A brief essay on making substitutions for sourdough baking if you’re living in a state with shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders: I ran out of semolina due to other people’s panic buying because of the pandemic. I’m at high risk for coronavirus complications so I’m avoiding shopping in stores. I was going through my food storage and realized I had blue corn atole, a type of roasted cornmeal. It works perfectly well for dusting pans. I also have some garbanzo flour and teff grain in my freezer. I have started adding small amounts of one or the other to each sourdough bread loaf to stretch out my supplies and spread out consumption of extra nutrients to maintain my health. I’m using olive oil to oil pans because I have more olive oil on hand than other oils and fats.
You can purchase my book, “Wild Bread,” in Kindle form if you want an instant download to avoid possible coronavirus exposure. Of course, paper copies are also available from Amazon and lisarayner.com. My friend Dan runs lisarayner.com and runs a considerably more sanitary operation than Amazon warehouses are experiencing right now. He only has one employee.
My gardening book, “Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains,” has a chapter on food substitutions—how to use local and home grown ingredients in place of imported foods. A sustainable future will require a relocalization of food systems based on small farms with permaculture polycultures.
Flatbread is the most flavorful kind of sourdough. That’s because there is a high crust-to-bread ratio. It’s also fast to bake. When the sourdough culture has been fed flour and water several times and is ready for baking, I first save 8 oz of the culture in it’s storage jar, feed it more flour and water, and let it sit on the countertop for an hour. Then I add salt, water and my hand ground whole wheat flour to the dough and knead for about five minutes. When I make flatbread, I give the dough a bench rest to relax the gluten. Then I flatten it out and moisten the top with olive oil using wet hands. To prevent pita pockets from forming I use my Uzbeki bread stamp to poke holes in the dough after it has risen and bake the bread. My Kindle edition of “Wild Bread” is only $9.99. Also, I now have a YouTube channel. More free videos forthcoming!
In this three-minute silent video, Lisa Rayner, author of “Wild Bread – Handbaked Sourdough Artisan Breads in Your Own Kitchen,” demonstrates how to knead the dough for whole wheat sourdough bread. Visit Amazon to purchase my new Kindle version. The link below takes you to the paper version. Use my index and search box below left to look up sourdough blog posts.
The recipe for this fruit and veggie-filled vegan holiday “stuffing” casserole appears in my book Wild Bread:Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen. I sauteed chopped onions and celery and shredded carrots in vegan butter. I chopped a tart apple and some walnuts. I mixed these ingredients plus some dried cranberries and a little vegetable broth into the sourdough croutons I made last week. I like stuffing with a crunchy crust, so I baked it in this long, narrow bread pan to maximize the surface area. For the first part of the baking the stuffing was covered with foil. Then I baked it a little longer uncovered to brown the top.
I leave fed sourdough starter in its jar at room temperature for about an hour before I put it back in the refrigerator.
You can choose to allow a loaf of sourdough bread to rise more slowly at room temperature or even in a refrigerator for stronger flavor development, or you can put the rising bread in a warmer place to rise faster, either because you have other things you need to do sooner rather than later or because you want a mild sourdough flavor. Obviously the room temperature of your house fluctuates, too.
Wild bread can taste mild, sour, or anywhere in between. It’s all a matter of taste. In Europe, the French use natural leavens to produce very mild artisan breads and sweet doughs, whereas the Germans and Austrians prefer strongly acidic rye breads. Local strains of sourdough yeasts and bacteria differ from one another just as plant varieties differ from one another in different localities. Because of this natural diversity, regional sourdough breads are as distinct from one another as regional artisan cheese, miso, wine and other fermented foods and drinks.
I bake loaf bread at 375°F. You don’t need to have ceramic tiles in your oven to bake loaf breads, but I leave mine in all the time (I use them to bake pizza and artisan loaves, pita bread, flatbreads, and other breads that are not in loaf pans). Oven spring occurs during the first part of baking, before the crust hardens too much to prevent further rising. A small loaf like this one bakes in 40 minutes at 7,000 feet elevation.
As I have previously mentioned, It’s best to wait to slice a loaf of homemade bread until at least 30 minutes after you take it out of the oven and ideally about two hours. When the bread is removed from the oven gelled starches stiffen to form the structure of the finished bread. If you slice hot bread you’ll see that the texture is still gummy.
Once a bowl of sourdough has come together enough for kneading I sprinkle flour onto the wooden kneading board and use my plastic dough scraper to scoop the dough out of the bowl onto the floured area. As I said Monday, when making this type of loaf bread, I don’t bother weighing out the added flour any more. I add flour intuitively until the dough feels right.
