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bread-aSourdough starter came up a few months ago as it relates to my quest for the perfect cheese roll I ended up borrowing my aunt’s Cheese Board Collective Cookbook (a local place in Berkeley, CA) so that I could follow their recipe for a sourdough starter of my own. This particular starter only calls for rye flour, bread flour, water and 11 days of constant feedings and patience before you have a sour smelling culture of bacteria ready to be added to bread. Right away I went to work creating my sourdough bread with just the starter, flour, water and salt. And my first two attempts weren’t so good producing flat, dense, white bread. I learned that adding some yeast (as in my new favorite sourdough cheese roll recipe) helps the whole bread along.

When I came across another King Arthur Flour recipe using sourdough and yeast to produce a multi-grain boule (a round of bread) I got to work. The recipe below is based on the King Arthur recipe and I will try and note where I have made changes. Most importantly, I’ve tried to make it so you can swap out the specialized ingredients and make good bread with just starter, yeast, salt and flour. If you don’t have your own starter, you can easily make your own, buy some from King Arthur’s website, or contact me and I will send you some if you cover the cost. Sharing is caring! This recipe has now taken the place of buying weekly bread from the store and I’ve made it every weekend for the past three weeks so I’m confident it’s a good one.

Before you even start baking you should make sure you have at least two cups of active starter (with enough extra to feed and continue the starter). Your starter should have large bubbles around the size of the tip of your pinky. If your starter needs to be fed and made active (like if you just took it out of the refrigerator) you should feed it 3-12 hours before baking with it.

The first thing we make is a “soaker” with 1 cup of boiling water and about 2/3 up to 1 cup of grain. If you don’t have any grain (ex. cornmeal, flax seed, bulgur, millet, etc.) then you can use the water only and omit the grain. King Arthur uses a “Harvest Grain Blend” with whole oat berries, millet, rye flakes, wheat flakes, flax, poppy, sesame, and sunflower seeds so feel free to use any of those in your own blend. I use multi-grain cornmeal and bulgur for 2/3 cup total soaker. Add it to your water and let it sit until the grains have softened, at minimum 15 minutes but up to an hour.

bread1While the soaker is doing its thing, prepare your other ingredients. The below image does not include everything in the dough but I wanted to let you see the different flours clearly and the bubbles in an active starter. See them all over that gloopy starter? That’s a good thing. For my recipe I use some rye flour for extra flavor but feel free to swap it out for wheat flour.

bread2What’s the difference between “instant” or “rapid rise” yeast and “active” yeast? Technically the first two don’t have to be “activated” while the latter should be “activated” before adding to the recipe with a little sugar in water. I’ve tried both in this recipe and either one will work.

Dump all the dough ingredients into a mixing bowl. If you don’t want to add the two tablespoons of olive oil, you can omit it with no problem. I like the flavor so I leave it in.

bread3Can you use a mixer? Sure. Can you use a food processor? Sure. Bread machine? Yes. But if you are able to do this by hand I recommend it to save on things you have to dirty. Use a spoon to mix everything as best you can and then use your hands to bring the rest of the flour that’s stuck on the bottom of the bowl into the dough. I also prefer to do my kneading in the bowl so I don’t have to worry about another surface to clean up afterwards because this is a pretty soft, tacky dough. It only takes five minutes of kneading (yup, only 5!) but feel free to do a little more if you want. It’s hard to over knead when you’re doing it by hand. Below is a shot right before I removed the spoon and switched to my hands.

bread4Once it’s kneaded, pick up the dough, spray or drizzle a little olive oil in there, spread it around and plop the dough back in. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise 1 – 1.5 hours. You can also put the dough in the refrigerator overnight at this point then continue the next morning.

bread5Once the dough has risen, prepare a cast iron baker (like a Le Creuset). You can use a 5-quart baker here but mine happens to be 7-quarts. If you have one of the oval ones, that works, too. Liberally brush or spray the bottom of the baker with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. I say “liberally” because I had some sticking issues the first two times I made this, but the pot below released the bread with no issues. If you don’t have  a baker, you can also use a sheet pan but will need to slightly adjust baking times.

bread6The next step is to turn your dough out onto a greased surface. Unless you don’t mind oil on your countertop, use a baking sheet brushed or sprayed with olive oil. I set mine on a kitchen towel so it stays in place. Fold the dough over a few times to deflate, then shape into a boule.

