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

{ 474 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly December 5, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Eric,

Thanks for all the recipes and videos! I have been spending all my free moments over the past few days working through your videos. Here’s a pic of my Whole Wheat Sourdough – it was a big hit with my family.

Just pulled a loaf of No-Knead Sourdough out of the oven, can’t wait to taste it.

Thanks so much for your site!

Kelly

[img]P1040926.JPG[/img][img]P1040928.JPG[/img]

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Breadtopia November 5, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Beautiful bread, Lorri! And I love that print on the wall too.

Luiz, I’m not sure what to suggest except maybe raise the temp even more and uncover longer. You may have to reduce the bake time some if you do this. Maybe someone else can think of something I’m forgetting.

Carol – I haven’t tried soy flour but spelt flour is very high in protein. Have you seen this 100% Spelt Sourdough Recipe?

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Carol Lindsay November 5, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Hi Eric,
You have been a wonderful inspiration for my foray into sourdough exploration. Your videos are so helpful and the recipes I’ve tried have been fabulous! I’ve just whipped up the Steel Cut Oats NKB and will bake it tomorrow. We’re just finishing up the Seeded Sour and it was wonderful!

Have you experimented with adding Soy flour to up the protein? If so, can you direct me to any recipes or comments you’ve shared?
Thank you again!
Carol

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Luiz Paulo November 5, 2009 at 9:39 am

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the site. It´s amazing!

I made my first Sourdough Bread a 2 months ago. I got a delicios Bread and a sturdy and dark bottom Crust.

Here in Brazil it´s not easy to find Spelt Flour, so I used whole wheat flour. I baked 30 min with closed lid and 15 more without it in 250 degs C.

Unfortunately a didn´t get a sturdy and TOP Crust. So I ask you. What could be the variables to get a Sturdy and Hard Top Crust?

I tried to vary the temperature, time, humidity, flour proportions, but I don´t get my wished Sturdy and Hard Top Crust yet.

Thank you very much Eric and sorry about my english!

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LorriU November 5, 2009 at 8:50 am

Here are my photos, Eric. What do you think? Lorriu

[img]bdD.jpg[/img][img]bred.jpg[/img]

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Breadtopia November 4, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Hi Lorri,

That’s excellent!

The “Add an Image” feature of this comments area (see just below) was down for a while but it should be functioning now. Can you add a photo or two here for all to see?

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LorriU November 3, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Dear Eric, I am baking my bread in a huge dutch oven. Everything worked just like you said. The house is smelling fantastic. The camera is ready! Look for the pictures coming soon to your email. I will receive my LaCloche in two days so I am going to start another batch. I love your videos and your site! Thanks soooo much!!

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Breadtopia October 16, 2009 at 10:57 am

Thanks for the nice feedback, Marina :)

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Marina October 15, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Eric,

I would like to thank you for the recipe of this wonderful bread. It is truly delicious. I did not have spelt flour, so I have substituted that by the whole wheat flour. And I baked the bread on the baking stone. That was on Sunday, and today, Thursday, it is still very good.

I am not new to your site, having previously used your recipe for sourdough pizza. Which, by the way, also turned out perfect.

So I thank you for this wonderful site and the recipes!

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Breadtopia October 8, 2009 at 10:24 am

Hi Beca,

The sourdough starter contains the yeast. Starter is wild yeast or natural leavening.

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Beca October 7, 2009 at 10:44 am

I am making the sour dough now. i have seen all of the videos and noticed that there is NO yeast in the recipe but yet in the video part II you say it needs to come to room temperature to give the yeast time to do its thing. so is there yeast in there?

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Nim October 4, 2009 at 3:37 pm

I made this bread today with the pineapple juice starter that I started making last week! It came out beautiful, I did not have spelt and rye so I just went all whole wheat, I love the taste and flavor. The shape was a bit off becoz 1) I don’t have a banneton so when I tried to put it into the baking pan (a cast iron pan) it fell out incompletely and then the last part fell in; I also put it wrong side down to proof: but I still thought it looked good. Will take some photographs and upload it: if any of the bread remains! Thanks, Breadotopia. I am looking forward to baking more sourdough with my starter that is sitting in my refrigerator now.

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Breadtopia September 17, 2009 at 9:41 am

Hi David,

Regarding the dough sticking to the basket, I assume you’re referring to the above recipe. The dough should release with enough flour but since it’s not, you can try using rice flour or a mix of regular flour and rice flour. Rice flour doesn’t absorb moisture very well and works very well. Works like tiny ball bearings.

