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

{ 494 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanna August 10, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Hi Eric, I have made a loaf of the WGSD bread from your site. I thought it turned out GREAT. I am trying another loaf, but I screwed up and let the first ferment go for 20 hours instead of 12, so I am waiting to see how this one turns out (it’s on final rise).

I have a couple of questions. I have read all the user comments about the WGSD, and I am confused about what you and visitor #22 are talking about. Roy (#22) says his dough was too billowy from the final proofing of 2.5 hours. Your response was that 2.5 hours is very long for a final proof. Is proofing = rising? When I take the dough out of the fridge after 24 hours, and then shape and let sit for 5 hours, is that proofing? I am confused and feel like I might be missing a step, or that I have let mine proof too long.

Also, my hubby very much liked the bread (and this from a guy who grew up eating Wonder Bread!), but he said he would prefer a softer crust. I baked mine in the cloche. Will it bake just fine in a regular bread pan? He likes the soft bakery sourdoughs, although the flavor of mine is so much better, so I am hoping to duplicate the soft crust. Any advice for me on along those lines?

Thanks! Joanna

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breadtopia July 16, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Awesome, Tom!

That’s great, and thanks for the play by play, it was fun following your steps.

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Tom Maynard July 16, 2008 at 6:55 pm

Final status: Success!

Fridge temp: this morning it was around 40F when I took the dough out. Getting an accurate reading is difficult: opening the door alone will cause a temperature increase of a degree or two.

Fridge rise: I used a bowl similar in size than the one in the video and it didn’t quite fill it. None of my rises got as much loft as shown. Turning it out didn’t deflate it as much, and it formed into a boule quite easily.

I was in a bit of a quandary concerning the final proofing: I don’t have a brotform so I sprayed and floured a mixing bowl. This wasn’t perfect (most of the flour stuck to the bowl, not to the bread), but it worked. And I don’t have a cloche and bake in a Dutch oven. I didn’t want to drop the loaf six inches into the pot and risk deflating it … so I turned it out onto a piece of parchment, scored it, and then lowered it gently into the pot.

All in all, it was quite successful: the crumb is a tad denser than the video loaf (not much), the crust is crisp and crackly on top, thick and chewy on the bottom, and the flavor is pretty complex. I’ve never had spelt before, and the dark rye adds a subtle note. It’s not sweet like whole wheat — in fact it’s quite difficult to describe. Make one and find out for yourself!

And that ends my Multigrain Sourdough Saga. Thanks, Eric, for putting another arrow in my quiver.

Tom.

Tom Maynard Bread

Hot out of the oven (my baking pot is on the left):

Tom Maynard Bread

Another angle (the “money shot”). The folds/creases are from the parchment as it went into the pot.

Tom Maynard Bread

The crumb: It’s a little bit more dense than the Breadtopia ideal, but not at all “doorstop-like” or “anvil-esque”. While I never got the rise that you had in your video, I pressed on regardless and am happy with the result. In fact it’s quite moist and tasty. I used my own “pineapple solution” starter to make this bread. I’m keeping both your reconstituted starter and my own pineapple starter going in the fridge … pretty much alternating in my baking. There are differences between your starter and mine, but they are subtle … and I’m keeping a blend from my discards as a potential sourdough pancake batter/starter maybe as soon as next week.

It’s been more than 4 hours since this loaf came out of the oven and the whole house still smells good.

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Tom Maynard July 15, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Fridge temp correction: the temp read 45F when the door was open and when the (freshly kneaded) thermal mass of dough was recently inserted. Now that several hours have elapsed, the temperature where the dough resides is closer to 42F. I peeked a bit and there is significant rise underway — I anticipate a full, large bowl tomorrow (a la Eric’s video). More details as they develop.

Tom.

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Tom Maynard July 15, 2008 at 10:41 am

All right, the dough has moved to the refrigerator for the overnight rise. I have my dough coincidentally in about the same relative location as shown in the video (lower right). The temperature there is 45F. I’ll report back on the amount of rise I get.

