Whole Wheat Sourdough
For several months now, I have been baking whole wheat breads based on recipes in Peter Reinhart's latest book. For the most part, I have met with success.
I am now attempting to modify these recipes to accomplish two goals: to eliminate commercial yeast from my breads, and to simplify the baking schedule (which includes using less equipment, making less mess, and adjusting the rise times to occur while I'm at work).
I wanted to share some techniques with those of you who might have similar goals. It's quite simple, and probably nothing new to those of you who have been baking a while.
First, I followed Peter's recipes for whole wheat bread, replacing the "biga" with sourdough starter. Instead of adding yeast in the final mix, though, I simply let it rise all day while I was at work (about 10 hours). This accomplished two goals: first, obviously, no commercial yeast. Second, I was able to jump right into shaping when I got home, since the first rise was accomplished throughout the day. This cut a good 2-3 hours off my after-work baking schedule.
Second, instead of using baking stones, I preheated a large, cast-iron skillet in a 500F oven. This eliminated the need to use a utensil (like a peel or baking sheet) to transport the dough from the bowl to the oven, as well as eliminated the need for baking stones. Additionally, I think the skillet retains heat better than the baking stones, and since the transfer needs to take place outside the oven, I think it actually gives the dough a bit of a head start on rising. You get all the benefits of "oven spring," but without having to worry about the bread forming a crust too soon.
I tried this for the first time yesterday, and ended up with my first loaf of whole wheat bread made entirely without commercial starter. The crumb was moist and full of holes, but not grainy, mushy, or too chewy. My only complaint is that the bread was much too tart for my own taste. It really overwhelmed all the other flavors. It wasn't bad, but it's just not to my liking. I'm not sure if this is due to the long, 10-hour rise, or to an overly-acidic starter. I'm inclined to believe the latter, because my starter smelled very strongly of alcohol and vinegar. However, it rose beautifully, so I know it's active.
Anyway, please let me know what you think!