Categories
Ferments

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

This is my attempt to document my process for baking a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread. It is the longest and most in-depth recipe I’ve included on the website to date. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at sunshineandmicrobes@gmail.com.

“One way to think about bread– and there are so many: as food or Food, matter and Spirit, commonplace, communion, metaphor, and medium (or exchange, transformation, sociality, etc.)– is simply this: as an ingenious technology for improving the flavor, digestibility, and nutritional value of grass.”

-Michael Pollan, Cooked

It can be challenging to understand the movements involved in each step without watching someone do them (and really…doing them yourself a bunch of times to build muscle memory). I’ve done my best to document the process with photos. It’s tough to be your own camera person when, for the most part, baking requires two hands! One day I’ll get my act together and make a video tutorial.

If you’ve got an active sourdough starter, you’re ready to start baking bread. If not, check out my method for building and maintaining a sourdough starter here.

Equipment

  • Kitchen scale
  • Dutch oven or other oven safe pot with lid
  • large mixing bowl
  • bowl or proofing basket
  • kitchen towel
  • razor blade, sharp knife, or kitchen scissors

Ingredients

  • 510 g water (a shade or two colder than room temperature)
  • 600 g whole wheat bread flour* see note on flour type below the recipe
  • 100 g active sourdough starter
  • 15 g  salt

Step-by-step

Feed Your Starter
  • 4-6 hours before mixing, feed the sourdough starter. In a clean jar, thoroughly mix 50 g starter with 50 g rye or whole wheat flour and 50 g room temperature or cooler water. Loosely cover and allow to rise at room temperature. The starter is ready to use when it is aerated throughout, at least doubled in volume, smells pleasantly sour, and a small plop of it floats in water.
    sourdough starter
Mix Ingredients
  • In a large bowl, mix 450 g water and all flour. Mix well until no dry bits of flour can be detected. Let mixture sit, loosely covered with a kitchen towel, for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This allows the flour to absorb the water and makes the dough easier to manipulate.
    dough mixing collage
  • Add sourdough starter and 30 g water to dough and aggressively mix until fully incorporated. Squish the dough between your fingers as if you had crab claws. Then scoop from the bottom of the bowl and fold the dough up over onto itself. (If that’s confusing, check out a visual at 2:10 of this video tutorial) Let mixture sit, covered, for 30 minutes. 
    Don’t forget to feed what’s left of the sourdough starter and store it in the fridge until your next bake.
  • Add salt and 30 g water and mix in the same manner as above until fully incorporated. Give the dough a full 5-10 minutes of mixing using the folding method from above. This long mix will strengthen the gluten network.
1st Rise
  • Allow the dough to sit loosely covered with the kitchen towel for roughly 5-6 hours. Yeasts and lactic acid bacteria will ferment the dough, filling it with carbon dioxide bubbles. During the first 2-3 hours of the rise, stretch and fold the dough every 30 minutes. To do this, wet your hands, grab one edge of the dough from the bottom of the bowl. Stretch it up and fold it into the center over the remainder of the dough. Turn bowl and repeat until you have folded the north, south, east, and west of the dough. (Here’s a video) With each stretch and fold, you’ll be able to feel the dough become stronger and more extensible.
  • Let the dough sit covered and undisturbed for the remainder of the 1st rise. The rise is complete when the dough is aerated throughout, the volume has roughly doubled, and the dough feels pillowy and alive. The temperature of in the kitchen and the dough itself will impact how long this process takes (colder = slower fermentation, hotter = faster).
    risen dough
Shaping
  • Fill a small bowl with water to keep your hands and the work surface wet throughout this process. 
  • Remove the dough from the bowl by tipping the bowl onto the counter and using your fingers to gently pull it from the sides of the bowl. Using the same stretch and fold technique from the first rise, gently flatten the dough out (just a bit!) and fold it into a package , then flip it so the side with the seams is down and the smooth side is up. This gives the dough an initial shape and structure. Let rest for 15-25 minutes.
  • To give the dough it’s final shape, with wet hands and a wet surface, flip the loaf over (smooth side down). For this process, use the stretch and fold technique, but instead of 4 folds, make 5-7, as if folding little flower petals of dough into the center of the loaf. Turn the dough over so the pretty side is facing up.
  • Place a kitchen towel in a bowl or proofing basket. Sprinkle very generously with flour. Place shaped loaf, smooth side down, into the basket. Cover with the remainder of the kitchen towel.
    dough in proofing basket
2nd Rise
  • Place the loaf in the fridge for 12-48 hours. The dough will continue to ferment, developing nuances in flavor and texture.
Baking
  • Place Dutch oven with lid on into oven and preheat to 500 °F. Allow Dutch oven to heat for at least 25 minutes. 
  • Remove loaf from fridge and dust with flour. 
    floured dough
  • Once oven is heated, remove Dutch oven with oven mitts. Carefully flip the loaf into the vessel, floured side down. Using a razor blade or sharp knife (just the tip), score the bread by confidently and quickly cutting a line across the top of the loaf, which will help steam escape and the dough expand in the oven. Alternatively, make a few snips in the top using kitchen scissors.
    scored dough
  • Using oven mitts, place the lid back on the pot and return to oven. In the hot oven, the water in the dough will evaporate, bathing the dough in steam inside the Dutch oven. In this steamy environment, the interior structure (crumb) will expand and begin to solidify. Bake for 20 minutes with the lid on, then remove the lid and bake for another 15- 20 minutes, so the crust can brown. The loaf is ready once it sounds hollow when you knock its bottom. 
  • Let it fully cool on a rack or propped up on its side. The bread is still cooking at this point as steam escapes the loaf and the fragile internal structure gels. Cutting into it too soon will significantly shorten the shelf life. But if you’re planning to eat the whole loaf right then and there, don’t worry about waiting and just tear into it!
    bread crumbshot

Notes

*A note on flour: The type of flour you use impacts  the bread’s flavor and texture. This has to do with various factors (wheat variety, milling method, enzymatic activity), but the most important factor is gluten (aka protein) content. The stronger the gluten, the airier the loaf.** Gluten content depends on the variety of wheat used and what time of year it was grown. Bread flour has a higher gluten content than pastry flour. White flour has more gluten than whole wheat. 
Whole wheat flour has other important stuff like FIBER and FLAVOR, so I prefer to save white flour for special occasions (and pizza) and bake almost exclusively with whole grain flours. 
Because of the lower gluten content, baking with whole wheat is more challenging than with white flour, since gluten keeps everything knitted together.  Newer bakers (or anyone looking for a super airy crumb) may choose to replace a third or even a half of the total whole wheat flour with white bread flour. If adding white flour, reduce total water for the recipe to 450 g.
**Serious bakers who want a deeper understanding of gluten, start here.