At the end of mixing/kneading today I found that I had 9 grams of bread flour left over. I took the dough to the same tacky-not-sticky condition as in the video and decided not to “force” it to accept the remaining flour.

There’s no mention of this in the video, but I’m assuming Eric had/has some left over, too. If not, I’ll work it all in next time.

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Tom July 14, 2008 at 9:22 pm

As scheduled I mixed the water/starter, whole wheat flour tonight … finishing around 22:00 (10pm). By pure fortune it turns out that our (finished) basement bedroom is exactly 69F … and that’s where the bowl of dough sits now. Upstairs here it’s a humid 76.7F — I envy the dough!

I’ll report back on my refrigerated rise — it’s a new refrigerator running at the manufacturer’s recommended settings — I’ll measure the temperature on the shelf where the dough will go. This datum should clear up any lingering doubts about fridge temps, rock-hard dough, and little or no rise. Watch this space.

As always, thanks to Eric & Denyce for a terrific resource for aspiring (or perspiring) bakers! Any success I have I owe to you.

t.

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amy young (hall) July 12, 2008 at 10:01 am

just curious – are you the Tom Maynard from San Diego, California.
Just thought I’d connect – I’m Amy Young (now Amy Hall) from San Diego. Hope you remember. To make the connection – please email back at: ahall@hvalley.net
We have moved to Sequim, Washington.

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breadtopia July 11, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Yes, the rye I use is medium, but I think dark should work just fine. Especially considering its small percentage of all the ingredients.

I hope you’ll let us know how it goes.

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Tom Maynard July 11, 2008 at 7:50 pm

I’m going to make this bread starting Monday (that is, two days from now). At my local mega-mart only Bob’s Red Mill Dark Rye was available, and so therefore I bought it. What did you use in your seminal recipe? AFAIK, “medium” rye is the customary standard. I’m not sure what the impact will be so if you have any input I’d love to share it.

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becky, new to bread baking June 26, 2008 at 6:02 am

Thanks so much! I will try it once I gather all the ingredients…and hopefully will have a success story to report! I hope it’s something my whole family will love to enjoy!

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breadtopia June 25, 2008 at 8:10 am

Hi Becky,

Wise choice to bake your own bread.

You definitely don’t need a cloche or anything special to bake this bread and have it come out nicely. If the loaf will fit in a piece of your stoneware, you could try that but covering isn’t necessary.

Have fun with it!

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becky, new to bread baking June 25, 2008 at 7:21 am

Hi!
I am very new to bread baking, but am trying! My son was recently diagnosed with a chronic condition, so we are trying even more to take out preservatives, chemicals, etc from our diet. I really want to try the whole grain sourdough recipe, but am apprehensive b/c I don’t have a la cloche. I di own some quality stoneware. Can I bake it on that covered with a big ovesafe bowl or lid? Has anyone tried this with success? Does anyone have any other ideas?

Thanks for the video! It gives me courage to even think about trying!
Thanks for the inspiration,
~Becky

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Howie aka the Neon Guy June 20, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Hi Eric,
As you know I have been searching for the receipe for a real New York City Jewish Rye Bread. Well, I think I am getting closer. First of all, all of the receipes that I have found use a sour dough starter. Not a problem as I have plenty.
The other item that is interesting, to say the least, is that many call for an ALTUS. I am not sure of the origin of the word. Essentially as you may be aware, it is several slices of old rye bread made into a sponge and squeezed dry and then added to the dough of the new bread you are making.
What is up with that? Old bread put in a new breads dough. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Have any of your readers out there heard of such a thing?

Best regards in baking,

Howie

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amy May 28, 2008 at 11:03 am

Tim: I started keeping less starter as you suggested. After all, one can only have so much SD pancake. Gave some away, started reducing what I keep as well. Before, I felt I needed to keep more because when I need to bake bread seems like it’s asking for 2 cups of sd starter. As a matter of fact, the sd pancake recipe I have asks for 2 cups of starter as well. Thanks for the tip!

