Though I haven’t made my own sourdough starter yet (I actually have one that I need to revive from a good friend that’s sitting in my fridge – sorry Robin), that doesn’t mean that I eschew making bread from a starter. Truth be told, I love making bread from a poolish – or sponge – before I go to bed, then make a couple of loaves the next day. With this recipe, I’m using 25% fine-ground white whole wheat flour. You can use red whole wheat as well, but just make sure it’s fine-ground or extra-fine ground.
I will be up front: It’s going to take a bit of patience, especially after mixing the final dough because there’s very little yeast used in total. But your patience will be rewarded with a slightly sour bread with a wonderful, light, chewy texture. I did my folds in between meetings today! And the bulk ferment took about 5 hours. So yeah… it takes patience. Without further ado, let’s get to the recipe!
250 grams fine-ground whole wheat flour
450 grams 80-degree water
0.25 gram instant yeast – this is barely 1/4 of a 1/4 teaspoon. Let’s say it’s a “small pinch.”
750 grams bread flour
300 grams water ~80-degrees
15 grams salt (or up to 20 grams if you want a slightly saltier taste)
0.5 gram instant yeast (a full “pinch”)
100% Bread/Whole Wheat Flour
Make the Poolish
The evening before you bake, in a large bowl, mix up the ingredients for the poolish until everything’s incorporated. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, making sure it vents to release the gases. Let it sit and do its magic for 12-16 hours. If your kitchen is really warm like mine, 12 hours is the max!
Tip: Alternatively, you can pop the poolish into your fridge and let it develop for 18 to 24 hours. I’ve found that this actually mellows the sourness a bit, but introduces some interesting nutty and earthy notes. NOTE that if you decide to do this, let your poolish come to room temperature (about an hour) before doing the final mix.
The Next Day ~ Mix and Bulk Ferment
Measure the temperature of your flour. We’re after around 75-80-degrees of final dough temperature. Use the following table to determine the temp of your water:
|Flour Temp||Water Temp|
Add the rest of the water, salt, and yeast to the bowl with the poolish and mix thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Once combined, add the bread flour in batches. NOTE: I use my stand mixer to do this initial mix. Mix until no lumps are in the dough.
Form the dough into a rough ball and let it rest in the bowl for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, fold the dough, then turn it over to rest on the folds. From there, fold the dough every 30 minutes for the next 2 hours or until you feel the dough is extensible enough (hint: do the windowpane test to see if it is developed enough). Other than the windowpane test, I know the dough’s ready for the final bulk ferment if I can take 1/4 of the dough ball and stretch it up about a foot without it tearing.
Finally, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 2 hours. It may have doubled in size by then.* You’ll know the dough’s ready because if you slightly shake the bowl, it will be jiggly and hold its shape. You may not see bubbles on top, but that’s okay. If you don’t see much grown, give the dough another fold and let it sit for an hour. This will help distribute the yeast and microbes and let them find new sources of food.
Tip: Turn on your oven to 475 before dividing and shaping. If you’re cooking on a stone, make sure it’s placed on the middle rack and you also place a metal baking pan (I use a sheet pan) on the bottom rack. You’ll be pouring a cup of hot water into the pan to create steam.
If you’re using a Dutch oven, place it in the oven now so it’s hot when you’re ready to bake. A steam source isn’t necessary for the Dutch oven since the baking bread will provide enough steam in the enclosed chamber.
*The whole doubling is size is a little misleading. Most recipes, even my own, give that as a telltale, but to be honest, if you let your dough fully double or even triple in size, chances are that you’ll end up on the very end of the fermentation cycle where the yeast and microbes have no fuel left. This is why I mentioned inspecting the dough to see if it’s jiggly (which means there are air bubbles in it). Also, if the dough appears to have a slightly domed top, then it’s probably ready for shaping. Other bakers I’ve spoken with say they only go as far as 50% growth in the size from the original size of the dough ball. Personally, I go just a little bit further, but not much more.
Divide and Shape
This is a fairly high-hydration dough at 75%. It’s not impossible to work, but it can be a bit challenging, especially if you haven’t worked with it. Anyway, pour your dough out from the bowl and divide it into two equal pieces. With this recipe, they should weigh 883 grams each. Do the pre-shape.
I learned how to pre-shape and shape high-hydration dough with the following video:
I use a different batard shaping method that can be viewed here.
Once you’re done shaping, place the dough in an appropriate proofing container. Proof the dough for an hour. But check it after a half-hour with the finger dent test. On especially warm days, my dough proofs quick.
Tip: For smaller batards, I got some french fry baskets to use as bannetons that work great. I also did an 18-hour proof in my mini-fridge, set to about 40-degrees to do a slow proof. Frankly, if you have room in your fridge (or a second fridge to use as a dough retarder like I do), I’d recommend doing a slow, chilled ferment. Cold dough is much easier to slash and also, even more importantly, cold dough releases steam into the bread for a longer time, promoting better oven spring.
Once proofed, place the dough on a peel or appropriate device to slide onto your stone that has been liberally sprinkled with cornmeal or flour if you don’t have cornmeal. Don’t be shy with it! Your dough has got to slide off the peel easy. 🙂 But before you place the dough into the oven, score it with a super-sharp knife or a lame. Slide the dough onto your stone. Immediately pour the cup of hot water into the baking pan below. Careful of the steam that will rise!
If you’re using a Dutch oven, remove the Dutch oven from the oven and place it on a heat-safe surface. Remove the cover, then place your dough directly into the pot. Cover and place back into the oven.
Bake at 475 for 30 minutes.
Remove the baking pan from the oven after 20 minutes. If you’re using a Dutch oven, remove the lid after 20 minutes and bake open for the last 10 minutes.
That’s it! Enjoy!