Sourdough bread-making methods, The Sourdough Journals
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Whole wheat walnut raisin boule using the King Arthur method

Last weekend, with out-of-town guests flying in, I made a festive loaf using the King Arthur stiff levain method, but with a twist: I added raisins and walnuts.

To be sure I could take the loaf from the oven in time to leave to meet the plane, I got up early and had the first rise going by 7:30. Now to be sure, I rushed things a bit here and there, but this loaf was resting on the cooling rack by 3:45 that afternoon.

The next morning, we cut into it. We were having so much fun, I didn’t stop to take a photograph of the interior, but I can tell you it was more dense than I would have liked.

The crumb was even–no big gas bubbles, but moist and fully baked throughout. The walnuts gave it a bit of crunch here and there, and the raisins that extra hit of sweetness we like in our breakfast breads here at Chez Grace.

My son-in-law, who doesn’t enjoy whole wheat that much and is an accomplished baker himself, pronounced the loaf delicious and said he preferred the fine-grained texture. Isn’t he a sweetheart?

Today, company gone, I’m giving the raisin-walnut version another go. This time, I’m taking it slow and easy. No rush.

Feeding the levain

Yesterday morning I pulled my tiny, two-ounce ball of stiff levain from the refrigerator, fed it and set it atop the fridge to incubate.

By nightfall, the levain had doubled into a beautiful sponge on the interior, with a relatively smooth, domed top. Rinse, repeat. Well, no, I didn’t rinse, but I did repeat, and awoke this morning to a well-refreshed sponge, as you see here.

Low moisture and cool, slow rises make for a sweeter dough

After doing a little more research, I’ve learned why these sponges always smell a little sweet. It’s because of the low-moisture and the slow incubation period.

Apparently, the sour flavor doesn’t have as much opportunity to develop during this slower fermentation, which is one reason this method works so well with whole wheat flour. The sour and the nutty flavor of the wheat are not competing for our taste buds’ delight. Instead, they work together.

If you bake with a stiff, wild yeast levain, I’d be charmed to learn if you find this to be true as well, or whether your taste experience is different than mine.

Making the dough

It doesn’t take long this morning to weigh out the ingredients and mix up the dough.

After mixing the flour, water and levain, I form a rough ball and leave the dough to rest, loosely covered, for a twenty minute autolyse period.

After mixing the flour, water and levain, I shape it into a rough ball and set it to rest for 20 minutes before kneading

After mixing the flour, water and levain, I shape it into a rough ball and set it to rest for 20 minutes before kneading

In a true autolyse, I’ve learned, only the flour and water are combined. Next time, I’ll soak the flour in the water, before adding the levain.

Wow. I wish I could say I made that old-toothless-granny face sculpture by design, but it’s just a happy trick of the dough.

While the dough rests, I soak one-third cup raisins in a small amount of water for ten minutes, then drain them for the last seven or eight minutes of the autolyse.

Then, while the raisins soak, I chop one-third cup walnuts and set them aside as well.

After the rest period, I mix the salt, walnuts and raisins into the dough with my hands, turning and kneading it in the bowl until thoroughly mixed.

The dough, after mixing in the salt, raisins and walnuts

The dough, after mixing in the salt, raisins and walnuts

100 Percent whole wheat wild yeast walnut raisin loaf ingredients

Here’s the full ingredient list for this loaf.

  • 6 oz stiff wild yeast levain, at room temperature and fed twice in last 24 hours
  • 8 oz filtered water
  • 10 oz organic stone ground whole wheat flour
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1/3 c chopped organic walnuts
  • 1/3 c organic raisins

You may be wondering why I specify organic ingredients. It’s because that’s all we use in our kitchen. We feel that one of the most important things we can do for our grandchildren’s future–and their grandchildren’s future–is to protect food diversity, the soil, water supply and environment. Buying organic is an act of conscience for us, as much as for our personal health and well-being.

Kneading the dough

Next, I turn the dough out to knead, once again following Lisa Reyner’s method shown in her instructional video, which you can view on my post Making the King Arthur Boule, Step by Step. Or you can see a bit of the process in this mini slideshow.