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amy May 28, 2008 at 11:00 am

To John in MO: thanks for your tip. I got a new starter and did exactly what you told me, for the “just in case”. Happily baking sourdough breads again as you can see from the Whole Wheat and the SD with Gruyere cheese above. Thanks so much!

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breadtopia May 28, 2008 at 5:15 am

Here are the pictures Amy emailed in. All I can say is “WOW”! VERY nice looking bread.

She adds…

1 is of the whole wheat sourdough bread with the Whole Wheat Sourdough with Gruyere Cheese; the 2nd one is just the Whole Wheat Sourdough with Gruyere Cheese.

Thank you to you and all the bread enthusiast posting comments. It really gave me the confidence to move forward knowing there’s a lot of people out there needing guidance like me!

Amy's Bread

Amy's Bread

Amy later added these useful (and nice) comments:

Eric: the SD with Gruyere Cheese is from King Arthur while the Whole Wheat SD is from Northwest SD. I changed the recipe by replacing 5 cups of the Flour with Whole Wheat. I just love the texture and taste of whole wheat (which I grind using the Nutrimill Grain Mill.) It might seem as an exaggeration, but I feel blessed in having stumbled into your site and literally read most of the posted comments and learned from other peoples’ trials, mistakes and successes.

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amy May 26, 2008 at 6:55 pm

I am so excited about finally being able to bake bread. It takes me forever piecing together recipes to come up with what I can do (not quite knowing how to get around polish, biga, etc) by using sourdough.
I liked the King Arthur recipe on Gruyere Cheese, I have gruyere cheese and sourdough starter. So, risking it – I used the Wheat Sourdough French Bread recipe (from Whole Grain Breads) and then added the gruyere cheese. The dough rose beautifully, cut it into 6 small loaves and voila! You got the final product in the picture. It tasted good as well and I never dreamt I could bake bread before.
The bread is delicious! Am sending picture.

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Silvia May 13, 2008 at 2:49 am

Wetter = better.

I have done some whole grain sourdough breads by hands and the dough couldn’t be very wet because it’s too much sticky to knead it with hands.

Now I have kitchen machine and have made the dough in it. It was wetter then my doughs made by hands and I must say this wetter bread from kitchen machine is much better then previous not so wet ones.

I love this web pages and videos and love this whole grain sourdough bread. Thanks!

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breadtopia May 12, 2008 at 6:48 pm

Usually my crumb structure is a little tighter than the Poilane photo’s. I don’t even try to get open crumb with a mostly whole grain bread. The mostly white flour wet no knead breads and ciabatta/focacia type recipes are great for that.

I bake like crazy out of Peter’s new whole grains book. I love the way the breads turn out. I have baked his miche a few times. I much prefer the above recipe. I think they’re sorta similar breads in a lot of ways.

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Daniel Duane May 8, 2008 at 2:37 pm

Hey, couple questions.
1. have you been able to get a crumb structure as open as that shown in your photos of your poilane loaf?
2. I notice you now have a link to Reinhart’s new book. I was on the phone with him the other day and actually told him about your site; he checked it out on line with me. And here’s my curiosity: have you tried his miche recipe? If so, what do you think? I’ve tried your poilane recipe and I’ve done his miche several times and today I’m experimenting with a hybrid recipe, trying to capture what I like about the two. My continuing frustration is with my crumb structure.

