After quite a few attempts, lots of reading and study, I’m slowly converging on my “ideal” sourdough loaf. So yesterday I tried a hybrid that came out quite well (no picture) and hints at the final recipe all my experiments are leading to. My influences are:
- Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Loaf. This was a revelation for me, that I could make really good bread at home. Jim’s trick is the slow (16 hours at room temp) ferment and using dutch oven covered pot to get good crust. This is an excellent starting point but not quite as good as I think I can achieve.
- Standard sourdough starter approach. Instead of the slow amount of cultured yeast Jim uses I’ve experimented using my starter. While this leads to some improvement in taste I don’t get as good crumb as I get with other approaches.
- Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grains. The nutrition freaks think whole grains are magical, but really you get just as fat eating whole grain breads as pure white breads – no magic. But fortunately I prefer the taste of a heartier bread so Peter’s ideas are critical for that. His approach, a starter and cold-fermented biga, plus “transitional” recipe (mix of whole grains and white bread flour) has produced great pan loaves, but not the good crust of the Lahey simulated hearth approach. Plus I prefer the lean breads (to enriched) for general eating.
- And finally the America’s Test Kitchen modifications to the Lahey technique. They were actually critical of the Lahey approach and tried to use their standard “scientific” approach to perfecting it. Of their innovations (lager as part of the fluid, a little vinegar for sour, parchment paper to control rise and spread) had small improvements, but it’s really only the parchment paper part of their technique I’ll continue to use.
So my hybrid (just a guess, need to be more accurate and fine-tune) combined all these techniques:
- a single long-ferment dough with all ingredients
- sourdough starter and cultured yeast (get the tartness from sourdough, better crumb from cultured) + small amount of buttermilk
- use various whole grains (coarse cornmeal, oat bran, oat flakes, coarse-ground whole wheat, flaxseed, sunflower seeds) but do the “soaker” as part of the long ferment
- parchment liner to the dutch oven so loaf holds its shape better and doesn’t just spread to fill the dutch oven, thus a bit better crust on sides.
So my just-thrown-together (no precise recipe) I did yesterday is my proof of concept, now I need to refine it to my own formula (reduce bread flour (had too much dough), add the cooked farro, use a little lager) and see if I can’t find the sweet spot.
The small problem is that the loaf yesterday was really good and thus a bit too tempting. No matter how you make bread (even high on whole grains) bread is still too many calories, especially if I enjoy eating it so much I don’t exercise enough portion restraint (challenging since that means wasting about half the loaf as the homemade stuff, with no preservatives, is only good for a few days, but the quantity is way too large for consuming the entire loaf in the time before it goes stale). But I think I can perfect the formula and then have one day (the fresh-baked day) of only slightly restrained consumption and find someone to give away half the loaf (I can’t just make a smaller loaf as the formula doesn’t scale in size, i.e. a smaller loaf isn’t as good, volume to surface area is wrong).
So hopefully I’ll soon have another go at it, a good picture, and maybe a nearly final recipe.