Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
I am a millennial. I demand instant gratification and I don’t want to work that hard but I do want to be rewarded for my efforts...when it comes to baking bread. Yes, this is only relevant to bread and if you disagree with me I’ll unfollow you on Instagram or change my Netflix password on you or something.
This year, I resolved on January 1 to “bake bread.” I had gotten into the No Kneed recipe that fit neatly into my hectic work and social schedule and decided it was time to take the next step. I looked up a recipe for sourdough and bought a bag of whole wheat flour. It sat in my pantry for many months while I carried on working a lot and occasionally baking challah, naan, focaccia, pizza and other low effort gluten products. “Someday,” I told myself. “Someday you’ll make sourdough,” congratulating myself for having taken the first step. “There’s just not enough time!” And then I kept binge watching The Wire.
The only solution was to quit my job (Ok, that isn’t exactly why I quit my job but just go with the narrative here). The day before I gave my notice, I started the starter. Magically, it puffed up and began fermenting with wild yeast it had collected from the air. I felt like a goddess! A creator of life! A master of...vomit? After only a few days, the starter took a turn for the worse, smelling so gnarly I couldn’t keep my face far enough away as I carried along with the daily feedings. I Googled “Why does my starter smell like,” and the first auto-complete words that came up were “baby vomit.” Yep, they nailed it. I then entered an Internet K-hole and learned about obscure bacterium like leuconostoc and something called hooch which is when liquid alcohol forms on the top of your starter. I looked at a lot of pictures of other people’s flour and water mush and compared it to my flour and water mush, feeling anxious and insecure. Then, one day, I squeezed my eyes shut and sniffed the jar. To my delight, it smelled like flowers and ripe fruit! There was a little bit of tang and some sweetness. All hope was restored and I was back to feeling like a goddess. I dropped a bit of the starter in some water and it floated. The force was with me.
I baked my first loaf of bread. There was a giant hole in the middle but it was bread and it was a little sour with a crusty crust and I made it myself and you better believe I Instagrammed it. It took me most of the day because I spent all the downtime between steps reading and re-reading the recipe and then watching and re-watching YouTube videos of stretch and folds and pinching and bulk fermentation. It was dizzying, and I hadn’t even heard about Breadit yet.
After that first loaf, I started to get it. The starter was humming along, I had made a spreadsheet to back out what time I needed to begin baking in order to have bread ready by the time I wanted it (make a copy for yourself here!) and my future loaves had glorious crumbs. I tested a few different recipes, played with some flour ratios and got liberal with my fermentation timing. I used my time between rises to go on runs, read books, get coffee with friends and go surfing. In other words, baking sourdough became integrated into my life, rather than replacing everything else I enjoyed doing with my free time.
It turns out, it just takes a little bit of planning, some patience and discipline to make sourdough. And even though I quit my job, you don’t have to. Start building your starter today. Two Fridays from now, make the levain. Spend Saturday morning making dough. Leave the house for a while and do whatever else it is you love to do. Then come back and bake it.
If it’s not perfect, it’s probably still pretty great. And your kitchen probably smells amazing. And you are a DEITY who created LIFE and you can use that starter to try again! The fun of sourdough is as much in the process of getting to know your dough and learning the motions as it is in sharing your creation with loved ones. Turns out that putting love and care and time into something makes it… G2G – my Postmates order just arrived!
While you can bake bread without these items, it’s a lot easier if you have them handy. I have the kit linked below that includes the dough scraper, banneton, lame and backup blades. On the Dutch Oven front, I’ve baked the with the Lodge Cast Iron option linked below and it’s just as solid as the fancier Le Creusets. However! If you can swing it, the colorful enamel-coated Le Creuset Dutch Oven is a vision and is fun to display on your stove. Both can be used for a zillion other recipes. The one I use is a flea market find and there are plenty more to take home every month at the Alameda Flea Market (first Sunday of the month). Choose your own adventure!
Dough Scraper (or use a large knife)
Bannetons (or use a basket lined with a tea cloth)
Lame (or use a sharp, pointy knife or razor blade)
*Inspired by both Tartine and Josey Baker Bread
Sourdough Starter (flour amount will last your a while)
1,000 grams whole wheat flour
1,000 grams white bread flour
Make the starter: Combine whole wheat and white bread flour in a large storage container. In a jar, combine 100 grams of warm water and 100 grams of the flour blend. Use your finger, a chopstick or a spoon to combine. Cover with a towel and let rest at room temperature for two to three days - it should be bubbly and puffy. Discard 50-80% of the mixture, then add 50 grams of flour blend and 50 grams of warm water. Stir to combine. Repeat at the same time each day until the starter smells tangy and floral. This will take one to two weeks. If liquid forms on the top of the starter, pour it out (this is called hooch). If the starter starts smelling nasty, carry on! As long as you feed it consistently, this will go away and you’ll have a sweet smelling starter soon. You can keep your starter on the countertop and feed it daily or store it in the refrigerator. If keeping it in the fridge, feed it once per week. Take the starter out two days before you plan to use it, feeding it both days. A good way to test if your starter is ready is dropping a bit of it in a cup of water - if it floats, it’s go time!
Make the levain: The night before baking, combine starter, flour and water in a medium-sized bowl. Mix together with your fingers or a spatula. Cover and store at room temperature for 12 hours.
Make the dough: In a large mixing bowl, combine levain, flour and water with your hands. The dough will be sticky and ragged. Cover and let rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes.
Add salt: Combine salt and water, then pour over dough. Pinch the dough to thoroughly integrate the salt until no water remains at the bottom of the bowl. Cover and let rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes.
Stretch and folds: With wet hands, stretch the dough by grabbing the top of the ball and stretch it over itself. Do this three more times, rotating the bowl a quarter turn each time. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Repeat stretch and folds. Repeat this process until you’ve completed four stretch and folds. After the last one, cover and let rest for a final 30 minutes.
Create the dough balls: Transfer the dough to a floured surface and dust the top with flour. Using a dough scraper, cut the dough into two equal pieces. Fold the cut side up onto itself so that the entire ball has flour on it. Form into a taut ball. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
Create the boules: Dust the balls with flour. Flip the dough over so the floured side is face-down. Take one ball, and starting at the side closest to you, pull the bottom 2 corners of the dough down toward you, then fold them up into the middle third of the dough. Repeat this action on the right and left sides, pulling the edges out and folding them in over the center. Finally, lift the top corners up and fold down over previous folds. Roll dough over so the folded side becomes the bottom of the loaf. Cup your hands around the ball, gently push your hands in and down while turning the ball in your palms. Do this until you’ve created a smooth, taut ball. Repeat with other round.
Proof the bread: Dust two bread proofing baskets or normal baskets lined with clean tea cloths with flour. Transfer the balls to the baskets, seam side up (nice side down). Cover and let rest in a warm spot for 3-4 hours.
Bake the bread: 30 minutes before the rise is complete, preheat the oven to 500 degrees and place a Dutch oven with the lid on inside for the duration of the preheat. Dust the exposed side of the dough with flour. Carefully remove the Dutch oven and take off the lid. Quickly, flip the dough into the Dutch oven. Use a lame or a razor blade to score the bread. Put the lid back on and place in the oven. Turn the heat down to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for an additional 20 minutes, until the crust is a dark, golden color. Repeat the process with the second loaf. Let bread cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting it open.