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John in MO May 6, 2008 at 7:56 am

Amy,

I dried some of my starter for just in case situations like this one. That way I can get rid of what I have and start from fresh good starter. Eric says to dry it out in the oven with just the oven light on. Spread the starter out on parchment paper and make it a thin layer. The next day it will be dried enough to crush and put in a zip lock baggy or use a food saver to seal it and then put it in the freezer. Once dried, it can last for a very long time. Once you have a good stater going and you have had it for some time, replace what you have in the freezer with a more seasoned version. The longer the sourdough goes, the more healthy and active it is. I ditto what Tim says. Try it. There is no harm in doing it. Also, it is very important to stir it twice a day no matter what unless you put it in the fridge. Unless you are going to use all of it within two days of refreshing, you have to discard half of the starter and then add half to it. Follow the instructions in the Starter Maintenance thread. I also found a web site that discusses sourdough in great detail. http://www.sourdoughhome.com/index.html. It also has videos and recipes.

I have heard to just pour the hooch off and keep going but do the halfing. That should help greatly. Great looking bread.

John in Mo

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Tim May 5, 2008 at 11:01 pm

Amy,

Let me offer a possible alternative to throwing out your starter. I had trouble with my starters until I started keeping LESS of it around. My theory (maybe right/maybe wrong) is that when you keep adding fresh flour and building up more and more starter, you are also building up more waste products from the yeast/bacteria.

I suggest that you pour out all but 1-2 tablespoons of starter. Then start small and add 1/3 cup flour with ~1/3 cup of water. Let it sit out on your counter for 12-18 hours and see if you get any action. If the starter seems to come to life, then continue to add more flour/water until you have enough starter for your recipe. After you add your active starter to your recipe, then pour out all but a couple of tablespoons of the excess and start again with your 1/3 cup flour/water. This is what I do whenever I use then feed my starter.

If throwing your starter away sounds too wasteful, remember you can save your excess starter for ‘flavor’, even if it’s leavening power is questionable. I use saved excess starter for biscuits, etc, where I use the starter for its sour flavor but not its leavening power.

Good luck and don’t give up.

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amy May 5, 2008 at 8:09 pm

OK. guess i’ll have to dump it. now, i got a problem. the lady that gave me the starter moved away and i didn’t keep any reserves. guess have to start over. just when i think i’m getting the hang of it and is excited about the prospect of a new loaf of bread (rye bread)! guess i’ll do a traditional bread for a change.

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breadtopia May 5, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Hi Amy,

Yes, got your pictures (see above), thanks!

Hooch happens sometimes. I just pour it out. But it usually won’t form on a healthy starter. And a sour smell is pretty normal.

It’s hard for me to tell what the deal is with your starter or whether you should toss it yet, but it doesn’t sound too good from your description. If it was doing well, I think you would probably know it. It just looks healthy and vibrant.

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amy May 5, 2008 at 4:53 pm

hope you got my pictures.
got a different problem: i took my starter out of the fridge; stirred the little hooch that was on top; and added the 1 cup flour and water.
after 12 hrs of sitting outside, it rose a little but my concern is that more hooch formed on the surface. couldnt remember how it was supposed to smell like but it seems to smell sour. no activity on the starter.
did i kill my starter? has it gone bad? should i throw it away?
please advise. thanks.

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breadtopia May 3, 2008 at 11:12 am

Hi Amy,

That’s great things are going so well for you. Please email me me your photos and I’ll post them here. Thanks!

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amy May 2, 2008 at 2:19 pm

received my orders of la cloche (round and long oval) and lastly my french lame, but not before i finally succumbed to baking a whole wheat walnut sourdough bread without the lame!

the bread is, of course, great tasting. Used 3 cups of whole wheat flour and the balance in unbleached bread flour.

I cut the dough into 2.

The boule shape: baked this after getting letting ferment for 5 hours. . it didn’t rise high even after using a round stainless steel mixing bowl (to prevent it from spreading out which is smaller in diameter compared to the la cloche top.

The oblong shape: baked this right after shaping without an additional fermentation time. rose beautifully! however, it sort of exploded at the top(perhaps with the lame, i’d do a better job of slashing the top of the dough).

I took pictures but I dont know how to post them.

Definitely hooked on home baked bread (both the no knead and regular). However, we’ve been eating a lot more bread lately! including sourdough pancakes.

I’ve been successful with the no knead as well – did the rosemary & kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes and gruyere versions.

