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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Whole Wheat Wild Yeast Sandwich Loaf

Whole Wheat Wild Yeast Sandwich Loaf

This method/recipe makes an exceptionally moist sandwich bread made completely with whole wheat, using sourdough starter.  You can use commercial yeast, too, but I haven't perfected that method (see my notes, below*).

There's nothing new under the sun, certainly not when it comes to bread recipes.  However, this recipe is my own, as much as any recipe or breadmaking method can be claimed by anyone.  To my knowledge, you won't find this exact recipe or method elsewhere.

I'm still a novice home baker, after three years + of playing around with dough, but this recipe turned out okay and after a few trials I'm ready enough to share it.  Despite the length of time I've experimented with bread, I haven't often diverged from recipes I've found in books or on the Internet.  It is only recently that I've done much experimentation.  And what experimenting I do is usually born of necessity: like when I scratch my head and think to myself, "What do I do with this starter?  I don't want to just discard it when I refresh it."

What is different about this recipe is that it uses a fairly stiff starter as both a leaven and a preferment and then a very high hydration main dough which results in a decent sandwich loaf.  I quite like it; it is a nice change from my usual free-standing artisan-style loaves.  I should warn you that my wife's big complaint with this recipe is that it is too moist.  However, that might be what you would like, for a sandwich bread.  I find that the loaf keeps quite a long time -- because of its moistness, it takes far longer to stale.

Where does this Recipe come from?
The elements of my bread come from the soil of Canada, the grains of the local fields, the water flowing beneath my home (double-filtered after being pumped up from our sandpoint), the salt mined deep beneath the Great Lakes basin (or from the sea that surrounds all continents), the yeasts and the other active leavens from the living culture kept in my kitchen, and from the very air around us. 

I do not refrigerate my sourdough, but refresh my starter every couple of days or so, always using as much of it as possible, continuously looking for ways to use it up, rather than discard it to the compost and return it to the soil.  But still, even though I eat a lot of bread and give a lot of bread away, there are times when my starter overwhelms me and I have to toss some away.  But it is because I'm continuously looking for ways to use up my sourdough rather than discard it, that I become more inventive, or cast about looking for ideas.  That's when the conversation with my environment takes place, and "one things leads to the next."

This loaf was inspired by many things, among them my serendipitous 'glutton's rye', and the discussion in Hammelman's "Bread" and elsewhere regarding the Detmolder technique: how different hydrations and temperatures of cultures will enhance the growth of either yeasts, acetic acid, or lacto-bacilli.  In my case, I knew I had yeast in the culture, but I was putting them in a stiff acetic environment that would enhance the flavours and lacto-bacillus; later when I put it all into a very moist environment, and gave it lots of food, it would be like taking the foot off the brake and letting the wild yeast and other microorganisms have a green light to go.  Like a poor-man's Detmolder.

When you make a Tartine style bread on a regular basis as I do, you are likely going to have about 200g of sourdough starter left over some day, and you'll wonder what to do with it.  Don't discard it -- try this recipe, and see if you like the results.

  • 300g ww starter @ 50% hydration (2/3 of it old starter @100% hydration - see 'method' below)
  • 700g ww flour
  • 700g water
  • 18g salt
  • some kefir to paint the top of the loaf before placing it in the oven

