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Cooking with David

Sourdough Bread

Copyright ©2021 by David E. Ross

While I give some help, my wife is the primary baker in our house. I really like sour breads, which she bakes for me with some variety. Since I have type-2 diabetes, my doctor warned me to emphasize complex carbohydrates in any starches I eat. That means we mix whole wheat flour with refined white flour when making bread.


Sourdough Starter

Initially, my wife used a sourdough starter made from some yeast I bought at a local bakery. However, the results were just not sour enough for me. To get bread more sour, I mail-ordered sourdough starter from Breadtopia, which included not only yeast but also Lactobacillus bacteria. This harmless bacteria is what enhances the sourness of sourdough bread. Because the local weather was quite hot and the mail was slow, I ordered dehydrated starter and quite successfully reconstituted it.

I bought the book Beard on Bread by James Beard (2019 paperback edition, ISBN 0-679-75504-7). We adapted Beard's recipe on pages 70-72 to use with Breadtopia's starter, which I maintain according to Breadtopia's instructions.

After creating about 3 cups of sour starter in a large jar, I keep the sour starter uncovered in the refrigerator. I maintain it once each week.

Pour away any accumulated alcohol (a result of the yeast activity).

Remove a cup of the starter. Add the following: photo of metal dough whisk

1 cup white flour
¾ cup room-temperature water that has been boiled

Blend the fresh flour and water into the existing starter with a dough whisk (pictured at the right). Leave the jar out at room temperature until the starter visibly increases in size. Then refrigerate.

When discarding the removed starter, DO NOT rinse it down the drain. It will likely clog the drain, resulting in a costly visit by a plumber. Instead, place it in the trash.

The Breadtopia Web site strongly advised against using fresh tap water because chlorine will harm the yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria. Instead, I use the left-over boiled water from a tea kettle that has cooled to room temperature. I do not use whole wheat flour, on which the yeast in the starter cannot be fully active while refrigerated.

Beard's instructions for the starter involves water and milk with total fluids exceeding the amount of flour. Breadtopia's instructions for maintaining its starter, however, provides for no milk and less water than flour. The result is a relatively stiff, doughy starter.

I loosely place a piece of Saranwrap over the top of the jar to keep moisture in and other things (e.g., strange smells) out. DO NOT seal the jar. A sealed jar will either result in the starter dying from a lack of oxygen or (worse) the jar exploding from a buildup of CO2 (a by-product of yeast fermentation).

I only need a fresh loaf of bread every second or third week. If my wife baked sourdough bread several times each week, the starter would not be refrigerated; and it should then be maintained daily.

Sourdough Wheat Bread

Creating the "Sponge"

Beard's recipe calls for creating a dough sponge the night before making bread. I prepare the sponge for my wife.

1 cup starter
2 cups white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup room-temperature water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

additional water as needed

Place the ingredients into a bowl that could hold at least twice their volume. Because the starter is drier than Beard's recipe for starter, add more water — about 2 tbs at a time — while kneading with the dough whisk until all the flour is incorporated and no dry flour remains. Depending on the consistency of the starter, as much as a second cup of water might be necessary. Knead until a ball of dough is formed.

Cover the bowl with a large plate and leave it out on the kitchen counter overnight.

As with maintaining the starter, we use water that has been boiled and then cooled to room temperature.

The yeast in the starter will expand the sponge by morning to fill the bowl. If the sponge expands to the extent that it oozes out from under the plate, that escaped part will become dry and crusty. Discard all escaped parts of the sponge, even those parts that do not appear to be crusty.

Bread Dough

On the morning after starting the sponge, the dough is prepared.

For mixing and kneading, my wife uses a stand mixer with a dough hook.

1 package active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (100°F - 115°F)
the entire sponge
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour

Mix the yeast and water in the mixer's bowl and let stand until it is bubbling.

With the mixer running at a low speed, add the sponge and gradually add the flours. Use the mixer to knead the dough until it forms a ball in the mixer bowl.

