Whole wheat sourdough bread: easy and no-knead recipe
If you are following me on social media for sometime, you surely know that we bake bread every 3-4 days. Both my husband and I can be considered as serious fans of this food, which counts on millennial of tradition.
As the Chetarian diet is particularly attracted to the ancient eating habits, bread is part of our meals every day of the week.
But which bread? As I explained in the article entitled “Good as a bread or not?”, the bread we find on sale is very often prepared with refined flours (mainly wheat), produced by intensive agriculture based on the excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides, which are ground with industrial cylinders, then refined with the addition of a mix of strong but non-traditional flours (soy, manitoba etc.), additives (like vital gluten etc), enzymes, by usage of brewer’s yeast which allows a growth of volume obtained in just 45 minutes.
On the other hand, the real bread is made with brown flours, stone-ground, wholemeal, without adding anything but salt and water; but with sourdough starter which has probiotic and prebiotic effects, thanks to a minimum of 8-48 hours of fermentation.
Although the two breads share the main two ingredients (water and flour), the cooking equipment and perhaps the shape, they actually differ enormously.
In fact, as ‘serial eaters’ of Whole wheat sourdough bread, we are neither fat (a message to those who are afraid of gaining weight), nor do we suffer from ‘inflammation’ (which I hope will be useful for fans of the trendy paleo or ketogenic diets, which contain very low amounts of carbohydrates). It has to be said, though, that while we do make excellent bread, we are always moderate in our consumption of it.
If you have come across this page by searching on search engines, I imagine you share my view: there is bread and bread!
And you probably yearn for the perfect recipe that will satisfy you: all the effort and striving for the goal deserves a guaranteed success, today and forever; but unfortunately meritocracy does not always rule the semi-religious laws of the kitchen.
The way I see it, bread-making is like a sailing trip; on a sailing boat the best part of the journey is not arriving at the destination, but the journey itself that leads you there; the more adventurous and unforeseen it is, the richer and more satisfying the whole experience.
It is exactly the same with bread: you must be able to be patient and appreciate each step, feel apprehension towards possible failure, and then enjoy the immense joy each time you create a masterpiece for yourself and your loved ones.
If you are looking for peace of mind and success without the side effects, go to a bakery – it would be much better for your mental health.
What I have said so far does not mean that you should improvise, absolutely not; you simply must not throw in the towel at the first obstacle. If you only knew how many unsuccessful loaves we have eaten!
But now, after having established an affinity with my liquid sourdough starter (to see how easily it can be prepared, read the article), I am finally satisfied with my ‘tried and tested’ recipe, enjoying also making some modifications: mixing the flours differently, changing the proportions, etc.
Due to the global situation we are in, I had to do without my beloved spelt flour, which suddenly disappeared from the shelves; and so the recipe for whole wheat sourdough bread was born.
Time: prep. 30 mins
fermentation 6/48 hrs
baking 40 mins
Yields: 12 portions
500 grams of whole wheat flour (preferably stone-ground and organic)
250 grams of bread flour or AP flour (preferably stone-ground and organic)
Sourdough starter 60 g*
620 grams of drinking water
1/2 tbsp of grape molasses o 1 tbsp of honey or 1 tbsp of sugar
10 g of salt (I prefer my bread low salty, since it is often consumed with tasty dishes, so if you a want it more savory just double this quantity)
approx. 50 grams of all purpose flour to use for bread making procedure
*The sourdough starter should be activated the day before preparing the dough: 1 tbsp (15 g) of sourdough starter should be fed with 25 grams of warm water and 25 grams of flour and left at room temperature if it’s more than 20 °C or more for over night or 8-12 hours. To see if it has been activated sufficiently, make a mark on the jar in which you feed it; if it has doubled in 8-12 hours, it is ready. If you want a leavening period longer than 24 hours, reduce the quantity of yeast by a third, using only 40 grams instead of 60.
