Country Rye Sourdough

If you’re an accomplished baker, skip to the end for the short version.  If you are a beginning baker, make sure you look at Basics of Baking Sourdough Bread (Part 1)

Fine bread can be made with flour, water, salt and yeast.  And if you use a sourdough starter you can skip the yeast (because it is in the starter). And since the starter is made with just flour and water, that means fine bread can be made with just three ingredients. Flour, water and salt!  Hence, the wonderful bread baking book, Flour Water Salt Yeast, by Ken Forkish. I highly recommend that book by the way.  I also highly recommend Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson. His book contains only sourdough breads whereas FWSY contains wonderful commercial yeast breads in addition to sourdough.

In this post, I am writing about a phenomenal sourdough rye bread, that doesn’t taste sour and doesn’t taste like Arnold Jewish Rye (because it does not contain caraway seeds, which give that flavor many associate with rye.)  Please note, however, that I do not recommend this particular formulation for a beginner, as the dough is wet, sticky and  difficult to handle.  If you are just starting out, this would feel like learning origami with fly-paper, and would only frustrate you.

I grind my rye flour and whole wheat flour using wheat berries, rye berries and my Komo Grain Mill (reviewish).  You can also grind flour in a high speed blender. And, of course, you can buy whole grain flours too. I prefer to mill my flour as needed, and like the idea of never having to worry about my flour going bad.  (Note, if you associate whole wheat flour with bitter baked goods, that is because you have eaten foods made with rancid flour.  Buy fresher flour and store in the fridge to prevent it from going bad, as whole grain flour spoils quickly.)

For white all purpose flour, I have always used King Arthur All Purpose Flour (organic or not).  I have never tried bread flour.

The Levain

Levain is what is used to raise the bread. It is sourdough starter fed with flour and water, and given sufficient time to rise and aerate. (Technically, given sufficient time to grow the yeast and bacteria needed to make the well-proofed and fermented loaf.)

In a bowl, add 200 grams of water and 1 TBSP of active starter (That comes to about 18-20 grams). If making 2 loaves rather than four, you may halve these quantities)

Disperse the starter in the water, then mix in  100 grams all purpose and 100 grams  whole wheat flour.  It’ll look like the below photo when mixed.

 I cover the bowl with a shower cap and leave it on the counter overnight. The next morning, it will likely be ready to go if it has some bubbles breaking the surface.  If you carefully spoon some out and it floats in a bowl of water, it is definitely ready to use. If it doesn’t float, give it more time in a warmer spot and try again in an hour.  For this bake, I put the levain in the fridge at 630am because I wasn’t going to use it until later in the day. If I left it out all day, it would over-ferment and not make as fine a bread.  Here is the levain after an overnight stay on the counter, before going in the fridge (because I was not going to use it until the evening). Based on its appearance, I believe it was ready to use. Sticking it in the fridge slows things down and lengthened the time it could be used.Mixing the Final Dough (adding the water, levain and salt)

Next, you have the option to EITHER disperse the levain in water, and then mix with the flour and let it rest for 30-40 minutes before adding the salt OR mix the water and the flour and let the resulting dough hydrate for 30 minutes to 24 hours, before incorporating the levain and salt.  The flexibility of breaking up the work this way can be very convenient if you have a busy schedule.

For this bake, I was not home in the early morning, so I let the dough hydrate from 10:45 am to 5:00 pm before adding the levain and salt.

The dough itself can sit on the counter in a covered container.

I mixed the dough in a Cambro 12 Quart round container.  These containers are great because they are easy to keep clean (let the wet bits dry out overnight and then scrape them out into the trash before cleaning), and they make it easy to mix the dough without making a mess. I also “turn” the dough right in the container, so I don’t have to keep my counters clear all day.

I used a Danish Dough Whisk initially, but ultimatley you need to get in there with a wet hand to incorporate all the flour. Using a wet hand lessens the sticking to the hand. I don’t know that I’d buy one of those whisks again if I had it to do over again.  It excels at mixing pancake batter but with a heavy dough, your hand makes a better and cheaper mixer.

First I combine the flours:

Then I add the water and get stirring. You will eventually need to use your hands so you might as well start out doing so.  However, feel free to use a whisk or wooden spoon until you have to get your hands dirty.  There is still a lot of dry flour under this mass which is why I have to go in with my hands. Even with wet hands, this stuff sticks.

 (Use a flexible dough scraper or rubber spatula to get this off your hands)

Here is the dough well-mixed. Allow it to hydrate without salt (autolyse) for at least 30 minutes.   

