Whole Grain Sourdough

Baking A More Traditional Sourdough Bread

No knead bread baking is here to stay, but try this and tell me if you think it’s just better bread. The longer, slower proofing times really help bring out maximum flavor in the grains.

Ever since reading an article in the January 1995 issue of Smithsonian magazine touting Poilâne bread of Paris as “the world’s most-celebrated loaves”, I’ve wanted to experience for myself what all the fascination is about.

This is a bread that historian Steven Kaplan, in his book “Good Bread is Back”, describes as simple, delicious and famous: “Fleshy, tender, with a taste that lingers in the mouth, bursting with odors of spices and hazelnut.” A Poilâne style miche (round loaf) also graces the cover of Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”. Reinhart spent time honing his craft in Paris and seems to have some inside knowledge on how it’s made.

Finally, for my birthday party in March (I called it my “bread-day party”), I joined the likes of Robert De Niro, Lauren Bacal, Steven Spielberg and the tens of thousands of mere mortals who are regular Poilâne customers and ordered one for myself and my guests to enjoy. I figured $48 for a loaf of bread was a bargain compared with a trip to Paris. Besides, these are monstrous loaves, weighing in at over four pounds. ( I can rationalize what I want with the best of ‘em. )

The bread was certainly excellent, although amongst my friends it received mixed reviews. Even though the late Lionel Poilâne felt the bread reached its peak of flavor three days after baking, I think it would have been better the same day. In any case, this got me started on trying to duplicate the recipe. A few attempts at Reinhart’s version resulted in a fine whole wheat bread, but I wasn’t able to come close to duplicating the Poilâne experience. I even sifted out some of the bran as suggested and used Normandy gray sea salt. “What?” you say, “Normandy sea salt isn’t the magic ingredient that will transform my ordinary bread into something world class?”

Now, I realize it’s pure hubris on my part to even think about duplicating Poilâne bread at home or anywhere else for that matter. I should at least have a wood fire brick oven to bake in. But I did ultimately meet a fellow amateur baker who spent 20 years in Paris and felt he had come extremely close to nailing the recipe. I agree.

I’ve posted his recipe, instructions and accompanying video here. Whether or not it approaches the supreme heights of Poilâne bread itself, I thought the results were fantastic. Certainly the best (mostly) whole grain bread I’ve baked and on par with some of the best whole grain bread I’ve had anywhere. I can hardly wait to get that wood fired oven built!

Start the recipe in the evening…

Evening of Day 1: Mix together:

  • 200 grams (7 oz. or 7/8 cup) water
  • 120g (4 oz. or 1/2 cup) sourdough starter
  • 236 grams (8 1/3 oz or 2 cups) whole wheat flour

Ferment (let sit out at room temperature covered loosely with plastic) at 69F for 12 hours.

Morning of Day 2: Add to Day 1 ingredients:

  • 274 grams (9 2/3 oz. or ~1 1/4 cup) water
  • 85 grams (3 oz. or 7/8 cup) rye flour
  • 250 grams (8 3/4 oz or 2 cups) white bread flour
  • 170 grams (6 oz. or a tad over 1 3/4 cups) spelt flour
  • 13 grams (scant tbs.) salt

Knead, place in plastic covered bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Morning of Day 3: Form a boule (round loaf) and ferment (let sit out on counter) 5 hours at 69F.

Bake at 485F for 40-45 minutes.

Notes: The recipe was created using grams for measurement. For those without a kitchen scale I have translated to ounces and cups. Some of the measurements don’t translate all that nicely, but what I have here is close enough.

Thanks to Franz Conrads for calculating the dough hydration levels in baker’s percentages terms for this recipe.

Don’t sweat the 69° proofing temperatures too much. If you come close, great, but I go with whatever my house temperature is at the time. If it’s summer and your house is very warm, do try and find the coolest spot you can. Temperature does impact results but unless you are running a bakery, you may enjoy the varying outcomes.

The original recipe calls for 20 grams of salt. Too much in my unqualified opinion. 13 works just fine. Feel free to experiment.

Regarding baking time and temperature, all ovens vary somewhat and you might have to make some adjustments here. After the first couple of times with this recipe, I found the bread baked just right in my La Cloche at 485 F for the first 30 minutes, then 10 more minutes at 450 with the lid off.

If you treasure “big holes” in the crumb, experiment with increasing the hydration. You’ll get a flatter loaf, but more open crumb.

Jan. 4, 2010 Update: Breadtopia reader, Wil, contributed this great recipe variation with herbs.

Apr. 26, 2011 Update: See Joe Doniach’s variation of this recipe with photos that tell a story by themselves.

Here are some photos of the actual Poilâne loaf from my bread-day party…

ActualPoilane

ActualPoilane

ActualPoilane

ActualPoilane

Here’s a particularly gorgeous example of this bread by Jacquie of Aptos, California.

Jacquie's whole grain sourdough

{ 481 comments… read them below or add one }

Jodie June 23, 2014 at 7:40 am

Hi. I’ve just acquired a clay baker but don’t have instructions on how to use it. I’ve read on some sites that it should be soaked in water before baking in it. Is this really necessary?

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Breadtopia June 23, 2014 at 8:43 am

No, it’s not necessary. I don’t soak mine.