By the way, I found in our local Walmart this ziplock baggie: Hefty One Zip Jumbo slider bagss. Holds 2.5 gallon and there’s 12 bags to a box.

My thanks again for your video and support. Gave me the courage to bake bread.



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amy April 27, 2008 at 5:39 pm

thanks for the info. am waiting for the french lame and then I’ll be baking away,

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breadtopia April 25, 2008 at 10:53 am

Regarding that plastic bag I used for proofing, it was nothing special. I liked it because it was big, but it has since worn out and been disposed of. Probably any plastic bag would work. Now I use the plastic bags you find on rolls in the produce section of grocery stores since I figure they’re food grade.

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breadtopia April 25, 2008 at 10:36 am

Hi Amy, I’m glad you stumbled in here too!

You won’t need to change the other ingredients, the bread will just tend to be more dense.

I’m not sure how the mixer would affect the fermentation time. I don’t think it would. It will make faster and easier work of the kneading however.

Fermentation allows the bread to rise and the flavors to develop. This is true of almost all leavened breads.

For bread baking, you don’t have to season a cloche at all. I never have. Maybe it has some value for cooking other things, like meat, but I only use mine for bread.

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amy April 25, 2008 at 8:18 am

the bag that you use to envelope the dough bowl during fermentation and proofing, is that a special bag or can i use grocery plastic bags? thanks.

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amy April 25, 2008 at 7:58 am

thank you so much for the time you take answering questions. and i cant tell you how happy i am to have stumbled into your website.

q: i want to make the sourdough whole wheat bread with 2 cups of whole wheat flour instead of white flour. what will that do to the rest of the ingredients?

q: i have a new bosch mixer which i purchased because my old kitchen couldn’t handle the dough mixing, can i by pass the 12 hrs fermentation process? what of the procedure above can i change?

q: what does the 12 hrs of fermentation do? is this true only of the san francisco sourdough bread?

q: a new la cloche – i understand you have to grease it with olive oil to season it – do you have to grease the outside as well?

thanks again.

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John in MO April 23, 2008 at 8:32 am

That you for your suggestions. I did some playing around lastnight. I love the Cinnimon and Raisin bread so I decided to make some more. This is what I added to the recipe. I used the one in the comments on combining the Steel-cut oat and cranberry loaf. I changed out the oats for a whole grain cereal mix. Then I added about an 1/8 teaspoon of SAF Instant yeast. Then added 1 tsp of gluten. After 12 hours it looked about normal. It is in the proofing that I have issues. So I turned on the oven to warm and waited 1 minute. Then I turned it off and left the door open for 3 minutes. Then I turned on the light to the oven and put the dough in my proofing basket and then put it in the oven. After 90 minutes, it clearly doubled in size. I pulled it out and put it in my dutch oven after I brought it up to temperature. Cooked for 20 minutes at 500 and then 10 with lid off at 450. WOW! I got oven spring and a golden crush. I had to run to work this morning so I didn’t have time to cut it but I can’t wait to get into it to see how it turned out inside. I will try this tonight with a whole wheat sourdough loaf and not add any extra ingredients but use the oven to proof the dough. I most likely is a temperature issue with my kitchen. I usually is cool, I wish it was KEWL though. ;-) The people who are getting good results are using whole grains. They are a pure white flour kind of people and we try not to use white flour in our house as much as possible. From day one, my boys have been raised on whole grain or multi-grain breads. Much better for them. I will report back what I find out about the next test. Darn, looks like I have to bake again. ;-)

John in MO

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breadtopia April 22, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Hi John,

I wish I could offer some help. About the only thing I could pick out of your post was the idea of you getting together with one of the people you gave your starter to, who are having good results, and see first hand how they are doing it. Sounds pretty extreme I realize, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

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Andrew April 22, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Hi John – I assume you mean Amaranth flour … I tried this also and did not get good results, even though it says on the pack that it can substitute for normal flour up to 30%.

