Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More on Mysterious Sourdough Murders

I know other people's experience has been different, but I have to say--for me, sourdough starter does not last all that long in the refrigerator. Even if I feed it and warm it regularly, it gets weaker and weaker, and finally just lies there.

I recently added more dry sourdough starter to my languishing mixture, which made it revive. I'm thinking it might be a good idea to add a small amount--not a whole package, but maybe 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon--once a week when I feed and warm the mixture.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Changes to Rye Boule Recipe

The sourdough rye boule is Aaron's favorite bread. Over the past few months, I've worked on it. As with all sourdough, the challenge is to get it really sour and at the same time, have it rise well. I think I've finally got it, and you'll find revisions to the Sourdough Rye Boule recipe below.

A very odd idea occurred to me the last time I made it--one that worked perfectly. Although I pamper my sourdough starter like a spoiled pet, I've had problems that typically occur at the point where I made a promising-looking sponge into a dough. It seems to lose all ambition about that time, resulting in a tasty loaf that doesn't rise much.

Last time I made it, I ginned up the sponge with more starter before I added the flour to make a dough. It worked great. Whether it would have anyway, I don't know. For now, my recipe says to do this, and I'll keep working on it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Health Bread

2 cups milk
1 ½ tablespoons dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
1 cup barley flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached bread flour

Scald the milk. Add the honey and let the mixture cool to 110 degrees F. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it soften for a few minutes. Then stir in all three kinds of flour and either beat 100 strokes with a large spoon or use an electric mixer on medium speed for about a minute.

Let rise at 90 degrees until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

To make the dough, add to the sponge:

1 cup cooked wheat berries
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts
½ cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds (hulled)
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons salt
About 1 cup whole wheat flour
About 1 cup unbleached bread flour
Additional melted butter (about 2 tablespoons) for brushing on loaf during baking (see note)

Knead, adding more flour as needed in about a 50/50 ratio of whole wheat and unbleached bread flour, until the dough is smooth and elastic. (The chunks of stuff won’t make for a smooth ball of dough, but the dough itself should be smooth.)

Let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Deflate and let rise until doubled again. Shape into a loaf (see notes) and let rise for 30 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees F to an internal temperature of 200 degrees. (See notes)


I baked this in a round cloche. With about an hour left to go on the rising, I preheated both pieces of the empty cloche in a 400-degree oven.

To shape the loaf before the last rising, I used baking parchment to line a bowl of approximately the same diameter as my cloche.

When the loaf had risen, I removed the dough and paper from the bowl and trimmed the paper close to the edge of the dough.

I removed the bottom section of the cloche from the oven. Using a large spatula, I transferred the uncooked loaf to the cloche. Then I removed the top of the cloche from the oven, covered the loaf with it, and returned the cloche to the oven. (To handle something this heavy and hot, two good oven mitts are recommended.)

I baked the loaf for 30 minutes covered, removed the cover, and brushed melted butter onto the crust.

I reduced the heat to 375 and baked to an internal temperature of 200 degrees, about another 20 minutes.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Whole Wheat Sourdough Loaf

Sourdough Wheat Sandwich Bread

1. Mix 1 cup water and 1 cup whole wheat flour in a mason jar. Shake well. Loosen the top a little so air can get in. Keep at a temperature of about 80 degrees for 24 hours.

2. Mix 1 cup San Francisco sourdough starter (See note below), 1 cup milk and 1 cup whole wheat flour in a bread bowl. Add 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Beat 100 strokes with a spoon or a couple of minutes with an electric mixer. Add the whole wheat starter from step 1. Cover with a bowl cover or plastic wrap.

3. Put in a warm place (about 85 degrees) until very bubbly.

4. Mix 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons gluten flour, 2 teaspoons diastatic malt powder, and 2 teaspoons brown sugar with 1 cup whole wheat flour.

5. Add to the sourdough mixture in the bowl. Mix well.

6. Add whole wheat bread flour to make a soft dough. Knead in ¼ cup soft butter.

7. Knead in more flour carefully to make a firm dough.

8. Let rise at 85 degrees until doubled. Deflate. Let rise until about doubled again.

9. Form into a loaf. Let rise again in loaf pan at 85 degrees F. When the bread has risen to the top of the pan, remove it from the proofer and smear the top all over with soft butter.

10. Bake in a non-preheated 365 degree oven.

11. Loaf is done when it reads 190 degrees, or 200 degrees if you like a bread with a slightly drier crumb.


When you remove the mixture of whole wheat flour and water from the proofer (step 1), it should have developed bubbles and a sour odor.