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Annie June 23, 2014 at 11:27 am

There are different kinds of red brick colored clay bakers; one has a glazed surface inside. The other is just like a terracotta pot with no glazing and has a cover (Romertopf). I have both. I got the plain one used and have never soaked it. The glazed one I got new and the instructions that came with it said to soak it which I did but then I ended up giving it away; didn’t like the idea of having to soak it every time and it didn’t have a top anyway, which I really like.

There is another type of clay bakeware that is also a kind of stoneware and is an off-white color. I bought one of these and it works very well—no soaking required. I use it for yeasted whole wheat bread.

Here’s the one I got:
http://www.amazon.com/6003-Stone-Bakeware-Rada-Cutlery/dp/B0037FW8LE/ref=sr_1_1?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1403544028&sr=1-1&keywords=stoneware+loaf+pan

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Jodie June 23, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Thanks for the feedback. I just made a loaf of 50% whole wheat, 50% kamut and it came out beautifully! I’m so excited, lol. This was purely experimental as I’ve only made sourdough a dozen times or so and have had success with each loaf. I’m loving my clay baker so far :) And it was only 2 bucks!

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Annie June 23, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Super!! Beautiful loaf!
$2! That’s good shopping. I thought I got a good deal when I paid $2.99 for mine at the Goodwill. You win!

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Jodie June 23, 2014 at 2:10 pm

2 bucks is an awesome price! I went to a garage sale yesterday but never expected to find a clay baker. It was on my wish list for later. Apparently someone heard my wish, lol. After today’s success, I’m sure I’ll use the clay baker regularly. And I didn’t soak it in water either. I’ve since cooled and cut my loaf of bread, it’s great on the inside too. Does anyone else ever feel the urge to bake another loaf even before the current one is gone? :) I sure do!

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Huckleberry June 9, 2014 at 7:13 am

First of all a big thanks to you for creating this wonderful website. You provide truly outstanding advice and information.
I made a sourdough starter according to your instructions, and I think it turned out alright. I tried to make sourdough pizza but the dough hardly rose at all. Next I went straight to the sourdough whole grain bread, probably on day 8 or 9 of having begun the starter.
The dough did not rise much after the initial setup, the morning of Day 2. I followed your instructions nonetheless except for using 12 grain bread flour instead of the spelt flour (I couldn’t find all spelt flour). There was not much of a rise after 24 hours in the fridge. After reading around a bit more I decided to leave the dough in the fridge for another day after which the dough had risen a tiny bit more. On Day 4 I took it out of the fridge, kneaded and folded it over several times and let it sit for 5 hours. I baked it as suggested but left it in the oven for 25 min after I removed the lid of the Dutch oven. The temp. measured 212 F when I took it out. It may have baked a tad too long.
The bread, however, looks fantastic. Many thanks again.
Tom.

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Marie-Pierre April 18, 2014 at 12:26 pm

I made a mistake and let the day 2 dough on the counter for 5 hours before putting it in the fridge. Should I do a shorter rise tomorrow?

This is my second time making this bread. It was so perfect the first time! I hope I didn’t mess it up!

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David Lower April 4, 2014 at 7:08 am

We bake miches in our wood-fired oven at our bakery, Serenity Farm Bread. I like to leave them in our oven for well over one hour. I never cut into the miche before 24 hours pass and don’t store in plastic. Our oven likes the 2 kilo size loaf. The crust is great and keeps the inside of the loaf from drying out. We use 18 oz of the real celtic salt in 110 lbs. of dough. We use Heartland Mill org. ubue all purpose flour, whole wheat, and whole rye flour. It works for us!

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Annie April 6, 2014 at 8:19 am

David, that sounds so wonderful. I want YOUR bread!! What does “miche” mean? I’m trying to guess. Is it a large lump of dough that you divide into loaf-sized pieces? Just wanting to guess LOL

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Paul Cohen March 26, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Nice instructions – complete and easy to follow. One question – how will it effect the bread to bake it on a baking stone without an enclosure?

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Annie March 28, 2014 at 5:29 pm

It will bake fine only be a bit flatter of a loaf making more oblong shaped slices.
Go for it!

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Annie April 6, 2014 at 8:22 am

I just went to your website. Oh My Dog!! Beautiful looking loaves! Wish I lived near YOU!

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Col March 26, 2014 at 3:17 pm

For our bread that gets refrigerated, we leave it at room temperature for the first hour to get started. Maybe try that Tom? How you train the leven is probably more important than age – feeding it at regular times, using only a small amount of previous (like a teaspoonful) will make it more vigorous (though potential less resilient when not fed)

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Tom Deacon March 20, 2014 at 12:28 pm

This is a tricky bread.

My dough spent 24 hours in the fridge as indicated but didn’t rise. Only rose after 24 more hours in a room environment. Then the final rise took 7 hours at room temperature instead of 5.

I think this is because my starter is only 4 weeks old. Not enough oomph. So, if I were to make the bread again, I would add 1/4 tsp instant acting yeast to the mixture before the second rise, or perhaps even at the beginning in order to get things moving properly. Not such a big compromise over a “pure” sourdough.

I split the dough in two so that I could give one loaf away as a present but baked the loaves in one large oblong Le Creuset Dutch oven.

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