This bread is perfect for sandwiches. Forget the bread that falls apart while you are trying to eat, or is so chewy it gives you muscles a workout. With a sour, nutty flavor this is my husband’s go-to bread for grilled sandwiches of all kinds.
I’m using the basic recipe here, but I’ll modify it at certain points. I’ll put my modifications in bold. I use a scale for all measurements; this is vital for the perfect loaf!
Around 8pm I start the levain. I have a lovely, 10-year-old sourdough starter originally from King Arthur Flour. It is super active and gives me really good results. I scoop out 60g of starter and add 60g each of whole wheat flour and warm water. Just put the starter in a glass or other non-metallic bowl and tare out your scale after each addition. The water is fairly warm – warm, but not hot to the touch.
Cover the bowl with a clean towel and put it in the oven with the light on (this will provide a nice, warm environment). If needed, put a sticky note on your oven so no one heats it up (guilty!).
In the morning, or after about 12 hours you’ll want to autolyse your flour. As the recipe says, this activate enzymes in the flour and is done just by mixing the flour and water together.
A note about mixing/rising containers. I use a food bucket that I got at my local restaurant supply store. It comes with a lid and is translucent you I can see how the rise is going. If you are going to make bread often, this is the way to go.
Into the bucket, which is on my scale, I put 705g of whole wheat flour, 400g white bread flour, 61g of rye (or oat, or buckwheat, or whatever I have on hand. Today I’m using oat flour). I don’t use the malt in the recipe, but I do add 2T of vital wheat gluten (I get mine at King Arthur Flour).
Mix it all up until there are no dry areas left. You aren’t kneading, just mixing. Once everything is incorporated, cover it and leave it for 1-2 hours.
My levain (the sourdough mixture I did last night) is always ready, so I just keep an eye on it and if it looks like it is losing volume, I’ll go ahead and start mixing it into the flour/water mixture even if the whole 2 hours hasn’t passed.
So, scrape all of the levain, plus 5 teaspoons of salt (I use pink Himalayan, but use what you have) in to the big container. Now you are going to mix and I’m going to teach you a trick I learned.
Make sure your hands are clean and just get in there and start mixing together. When it starts to come together, but you can still feel the salt, start pinching off pieces of the dough, a little bigger than golf balls, and drop them over to one side of the bowl. Just pinch, pinch, pinch until all the dough is little pieces. Now mix and press these together. Do this about 2 more times or until everything is incorporated and you can’t feel the gritty salt anymore.
Note that this is a slack, sticky, dough and a scraper is very helpful to manipulate it. You aren’t kneading the dough – the long rise will take care of the gluten development – you are just making sure everything is incorporated.
When you are done, cover the container, set and alarm for 30 minutes and clean up. After 30 minutes you are going to do three or four folds.
Open the container and loosen the dough (works a little better with wet hands, don’t use oil). Lift one side of the dough straight up and let it stretch out. Just before it started to tear, fold the dough in your hand over the dough in the container. Rotate the container and do the same thing again.
Rotate and fold one (or two) more times for a total of 3-4 stretches. By the 3rd stretch the dough will start tightening up and won’t stretch as easy. If really stiff, don’t do the 4th stretch.
Cover the dough and set the time for 30 minutes again. You are going to do the same folding thing 2 more times (over the course of 1.5 hours). Today, after the first stretch the dough seemed really chilly to me. I put my bucket into the oven with the light on. It is pretty chilly in my house and this is enough warmth to keep the little yeasties active.
Now you can leave it along and let it rise for about 3 hours. The recipe includes the fold time in the rise time, but I add the extra time. My house might be cooler than some, but I think I get better results when the dough just about doubles, which is 4.5 hours for me. If yours goes crazy you may only need the extra 2 hours after the folding.
Now time to shape. We are going to put these in loaf pans, so get them ready. I usually spritz mine with a little olive oil or Pam.
Cut the dough in half – if you can’t judge half well you can weigh it. Just weigh all the dough and figure out what half would be.
Take one half and pat out flat into a kind of rectangle. I have a bench scraper, so I never use flour. If you do use flour, be very sparing. Roll the rectangle up by the long side into a firm roll. The outside will be nice and taut.
Put it in the pan, tucking the ends underneath evenly on each side. Do the same with the second piece of dough. Cover the pans with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator.
Let proof for 14-18 hours. To me, I let it sit there until I get up in the morning. The first thing I do (even before I brush my teeth) is turn the oven on heat up to 500°f. Then I do the shower thing and get ready for the day.
Using a very sharp knife you can score the tops of the loaves. I do this because I feel it gives a nicer oven-spring – it rises a little better.
Take about 1/4 c. of water for each pan, pour it over the loaf, then stick it in the oven. Once the door is closed, turn the heat down to 475° and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the heat down to 450° and bake another 20 minutes. Don’t open the oven door between these times! Finally, turn the oven to 425° and bake for 10-20 minutes (I always need 20 minutes).
When the bread is done, remove from the oven. Hot bread fresh from the oven is great, but sourdough is even better tasting if you let it cool and, if possible, sit for a day. But hey, I’ve also eaten it hot; it just doesn’t quite have that flavor and texture.
It sounds like this is a lot of work, but it really isn’t! There are a lot of small steps, but none of them take too long. Also, consider your schedule. I work at home, so this one works for me, but you might want to switch things around to fit your own schedule.