The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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JMonkey's picture

I didn't really intend to become a sourdough fanatic, but it seems that's what I make 80% of the time these days. The pound of SAF instant yeast I bought in February is only halfway gone, despite my having baked just about every weekend since then.

Maybe it's because I've had a devil of a time getting my starter to get a decent "sour" and I've been obsessed with getting it right. It wasn't until last month that I finally I cracked it:

1) Stiff (50% hydration) starter,
2) A long, cool bulk rise at about 64-68 degrees (which means, in my cellar), and
3) An overnight retarding in the bottom of my fridge.

I make at least two loaves of the following bread every weekend. One loaf gets wrapped in aluminum foil for the freezer, and the other goes right in the bread box. It's a well-rounded bread with enough flavor to eat on its own, but also a good accompaniment to any sandwich, from peanut butter and banana (a favorite of my Southern roots, though, unlike Elvis, I refrain from frying it in butter), to mustard, turkey pastrami and a sharp cheese.

I also use it as a base for experimentation, adding spices, or fruits, grains or seeds.

It's 100% whole wheat, but to my mind, doesn't taste "whole wheat," at least, not in the usual sense of the word. There's no strong, bitter grassy flavor, though it's a very different flavor than a white flour bread.

Anyway, here's the recipe for my

100% Whole-Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread.


• 19.5 oz whole-wheat flour
• 14.5 oz water (at room temperature)
• 2 Tbs honey
• 2 Tbs Olive Oil
• 2 1/8 tsp salt
• 16.5 oz stiff, whole-wheat sourdough starter (I use a starter at 50 percent hydration)

All the rest Mix everything EXCEPT the salt and the starter together until you get a rough dough. Let it sit for 30-60 minutes so that the whole-wheat flour can absorb the water. This cuts down on the kneading time substantially. Without the "autolyse," you'll have to knead by hand for 30 minutes or more to get it to the right place.

Tear the starter into about 10 pieces. Add the starter and the salt to the rest of the ingredients DON'T FORGET TO ADD THE SALT (like I almost always come close to doing). Tastes awful if you forget it.

Knead the dough until you can stretch a tiny bit of it into a translucent membrane. You'll see plenty of bran blocking the light, but that's ok so long as the surrounding dough is translucent. Oil a bowl or container, put the dough in it and cover.

When it has doubled -- and this may take 3-4 hours depending on the temperature -- fold it and let it rise again. This second rise improves flavor and helps the final loaf rise higher. It should take about half the amount of time the previous rise took.

Once it has risen a second time, remove the dough and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a loaf, and place inside two oiled 8.5 inch by 4.5 inch loaf pans. To shape the loaves, I pat and stretch each portion of the dough into a rough 8"x4" rectangle. I then take one of the 4" ends, and roll it up, pausing every full turn to press down hard on the seam with the edge of my hand. Once the loaf is rolled and sealed, II then stretch it gently so that it's longer than the pan, and fold the edges underneath, again, pressing down hard to seal the seams. I then rock it back and forth quickly while bringing my hands from the middle of the loaf to the edges to stretch it out once again to fit the pan.

Here, you have a choice. You can either cover the pans with food grade plastic and stick it in the fridge overnight, or you can just let it rise and bake immediately. Retarding overnight will accentuate the flavor, and the sourness, of the bread. Depending on how sour your starter is, retarding might overdo the sourness.

Let the loaves rise until they crest about an inch or two in the center of the loaf above the rim of the pan. Try to catch it so that, when you poke the loaf with a damp finger, the indention starts to fill back in slowly. If you've retarded the bread, and it's already at this stage, you can either leave it out (covered) for about an hour to warm up or bake it immediately. I've had more luck getting oven spring if I warm it up.

Otherwise, let it rise until it's nearly fully risen. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slash the loaves artfully. These days, I like a few baguette-style slashes on a slight diagonal along the length of the loaf. But, really, it's up to you. As you can see from the photos, I've taken other approaches in the past.

Put the loaves in to bake and, If you wish, steam the oven by pouring 1-2 cups of boiling water into a pre-heated pan or skillet in the bottom of the oven. If find this results in a darker crust, and slighly larger loaves.

Cook for about 40 minutes in a preheated oven at 350 degrees, until the center of each loaf registers 190 to 200 degrees. Remove from pans and cool for 1 hour before slicing.

A couple of variations:

Cinnamon-raisin sourdough: Substitute 2 TBS butter for the olive oil and raise the honey to 4 TBS. Add 2 tsp cinnamon. Near the end of the kneading, add 9 oz raisins and, if you like, 4 oz pecans or walnuts. The extra cinnamon and honey will increase the rising time by about 40%, and you'll need 9"x5" pans. Add 15-20 minutes to the bake.

Multi-grain sourdough Soak 6 oz of your favorite seeds and grains (sunflower seeds, flax seeds, rye chops, wheat berries, oat groats, whatever mix suits your fancy) in 6 oz of water overnight. Reduce the water in the dough to 11.5 oz. Use a 9"x5" pan and add 15-20 minutes to the bake.

Greg's picture

Hi, this is a great site and I'm wondering if there's anyone out there making the perfect bagel in Australia?

I'm Sydney-based and would love to hook up with the perfect bagel.


JMonkey's picture

Feeding ratio for starters

May 18, 2006 - 10:01am -- JMonkey

I've had a heck of a time getting a really sour sourdough, and I'm convinced that it's my local microflora. I've taken some measures to get more tang out of my bread -- firm starter at 50%, long cool rise, overnight retarding. It helps. But it's only mildly sour, not the sharp tang I'd like to get.

My friend, who lives 4 miles away, took some of my starter. Over the last four weeks, her bread has progressively gotten more sour, and she's doing everything exactly as I do.

