The Wood-Fired Blog

Sourdough Tang

Wow. When they say that your sourdough keeps getting more sour as you divide it, feed it and leave it at room temperature — they really meat it. My starter became noticeably more sour and more tangy as time when on, and I want to see how far it would go. Today the answer was “really far”. Seriously tangy.

But all good things must come to an end, so today I started a pre-fermentation for a whole wheat loaf, fed my starter and put in into the refrigerator in a plastic, snap-top container.

sourdough starter


I not going to slow down on my baking, so it will be interesting to see how a refrigerated starter changes how I build up my dough. If you’ve been thinking about starting a sourdough culture, go for it! It’s a lot of fun, and the bread is great.

Sourdough Rye

Sourdough Rye

This came out pretty good. My first attempt at sourdough rye with my new starter was made in two stages (three if you include building the starter). This is a 500 gram loaf with 70% hydration.

Stage 1. I added 160 grams of whole wheat flour, 160 grams of dark rye flour, 250 grams of water and 10 grams of salt to 180 grams of my starter — which contained 80 grams of white flour and 100 grams of water. Which means that my overnight pre-fermentation contained 400 grams of the flour and all of the water and salt. The overnight rise was good (yes! my starter is very active).

Stage 2. I added the final 100 grams of flour (50 grams of whole wheat and 50 grams of dark rye), and 30 grams each of honey and olive oil. After a multi-hour bulk fermentation, I folded the dough and shaped a boule, let that rise in a baneton for 90 minutes (it was very springy and ready to go into the oven), scored and baked.

sourdough rye

The rye flour has a very distinctive flavor that I like, and I think I can get an even stronger sourdough tang before it becomes to strong. The crumb is moist and very light — particularly considering that it is mostly dark rye and whole wheat flour. As a quick side note, beware of store sourdough rye. It is typically about 85% white flour, with just a little rye. It’s rarely the real thing.

Good stuff.

Pop-Up Bread Proofing Box

I am starting to experiment with sourdough rye (something I have been looking forward to), which got me thinking about multi-stage proofing and the ability to control proofing temperature. My oven has an 85F proofing setting, which has been helpful, but today I came across this.

pop up proofing box

It’s from Brod & Taylor, and it costs about $150, and the temperature can be set at 70 – 120F. You know. Perfect for bread proofing. It pops up when you are using it and folds down for storage. And it has an internal water tray that allows it to maintain even 60-80% humidity, so you don’t have to cover your loaves.

Very, very interesting.

One note on my sourdough starter. They say that if you divide and feed your starter every day,  and leave it out on the counter, that it will get more and more sour over time. And they’re right! My starter is now very tangy, and I really like it. At some point I am going to have to consider storing it in the refrigerator.

More to come on my sourdough rye.


Next, a Sourdough Baguette


I started my baguette around noon to give the dough time to develop, and went with 100% AP flour and hydration of 70%+ — I’m not really sure exactly what it was, but it was too high. My dough didn’t have enough structure to proof in baguette shape without sagging sideways. It might have been too much water and it might have been the flour. You can see that my loaf is flatter than I would like.

Recently I have been using both Central Milling Tipo 00 flour and Caputo Pizzeria flour — both of which are just great, but I ran out both. Sort of like the cobbler’s kids shoes. So I had to use Trader Joe’s AP white flour, and while there isn’t anything wrong with it, it definitely is not as nice to work with as the artisan flours.

The bread has a subtle sourdough tang, the crust was crunchy and thick, and the crumb was moist with a nice elastic texture. But I have never been able to get a nice caramel brown exterior with I use the Trader Joe’s flour.

Next up I am going to try a more adventurous whole wheat loaf with an overnight soaker for the whole wheat flour. For now I am going to keep dividing my starter for baking and continue leaving it outsides. It’s never hot here (pretty much in the 60′s year round), so I don’t really think there is a risk of having the starter become too acidic as long as I am using it most days — and for now, it is continuing to develop the stronger sourdough tang that I like.

Time to get a supply of nice flour in the house.

Sourdough Focaccia

This is a fun weekend bread. 100% white flour; in the case Central Milling Tipo 00.

sourdough focaccia

I pulled off 180 grams of my starter (and fed it) around noon, and built it up to a 300 gram/72% hydration focaccia formula. By the math, the starter was 80 grams of flour and 100 grams of water, so to finish the dough I added 220 grams of flour, about 115 grams of water, 6 grams of salt and a splash of olive oil.