I highly recommend trying the variant with wholemeal rye flour. Nothing changes in the procedure, you just have to replace 100 grams of whole-wheat flour with rye flour and maybe remove 25 grams of water: rye flour gives the bread more moisture
The title speaks for itself: this is the most practical method that exists. However, if you have the time and willingness to experiment, you can use the same ingredients of whole wheat sourdough bread, in a much more professional way, as I showed in the recipe of no-knead sourdough whole meal spelt (Triticum spelta) bread.
Step number 1
As I indicated in the creation of the sourdough starter, the room temperature is of crucial importance; in the winter months, with the heating on, place your dough close to them (I strongly underline that, close doesn’t mean above: if you exceed 28°C you will do more harm); in spring and autumn without heating, place the dough and/or starter inside your oven with the lamp on, or with a bowl full of boiling water: this method will serve to maintain a stable, warm temperature for many hours (even 5) without requiring the addition of new boiling water.
I warn you that the type of dough that we will be doing is a high hydration dough and therefore it will be very sticky, so we will not knead it with the classic techniques. My recipe for sourdough wholemeal spelt bread is a reinterpretation of the famous “No-Knead Bread” which mainly uses strong flours, necessary to give strength to the alveoli so as to retain more air and become higher and softer. We instead try to use less this type of flour mixes because they are very rich in gluten; naturally occurring and in particular, added “vital” gluten is known to cause intestinal inflammation in many people. What we do therefore is to use a minor portion of refined bread flour in order to create a satisfactorily perfect balance: bread (or white) flour provides strength to the structure, wholemeal spelt flour the flavor, aroma and health benefits.
Here is the first question I see flashing in your minds: if we don’t knead it, how will we make bread? Keep reading…
Step number 2
In the other recipe (spelt bread) I recommended using autolysis; however, for wholemeal bread with liquid sourdough I do not apply it, in order to facilitate the ease of the process: in fact you lose something in the fermentation, resulting in a few millimeters less bread height, a less golden crust (doubling the amount of sugar can remedy the problem) and a slightly heavier crumb; but to be honest almost nobody (except my readers, careful observers) will notice the differences.
If the dough is too liquid for you, add a little more flour. And if you are a beginner, I suggest you to reduce the initial amount of water about 50 grams, counting on a total of 570 grams, instead of 620 original, so as to acquire the manual skill over time. If you make your bread with less water, nothing really bad will happen only you won’t have a very open crumb; preferably when you bake the bread in the oven, put some water inside a container, resistant to high temperatures, so that the loaf does not harden too much
Every time you let your dough rest, close the bowl with a plate, or use a plastic bag or stretch film: it will maintain high the humidity. Moreover, always place the dough in a warm place (max 28°C).
Step number 3
This is a recipe that does not call for kneading, but also this whole wheat sourdough bread will receive our care: stretch and fold the dough over itself. Use your hands but also a spoon or a specific baker’s tool, moving the dough from the sides, from the bottom to the top; repeat the operation for the whole circumference of the dough; make several complete turns, at least 2-3 times.
This crucial operation must be repeated 3 to 5 times every 15 minutes; after each fold, give the dough a spherical shape, close the bowl with the plate and place it in a warm place.
So after about 1 hour of stretching and folding, you should notice both the growth of the dough and a greater uniformity, more elasticity and resistance: it sounds good.
Step number 4
At this point you have two options: let it rest at room temperature in summer, or in case of cold weather in the oven, for another 5-6 hours in order to obtain a relatively short fermentation, otherwise you can put it in the fridge (always covered with a plate or a plastic bag) and proceed to a long fermentation of 8-48 hours.
You just have to remember to take the dough out of the fridge at least 2 hours before baking and bring it back to room temperature.
Step number 5
In the traditional procedure, after completing the first fermentation, we needed to pre-form our bread. But as this recipe is practical, we will skip this step.
The pre-forming phase therefore takes place in the same dough container: as for folding, use either the spatula or your hands to work it; lastly, sprinkle it with a little flour, which you can also use to make your hands non-stick. Too much flour can create a problem, so don’t be generous.
