By Cat, May 2011 (Crock, right, by Ronny H.; Photo by Cat)
Includes: 1. Ronny’s Simple Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread; 2. Cat’s learning journey through testing of Simple Sourdough Bread
See also: 1. Sourdough Introduction; 2. 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread; 3. Sponge Methods for Sourdough Bread, an Overview; 4. Bread & Rolls menu
Essential Stuff Project (the sustainability group for which I am secretary and editor of The EssentiaList website, essentialstuff.org (1)) just had a panel presentation on sourdough, and one of the presenters gave me a gorgeous stoneware crock for my starter, as well as a bit of starter to put in it, so now I’m going to learn how to use it.
See ESP Gathering Summary: Sourdough Panel (2) for more detail; see also below for recipe.
What is a “Simple Sourdough Bread”?
According to Ronny, it is simple for 2 reasons:
- Limited ingredients; only starter, flour, water and salt.
- Relatively quick and easy to mix up and bake.
Ronny’s simple sourdough bread
My first attempt is a simple bread recipe, following Ronny H’s recipe, demonstrated at the ESP event.
About kneading: Ronny works her dough right in bowl. This is a type of simple kneading – not really folding and pressing, but rather just a gentle turning and pressing in the bowl, until the gluten is somewhat elastic and all the flour is incorporated from the bottom and sides of the bowl.
If it becomes difficult to mix in all of the flour, cover the bowl and let it rest at least 5 minutes (a short autolyze), then resume kneading.
The dough should still be soft, but able to hold itself together, and not appreciably sticky to the hands.
The original makes too much for my small metal loaf pans, as I discovered on my first batch, so I’ve modified the ingredients as shown below, for a smaller loaf. The recipe also reflects my learnings from testing. Ronny’s original amounts are in blue parenthesis.
Ingredients & Equipment:
- ¾ cup starter (fed the night before) (¼ cup)
- 1 cup (for spelt) or 1 ⅛ cups (for wheat) non-chlorinated water (2 – 3 cups for wheat)
- 3 – 3 ½ cups freshly ground whole grain flour (Ronny uses 4 ½ cups whole wheat)
- 2 level tsp Unrefined sea salt
- 2 bowls
- wooden spoon
- bread baking pan
- Feed your starter the night before and let crock sit on counter overnight [or start 2 days before for an aggressive feed – see Maintaining & Feeding a Starter]. In the morning it should be bubbly. Stir in the hooch before taking out some starter for the recipe.
- Hydrate the starter: Put starter in one bowl; stir in water until mixed.
- Measure flour & salt into other bowl; whisk to mix.
- Add hydrated starter to the dry ingredients and mix.
- Knead: Moisten hands, then mix dough (in the bowl) a bit to work the gluten, folding and turning the bowl, while gently pressing. Add more water as needed to achieve the right consistency. If difficult to work in the flour, let it rest 5 minutes and try again.
- Cover with moist towel, and weight with a plate. Let rest on counter overnight (about 12 hours).
- Knock down to deflate, and knead a bit more (not much). You can turn it out onto a floured board to fold each of the 4 sides over the center to shape the loaf, or press it into a rectangle then roll into a loaf shape.
- Place loaf in buttered baking pan; cover and let rise about 2 hours, preheating oven to 400°F during last 30 minutes of rise. Slash loaf down middle (using a moistened, sharp knife blade) to give it room to rise. Place in hot oven. Alternately, let rise on a pizza paddle, then transfer to a hot baking stone in oven.
- Bake about 35 – 55 minutes, until internal temperature of 190° F.
- Remove from pan and let cool on rack.
SeeTesting Ronny’s Simple Sourdough Bread for my learnings; _ test batches between May 20, 2011 and March 19, 2012. At that point I decided to test a different method using an overnight sponge rise.
Cat’s Testing/Learning of Ronny’s simple sourdough bread
Testing May 20-21, 2011: (Spelt/Oat/Barley/Rye)
(Photo and bread, left by Cat)
- I brought home about ½ cup of Ronny’s whole wheat starter. I began feeding it with spelt, oat, barley and rye, using a different grain each day.
- For the bread, I followed Ronny’s amounts and mixing instructions to the letter, except I used 3 cups whole spelt and ½ cup each whole oat, barley and dark rye, for total of 4 ½ cups. Then I added all 3 cups water to starter, forgetting it was supposed to be added a bit at a time, and forgetting that spelt requires less water. Dough was way too wet, so I had to add more flour. At first I added another ½ cup rye. Not enough so added another ½ cup oat. Still not enough so added ½ cup unbleached white flour (wheat), twice. Almost right, but I didn’t add any more. Will work in more after overnight rise, if necessary. Dough should be soft but able to hold a shape.
