Recently I taught a class on making raw, cultured butter. A friend, Rachel was so kind to bring a loaf of homemade whole grain bread. It was delicious and everyone gobbled it up. It was perfect with the homemade butter. She mentioned wanting to convert it to sourdough, which can be a bit tricky sometimes, but one look at the recipe and I recognized that it was very similar to one I frequently made years ago. That made converting it a no brainer. While I don't usually recommend modern wheat, I recognize that it's important to take baby steps when learning to bake bread. This is a great recipe to start with, to get your feet wet and gain experience and confidence in whole grain bread baking, particularly sourdough. Becoming a skilled bread baker takes practice, 100% whole grain bread takes a little bit more, sourdough bread takes it to the next level, 100% whole grain sourdough bread goes even beyond that. Then ancient grain sourdough and finally 100% whole, ancient grain, sourdough. I'm still working on that one. This recipe is a great place to start. Let's call it a practice loaf. Thanks Rachel for the bread, and the white wheat that I haven't baked with in oh-so-long. It was a fun adventure!
Baking with whole grains is ideal. See here for more information on grains. The sourdough, or fermenting process, makes bread more digestible and a bit easier on your system. It's also wise to use organic grain to reduce the toxic load on your body. While this bread uses white wheat, which isn't ideal, it really is more nutritious than any bread you can buy in the store, at least where I live. Although, this recipe looks long, it really is simple. I just tried to be very detailed in the steps. I hope your sourdough bread baking adventure is a delicious success!
Rachel's Sourdough Bread
3 cups organic, white wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups water (Sometimes I add a little whey in the water.)
1/4 cup active, 100% hydration sourdough starter, or 1/4 tsp. dry yeast (see tips below)
1. Grind whole organic wheat berries into a flour. (Rachel uses 2 smoothie cycles in a Blendtec to grind her grain.)
2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. (I usually mix mine with a large spoon in one of my pots that has a lid. Probably because I don't have any bowls big enough with a lid, but you could just do a big bowl covered with plastic wrap.)
3. Measure 1 1/2 cups of water into a small mixing bowl. Mix in 1/4 cup active sourdough starter (or the yeast) into the water and stir with a fork until mixed together. Pour starter mixture into the flour and stir with a large spoon until combined. (If you're using active dry yeast, allow the yeast to activate in the water for about 5 minutes before adding to flour, if it's instant, you can it use right away.)
4. The dough will be a bit sticky, but don't add more flour or it will be too dense.
5. Cover with an airtight lid or plastic wrap.
6. Let sit on the counter for 12-18 hours.
7. After the dough has sat for 12-18 hours, oil your hands and counter. Scrape dough from the bowl onto the counter and form it into a round loaf. It will still be sticky. Place the loaf in a 2.5 quart pyrex glass bowl lined with parchment paper. This helps the dough keep it's shape like a proofing basket. Trim the parchment paper a bit around the bowl, so there is not a lot of excess paper hanging over the sides.
8. Cover with oiled plastic wrap, or a very large inverted bowl.
9. Let rise about 1 hour.
10. After an hour, place a dutch oven in the oven and heat it to 475 degrees for 30 minutes while the bread continues to rise. I like to place a baking sheet on the rack under my dutch oven, as the bottom of my bread tends to get too done and this protects it a bit. You can also improvise with several layers of aluminum foil.
11. Optional: Right before baking, beat an egg and lightly brush dough with some of the egg.
12. With a very sharp knife, or the edge of a razor blade, make a slice about 1/4 inch deep across the dough. This is called scoring and it gives the dough room to expand in a more "aesthetic" way, otherwise it expands in a random way.
13. If desired, sprinkle with coarse salt, and anything else if you like, to make it pretty.
14. Remove the dutch oven from the hot oven and close the oven door. Gently lift the dough with the parchment paper into the dutch oven. Place the lid on the dutch oven, place in oven and turn the temperature down to 450.
15. Bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes.
16. Remove the bread from the dutch oven and cool completely on a bakers rack. Artisan style bread is best after it has cooled completely, otherwise it can be gummy. It keeps well for a day on the counter with the cut side down. After that, place the bread in an airtight bag. The crust won't be crisp when stored in a bag, but you will be able to enjoy it for several more days. If you still have some left, it makes great croutons.
If you don't have a dutch oven, you can bake the bread on a cookie sheet, or in a cast iron skillet that has been preheated for 30 minutes. The dutch oven simulates a steam oven and produces a nicer crust, but until you have a dutch oven, give a cookie sheet, or cast iron skillet a try.
If you are new to bread baking and/or don't have a sourdough starter, you can use yeast. This isn't ideal, because the bacteria in yeast is much different than the bacteria in sourdough, making for a less digestible end product. However, because this loaf has a very small amount of yeast and a first rise that is much longer than a typical yeasted loaf, it's much better than a standard/conventional loaf of yeasted bread. So go ahead, give this bread a try.
While I love the art of bread baking, especially sourdough, I do recommend that you limit your consumption of healthy bread products and products produced with flour to one serving per day ie: pancakes, waffles, muffins, crepes, crackers etc. and the rest of your grain consumption should be in the form of whole grain berries. See post here for more information.