Sourdough bread-making methods, The Sourdough Journals
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Seventh King Arthur boule with a twist of rye

What harm could a few rye flakes do? I had a small quantity of rye flakes in the cupboard, 1.1 ounces to be exact–too little to add to any recipe. On impulse, this morning, I tossed it into the water to soften up with the already soaking levain. Use it before it goes stale, right?

I dumped the rye flakes into the bowl to soak with the crumbled levain and water

I dumped the rye flakes into the bowl to soak with the crumbled levain and water

To be sure I didn’t forget to account for the addition, while I waited, I measured out the flour–only 8.9 ounces, to compensate for the 1.1 ounces rye flakes added earlier.Only 8.9 ounces flour, to compensate for the 1.1 ounces rye flakes added earlier

When the timer went off, I stirred the flour and one teaspoon salt into the wet mixture, then finished mixing by hand. The dough was soft, wet and fragrant with wild yeast. In fact, it was much more moist than usual. The rye flakes were not absorbing their share of the moisture.

Capping the mixed dough ball so it can rest, covered, for 20 minutes prior to kneading

Capping the mixed dough ball so it can rest, covered, for 20 minutes before kneading

Covering the sticky dough, I set the timer for a twenty-minute autolyse period and sat down to a lovely late breakfast of homemade oatmeal with whole milk from a small local dairy (so good), raisins and dried cranberries.

Kneading the dough–Pictures this time

Last time, you may recall, I inadvertently introduced the letter-fold method, just before kneading. While it may have contributed to the success of the last loaf, this time I omitted that unintended mistake. I wanted to see if not using it makes any difference.

Setting the timer once more, I kneaded the bread for ten minutes, using Lisa Reyner’s one-handed method as I have the last few loaves. (You can see her video in the earlier post, Making the King Arthur Boule Step by Step.)

I managed a few left-handed photographs of the one-handed kneading process.

First, after gently lifting the boule from the bowl with lightly floured hands, I held the top third and let gravity stretch the rest down a bit before slapping it gently on the unfloured table.

Then, in one smooth slap-to-table-pull-toward-me, I folded that top third over the rest of the ball and pushed it back gently with the heel of my hand.

Without turning or lifting the dough, I moved my hand slightly to the left on the dough and pulled it toward me and pushed it away once more.

Repeating this procedure one more time, I reached the far left end of the dough, picked it up by the left corner, turning it toward me, and let it hang long again before slapping gently back on the table and starting over, all without breaking motion, except to take photographs the first time round.

After ten minutes, the timer went off and I forced myself to stop. I get into such a zone with the scents of the flour, yeast and salt and the repetitive motion that I tend to want to keep going.

Proofing the dough

You may recall that an important step in this King Arthur method is to do the first 2-3 hour proof in a spot where the temperature is 60º Fahrenheit.

I set the boule to rise on the coldest spot available to me, the back porch shelf, where the temperature today, at 62º, was slightly cooler than last Friday, when it was over 65°. I checked the dough after an hour and a quarter, and again every hour until it had doubled in size.

After three hours, the dough had not quite doubled, nor was it spongy enough to the touch. I set the timer for one more hour, which means I added a fourth variable to this loaf, albeit one I’ve added on earlier boules using this recipe.

The boule, after rising at 62 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours, is full to the touch

The boule, after rising at 62 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours, is full to the touch

Sometimes the dough rises fine in three hours. Sometimes it needs an extra thirty to sixty minutes.

While the dough rose very little in that last hour, it did feel more spongy when I dented it slightly with a couple of flour-dusted fingers. The pocks I made in the dough sprang back slowly, as they should when the dough is ready to handle.

How will the variables affect the outcome?

Variables in this loaf

  • Adding the rye flakes
  • Omitting the letter-fold
  • Proofing in a slightly cooler environment
  • Adding one extra hour to the first rise

While I cleaned up the small mess I’d made and washed the dishes, I realized I had introduced three variables to this loaf: Adding the rye flakes, omitting the letter-fold, however inadvertent it may have been last time, and proofing in a slightly cooler proofing environment.