If you’re still having problems with it or if you’re referring to wetter dough recipes like the no knead recipes, then using parchment paper is a sure bet. The best explanation of it is here: Margaret’s parchment paper transfer technique. I would use parchment paper instead of aluminum foil where you refer to it in your comment.

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David September 16, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Hi Breadtopia,

I have some questions.

I just got my starters going today. I did two. A yeast starter and one all-natural with pineapple juice and KA all purpose flour.

From the comments I’ve read, it seems that people are proofing the bread in a banneton and then are able to transfer it. Being that the dough is very sticky, I find it very hard to transfer to a baking stone when the loaf is ready to bake, even when the surface under the loaf is liberally coated with flour.

Yesterday, I made two loaves and proofed them on tin foil. Then I put the loaves, tin foil and all, on the baking stone After about ten minutes, when the loaves had baked up some, I slid them off the foil onto a hotter part of the stone. I was not happy with the results. Though cooked on the bottom, it did not have the deep, rich brown color the top had. Any tips or tricks on transferring the loaves onto a stone? I would like to be able to transfer them to a heated dutch oven so they don’t spread out so much during baking.

Also, I have been preheating a sheet pan along with the stone on the bottom rack of my oven and dumping about 10 ounces of hot water into it when I put the loaves into bake. It results in a very nice chewy, baguette like crust that you get at artisan bakeries. Is this the correct way to achieve the crust?

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Hans Krijnen September 7, 2009 at 9:27 am

Finally i made time to make this wonderful loaf of bread,i was astonished with the result. The simplicity of this great complex tasting bread. i added some pictures. i did just bake it on the stone in a steam filled oven.
Thanks for the recipe.

Hans

[img]miche1email.jpg[/img][img]Miche2email.jpg[/img][img]michecloseupemail.jpg[/img]

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Laura August 7, 2009 at 12:12 am

As you can see, the crumb is not huge, but I think just right. The taste is not super sour, but it’s good. My starter is only 4 months old, so perhaps it needs to be older. I have a tendency to neglect it, too, feeding it about 4 times a week.

I used whey for the first water addition, from yogurt.

Thanks for the instructions, and for the prompt shipping!

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Laura August 7, 2009 at 12:08 am

Hi Eric
This is my second loaf, after receiving my LaCloche. The first loaf tasted great, but didn’t rise much.

This attempt, after it didn’t rise much the first night, I added some more sourdough with the water, and a tsp of yeast, just to make sure it would be better. I am using my KitchenAid to kneed, and am learning to do that as well. Because time got away from me, I only refrigerated it for 12 hours, and then took it out to see if it would rise faster. It did.

Then it proofed great in the basket, and when I got home from work and a meeting, I baked it.

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Luiz Paulo July 15, 2009 at 9:03 am

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the site. It´s amazing!

I made my first Sourdough Bread a 2 months ago. I got a delicios Bread and a sturdy and dark bottom Crust.

Here in Brazil it´s not easy to find Spelt Flour, so I used whole wheat flour. I baked 30 min with closed lid and 15 more without it in 250 degs C.

Unfortunately a didn´t get a sturdy and TOP Crust. So I ask you. What could be the variables to get a Sturdy and Hard Top Crust?

I tried to vary the temperature, time, humidity, flour proportions, but I don´t get my wished Sturdy and Hard Top Crust yet.

Thank you very much Eric and sorry about my english!

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Deborah July 14, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Hi Eric,

thankyou very much for your webiste..it is really great!…..I have been trying to make my first sourdough loaf about 2 weeks ago..started from other website recipes…and then went on to follow your Whole Grain Sourdough recipe..and I have been really excited and pleased with it!
This was my first and now and very excited and am making another one..I’m wondering…my partner has false teeth and would be really great if I could make a loaf with a softer crust….do you know of a way to do that please?

Also do you know if it is possible to download all of your videos please…i could do it with one..but not the others?

Deborah

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Mea July 10, 2009 at 9:55 am

Eric,
Thanks for the suggestion, I will definitely try that this week-end. BTW, I LOVE the La Cloche I bought from you guys. It works wonders on my bread.

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Breadtopia July 10, 2009 at 7:54 am

Hi Mea,

If I have a large enough plastic bag, I put the proofing basket, dough and all in the bag. Otherwise, I put a piece of plastic wrap over the dough. I also sprinkle enough flour on the dough so if the plastic comes into contact with it, it won’t stick. Works well for me.

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Mea July 10, 2009 at 7:38 am

Hi,
I was wondering if anyone can suggest what I can do to prevent my dough from drying up while it’s left out to rise. I covered mine with just a kitchen towel but it got very dry. I am looking for simple solutions to my problem.
Thanks.