  • To approximately 200g of sourdough starter @ 100% hydration, add another 100g of flour to bring the total to 300g of very stiff starter.  Leave this overnight, until the whole softens somewhat.  
    • You can control the sourness of the final loaf by how old the starter is that you are using to build this stiff starter.  If the starter looks 'spent' (say, 2-3 days old), the final loaf is likely to be a bit more sour, but if it looks 'frothy' (say, up to 1 day old), it will not have much sourness at all. 
      • (For test purposes, I have tried to duplicate this stiff sourdough starter using no sourdough, and only commercial yeast.  I tried adding 1/2 tsp of yeast (1g) to 200g of ww flour and 100g of water, but this amount of yeast was too much.  I was going to use only 1/4 tsp, but that didn't even give me a weight on my scale, which rounds things off to grams.  Probably 1/4 tsp or even less would be sufficient.  This method will give you adequate results with commercial yeast, but sourdough is better for you, and it tastes better too.)
  • Drop the stiff starter into 700g of cool water and blend thoroughly with your hands.
  • Add 700g of flour to the water, and mix thoroughly with your hands.
  • Autolyse (let it rest) about 30 minutes and then add the salt, with no extra water.  Mix thoroughly with your hands.
  • Fold every 30 minutes in the bowl for about 3-4 hours.  
    • Here's what I mean: generally I leave the dough in a bowl, and with a wet bowl scraper, I reach along one side of the bowl to the bottom of the dough, pulling and tugging one side of the dough upwards between the scraper in my right hand and my fingers of my left hand until it has reached the limit of its stretchiness, but before it begins to tear.  Then I fold that stringy strand over the top of the dough in the bowl.  I will then turn the bowl and repeat this process, at least 4 times (for each 'corner') -- but it could be more that 4 times.  In the beginning, this dough will feel more like a batter, but what you are doing is gently tugging at the gluten to get it to elongate.  As the yeast feeds on the carbs in the wheat, it will leave behind bubbles of carbon dioxide in between the strands of gluten you are developing.  The dough will feel lighter and more effervescent.  Try to be gentle with this, and allow the bubbles to remain in the dough.  (Often, after folding the dough over on itself for 4 or more times, if the whole feels tight enough, and I feel I can accomplish a turn gently enough, I will pick up the entire blob of dough and turn it completely over on itself, so the top of the folds I just made are on now on the bottom of the bowl.  Then I let the whole thing relax for another 30 minutes.)
  • Following the last of these folds, if you can feel the gluten gaining some elasticity, remove the whole dough to the counter top, and do your best to stretch it tight by folding it one last time, and then place it in a buttered tin.  
    • This amount of dough is really too much for a regular sized tin (5x8") , and it even looks very impressive when I use my larger tin (5x11").  Probably scaling the recipe to use less dough would be the right thing to do here.  But I like to see the huge rises and oven spring that happens when the bread soars above the top of the pan.  Maybe you will too.
  • Score immediately -- the dough will be too wet to do this properly later.
    • I use a serrated cheese knife, and I don't care that it drags across the top of the dough.  All of the resultant ragged edge will fill in, and fairly rapidly too, even before it gets to the oven.
  • Leave the tin covered about 2 1/2 hours (I like to put it under a cardboard box, because a tea-towel on top of it may stop the growth of the dough if it tries to expand beyond the top of the tin).
    • The time I experimented with yeast, I let it sit just 1 1/2 hours, because it was already so high it was dripping out of the tin.  There may have been enough dough in that loaf for 2 tins.
  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with an empty pan on the lowest tier. You will use this pan to add water to, for steam, so the empty pan has to be hot.
  • After at least 20 minutes, place water in the pan to form steam in the oven, paint the top of the tinned dough with kefir or thinned yoghurt, and place the tin in the oven for 20 minutes.  After that time, remove the bottom pan, turn the tin 180 degrees in the oven so that the loaf will bake evenly, and leave it in the oven for another 20 minutes.  (If you are experiencing loaves with gummy bottoms, remove the loaf from the pan and leave it another 5 minutes in the oven directly on the rack.  But you shouldn't have to do that.)


The first time I tried this I used very old (2 or 3 day) old starter.  I was pleased with the results, although the crumb was a bit gummy on the bottom, in the middle of the loaf.  I had left the pan of steam in the oven the whole time, and now I recommend taking it out midway through the baking.

To the left, a stiff starter experimental loaf; to the right, flour for a Tartine style loaf has been measured
The stiff starter is dissolved in lots of water, and the resultant dough is very wet, almost a batter
The dough is so wet it needs to be in a tin to proof. 
Kefir is painted on the top before baking with steam.

Nice moist sandwich crumb - not bad for a first try.

I tried the recipe and method again with newer starter, and a slightly different mix of flours (500g ww, 200g rye flour).  The results were wonderful: a very moist loaf that rose well above the tin and tasted pretty good too.  I had difficulty getting my wife to try some though, to give me her opinion.  When she finally did, I thought the loaf was beginning to stale, but she shrugged and said it was good.

A comparison between middle slices of the first loaf (left) and the second loaf (right) that I made with this recipe.
Thinking I might be on to something, I decided to try the recipe again, and gave one of the loaves away.  I needed the opinion of a third party, someone impartial.  This time I made both the ww version and a version with rye.  I also put them in the normal (smaller) pans before proofing and baking.  This time, the starter was at its freshest, and after a night of sitting, my so-called 'stiff starter' was actually very moist.  The rye bread seemed tighter, easier to shape (which surprised me -- I assumed that rye's gluten was not as strong as wheat's, and this would make the dough sloppier.  Not so).  The 100% whole wheat version was always quite sloppy, but I could stretch the dough quite a long way.

The one loaf overflowed dramatically.  I just tossed the blob that oozed out back over top of the loaf, like a bald man's comb-over.

I've yet to hear back from the friend I gave this loaf to. Perhaps I'll update this blog entry if I ever hear from him again.  I suppose he wasn't poisoned.  Update: He finally got back to me and said he really liked it.  But as for making sandwiches, he could only eat one slice at a time.  This is a very filling bread.  So think of using it in open-faced sandwiches, or cut it very very thin.

This time, I made 2 sourdough versions and one with yeast, to see if that would work.  One of the sourdough versions was whole wheat alone.  I decided to give that to my mom for mother's day.  The one made with yeast was also nothing but whole wheat, and it was unlovely.  I wanted to cut into it to see the crumb.  But the other sourdough loaf I also kept: it had 500g of whole wheat, 200g of spelt, and 2 TBSP of some bread spice I had recently mixed. 