You may use either a bread proofer or a box with a heating pad set on low. Or, if you have a reliable warm place that will keep your bread mixtures at about 85 degrees F, use that. See my discussion of warming boxes--click here.

For "San Francisco Sourdough Starter," I use the Sourdough International starter, mixed and fermented according to the manufacturer's directions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Beginning on Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Loaf

The next project is a whole wheat sourdough sandwich loaf. I'm adapting the recipe for the rye boule, or at least that's my plan. Baking in a loaf pan is trickier because you need for your dough to be nice and sour by the time it's ready to bake, and with a set volume, that's a little more difficult. I made one loaf yesterday that turned out OK, but not sour enough. Too much dough for the pan, so I had to bake it before it had really soured. It tastes like slightly sour whole wheat bread. Not what I wanted, but as I've mentioned before, good enough to be happily used. Made the same recipe with a larger pan today. It's still in the oven. Later note: The second loaf came out medium sour, but did not rise as well as I'd hoped. Also, it wasn't as nice looking as I'd like. More tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sourdough Rye Boule--Revised

I keep a container of San Francisco Sourdough Starter (I've used different brands) in the refrigerator at all times. Once a week, I add 1/2 C bread flour and 1/2 C distilled water and beat lightly with a non-metallic whisk. (Side note: The maker of one of my starters insisted that nothing metal should ever touch sourdough. I considered this unlikely, but tried a batch with no metal bowls or implements. It actually did rise better, whether by coincidence or not, I can't say. In any case, I avoid metal, though I'm still doubtful.)

This recipe takes at least a day and a half, often longer.

1. Mix 1-1/2 cups water and 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour in a mason jar. Cover tightly. Shake well. Loosen the top a little so air can get in. Set in a warm place until bubbly and sour smelling. This may take as long as 24 hours.

2. At the same time, refresh the SF sourdough starter and put it in a warm place.

3. Make a sponge: When the starters are ready, take 1/2 C of the SF starter mix out of the main container. Mix it with the whole wheat starter, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1/2 C distilled water, 1 C whole wheat flour, and 1 tablespoon caraway seed. Mix well with a non-nonmetallic spoon, cover loosely, and set in a warm place until bubbly and sour smelling.

4. Mix 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons gluten flour, and 2 teaspoons brown sugar with 1 cup rye flour. Add to the sponge. Add 1/2 C additional SF starter. Mix well.

5. Add unbleached bread flour to make a dough, first stirring, then working on the bread board with a nonmetallic scraper, then kneading. This dough is going to be sticky. Use enough of the bread flour, and knead enough, that it's not extremely sticky.

6. Let rise at 85 degrees. It should increase in size, but it's not going to double like yeast bread does.

7. Form into a ball shape, kneading gently and adding small amounts of bread flour as needed for consistency. Turn into parchment lined bowl. Let rise again at 85 degrees F.

8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F with both halves of bread cloche in it. (See note below) 

9. After about half an hour, remove the dough from the bowl. Trim the parchment around the base of the loaf, leaving about 1 /1/2 inches of parchment beyond the loaf.

Transfer the dough to the bottom half of cloche. Slash the top of the bread lightly (I make three or four slashes in one direction crossed with three or four at right angles.) Cover with upper half of cloche and bake for 30 minutes.

At the end of 30 minutes, remove the top. Bake until a thermometer in the center of the loaf registers 200 degrees F. (Usually from 15 to 30 minutes more.)


I always use distilled water. Some tap water contains chlorine compounds that will mess up your starters. Some tap water works, but I don't trust mine.

You may use either a bread proofer or a box with a heating pad set on low. Or, if you have a reliable warm place that will keep your bread mixtures at about 85 degrees F, use that. See my discussion of warming boxes--click here.

I use an unglazed pottery cloche for baking, but other pans and forms may work just as well.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Mysterious Sourdough Starter Murders

Aaron and I have both had starters crash recently. They're going fine, and then...flatline.

The curious thing is, our methods have little in common. We use different wheat and different water. The few things we do similarly are things that have general agreement among sourdough bakers.

It's only the wild starters that are affected, the ones we've generated from flour and water. Aaron doesn't use commercial sourdough starters--I do. None of my commercial sourdough starters have had problems.

In my case, the ones that have died have started out quite sour, almost like salt rising starter. One crashed before I used it, another made one very sour loaf and one that was much less sour. And that was it.

So that's the reason for the delay in the next sourdough boule. However, I have some good commercial starter in the proofer now, and expect to be able to make some bread by tomorrow.

We think there is a mysterious sourdough starter murderer on the loose. If there were any way the cat could have done it, we'd have a suspect. But there's not.