April 12, 2014

Ninety-Five Percent Whole Grain Sourdough

Ninety-five percent whole grain crumb shot

When attempting a new recipe I will usually keep working at it many times over until things are to my liking. I will go through pages and pages of notes with various tweaks to temperatures, folding intensities, flour combinations, and numerous other things. When I finally make a breakthrough I refer to my notes and pictures and will writeup a new post in the hopes my discoveries will help any readers out there looking to bake these loaves in their own kitchens.

This entry is no different. I believe I’ve finally found a really great combination of inputs to produce a superb close-to-one-hundred-percent whole grain loaf. In my last whole wheat entry the result was around 75% whole wheat. This entry describes how to get a nice and light, moist crumb with a much higher percentage, a ninety-five percent whole grain sourdough.

I haven’t made a “white” sourdough loaf in a few weeks (the last one was my Walnut Cranberry Sourdough loaf) and I’ve really become accustom to the deep & rich taste these whole grains present when baked. They hold up to just about any food, and only sometimes overpower other ingredients.

One thing I’ve been experimenting with is a younger levain per Chad’s description in his Tartine Bread books. In his latest book, Tartine Nº 3, he describes a levain prepared in about 4 to 6 hours at a warmer temperature between 80ºF and 85ºF. My levain, however, is typically created overnight (about 12 hours) at a relatively low temperature between 66ºF and 70ºF, depending on how brutal the winter days have been. I wanted to try to reduce my levain build time to match Chad’s more closely and see if using it at a younger stage would help with fermentation activity during my bulk fermentation stage. I’ve only baked a few loaves this way, and all have been whole grain, but I’m eager to try this younger levain method in future bakes with my typical country loaf.

Here you can see the progression over a 6 hour levain build. Earliest is top left, oldest and ready for mix is lower right (read like a book).

Young levain progression

If you’ve only ever used an older levain for your bread you might get a little uneasy watching your young levain develop, never quite sure if it’s ready. Remember you can always do a quick “float test” before using the levain to ensure it’s ready.

Prepare the levain – 10:00am

The following levain build was kept at around 77ºF ambient temperature and started in the morning on the day I mixed the dough, rather than the night before.

  1. 50g ripe starter
  2. 100g Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour
  3. 100g Sangre de Cristo white flour (King Arthur Bread Flour would work here)
  4. 200g H2O @ 85ºF

Ninety-five percent whole grain starting levain

After mixing the above in a thick-walled glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area, around 77ºF, for about 6 hours.

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March 17, 2014

Walnut Cranberry Sourdough

Walnut cranberry sourdough

Last week I finally found a bottle of walnut oil at a local market (I later found this oil can even be purchased online) and I wanted to use it as soon as I could. When I brought it home I just had to open the bottle and take a smell — divine. Walnuts and walnut oil are so decadent to me, they just add such a deep flavor to any food it’s no wonder I eat them almost every morning with my oat porridge, pancakes, or even waffles.

I didn’t want to do just walnuts this time even though last time it was absurdly good on its own. I had some dried fruit leftover from a recent granola batch (for which a recipe entry is sorely overdue) and I decided to match the walnuts with dried cranberries. I’m sure I’ve seen this done somewhere else but intuitively the two just mesh well together so I decided to give it a go.

Walnut cranberry sourdough

This weekend was relatively light with work around the house as the last was the heavy yard work push. Outside has all the indications of a rapidly approaching Spring: blooming trees, New Mexico winds, green grass pushing up through the dirt and even dreaded pollen on the air. Despite the beckon of warm weather outside, an indoor Sunday carved out for baking bread is such a relaxing and wonderful complement to the weekend. I just can’t resist the call to work with my hands and get a couple loaves into the fridge for a long, cold proof.

A german shepherd

While the dog was resting in our comfy leather chair, I was preparing the ingredients. Toasted & shelled walnuts, dried cranberries, walnut oil… But before we get there, let’s go back to Saturday night just before bed to get started.

Prepare the levain – 11:00pm

  1. 50g ripe starter
  2. 100g Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour
  3. 100g Sangre de Cristo white flour 
  4. 200g H2O @ 73ºF

After mixing the above in a glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area in your kitchen overnight. The night time here in New Mexico isn’t quite as cold now as it has been in the past weeks. Pay attention to your conditions and adjust your levain to suit! This might mean starting the levain later at night (11:00pm is an hour later for me), or plan to use it earlier the next morning. Alternatively, you could cool the added water a few degrees to slow down the fermentation process.

Mix the flour & water, autolyse – 9:00am

The walnuts, dried cranberries, and walnut oil will be added after the second set of turns during the bulk phase. You want to develop and strengthen the dough a little before adding in these extra ingredients.