From 400g of starter you can refresh your dough with 1 TBSP and make 2 stiff starters from the discard

The version with commercial yeast: next time I would only 1/4 tsp of yeast

Next morning: all stiff starters have settled and softened somewhat, the commercial yeast the most
dump the yeasted 'stiff starter' into water

It floats.  Why not?  They all float.
Dissolve it and aerate it somewhat, so it appears frothy
The commercial yeast version: Mix it up with the whole wheat +/- other whole grains
Here's the consistency of the sourdough ww versions
And the consistency of the ww and spelt dough
salt is added
mix it and stretch it
The sourdough version is not quite as stretchy, but it isn't as slimy, it feels tighter

measuring the bread spice.  2 TBSP is 14g.
That should be TONS.  0.5% of 900g is only 4.5g,
and that's all I really required.

Spice is added the same time as the salt.
Three doughs, left to right: yeasted, ww sourdough, sourdough ww and spelt and spice.
These doughs are ready for their final turn and then into the prepared pans for proofing.

Too much dough, in the yeasted version, the volume is far too high already.

I jam it into a tin anyway, and then prepare to do the same for the other doughs.

Score them right away: later this will just deflate them unnecessarily.

Before proofing

After proofing.  That yeasted version is overflowing.

Ugly.  I try to comb-over the strands that oozed off the sides.

kefir on top.

Ugly.  Have to break the loaf to get it out of the pan.

The sourdough loaves proofed another hour, but they only came up to the top of the tin.

Kefir top

That's better

Yeasted version.  We'll have panini tonight with this.

Not bad (although I still think the sourdough versions are tastier);
I got more rise out of these loaves than I did from my Doris Grant no-knead experiments.  Which see.
Hey, if you try this recipe / method, let me know how you fared.

Notes to Myself
  • * I tried this recipe/method using commercial yeast instead of sourdough, as a proof-of-concept, to see if it would work.  And it does -- although my bread rose too quickly and overflowed my pan.  I'm not likely to do any more experimentation with commercial yeast for this recipe, but if you do not have a sourdough starter, and decide to try this method using commercial yeast, here is what I'd try next:


    • 1/4 tsp yeast (about 1/2 a gram)
    • 300g stiff starter, made with 100g water, 200g of ww flour, yeast.  Leave overnight.
    • 700g ww flour
    • 700g water
    • 18g salt
    • some kefir to paint the top of the loaf before placing it in the oven


    • Add 1/4 tsp yeast to 100g water, and mix 200g of ww flour to make a stiff starter/preferment.
    • Let the stiff starter sit covered overnight, then add it to 700g of water.  Break the starter apart with your hands into smaller chunks in the water, and aerate the water as you mix it up with your hands, making a bit of froth on the top.
    • Add the water and starter mixture to 700g of ww flour, and mix thoroughly in the bowl with your hands.  Set aside for 30 minutes.
    • Add the salt, and again mix thoroughly with your hands.  Using a bowl scraper, fold the dough several times, and let sit another 30 minutes.
    • Thereafter, for 2-4 hours, stretch the dough in the bowl and fold it over, gently elongating the gluten.  
    • When the dough feels silken and effervescent, butter a tin.  Turn the dough onto the counter, and fold it one more time, wrapping the surface as tight as possible, and place the dough gently in the bowl, seam-side down.
    • Drag a sharp serrated knife through the top of the loaf, and let it sit under a box for 1-2 1/2 hours.  If the dough overflows, gently tug it back and place on top of the loaf.
    • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F with a pan on the lower rack.  Just before the pans are to go into the oven, put a cup of water in the pan and create some steam.  Gently paint kefir on the top of the dough (or if you have no kefir, use plain yoghurt with a bit of water to make it thin enough to paint on top).
    • Bake 20 minutes, then open the oven, remove the steam pan and turn the loaf 180 degrees for even baking.
    • Remove from the tin and let cool on a rack.
  • I'm assuming that this dough will be too wet for a free form loaf.  But I suppose I should try it sometime. 
  • For scaling purpose, I will give the percentages calculated in 2 different ways: the way that Tartine loaves are calculated, which I find much simpler, and the 'official' way, which complicates things unnecessarily.  As usual, don't mix the methods, just choose the one that suits you best:
  • Tartine Math Method:
    • 100% wwflour
    • 100% water
    • 43% stiff starter (made up of 66% wwflour, 34% water - but these totals are not included in the flour and water listed above.)
    • 2.57% coarse salt
  • Official Baker's Math Method:
    • Stiff Starter:
        • 100% flour; this will be 22% of the entire recipe's flour.
          (so if I use 900g of total flour, 700g will be in the main recipe, and 200g will be in the stiff starter; 200g is about 22% of 900g)
        • 50% water (e.g. the stiff starter will contain 200g ww flour, 100g water)
    • Main Recipe:
        • all of the stiff starter
        • 100% flour (made up of 78% flour in main recipe, 22% flour in starter/preferment)
        • 89% water (made up of 78% water in main recipe, 11% water in starter/preferment)
        • 2% coarse salt

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