I got similar results … not good rise (proof) and tight crumb. It actually made really good toast though esp with just some salted butter – yummy!

Sound like you might need some more gluten in the dough…maybe add a tablespoon or so of gluten flour?

Good luck,

Andy

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John in MO April 22, 2008 at 9:01 am

Eric,

I tried this recipe and didn’t get good results. I am using KA flours. My starter is good. I use my starter around the 24 to 48 hr mark after my last feeding. I double everything so that I can get several loafs out of it. After day one, the biga was doubled easily. Since I didn’t have Spelt flour, I thought I could use Amarath flour. I also had soy but wasn’t sure if I could use it instead of spelt. I mixed everything up like the video says and put it in a container to go into my fridge. After 24 hrs, it maybe gained about 20% in bulk. It didn’t rise much at all. Thus my loafs were rather flat and dense with the crumb being a little too moist in my opinion. I have been trying to use sourdough but have not gotten great results from any of the sourdough recipes here. Not even from Peter’s books either. The starter is alive and active and other people I have given the starter to have done great with it. I just can’t seem to get the starter to work well for me. I must be doing something wrong. My kitchen usually stays around 66 to 68 degrees all the time. It’s a cool kitchen. Would that impact it’s rise? I have also never gotten good if any oven spring with my sourdoughs. At this point, I am about to just give up on sourdough and just use yeast since I can’t seem to get it to work right for me. I like the taste of it though. I have a kitchen scale that I used to put the dough together so I followed the measurements exactly as you have them listed. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Frustrated Sour (dough) John in MO

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breadtopia April 16, 2008 at 8:36 pm

Thanks Ann!

I own a Hearthkit and it’s an ok product. Just overpriced in my opinion. If you can get a good price on one, you’d probably be happy with it. About a year ago I was going to become a rep for them but decided to go with Fibrament instead (www.breadtopia.com/store/baking-stones.html). Fribrament makes a great stone. If you’re comparing Hearthkit at $200 vs Fibrament, you can get 2 Fibrament stones for significantly less money and put one stone on one rack and another on the rack above and bake your food in between. That way, you’re doing an even better job of simulating the hearth oven effect that Hearthkit promotes but for less money.

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ann reed April 16, 2008 at 4:21 pm

i really appreciate this site too, as so many have mentioned. recently, a friend told me that since i enjoy baking (especially bread) so much, i really should have a hearthkit. i found the site but was told that the company has gone at least temporarily out of business. what do you know on this subject ? thanks if you can help by also stating an opinion on the effectiveness of this device.
kindest regards, ann reed

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breadtopia April 14, 2008 at 7:47 pm

I haven’t done much in the way of mechanical mixing. Just be careful not to over mix which is easier to do with an electric mixer. No knead requires probably less than a minute of mixing by hand. I’ve really only used a mixer for making super wet ciabatta bread and it was great for that.

I’m not a good one to ask about La Cloche vs cast iron Dutch oven as I’m very biased. I have both but always use the cloche. There’s something about natural earthen material that seems to give better results. Many others have said the same thing. However, the difference, if any, is not big. Cast iron has the advantage of being less expensive and indestructible. My guess is you’d be happy either way.

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Daniel Duane April 14, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Okay, great advice: I’m now experimenting with more moisture, and also with mechanically kneading (via mix-master) a fairly wet dough, on the theory that a bread hook can knead where hands would get too sticky. Every tried this? Thoughts?

And I have a follow-up question. Do you think the Cloche has any advantages over a cast-iron dutch oven? I’m thinking of buying one, based on the descriptions of thin, crispy crust I’m seeing in user comments.

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breadtopia April 12, 2008 at 11:28 am

Hi Daniel,

I’m glad you’re loving this recipe, it’s one of my favorites for sure.