- Dough rose about 24 hours but did not spoil. After about 4 hours, it had started to dry out (form a crust) on the surface, because I’d forgotten to moisten the towel that I used as a cover, and I hadn’t used a plate to weight it down. So I moistened the towel and added a plate. By the next morning, the dryness on the surface was gone and the dough had at least doubled in size and was full of bubbles.
- I worked in another cup or so of unbleached white flour to get the right consistency, using traditional kneading on a board, for about 10-15 minutes. Because of all the extra flour, it was enough for two loaves, so I cut it in half and shaped each by folding in each of the 4 sides, then placed in buttered stainless steel bread pans to rise before baking.
- Loaves rose almost double after 2 hours, so I put them in the hot oven. They rose more in the oven, then the top cracked in attempt to rise further. Although my oven was at 400°F, after 35 minutes, the internal temperature of the bread was only 175°F. Another 10 minutes and the internal temperature had reached 190°F so I removed the pans from the oven, and turned the loaves out of the pans to cool on a rack. (It would have taken less time if only one loaf)
- Result: Not too heavy. Texture is good; nicely chewy. More sour than I’d like for a regular bread (but excellent sourdough bread); maybe could have used a bit more salt to balance the extra flour I had to add. Or baking soda. Also, would not have been so sour if the first rise had been about 8 hours instead of 24.
Batch #2: May 28-29, 2011 (Spelt/Oat/Barley/Rye)
(photo, left: risen loaf before baking)
Wanted to reduce flour to 3 – 3 ½ cups, and water to about 1 cup, to make just one loaf. Used mixed grain starter, plus: 1 cup graham flour (wheat), 1 cup spelt and ¼ cup each oat, barley and dark rye, and ¼ cup unbleached white (wheat); total 3 cups, to begin. Sifted with 2 tsp unrefined sea salt & ½ tsp baking soda (to absorb some of the sour). Started with about ¾ cup water and added another ¼ cup twice. Still hard to work so added another 2 Tbsp water – too much. So had to add more flour (about ½ cup graham flour). It’s hard to get the amount of flour right….
Rose well over 9 hours for the first rise (intentionally less time that previous batch, to make it less sour). Punched down; added another 2 – 3 Tbsp white flour while kneading because it was so wet & sticky. Shaped the loaf and let it rise 4 hours while I went to brunch. Then baked it at 400°F for about 42 minutes. My thermometer broke so I used the old ‘thump the bottom for a hollow sound’ test.
Result: It did not rise more in the oven, but the loaf is still lighter than previous batch, and slightly less sour, but not much. My friends say they love the amount of sour. Total flour (mix of grains): just shy of 3 ¾ cups; total water: 1 ⅜ cup.
Batch #3: June 3 -4 (Wheat/Spelt)
Advice from sourdoughhome.com (3):
- For less sour taste, use MORE starter (so each bit doesn’t have to work so hard and produce so much lactic acid for the same amount of rise). Also best to measure by weight (at least the flour and water).
- When mixing up the dough, mix it a bit, so mostly combined, then let it rest about 5 minutes, to allow the flour to take up the moisture (short autolyze), then finish working the dough, adding the water in smaller increments…
Batch 3 test
I’m still using the mixed-grain starter, but have been feeding with only wheat for last couple weeks – Ronny suggests sticking with just one grain in starter; also use same grain in bread until get more experience. Thus I’m using wheat.
- Poured off the hooch and fed starter three times the day before, because it wasn’t very bubbly after the last batch. Let it sit on counter overnight after last feeding.
- Put ⅔ cup starter in bowl; added ¾ cup water & 2 tsp salt and stirred to dissolve the salt. (no baking soda per Ronny). Added 2 ½ cups whole wheat (mix of graham and hard white wheat), and ½ cup whole spelt flour because I ran out of wheat; total 3 cups flour. I worked this as much as I could but it would not pick up all the flour so I let it rest about 5 minutes, then resumed working it, adding a bit of water at a time, about ¼ cup. At one point I took it out of the bowl to knead on a lightly floured board (unbleached white), but it got too stiff so I put it back in the bowl and added a few drops more water and worked it until the hydration felt right again, but I think it is still too stiff (will adjust after first rise, if necessary). Total flour: 3 cups whole grain flour and 1 tsp unbleached white. Total water: 1 cup plus 1 tsp.