With the proofing, I added a fourth, though not so unusual variable: Resting the dough four hours instead of three to get a good rise.

How might those variables affect this boule?

Already, we have seen that the rye flakes did not absorb as much moisture as an equal weight in flour. The dough was quite wet. That might prove to be a good thing, since we want a wet dough when we’re making sourdough.

How about the omitted letter fold? Last time, the dough doubled in size more quickly than has any other loaf. Perhaps that letter fold technique helped the gluten stretch and grow more elastic.

We won’t know whether the few degrees lower temperature and the extra hour rising will make a difference in the outcome until we slice into the bread.

Readying the dough for the final rise

After four hours, the dough was ready for the final shaping and proof. With care, I turned it from the bowl and, with lightly floured hands, shaped it quickly into a loose ball, then let it rest, after the recipe, for twenty minutes before the final shaping.


After the first proofing, the dough quickly shaped into a ball, ready for 20 minute rest before final shaping

After the first proofing, the dough quickly shaped into a ball, ready for 20 minute rest before final shaping

While the dough rested, I dusted the banneton with flour, sprinkling the excess on my pizza peel to help the dough slide into the oven later.

This time, I would proof in the oven, so I turned the light on and set my seven-quart stainless steel mixing bowl inside to warm a bit before I set the banneton under it. In just twenty minutes, that huge stainless bowl warmed beautifully–my portable, mini proofing oven. I set my boule, basket and all, under the bowl and set the timer for an hour and a half.

At the end of the ninety minutes, the boule was ready. I’d already placed a cast iron pot in the oven, along with my pizza stone. Turning the oven temperature to 450º, I set the timer for thirty minutes, put a cup of water to heat in a saucepan on top of the stove and took a break.

When the timer went off, I turned my bread onto the flour-dusted pizza stone, slashed it, opened the oven door and, yikes. I must have forgotten to press the “Start” button. The oven was cold. Rats.

Have you ever done anything like that? Or am I the only one who makes such mistakes? Meh.

This time, making sure I’d touched all the right buttons, I fired up the oven for real and turned my saucepan of water down to simmer. How would my slashed loaf do, I wondered?

The boule, brushed, slashed and ready to pop in the oven

The boule, brushed, slashed and ready to pop in the oven

At first, I thought the slashes might have dried out a bit, so when the timer went off–again–I slashed through a couple of them. Thinking this might be a mistake, I stopped. Turns out, stopping was the mistake. You will see what I mean in just a minute.

Meanwhile, I opened the oven door, quickly poured that hot water into the sizzling hot cast iron pan, slid my boule off the peel and onto the stone and closed the door. Fifteen minutes, later, I turned the oven down to 400º and set the timer for 30 minutes. Or so I thought.

What, again? Where was my brain tonight? When I checked on the timer, I discovered I hadn’t set it. All I could do was guess. Fortunately, I knew when I had taken the last photograph, so I made a pretty good guess.

Whew! The loaf turned out okay, if a lot uglier than I had hoped. I should have gone ahead and re-slashed all the gashes. You can pretty much see what happened. Parts of the loaf tore, where the gases couldn’t escape. In the re-cut gashes, all is well.


The loaf might have been lovely, had I re-slashed all six gashes

The loaf might have been lovely, had I re-slashed all six gashes

The crust is a tad tough this time, not as crunchy as we like, but the inside is moist and tender. Once again, I’m not seeing the big cellular structure I’m aiming for, and no glisteny sheen graces the walls of the holes.

100 percent whole wheat and rye loaf

100 percent whole wheat and rye loaf

Taste? Not bad. We can taste the rye, more than expected, given the small quantity in the loaf, and the nutty flavor of the wheat shines through as always.

This recipe yields a consistently tasty bread, but we’re growing a little bored with it. I’m hankering for a good raisin-nut loaf. Next time, I think I’ll add some nuts, cinnamon and raisin to the mix. I’m ready for a big experiment.

What about you? How have you changed up a favorite recipe lately?

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