Anyway, I'm curious about the ratio of refreshment. I've decided to see what a really liquid starter (125% hydration) like Jeffrey Hammelman uses would do. Now, in the King Arthur Baker's Companion and the BBA, they recommend not going any further than quadrupling when you refresh the starter. Hammelman, on the other hand, increases his by a factor of 8.

Valerio's picture

Starter Storage

May 9, 2006 - 8:46pm -- Valerio

After a few attempts I was finally able to grow a couple of wild yeast starters. I have baked a couple of loafs already and the taste is great.

Now I am wondering on whether I should store the cultures at room temperature (I am in Los Angeles and temperatures are getting into the 80s or 90s now) or in the refrigerator? Right now I feed the cultures once every 3-4 days and store them in the fridge.

mamagarrett's picture

One Step Forward, two steps back

May 9, 2006 - 10:18am -- mamagarrett

I finally managed to find some unglazed quarry stones and make my faux brick oven this weekend. I was amazed at the difference in the amount of rise I got, and also the beautiful color. I was so thrilled to pull those first loaves out of the oven..

The problem is, the taste. While I used to get the most wonderful sour taste out of my sour dough bread, lately, I have noticed less and less. At this point, my sourdough tastes about the same as if I was using regular baking yeast. I have never made sourdough and regular yeast bread at the same time, so I don't know if contamination is possible, or if the yeast that produced the delightful flavor at first have now died off.

JMonkey's picture

I've got folks lined up all the way til June to get some sourdough starter, thanks to my Craig's List ad, and in the past two days, I gave away my first batch. Two baggies of whole-wheat starter and two baggies of white. Since it's a stiff dough, it's easier to give away. Wouldn't want to try bringing the 100% stuff to the office on my bike.

I also finally finished up my sourdough primer document to go along with it. Three recipes, conversion advice for tranforming commercial yeast recipes into sourdough, and standard care and feeding info.

Looks like I might end up getting some free organic greens and herbs out of it, too. A fellow who delivers to Boston every weekend told me he'd gladly share some of his harvest for some starter.

Cool stuff.

JMonkey's picture

Every weekend, I bake 2-3 loaves of sourdough (usually whole wheat) for my family's weekly bread. I love sourdough, and I particularly love that I've figured out (finally) how to coax sour flavor out of our sweet New England microflora (long, cool bulk rise with a stiff starter).

I absolutely hate, however, having to throw away starter when I feed it. Drives me bannanas.

So I had an idea earlier this week. Why not place an ad on Craig's list and give it away? I came up with a quick ad:

Less than 24 hours later, I've got 18 folks lined up, all of whom will gladly give my sourdough "waste" for the entire month of May a happy home. At this rate, I'll just have to put up one ad per month.

So now, I can make my sourdough guilt free. :-)

Pedro Pan's picture
Pedro Pan

"My all time favorite is a blue cheese and walnut bread with 25% toasted waluts..." The Bread Baker's Apprentice, P. 234
Good place to start. This bread was/is truly amazing-- I more or less followed the proportions except I used the WW SD starter and added 25% WW flour to the final dough. Blue cheese was Stilton (Costco). Walnuts from Trader Joe's. This was some serious bread. Dinner was Lasagne coi Carciofi, Artichoke Lasagna...ooh baby...but thats another story. The walnut/stilton bread with salad was a perfect compliment to a great sunday dinner.

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sonofYah's picture

I am going to try linking to some pictures. Please be patient with me.

These are pictures of a starter I am experimenting with. See my earlier blog entry for an explanation.


The control starter
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Sourdough Jack's starter
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Both starters for comparison
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sonofYah's picture

Well, Pesach and Unleavened Bread is over and it is time to get the bread ingredients out of storage.

Been a while since I was able to post. Have been super busy. Having a blast at the bakery job. The railroad job? All I can say is that I still have it and it is paying the bills.

I have been browsing the newsgroup a lot lately. One of the messages I really found interesting was one concerning a 30+ year old sourdough starter packet. It seems that one of the regular posters on the group found an old packet of unopened starter in one of their sourdough books. This person did a little experiment to see if she could revive the starter. She seems to have had success.

I went on the 'net and found a copy of the book with a packet. Yesterday, I started my own little experiment. I measured out equal amounts of all-purpose flour and water in two seperate quart jars. To one I added my 1/2 ounce packet of starter powder. Twelve hours later I had activity in both jars. But the jar with the sourdough packet was markedly more active. The aroma of the starters were different as was the textures of the respective starters.

Not wanting to skew the results, I took 50 grams of starter from each jar and discarded the rest. I started with the control starter first, doing one at a time to control cross-contamination. I rinsed out each jar and added 50 grams of distilled water and 50 grams of all purpose flour. I added the water to the starter and made a liquid starter. I returned the starters to the respective jars. I then added 50 grams of all-purpose flour to each jar and stirred until well incorporated. I marked the levels in each of the jars. Again, twelve hours later, I checked the jars. This time I took pictures. There is quite a difference between the two. When I learn how to post pictures here, I will do so.

I am kind of suprised that the control jar (with no starter powder) took off so quickly. But then again I did a lot of bread baking before Pesach and Unleavened Bread. And no matter how good I tried to clean my house, there would still be yeast floating around in the air. (A spiritual lesson there) Hoping this didn't affect my little experiment. But the jar with the sourdough starter is significantly more active as you will be able to tell when I upload the pictures.

BTW, I made my first homemade matzah in a stone lined oven. Was a smashing hit with the daughters. And I got it in the oven in less than eighteen minutes. Just made a little over a pound.

Till then, let us bake bread.

Keen de el yeshuati


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