Rising

The recipe calls for two risings. My wife does the first rise in a bowl greased with olive oil and the second in the loaf pan. While Beard's recipe calls for making two loaves of bread, each in a 9×5×3 inch pan, we use only one 10×5×4 pan to obtaiin a tall loaf.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°F and then turn it off to cool somewhat (to less than 90°F). While the oven is heating, grease a very large bowl with olive oil. The bowl should hold at least twice the volume of the dough ball. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. When the oven is heated, turn it off and allow it to cool slightly. Place the bowl in the oven and allow the dough to rise for 4 hours.

During the first rising, prepare the loaf pan. Grease the inside with olive oil, including the bottom of the pan. Trim a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan, and grease the paper.

After the first rising, punch down the dough in the bowl. Then transfer the dough from the bowl to the loaf pan. Cover the loaf pan with the damp towel and place it in the oven — which remains off — for another 4 hours.

Beard's recipe calls for much shorter rise times. The inclusion of whole wheat flour, however, requires a much longer rise time because yeast works slower on whole wheat.

Baking

Remove the loaf pan from the oven.

If the kitchen is not warm, care is needed to prevent the risen dough from collapsing. If the kitchen is warm, skip this next paragraph.

When only a few minutes remain in the second rise, place about 1-2 inches of warm water — NOT hot — in a roasting pan large enough to hold the loaf pan. With the roasting pan on a kitchen counter, place the loaf pan in the roasting pan while the oven is pre-heating. Re-wet the towel with quite warm water — still NOT hot — and cover the roasting pan along with the loaf pan.

Place a cookie sheet on the oven shelf below the shelf where the bread will be baked. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

When the oven is pre-heated, remove the towel and place the loaf pan in the oven (without the roasting pan if it was used). Bake for 40 minutes.

When done, remove the loaf pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack for about 30-60 minutes.

Beard's recipe calls for baking for 35-40 minutes. Since the loaf will be taller in the 10×5×4 pan than Beard's 9×5×3 inch pans, the longer baking time is required.

Beard also specified placing a pan of boiling water on the oven shelf below the loaf pan. I prefer a crunchy crust on my bread, so that is omitted. In case the dough overflows the loaf pan, the cookie sheet catches the mess.

Removing the Loaf

When the loaf pan has cooled sufficiently that it is still somewhat warm but not hot to the touch, remove the loaf from the pan

Using a table knife, loosen the loaf from the sides of the pan. Pick up the pan. With one hand on the top of the loaf, turn the pan upside-down and shake slightly. The loaf should slide out of the pan.

If the parchment paper stuck to the bottom of the loaf — which is now facing up — remove it. Turn the loaf right-side-up and place it back on the cooling rack.

For a special treat, cut a small slice from one end of the loaf while it is still warm from baking. Eat it.

Since there are no preservatives in the bread, we refrigerate it in a Ziploc bag to delay mold.

Instead of toasting the bread, I fry a slice in olive oil. Yum!!

Varieties

The first loaf of bread my wife baked with the new starter and Beard's recipe was plain sourdough. It was great! Now we are experimenting with variety, using the above recipe every time instead of varying the recipe for each variety. These are the varieties we have tried. In each case, the extra ingredients are added to the dough just before completing the kneading.


Sourdough Rye Bread

I experimented several times with a method different from Breadtopia's, finally obtaining a loaf that was taller than my initial attempts. I might experiment further to obtain an even taller loaf.

I adapted the following from a recipe I found at the Breadtopia Web site. While not requiring a major physical effort, this does require significant planning in order to get the correct timing. Read the entire recipe to the end before trying this. It would also be helpful to visit the Breadtopia recipe and view the two YouTube videos there.

While the Breadtopia recipe used a dough whisk, I used a stand mixer with a dough hook

Throughout this recipe, the dough is covered while rising or resting. That is to prevent it from drying.

Preparing the Dough

Because of the requirement for an extended rise time, I prepared the dough after our dinner.

1-2/3 cup water
1/3 cup sourdough starter
1-3/4 heaping cups rye flour
1-3/4 heaping cups white flour
2 Tbs molasses
1 Tbs fennel seeds
1 tsp anise seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1-3/4 tsp salt
finely grated zest of one orange
olive oil

If alcohol has formed on the top of the starter, pour it away before measuring. In the mixer bowl, slowly mix the sourdough starter and water. Then mix in the molasses, seeds, and orange zest.