First I continue to use the dough scraper to flip the dough over on itself, flatten the dough gently with my hand (so as not to stick to it), turn the dough or board 90° and repeat. As the dough becomes less sticky I use my hands alone to continue the kneading process. Mostly, I rely on my right hand unless I am making a very large piece of dough. The kneading takes about five minutes. See my video of me kneading whole wheat sourdough.
When the dough is done, I oil the loaf pan with olive oil and sprinkle the insides with semolina. Then I lay the dough into the pan, gently press it flat, moisten my hands and use my wet hands to moisten the top of the dough (I live in a dry climate; this step is not necessary in a humid climate). Finally, I pour on a little more olive oil and once again moisten my hands and spread the oil across the top of the dough.
Part III will discuss the rising and baking of the bread loaf.
While I periodically make fancier types of sourdough bread such as artisan boules, most of the time I bake two loaves of basic bread a week: one loaf of whole wheat bread for myself and one loaf of Dan’s Sandwich Bread. I have too many other activities to do and loaf bread only requires one rising, so it is the easiest bread to make. Usually, the two loaves are baked on separate days so that we both get to eat fresh bread the day it is baked (the loaves don’t run out on the same day).
I make up a whole wheat artisan formula (20 oz active sourdough starter, freshly-ground flour, water) by taking the starter out of the refrigerator, scooping it into the mixing bowl, feeding it twice the evening before I bake, and then a third time in the morning. My sourdough culture is ready for making dough an hour to an hour-and-a-half later.
In this set of photos I begin the process of making my whole wheat loaf with saving some of the sourdough starter culture for next time. I put 8 oz of starter back in the storage jar and feed it with 3.5 oz of flour and water, stirring to mix. I leave the jar on the counter for about an hour before placing it back into the refrigerator.
Then I add water and salt to the bowl of remaining starter and stir to mix the batter. After that I add flour as needed to make the dough and stir to combine the ingredients. When making my loaf bread, I don’t bother weighing out the added flour any more. I add flour intuitively until the dough feels right. (I still weigh the flour for Dan’s Bread because that formula contains more ingredients and is more exacting.)
When properly proofed dough is placed in a hot oven, it rapidly expands for one last time in a process called oven spring. Oven spring adds 10–33% to the volume of a loaf. Many people mistakenly believe that oven spring comes from a final, rapid growth of yeast producing carbon dioxide bubbles. However, most of the expansion comes from the sudden production of steam from the alcohol and water in the dough. In addition, air in the dough expands in volume as it heat up.
Slashing proofed dough just before putting it in the oven exposes fresh, moist dough that has greater oven spring potential than the outer skin does. The deeper the cut, the more the dough will expand in the oven. Look at how much the center slash in this whole wheat sourdough loaf expanded during baking. The smaller side cuts are more decorative than functional. Slashing dough also controls the release of steam from the baking bread so that the crust does not break open in an irregular pattern during the oven spring process.
Underproofing results in a tight web that does not develop enough oven spring during baking.
Overproofing weakens the gluten, causing the dough to lose its shape and flow outwards if it is not in a pan and to over-rise and collapse in the oven.
This is a 2:44 minute video of me kneading 100% whole wheat artisan dough using my freshly ground organic flour, pictured to the left of the bread board, plus water and salt. Literally, this is how long it takes to knead sourdough—-less time than if you are using commercial bread yeast because much of the gluten is already hydrated (saturated with water), which allows the gluten molecules to easily link together to form a gluten web, which is what happens when you knead dough containing gluten.
I have another post with photos of Dan’s Sandwich Bread during the stages of kneading. That dough is larger in volume. It contains cracked grains, ground flax seeds and whole caraway seeds.
Kneading accomplishes two things. The gluten proteins and starches need to absorb the water added to the dough. Once the gluten has absorbed the water (hydration) then the gluten molecules can link together in long chains and webs.
Letting partially-kneaded dough sit for 10 to 20 minutes allows the dough to hydrate passively, shortening the active kneading time. Kneading is a simple process of flipping one side of the dough over the other, basically a folding motion. I use a plastic dough spatula to scoop the dough out of the bowl and on to the kneading board and to do the first few folds.
You then use the heel of your hand to press the two sides together and flatten the dough. Turn the dough a little or up to 90° and fold it again; repeat until the dough changes from a “shaggy” appearance to a smooth one. This will take about 15 minutes. It’s that simple.