Now with floured hands try to flatten the sides while keeping the shape of a ball; if the dough is very wet/sticky for you, use the spatula.
In the traditional procedure, I was recommending a last step to give the dough its final shape, and create beautiful patterns on the surface of your beloved bread. For this practical recipe, forget all of that and turn on the oven to full power, inserting the “baking medium” (I use this strange term, because you have several alternatives).
Step number 6
Leave dough to rise for a last time for 45 minutes.
And now the time of truth!
Step number 7
The maximum temperature ensures that the heat is not lost quickly as soon as you open the door to insert the dough. I would like you to use this time (45 minutes) of maximum oven power, taking advantage of it to bake something else: not wasting the heat generated, i.e. the energy, is fundamental; for example a huge tray of seasonal vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beetroots, pumpkins, or tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes; or another excellent idea would be chickpea flatbread (see here my frequently proven recipe) which requires high temperatures just like pizza.
To produce a good ‘baker’s’ bread, the only variant that can make a real difference is the characteristics of the oven. The high, but more stable temperature, combined with the great ability to hold steam, create the perfect combination essential for a crispy crust: neither too hard nor too soft.
The web is full of recipes using the famous Dutch oven or cast iron pots with lids, whose respectable results which simulate the characteristics of a professional oven very well. But what if you don’t have either? I, for example, fall into the latter category and I am not discouraged, never!
If you have a refractory pizza stone, you could use it in combination with a lid made from an earthenware baking dish or a resistant steel pot (used as a lid upside down); or you could use a simple steel pot (with lid) resistant to these temperatures, as long as it doesn’t have plastic handles or glass lid.
After approx. 45 minutes of heating up, take out the cooking medium without scalding yourself, place the ball inside by gently turning it upside down on it, using a spatula if necessary.
The most butterfingered ones can use baking paper to transfer the ball into the hot cooking medium: to do this I recommend you wetting and squeezing the kitchen paper so as to eliminate any creases, inevitable if it was dry, therefore able to make unaesthetic signs on the bread surface. Use this paper instead of a dry cloth before transferring your dough from the dough board to the basket. But since the dough will not be turned upside down, keep the smooth surface on top
Just before putting back in the oven, make an incision about 0,5 cm deep with a razor blade or baker’s knife, or a sharp knife; I successfully use the blades of my chopper, holding them at an angle of 45°.
This will allow the air that will form in the bread to exit homogeneously; in the meantime it will allow the temperature to penetrate into the “heart” of the bread: the risk otherwise is to make it crack, or swell on one side and deflate on the other. So do it, but in case you forget it (personal experience) it will not be the end of the world.
Let’s cover with the lid (or its equivalent) before closing the oven door: even though we can’t get close to the air tightness guaranteed by the costly baking equipment, in order not to leave the bread without steam, I put a grill in the lowest rail of my oven and insert an oven safe dish with water inside on it. This will continue to provide the necessary steam during the first baking phase, which will last 25 minutes at a temperature of 230°C. The next 15 minutes we will reduce the temperature to 200°C and remove both the lid and the steam source.
Step number 8
And if you have done everything right you will get a well leavened loaf of bread, with a crust that will invite you to take a bite!
However, hold back: cutting the bread before it’s completely cooled will return it moist inside, which means ruining all your dedicated efforts.
In order to offer an optimal cooling phase, you could use a cooling grid; if you don’t have one, then do like me: place it sideways on a vertical surface at an angle, taking care to turn it every now and then.
Tip on timing
Normally I activate the sourdough starter early in the morning; in the evening, when it is ready, I start making the dough; after the time needed to finish the folds as described above, I put it in the fridge, always covered by a plate or a plastic bag; the next morning I take it out and let it reach room temperature.
Finally, as soon as the next stages for the last fermentation are complete, I put it in the oven: the bread is ready to be cut at tea time!
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