- Covered with damp cloth and a plate and set to rise at 9:30 AM. When I got home at 4:30, it had not risen at all, so I moved it to a warmer spot. By 8:30 PM it had almost doubled; will let it rise a bit longer. At 9:15, I punched it down. Very strong and elastic. I added a bit of water and worked that in, formed into a loaf and placed in buttered pan. Covered with damp cloth & plate for second rise. Should rise only 2 – 3 hours, but I set it in cool spot to rise overnight. Hopefully won’t be too long a rise.
- At 8 AM, it had risen so much that it pushed against the plate and spilled over the sides of the loaf pan! So I punched it down and reshaped it into a loaf and set it to rise a third time. It hadn’t risen as much as I would like but at 11 AM, I put it in the hot oven. Baked about 45 minutes, to reach 190°F internal temp. Top had cracked as the back side of the loaf rose in the oven. Bread has nice texture, but is still sour (maybe not quite as sour as previous, or I’m just getting used to it). Total flour: 3 cups whole grain wheat & spelt and 1 tsp unbleached white. Total water: 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp (about).
Batch #4: June 10 (All Wheat)
(Photos, this section, from making batch 4, by Cat). See also ESP: Cat’s Sourdough Learnings: How Not to get a Too Sour Bread (4)
1. Used whole hard white wheat flour. Put ⅔ cup starter (still the original mixed-grain but is now mostly wheat) in bowl; added ¾ cup water & 2 tsp salt and stirred to dissolve the salt (no baking soda per Ronny). I added about half the intended 3 cups flour and stirred it until the gluten started to wake up, then worked in remaining flour, and 2 Tbsp more water in batches. I let it rest for 5 minutes or so because it would not pick up the last ¼ cup or so of flour in bottom of the bowl. Then worked it again, adding another Tbsp water. The outside of the dough was properly hydrated, but in the middle there was still dry flour. Also there was dried flour-water stuck to the bowl about ⅔ of the way up the sides. So I removed the dough for a moment while I scrubbed out the mixing bowl, then put the dough back in. It picked up the moisture on the surface of the bowl and I was able to work in the dry flour. Total flour: 3 cups; total water: ⅞ cup plus whatever was on the bowl after rinsing.
2. Set it to rise in a warm spot at 9 AM (it’s a cool morning), covered with damp cloth and a plate. Photo, above, is at beginning of rise time. At Noon it is beginning to spread in the bowl; at 5 PM, almost doubled. Doubled at 6 PM; 9 hour total rise time.
3. At 6 PM, punched down, shaped into loaf (photo, above) and placed in buttered pan (photo below) to rise, covered with damp cloth. Almost 3 hours for second rise (2hr, 50 min).
4. Into preheated 400°F oven at 8:50 PM.
5. Turned pan around (180° turn) after 15 minutes (back of oven is hotter), then another 90° turn after another 15 minutes. Reached internal temperature at 9:40 PM so removed to rack to cool; 50 minutes total baking time.
Result: Texture much the same as previous loaves – dense – but not as sour..
Batch #5: June 23, 2011 (All Spelt flour, and mostly-wheat starter)
- This experiment will be different because spelt requires much less water, than wheat. Also this time, I did an aggressive feeding of my starter for several days prior to mixing up the dough, as follows. I started on June 19 with 1 Tbsp starter and added 1 Tbsp each spelt and water in the morning. That evening I added 2 Tbsp each spelt & water. Next morning added 3 Tbsp each and that evening I added 4 Tbsp each. I now had about ¾ cup mostly-spelt starter and had intended to start the bread the next day, but my schedule interfered, so I just maintained the starter with 1 Tbsp each spelt and water in AM and PM for the next two days. It is very bubbly!
- Poured ⅔ cup starter into bowl, reserving about 1 Tbsp extra to reinforce the original starter. Added ½ cup warm water and 2 tsp salt, then about 1 ½ cups whole spelt flour. Texture resembles that for a sponge.
- I need to add another 1 ½ cups flour, but don’t want to overshoot on the added water. So I am taking this slow, in stages: first added ½ cup flour and mixed that in, then let it rest to absorb the water. Then added ¼ cup spelt followed by another rest. Then 1 Tbsp warm water followed by another ¼ cup spelt. It is pretty stiff, so let it rest again. Added another 1 Tbsp warm water and ¼ cup spelt. Worked that in but still very stiff, so added another 1 Tbsp water. Let it rest about 5 minutes then worked in remaining ¼ cup spelt with another Tbsp water. I’s hydration is good. Total flour: 3 cups; total water ¾ cups.