There is no doubt that sourdough starter takes a lot more time to develop bread dough than cultured yeast, but after about 6 1/2 hours on the proof setting in my oven (a consistent 85F), it got there. I topped it with salt, rosemary and a little drizzle of olive oil.

The bread was crunchy and chewy and it had a lot more character than a basic white bread focaccia.

Meanwhile, my sourdough starter is getting a little more tangy every day. I think I’m going to leave it out and feed it one more time tomorrow, and then we’re good, and I’ll start storing it in the refrigerator, and only feeding it when I bake.


First Bread from Newest Sourdough Culture

According to the instructions, it would take five days to building before my new culture would be capable of develop bread. But rather than throw away the cup of starter (about 200 grams) when I divided it and fed it, I decided to add 150 grams of whole wheat flour, 5 grams of salt and a little honey, olive oil and water. What the heck; what’s there to lose.

And I ended up with a nice loaf of toasting bread. This is going to be fun.

Sourdough whole wheat bread.

I’m going to make whole wheat focaccia for dinner tonight when I divide and feed my culture. My starter is very alive and getting fragrant.


It’s Alive!

Sourdough starter

It’s bubbling and starting to develop a nice tart smell.

The sourdough starter was sent dried in a small ziplock bag. The instructions are to resuscitate it with 1/2 cup of warm water and 1/2 cup of flour the first and second days to bring it back to life. Now that it is active, I will pull off one cup of the starter and added 3/4 cup water and 3/4 cup flour each day. It should be active enough to make bread in 2-3 more days. Meanwhile, I am going to make a few pancakes with the batter I pull off.


Focaccia a Health Food?

I really like Focaccia. But there are times when I find myself thinking of it more as a weekend treat than a day-to-day staple. But today, there was a very fun article in the NY Times that may change all of that. I wish I had though of this myself.

From the Health section of the paper — Focaccia: One Basic Bread, Endless Delicious Options: Whole-Wheat Focaccia

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

The article not only explores different mixes of whole wheat and white flour (with all the trade-offs in density, flavor, texture, etc.), it also uncovers a great, new artisan whole wheat flour. Community Grains is a California company that works with mid-size farms to grow heritage grains and mills whole wheat flours using the entire wheat berry — with the bran and germ intact during milling. They are able to make a finely ground flour that is both light and airy, and genuine whole grain.

You can find Community Grains here.

Community Grains


Here is what Michael Pollan has to say about them:

“Conventional milling technology splits off the bran and germ right at the beginning. If they are selling the whole grain, they just add those parts back in later, which apparently is not as good as keeping them in the whole time. That’s the Community Grains premise. Whole grain is one of the important things missing from the Western diet.”-Michael Pollan, Wall Street Journal Nov. 2011

Of course I ran out and bought 15 lbs. at our local Whole Foods. Focaccia for dinner.

The NY Times recipes is basically half white flour and half whole wheat, and 72% hydration. They add some olive oil to the dough along with a little sugar. I am trying it with 80% Community Grains whole wheat and 20% Central Milling Tipo 00 with 72% hydration. I probably could have gone higher with the water with all that whole wheat flour. But the flour is really, really nice. Silky soft and very extensible. You wouldn’t believe it was whole wheat.

This (and my new sourdough starter) is getting exciting.


Trader Joe’s and Whole Wheat Sourdough

Armed with the new knowledge that sourdough bread is easier to digest, lowers your insulin reaction to carbs, and might increase your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from  the flour, I went to Trader Joe’s to check out their sourdough selection. Of course we all know that whole wheat flour is much, much better than white flour.

Trader Joe's

What I found was not good. TJ’s has whole wheat yeast bread and sourdough white flour bread — but no sourdough whole wheat bread. Maybe this is an unserved market where someone will come in to fill the void. I think Trader Joe’s is great, and it will be interesting to see what happens.

On a related note, I listened to the Michael Pollan interview on NPR’s Science Friday, and he made the very good point that the best whole wheat/whole grain breads are always sourdough, because the natural starter has the ability to fully develop the flavor and texture of the whole grains. As he put it, yeasted whole wheat bread just crumbles in the toaster. Commercial yeast is a nono-culture product, optimized to put air holes in bread.

Good stuff.