Sourdough bread for a rainy Saturday

Mixed grain sourdough bread
Mixed grain sourdough bread

I’ve had a bad cold for the last few days; in fact, I even asked for a class Friday evening to be postponed because I was just beat – fever, runny nose, cough, etc.  But while I was rummaging around in the refrigerator for some orange juice yesterday afternoon I saw that my sourdough starter needed feeding.  So I took it out, let it warm up, and then fed it as I usually do – 100 grams each of starter, warm water, and bread flour.  This morning it had filled a quart container to the top and I knew I had better use it right away for some bread because it was bubbling like crazy.

These days I always use a recipe for a mixed grain sourdough that’s in my bread book.  It comes from my friend Tim Healea, owner of little t baker in Portland, Oregon.  Before I had finished the bread book I happened to be in Portland teaching and I spent a couple of hours with Tim as he explained the ins and outs of a some breads that hadn’t been working out as well as I would have liked.  Before we finished he went back to his office and printed out some of the formulas they use at the bakery and gave them to me to use.  I was thrilled, especially after I tried the breads, and this is one of them.  Tim’s a good friend for sharing those wonderful bread formulas – I don’t see him often but I’m always grateful for his generosity whenever I bake one of his breads.

MIXED GRAIN SOURDOUGH BREAD

Of course, you’ll need some good, active sourdough starter for this.  I always use what bread bakers call a “liquid levain” – it’s equal weights of starter, water, and flour.  If my starter has been refrigerated, I feed it once or twice according to those proportions to get it good and bubbly before I use it for this recipe.  The formula below starts at that point.

Makes one 10-inch round loaf

SPONGE

60 grams active, bubbly sourdough starter

120 grams warm tap water

120 grams unbleached bread flour (I always use Gold Medal)

DOUGH

All the sponge, above

340 grams warm tap water 32 grams dark rye flour

34 grams whole wheat flour

480 grams unbleached bread flour

15 grams fine sea salt

  1. For the sponge, use a rubber spatula to stir together the starter, water, and flour in a bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge ferment until it more than doubles.  It will take about 6 to 12 hours, depending on the temperature.  Today it was relatively warm and humid so it was ready after 7 hours.  In cold weather, make the sponge the night before.
  2. To make the dough, use a rubber spatula to stir the sponge and the water together in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Stir in the flours and salt.  Place the bowl on the mixer and beat on low speed until the dough is soft and fully moistened, about 3 minutes.  Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Start the mixer on medium speed and beat the dough until, it is smoother and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 3 minutes longer.  Scrape the dough to a floured surface and fold it over on itself several times to make it smoother.  Invert the dough, smooth side down, into a very lightly oiled bowl; turn the dough over so that the top is oiled and cover with plastic wrap.  Let the dough ferment until it is almost double in bulk, about 2 hours, depending on the temperature.
  4. Once the dough is risen, scrape it to a floured surface and turn it:  press it into a rough rectangle and fold one side over the middle and the other side over both.  Roll down from the top to a fat cylinder.  Invert and repeat.  Place the dough bake in the bowl, smooth side up this time, and cover it.  Let the dough rest until it starts to puff a little again, about an hour.
  5. Flour the work surface generously and invert the dough to it, smooth top side downward into the flour.  Pull all 4 corners of the dough into the center and continue around the loaf until it is round.  Flatten the loaf until it is about 1 1/2 inches thick and about 9 or 10 inches in diameter.  This helps the loaf to rise more evenly while baking.
  6. Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and place a baking stone or heavy pan on it.  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  7.  Cover a peel or a piece of stiff cardboard with some cornmeal or semolina and invert the loaf to it.  Use a baker’s lame or a single edge razor to slash a wide square into the top of the loaf and a diagonal slash through the square.  Generously spray the loaf with water and slide it onto the baking stone.
  8. Set the timer for 5 minutes, then open the oven and spray the loaf again.
  9. Leave the temperature at 500 degrees, but watch the loaf while it’s baking and decrease the temperature to 425 degrees if the loaf is coloring too darkly – it should be completely baked in another 20 minutes.
  10. Use mitts to remove the loaf from the oven to a rack.  You can verify the doneness with an instant-read thermometer – the loaf’s internal temperature should be 200 degrees.
  11. Cool the loaf for several hours before slicing.