Baking A More Traditional Sourdough Bread

No knead bread baking is here to stay, but try this and tell me if you think it’s just better bread. The longer, slower proofing times really help bring out maximum flavor in the grains.

Ever since reading an article in the January 1995 issue of Smithsonian magazine touting Poilâne bread of Paris as “the world’s most-celebrated loaves”, I’ve wanted to experience for myself what all the fascination is about.

This is a bread that historian Steven Kaplan, in his book “Good Bread is Back”, describes as simple, delicious and famous: “Fleshy, tender, with a taste that lingers in the mouth, bursting with odors of spices and hazelnut.” A Poilâne style miche (round loaf) also graces the cover of Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”. Reinhart spent time honing his craft in Paris and seems to have some inside knowledge on how it’s made.

Finally, for my birthday party in March (I called it my “bread-day party”), I joined the likes of Robert De Niro, Lauren Bacal, Steven Spielberg and the tens of thousands of mere mortals who are regular Poilâne customers and ordered one for myself and my guests to enjoy. I figured $48 for a loaf of bread was a bargain compared with a trip to Paris. Besides, these are monstrous loaves, weighing in at over four pounds. ( I can rationalize what I want with the best of ‘em. )

The bread was certainly excellent, although amongst my friends it received mixed reviews. Even though the late Lionel Poilâne felt the bread reached its peak of flavor three days after baking, I think it would have been better the same day. In any case, this got me started on trying to duplicate the recipe. A few attempts at Reinhart’s version resulted in a fine whole wheat bread, but I wasn’t able to come close to duplicating the Poilâne experience. I even sifted out some of the bran as suggested and used Normandy gray sea salt. “What?” you say, “Normandy sea salt isn’t the magic ingredient that will transform my ordinary bread into something world class?”

Now, I realize it’s pure hubris on my part to even think about duplicating Poilâne bread at home or anywhere else for that matter. I should at least have a wood fire brick oven to bake in. But I did ultimately meet a fellow amateur baker who spent 20 years in Paris and felt he had come extremely close to nailing the recipe. I agree.

I’ve posted his recipe, instructions and accompanying video here. Whether or not it approaches the supreme heights of Poilâne bread itself, I thought the results were fantastic. Certainly the best (mostly) whole grain bread I’ve baked and on par with some of the best whole grain bread I’ve had anywhere. I can hardly wait to get that wood fired oven built!

Start the recipe in the evening…

Evening of Day 1: Mix together:

  • 200 grams (7 oz. or 7/8 cup) water
  • 120g (4 oz. or 1/2 cup) sourdough starter
  • 236 grams (8 1/3 oz or 2 cups) whole wheat flour

Ferment (let sit out at room temperature covered loosely with plastic) at 69F for 12 hours.

Morning of Day 2: Add to Day 1 ingredients:

  • 274 grams (9 2/3 oz. or ~1 1/4 cup) water
  • 85 grams (3 oz. or 7/8 cup) rye flour
  • 250 grams (8 3/4 oz or 2 cups) white bread flour
  • 170 grams (6 oz. or a tad over 1 3/4 cups) spelt flour
  • 13 grams (scant tbs.) salt

Knead, place in plastic covered bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Morning of Day 3: Form a boule (round loaf) and ferment (let sit out on counter) 5 hours at 69F.

Bake at 485F for 40-45 minutes.

Notes: The recipe was created using grams for measurement. For those without a kitchen scale I have translated to ounces and cups. Some of the measurements don’t translate all that nicely, but what I have here is close enough.

Thanks to Franz Conrads for calculating the dough hydration levels in baker’s percentages terms for this recipe.

Don’t sweat the 69° proofing temperatures too much. If you come close, great, but I go with whatever my house temperature is at the time. If it’s summer and your house is very warm, do try and find the coolest spot you can. Temperature does impact results but unless you are running a bakery, you may enjoy the varying outcomes.

The original recipe calls for 20 grams of salt. Too much in my unqualified opinion. 13 works just fine. Feel free to experiment.

