I am making most of the bread my family eats myself – I started out with a breadmaker many years back when moving to the UK (in order to save us from having to eat sliced white all the time), but after burning out two units (they are just not made to make 2-3 wholemeal loaves a week for years), and getting the fabulous bread-making books by Richard Bertinet as a present, I started making proper bread by hand.
As the breads in these books are mainly French recipes, or catering to the English taste, I started extending the range fairly quickly with some hearty, German-style wholemeal breads that we really love – in the picture you see some baguette, pain de campagne (both Bertinet’s recipes) and two loaves of my creation.
And now I have come up with and tested a few really nicely working recipes, I would like to share those…
Some of those breads have a fairly high percentage of rye flour, which does not work greatly with just yeast as a raising agent. The issue seems to be that rye contains some enzymes that can destroy the gluten that gives the bread its structure, so it will collapse while being baked, and end up as a solid slab of starch instead a nice bread – but those enzymes can be hindered by making the dough slightly acidic – therefore sourdough makes all the difference. So the sourdough I use is an essential part of my baking.
The starter I am using is a rye-only sourdough, that consists of 50% wholemeal rye flour and 50% water. I keep it in a tight container in the fridge – this means I can only use it about once a week, but also I only need to feed it once a week. If it is kept warmer, it ferments much quicker and needs to be used and fed much more often.
To create the starter, I mixed 50g of water and 50g of wholemeal rye flour, and let it rest in an open container on top of the kitchen cupboard for two days – basically a place that is warm and not clinically clean, so that wild yeasts had a good chance of starting to grow in it. Then, small bubbles started to form in it, at which point I added another 50g of flour and 50g of water, and let it rest for another day, then added 100g of flour and 100g of water, rest another day, and then added 200g of water and 200g of flour and rest another day or two, until it had a really spongy structure – this is the sourdough starter.
Then I used half of it to make the first bread, and mixed another 200g flour and 200g water into the remaining starter to feed it. I then tightly closed the container and put it in the fridge so it takes about a week to be ready to used/fed again.
I sometimes extend this period to two weeks by just adding 100g of water and flour, and adding another 100g after a week, which is not ideal, but still keeps the starter alive and usable, as I don’t bake every single weekend.
When going on holiday, I remove more starter to only leave between 100g and 200g, and then refilling to 800g so that the starter has more mass to go through, and then leaving it in the fridge for up to 3 weeks – I have never been longer than that, but it usually already looks past its peak after 3 weeks, and ideally needs another feeding cycle before using it again.
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