Updated: Aug 9, 2020
Sourdough baking is all the rage lately, and I have to admit, having much more time at home during our lockdown is wonderfully conducive to the tending that sourdough baking requires. It's so delicious and nutritious, it's become a highlight in our COVID-restricted lives. Since it's just my hubby and me at home, I bake these diminutive boules in a dainty 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven. That way it never gets stale or requires freezing.
I use only whole-grain flour because I don’t want to miss out of the nutritional benefits from whole wheat’s bran fiber and nutrient-rich germ. 100% whole-grain loaves will be denser and have a small crumb than white loaves, but in my opinion, the taste is absolutely supreme, moist, a bit tangy, with a fabulous crust and bursting with flavor.
Whole-grain sourdough, fermented by wild yeasts and lactobacilli bacteria, offers many health benefits vs conventional loaves; it increases the bioavailability of folate, minerals, and antioxidants, is more digestible by lowering gluten levels, and is better at controlling blood sugar levels. (see https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sourdough-bread#section5).
To rise properly sourdough loaves need some salt or else their proteins become slack. Instead of rising properly, you end up with a sloppy mess. I use the absolute minimal amount to keep the wild yeasts and bacteria in check and the bread rising as it ought –
4 g for this 400 g boule, for a 1% ratio of salt to flour. Even better, miso is a good salt alternative that helps to lower blood pressure. You can substitute it for the salt in this recipe (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5313421/#:~:text=Miso%2C%20which%20is%20made%20from,%2C%20including%20salt%2Dsensitive%20hypertension).
Practice makes perfect and while it’s a lengthy process, each step actually requires very little involvement on your part. You just need a day that you’re available to tinker with it now and again as it rises. Baking these boules has become a passion and a pastime, a source of pride, and a sensory experience that truly brightens up our days.
Hint! To make a full-sized boule, just triple the recipe ingredients, bake in a 5-quart Dutch oven, increase baking times to about 25 minutes covered and about 30 minutes uncovered, or until it’s a lovely chestnut color on top.
Prep time 1 day to pre-feed plus 6-8 hours to ferment and rise Baking time: 40 minutes
Makes a 400-gram loaf (0.8 lb.)
• a 2-quart cast iron pot • 1 digital scale accurate to 0.1 gram • 1 small digital scale accurate to 0.01 gram • a 3-quart glass bowl with lid (or plastic wrap or dampened kitchen towel) • parchment paper • a bench scraper • a curved plastic bowl scraper
400 grams whole wheat flour
360 grams unchlorinated water
80 grams ripe sourdough starter (1)
4 grams salt or 6 grams aka (red) miso
Brown rice flour to to lightly dust surface
1) For my rye or whole wheat sourdough starter recipe see https://www.cathyskitchenprescription.com/product-page/sourdough-starter-free
The day Before you Bake
· If you tend your mother dough regularly with frequent feedings, feed it very well before you go to bed the night before baking day so that it is ripe and actively with bubbles come morning.
· If you’ve neglected your mother dough for a while, start daily feedings as much as a week beforehand. You want it fully active before you mix your dough.
In the morning weigh the water and add to your mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, mixing very well. Cover and set a side for 1-2 hours. Autolyzing the flour and water hydrates the flour very well and begins to activate the wheat’s gluten and enzymes. It will give fermentation a head-start.
· Mix the Dough
Weigh out your sourdough and add to the bowl, pulling up the dough from the edges to cover the sourdough, pinching it and twisting the dough, rotating the bowl as you go. Continue until the starter feels integrated. The texture will be soft and stretchable (extensible). Next weigh out the salt with your smaller scale. Dissolve the salt or the miso in a tiny amount of water and pour over the top of the dough, pinching, pulling, and twisting the dough as with the starter, rotate the bowl as you go. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap or a damp clean kitchen towel. Rest the dough for 10-15 minutes.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and knead the dough in its bowl, by pulling up an edge of the dough, stretching it up and over the top, and pushing it down. Rotate the bowl 90° as you go. The dough will start very extensible (stretchy and sloppy), but soon the salt/miso and gluten in the dough will tighten up its texture and the dough will become elastic (snaps back after stretching). Cover and set aside for an hour in a temperately warm place (70-80°F is ideal), if it’s too cool in your kitchen fermentation will take longer and too hot will speed up fermentation but faster isn’t better when it comes to taste and texture.
· Bulk Fermentation
This stage is where the wild yeast and lactobacilli bacteria do their magic, fermenting the dough and releasing carbon dioxide bubbles that make the dough rise. After an hour, wet your hand, slide it down the side of the bowl and pull up that side of dough, stretch it up and gently over the rest. Turn the bowl 90° and repeat 3 times Do these stretches and pulls gently and not more than 4 each cycle, so that you don’t overwork the dough and disrupt the bubbles developing within. Cover and set your timer for 1 hour.
Repeat this last step every hour over 4 to 7 hours. It’s a little unpredictable how many cycles your sourdough will require before we move to the next step; it will depend on the weather and the vitality of your starter. You’ll know when to stop when the dough has risen significantly and suddenly feels lighter, airier, teaming with life. You should begin to see large bubbles developing under the surface here and there. Try not to disturb them.
This is a short step to prepare the dough for its final shaping, tighten up its gluten strands, and continue to rise.
Lightly spritz water on a large cutting board. Wet your curved bowl scraper, or your wet hands, slide it gently around the sides of the dough, transferring it to the board. It will spread. Pat it lightly into a circle. Then, wet your hands and pick up a side and fold it over the middle, repeating on the other three side which will create a mounded round ball. On a clean part of your cutting board turn the dough upside down and place on the board. Wet your hands again, lace your fingers together and on the far side of the dough, gently pull the dough towards you on the board…just a few inches. Rotate the board 90° and repeat. This gentle method will firm up the boule's form by creating tension on its outer layers without damaging its fragile interior structure. Repeat a few times as needed to achieve a nice round boule shape but don’t overdo or you’ll tear the outer dough layers and lose volume. Cover the dough with the empty bowl and allow to rest for 20 minutes.