bread7Never shaped a boule before? Use your hands to create surface tension by gently pulling down as you turn the bread and tuck under. Ideally while wearing a sweater that matches your baker. Yes, it’s my favorite color. Duh. Anyhow, to demonstrate, this is how the bottom of my dough looks once I’ve mushed the dough under gently. Kind of like a brain.

bread8Once shaped, the boule goes into the baker for the final rise for 1 – 1.5 hours.

bread9When your last rise has been done, your bread will be looking mighty fine.

bread10Preheat your oven to 425°F and get your seed topping ready. You can skip the seed topping or just do one type like sesame seeds but I like to mix it up and use what I have on hand: 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper, 1/2 tsp. each of sesame, poppy and fennel seeds. Mix together with your fingers.

Next, spray, slash and seed. Spray with water (or use a brush again), slash with a lame, razor or sharp knife into a cross hatch pattern, then sprinkle your seed topping.

bread11Your bread has good surface tension if the slashes immediately start to open. Congrats! Cover and put it in the oven for 40 minutes, then remove the cover and bake 10-15 minutes more.

bread12Bam, fresh bread. Great for everything you do with bread. Let it cool off (you know you’re not supposed to cut into fresh-out-of-the-oven bread just like you wouldn’t cut into a hot steak, right?) then dig in. The crust is crackly, the inside tender and hearty.

bread13I recently read a great book, 52 Loaves, and learned that bread should be stored cut side down on a dish (we use an oval platter) to keep it fresh. Out on the counter. I couldn’t believe it but this bread stays out all week this way and never gets stale. Ready for the beauty shot?

bread14This is hands-down the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever made and one of the best. We can actually make sandwiches and toast out of it so it has completely replaced store-bought bread in our house. Here’s the recipe, enjoy!

Multi-Grain Sourdough Boule
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour)
Hands-on time: 25 mins. to 35 mins.; Baking time: 38 mins. to 55 mins.; Total time: 2 hrs 3 mins. to 3 hrs
Yield: 1 large round loaf

• 1 cup boiling water
• 1/3 cup coarse whole-grain polenta or corn grits (like Bob’s Red Mill)
• 1/3 cup bulgur wheat (like Trader Joe’s or Bob’s Red Mill)

• 2 cups sourdough starter, fed and ready to use
• 3/4 cup rye flour (like Bob’s Red Mill; or use wheat flour here, too)
• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 1 3/4 cups Artisan Bread Flour or Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
• 3 teaspoons salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 packet)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, or your favorite blend of seeds (1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper, 1/2 tsp. each of sesame, poppy and fennel seeds)

1. Add the corn polenta and bulgur to the boiling water and soak for 15 minutes to an hour to soften grains. Allow water to cool to lukewarm.

2. When cooled, add the water/grain mix and the remaining dough ingredients (through oil) to a large mixing bowl. Combine ingredients and knead – by hand, mixer, bread machine or food processor – until you’ve made a soft dough, adding additional water or flour as needed. With any method, you only need to knead for about 5 minutes, less if using a mixer or food processor.

3. Cover the dough in the bowl, and let it rise until it’s almost doubled, about 1 to 1.5 hours.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface, and gently fold it over a few times to deflate it. Shape it into a large round by gently pulling sides toward the bottom of the round to create surface tension.

5. Cover the round with lightly greased plastic wrap or place in a round covered baker that’s been sprayed with non-stick baking spray or brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds or cornmeal, and put on the cover. Let the loaf rise until it’s very puffy, about 1 to 1.5 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

6. Just before baking, brush or spray with water, and sprinkle with seed topping. Use a lame or a very sharp knife to make four slashes across the top of the loaf, in a crosshatch pattern.

7. Bake the bread for 40 minutes. Uncover the loaf if in a covered baker, and continue to bake 10 to 15 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F. (A loaf baked on a baking sheet will need to bake for 38 to 45 minutes total.)

8. Remove the bread from the oven, let sit in the baker for 5 minutes, then turn out and cool on a rack. (Note: If you use a baker, the bread may slightly stick on the bottom if there wasn’t enough oil/cornmeal. Use a silicon spatula to loosen the loaf before gently removing.)