Sourdough bread-making methods
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Helen Dickey’s Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread Soaking Method, Part I

Helen Dickey is a woman who, like me, tracked her sourdough bread-making process online. I found her in a search for “100 percent whole wheat sourdough bread recipes.”

Unfortunately for these squinty old eyes, her page is just difficult enough to read that I almost jumped off as quickly as I found it. I’m glad I stayed.

The photographs of her First Really High Rise Loaves, kept me going. I just had to see how she did it with one hundred percent whole wheat flour and nothing but sourdough starter for leavening. Those loaves are BIG!

Her directions weren’t all that easy to follow, seemed incomplete, and there were no navigation buttons or menus. After playing around with the URL a bit, I discovered her main page with its seven links to her process.

By then, I had already mixed the flour/vinegar/water solution and set it to fermenting, but reading all of Dickey’s pages helped me understand her method a little better, even if I found her final recipe too late.

Dickey omits important details, such as how much flour to add to the sponge after the incubation period, but those photographs of her loaves, sliced open, rich with airy bubbles that glisten inside, compelled me to give it a go. Besides, Dickey is a mom, and maybe even a grandmother just like me, who is experimenting and finding a recipe and method that works for her. I love her for that.

Here’s how I made my first loaves using her method, near as I could figure it out. Along the way, I guessed a lot.

Start by soaking the flour

Dickey soaks her flour in a vinegar-water solution before making her bread. She has gastrointestinal issues with wheat and has found, as many others have, that fermenting the flour and soaking it well eases those problems.

Following her instructions, yesterday afternoon, while the starter incubated, I poured two tablespoons raw, unfiltered, live-culture apple cider vinegar into two cups water and added two cups flour, pressed into the cup until I could add no more.

After thoroughly mixing the flour into the liquid, I covered it loosely and set it in my oven, where it could bubble and gurgle undisturbed.

Now, in case you’re wondering, let me explain that plate of tea bags and the light. They have nothing to do with making bread. I save my green tea bags and dry them for unconventional uses, several of which I discovered on this page: Creative Uses for Green Tea Leaves.

The warmth from the light helps to suck the moisture from the tea bags and can’t hurt my covered fermenting flour. If anything, the slightly warmer temperature will prove more conducive to yeast growth.

Back to Helen Dickey’s bread making method. She soaks her flour in the fermenting solution for twelve hours. Unfortunately, if I’d waited that long, I’d have had to stay up till one in the morning, so I soaked mine just seven hours before adding the sourdough starter.

One of these days I may get a better camera, but for now, my iPhone turns all photographs I take at night this yucky yellow. Never minding the coloring, you can still see what’s happening with the slurry.

After fermenting seven hours, the flour, vinegar, water slurry appears to have bubbled up and collapsed

After fermenting seven hours, the flour, vinegar, water slurry appears to have bubbled up and collapsed

Adding wild yeast sourdough starter

In the beginning, Dickey added only two tablespoons starter to her flour slurry. Seeing it rose little in the first few hours, she added a quarter cup more.  I decided to start with one-third cup.

Adding 1/3 cup of whole wheat wild yeast sourdough starter to the slurry

Adding 1/3 cup of whole wheat wild yeast sourdough starter to the fermented slurry

After stirring in the starter, I set the bowl in the oven and left it overnight.

As always, I went to bed last night hopeful for the healthy, whole wheat sandwich loaves I might get from this new sourdough method. Given how few details I had for making this recipe and method work, the results were promising, if rather short of perfection, as you will see.

Tomorrow: Part II–The sponge, the dough, the loaves


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