A New Way of Baking Sourdough Boules

For the past two years or so, I've been baking our own sourdough bread at home every week (except when it's very, very hot - then I skip it, not wanting to turn on the oven). I keep a sourdough starter in the fridge; I take it out every Thursday night, feed it twice on Friday, and then either bake with half of it or put it back in the fridge if it's too hot to bake. I'm happy with my starter and hope to keep it going for the rest of my life. But I haven't been happy with my bread results lately. 

First of all, I was having to order organic wheat berries from a family farm in Washington State. I was happy to support them and their mission, but the shipping costs were not sustainable. So I started to do some more searching and then I had a brainstorm. We love a farm about an hour from here, in the Capay Valley, called Full Belly Farm. They are 100% organic, and I called them to see if they grow or sell grain. And they do!!! They grow and sell four different kinds, three of them new to me. I instantly ordered four pounds each of Hard White Wheat, Iraqi Wheat, and Frassinetto Wheat. The cost is $3 for each 2 pound bag, quite a bargain. (They also sell Hard Red Winter Wheat, which I skipped this time, as I still have some in the freezer.)

Frassinetto is an Italian wheat, an heirloom, dating back to 1927. It has protein levels up around 13%, and apparently makes great pasta and bread. The Iraqi durum wheat is indeed originally from Iraq, but it apparently grows well in the Sacramento Valley, which means it could catch on in the local wheat movement. It is a hard wheat with a high protein content. The Hard White is still a whole grain wheat, don't let the name fool you (white flour is traditionally flour that has been ground, with the kernel and bran removed - I am using the whole berry). But it does have a lighter color and flavor, which I am after, because Kate doesn't like the hearty, brown bread I've been making.

I'm thrilled to find a local source of organic wheat. I grind the berries myself in my NutriMill Classic Grain Mill. I try to grind only what I need each week, but whatever is left is stored in the freezer. I keep the berries in the freezer too. As a matter of fact, I also keep all whole flours and meals in the freezer, to keep the nutrition intact, and to keep them from spoiling (since I am using the whole grain, the oil in the kernels can go rancid, especially after grinding). 

I also finally broke down and ordered some proofing baskets. I've been proofing the dough in bowls, and while it's worked just fine, I decided it was time to up my game. They weren't terribly expensive, I was able to buy a couple with liners on Amazon for about $25 total.

And while I was at it, I decided I needed a new method of making bread, or at least a way to slightly skew my method. I believe that whole grains need 100% hydration or close to it, so I wanted to stay with a wet dough, with a fairly light kneading routine, but I wanted an expert opinion. Around this time, a blog I like (Root Simple) posted a video of bread baker Josey Baker speaking to some folks at Google and demonstrating his method. Here's the link. I enjoyed watching his method and promptly bought his book. I wish I had purchased it years ago as he takes you from the very earliest beginner steps, up through to what I'm doing, which is baking a whole grain country loaf from a sourdough starter. 

So, last night I made my levain (or pre-ferment), this morning I ground my wheat (I used half Iraqi and half Hard White), and then I made some bread. I like this method because if you start early enough in the morning, you can get the whole deal done in one day, which means one loaf of bread for dinner and another for the freezer. My previous method was a two day event, with an overnight retardation in the fridge. 

And I have to say, this dough was simply beautiful. The kneading in this method is minimal, and the dough came together with hardly any work from me, into a big, puffed up hill of goodness.

It's a soft, lovely dough. Here it is after shaping, in my new proofing baskets.

And after baking:

I slashed slightly too far to the side (I'm really a dunce with the slashes, the only thing to do is keep practicing! I've ordered a new bread lame for this purpose, I'll report after next baking) so the ear is not great, but there's nice brown crust. 

The crumb was moist but dense. I need to prove the loaves longer in the baskets to get a higher rise. And I might bake it just a few minutes longer. But the taste! Delicious, rich but lighter than we're used to. Kate had two big pieces with butter for dinner (we had it with a frittata) so I guess it was considered delicious by all!

If any of you have a favorite recipe for sourdough, I'd love to have it.