rise even more. Usually this takes between 2 and 4 hours, depending on the sourdough strength and dough temperature.
I can finally preshape my loaves. I know the dough’s total mass, so I’m able to calculate the mass of each loaf for every baking tin size I use. I cut the dough pieces off and weigh them.
Preshaping stretches the gluten mesh around a piece of dough, allowing it to hold its shape when baked. It’s not as important in case of using loaf tins, but a free standing loaf cannot go without it.
I fold the dough sides inwards, creating a seam on the top. Next, I flip it seam down and round it by pulling it towards me and rotating it a couple times. This way I shape the dough into a tight ball, stretching the gluten mesh on the surface. I don’t use flour, though wetting my fingers helps.
Having preshaped the loaves, I leave them to rest on the counter for a few minutes. This will relax the tight gluten network and allow me to give the loaves a final shape.
I dust the dough ball with rice flour. I also dust the counter. I flip the dough ball upside down. I stretch it and form it into a roughly square or trapezium shape. I fold the sides inwards at an angle, creating a rough triangle. Finally, I roll the dough starting from the triangle’s top vertex. Every half turn, I tuck the dough underneath itself, once again stretching the gluten mesh on the surface and finally producing a tight cigar shape. I place the loaf seam down inside a parchment paper lined loaf tin. I reuse the parchment paper lining until it tears. Mine is dark brown because I’ve already used it to bake five loaves.
I place the loaves in tins inside closed containers. This will prevent them from drying out. The containers go into the fridge. They’ll remain in the cold for around 12 hours, until the next morning.
I decide to cover three loaves with some seeds. To do this, I take a piece of parchment paper, also used. I toss some seeds onto it. This time I go with a mix of sesame, poppy seeds and linseeds.
I grab the loaf seam down and sprinkle its sides and top with water. Next, I place it upside down on the seeds layer and roll it. Seeds stick to the wet dough without damaging the gluten mesh.
Next morning, after 12 hours in the fridge, the loaves are ready to be baked. I start with the large ones, with no seeds. Before I place them in the oven, I score them. It’s usually done with a razor blade, but I happen to have a scalpel at hand. I make the cut lengthwise, at a steep angle. The cut is a tad shallow, so I make it deeper. And finally, I place the loaves in the oven with lots of steam.
I place the baked loaves on a cooling rack. The parchment paper doesn’t really stick to the bread. I knock on the loaf’s bottom to check if it’s properly baked. A hollow sound means everything’s fine. The loaves are deliciously golden. The score made them open up exactly where I wanted them to. Without a cut, they’d just burst open randomly wherever the gluten strength was the lowest. It’s usually not very aesthetically pleasing.
Now it’s time for the loaves with seeds. The one on the right has a few stretch marks with no seeds on them. This means the gluten was weak there; either I damaged it while forming the loaf or the dough is starting to show signs of overfermentation. In fact, I think it indeed did bulk ferment for a bit too long, but this won’t matter in case of using a loaf tin.
I score the loaves the same way I did with the previous two. And in the oven they go.
After they’re baked, the loaves look good. I’m sure they taste great. Sadly, I can’t try them. Off camera, I baked five more loaves and the whole batch of 10 was donated to my local social welfare centre, where they were handed out to the refugees from Ukraine.
This bread was baked on a different day, though the recipe was the same. On the nose I clearly pick up a sour note from the sourdough. The crust is crunchy and the crumb is soft. It’s really tasty!