Bread Recipe: Whole Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread

When I first started baking in earnest, I read all about the ingredients in bread and what they do in McGee’s On Food and Cooking.  From this, I constructed my own recipe and started tweaking it with each successive batch.  It was good at first, but thirty-something batches later, I have a recipe I am very happy with for sandwich bread.  I bake it weekly to make sandwiches for lunch- I go through about a loaf and a half in five days using pretty beefy slices.

Makes two loaves:

400 g              bread flour
300 g              whole wheat flour
340 g              water
200 g              starter (1:1 flour:water w/w)
6 g  (1 tsp)    salt (volume measurement holds for standard table salt)
4                      large egg whites
15 g                 sugar
1/8 tsp           calcium chloride (aqueous solution, 30% w/w)

Some notes on ingredients:

  • You can leave out the calcium chloride, but you’ll likely need to add a bit more salt.  This is about the bare minimum salt content I can tolerate, 0.75% by flour weight (including the flour in the starter), whereas the typical amount of salt in bread (without additional calcium chloride) is 2% (16 g or 2.67 tsp in this case).  I like to have it so low in this bread because the lunch meat brings so much salt to the sandwich, though to me this amount makes a tasty loaf on its own.  Any less and you are definitely pushing into “dull” territory.  You may wish to increase the amount of salt in your first batch unless you are particularly conscious of your salt intake.
  • If you want to make this without a starter, I suspect you can simply add in an additional 100 g each of all-purpose flour and water and a standard amount of whatever sort of yeast you like.  I haven’t tried this, but hey, grain and water wants to make beer or bread.
  • All flour is a little different, just like all ovens bake a little differently.  I primarily use King Arther brand flour; other flours may require slightly more or less water to get the consistency you like.  Even the age of the flour and how it is stored will matter (a little).

Instructions:

Summary:
– mix wet and dry ingredients separately, then together; let stand 20-30 min
– knead
– put in greased bread pans
– let rise
– bake at 400F/ 204C* 17-20 min

Mix all dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then mix together.  When mixing the wet ingredients, I like to mix the egg whites into the water first, then add the starter.  For whatever reason, it mixes more thoroughly this way, and doesn’t clump up on the whisk so badly.  Let sit for 20-30 min while greasing two bread pans with shortening (I use glass pans).  This rest period will allow the flour to absorb the water completely and make it much easier to knead.  Spread shortening on two sheets of saran wrap and set aside to cover the loaf pans later.  I find that oil doesn’t keep the loaf from sticking; instead, it just gets absorbed into the dough.

Knead the dough (I knead on a bare counter top) until it passes the windowpane test: it should be able to be stretched until you can see light through it without ripping.  This should take about 20-30 minutes or so of constant kneading; the dough may feel a little sticky even so.  It seems like the egg whites keep it sticky, but it could just be that when I added the egg whites to the recipe I didn’t take out enough water.  In any event, it makes tasty bread in the end.  Feel free to add a little flour or water if it still feels too sticky or stiff after kneading for 10 minutes or so.

When it passes the windowpane test, cut the dough in half with a sharp knife (don’t pull it apart- this will break apart the gluten you just worked so hard to string together).  Knead a few more times to get it in the correct shape, and put each piece in a bread pan.  Cover with the shortening coated saran wrap; if the bread rises enough to make contact with the wrap, this will allow it to release.  [2013.11.04 UPDATE: I have been raising in the oven for up to 8 hours with no cover whatsoever.  It results in a more browned crust since the surface dries out, but it is an option for those of you looking to cut out as many of the steps as possible like me.]

Now that it is ready to rise, you have a few options with timing and temperature.  You can put it in the oven with the oven light on for the fastest rise time (about 8 hours with my starter), leave it out at room temperature overnight (12-14 hours), or refrigerate it for a few days, letting it warm and finish rising on the day you wish to bake.  The biggest difference with these methods is how sour the loaf is.  I find that in general putting it in the oven with the light on provides a pretty standard loaf with little souring.  Letting it sit out at room temperature overnight provides a subtle souring which I enjoy for a general purpose loaf.  To get a really sour bread,  you’ll want to let it rise, punch it down a bit, then rise again (or even a third time) before baking.  It should rise to at least the top of the pan or a bit higher.

To bake, preheat your oven to 425F/ 218C.  Put the loaves in the oven and decrease heat to 400F/204.5C*.  Bake for about 17-20 minutes.  In my oven, 17 minutes is just more done than slightly doughy; I find that the bread will stay moist throughout the week if left with this much residual water, though it might be slightly off-putting if you aren’t used to such a moist bread and can’t toast it before eating.  In my oven 18 minutes is how I like it the best.  Be aware when timing your loaves that a particularly sour loaf will not brown as quickly, so the crust color may not be the best indicator of how done it is.

There are a few shortcuts that I take with this recipe that aren’t strictly best practice,  as I make it so often.  For example, salt and sugar shouldn’t be added until after the 20-30 minute rest so the flour can best absorb the water.  But, I find it makes little difference and saves time.  I could also take care of the starter a little better- some say the best bread they have had comes from starters fed three times a day; but honestly, who has the time?  In any event, I find this to be a nicely flavored and filling bread that’s easy to make, helps me cut down on my lunch meat intake without feeling hungry for the rest of the afternoon, and is healthier than most any store bought option.  If you are short on time, or you think your starter isn’t doing too well (like if you miss a week of feeding), you can goose it a bit with additional dry yeast to decrease the rise time.

I also played around for a while with adding various spices to my bread to add a bit more variety to my lunchtime.  Cardamom was my favorite, though fresh rosemary and allspice were quite good as well.  Lighter spices like fresh basil don’t seem to hold up to baking as well.  You can also try soaking spices like star anise in vodka for a couple of weeks and adding this as well.  Only strong spices will do for this method- if you end up adding too much vodka it could tenderize the loaf (alcohol will not form gluten like water) and inhibit yeast activity.  Some spices (allspice in particular) will lend flavor, while others (like cardamom) add a rich aroma.

* [UPDATE 2014.10.04: I recently bought an oven thermometer and found my oven cooks nearly 50F/28C lower than the set point, so you may need to adjust this temperature (say, closer to 350F/176C) to get similar results, depending on your oven.]

– Dennis,
Life,Fermented

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About Dennis
Home brewer, home chef, garage tinkerer. Author of Life Fermented blog.

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