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Archer July 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

I have made this bread several times and have enjoyed the crumb and taste. The crust does seem unduly tough. Other than adding oil what do you suggest to improve the crust?
What would be the effect of using some high gluten unbleached flour of part of the recipe? How much oil should I use to soften the crust?

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Luiz Paulo July 6, 2009 at 6:13 am

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the site. It´s amazing!

I made my first Sourdough Bread a 2 months ago. I got a delicios Bread and a sturdy and dark bottom Crust.

Here in Brazil it´s not easy to find Spelt Flour, so I used whole wheat flour. I baked 30 min with closed lid and 15 more without it in 250 degs C.

Unfortunately a didn´t get a sturdy and TOP Crust. So I ask you. What could be the variables to get a Sturdy and Hard Top Crust?

I tried to vary the temperature, time, humidity, flour proportions, but I don´t get my wished Sturdy and Hard Top Crust yet.

Thank you very much Eric and sorry about my english!

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Britta Cruz July 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I have tried your whole grain sourdough bread three times with mixed results. It seems that my starter makes the bread rise nicely in the fridge but once it is out for the second raise it is completely inactive. The first bread was great tasting but very dense and the second one was a “brick”.
Attempting a third one right now. Any suggestions?
Britta

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Breadtopia June 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Hi Lynne,

Here are a few links from others with some high altitude baking experience that may help you out…

Baking at High Altitudes
Baking at High Altitudes
Baking at High Altitudes
Baking at High Altitudes
Baking at High Altitudes
Baking at High Altitudes

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Lynne June 29, 2009 at 12:53 pm

My daughter let me know about the Breadtopia site after she began experimenting with sourdough bread. What a wealth of knowledge! I brought some of her Whole Wheat starter home to Colorado from North Carolina just over a week ago, fed per site instructions and have a nice amount of bubbly starter. I made a new White Flour / Pineapple starter at the same time, and it is doing great. The question I now have – are there adjustments that need to be made to recipes due to the elevation (somewhere around 6200 feet above sea level) and alpine dessert conditions? I have had varying degrees of success with commercial yeast breads using both the oven and a bread machine, and was hoping that someone out there might have some hints. Thanks for the great site and information.

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Breadtopia April 29, 2009 at 4:41 am

Hi Cheryl,

Thank you very much for the nice feedback.

I can’t quite remember what the deal was with the slashes but I think I cut at an angle and should have just cut straight in, perpendicular to the surface. I think the edges (“ears”) are well suited for baguettes and not so much for boules.

On the one hand 50% more water does seem extreme, but the real proof is in the results. If it worked, then it was the perfect adjustment. I don’t know why the big difference.

To Bob Packer: thanks for the plug ;)
For anyone reading down this far, Bob’s got a great website at http://allthingsbread.bravehost.com/ with tons of recipes and invaluable resources from his many years of baking and zillion loaves baked.

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Bob Packer April 28, 2009 at 2:24 pm

*add “most” just in front of active.

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Bob Packer April 28, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Lydia, as a baker of a lot of bread, I would recommend you buy some from Eric.

I have about 20 that I have either made or collected from other people. After hearing about Eric’s starter (and that’s what the jar is named!), I had to buy some.

It is one of the, if not the, active starters I have. It is so strong that I have to take a chair and whip when I open the refrigerator to take it out for feeding time. A couple of weeks ago, I left it without feeding for two weeks and it was still bubbling and frothy when I took it out.

It actually bit my hand when I tried to feed it! So beware!!!!

Bob

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Breadtopia April 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Hi Lydia,

You can check here: http://www.breadtopia.com/store/sourdough-starter.html

Also, http://www.sourdo.com/culture.htm sells sourdough starter.

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Lydia April 27, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Hi! I don’t have a time to read everything posted here, its very interesting stuff, but I have a quastion, where you buy the sourdought starter?

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Cheryl April 24, 2009 at 8:40 pm

As many others have, I wanted to take a little time to thank you for the work you’ve put into the site. Not only have you provided us with amazing videos of your processes, you’ve also managed to establish a wonderful community where novice and masters alike can bounce ideas and problems around to try to find the answers they have. I enjoy reading everyone’s comments as much as I love watching the videos and poking through the recipes. I am so thankful that I’ve found this little nook!

I’ll admit that I’m still a bit of a novice tinkering around and having fun with my new bread baking hobby, but I I do have two questions.

1. On your video you talk about not doing a very good job with your slashes so that you got a bit of a rather sharp edge… does this happen because you’ve slashed too deeply, or not deeply enough?