- 10 AM: Covered with damp cloth and plate to rise most of the day.
- 5 PM: Dough had risen nicely, and was very light. However, a bit too wet & soft (would not hold a loaf shape), so I turned it out onto a board to knead in 3 Tbsp flour, then shaped into loaf, placed in buttered pan and set to rise. New total flour: 3 cups + 3 Tbsp; total water 3/4 cup.
- After 3 hours it had still not doubled in bulk, so waited another hour (4 hour rise) before baking; total rise time, 11 hours.
- Bake 400°F for 50 min. to reach 190° F internal temp. It got a little oven spring, but not much.
- Result: Quite sour but otherwise good flavor. I think the reason it didn’t rise much is because spelt has less gluten than wheat, and it is a different gluten. I should not have expected it to double in bulk, and kept with the original rise time (6 – 7 hr first rise, 2 – 3 hr second rise). Also, using more starter might help, so next time I’ll use 1 cup starter, and perhaps use 1 cup wheat, 2 cups spelt.
After this loaf, I decided to try the sponge method, hoping to get a better rise for my loaf See Sponge Methods for Sourdough Bread, an Overview.
Testing Ronny’s Simple Sourdough Bread, Continued
Batch #6: March 19, 2012 (spelt starter, spelt flour)
- Several weeks ago I made a new starter, all spelt. My first loaf was the sponge method and it didn’t rise a whole lot, but that’s to be expected with a young starter. Now I’m trying my second loaf using Ronny’s method and the new spelt starter.
- Used about ¾ cup starter, 1 cup warm water and worked in 2 cups freshly ground spelt flour sifted with 2 tsp salt. It was too wet so worked in another 1 ½ cups flour then set to rise in warm spot (set on trivet on top of pilot-lit stove) at 10 AM. I was away most of the afternoon; when I returned at 4 PM, it had risen only a little and the top had dried some, so I brushed on some water then replaced the damp cloth over the bowl, weighted with a plate. At 5 PM it had not risen more, and remembering that spelt peaks earlier than wheat, I decided to punch it down, feed it a bit more water (¼ cup) and flour (½ cup), then shape it into a loaf. It is soft but not sticky and quickly fills in the slashes I cut into the top, which means it is active. Let it rest in the pan, in the warm spot, covered with damp cloth and plate for at least 2 hours. Into oven at 8:30 PM. It did get some oven spring – to top of pan. Only 135° internal after 35 min. but oven only reached 375°F. Up to 160° after 45 minutes total and 190° after 60 minutes when I removed it from the oven.
- Result: Because the active dough filled in the slashes on top of the loaf, it cracked on the side of the top when it rose in oven. The top is quite crusty-hard to cut through, and the loaf is heavy, but it has good flavor.
Other recipes to try, that include oil or butter and honey:
- Health, Home & Happiness: whole grain sourdough from sprouted spelt starter. Has interesting ideas: Kneads in honey, butter and salt before second rise. Makes 2 loaves
- Sourdough Home: 100% whole wheat sourdough from whole wheat starter (6): adds olive oil and honey to original mix of starter, flour & water). This recipe has a lot of theory built into it.
- Sourdough Home: New Bohemian Rye (7) For this you start with regular starter, then feed 3 it times with dark rye flour over 2 days, increasing the amount of flour & water with each feeding. Then, 5 hours after the last feeding, you form the bread using bread flour (high-protein wheat), water, butter, salt and caraway seeds.
- ESP (Essential Stuff Project) Website: essentialstuff.org
- Ronny H, ESP Sourdough Panel Presentation; Gathering Summary (essentialstuff.org/index.php/2011/05/29/Cat/gathering-summary-sourdough-a-panel-presentation-may-18-2011)
- ESP: Cat’s Sourdough Learnings: How Not to get a Too Sour Bread (essentialstuff.org/index.php/2011/06/12/Cat/cats-sourdough-learnings)
- Health Home & Happiness: whole grain sourdough from sprouted spelt starter (healthhomehappy.com/2010/08/whole-grain-sourdough-bread-made-with-homemade-starter.html)
- Sourdough Home: 100% whole wheat sourdough from whole wheat starter (sourdoughhome.com/100percentwholewheat.html)
- Sourdough Home: New Bohemian Rye (sourdoughhome.com/newbohemianrye.html)