Regarding baking time and temperature, all ovens vary somewhat and you might have to make some adjustments here. After the first couple of times with this recipe, I found the bread baked just right in my La Cloche at 485 F for the first 30 minutes, then 10 more minutes at 450 with the lid off.

If you treasure “big holes” in the crumb, experiment with increasing the hydration. You’ll get a flatter loaf, but more open crumb.

Jan. 4, 2010 Update: Breadtopia reader, Wil, contributed this great recipe variation with herbs.

Apr. 26, 2011 Update: See Joe Doniach’s variation of this recipe with photos that tell a story by themselves.

Here are some photos of the actual Poilâne loaf from my bread-day party…

ActualPoilane

ActualPoilane

ActualPoilane

ActualPoilane

Here’s a particularly gorgeous example of this bread by Jacquie of Aptos, California.

Jacquie's whole grain sourdough

467 thoughts on “Whole Grain Sourdough

  1. Cesar'smom

    I really love a great whole grain bread with texture and crunch. I used to buy something called sunflower crunch bread. Any wisdom about what/how much to add to get great texture without being to heavy?

  2. Tamara Robson

    Thank you so much for your videos and products. I can’t believe I can make a loaf of bread that is so gorgeous and the best bread I’ve ever eaten…. and so healthy! I’ve never had so much fun in the kitchen!!

  3. Hi Margaret,

    8-9 hours might work. The lower temp will certainly help. I’d give it a try.

  4. Margaret

    On the third day of this bread can I ferment the bread for longer than 5 hours? I can’t come home in the middle of the day to put it in the oven. It would be more in the area of 8-9 hours, probably at a lower temperature as its winter in New Orleans in a home without insulation or central heat. So, would that be an acceptable timeline or do I need to rearrange the schedule or only bake it on the weekends…?

    Thanks so much!
    Margaret
    PS: My boyfriend is obsessed with your SD Rye bread.

  5. joy

    What is the purpose of making two phases? Can i just add all the ingredients and wait for 36 hours to bake? Thank you so much!

  6. Angela

    Howdy Folks,

    A questions on delayed baking. I’ve been reading/baking with the book ‘Artisan Breads in 5 minutes per day’ found here: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/ Which is basically a no-knead method of making a large batch of dough, storing it in the frig and pulling off a loaf’s worth at a time for baking when desired. The technique is interesting and saves time, but I’m not 100% thrilled with the results, sooo…..

    I was wondering, how long after the refrigerated step, (day 2) in the recipe above, will the dough last and still produce a good loaf? Does the sourdough starter begin to weaken after this second rise? What I’m wanting to do is divide my dough in half and bake one baby round loaf on day thee, and the second loaf 2-3 days later.

    Has anyone any experience with stalling the baking?

    Angela

  7. Ty Hiller

    If you do try it with instant yeast, will you let me know how it works out?

  8. Ty Hiller

    Thanks Eric. Much help that is. Hope to make soon.

  9. Hi Ty.

    Having not tried it, I couldn’t tell you for sure. If I were to try it, I’d probably start with around 1 tsp of SAF instant yeast and see how it goes.

  10. Ty Hiller

    If we were making this without sourdough starter, how much yeast should we use in its place.

  11. Chris

    50 bucks for a loaf?? I’m quitting my job tomorrow and will open a bakery, fun :)

    Do you have any experience with wood fired baking stoves? I was wondering if I could build an outhouse baking shed in my back yard that I could also use as a sauna! kill two birds with one stone :)

  12. H

    Thank you! I just took it out now. Even if it doesn’t turn out fresh baked bread is almost always edible!

  13. Rasmus

    Hi h

    The extra hours should be ok as long as you keep it in the fridge, is my experience anyway. You may find that you get a slightly more acidic taste.

