Welcome y’all to my bread dish as part of this fantastic virtual potluck. Today we are having an fig and walnut wholewheat/rye sourdough bread… mmmm
“All sorrows are less with bread.”
Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish author. (1547-1616)
I love baking sourdough breads. The primary fermentation and secondary fermentation (resting/proofing) takes a bit of time, but the actual effort is minimal (about 15 minutes) and the end result is really worth it.
The flavour of the bread is so good, you can actually have it without any topping or spread because the bread actually tastes great.
The basic recipe below is the base for a sourdough loaf. Ingredients change according to the type of the bread, the mixing and fermentation are pretty much the same in all the breads and the last stage may change according to the size of the loaf.
- A pot with a lid (that can be used in the oven). A cast iron pot works well, a ceramic pot will also work – it must be suitable for oven baking at high temperatures with a capacity of about 3 – 5 litres/100 – 170 fl oz.
- Mixing bowl – preferably glass or stainless steel with a lid or plastic bag to cover. I usually just cover it with a plate.
- Pastry scraper or spatula.
- Basket/mould in the shape of the pot/colander.
- Cotton cloth big enough to cover the dough when proofing/old napkin will do.
- Tea cloth to cover the resting dough.
Professional and discerning bakers weigh their ingredients (including the water), this gives a more accurate and consistent result, but that seems like way too much effort, and the end result by using easier measurements seem to come out pretty darn well anyway. I will provide the ingredients in all measurements, so you can use the method you prefer.
The yeast referred to in the recipe is the sourdough starter, but you can also use instant yeast. If you are going to use instant yeast, try to find a brand that has as little preservatives and chemicals included. For the best results, I really recommend you get your own sourdough starter/wild yeast.
Ingredients (for basic loaf)
- Water (Weight: 375g/13.5oz; Volume: 2 cups) – temperature about 20 °C – 24 °C/68 °F – 75 °F
- Starter OR instant yeast (preferred choice – use starter – for starter – Weight: 70g/2.5oz Volume: ¼ cup)
(for instant yeast – use ¼ tsp. instant yeast)
- Flour (Weight: 470g/16.66 Volume: 4 cups) *See general notes about the flour
- Salt (Weight: 10g/0.35oz Volume: 2 tsp.) *See general notes about salt
Variations (optional ingredients)
Here are just some suggestions of additional ingredients that you can add to the bread, just to make it a bit more special (the measurements of the optional ingredients do not need to be precise (hey, it is not birth control ), it is according to your preference):
- 2 – 3 grated carrots & 2 table spoons of caraway seeds
- cup of chopped dates & cup of walnuts
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries and 1/4 cup rosemary
- cup of dried figs & cup of walnuts (for today’s potluck)
- 1 – 2 bananas sliced & cup of pecan nuts
- 1/2 cup – 1 cup mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax)
- 1/2 cup olives & 1/2 sundried tomatoes
- 1/2 cup raisins (soaked in rooibos tea (redbush tea) or green tea)
- panettone type ingredients, e.g. teaspoon of almond extract, 1/2 cup almond flakes, 1 tablespoon citrus zest, teaspoon of cinnamon, teaspoon of ginger, chopped dried fruits, replace some of the water for maple/agave syrup
If the optional ingredients are very moist, you can reduce the amount of water added to the batter or add additional 1 – 2 table spoons of flour to the mix.
Before you start baking up a storm, please read all the notes first, just to make sure you understand the steps. You will only need to do this once, it is so easy, next time you can just mix up a batch in 5 minutes and then let time and nature do the rest.
1. If you are making a sourdough loaf (using your wild yeast starter) you will need to first make sure your starter is active. Do this by feeding it and extend it according to instructions 6 – 12 hours before you need to use it. If you have not used your starter for a while, do this 2 – 3 times so that your starter is nice and active.
Before you start using the starter, remember to put some aside to keep your wild yeast starter going!
2. Mixing the dough and bulk fermentation:
- Pour the water into the bowl, add the starter (or instant yeast) and mix well to incorporate.
- At this point, I add my variations (optional ingredients) to the mix. It helps to gauge the consistency of the dough.
- Add 2/3 of the flour and mix.
- Add salt and balance of flour, reserving about 2 tbsp.
- Once the dough is mixed well you can judge if you need the extra flour. If you do, add and mix again until no dry flour is visible. You should have a sticky, drop scone consistency. If it is too dry, add a bit more water.
- Cover the bowl and leave to bulk ferment at room temperature for 6 – 9 hours.
- If you want to retard the dough, you can leave it to ferment for 2 – 3 hours at room temperature, then place in the fridge for a further 6 – 12 hours.
3. Forming and resting the dough:
- The dough is ready to shape once it looks nice and risen with a soft feel.
- If you have retarded the dough in the fridge, leave it at room temperature to warm up for about 3 – 4 hours.
- Dust your work surface with plenty of flour. Also dust your cloth or basket with flour (else your dough will stick to it… lesson learned :))
- Empty your dough gently onto the work surface, trying not to degas it too much.
- With your floured fingers and your scraper, pick up one end of the dough and stretch it over itself, repeat the same from the opposite side, then from the top and from the bottom.
- Sprinkle flour on the dough and make sure it is very well floured all round. (To reduce cleaning up, I roll the dough around on the work surface to pick up most of the excess flour.)
- Move the dough onto the cloth with the “neat side” of the folded dough facing the cloth and the rough side facing up (the side will end up on the bottom of the pot.)
