The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Workhorse Sourdough

bwraith's picture

Workhorse Sourdough

Workhorse Sourdough - Crust and Crumb

Workhorse Sourdough - Loaves

This recipe is a basic sourdough that I make frequently and use as an all purpose basic bread. It has more components of whole grain in it than a typical white country loaf, yet because of the high extraction flour, it has a more refined texture and less grassy flavor than a typical whole grain loaf. At least for me, it blends better with food than whole grain or close to whole grain loaves I would make for toast at breakfast, peanut butter or tahini, or sometimes as a vehicle for more strongly flavored salted meats and cheeses. I could use it as a substitute for a rustic French bread to have along with a roasted meat or an eggplant parmesan, for example.

Some additional photos are posted, as well as spreadsheets of the recipe and rise time calculations in xls and html formats.


  • 40g white flour paste starter (I used 80% hydration white flour starter) You can use 50g of 100% hydration starter or 35g of 60% hydration firm starter and get about the same rise times.
  • 90g whole rye flour (I used Homestead Grist Mills Whole Rye Flour)
  • 180g strong whole wheat flour (I used Wheat MT Bronze Chief)
  • 68g high extraction flour (I used Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo)

The levain is designed to ripen in 10 hours at 70F or about 7 hours at 76F. In my case, it was left to ripen on the counter overnight at about 70F for a total of 10 hours. The levain can be made ahead and refrigerated after it has just doubled. It will keep for a day or two stored in the refrigerator. Ideally, if it is refrigerated, it should be removed from the refrigerator an hour or two before you put it in the dough.


  • 540g high extraction flour (I used Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo)
  • 540g water

Mix the flour and water enough to form a shaggy mass. Let it rest overnight. I just left it on the kitchen counter next to the levain for the night. You can also mix it ahead and store it in the refrigerator along with the levain. Remove it an hour or two before you are ready to mix the dough.

High extraction flour is a less refined flour that has some or most of the bran removed but contains most or all of the remaining components of the whole grain. Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo has the germ and a small amount of bran in it.


  • Levain from above
  • Soaker from above
  • 18g barley malt syrup
  • 34g salt
  • 608g water
  • 975g AP flour (I used Heartland Mills Organic AP with Malt)


The dough was mixed with a DLX mixer for about 10 minutes on low/medium. The dough is medium soft to soft. It spreads a little bit when you first pour it on the counter and is a little sticky. The dough was folded a few times after mixing, using a wet dough folding/kneading technique, in order to form it into a round ball. The dough was then placed in a covered container to rise.

Bulk Fermentation and Folding

The bulk fermentation phase was designed to last 3.7 hours at 75F. During that time the dough was conventionally folded three times, about once per hour. As the gluten develops, the dough will become stiffer and will no longer spread out when turned out onto the counter. Fold more often if the dough is too slack or fold less often if it seems too stiff and resistant to folding.

The dough should expand to about 1.7 times the original volume and become puffy during the bulk fermentation. The dough is not intended to double in volume during the bulk fermentation.

At 70F the bulk fermentation should take about 5 hours, somewhat longer than at 75F.


The dough was halved and two large rectangular loaves were formed. The two loaves were placed in a couche on a half tray and placed in a Ziploc "Big Bag" with two bowls of hot water. The loaves were proofed for 2.6 hours at 75F. At 70F the loaves should proof for about 3.5 hours.

Slash and Bake

The loaves were slashed, put on parchment paper on a large peel and placed in a brick oven. The oven hearth temperature was about 525F at the beginning of the bake. The loaves and interior of the oven were sprayed with a fine mist using an orchid sprayer (1/6 gal/minute for 25 seconds), and the oven was sealed with a towel covered door. After 15 minutes, the loaves were rotated and the door of the oven was left open. The loaves were baked for a total of 45 minutes until dark brown. Since the dough is fairly wet, it helps to give the loaves a thorough bake. The internal temperature was 209F, but I've found that internal temperature can be an unreliable indicator of doneness with higher hydration loaves.

In my kitchen oven, I would preheat the oven to 500F with a stone and cast iron skillet. After placing the loaves on the stone, put water in the skillet and drop the temperature to 450F. After 15 minutes, drop the temperature to 400F for the rest of the bake.

The loaves are fairly large, as my brick oven has room for them. In a kitchen oven the loaves could be done one at a time, possibly shaped a little wider and shorter. To do a more typical quantity of bread for a kitchen oven, halve the recipe and make two smaller loaves that can be baked at the same time.


Allow the loaves to completely cool on a rack that allows the entire loaf, top and bottom, to be exposed to air.


This bread is named Workhorse Sourdough because it can be used for almost any job. It will work in place of a white country bread for dinner, for sandwiches, for toast, or even for dipping in olive oil. The sourdough flavor of the levain with the rye and whole wheat is a little stronger than breads I've made with a white flour or spelt levain. One could put all the whole grains and Golden Buffalo flour in the soaker, and make the levain from a portion of the white flour. Water would have to be moved from the dough to the larger soaker in that case.


browndog's picture

But could it fend off a rabid fox?