    R

  14. h

    I am on step two the 24 hr fridge ferment. It has been in just over 12 hrs. My question is would I be able to take it further than 24 hrs? The schedule it is on would have me taking the bread out at 10:30 PM for the 4-5 hr bringing to room temp just before the final shaping. That would have me baking the bread during the middle of the night! I would much prefer to take the bread out at 7 am and proceed with the final step. Would the extra 7 hours, making it a total of 31 hrs, alter the final outcome?

  15. Rasmus

    I’ve made this bread a couple of times now and my best advise is to use the measurements as a rough guide, especially for the kneaded doughs. There are so many different flours, and even the same brand may behave differently from time to time.

    The best way to determine how much flour/water to use is to add more as you knead, if needed. Let the dough tell you what it needs. I usually leave out some of the flour when mixing, adding more as I knead. This may of course be difficult without practise, but that’s the fun of it. I’ve made my share of door stoppers, but I’ve learned from my mistakes.

  16. Sarah

    I made this bread and it tasted great but the texture was dense. I measured the flour and then weighed it and the amounts were very different. I went with the measured amount rather than the weighed amt and I wonder if that was the problem. Too much flour and not enough liquid?

  17. Hi Bryan,

    Just do a Google search on “SF Sourdough Recipe”. A recipe should be easy to find. The only “plain ‘ol sourdough” recipe we have on the site is the basic sourdough no knead recipe.

  18. Bryan

    Just plain ‘ol sourdough…

    Hi…as mentioned earlier..this recipe worked great for me. Is there a way to do this w/out the 100% whole grain? Just a regular, basic sourdough receipe I guess I’m looking for…can I just substitute the whole wheat w/white?
    What I’m looking for end result – something that looks like this one – but which tastes like old san fran sourdough….didn’t see any recipes on this site…thanks!

  19. Never mind my previous question. I realize now that it is three days time TOTAL for proofing. That’s what I get for watching videos prior to my morning’s coffee. :)

  20. One quick question —

    The video says to leave the bread for 24 hours.. the second video starts and says, “after three days”. I am assuming you actually allow the bread to proof for 3 days then go on to the next step, rather than 24 hours? I will be trying this bread today, as soon as I go get some rye flour!

    By the way — scoring technique is still a bit iffy for me. If I got such pretty ‘ears’ as your bread in the video, I would be content! :) Guess I need to actually buy a razor after all!

  21. Bryan

    Hi…so….decided I wanted to make some healthy bread – though have never baked anything but a box of brownies….though a grandfather owned a danish bakery when I was young…so, I bought the pot, some starter and a few tools..and watched the video 5-6 times…IT”S GREAT! Thanks for everything! I think I’lll enjoy this!

  22. Denise Patch

    OH NO! After making it as far as the proofing basket stage, I just discovered the little dish of pre-measured salt sitting on the counter which I obviously forgot to add. Does anyone know what the salt in the bread is for?

  23. help. I am new to sd, in fact it is evening of day 1 and my starter/flour/water mixture is fermenting on the counter. Tomorrow monring I am suppose to start the next steps..ooppss..

    I only have whole wheat flour in the house. Which I grind myself, 2 days ago. I don’t have spelt or rye flour. Just flour ground from hard white spring wheat.

    Does anyone have a variation of this recipe which calls for 100% ww, i do have vwg. can I just substitute equal amounts of my fresh ground ww for the other flours in the recipe?

