Sourdough bread-making methods, The Sourdough Journals
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Three’s the charm–A successful loaf

Score! Take a look. Gas bubbles permeate the top portion of the loaf, and they are larger than we’ve seen. Granted, only the top has a lot of bubbles. The rest of the crumb is fairly even, neither too moist nor dry. Still, this is so much better than the previous loaves. Progress!

Third loaf has some gas bubble holes, more at the top than at bottom of the loaf

Third loaf has some gas bubble holes, more at the top than at bottom of the loaf

The texture is pleasing in the mouth, absorbs butter well, and the taste is much milder than the other two loaves, with just enough of that sourdough zing on the back of the tongue and palate.

On my journey to consistently good whole wheat sourdough bread, I am keeping this journal so I can track what works and what doesn’t. From now on, I will use slide shows to document each step of the process–when I remember to stop and take photographs! Perhaps my mistakes and successes will be useful to others and make their bread making journey a little smoother.

This loaf started yesterday morning, at about 11:30, when I measured out my refrigerated starter, fed it, and set it to develop.

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The cold starter weighed 236g, so I added exactly half that amount each, organic whole wheat flour and filtered water. As you can see in that last slide above, as I write this, the starter has developed nicely, permeated with bubbles of varying sizes.

I had hoped to catch it before it fell, to avoid excess acid formation, but I missed the mark. I hope I caught it early enough not to get too sour bread.

Now it’s time to mix and knead the dough. I measure out 210g of starter, and add exactly half that much, or 105g each, filtered water and organic whole wheat flour, along with 30g each organic extra virgin olive oil and organic wild flower honey (So good!).

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Oh, oh. That last image tells the tale. Clearly I’ve done something wrong. As before, I’m following Mike’s recipe on Sourdough Home for 100 percent whole wheat sourdough bread. I check the recipe and immediately find my mistake. Instead of following the bread recipe, I’ve added flour and water as if I were feeding my starter. Oops. Easily remedied.

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To bring the water to 180g, as the recipe specifies, I add 75g. For the flour, I need an additional 215g to get the 320g needed. With the quantities set to right, I’m ready to mix and knead the dough.

The other day, the stand mixer did a fine job on the second loaf, so I stick with what works. This time, I use the dough hook for both mixing and kneading. With the speed set at two, it takes about a minute to combine the ingredients, then I knead for four minutes. The dough seems a bit wet, so I add one tablespoon flour and knead another minute, until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

I let it rest five minutes, to fully hydrate the flour, then knead for another five minutes, adding one more tablespoon flour, then I stop to do the windowpane test.

Stretching the dough, I manage to get a thin film about 2×3 inches, well-mottled with translucent areas.  I’m not sure if this stained-glass effect is enough, or if I should keep kneading and testing until I can stretch an entirely translucent piece. I decide to go with this. The dough is is moist and elastic, but not too sticky to handle, and I soon fold and stretch it into a smooth ball.

Easily stretching a big length of dough around the ball, I turn it top side down in a greased bowl (1 teaspoon olive oil in the bottom of the clean bowl and hand-smeared up and around the sides), then up again to oil the entire ball.  I cover it with a piece of unbleached waxed paper and set it in the oven to rise. The light is on for a bit of added warmth.

After having relative success with the windowpane test, I lay the dough to rest in a small mixing bowl, cover it with waxed paper, set it in the oven to rise

After having relative success with the windowpane test, I lay the dough to rest in a small mixing bowl, cover it with waxed paper, set it in the oven to rise

Five and a half hours later, the dough has doubled. I punch it down gently, form a new ball, careful to stretch a tail around the ball as Mike advises, add half a teaspoon oil to the bowl, smear it around, drop the ball in and roll it to grease, and top it off with the waxed paper once more.

It’s late. I set the bowl in the fridge to cold-proof overnight. America’s Test Kitchen advises waiting for the last rise to cold-proof, but I’m not staying up for this dough.

By morning, the ball has doubled in size and is full of holes big and small. How cool is that? This is the softest, fluffiest whole wheat dough I’ve ever handled, and I’ve baked a lot of loaves in my time. Woo hoo!

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After punching it down, I fold the dough into a loaf shape and set it to rise, once again in the oven with the light on. This time it takes three and a quarter hours to just edge above the lip of the pan. I preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and slash the top of the dough with my sharpest paring knife. The slashes are better than on the last loaf, but nothing like what I need to get those pretty dough-popping crusts on top.

I learned from the first loaf that 350 was a little too warm, and from the second loaf that 325 was a little cool, so I preheat to 350, then turn the oven down when I pop in the loaf.

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The timer goes off and I pull the bread to check its internal temperature:  Barely 200 degrees. Back in the oven for another 6-7 minutes.

This time, the color is a little deeper, and the temperature is close to 210 degrees. I give it another ten minutes in the oven and, success! We hit 210 degrees. Yes, I know, I snapped the photo a bit soon, but trust me, the needle moved up afterward.

This time, we all behave and let the bread cool completely. Our six-year-old granddaughter is visiting and excited to taste the bread baked from the wild yeast starter she helped nurture in the first week.

Third loaf has some gas bubble holes, more at the top than at bottom of the loaf

Third loaf has some gas bubble holes, more at the top than at bottom of the loaf

We all love the taste, plain, spread with butter, and later, toasted and spread with butter and honey. This loaf isn’t going to last long.

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