Tuesday 12 March 2013

Sourdough bread (Wheat + rye starter)

Coming from the South of India, where rice is the indigenous and most used grain, I am used to Indian flat bread regularly. But I got to try yeast bread only on rare occasions like when travelling or when sick. I had a real hard time adjusting to eating bread regularly when I left home for graduate studies. But while travelling in Germany, I got to try sourdough bread. That changed it all for me. I fell in love with German breads, in general, with my favorite being sourdough breads. I came to enjoy bread so much that I now bake my own at home every other day. In fact, I have fallen in love with bread baking as well. Sourdough bread making is as natural as it gets in the ingredients as well as the techniques. But it does require patience with a reward well worth all the effort at the end of it.

Now that my starter is doing well and thriving (recipe here and also to read the health benefits of sourdough breads), I was looking forward to making sourdough rye bread. However, when I took out the starter, to mix the dough, Anjalie (perceptive as always) said that she would like some of "Mummy's bread" (a name usually given to sourdough breads!). So I changed my recipe to include wheat flours (wholemeal and white bread flours) so that the resultant bread is more fluffy and soft than full rye bread and hence more appealing to Anjalie. The recipe here is for a most basic sourdough bread with natural emulsifiers like soya flour and milk powder. You can play around with the type of flour used or add seeds and/or fruits and nuts as you wish.

You will need***:
100 grams of starter (I used rye starter)
200 grams of warm water
200 grams of white bread flour +
100 grams of wholemeal bread flour^
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp soya flour
1 tbsp milk powder

Last night (11/03/13), which is the day before I am about to bake my bread, I took my starter out of the fridge and left it outside for 2 hrs to get it to room temperature. My plan is to make a small loaf so I took out 100 grams of my rye starter and replenished my starter. I added 200 grams of warm water to my 100 grams of starter and set it aside. I gathered all my dry ingredients into my food processor and pulsed it to mix them all up. You can use a large mixing bowl if you want to do the hand kneading or use an electric mixer. Unlike regular bread, sourdough bread does not require too much kneading. If anything too much kneading will lead to dense bread! So go for hand kneading if you have time. I try to avoid using bread machine for sourdough for two main reasons: 1) Sourdough breads take and need longer raising times than commercial yeast bread. Most bread machines have preset kneading time, raising time and baking time that cannot be changed. 2) The kneading times while using bread machine is around 20 mins which is way too much for sourdough bread and will make the bread dense. So it is better to knead the sourdough by hand or using a food processor where we can control the speed and the time of kneading.

Mix 100 grams of starter with 200 grams of lukewarm water. Let it rest for a few mins.

Mean while mix all the dry ingredients: flours, salt, sugar and milk powder in a mixing bowl or food processor bowl. Remember to use dough blade in the food processor/dough hook for the electric mixer.

Add the water-starter mixture and make a sticky dough using a spoon in the mixing bowl or at low speed in the food processor/electric mixer. Turn the dough on a lightly floured surface, if hand kneading, and knead for another 10 mins making sure not to add too much flour to the dough. The dough will be sticky and hence difficult to handle. But adding too much flour will make the bread tough and dense. Add just enough flour to make it easier to handle the dough.

In the food processor/electric mixer, knead the dough in med-low speed for 3-5 mins until the dough stops sticking to the sides too much and comes together in the centre. It will start to look more stretchy and cohesive.
Place the dough in a large mixing bowl and add 1 tbsp oil to coat the dough well. Cover and leave it to raise for 10-12 hrs* depending on how sour you want your bread to taste. You can even leave the dough in the fridge for 24 hrs. I finished kneading the bread (@ 1 am) and left it raise on the counter top for 12 hrs (until I came home for lunch break the next day).

Next day, after 12 hrs raising time, the dough had clearly doubled. Last time my sourdough did it's job too well and the dough had overflowed on the sides of my bowl. So despite making a small loaf this time I used the largest mixing bowl I could find to let the dough raise!

Turn the dough over on a very lightly floured surface and very gently stretch the dough on all sides and pinch it to the middle. Be very gentle at this step if you want a very airy crumb.