The most common (and easiest to control) variable affecting crumb structure is dough hydration. That’s a big part of why the wet dough no knead recipes are so wildly popular. So I suppose your dough could have been a bit drier than mine and you could try adding an ounce or two more water next time and see if that make a difference. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know how to pinpoint other reasons. There’s so many subtle variables.

Adding humidity is a great thing during the first minutes of baking but I’ve always felt that it’s not necessary when using a closed container like a dutch oven or cloche. At least with a dutch oven you could try it without risking damage vs a clay baker which could crack from the thermal shock.

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Daniel Duane April 12, 2008 at 11:04 am

Hey, I LOVE this recipe! I’ve been searching high and low for a (mostly) whole grain sourdough that pairs well with French/Italian home cooking. So I’m now hooked, thanks to you. And hey, I have a question: looking at your photographs, I’m still getting the feeling that you’re getting a more open crumb than I am, with bigger holes. What could be the variables at play, there? Longer kneading? My fridge too cold? Something in my oven?

I don’t have the La Cloche, so I’ve been using a Lodge cast iron dutch oven, like in Bittman’s no-knead recipe.

Also, what’s your feeling about adding humidity to the cooking environment: is that unnecessary, inside a closed dutch oven? Or might the rise be helped if I sprayed the surface of the dough boule with water before putting down the lid and starting the bake?

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breadtopia April 10, 2008 at 9:16 pm

Hi Logan,

That’s great information. Sometimes what looks like it might not be working well turns out after all with some nice oven spring to save the day.

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breadtopia April 10, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Good story, David. Who would have guessed your results? Not many I suppose. This should be an inspiration for anyone thinking their starter is at a dead end.

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Logan April 10, 2008 at 5:40 am

Hi Eric,
I made this bread a week or two ago with great results. It didn’t rise at all in the fridge, and less than I expected even over a day at room temperature, but it sprang pretty well in the oven, and turned out really well. The best part was the super dark, very sturdy bottom crust. All that time fermenting really made for delicious bread. thanks.

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david April 7, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Hi Eric,

found one of your videos on youtube a few months ago, and ended up here. you started me off on a journey that has resulted in no store bought bread for months.

what prompted me to post here was my starter story. i really wanted to make the bread recipe at the top of this page. but didn’t have a starter… so, i set out on a quest for starter.

the starter i ended up with has to be the weirdest starters going. at one point, i had started two starters simultaneously, one from organic whole wheat flour and one from an organic apple. but neither seemed to rise at all in their bottles. i knew they were “alive” though, as they both developed very yeasty/alcohol like smells to them. i was going to throw both out and start again, as everyone seems to say that the starters have to be able to double themselves to be any good at baking. but then i thought, what happens if i mix them together? i was going to throw them out anyways, so it wasn’t like i was going to lose anything here! ;)

the starter mixture still didn’t rise very much, but over time it developed an intense tangy/alcoholy/sweet/fruity smell to it that begged to be baked. so i made some dough. found that it needed a little more heat in the fermenting stage to get going, but during the long ferment, the dough doubled in size. and, the resulting bread retained the fruity/sweet/tangy flavour. made it with raisins and walnuts last night. definitely worked.

now, i bake bread every other night. my wife thinks i’m nuts… but that’s not necessarily anything new. ;)

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Howie April 1, 2008 at 7:21 am

Laurie,
One other thing..
Make sure Leslie knows about it first. ;-)
Otherwise.. NO BREAD FOR HOWIE!!

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Howie April 1, 2008 at 7:19 am

Oh Laurie one other thing..
Make sure you tell my wife about it first! :-)

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Howie April 1, 2008 at 7:16 am

Hi Laurie,
I actually was thinking about it.
The four breads that I feature will be:

1: Sour Seeded
2: Parm and Olive (Eric was right, the ingredients are a fortune
3. The cran-pecan
4. Regular sourdough (no knead)

Hows that sound?

Howie

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Laurie Flanagan April 1, 2008 at 6:34 am

Howie,

Do you do bread parties??? I have a few friends who would be interested in coming to your house for instruction!

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