The scales have been tipping in my favor more often over the past months when it comes to sourdough, but I still don't feel adventurous. I have not tried the high extraction flours, but as you describe it, it sounds like an ideal sort of compromise between all-white and whole grain. Your loaves look lovely, such a pretty soft gold.

Do you think your brick oven will carry you through winter baking?

You see how I've restrained myself and not once mentioned Clydesdales or Belgians?


bwraith's picture


These loaves will fend off a rabid fox or bigger. They are 17" long, 7" wide, and over 3" tall with a hard crust and weigh several pounds. A well-aimed blow to the head should be sufficient to neutralize an assailant, unless the assailant is a Clydesdale.

This bread was only one item out of the brick oven on Wednesday, when I did this. I've been investigating a wonderful cookbook called "Braise", by Daniel Boulud. The recipes are ideal for the cooled off brick oven.

The schedule is something like:

7AM: Mix levain, soaker, prepared night before with final dough ingredients, knead, and set aside to rise. Begin to fire the oven up to about 600F.

7AM-11:15AM: Prepare pork butt, shallots, and garlic heads for searing in oven. Fold dough periodically. Prepare cipollini onions and Jerusalem artichokes for later braising. Have a couple of coffees, read the paper, check email, TFL, fend off a rabid fox, pay some bills, or whatever else. Put some beans in a terracotta pot with some liquid and spices.

11:15AM: Shape and place loaves in couche.

12PM: Sear the salted and peppered pork butt in the now hot 600F brick oven after turning off the flame, deglaze with brandy from marinated raisins to be used later. Bring wine and stock to a boil briefly in the pot. Remove pork butt and strain and set aside the liquids from the pot.

12:15-12:30PM: Sautee and brown the cipollini onions and Jerusalem artichokes in the same pot in the brick oven. Set aside.

12:30-1:45PM: Close off the oven and let it cool down to about 525F.

1:45PM-2:30PM: Peel, slash, and bake loaves, oven now dropping toward 450F.

3:15PM: Put liquids, cipollini onions, Jerusalem artichokes, brandy marinated raisins, and pork butt in dutch oven and place it covered in the brick oven. Also place bean pot in the oven. Oven is now around 400F and dropping.

5:30PM: Take beans and braised pork out of the oven. Fire briefly and intensely. Take pork butt and place hazelnut and sourdough breadcrumb frosting on the pork and broil for 3 minutes to brown and bind the coating to the portk butt. Oven is now around 325F.

5:45PM: Steam some kale on the kitchen stove (OK, I should have braised these too, along with the beans, and the pork, onions and sunchokes)

6:00PM: Seriously good dinner, including workhorse sourdough, prepared almost entirely in the brick oven.

It was snowing lightly outside, and the temperatures were around freezing. Baking and cooking in the oven worked fine.


browndog's picture

I trust it's possible to substitute tea for coffee at the appropriate junctures?

You would think, taxes being what they are, that we wouldn't have to do our own fox-dispatching. 

Sounds delicious, even including the dead piggy...

I will have to research cipollini onions.

This 'old-fashioned' idea of using one's oven as a one-stop meal-maker is really appealing. Like the way people used to plan their cooking around the declining heat of their brick oven.

bwraith's picture


Here's a piggy - different day.

Roast Suckling Pig

Here's a braised seabass, maybe more appealing than the pig, depending on your particular preferences.

Roast Suckling Pig

I've done a few meals with no meat , like an eggplant parmesan and certain pizzas. Vegetables come out great. Roasted autumn vegetables, very lightly braised cabbage, roast asparagus, roasted and mashed sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, and so on, work very well in the oven.

Tea is certainly allowed and could probably be brewed in the oven along with everythign else.

Using the oven as the one and only heat source for entire meals is an interesting challenge and reminds me of trying to sail without ever turning on the engine. A certain satisfaction comes from dropping and weighing anchor under sail alone, even if an engine is available. The fantasy is that one might capture some of the experiences of the past or acquire lost skills. The cooking done entirely in the brick oven has its own unique character. An ambience results from the schedule of activities over the day imposed by the dropping oven temperature.


browndog's picture

You actually have a picture of a whole dead (baby!) pig there, Bill...

We do eat fish some, and probably would more if we were sea-farers.

Uh, what do you do with the head? Out to the curb in a Glad bag to surprise the garbagemen in the morning?

Yes, there must be a rythym you learn to fall into with the oven.

We had a neighbor til a few years ago who even on the hottest summer morning had a fire in her wood cookstove, she used it for nearly all her baking, and her cookies were as pale and tender as anyone's.

bwraith's picture


Out to the garbage shed, for the garbage hauler to pick up. Kind of ruins the fantasy, eh? Well, the garbage bags are opaque, if that helps.

Will, age 11, loves animals and had a hard time seeing the head, with eyes, nose, ears, and little teeth, especially before it was roasted. I wonder if the pig is more appreciated when seen closer to its living form? I found myself becoming more attached to the pig, as I washed and prepped the body. Adorning the pig with a necklace and apple made more sense to me, after doing this one myself. The uncertain, bemused, possibly unnerved look of our guests, particularly two teenage girls, when I unveiled the pig kept warm under some foil, was priceless.