Shape the dough gently into your desired loaf shape.Unfortunately since it was lunch time there was no one at home to take pictures to show you a step-by step shaping :( Here is the first shaping of a boule/round.

You can find more about various shaping techniques at http://thebackhomebakery.com/Tutorials.html

I covered it and left to rest for 10 mins so that the dough will relax. Then gave it another go at shaping. Try to be as gentle as possible at this step. If you knead the dough too much it can lead to denser bread.

Place the shaped dough onto a parchment paper lightly dusted with flour and/or corn meal.

Cover and let it raise for another 3-4 hrs**. I left the dough to raise and went back to work planning to bake it when I get back in the evening.

When I reached back from work, the dough had nearly doubled and was springing back, immediately, when I poked it gently with a finger. This indicated that it was ready to go into the oven. I want a bread with soft crumbs on the inside with a crusty top. So I chose to use the same technique I used for the rustic bread. The best way to get a crusty bread is to have steam in the oven. There are various methods to inject steam into the oven including adding ice cubes in a tray and leaving it in the bottom of the oven or using water and tea cloths in a tray instead.

Another method that worked for me for the rustic bread is the dutch oven method. A dutch oven is pretty much an oven proof dish with an oven proof lid that covers the pot well. I have seen pictures of people using two cast iron pots (one over the other) to make dutch oven. This creates a miniature oven full of moist steam due to the lid and gives the best results for me, i.e., crusty bread with soft crumbs. I preheated the oven to 240 degree Celsius and placed the my pyroflam crock-pot in there for 40 mins. You can use dutch oven, pyrex bowls or cast iron pots as long as they have lids. Do not use anything with plastic handles though even if it says oven proof. You are going to bake at very high heat.

After the 40 mins, I took out the preheated pyroflam pot (beware very hot!). I placed the raised dough with the parchment paper into the pot. I sprayed the top of the dough with water. I used one of the old spray bottles for this. If not you can sprinkle water sparingly. This is just to create and set off some initial steam. You will have to be extremely careful not to burn yourself. 240 degrees is very high heat! I covered my pot and placed it in the middle rack in the oven with the lid on for 10 mins. Beware the lid will be hot as well.

Next I lowered the heat to 200 degrees Celsius, removed the lid and let the bread bake for another 20 mins. When I turned the bread over it sounded hollow indicating that it is thoroughly cooked.

I left it cool while I made ratatouille for dinner to go with my bread.

An hr and 1/2 later, I cut open the bread to see lovely soft crumbs with big holes and crusty top.
Our only regret is that it was a small loaf! Anjalie has already asked for it again next week :)

This bread is particularly healthy for small children (remove crust) since it is easily digested. Also all the ingredients used in making this bread are as natural as possible since it does not use commercial yeast. More than anything, it is by far the yummiest bread when it comes to taste.

***Notes: I made a high hydration dough for the bread with nearly 70% hydration. This is difficult to shape and work with. But way worth the effort since it leads to soft bread with crusty outer layer. You can decrease the liquid/water amount to up to 60% hydration. But that would mean a much more easily manageable dough but a denser bread.

**Notes: Keeping in mind that, the sourdough starter is a living being, the raise times may vary widely depending on the temperature, humidity and other factors. Please be prepared to adjust for the raise times depending on your kitchen. Even in my own kitchen, during summer times the second proofing just takes 2 hrs and at winter times like today it took around 3.5 hrs. The best way to check if the dough is ready to go in the oven is to gently poke it with a finger and if it springs right back up then it is ready. Be careful not to let it over proof/raise the second time because it will cause the bread to collapse.

*Note: Try not to leave it for less than 6 hrs unless you have had an exceptionally good doubling of the dough. Sourdough takes longer to raise the bread than commercial yeast.

^Note: You can use 200 grams of wholemeal and 100 grams of white bread flour instead or full 300 grams of wholemeal bread flour for a even more healthier version. Although, this means that the bread may not be as soft since wholemeal bread are a little more dense than white bread.

Sending this out to Healthy Me Healthy Us event hosted by Priya. For more such healthy recipes check out her event page.


  1. Love the recipe dear, I would love to have it for my event @ my blog. Please do take a look and send it.

  2. I would like to try this soon with the sourdough starter recipe mentioned in the blog.


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