Tag Archives: Sourdough

#35. Confessions of a Bulk Food Store Snacker and Sunflower Seed Bread.


This is the last bread in the sourdough section of the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Book.  I will be a little sad to say goodbye to the sourdoughs.  Baking them has been a new and thrilling experience for me.  I must admit, sunflower seed bread did not really sound like a loaf you want to go out on a bang with.  No offence but sunflower seeds are not exactly exciting.  Well that is until I remembered that I had honey roasted sunflower seeds in my freezer.  I had bought them a few months ago to make a Crunchy Coleslaw recipe from my friend Lanie. 

When I went to the bulk food store to buy the ingredients, I saw that right next to the bin of regular shelled sunfloweer seeds was a bin of honey roasted sunflower seeds.


 Of course I had to taste them.  I don’t believe that those “NO SNACKING” signs really apply to me anyways. 


Besides, I put on one of those plastic gloves they supply before sticking my hand in, so it’s okay, (isn’t it?)  I was blown away by the sweet and salty crunch of these little seeds.  They made a wonderful addition to the coleslaw and I thought they’d really wake up this sleepy little bread.

The day before making this bread you mix up a “soaker” containing pumpernickel grind rye flour and water.  This is left to sit out on the counter overnight. 

We are also instructed to make a “firm starter”, which just means adding some bread flour and a touch of water to some of the sourdough starter (barm) you have in fridge.  I only just discovered that there are firm and wet starters.  My starter (Phyl) is a wet starter.  I have not quite learned all the differences and advantages of one type over another (that topic could cover several volumes according to what I have uncovered in my rudimentary research!).  Suffice it to say that Peter Reinhart assured me I could substitute my wet starter (which he calls a Barm) for the firm starter and just use less water in the final dough.  That’s what I decided to do. 

Day 2 I mixed the soaker with my wet starter and the other dry ingredients (high gluten bread flour, a touch of instant yeast and salt).  No addditional water was needed.  I was careful when kneading this dough as overworking it could cause the rye flour to go gummy.  After about 4 minutes the sunflower seeds were kneaded in .  Another 2 minutes of hand kneading and the dough was ready for proofing.

After about 90 minutes, the dough was ready for shaping.  The dough is divided into two and each piece is shaped into a boule. 

Then you poke your thumb through each boule and stretch it out into a big bagel shape. Unfortunately the video does not show the stretching process as my video skills need some work!

Finally, a chopstick is used to create indentations in the dough to form a design.

Into a hot oven for about 15 minutes and they were done.  Gloriously brown on top.

And beautifully browned and crisp on the bottom:

I was not prepared for how much I would love this bread.  It was chewy and slightly sweet from the honey roasted sunflower seeds.  I will be visiting this one again very soon.

#34. Memories of Open Window Bakery


 The 34th bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge is Pumpernickel Bread.  I just love saying “Pumpernickel”. The word always makes me smile .  It makes me remember Saturday night dinners when I was growing up.  We would have sliced Pumpernickel Bread from Open Window Bakery (in Toronto),  creamed cottage cheese and several different types of smoked fish (which I never would eat).  My mom would have a big platter of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, a bowl of tuna salad and sliced cantelope.  I would eat one slice of pumpernickel with tuna, cucumber and tomato and a second with creamed cottage cheese and jam.  Sometimes she would get the Pumpernickel rye rolls which I really loved.  Oh my!! I haven’t thought of those pumpernickel rolls in years.  I just did a google search to see if they still make them and YES, they do.  They also make a light rye roll that is killer with butter and jam.  Here is a picture of both of them. 

I just want to get in that car right now and drive to Toronto to buy some.  But it’s a 4 1/2 hour drive from Ottawa and probably by the time I got there my craving would be gone, or possibly, even worse, I’d eat too many and go into a bread coma. 

Peter Reinhart’s pumpernickel bread begins with a rye starter, made up of some of my sourdough starter, pumpernickel grind rye flour flour and water.  This is mixed up and left out on the counter for several hours until bubbly.  Then into the fridge for an overnight rest.  The addition of the rye flour to the starter creates an acidic environment which helps to make the final bread more flavourful and more easily digested.

One of the ingredients called for in this recipe is bread crumbs made from rye bread.  Kind of an unusual thing to add to a bread dough.  Peter Reinhart promised that it adds wonderful texture to the final bread.  I had some rye bread in the freezer so I defrosted a few slices and put them into the food processor to produce rye bread crumbs.