In another bowl, mix the flours and salt. Gradually mix the flour and salt mixture into the liquids with the mixer running slowly. If it appears that the dough is too stiff to mix and incorporate all the dry ingredients, add more water a tablespoon at a time.

Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Then mix the dough again. Let it rest covered for another 15 minutes. Then mix the dough for a third and final time.

Because my wife cannot digest whole seeds, I used a small electric coffee mill to grind the seeds to a powder.

For the zest, I used a potato peeler to remove the outer skin of an orange, which I then cut into smaller pieces. After grinding the seeds, I left them in the coffee mill and added the orange peel. I then ground the contents some more. This proved very effective.

Unlike the Breadtopia recipe, I did not cover the mixer bowl for each 15-minute rest. The configuration of the mixer leaves only a little open space, so the dough will not dry.

Rising

Transfer the mixed dough to a large bowl that has been greased with olive oil. Cover the bowl with a large plate.

With the bowl of dough covered, allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 10 to 11 hours.

If the kitchen gets quite cool overnight, make your oven very slightly warm (about 80°F), then turn it off. Place the bowl of dough into the oven to rise overnight.

Breadtopia suggests using plastic wrap to cover the bowl. I believe a plate is equally effective in keeping the dough moist while more effective in allowing fermentation CO2 to escape.

Also, Breadtopia's recipe indicated a rise time of 12 to 14 hours. However, most of the yeast action was completed during that rise, limiting the amount of rise that will occur just before baking. Thus, I reduced this first rise time.

Preparing to Bake

I did the following after breakfast on the day after I prepared the dough and started its long rise.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Flour your hands. Then spread the dough into a rectangle about 1 or 1-1/2 inch thick. Fold 1/3 of the dough over the other 2/3. Working from the folded edge, fold it over again. Then, working from the side of the folds, fold 1/3 of the dough over the other 2/3. Working from the folded edge, fold it over again.

Shape the dough for baking with the fold seams underneath. Cover the dough lightly with waxed paper. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes.

While the dough is resting, grease a 10×5×4 loaf pan with olive oil. Insert a piece of parchment paper cut to the size of the bottom of the pan and press it firmly into the oil at the bottom of the pan. Grease the parchment paper. After the dough has rested, place in the loaf pan with the fold seams down. Cover the pan with waxed paper. Allow the dough to rise 2 to 3-1/2 hours.

Viewing the second video in the Web page for Breadtopia's recipe shows the process of folding. NOTE WELL: The dough should lose some of its volume when turned out of the bowl and onto the floured surface. However, it should be stiff enough that it remains a slightly flattened ball. It should require some effort to reduce it to 1 to 1-1/2 inch thickness and should remain intact while folding. If it is not that stiff or is too sticky to handle, too much water was added during the initial mixing.

I shape my dough for a rectangular loaf because I bake it in a loaf pan.

Instead of Breadtopia's recommended plastic wrap, I used waxed paper, which was less likely to stick to the dough.

As noted at the end of the section on rising, reducing the time of the first rise and increasing the time of the second rise seems to produce a taller loaf. Again, placing the pan in a slightly warm oven might be appropriate if the kitchen is cool.

Baking

The Breadtopia recipe videos showed the use of a Romertöpf covered baking dish. I do not have one. As already noted, I used a 10×5×4 loaf pan.

If the second rise is in a slightly warm oven, remove the loaf pan from the oven before preheating to the baking temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. When that temperature is reached, remove the waxed paper from the loaf pan. Bake for 40 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack. When cool enough to handle the baking container without oven mitts or hot pan holders, remove the bread. Work a table knife around the edges to loosen the loaf before trying to turn the loaf out of the container. Then turn the loaf right-side-up to finish cooling.

The bread is done when an instant-read cooking thermometer inserted into the middle shows a temperature of 200°F.


Revised 6 December 2020
Updated 5 November 2021

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