Morning espresso

After your morning espresso or cappuccino, gather the following:

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March 7, 2014

Whole Wheat Sourdough

Whole wheat sourdough

I have to warn you a bit here at the beginning: this whole wheat sourdough is a little more involved than some of my previous loaves. While I think it’s achievable for a “beginner” baker to experiment with, it may take a few tries before your results are to your liking. However, this should not dissuade you from attempting! Making a more whole wheat loaf will provide a very interesting flavor profile and added nutrients not normally found in straight white bread.

The recipe in this entry is based on Chad Robertson’s Ode to Bourdon receipe found in his absolutely epic Tartine Book Nº3, a book dedicated to natural and whole grains. My take on this has some slight modifications I’ve found to work well for me and my starter, I hope they help you as well.

So, I’ve been practicing this whole wheat sourdough for quite a while now trying to really get things working the way I’d like. I usually mix in an “experimental” batch of bread here and there to keep things interesting and to speed up my learning, but this whole wheat bread has a purpose.

My wife has recently taken up the quest to remove most refined carbs, processed sugars, and other heavily processed foods from her (and subsequently my) diet. We’ve always been healthy eaters, but this is another step further in trying to keep things simple and use the most basic of ingredients possible. Since I make two loaves of bread every two weeks or so, I’ve tried to mix in a whole wheat version with as much whole grains as I can (there is still room for me to add even more whole grains in the future) this turns out not to be as easy as one would think!

Whole wheat sourdough bread is a completely different beast when it comes to baking. Many of the plastic-bagged-breads you’ll find at the store that are “whole wheat” contain a bunch of additives to get it to rise high, and taste sweet. Who wants all that added junk anyways? Let’s make our own whole wheat bread.

Maybe I should start with a brief background on whole wheat flour, some challenges to overcome, and how it differs from white flour.

Whole wheat sourdough

Whole Wheat Flour, What’s the Big Deal?

The word “whole” refers to the fact that all of the grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) is used and nothing is lost in the process of making the flour. This is in contrast to white, refined flours, which contain only the endosperm. (Wikipedia)

Whole wheat flour retains the bran and germ, the two most nutritious parts of the wheatberry. These two, while desired for higher nutrition, causes issues when baking bread. Namely, when doing turns and working your dough they will cut through your developed gluten strands as you’re doing your turns, weakening the loaf and preventing a higher rise during baking. It’s ok though, we can work around this somewhat with a very gentle hand when doing turns and interacting with the dough.

In addition to these troublemakers reducing overall rise, they also absorb much more water than just the endosperm. We’ll have to compensate for this by increasing the overall hydration of the dough. No biggie there.

One more thing to keep in mind: whole wheat flour ferments much faster than white flour. Due to the increased nutrients (bran & germ) your starter will go into overdrive when fed with so many goodies. Keep an eye out during your bulk fermentation step, things can go too far very fast. If you’re using a clear-sided container be on the lookout for those bubbles on the sides and bottom, they are a good indicator of when fermentation is rapidly increasing.

So in review:

  • the bran & germ will effectively cut through your developed gluten strands so be gentle with turns and shaping
  • the bran & germ absorb more water than the endosperm, we’ll need to increase hydration
  • whole wheat flour ferments at a rapid pace

One last note, please read through the entire entry before starting! The ingredients and method have changed from my previous posts; like I said, a whole new beast.

Let’s get started!

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February 5, 2014

High(er) Hydration Sourdough Bread

High(er) Hydration Sourdough Bread

My wife and I were out at dinner with a few friends the other night and we got to talking about local co-op produce, cooking from more natural ingredients, and of course, baking bread from only the simplest of ingredients. Just four small ingredients come together to make something greater, something alive a true artisan craft. One of our friends said: “I want to make bread for the sustainability aspect of it, not so much as to make it a work of art or something to look at in wonder.” Sure, that’s true, at the heart of it bread is sustenance, something you eat to keep alive and keep you going. But isn’t there more to a craft than just simply producing something edible?

I thought about his words for a while and wondered to myself: why do I keep testing, experimenting, tinkering, and trying, with my bread? Isn’t it good enough to provide healthy nourishment? In a word, yes, it is good enough. But if it’s a true craft, then the crafter is always trying to do better, always trying to transform the simple inputs into something greater.

I’ve set this goal for a certain taste for my bread, and a certain look when it is served on the table (you can read more in my about page), but I also desire to use healthy local ingredients. In the past few posts, I’ve been talking about a locally grown & milled white flour north Albuquerque, New Mexico and I decided to order a 50 pound bag of the stuff from my local co-op. I think they were getting annoyed with me anyways… I kept emptying out their small flour canister each week.