Next all the dry ingredients are dumped into a big bowl.  These include clear flour, brown sugar, caramel powder, salt, instant yeast and rye bread crumbs.  In case you were wondering, clear flour is not transparent flour.  This is the flour that clears the first sifting (to separate out the bran and germ), still retains some of the finer bran fiber from the outer endosperm of the wheat berry and is thus coarser and contains higher levels of ash. This is the flour New York City bakers have always used for their signature Jewish-style rye breads.   The caramel powder gives the bread it’s dark brown characteristic colour.  It looks a bit like like instant coffee granules.

The rye starter, vegetable oil and water are added to the dry ingredients and mixed up to make a tacky but not sticky dough.  As with all doughs that contain rye flour, great care has to be taken not to overmix or else the dough will get gummy.  The dough was dumped out of the bowl onto the counter and then hand kneaded for about 5 minutes until the dough was smooth and supple.

After that the dough is left to rest in an oiled container for about 2 hours until doubled in size.

Once the dough is doubled, it is divided in half and formed into 2 boules.  They are covered and left for about 90 minutes for the final proofing. 

 Then I scored them.  I think I got the timing just perfect for the scoring as there was almost no drag to the lame (scoring tool).  It was very smooth!

  Into a hot oven they went.  I baked them on a preheated baking stone and had a pan of water below the breads to create steam in the oven.   

Fresh out of the oven:

We had the bread for dinner that night.  I have to admit that while the flavour was great, the texture was not what I was expecting.  It was a little light and fluffy.  I was hoping for a denser, chewier bread, like what I remember from my childhood. Looks like a trip to Toronto is in order!

#33. Poilâne-Style Miche

This week in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge we tackle Poilâine-Style Miche.  When it comes to artisan bread, the name Poilâine is synonomous with excellence.  Bread freaks from all over the world travel to Paris to purchase bread from the Poilâne family.  Pierre Poilâne started a baking business in 1932 in Paris, creating bread using stone-ground flour, natural fermentation and a wood-fired oven. His son, Lionel took over the bakery in 1970, continuing the traditional methods.  Sadly, Lionel died in a plane crash in 2001.  His daughter, Apollonia now runs the business.  Lionel’s brother, Max, branched out on his own and opened his own bakery.  As in all families, there are squabbles about whose bread reigns supreme. 

Poilâine’s most famous bread is a 2 kilogram (about 4.4 pounds) round country sourdough loaf, called Pain Poilâine.  Lionel simply called it a miche.  The bread is made from a sourdough starter, grey stone-ground flour (whole wheat flour with about 10-20% of the bran removed) , water and sea salt from Guérande.  There are about 20 trained bread artisans baking at the family factory in Bievres, outside of Paris.  Although the dough is now machine kneaded, all other aspects of creating the bread are done by hand in the time honored method established by Pierre Poilâne. 

Peter Reinhart gives a wonderful detailed description, in his book, on how the bread is created.  It is indeed a labour of love.  The amazing thing about this bread is that is keeps for about a week, at room temperature.  It is a dense and chewy bread and as Peter Reinhart says, “the flavours change in the mouth with each chew.”  The Poilâne family says that the flavour peaks on day 3. 

If you can’t get to Paris, they will ship you a loaf.  I went to their web site , created an account for myself and put 1 loaf into my shopping basket.  For 37.10 Euros ($52.30 Canadian Dollars) they will send me my very own loaf!  I have not yet clicked on confirm order but I am thinking about it.    If I do go through with it then I really will classify for “Bread Freak ” status.  I’ll keep you posted.

So, onto my attempt at creating this magical miche.  Day 1 we make the firm starter, mixing up some whole wheat flour, some of our sourdough starter and water.  This gets refrigerated overnight.

On Day 2, the final dough is made.  In order to replicate the “grey flour” used at Poilane, Peter Reinhart suggests we put our whole wheat flour through a sieve to extract some of the bran. 

I was very excited to finally open up the jar of Grey Sea salt that has been sitting in my cupboard for over a year now.  I’m not quite sure why I hadn’t used it yet, but here was the perfect opportunity.

 The starter is mixed up with the sifted whole wheat flour, grey sea salt and more water.  This is a big mass of dough, way too big for the Kitchenaid, so hand kneading was necessary.  Here is the dough just after I began mixing.

After about 15 minutes of hand kneading, I had a beautiful supple silky dough.