2. Have you often found your whole wheat flour to be incredibly dry? I’ve had great success with some of the recipes a few weeks ago, but have been struggling since then to get anything with whole wheat to work. I think I’ve narrowed down my backwards progress to coincide with the new batch of whole wheat flour I purchased. After watching your videos again I noticed that your biga seems much looser than mine, and I’ve ended up adding and additional 50% in the amounts of water called for in order to get my doughs to come together. Is this something that happens regularly? Does 50% additional water seem excessive?

Once again, this is a wonderful place… I’m so glad it’s here and that you’ve put so much time into it!

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Ralph April 18, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Eric, I am interesting in baking some pumpernickel bread and found the following recipe on the web — http://www.rebeccablood.net/thriftyo/2007/06/whole_wheat_rye_and_pumpernickel_no-knead_bread.html. It calls for 2 cups of rye flour and 2 cups of bread flour. How many ounces each is that respectively? You got me in the habit of weighing the flour. Is there a good reference I could get that gives weight equivalences for flour?

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sherry April 18, 2009 at 10:08 am

Do you have a good english muffin recipe?

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Bob Packer April 13, 2009 at 7:22 am

Demi, shoot me your recipe to oldcampcook(@)yahoo(.)com and let me take a look at it please.

What was your original baking temperature and time?

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Demi April 12, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Thanks. I tried the butter wash on the outside and it softened the crust right up!!!! Perfect crust! I love my bread! thanks! I did test the temp of the crumb and it was 205 degrees. I reduced the temp by 20 degrees and baked for 10 minutes longer and that helped but it is still a bit wet or tacky. Any other ideas?

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Demi April 7, 2009 at 12:23 pm

can you omit the white flour for this recipe and use whole wheat flour instead?

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Dee April 7, 2009 at 11:47 am

Oops – the link didn’t come through:

http://www.bobsredmill.com/home.php

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Dee April 7, 2009 at 11:47 am

Lois -

You can mail order specialty flours directly from Bobs Red Mill:

Happy baking!

Dee

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Breadtopia April 7, 2009 at 9:23 am

Hi Lois,

If it’s hard to get spelt and other types of specialty flours, I would say just use more of the regular whole wheat flour in place of the spelt.

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lois April 7, 2009 at 9:13 am

Is there another flour I could substitue for the spelt in this bread? I’m far from a place that I can get any.
Thanks.

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April April 2, 2009 at 7:38 pm

I’ve never tried the spelt bread either, but will take a shot at it as soon as I can get down to the co-op to buy the flour.

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sherry April 2, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Thanks for your reply…I couldn’t wait for an answer so went ahead without refreshing my starter. I was doing equal amounts water and flour in volume so that must be why mine is thinner. Anyway, the bread turned out awesome! I refrigerated it 24 hrs. and it wasn’t hard…everything went just like you said it would. Next I plan to try the spelt bread. :-)
Thanks so much!

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Breadtopia April 2, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I would just use it cold as is. Two days is still pretty fresh.

It does sound like I keep my starter thicker than yours. I add equal weights of flour and water when feeding (100% hydration).

A 5 quart DO sounds about right. I don’t think the parchment paper will hinder the browning.

With all this stuff, it’s just matter of giving it a try and adjusting later if necessary. Nothing you mentioned sounds too out of the norm, but you never know for sure until you try. And then you may still not know for sure. ;)

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sherry March 31, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Hello…I have another question about the starter. Mine was refreshed two days ago and has been in the fridge since. Do I need to refresh it again before starting this recipe, or can I just use it cold? In the video yours looks quite a bit stiffer…mine is the consistency of thick cream. Also, I plan to bake the bread in a 5 qt. DO…is that too large? If I let it rise in a parchment lined bowl, can I put it in the DO, parchment and all to bake or will that hinder the browning of the crust?

Thanks again!

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SallyBR March 29, 2009 at 8:46 pm

A little late for the party, but I wanted to say that I tried your recipe this weekend, following suggestions from folks at “The Fresh Loaf” website

I have to thank you for a great recipe, that brought me back memories from my years living in Paris and enjoying the “real Poilane”. Your recipe was a very good version of Poilane, I am so glad I tried it.

If you want to see my pictures of the process, they are here

http://tinyurl.com/d646u3

again, thank you very much!

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Breadtopia March 25, 2009 at 10:52 am

Hi Sherry,

I use a pretty stiff starter ~ 100% hydration if you’re going by bakers percentages (equal weights of flour and water).

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sherry March 24, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Is the sourdough starter in your recipe liquid or stiff?…can I use the same measurement for either? Can’t WAIT to try this recipe!

Thanks!

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Anula March 20, 2009 at 6:19 am

Hi,
I am from Poland and I am very happy that I find Your page. The video is very, very helpful for someone who start with bakeing bread at home.
Thank you and good luck!

Anula

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