Not Your Mama's Sourdough Bread, Part 2: The Loaf!
In my last post, I shared how I grew up thinking homemade whole wheat bread had the consistency of a brick and the taste of straw. But after a few tries making my own bread with the help of this book...
I discovered that I could make a soft, crusty, light, whole grain sourdough. This post will teach you what I've learned. Be sure to watch my video below so you can see what you're aiming for at each step in the process.
This is really not difficult at all. Though it may take a few tries to get the feel of the process. Read all of the instructions through before you start. If this is your first time making bread, watch the video before and during the process so you know what to look/feel for at each step. Have fun and enjoy your yummy bread!!!
Here's what you will need.
- Good flour: For this recipe, I'm using a combination of whole wheat, spelt, and einkorn flour. The taste is malty and rich. You can use any combination or just one flour. Add in rye if you like. This recipe calls for three cups total, including 1/2 cup gluten (see below).
- Coarse salt: kosher is fine. I use pink Himalayan for the naturally occurring healthy minerals.
- Real starter: It's super easy to make your own. Read this post to learn how.
- Dough conditioners: When you make whole grain bread, you can make the texture softer by adding in extra gluten. I also like adding in non-dairy "whey." I will post my Soy Yogurt recipe next so you can learn how to make your own whey.
- Time: Natural yeast does most of the work for you. Your job is to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, form a ball, score the raw dough, and put it in the oven. All together, you might do 15 minutes of actual work. The rest of the time (4 hours to overnight) the natural yeast ferments the dough and makes it rise. This creates the delicious flavor and "pre-digests" the flour so that it's easy on the gut. Even people who are gluten sensitive (but not those with true celiacs!) can usually eat real, slow-fermented, sourdough bread.
- Steam: Crispy crust comes from two techniques. The first is creating a ball with a special pulling and folding process you'll see in the video. The second is creating a steamy oven. I have a small scan pan that can withstand a 500 degree oven. You can use a metal baking dish or tray. Let the pan or tray sit on the bottom rack of your oven while it preheats. Just before putting in your dough, add 1-2 cups of ice water to the heated pan/tray. Warning: Don't use a glass baking dish. Glass can break when you add the ice water. Then you have to clean up broken glass all over the bottom of your oven. Not that I would know personally or anything.
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. einkorn flour (if you can't find this variety, use 2 cups whole wheat)
1/2 c. spelt flour (or just use 2.5 cups whole wheat)
1/2 c. gluten (Don't leave this out. Most supermarkets carry Bob's Red Mill gluten)
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt (use 1/2 tsp per cup of flour)
Mix dry ingredients together so the flours and salt are spread uniformly.
1/2 c. Starter
1/2 c. "Whey" from Soy Yogurt (see next post for instructions or just skip this ingredient)
1-2 cups of filtered water (The amount will vary depending on whether you add in whey, how wet your starter is, even the humidity in the air. You want a dough ball that holds together but still feels a bit sticky. See the video below for more on this).
A handful of coarse corn meal to prevent the dough from stick to the baking pan.
Mix the start and whey (or 1/2 c water) into the dry ingredients (except the cornmeal). Gradually add in more water until the dough can form a sticky ball (but not so much that you get a batter). You can do this by hand or with a mixer that has a dough hook attachment. As soon as the wet and dry ingredients come together, cover the bowl of your mixer and let the dough rest for ten minutes. This is a good time to call that relative who won't get off the phone. You have a built in reason to excuse yourself in 10 minutes.
Knead the dough, either by hand or with the mixer. It should take between 6 and 12 minutes. You develop long strands of gluten when you knead. This is what allows air pockets to form so you get a light texture, not a bread brick. Use the window pane test (see video) to know when the kneading is complete.
The yeast needs time to pre-digest the dough and make lovely little bubbles of gas. You can refrigerate the dough overnight or for a couple of hours to slow everything down. A few hours before you are ready to bake put the dough somewhere cozy. You can multitask by doing a load of laundry and putting the bowl of dough on top of the dryer to warm up.
Binge watch a few episodes of your favorite show. What We Do in the Shadows is hysterical.
Once the dough is warm and cozy, it will begin to rise. When it's doubled in volume, you are ready to...
Prep your baking tray with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat. Sprinkle a little cornmeal on the parchment.
Prep your oven by putting one rack on the lowest rung and one rack on the middle rung. Put a heat resistant pan or metal baking tray on the bottom rack to let it heat up. Just before putting the bread in the oven, you will add ice water to this pan/tray to create steam.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees (later you will turn it down to 425).
Form the loaf. Watch the video to see the technique. This is how you get a great crust. You fold the top of the dough in on itself, pulling the outer layer taut. This is like creating mushroomy part of a jellyfish. That taut outer layer acts like the surface of a balloon. It holds in all the air bubbles that the yeast creates. Gently lay the dough on the cornmeal-parchment-baking tray with the bottom of the "jellyfish" down and the taut, round top facing up. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel so it doesn't dry out. Then let it rise again.
You've got about an hour to amuse yourself. I highly recommend the audio version of this book...
Test the dough in one hour to see if it's ready to bake (this step is not in the video, but it's essential). Gently push the side of the ball with the tip of your finger. If it springs back, the dough needs more time. Test again in 15 minutes and then again if you need to. When the dough holds a little dent (don't push too hard), it's ready for a nice steamy sauna in the oven.
After all that waiting, you need to move a little quickly through the next two steps to make sure the oven is nice and steamy.
Create steam by adding one inch of ice water to the pan/tray you've placed on the bottom rack of the oven. Quickly close the oven door and let the steam build while you...
Score the loaf. Slashing an X into the top of the loaf allows the bread to expand even more in the oven. If you forget this step, the bread will crack that taut outer layer you worked so hard to make, and it will look like the bread has a tumor. You want to be extra careful not to knock out all the lovely air in the dough while you are cutting. I have had good luck with a serrated knife. If you want to cut fancy designs in the loaf, you can buy a bread lame like this one.
Open the oven and place your bread on the middle rack. Close the door quickly so the steam doesn't escape. Turn the temperature down to 425 and bake for 40 minutes.
You can test the bread with a digital thermometer. It should be at least 200 degrees in the center. If you don't have a thermometer, thump the bottom of the loaf with your thumb. It should sound hollow.
LET THE BREAD COOL! I know you want to eat it NOW. But wait. Cooling is essential to getting optimal flavor and texture. There are all kinds of sciency reasons for this you can read about at Food52.