Once the dough is kneaded, it gets placed in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap and ferments at room temperature until it doubles in volume, about 4 hours.  At this point it is formed into a boule and placed into a linen towel lined bowl.  So that the dough will not stick, the towel is sprayed with a bit of oil and then dusted with flour.  The boule should be placed seam side up, then covered with the towel and refrigerated overnight. 

As you can see from the photo below, I screwed up and placed the dough into the bowl, seam side down, so that the smooth side was on top.  You might say, big deal, so what?  The big deal is that the bottom of the dough (where the seam is) becomes the top of the loaf and then your seam turns into some unsightly cracks.


The next morning the dough is removed from the fridge and allowed to sit at room temperature for about 4 hours.  Then the dough is gently turned out onto a baking peel, lined with cornmeal and is scored.  At the Poilaine bakery they score it with the letter P in a gorgeous font.  I wanted to score mine with S&S (for Salt and Serenity) but my fine motor skills are sorely lacking for artistry of that caliber!  I decided to go with a square design with an X in the center.  Unfortunately, I also had the cracks from the seam of the boule to contend with so it looks a bit strange artistic.  But that’s the wonderful thing about Artisan bread – each loaf is hand made and no two are identical. 

The bread goes onto a baking stone in a hot oven and is baked for about 45 minutes.  Here is is my loaf on and below it the Poilâne loaf.  I can’t tell the difference, can you? (Can you say denial?)

I sliced into the bread after about 2 hours.  I thought the taste was good but a little “whole wheaty”.  I closed my eyes to see if the taste changed with every chew, as Peter Reinhart promised, but I don’t think my palate is that highly developed.   I did notice that I liked the bread a little better on day 2.  It seemed a bit more mellow, and not as earthy.  It lasted very well in a paper bag for almost 5 days and then we sliced what was left and froze it for toast.

I will try this one again, next time using a recipe for Whole Grain Sourdough  passed on to me by Sally of Bewitching Kitchen.  It uses whole wheat flour only in the starter and a mixture of white bread flour, rye flour and spelt in the remainder of the dough.  Sally promises that it is more like the real Poilâne.

32. 100% Sourdough Rye

I KNOW THAT WHEN YOU ARE SHOUTING ONLINE YOU TYPE ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS.   How do you whisper online?  I need to know because what I’m about to say should be whispered.  “I loved this bread!”  I am whispering it because I am afraid I may be drummed out of the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge.

Most of my bread freak friends who have already made this bread absolutely hated it.  Many of them threw it out.  Some turned it into croutons and others into breadcrumbs. Someone (I won’t mention any names) called it play-doh with caraway seeds.  The main complaint was that it was way too dense and chewy.  This is precisely why I loved it.  This was no spineless bread.  It had guts and personality and wonderful flavour.

The last rye bread we made (New York Deli Rye) was about 1/3 rye flour and 2/3 white bread flour so it had a mild rye flavour.  This bread was 100% rye flour.  The thing you need to know about rye flour is that it contains pentosan, a gum protein that causes the dough to become gummy if mixed for too long.  Extra care has to be taken with kneading this bread.  Rye flour has a very low gluten content so we are warned that a 100% rye bread will not have the same soft and high crumb that a bread made with wheat flour will have.

The bread begins with mixing about 1/2 a cup of Phyl (my starter) with rye flour and water.  It is just mixed until all the flour is hydrated.  No need for it to be smooth.  Then this is left on the counter until it doubles in size and this put in the fridge for an overnight rest.

You also prepare a “soaker”.  This is a mixture of pumpernickel grind flour and water.  it is covered and left out on the counter all night.

 The next day the soaker, the starter, white rye flour, salt, caraway seeds and water are mixed for about 6 minutes to form the dough.  Then the dough is put into an oiled glass container, covered and left to rise for almost 4 hours, until it doubles in size.  Usually this step takes about 1-2 hours.  The longer rising time is due to the lower gluten content in rye flour.

After the dough has doubled, it is gently divided into 2 pieces and then formed into batards (oval shapes).  Since it was quite late by this point, I covered the loaves and refrigerated them overnight.  The next morning  I took them out of the fridge and let them sit on the counter for about 4 hours, covered with plastic wrap.  You can see that they expanded widthwise, but not very much in height.

 Then they were scored and baked in a very hot oven.

Indeed the crumb on this bread is not very open, quite dense.  And true, the bread did not rise very much, so my loaves were quite flat.  But I loved the true rye flavour of this bread and the chewy texture.

