by Catherine Haug
(all photos by C. Haug)
NOTE: see also my newer post: Feeding Sourdough Starter for more tips.
Ever since I brought my starter home (from our Gathering on Sourdough) and transferred it to its special crock (a gift from Ronny; see photo, right), I’ve been experimenting with whole grain bread.
Because I have problems with wheat, I started with a mix of whole grain flours: spelt, oat, barley and dark rye. But my bread was too sour for my taste. Ronny suggested I stick with wheat until I get it down. So, except for one tasting slice, I gave my subsequent loaves away to friends who can eat wheat.
See below for my photo essay.
When I first brought my starter home, I added 1/2 cup flour (spelt, oat, barley, rye mix) and 1/2 cup water to make more starter. Over the next few days, it made about 1 Tbsp hooch on top.
Each time before starting the bread, I fed the starter 1 Tbsp flour and 1 Tbsp water at least twice the day (or so) before.
My first loaf (mixed grain) rose 24 hours for the first rise because I got interrupted. I was worried it would not rise after forming into a loaf, but it did! It also rose more in the oven, making a crack along one side of the top. A beautiful loaf, but way too sour for my taste.
At Ronny’s suggestion I switched to wheat, at least until I get a loaf I like.
My second loaf (all wheat) had a 9-hour first rise and 4 hour second rise. No oven spring, and was as sour as the first loaf. I decided to pour off the hooch, thinking it might be affecting the sourness.
The third loaf (all wheat) was a comedy of errors. I’d read on SourdoughHome.com that to make it less sour, you use more starter, so I tried using twice as much starter (1/2 cup). It behaved beautifully when mixing it up, with perfect hydration.
But when it didn’t rise at all after 7 hours, I moved it to a warmer spot; it rose after another 5 hours (total 12-hour first rise). But it was my bedtime, so I punched it down, formed the loaf in the pan, covered it with damp towel and set it in a cool spot to rise overnight.
When I got up 8 hours later, it had risen and drooped over the sides of the pan and onto the counter! So I gathered it up and knocked it around a bit and formed the loaf again. After a 3 hour morning rise, it went into the oven. Lots of oven spring again, with a crack on the side of the top. And it was just as sour as the others, but then after a total of almost 24-hours rising time, it should be sour!!
My fourth batch (all wheat) had much better success. I used twice as much starter (same as 3rd batch), and got better rise response. And it was not as sour! See below for details.
Cat’s successful whole wheat sourdough bread
My loaf pan is smaller than the standard size, so I had to modify my ingredients from Ronny’s original recipe. I used:
- 1/2 cup starter (extra for less sour flavor)
- about 1 cup non-chlorinated water, divided portions
- 2 tsp unrefined sea salt (I used Real Salt)
- 3 cups whole wheat flour (I used Wheat Montana Prairie Gold hard white wheat)
- 1 tsp Organic unbleached white flour for shaping the loaf
I fed my starter the night before (1 Tbsp flour, 1 Tbsp water). [NOTE: I've since learned a different feeding technique that you start 2 days before baking day. It makes the starter more lively and strong, for the task of leavening. See Feeding Sourdough Starter for details.]
I added the salt and 3/4 cup of the water to the starter in my mixing bowl and stirred a bit to dissolve the salt. Then I added half of the flour and stirred vigorously until the gluten began to form an elastic mix.
I added 2 Tbsp more water and the rest of the flour and worked this with my hands, kneading in the bowl. It was quite dry and hard to mix, so I let it rest about 5 minutes, giving the flour a chance to absorb the moisture (whole grain absorbs moisture more slowly than white flour).
Then I resumed kneading, adding another Tbsp water. The hydration seemed good, so I formed the dough into a ball, rinsed out the bowl and set the ball of dough back in the bowl. It picked up the water left in the bowl after rinsing, so I worked it a bit more. Total water between 7/8 and 1 cup.
See photo, below, for un-risen dough in bowl.
I covered the bowl with a damp cloth and a plate, and let it rise in a warm spot. After 9 hours it had doubled in bulk:
I punched it down and shaped it into a loaf on a lightly floured board (I used 1 Tbsp unbleached white flour), by flattening it into a rectangle then rolling and pinching it closed.
I let it rest a bit while I buttered my loaf pan, then set it in the pan for the second rise. I remembered that it helps to cut a slit along the top of the loaf so it doesn’t crack in the oven, but I forgot that you do that AFTER it rises. So here it is, not yet risen, with it’s slit.
After an almost 3-hour second rise, it had again doubled in bulk – the center of the top had risen about 1/4″ above the top of the baking pan. I cut another slit in the top, since the first slit was mostly lost. I also sprinkled a bit of water on top of the loaf, then put it in my preheated 400° F oven to bake.
The back and left sides of my oven are hotter than the front and right sides, so after 15 minutes, I rotated the loaf 180° and then another 90° after another 15 minutes. It reached an internal temperature of 190° F after 50 minutes in the oven (It would probably have been done in 45 minutes, but the oven cooled a bit each time I opened the door to turn the loaf). I removed it to a rack to cool.
Total flour used: 3 cups + 1 tsp; total water: just shy of 1 cup. Total rise time: 11 hrs, 50 minutes; total baking time: 50 minutes. Texture: dense but not heavy; taste: DELICIOUS! and barely sour. Hooray! I wish you could taste it from this post, but alas, technology hasn’t figured out how to insert a sniffer mechanism….
Keys to less-sour bread
- Use more starter (I doubled from 1/4 cup in the original recipe to 1/2 cup for batch #4);
- A cool rise is less sour than a warm rise because cool promotes formation of lactic acid; warm promotes formation of acetic acid. Lactic acid is sweeter and less sour than acetic acid.
- Keep total rise time to under 12 hours.
Note that I had to set my rising dough in a warmish spot (about 68 degrees) to get it to rise at all. But on the earlier batch #3, I’d set it on top of my stove when the oven was on, so it was at least 72 degrees around the bowl, and that, along with the fact it rose 3 times, led to the way-too-sour flavor.
It is hard to balance a cool rise and a shorter rise time – tricky business.
Since I am avoiding wheat, I’ll convert to all whole-grain spelt. This will be a challenge because spelt needs much less water than wheat, so I’ll add only 1/2 cup with the first addition, and then add 1 Tbsp at a time until it feels right.
I’d also like to try a spelt & rye combo (Bohemian Rye, using spelt instead of wheat).
And I think I’ll try a quick bread. I have some bananas that are getting ripe…
Related ESP articles on Sourdough
- Gathering Summary: Sourdough, a Panel Presentation
- The EssentiaList: Sourdough (pdf handout)
- The EssentiaList: Sourdough Recipes (pdf handout)
- Alternative Sourdough Starters
- The Importance of Grinding Your Own Flour
- The Problem with Unfermented Grains
- Feeding Sourdough Starter
- ‘Sourdough’ Pie Crust
Sourdough info and recipes
- Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz
- Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig
- SourdoughHome.com; see also their Sourdough Starter Primer and their Recipes
- The Bread Baker’s Forum: Sourdough has tons of info!
- Frazgo Feasting blog: Hooch, and Keeping your Sourdough Starter Alive has good explanations
- Gnowfglins.com: Sourdough. Not Just for Bread (Sourdough e-course)
- For the Love of Sourdough: Starting a Sourdough Adventure
- Sourdough Home: Maintaining a Starter