- Let the dough rise for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until nice and plump (not quite double, more like 50% bigger). If you poke the dough, it should be quite elastic and the dent should ooze back to its original shape. This stage depends on the weather. If it is quite hot, reduce the time to 60 minutes.
- When you start this phase, set your timer for 90 minutes (this depends on the weather, it may be shorter, if very hot). After the initial time (60 – 90 minutes), place your pot and lid in the oven and turn the oven on to 230 °C – 250 °C/440 °F – 480 °F to heat up. You need about 30 minutes to get your oven and pot to the correct heat.
4. Baking and cooling your loaf:
- When the oven and your pot is heated, and the dough is ready to be baked, take the pot out of the oven and empty the bread into the pot and cover with the hot lid.
- Give the pot a short shake to settle the loaf and return to the oven.
- Bake with the lid on for 35 minutes. (If your dough is slightly sticky/moist, you can leave it for another 5 minutes).
- Take the lid off and bake for a further 15 minutes to dry the crust and brown it.
- Once you are happy with the colour of the crust, take it out of the oven, empty onto a cooling rack.
- The bread is ready when it sounds hollow if knocked on the base.
- Now for the hard part – the bread should br allowed to cool through before it is cut open, because the baking process continues while the steam escapes even though the loaf has been removed from the oven. This would be 2 – 3 hours mimimum.
- Put starter aside before you start baking.
- If you plan to use the starter in a day, leave it out to activate.
- If you keep the starter in the refrigerator, take it out a couple of hours before replenishing it.
- There is not much to do, but you need time to wait for the fermentation and rising of the dough. Plan accordingly.
- It is important to use good quality filtered water. You need to make sure that most/all of the chlorine is removed from the water. Spring water is also a great option.
- Use the best quality ingredients you can find. Wherever possible, use organic.
- Stone milled fresh flour is the best for nutrient and flavour rich bread. I mix the flours I use, my favourite combination is ½ rye flour and ½ whole wheat flour. You can also use wheat free flours, e.g. chickpea/rice flour, but for best results, try add at least ¼ whole wheat flour or rye flour.
- Use flours without improvers and that have not been fortified.
- Rye dough is more difficult to form and will be very sticky to work with, do the best you can, it is worth it.
- Salt – the measurements are based on fine salt. If you use rock salt, you may have to increase the measurement slightly.
- Salt – try to use a good quality salt. I use fine Himalayan crystal salt (pink salt), but depending on the bread variation you are using, you can add herb salt as well, e.g. sundried tomatoes and herb salt works really well.
- If you are going to make a “sweeter” bread, e.g. banana pieces, raisins, etc. you can reduce the salt to 1 teaspoon, but always add salt, it just enhances the flavour.
- Add yeast separately from the salt. Salt inhibits yeast growth.
- The dough should be well hydrated and somewhat wet. Depending on the flour you use, you may need to add more water. Do not stick to the measurements rigidly, adjust according to the feel of the dough. It must have a drop-scone consistency.
- Altitude, humidity and temperature affect the time of fermentation.
- Humidity affects the consistency of the dough.
- Adjust the temperature of the water according to the weather – cold water in hot weather and warm water in cold weather.
- The first fermentation takes the longest, it is the primary fermentation. This is when the bread develops texture and flavour.
- It is important to ferment for at least 6 hours in around 20 °C – 24 °C/68 °F – 75 °F environment.
- When in doubt, leave the dough longer during the first fermentation. However, over fermenting can result in a hard crust and poor colour.
- You can slow the primary fermentation down by putting the dough in the refrigerator for some time – remember, the higher the temperature, the shorter the rising time.
- If you slowed the primary fermentation process in the refrigerator, give it time to warm up a bit before shaping and baking the bread.
- The second phase is usually referred to as resting, secondary fermentation or proofing.
- In this phase, the bread may not always double in size.
- When in doubt, rather proof for less time. Over proofing can result in a collapsed loaf with bad crumb structure and a hard crust.
- If you are not sure how to judge the right time to put the bread in the oven, rather put the bread in the oven before it has risen too much. It will still grow in the oven.
- Make sure that you use enough flour/bran so that the dough does not stick to the bread or proofing cloth.
- Don’t over bake the bread. It will not keep as long, but will taste okay while fresh.
- Try not to under bake the bread. It will not keep as long – it will go off in the centre and will have a sticky texture.
- As hard as it is to do, never cut a hot loaf. It continues cooking while it cools. The larger and denser the loaf, the longer it will take to cool down.
- If possible to wait that long, the bread will cut and taste better the next day.
- It may take a couple of attempts before you start getting the bread just the way you like it. If in doubt, always go back to the written recipe and start over.
- The fermentation times are guidelines – it takes a bit of time and experience to get it right.
- When you add additional ingredients, the ingredients may absorb some moisture, e.g. if you add seeds and nuts.
Planning your time
- I usually start the bread in the afternoon/evening before I bake it; leave it overnight for its initial fermentation. Form and bake it the next day.
- In summer I start it in the morning and bake in the afternoon/evening.
- A good rule of thumb is to work backwards from the time you want the bread to be ready, including the time it takes to cool down. Many breads can be baked a day before you need them, as a matter of fact, sourdough improves given a bit of maturing time.
I hope you enjoyed the dish and have saved some space for the next dish… Enjoy!
Let me know if you invent any other interesting variations.