  24. Wil

    Hi all,

    I have been baking some wonderful NKB sourdough whole wheat/whole grain breads and I want to share what I have been doing so others may try these easy to make breads. The secrets I have learned come from this Breadtopia forum, Peter Reinhart’s book, “artisan breads every day” and from my own trial and error.
    I have been successful in converting most recipes by changing out the white, AP or bread flour to whole wheat or whole grains. I always use 16oz of whole wheat or other whole grain(s) in any combination or amounts as long as they equal 16oz. I always use sourdough starter and I always use 1 cup of water and 1/2 cup of kefir. I substitue honey for any sugar called for in a recipe. The secret ingredient, not really secret but not usually used, is vital gluten. Vital gluten is the miracle ingredient, for making home-made 100% whole grain bread, if one can tolerate it. Vital gluten eliminates the need to use any white, AP or bread flour when using whole grain flours for bread baking. It eliminates the starches leaving only 4 carbs (glycemic value of 2) while adding 21g of protein for 1oz of vital gluten. I use 1oz of vital gluten to my 16oz of whole grain flour. I buy a small amount of vital gluten from my common market in bulk. A small bag is reasonable and last a long time. The rest of the process is simple. I make my KNB dough in the morning, I let set for 20 minutes, then stretch and fold three more times in 15 minute intervals. The same as Eric shows in his video. I then cover and put the dough in the refrigerator until bedtime. I then remove it and set it on the counter until morning, about 10-11 hours. I can tell when it’s (I’m) ready and have not gone a full 12 hrs yet. I flatten the dough gently, about 3/4 to 1 inch, fold, pinch and shape and let set while the clay baker is pre-heated in a 500d oven for about 45mins to 1 hour. I like the looks of Peter Reinharts’s breads, usually a lighter brown then my previous darker looking breads. So, I use his baking times of pre-heating at 500d, turning down to 425 for 45 minutes. I use a clay baker, leaving covered for 50 minutes and I get that “Reinhart look”. It has been working every time for me and I am having fun using all kinds of whole grain flours, mostly in combinations of Spelt, Durum, w.whole wheat, and rye. You can add any other spices, seeds, nuts, dried fruits or what ever you may find in your recipes. Oh yes, the breads have been getting a nice rise, wonderfully soft, medium/small open crumb, a not so chewy crust, more crispy like, the taste is delicious AND, it is completely 100% healthy.

    Wil

    • Scott

      Hi Wil,
      I am really interested in your approach and appreciate your tweaking the recipes to make them healthier. Can you please describe the ‘stretch and fold three more times in 15 minute intervals’ part. I have looked on this website for info about this but haven’t found it.
      Thank you!
      Scott

  25. stuart

    Hi Eric,

    Thanks for posting this recipe and video. My second attempt at this was a charm! I made some adjustments to the basic recipe and technique to get the open airy crumb. The bread is wonderful and filled the house with an incredible aroma while baking.

    Increased hydration to 75%. Hand mixed ingredients and used a 30 minute autolyze. Then kneaded in KitchenAid for 4 minutes until gluten just formed. Rested 20 minutes followed by 3 stretch and folds at 20 minute intervals. Then followed your instructions by retarding for 24 hours and deviated by baking on hearth at 440 degrees for 45 minutes with steam pan for first 15 minutes.

    Thanks again!

    I do however blame you for the jar of bubbling sourdough starter in my kitchen and a new found obsession with feeding the thing.

    [img]BR1a.jpg[/img][img]1_br0.jpg[/img][img]BR2.jpg[/img]

  26. Polox

    Hi Eric,
    I need your help.
    I made this whole wheat bread twice without success.
    My starter looks good; I have a scale so there is no problem with weighting the flours. 1st dough I mixed in my stand mixer, it was so thin that I had to add a lot of flour to make it work. The bread came out flat. 2nd loaf I kneaded by hand looked the same as yours in the video. It had a nice rise in the fridge but when I was shaping it, it was breaking weird. There was no tension on the surface. Again came out flat. We tasted both breads, they have very nice flavor, the crust is crispy but the crumb, the texture are just bad. What do I do wrong? Do I need to knead it for longer than 10 – 12 min. should it pass the windowpane test? DO I really need the Cloche? I bake my breads on a pizza stone. I make bread all the time, but with a sponge. I want to learn sourdough; Please let me know your opinion. Any one I will welcome any constructive comments.
    Thanks :D

    [img]DSC06921.JPG[/img][img]DSC06923.JPG[/img][img]DSC06940.JPG[/img]

  27. Inge

    Hello Breadtopia fans,

    I just discovered a youtube presentation on how to make your own butter. It’s easy! Next time I go to the market I’m buying a carton of organic cream to make my own butter to spread on my breadtopia baked breads.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oropJD0CUxI

    Inge

  28. Inge

    Great ideas April. I’ll check out the cost of good kitchen towels. I don’t want to spend a whole lot of money. I’m trying to stay on budget.