The flour really is spectacular. I am not able to determine the actual protein percentage but it’s enough to hold up to this 81% hydration recipe, and I think I can still even push it a bit farther. The taste though… The crumb comes out so tender and light, it’s the best I’ve had outside of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.

Let’s get on with this week’s bake I have a few small changes here and there and they have helped me improve my bread for the better. In continuation with the last entry, I wanted to try a high(er) hydration sourdough bread, bumping it up by 1%. Small increments, right?

Prepare the leaven – 10:00pm

My typical 100% whole wheat leaven, prepared the night before:

  1. 55g ripe starter
  2. 200g whole wheat flour
  3. 220g H2O @ 73ºF (room temperature, a little extra as it’s been very dry here lately)

After mixing the above in a glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area in your kitchen overnight.

High(er) Hydration Sourdough Bread

Rest up tonight because tomorrow we start the baking!

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January 19, 2014

High Hydration Sourdough Bread

Great caramelization on the sourdough crust

I think it’s important to add some pleasure to your life; without it your creativity won’t be at its best. When the stomach calls, satisfy it. Don’t eat a lot but eat well.

One of my favorite quotes from most likely my favorite article I’ve ever stumbled across in Monocle magazine. In a relatively jovial and concise article Lapo Elkann, and Italian marketer, talks about what good food means to him and his family and how it is the center of his daily ritual.

In the same fashion food to me is usually the center of my day and my interactions with my family and friends. I take care in planning and preparing food for each week and am usually planning out my week’s worth of baking and cooking well before it arrives. My cooking tends to revolve around what is delivered through our farmer’s market co-op which makes things interesting: you never know what you’re going to get. Baking, on the other hand, always has my staple homemade sourdough bread. This is made at least once every two weeks, usually every week, without exception.

Each week my bread is a chance for me to improve on my tireless quest for the ideal loaf. The loaf you pull from the oven and sit there for a minute to watch it cool, the loaf when cut shows a crumb so light and airy you can’t help but poke at it in disbelief. Dark and brittle crust, blisters and cracks along the outside, dynamic tears and rips on top, the impossibly open, airy, and light crumb that has a million and one caverns all adjectives describing what I’m after. They don’t all end up that way though, that’s the hard truth of baking: every batch, aside from your starter, is a completely new attempt. Bread flopped last time? Well take what you did, modify a single variable, and give it a brand new try that will result in a completely new outcome. This is both very frustrating and also very comforting.

More crumb shots

Ok enough of the philosophical treatise on bread and artisan crafts, let’s get on to the actual baking!

The bread I set out to bake for this entry was pushing my comfort zone with hydration, a high hydration sourdough bread at 80%. I know that to get the open crumb I’m searching for hydration has to increase, so I’ve decided to slowly increase the hydration level without making any drastic changes. Shaping becomes incredibly difficult as you get up past 80%, it becomes very sticky and a little more slack. The next few entries, much like this one, will result in some less-than-perfect results (still tasty, however).

Prepare the leaven – 10:15pm

My typical 100% whole wheat leaven, prepared the night before:

  1. 50g ripe starter
  2. 200g whole wheat flour
  3. 200g H2O @ 80ºF

After mixing the above in a glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area in your kitchen. If it’s cold at night at your place like mine (around 65º F at night) you’ll need to experiment with an area that’s a bit warmer in your kitchen. For me, it’s on top of my refrigerator.

If you haven’t yet created your own sourdough starter, don’t fret, it’s actually very simple. Head over to my post where I discuss creating a sourdough starter from scratch very easily in 7 steps – easy stuff.

Mix the flour and water, autolyse – 10:00am

Even with the warmer temperatures on top of my fridge, my leaven still needed more time to mature. I’ll usually start around 8:00 or 9:00am but the “nose” of my starter was not quite sour enough, and it could use a few more visible bubbles. At around 10:00am things looked much better and I started for the day.

Sourdough starter ready to use

I did a quick verification with the “float test”, scooping just a bit of my starter into a glass full of room temperature water – looks like it’s floating, we are ready to go. I don’t usually do the float test at this point anymore, but sometimes it’s a good sanity check just to make sure things are progressing as expected.

Float test


  1. 250g (25%) leaven
  2. 800g (80%) King Arthur bread flour
  3. 200g (20%) Great River Organics whole wheat flour
  4. 20g (2%) salt
  5. 750g H2O @ 85ºF and 50g H2O in reserve for next step

I recently discovered that I’m actually a bit lucky here in New Mexico as we have a great local flour mill that produces white flour from wheat grown up north around Taos. This Sangre de Christo flour is available at some local co-ops and I hope to have some to test with for the next entry. I thought I was out of luck and would have to eventually buy my own small home mill to have complete control over that part of the process… To be honest I’m still pining for a home mill and hope to have one in the future.

On to the method…

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