I put the lid on and the salt on top of the lid, so I don’t forget to add it later. 
Next, sprinkle the salt onto the dough and added the levain straight from the fridge.
I pinch the dough a bunch of times, fold it several times, pinch again, fold it  again and repeat until the salt and levain are incorporated. I then let the dough rest 20 minutes before beginning the stretch an folds every 30 minutes for two hours.

With one wet hand, I reach in underneath and pull up half the dough and lift it up to stretch and pull it across. Then turn the bowl or bucket a quarter turn and reach in and do it again. Repeat a total of four times and let the dough rest covered until the next turn.  

Here is a video of the second stretch and fold.

Here it is before the third turn.  
And after the third turn.  You can see it is starting to hold its shape in the bucket.

Before the fourth turn: 
And after the fourth turn. 
Now we wait one hour until the fifth turn, and then another hour before taking the dough out to preshape.  It looks like this after the final hour:

I use a flexible dough scraper to remove the dough and put it on the clean counter, no flour.    
Flour the top of the dough. The top will be the outside of the loaf and the flour will help keep it from sticking while you shape it.  Flour your hands too. This dough is nearly impossible for a beginner to make because it is so hard to handle.  That stainless canister is where I keep my bench flour.

Divide in four, pre-shape into rounds and cover.  I use these large flour sack dish towels to cover my dough. Sometimes I use them to line my baskets if I don’t want the “rings” around the bread, or if the dough is particularly sticky.

After a 20 minute rest, a final shaping. I sprinkle more flour on top.  Once all of the loaves are shaped, I pick them up with the bench scraper and one hand, and gently place them in the basket, seam side up.  Note: do not shape and put in the basket immediately after shaping. Let it sit on the counter for a couple of minutes to allow the seam to seal better.

Once all of the loaves are shaped, I pick them up with the bench scraper and one hand, and gently place them in the basket, seam side up.  I sprinkle some more flour on top, cover with my flour sack dish towels and place them in the fridge overnight. You can buy the baskets online at amazon but they are a lot less expensive at lucky clover trading. You will be happy with an 8, 8.5 or 10 inch basket.  I’d suggest the 8 or 8.5 round. Lucky clover does not always carry the round baskets.  Here  you see me using the larger and smaller baskets because I did not divide the dough evenly.

The next morning they are ready to bake. I apparently had the basket tilted in the small fridge which made the dough lopsided. I had to pull some dough away from the basket and let it resettle.  

I bake in the lodge combo cooker.  I have seen this range in price from $34 to $45. I finally broke down and bought two of them so I can bake two loaves at a time.   I preheat the oven with combo cookers in the oven until the oven hits 500. I turn the dough out onto the EXO Super Peal  for scoring (use whatever method you like.  I use a lame).  I then remove the combo cookers (one at a time) and peel the dough into the shallow pan of the hot combo cooker.  (You can probably do this right onto parchment paper and carry the dough onto the hot pan, removing the paper for the second half of the bake.)  Load the dough into the oven and drop the temperature to 450. Bake covered for 20 minutes. Then remove the deep lid and nest the shallow pan (the one with the bread) in the deeper pan. This will help insulate the bread and keep it from burning on the bottom.

Here the combo cookers are heating up.  Shallow pan is on top because after I score the dough, I grab only the shallow pan, close the oven, put the dough in it and then open the oven and cover with the deeper pan.  You’re going to want a pair of heat resistant gloves.  I prefer the longer ones because I want more protection for my arms in case I touch the hot oven.  I use these.

After twenty minutes I open the oven, reverse the pans (this acts to insulate the bottom of the bread and also keeps the room free of burning hot cast iron).
Bake for another 20-25 minutes. I always bake for the 25 so I get a nice crisp crust.  Remove the bread from the hot pan and place on a wire rack to cool.  Now the hard part.  Wait at least an hour, preferably two, before cutting! If you cut too soon, the bread will be gummy.  It is actually still baking while it cools so let it do finish.
   Here is the bottom of the bread.

The overall  “formula” for this bread including the Levain is as follows:

64% All Purpose Flour (King Arthur)
27% Whole Wheat Flour
9% Whole Rye Flour
2% Salt
1% wheat germ (totally optional. I had it and wanted to use it)
82% Hydration

The “short” directions for making four loaves follow — to make 2 loaves, halve everything.