    Inge

  29. April

    Inge,

    I would go with a nice quality kitchen towel rather than the flower sack. The towel is part of the gift, to be used in the new home. Not everyone will have a practical use for the flour towel and they are not so nice to look at. Also, choose a basket that can be used later for fruit or mail or something and not one of those flimsy throw away baskets. You can get a nice basket at World Market or JoAnn Fabrics if you have either one near you or any large craft store. Also, I love the honey I get from my local farmers market on the NKB. Try to find some good honey at a natural foods store if you don’t have a good source as it is infinitely better than the generic grocery store brand. It will make a really impressive house warming gift! If it were summer I would recommend some heirloom tomatoes. Oh well….

  30. Inge

    Thank you April. What a great idea to include honey and wine. I know that Target sells flour bag towels and it’s very inexpensive. I’m going to take your idea of honey and wine.

  31. April

    Inge,

    I would suggest presenting it in a nice basket with the towel and maybe a jar of good honey or lemon curd and a bottle of wine.

  32. Inge

    My boss and his wife are buying their first house and I would like to bake them a loaf of whole grain sour dough bread. Any ideas on how to wrap this up? I thought of a tea towel but will this dry up the bread?

    Inge

  33. Inge

    Hello Breadtopia,

    Baked my very first whole grain sour dough loaf. Had to use my photo booth on my computer to take a picture of it as my regular camera isn’t working. I just ate a slice of it with butter and a cup of hot tea. It was delicious and wonderful. Thank you Eric and the rest of the folks on Breadtopia for making it possible for me to bake such a great loaf of bread.

    Inge

    [img]Photoon2010-03-18at22.39.jpg[/img][img]1_Photoon2010-03-18at22.39.jpg[/img]

  34. Hi Archer.

    I don’t know. You just have to play around with it and see what works.

  35. Archer Yates

    Hi Eric:
    I saw your comment about using a slightly wetter mix.
    What if I use 750 grams of flour ( 250 whole wheat, 250 whole spelt, 250 bread flour) What hydration or amount of water sounds about right?
    I plan to use 120 grams of whole wheat starter.
    My guess is about 500 grams of water total.The spelt doesn’t need as much water so my guess this would be a wetter mix.What do you think?
    PS: wife doesn’t like rye

  36. Hans Krijnen

    Hello Andrew,

    I don’t think it’s in the air, but in the water
    I would try to let the water sit over night on your counter before you use it
    Try this first
    Let me know of this works

    Hans Krijnen

  37. Andrew

    I used the excellent recipes in this site when I was living in Sydney to great success and love the bread….HOWEVER, I am now living in Shanghai, China and find it very difficult (impossible) to keep my wholemeal starter going after about 3 days. It has a great life and doubles easily, but then when I use some and add more food it just doesn’t thrive as in Sydney. I am guessing that there are some ‘bad’ things in the air that are killing it. Anyone got any bright ideas why this is happening or how to prevent it? I guess this may be why there are no sourdough bakeries in Shanghai! Missing my sourdoughs…

  38. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100% hydration is good.

  39. mike owens

    when it calls for 120g of starter, what hydration level is that? thanks, mike

  40. Sue

    Great site!
    I use Crock pot insert to bake larger loaves such as Whole grain sour dough. I find that I the crusts burn before the bread is done inside to 200 degrees. Should I remove it from the crock after 1/2 hour (I usually need to bake it an additional 30 – 45 minutes. Change the temp? Give in & buy a cloche? If I can resolve this problem I will made this bread weekly. Any thoughts would be helpful. Thanks…..by the way I haven’t bought a loaf of bread since I discovered our site before Christmas!