Some of the homemade sourdough bread was served alongside, and a salad - no meat there. Tea was served later on, too, believe it or not, and the required apple cider as you can see below. It was a cool fall afternoon into evening, but we ate outside next to the oven and bundled up in sweaters as the sun fell.

Browndog, maybe you should install a brick oven. You have the perfect setting for it, much better than the burbs here in NJ.


browndog's picture

"Washed and prepped the body..."


You said it, not me...

Possibly some latent DNA stirring, of ancestors who thanked/apologized to the spirit of their prey. I'm sure it's a good impulse on your part, Bill.

Friends and neighbors here routinely keep beef cattle, sheep, and chickens/turkeys for slaughter, not to mention hunting season. While they aren't sentimental about it, they don't seem to take the animals' deaths lightly, and treat them well in the meantime. But the contrast say, of lambing season, when one goes to great lengths and inconvenience to keep weak babies alive vs. sending them off a few months later for the Easter lamb market always startles me a little.

I said to Sue earlier that age has somewhat altered my perspective on meat-eating anyway. There are worse things than death, and my own son has always had permission to, and occasionally does, eat meat. Still, I don't suppose my choppers will ever entertain a steak again. That picture of the girls says it all, I can almost hear them squealing (the girls, not the piggies.)

Poor Will. Did he find a comfort zone big enough to enjoy his dinner? There is something rather, uh, unsettling about food still wearing its head. (Tell Will a secret for me, since he's a fellow animal lover--browndog keeps snakes, and rescues spiders, never squishes them.)

You know, a little while ago when there was a flurry of outdoor oven posts showing incredible-looking, big brown loaves, I thought about whether it might work for me here. You're right, there are plenty of places to put one. The mud ovens looked interesting because they seemed simpler, relatively speaking. Well, I've got all winter to research and cogitate.


zolablue's picture

The photos remind me a little of Columbia.  Maybe because I've been thinking about that bread a lot lately.  It looks like another very interesting recipe.  I love the texture of the crumb.


Did you happen to weigh the total raw dough or can you tell me the weight of the baked loaves?  Just curious since I like to have a good idea since my oven is small.  My stone is only 12 x 15 so often I make into 3 loaves what others make into 2 loaves. 

bwraith's picture

Hi ZB,

Yes, it is a lot like the Columbia recipe, which is a favorite, since you prodded me to try it and do it as specified. I guess this just uses some of my favorite flours, and I think it is higher hydration - not as high as the Genzano loaves, but fairly soft dough. The texture of the crumb is part of the way toward that characteristic creamy crumb you get in breads like the pagnotta recipe or like I got with NYT no-knead conversion. The high extraction GB flour has the germ in it, which may be another similarity to the Columbia recipe. I mostly used Heartland Mills flours in this recipe. I didn't have any Heartland Mills WW, so I used the Wheat MT in it.

In this recipe, the dough weighed about 3360g. The two loaves fit on a half tray, i.e. about 13x17 inches. I think you could halve the recipe and do one large round, or you could make two somewhat standard loaves.

These loaves were fairly large, about 17 inches long and 7 inches wide, but I like that so I can get sandwich sized pieces. I typically cut them into loaf sized pieces and freeze them, so I can take out a loaf at time, as I need them.


bwraith's picture


I thought you might enjoy the combination of mortician and chef jargon.

I guess my approach to the brick oven is a like my sailboat. I love sailing, but I have a high tech, modern scandinavian sailboat, not a wooden boat. It's a modern approach to a an ancient tradition. The boat is beautiful even if modern. Same with the oven, which is very high tech, came fully assembled, and is able to burn natural gas or wood. I like the convenience and cleanliness of the natural gas, although one of these days, I intend to try out wood in it. I have to get a couple of additional tools, like an ash bin and so on. The problem with what I've done is that it's expensive.

If I weren't so worried about creating a nightmarish mess in my back yard that my wife would be annoyed with, I might have tried the mud oven, or even building my own brick oven from scratch. After seeing the subtleties of masonry, what little I could appreciate, from the wonderful guy who put the brick facade around my oven, I'm thinking I was right to remain expedient and dependent on the modern technology of the pre-assembled Woodstone oven. I think it would have taken a couple or three tries to get my own homemade oven right. I'm imagining using a jackhammer to break down and haul out a giant junk pile of brick and mortar more than once.

Just a little more space and time, though, and I would've gone for it. Who knows, maybe I'll do it in MT if I can ever stay there for more than a week at a time. We have plenty of room there for it. It'll take kids going to college first, though.




zolablue's picture

I can't believe you posted that photo of Wilber!  I've missed a lot on the forum lately, fo some reason, and this is no exception.  Just when I think I've seen that dreadful thing for the last time.


Hey, would you like to see a photo of squirrel for dinner?  Cause I can show you that one!  (wink)