After kneading the dough ten minutes, I form a rough ball and place it in a bowl, loosely covered, on the back porch, where the temperature is just a little over the King Arthur-prescribed 60º Fahrenheit.

The dough in a loosely lidded bowl, ready for its first rise on the cool back porch

The dough in a loosely lidded bowl, ready for its first rise on the cool back porch

Here you can see the dough from the beginning of the first rise to the end.

After the first two hours, the dough has begun to rise. At the end of the third hour, as we’ve seen in previous loaves, it has nearly doubled.

Bringing the dough, in its bowl, to the kitchen to shape, I am immediately distracted with another matter. Fully engaged, I forget the dough for a good twenty minutes.

Returning, I pull it carefully from the bowl and begin to shape it into a ball. At this point, King Arthur advises another twenty minute rest. Thinking the dough has rested enough already, I begin tightening the loaf by pulling it toward me repeatedly while tucking the sides in with the little finger on each hand.

Big mistake! Almost as soon as I begin, huge stretchy strands pull apart on its surface. This dough needs that rest period after shaping the rough ball. Have I ruined it?

I've overstretched the dough!

I’ve overstretched the dough!

What a mess. Placing the dough on the bowl’s plastic lid, where it won’t stick as badly as to the butcher block table, I invert the bowl over it and let it rest twenty minutes.

I set the uber-stretched dough to rest for twenty minutes

I set the uber-stretched dough to rest for twenty minutes

While the dough rests, I flour the banneton lightly and set it aside, ready to receive the boule for its final proofing.

The flour-dusted banneton, ready to receive the boule for its final proof

The flour-dusted banneton

Rested, the dough appears slightly more malleable, the stretched cells appearing a little more relaxed.

After resting 20 minutes, the dough seems softer to the touch, a little more plump, and ready to work

After resting 20 minutes, the dough seems softer to the touch, a little more plump, and ready to work

Once again, I shape it carefully with my hands, pulling the dough toward me in small increments, while turning it slightly with each pull and tucking the bottom edges under a little.

This is another technique I found in the King Arthur book titled King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, which is also where, if you’re new to this blog, I found the recipe I’m adapting here.

Carefully forming the dough into a ball, I stretch it by pulling it toward me with both hands (not one as you see here), and gently tucking it under around the edges

Carefully forming the dough into a ball, I stretch it by pulling it toward me with both hands (not one as you see here), and gently tucking it under around the edges

The final proof

When the dough is as smooth and stretched as I’m going to get it this time, I turn it upside down in the banneton for the final proofing. Placing it in the oven, warmed by the light, I invert my largest stainless steel bowl over basket and boule and set the timer for ninety minutes.

The boule in the banneton, ready to rest in the warmish oven, covered by a warmed 7-quart stainless steel bowl

The boule in the banneton, ready to rest in the warmish oven, covered by a warmed 7-quart stainless steel bowl

After ninety minutes, the boule is double its original size and ready to bake. My pizza stone and a cast iron pot already rest in the oven, ready to heat with it. I set the oven temp to 450º Fahrenheit and put a small pan of water to heating on the stove top.

After 90 minutes, the boule is more than double its original size

After 90 minutes, the boule is more than double its original size

After the thirty minutes preheat period, which gives the pizza stone plenty of time to get hot, I turn the boule onto a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel and slash it. Then I open the oven door and quickly but carefully pour the hot water into the cast iron pot, slip the boule onto the pizza stone and shut the oven door so the heat and steam can do their part.

What happens next, when I get it right, seems nearly miraculous. The dough puffs up and expands a little more and the crust gets crunchy while the insides bake to a moist tenderness, hopefully with some nice cellular structure that makes eating sourdough loaves so delightful.

Straight from the oven

Straight from the oven

We won’t cut into this loaf until tomorrow, at breakfast time. I’ll post a pic and let you know how it turned out.

Coming up

With this bread-making method, I churn out about a cup of excess sourdough starter each week. Last week, to use up some of that starter, I made sourdough currant scones. This week, I’m making chipotle and bell pepper scones. I’ll share the recipe with you tomorrow.

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