  41. I do have it and like it a lot. My favorite is his sourdough french bread. I tried a suggestion of his to fold in some blue cheese and walnuts – OMG. Of course you could do this with many recipes but this seemed particularly good. Renewed my appreciation for a truly great baker.

  42. Wil

    Thanks Erick, BTW, I wanted to mention that I was given Peter Reinhart’s new book, “artisan breads every day”. Looks like some fun, easy recipes. He states in the book the intent to be less technical. Some of his favorite recipes from all of his books are in there. Maybe you have it already. I won’t be able to try any of them for a couple of weeks.

    Wil

  43. Hi Wil,

    Thanks for the great looking recipe contribution. I just now found it! I’m going to put a link to it above so it doesn’t escape notice by too many people. Nice pics too.

  44. LorriU

    Hi Eric, I am having such great success, thanks to you and all of the other advice. It has been a TRIP! My computer is at hand so I can watch and learn. Now I am interested in learning if you or someone out there can teach me about sourdough glutton-free bread or if there is such a thing! Thanks! Lorri U

    HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU AND ALL!

  45. Wil

    Eric, thanks for all of the Christmas shipping. Lots of baking going on now. I made this SourDough 50/50 White WW & Spelt Whole Grain bread today. I did add 1oz of vital gluten, guessing at the amount. The loaf raised nicely, 8 hrs in the refrigerator, 12hrs on the counter overnight, 1 hr in the basket. The crust is med. dark and crispy, just the way we like it. The crumb is soft with medium open (holes) and the flavor is very good. I think Spelt and herbs makes this bread. My recipe:

    8 oz White Whole Wheat
    8 oz Spelt
    1 oz Gluten
    1 tsp Salt
    1 tbls of mixed dry herbs (Rosemary, Thyme, Coriander)
    generous pinch of fresh ground black pepper
    1/4 cup of SD Starter mixed in
    1 cup water
    2 tbls Honey
    1/2 cup of Kefir (milk)
    I mixed everything up yesterday morning and let it sit on the counter for about an hour, then did a folding method, three times about 15 mins apart, covered and put in the refrigerator. This morning I just pinched into a ball, put it in a basket for a little over an hour and baked in a 485d oven for 30mins cover on, 5mins cover off — to 205d. This so far wins my approval for my “Go To” whole grain, healthy everyday bread.
    Have a happy and healthy New Year and may Breadtopia continue to help those who want to bake wonderful rustic breads, find success. CHEERS!
    Wil

    [img]WWheatSpeltLoaf.jpg[/img][img]WWheatSpelt004Crumb.jpg[/img]

    • Bobby

      Sounds delicious Wil! Sorry to sound like a nube, but were your flour measurements by weight or by volume?

  46. Kelly

    Eric,

    Thanks for all the recipes and videos! I have been spending all my free moments over the past few days working through your videos. Here’s a pic of my Whole Wheat Sourdough – it was a big hit with my family.

    Just pulled a loaf of No-Knead Sourdough out of the oven, can’t wait to taste it.

    Thanks so much for your site!

    Kelly

    [img]P1040926.JPG[/img][img]P1040928.JPG[/img]

  47. Beautiful bread, Lorri! And I love that print on the wall too.

    Luiz, I’m not sure what to suggest except maybe raise the temp even more and uncover longer. You may have to reduce the bake time some if you do this. Maybe someone else can think of something I’m forgetting.

    Carol – I haven’t tried soy flour but spelt flour is very high in protein. Have you seen this 100% Spelt Sourdough Recipe?

  48. Carol Lindsay

    Hi Eric,
    You have been a wonderful inspiration for my foray into sourdough exploration. Your videos are so helpful and the recipes I’ve tried have been fabulous! I’ve just whipped up the Steel Cut Oats NKB and will bake it tomorrow. We’re just finishing up the Seeded Sour and it was wonderful!

    Have you experimented with adding Soy flour to up the protein? If so, can you direct me to any recipes or comments you’ve shared?
    Thank you again!
    Carol

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