Half-Wheat Sourdough Bread
Measurements are given in weights and cups. I highly recommend buying a kitchen scale to ensure bread success.
After a few baking sessions, you will learn to adjust to your kitchen’s atmosphere and your preference. Be aware that moister dough is more difficult to shape but will produce a loaf with a more desirable, open crumb. Add more flour and your dough will be easier to shape, but will yield a denser bread. Beginners can start with a slightly greater percentage of flour to water and work up to moister dough as they become more adept at shaping.
- 11 ounces (about cups) slightly warmer than lukewarm water (about 100 degrees F)
- 5 ounces (about cup) recently fed and activated Sourdough Starter
- 8 ounces (about 1¾ cups) wheat flour
- 7 ounces (about cups) unbleached bread flour
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- Vegetable oil or rice flour for pan
Pour the water into a large bowl and add the starter. Mix with your hands to dissolve the starter in the water. Have a small bowl of plain water handy for dipping your hands into. It keeps the dough from sticking.
In another bowl, mix together the flours and salt. Add to the water-starter mixture. Mix in the flour with one hand, using a folding motion from the outside of the bowl inward, turning the bowl with your other hand as you go. Scrape down the sides with a flexible bowl scraper, wetting both it and your hands as needed. This will take 3 to 5 minutes. Cover with a towel and let the dough sit in the bowl for 5 minutes.
Using the same outward to inward motion with your hands, knead the dough in the bowl for an additional 5 minutes, dipping your hands in water as necessary. Cover the dough and let sit for 5 minutes.
Repeat, kneading for 5 minutes.
You may use a mixer, but go slowly as it is easy to overwork the dough. Eduardo describes it like overworking a muscle. Too much or too vigorous mixing can break the gluten strands and prevent the bread from rising properly.
Cover the bowl with a towel and let it sit in a warm place for 3 hours. This is called the bulk rise. About halfway through the bulk rise, do a quick fold, using the outside to inside movement (about four turns). If it’s a cold day, turn your oven on for a minute and then turn it off and put the dough inside to finish the bulk rise.
If it’s a hot day, the whole process will just go much faster and your bulk rise can take as little as 2½ hours.
Dump the bulk dough onto a well-floured board or counter. Sprinkle a little flour on top. When you need to move the dough, use your flexible scraper to do so.
You’ll want to use the least amount of flour possible when shaping because unhydrated flour in the middle of the dough can cause large holes.
Using both hands, grasp the sides of the dough and stretch and pull it gently into a slight rectangle. Grasp the short ends of the rectangle and fold each side in toward the middle. Give the dough a quarter turn, stretch it again, and fold into the middle. Using your scraper, turn the dough mass over so the folded ends are underneath. Spin the dough with one hand and tuck the dough underneath with the other, stretching the top gently into a round. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
If baking in a loaf pan, brush the pan with oil. If using a ceramic bread baker, you will be making a free-form loaf. For free-form loaves, line a glass dish or bowl with a tea or thin kitchen towel and dust with rice flour. You may use regular flour, but rice flour prevents sticking much better.
To shape a loaf for the loaf pan, after the preshaped loaf has rested undisturbed for 5 minutes, turn it over and pull and stretch it gently into a rectangle. Fold each of the narrower sides in toward one another and then grasp the top with both hands and make two folds down and inward, on either side, like an envelope, forming a triangle whose tip is on the top edge of the rectangle.
Grasp this top point of the loaf and pull it toward you to form a horizontal cylinder-shaped loaf. Work your way slowly along the length of the dough, tucking and stretching gently with your hands to make a seam on the underside of the loaf. Push lightly on the loaf to smooth out any air bubbles.
Roll the loaf slightly forward so the seam is just visible on the underside of the loaf. Using the heel of your hand along the length of the seam, push the dough gently but firmly against the work surface using the weight of your hand to seal it, but not smash the loaf. With the scraper in one hand, and the dough in the other, gently lift the dough and turn it seam-side down into the prepared loaf pan.
Cover with a towel and let it sit for 3 hours for its second rise. If you want to bake the next day, you can leave the loaf out for 30 minutes to 1 hour for its second rise and then transfer it to the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours to retard the fermentation. In this case, remove it from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking.
For a free-form loaf, turn the preshaped loaf over after it has rested for 5 minutes so that the folds are now on top. Stretch the dough out a little and then tuck the dough inward toward the top into a round, much like the preshaped loaf. Turn it over and put it in the towel-lined dish to sit for 3 hours for its second rise.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.
With a sharp serrated knife or razor blade dipped in vegetable oil make two or three slashes in the top of the loaf to allow it to expand evenly in the oven.
If baking in a loaf pan, you will need to introduce steam into the process in order to create a desirable crisp, brown crust. The best method is to preheat a cast-iron skillet or oven-safe saucepan in the bottom of the oven or on a rack below where you will be baking the bread. Put the bread in the oven and, working quickly, pour about 1 cup of cool tap water into the preheated skillet or saucepan and close the oven door.
If baking free-form in a closed ceramic bread baker, the bread will create its own steam and you do not need to add water. However, you must preheat the bread baker as you preheat the oven. Remove the preheated baker from the oven carefully, open the lid, and quickly transfer the bread from its flour-lined towel into the bread baker, seam-side down. Close the baker’s lid and return it to the oven.
Bake for 15 minutes. If using a ceramic baker, remove the dome lid at this point. Lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees F and bake the bread until it is dark brown all over, another 20 minutes. Remove the bread from the loaf pan or bread baker, place it directly on the rack, and continue to bake until the bread feels light when lifted and sounds hollow when you knock gently on the bottom of the loaf, an additional 5 minutes.
Removing the bread to the rack will give it a crisp crust all over. Remove the bread to a cooling rack and let it cool completely before cutting and serving. It will keep for 2 days stored in a paper bag at room temperature. For longer storage, slice the bread and keep it in a resealable bag in the freezer, removing the desired number of pieces, as needed.