The bread was great with Le Blackburn cheese, grapes and a glass of Syrah wine.  I had it again this morning toasted for breakfast and loved it even more.

#30. Basic Sourdough Bread – My Bread Bat Mitzvah

There is a right of passage in the Jewish religion known as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  When a young boy turns 13 he has a Bar Mitzvah and we say “Today you are a man.” For girls the age is 12 and it is called a Bat Mitzvah (we mature faster!).  I feel that making sourdough bread for the first time is a right of passage for a baker.  This was my virgin sourdough.  Although I have created 29 other breads in this challenge, not until I reached the Basic Sourdough did I feel that I had the right to declare myself a bread baker.  However, with my first sourdough under my belt, I am proud to shout, “Today I am a bread baker!”

If your bread knowledge is limited you may be wondering what all the fuss is about?    What exactly is sourdough bread is and what makes it so special?   As Peter Reinhart says, “What we call sourdough bread should more correctly be called wild-yeast breads as it is natural wild yeast that leavens the loaf and not all wild yeast breads taste sour.  By wild yeast we are referring not to commercial yeast that you buy in the supermarket, but a homemade starter, which begins with flour and water.  As this mixture sits at room temperature it picks up natural yeast spores from the air and the mixture begins to ferment and a wild yeast starter is formed.  A portion of this starter is used in the making of sourdough bread and this starter dough acts as the leavener in the dough so you do not have to use any commercial yeast. 

This is a very rudimentary explanation of what sourdough is.  If you are the type that needs a deeper scientific explanation (and you know who you are) check out this web page on the Bread Baker’s Forum.  This wild yeast starter takes about 6 days to make and then you can tuck it in the fridge and basically ignore it, except for a weekly feeding where you add more flour and water to it to refresh it.  When you’re ready to make sourdough bread, just scoop out some starter and go.  Starters can live and thrive for years.  In fact they get better with age (just like women!).  Many people even name their starters. 

 I have named mine Phyl, in honour of a fellow BBA baker.   With his guidance and detailed instructions, I made my own starter.  He has idiot proof instructions on his web site.  I followed the steps, day by day.  When I arrived at day 4, Phyl said to wait until the starter doubles in volume before proceeding.  He said it may take quite a while.  By the next day mine still had not doubled.  I was convinced it was no good and e-mailed Phyl for advice, asking him if I should chuck it out and start again.  He advised me to goose it with a tablespoon of rye flour and see what happens.  Sure enough it doubled within two hours.  Here is a picture of “Phyl”.  He is 4 months old now.

Be sure to use a large enough container to allow the starter to grow and thrive.  If you don’t you will end up with starter all over the inside walls of your fridge when it outgrows it’s home.

 To make the sourdough bread 2/3 of a cup of the starter are mixed with bread flour and water.  This is then left on the counter for several hours until it doubles.

Once it has doubled it, into the fridge it goes overnight to allow further good flavours to develop.  The next day,  this stage 2 starter is mixed with more flour (I used 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 high gluten bread flour), salt and water.  You will notice that commercial yeast has not been added at any point.  Phyl (my wild yeast starter) is going to do all the heavy leavening.  This is a very sticky dough.

Since today is the day I have declared myself a bread baker, I decided to be even more authentic and knead by hand.  I figured out how to add video to my blog, so here is a short video of me kneading by hand.  Please ignore the  music in the background.  It is my son’s “Jazz and Jam” toy and it is the most annoying toy in the world.

Inspired by a sourdough bread I recently ate on my trip to Jerusalem, I added dried blueberries and toasted pecans to my bread.  Additions are best kneaded in during the last 2 minutes of kneading so that they do not get too crushed.


The dough is set aside to rise for about 2 hours until doubled.  Then it is divided in half and shaped into boules (balls) or batards (ovals).  The boules are placed into bannetons (special baskets) or a stainless steel bowl. lined with an oiled and well floured cloth, for their final proofing.  The batards are placed on a stiff cotton or canvas cloth with the sides built up around the dough so that the oval shape holds and does not flatten.  I made one boule and one batard.  After about 3 more hours the loaves had finished their final rise and were ready for the oven.

The loaves are baked on a baking stone in a hot (500 degree F) oven for about 20 minutes.

I had to slice into the bread before the recommended 45 minute cooling waiting period was up because someone was impatient.

The sliced bread was quite beautiful studded with pecans and blueberries.


The bread was even better the next day with butter for breakfast .