1 T starter (fed the morning before)
100 g water
100 g AP Flour
100 g Whole Wheat Flour.

All of the Levain
1600 grams water
1200 grams all purpose flour
600 grams whole wheat flour
200 grams whole rye flour
20 grams wheat germ
40 grams salt

Make the levain the evening before.  The next morning, combine levain with water and pour the water into a large bowl containing all of the flours and wheat germ. Allow to sit for 40 minutes and then add the salt. Do four sets of stretch and folds over the course of two hours. Do a fifth set at the third hour.  After the fourth hour, divide the dough, pre-shape and leave covered for 20 minutes.  Then shape the dough, place in baskets and bake after four hours or so (assuming temperatures of 72 degrees) or stick in the fridge and bake the next day.




Basics of Baking Sourdough Bread (Part 1)

20140308-151417.jpgSourdough means a culture of “wild” (vs store-bought) yeast and bacteria that adds flavor and leavening to dough. The name is a bit of a misnomer since not all sourdough is sour. You will have to trust me on this — there is a sourdough bread that you will love. You have only to bake it.

The Sourdough Starter

There are lots of different ways people use to make sourdough starter, but the one I followed came from King Arthur Flour’s article, Creating your own sourdough starter.  It is straightforward with nice pictures. It can take a week to ten days before your starter is ready to make good bread.  You can also order powdered starter for free here and I recommend doing so because if your own starter fails after a week of trying, you can at least take comfort knowing that a free starter is on the way.  And of course, if you know anybody that bakes, or have a local bakery, you can always ask for a tablespoon of starter and then just feed it and use it as if you gave birth to it yourself.

Once you have a sourdough culture going, you can use it for many things ranging from pancakes/waffles, to batter for onion rings, and of course, you can use it to make great bread!

One important thing to realize is that if your water is chlorinated, you may have a difficult time getting the starter going. While some people recommend leaving the water out overnight to let the chlorine dissipate this doesn’t work for all forms of chlorination.You can use bottled water if you like. I use Zero Water filters, which are among the few that filter out chlorine.

Maintaining the Sourdough

Once my sourdough starter was growing happily (after about 8-10 days of feeding out on the counter), I decided to store it in in the fridge, so I would not need to feed it daily.  I keep a few tablespoonfuls of starter in a 1/2 pint wide-mouth mason jar.  The “wide-mouth” is important because it is easier to add the flour and water when it is time to feed the starter. Mason jars are a lot less expensive if you can find them in a hardware store or a yard sale.  When storing my starter, I use a plastic lid which screws on loosely, rather than the canning rings and metal lids which can form an airtight seal. You can also store it in plastic Tupperware or re-purpose a plastic peanut butter container if you like.

There are as many ways to maintain a sourdough starter as there are people who maintain them.  This is because the culture is very stable and difficult to kill. In fact, if you scraped out as much starter as you can from your jar, you could regenerate it all simply by taking your “dirty” jar with stuck bits of starter, adding 10 grams of water, swishing it around until it was cloudy from the bits of starter stuck to the jar, and then mixing in 10 grams of flour.  In 6-12 hours you will have a happy viable starter to carry on with.

You can follow King Arthur Flour’s maintenance procedures if you like, but just note that you don’t have to stick with feeding 4 ounces of starter four ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water. You can just keep a ratio of 1:1:1 meaning 1 ounce starter is fed 1 ounce of water and 1 ounce of flour. And you can use even less, which why I like going to grams on my scale, feeding 10 grams of starter 10 grams of water and 10 grams of flour.  Don’t worry if you are not exact here, your starter is hardy and will forgive any mis-measurements.

The Rest of the Dough: Flour, Water, Salt

My “daily bread” is a “lean” bread, consisting of only flour, water and salt.  It is “lean” because it has no added fats in the form of oil, butter, lard, etc. These things are fine to add to bread.  They just aren’t necessary.

The reason you don’t see “yeast” as an ingredient is because you don’t need to add commercial yeast to a sourdough bread. Indeed, some purists would have you drawn and quartered for adding yeast while maintaining that you were making a “sourdough”.

I am pretty sure that salt is salt is salt, and that it does not matter what kind of salt you bake with.  That said, I use Kirkland Pure Fine Sea Salt, available at Costco or online.

