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

{ 499 comments… read them below or add one }

lynn September 21, 2014 at 4:41 pm

I tried this recipe twice and the bread just flattens out in the baking stage; I’m getting discouraged with wild yeast bread. Any advice?

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Breadtopia September 21, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Hi Lynn,

It’s hard to know why your bread is flattening out. The starter might not be healthy. Or you might just need to add more flour. Or you may be proofing it too long. You can also just bake it in a vessel with sides that shores up the dough. Like an oblong cloche, a Romertopf, a Bread Dome, a 4 quart Dutch oven.

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Huckleberry September 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I agree. Overproofing could well be the cause. I observed something similar the last time I made this bread.
Overall, I like this recipe a lot. I have never been disappointed by the taste of the bread.
I’d like to ask 2 questions with respect to the making of the bread.

Do you really think it is necessary to let the bread warm up for 5 hours after the 24 hour refrigeration period? For instance, Ken Forkish in Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast says that you can take the bread straight form the fridge to the oven for the few recipes that he uses such a long, cold retardation.

Also, do you think one could employ a similar stretch and fold in the bowl that Emmanuel and Hadjiandreou describes in his book? Did you discuss such questions with him during your recent visit the UK?

Regards,

Tom

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Breadtopia September 22, 2014 at 7:07 pm

I’ve never tried going straight from the fridge so I don’t know how well it would work for this particular recipe. As for the stretch and fold, I’m quite sure that would work. I think a series of stretch and folds is all you ever really need when ordinary kneading is called for.

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lynn September 24, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Thanks for the response! I’ll keep trying.

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Christine Krause September 10, 2014 at 10:31 am

Hi For the last two summers, I’ve been totally immersed in using my bread machine to make the poolish, sponges, etc., and the first kneading and rising period of the dough. Then I follow the rest of the recipe for baking. I tried twice to bake bead in my bread machine (a Breadman that my dearest hubby gave me for Christmas) and both times the window on the top was a mess of unbaked starter, and the “loaf” wasn’t.

Then I tried sourdough starter and my family was hooked. Now all they want is sourdough bread. However, there are some recipes, like the chocolate bread in the BH&G Breads from Your Bread Machine, Oatmeal-Honey Bread, and filled sandwich buns (tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni) that aren’t sourdough.

Do you have any advice on how to make sourdough from a regular bread? I’ve tried using sourdough for 1/2 of the water, for all of the water and just adding 1 cup of sourdough to recipes made with 4 cups of flour (that fits in my BM). Needless to say, none of them worked.

Is there a method to turn a “regular” bread into sourdough?

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Justin Shnieder August 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm

I have made sourdough bread for the past two weeks. The bread is delicious with a good crumb, nice big holes and a tangy tasting crust. I find, however, that the loaf is very heavy in weight. Is this how it’s supposed to be? The bread is made with a mix of strong wholemeal flour(15og) and white strong bread flour (450g). In England, “strong flour is what is used for bread making as opposed to all purpose flour used for normal baking.

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Ann Cue August 4, 2014 at 11:32 am

My starter went through all phases in 2 days! (I grind my own flour from organic hard wheat.) And the bread is wonderful!

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Breadtopia August 4, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Excellent!

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Arun August 3, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Tried this today. I’m new to sourdough – this is my third sourdough loaf, and my previous two were almost purely white flour. This time, I used a proofing basket and a Dutch oven and got my best oven spring yet – even given how much whole grain flour there is in the recipe. I halved the recipe since I’m the only one in my family who eats bread.

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Nina August 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm

When you halved the recipe did you change the cooking time?

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Francisco Pinto August 2, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Did you used spelt flour or whole spelt flour? Thank you.

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Breadtopia August 2, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Whole.

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Francisco Pinto August 3, 2014 at 4:55 am

Thank you very much for your atention. Greetings from Brazil.

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Lynn August 1, 2014 at 12:48 am

I made my first Poilane-Style Miche from page 242 in the BBA book with my Ankarsrum!!

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Breadtopia August 1, 2014 at 3:27 am

Perfect crust color. Looks wonderful.

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Jason July 31, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Hi,

I’m going to try your Whole Grain Sourdough recipe. I don’t have a round baker, mine is the oblong shape. Should I adjust the baking time/temp?

Thanks!
Your web page is a lot of fun and helpful.

Jason

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Breadtopia August 1, 2014 at 3:24 am

You won’t need to.

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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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