Sourdough bread-making methods
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The Helen Dickey method with rye and whole wheat flours

Two nights ago, when I started this batch of bread, I was short on whole wheat flour. Fully intending a run to the store first thing the next morning, I started the sponge anyway. Life happened, and I made a choice between the store and higher priorities.

Fortunately, I had an unopened bag of Bob’s Red Mill Organic Stone Ground Rye Flour. Combined with the wheat flour, I had just enough on hand to make three small artisan loaves.

Now I admit, I’ve baked very little with rye, so I’m not too familiar with its properties, so I piled one experiment on top of another, as I wrestled with Helen Dickey’s Soaked Whole Wheat Sourdough one more time.

Dickey’s final recipe update

In her last post, titled 2009 update, Dickey narrowed her recipe to the following.

1 t sourdough starter
1 scant T white vinegar (not the raw, unfiltered vinegar she has used previously)
2-1/2 C water
Unspecified quantity of freshly ground whole wheat flour, enough to make a “pancake batter consistency”
3/4 t sea salt
More freshly ground whole wheat flour, also unspecified

This time she added the starter right up front, combining the flour soak time and the sponge-building time. This method eliminated one entire twelve-hour rest period.

Stirring together the starter, vinegar, water and enough flour to make a pancake-batter-like slurry, Dickey set the sponge to rest overnight.

The next morning, when the “mixture [was] a great floating sponge,” she dissolved the salt in two tablespoons water and stirred it in, along with enough whole wheat flour to make what was probably a very wet dough.

As before, we have to figure out what worked for her, because her recipe and instructions are incomplete. All the same, I was curious whether this method would work. Hey, it’s only flour, right? Mostly flour, anyway.

Last night, following Dickey’s method as closely as possible, I set the sponge. I measured all my ingredients carefully, because as I mentioned last time, we have sugar issues at Chez Grace and have to track our carbohydrates.

All told, from starting the sponge to pulling the baked loaves from the oven, this method took 27 hours. The loaves turned out tasty, delicious in fact, but dense. For that reason, I’m somewhat pleased with the results, but not enough to keep fiddling with Dickey’s method.

Here’s the recipe and process, as it turned out for me today.

Whole Wheat and Rye Wild Yeast Sourdough Sponge Recipe

First, I’ll post the recipe so it’s easy to follow–or change–next time. Afterwards, I’ll show you step by step with photographs. Incidentally, this time I let my stand mixer do most of the mixing and kneading, the first time round.

Sponge Ingredients
  • 1 t whole wheat wild yeast sourdough starter, unfed
  • 1 scant T Organic, raw apple cider vinegar (Braggs)
  • 2-1/2 C Filtered water
  • 2-1/2 C Organic stone ground whole wheat flour (365 brand), measured the conventional way
Sponge Instructions
  1. In a 5-quart glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the starter, water and vinegar.
  2. Whisk in 2-1/2 cups flour, or enough to get a pancake-batter consistency.
  3. Cover loosely and set aside in a warm place, away from drafts, overnight, until mixture doubles in volume and is bubbly, frothy and spongy.
Slide show with sponge steps

Following are the steps I took to make the sponge.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Making the dough

With the active sponge bubbling and gurgling, I set to work making the dough. This time, I used my stand mixer to do the heaviest mixing and kneading work.

Even with the machine, I kneaded longer than one does with white flour.

Dough ingredients
  • All of the sponge
  • 2 C organic stone ground whole wheat flour (365 brand), measured the conventional way
  • 3/4 t sea salt, dissolved in 2 T filtered water
  • 2-2/3 cup minus 1 T Organic stone ground rye flour (Bob’s Red Mill brand), also measured the conventional way
  • 1 T organic extra virgin olive oil, for oiling bowl and kneading surface
Dough Instructions
  1. Add the salt water to the sponge and whisk to combine. That’s what Dickey specified. I forgot the salt solution and had to add it later, as you will see in the slide show to follow.
  2. Place sponge in large mixing bowl on stand mixer and add flour, one-half cup at a time, until dough pulls away from bottom of bowl and forms a ball, or nearly so.
  3. Cover dough with plastic and let rest 20 minutes.
  4. With mixer on low, knead until dough is fairly smooth and elastic.
  5. Turn dough onto lightly oiled surface and knead by hand until you can stretch the dough into a ball without tearing.
  6. Place ball in oiled bowl, turn to coat ball, cover loosely and set in warm spot, such as the oven with the oven light turned on, and let rise until doubled, about two hours.
  7. Gently punch ball down and knead dough until it is once more smooth and elastic.
  8. Divide into two or three portions and shape into loaves.
  9. Place loaves on floured pizza peel and let loaves rest, loosely covered, to rise until doubled.
  10. Place a baking pan on bottom oven rack , and a completely dry pizza stone on the middle rack.
  11. Preheat to 425º Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.
  12. Moisten loaves and score with a sharp razor or knife
  13. Measure one cup hot tap water, ready to pour into the baking pan on bottom rack.
  14. Slide loaves onto pizza stone and pour the water into the pan. Close oven door immediately and bake at 425 for 35-40 minutes, until loaves give a nice hollow sound when tapped.
  15. Remove loaves to wire rack and cool completely before slicing.

Here’s a slide show showing the steps I used with this batch.

Lessons learned

The bread tastes good, but the texture is dense and heavy

The bread tastes good, but the texture is dense and heavy

One of the biggest lessons I learned with this batch is that I am a l-o-n-g way from getting the airy whole wheat (or whole wheat and rye) sourdough loaves I seek. Here are some of the others.

  1. Dickey’s theory that a higher flour-to-starter ratio better feeds the yeast, resulting in a higher rise, appears to have merit.Soaking the flour and making a sponge with very little sourdough starter seemed to work better, for the first rise at least, than using a good deal more starter, as most recipes require.If that is the case, should I try incorporating more flour into the dough before forming the loaves, to give the yeast more food that go round?
  2. Kneading longer by machine and by hand does not seem to produce a more elastic loaf.If you’ve followed this journal from the get-go, you know I usually stop periodically during the kneading process to test for dough readiness with the windowpane test. Although I didn’t share any photographs of the tests this time, I did conduct several. All failed to produce a largely translucent sheet of dough without tears.While kneading by hand, I could feel the dough become more and more elastic and responsive to stretching, something I had not experienced with earlier loaves. The yeast and flour scents wafted up wonderfully as I kneaded.Yet, despite about 45 minutes total machine kneading, and another twenty by hand, the loaves did not quite double in the final rise, and were dense and heavy after baking, their crumb almost completely lacking in gassy bubble-holes.

    If I were to knead the dough on the machine again, before forming the loaves, might I develop the gluten enough to obtain that high-rise with the loaves?

  3. Rye flour added to the wheat makes a delicious sourdough bread, with a sweetness mixed into the sour that is delightful. I’d like to check out more recipes using rye flour.
  4.  If, after the final rise, cracks lace the surface of the dough, don’t bother slashing. The cracks take care of the need for steam to escape, and are much prettier than my awkward slashing.
  5. Baking at 425º Fahrenheit, rather than the lower temperatures Dickey recommends seemed to give a more moist loaf, which I prefer to the far dryer loaves I got using her methods the last two times.
  6. More research, before I make the next loaves, may help solve this problem.

As far as I can tell, to date no master baker or chef has come up with 100 percent whole wheat loaves made with wild yeast sourdough starter and no added commercial yeast. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible. It does mean I have a lot of work to do.




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