Updated: Mar 21
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 salinity or else their proteins become slack. Instead of rising properly, you end up with a sloppy mess. I use aka (red) miso paste instead of salt here – 10 g for this 500 g boule, for a 2% ratio of miso to flour. Miso is a good salt alternative that helps to lower blood pressure and heart rate. 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 double the recipe ingredients, bake in a 4-quart Dutch oven, increase baking times to about 25 minutes covered and 50-55 minutes uncovered, or until it’s a lovely deep chestnut color.
Prep time 1 day to pre-feed a healthy sour "Mother" dough, plus 3-4 hours to ferment and rise
Hint: If you mother dough is sleepy or you haven't baked in a while, pre-feed it up to a week in advance or until it is healthy, active, and teaming with life.
Bake time: 47 minutes
Makes a 500-gram loaf (1.1 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 • parchment paper • a bench scraper • a curved plastic bowl scraper • two identical bowls • cooling rack
500 grams whole wheat flour (I used a hard red winter wheat flour)
450 grams unchlorinated water
100 grams ripe sourdough starter (1)
10 grams aka (red) miso
Extra whole wheat 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. Use a Dutch dough hook or a wooden spoon to incorporate the flour, mixing it well. Cover and set a side for 1 hour. 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 mix it in to the autolyzed dough until it is well incorporated. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Rest the dough for 15 minutes.
Now add the miso paste, mixing it in well. Cover the bowl again and set in a warm spot in your kitchen, or in your oven if it has a proofing setting. Ideally, the temperature will be 90-100°F.
· 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 for 3 to 4 hours, typically. 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, the temperature in your kitchen, and the vitality of your starter. The cooler your kitchen, the weaker your starter, the more cycles required. 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 mixing bowl and rest the dough for 20 minutes.
· Final Shaping
Repeat the pre-shaping steps once again.
Choose 2 identical bowls, similar in size to the Dutch oven you'll bake the bread in. Line the first bowl with parchment paper, cut large enough to create "tabs" you can later hold when it's time to lift the dough out of the bowl to transfer it to the hot Dutch oven. After pre-shaping the second time, wet your hands and transfer the dough from the cutting board to the parchment-lined bowl. Invert the second bowl over the first bowl. It will allow the dough to continue to rise without disturbing its surface. Allow the dough to rise for its final hour or two. It is ready to bake when it develops a rounded, domed top and is teaming with life and small air bubbles.
Place shelf rack in the lower third of your oven, preheat the Dutch oven at 550°F (500°F convection).
Right before baking, you can use a sieve to sift a few tablespoons of flour over the dough, if you like. It's not necessary but adds visual appeal to the baked bread.
Carefully remove the VERY hot Dutch oven and place on the grates of your stove top.
Remove the Dutch oven lid and picking up the dough by its parchment paper liner tabs, transfer the parchment-encased dough Dutch oven.
Now with lower hydration sourdough breads, this would be the moment to score the dough using a lame/razor/scalpel, typically slashing the top ¾- 1” deep in one smooth motion. The purpose of scoring is to enable steam to escape and facilitate the bread's rise in the oven ("oven spring") without haphazard tearing of the crust.
However, when it comes to high hydration sourdoughs like this one with a water-flour ratio of 90% (anything over 70% is considered high), scoring serves little purpose: The sticky dough will impede the blade from scoring cleanly and the cut will simply reclose as it bakes. No worries, high hydration loaves expand uniformly all on their own and any benefits from scoring are simply lost on them.
Replace the Dutch oven lid and transfer the pot immediately to the oven, lowering the oven temp to 500°F (475° convection). Replace the hot lid and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the Dutch oven lid. The boule should have risen and taken on a golden hue. If you're lucky, its top will have split attractively. If it is still pale, leave cover on and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes.
Remove the lid, and lower oven temp to 450°F (425° convection). Bake for an additional 45 to 47 minutes or until the top takes on a deep chestnut color.
Remove the Dutch oven from the oven and reverse the boule and parchment to a cooling rack. Peel off the parchment. Allow to fully cool which could take a few hours or even overnight. The bread will continue to develop as it cools, so use restraint and wait (it’s hard!).
Sourdoughs are marvelous also because they don’t get stale quickly. Once I’ve sliced into the boule, I wrap it in a clean linen or cotton kitchen towel to allow it to breathe but retain its moisture.
Congratulations! You did it! I hope you’ll enjoy these little whole wheat sourdough boules as much as I do! You’ve just raised your bread bar substantially and may never go back to conventionally leavened, store-bought bread.