The basic technique I use for baking my typical loaf entails making a “levain” (i.e., adding the sour dough starter to some water and flour, and letting the mixture become gassy over the course of 6-12 hours).  When the levain is ready (really, it is now fed starter that has been left to develop for 6-12 hours)  mix the flour and water required for the “dough”, and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour (hydrating the dough). You then add the levain to the hydrated dough together with the salt, and do a series of “turns” or “folds”, in a bucket if you like (it is neater and easier to clean). I use the Cambro 12 Quart Round container for the mixing of the final dough (lids usually sold separately) and the Cambro 6 Quart Round to mix up the levain.  You can use any tuperware suitably sized, but the Cambro containers are great.

Once the dough is ready, you’ll divide the dough, shape it, let it “proof” in a basket/broform or towel-lined bowl and then you will cook it in the oven, after putting it into a cast iron Lodge Combo Cooker or other dutch oven.  The dutch oven acts as a tiny steaming vessel, trapping the steam from the loaf and making sure the bread is in moist hot environment which promotes “oven spring” letting the bread grow tall while it bakes and keeping the crust from getting too hard too early in the bake.  Halfway through the bake, you remove the top of the dutch oven and put it under the bottom.

It is not unusual to start the process on Day 1, and finish baking on Day 3.  And, given the timing of things, this usually means taking up some portion of the weekend for those who are working during the week.

The techniques are described more or less similarly in Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread and Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt and Yeast.  I have both books and if I had to recommend only one, I think I would go with Forkish, even though I love both of them.  They both include the wasteful practice of suggesting you make more “levain” than you will use.  Once you get the hang of things you won’t need to do this.  But, if you follow the recipes as written you will wind up with a lot of extra starter/levain, which you can use to make great pancakes or waffles.

The picture above, by the way, is of two loaves I baked.  The knife is for show, as it stinks for cutting. I wound up buying a cheap knife that works quite well for cutting my bread.

If you wish to see an excellent bread made with  All Purpose, Rye and Wheat flours, see my post at Sourdough Country Rye

Wheat and Rye Bread

This weekend I decided to “wing it” and make my own bread. I had a basic formula to follow but changed out the flours for White whole wheat and Rye.

I also decided to double the recipe to make four loaves. I accidentally quadrupled the amount of wheat and and rye, and as a result I had to add another 430 grams of water, and then another 50 grams of my sourdough levain. Basically, this left me with enough dough to make a fifth loaf, which I wound up making into two.

Here is the dough after the bulk rise:IMG_1712.JPG

Here is the dough preshaped:

I let them “proof” in my baskets:

IMG_1714.JPGThe plan was to put them in the fridge overnight and then bake. But my fridge was not big enough to fit them all.
So, I baked two of them 2 hours later:

IMG_1715.JPGI gave them away to my inlaws, and one of them sent me a picture of it cut. She said it was delicious.

The following morning, 11 hours later, I baked anther two loaves:

IMG_1734.JPGI gave one to a neighbor. And then I baked the final two loaves at 6pm.


IMG_1769.JPGthis leaves me with some extra bread which I will freeze.

Baking Sourdough Bread

Until today, I have been letting my bread rise in a towel-lined bowl, which has resulted in excellent bread. However, I have been wanting to try using a basket or “brotform” so that I would get the decorative flour lines and, also, because we do not have enough bowl. Plus, the bowls were not the best, being a bit too steep. Moreover, sometimes, the dough got stuck to the towel (floured with a mix of flour and rice flour), and it made a bit of a mess having to launder towels.

So I bought some baskets. These things are VERY expensive on amazon. Think 20-30 bucks a pop. However, they can be found for much less elsewhere.

I rubbed them with a mix of all purpose flour and rice flour, and made sure to dust my dough with some of the same before putting then in to rise.

I flipped them out onto the peel and if the dough did not fall out I lifted the basket an inch and tapped it down and the dough released quite easily.



And, of course, the loaves look awesome.



Fresh baked bread

Fresh baked bread is something special. And, like so many other things, the internet makes it is easier than ever to learn how to bake a loaf of fresh goodness.

Yes, there may be mistakes made along the way. And yes, baking bread from scratch takes a long time because it takes time for the dough to rise several times.

But take my word for it, it is a skill worth exploring. Once you start, you will be making biscuits, rolls, loafs, soft pretzels, and the list goes on. The beauty of home made is that you avoid the additives whether they are nasty preservatives, crappy chemicals or fake flavors.

Oh, and you don’t need anything besides a bowl and a clean flat surface. Forget buying a bread machine. Forget using a stand mixer. Heck, I made these loaves (my first attempt baking a bread loaf) using nothing but a bowl, a fork, a rubber spatula and my loaf pans.

I am looking forward to making some soft pretzels real soon.