Since I started my sourdough journey on March 12 when a friend of mine showed up at a church social with a jar of starter for me (not something I had asked for, but I’m so glad she did!), it’s been a bumpy ride. At first it just sat in my fridge waiting for its weekly feed. One week I thought for sure I’d killed it because I let it go longer than a week between feeds, but I started feeding it again and it came right back to life. I’ve since learned that wild yeast isn’t that easy to kill and I could have neglected it for a few weeks and it probably, with some coaxing, would still have returned to its former glory.
I finally got brave enough to attempt a loaf of sourdough and used the recipe from S. John Ross’ Sourdough Baking – The Basics website. I actually did make some fairly decent bread to begin with and then the urge for more sourdough experimentation took over and I started trying other recipes and techniques (like baking inside my deep cast iron skillet with a lid on to trap steam), but either the taste (too sour), or the crust/crumb (too tough) weren’t just right and I started to feel downright deflated. My kids were pining for the fleshpots of commercial yeast bread . Also, my starter started to look a little peaked and I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. It wasn’t doubling in 4 hours like I thought it should, it was starting to separate which didn’t look like the Google pictures that I had seen of lovely, vital sourdough starter.
But, I’m not one to give up a fight easily. I had read some interesting reports on the nutritional value of sourdough bread over commercial yeasted breads and I wasn’t wanting to throw in the towel yet. I tried adding a little pineapple juice to my starter which did help some, I also ordered a food scale which, as soon as I started using it, seemed to have an amazing effect on my starter. I realized that I hadn’t been keeping my starter at 100% hydration like I thought, more like 120% or more. When I mixed equal weights of water and flour, the result was more like a wet dough, much less like a thick batter. It was almost hard to stir.
Finally my starter was doing better and I was now on the search for a non-sour (or mildly sour), soft, thin/light crusted sourdough. I tweaked John’s recipe to include an egg (lecithin), milk (dough conditioner), and baking soda (acid neutralization). I also took his advice of lower temps as I’d been baking at much higher temps and the crusts were always so crusty.
I’ve made this recipe a few times now and my kids have stopped wishing for the “old” bread and are quite happy with Mommy’s new wild yeast bread. Geo even got so into things that he’s started his own starter (we’re calling it a science experiment, lol). So, without further ado, here’s my 50%+ WW TCBS bread recipe:
2 c. (500 g.) 100% hydration starter (mine is almost 100% white)
3 c. (400 g.) whole wheat flour
1/4 c. (80 g.) honey (or molasses)
1 egg + milk = 2/3 c. (1 egg + milk = 160 g.)
Autolyze (rest dough) for 30 minutes, then add:
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. oil
Add more bread flour if needed.
Mix in bread mixer for 5-8 minutes or knead by hand for 8-10 minutes (ok, guessing here, lol).
Place in a greased bowl, coat both sides, cover with plastic wrap (or a plastic shower cap) and let it rest in a warm place (i.e. in the oven with the light on) for 30 minutes to an hour. Punch dough down, knead in bowl till dough firms up a bit. Cover and let rest again. Aim for 3 or 4 punch ‘n’ kneads (or stretch and folds) during the first 4-5 hours. Then turn dough out onto greased surface. Cut dough into half. Place one half back into bowl, take other half, cut side down, on your work surface. Roll out with rolling pin into a long, semi-rectangular shape. Flip bread over so cut side is now facing up. Begin rolling bread at top, rolling toward you all the way to the bottom. Pinch seams. Place seam side down into greased bread pan. Repeat with other 1/2 of dough. Place shower cap (or plastic wrap) on top of each bread pan. Let them rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours, till top of dough is at least 1 inch above top of pan. With a sharp knife or razor blade, slash top of bread in whatever designs you would like. Heat oven to 350°F and bake for 20 minutes. Let bread cool before slicing. Store any bread that’s left in plastic bags like these to keep the bread moist for a few days (if it lasts that long). If you don’t like heels and no one else wants them, they make great breadcrumbs after they’ve been dried.
Note: I aim to have my bread in a pre-cooked dough state for at least 7 hours to give the phytates in the wheat time to neutralize. I personally don’t like my bread to go much longer than 12 hours before baking as that increases the sour taste and we’re not fans of that at this point. I generally aim for 7 hours total dough time, but lately, with the weather being as unseasonably cool as it has been, my bread has inched up closer to the 12 hour mark. Unfortunately for me, the light in my oven is blown. Lately I’ve been mixing the dough first thing in the morning (around 8 a.m.) and then into the loaf pans around 12 or 1 and bake around 3 or 4. It would also work to mix it up before going to bed in the evening, then shaping into loaves in the morning and bake 2-3 hours later, but you’d have to do without any punching down of the dough which I think helps develop the gluten strands.