The Sour One

My little boy was all grown up. Mature, ripe and ready to take on the challenge of leavening and adding flavor and depth to boules, batards, baquettes, any shape or recipe that crossed his path. He’s had his growing pains, the sluggish start, overproduction of natural alcohol due to periods of overfeeding, the one time where he almost fell of the table if not for dad’s cat-like reflexes and nimble fingers. He’s started working, finding his way into ciabatta recipes and my weekly pizza dough. But now it’s time. Joe Jr’s spotlight is on, it’s time for a closeup.


Wild yeast starters like Joe Jr. are created by utilizing the natural yeast in the air and in the wheat. Yeast is everywhere, and when you create your own starter, you’re actually harvesting these yeast spores into a liquid or stiff mass, collecting them until they become nice and potent. A good starter takes around 2 weeks to build, but some bakeries in France and Europe have had their’s for 100 plus years. Joe Jr. is going on three months, and treating him like a production starter, the daily feedings and replenishments has helped him mature rapidly. His first duties as a mature starter? 40 Percent Rye Sourdough.


40 Percent Rye Sourdough is a good test bread to judge a starter’s strength and maturity. It is not so strong that all you can taste is the rye levain. You should be able to taste the white and rye flours and all the other little flavors, a little sweet and nutty. It is also the obsession of most good bakers, the development of a great sourdough loaf. After making your first loaf, you can adjust the sourness of the rye levain by altering the fermentation time, or using less or more rye levain and replacing it with flour and water. Like a good wine, it all depends on personal taste and preference.


As the beautifully browned loaves came out of the oven, a crooked smile came across my face. For my readers who have been wondering why there have been no posts for almost 2 weeks, SOURDough accidentally slammed a heavy sheet pan into his lip at the bakery, hitting a nerve and slightly paralyzing the left side of his face, which leads to the crooked smile. Don’t worry, it’ll just take time to heal. However, not trusting my palate at this time, I decided to take a loaf to the bakery to seek opinions from some of the knowledgable senior members of the factory. Comments ranged from great to good but a little too sour for my taste, but overall everyone seemed happy with the results. Jaime, the owner, was very pleased with the results and said “Good work, keep it up!”.


I walked away like a proud papa, knowing my boy was now a man. Joe Jr. is all grown up, and I couldn’t be more content. I’m sure the medication for my pinched nerve also elevated my mood, but I didn’t want to waste the moment, I was happy……



40 Percent Sourdough Rye Bread

(Adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread and the FCI Bread Book)



For the rye levain:

Coarse rye flour (or pumpernickel) 305 grams/10 3/4 ounces

Water 260 grams/9 1/4 ounces

Liquid levain culture 15 grams/1/2 ounce


For the Final Dough:

Bread flour 475 grams/1 pound 3/4 ounce

Water 281 grams/10 ounces

Rye levain 580 grams/1 pound 4 1/2 ounces

Salt 14 grams/1/2 ounce

Fresh Yeast 10 grams/1/3 ounce




To make the rye levain, combine the rye flour and water with the culture in a large mixing bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon to blend. When blended, scrape down the edge of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to ferment at 70°F (20°C) for 14 to 16 hours.


When the rye levain is ready, combine the bread flour with the water, rye levain, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until blended. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, feels elastic, and gives some resistance when tugged.


Lightly oil a large bowl or container. Scrape the dough into the prepared bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to ferment for 1 hour.


Lightly flour a clean, flat work surface.


Uncover the dough and divide it into two 680-gram/24-ounce rounds on the floured surface. Cover with plastic wrap and bench rest for 15 minutes.


Cover the cutting boards with the couche and dust the couche with flour. (You can also flour a banneton in either loaf or boule shape)


Uncover the dough and , if necessary, lightly flour the work surface. Gently press on the dough to degas and carefully shape each round into a batard or boule. Place one batard (or round) on each of the couche-covered board (or banneton). Cover with plastic wrap and proof for 1 hour.


About an hour before you are ready to bake the loaves, place the baking stone or tile into the oven and pre-heat to 470°F (243°C). If using a pan to create steam, place it in the oven now.


When ready to bake, uncover the dough and, using a lame or razor, immediately score the loaves. Add one cup of ice to the hot pan in the oven to make the required steam. Using a peel, immediately transfer the loaves to the hot baking stone in the preheated oven.


Bake with steam, for 15 minutes. The, reduce the oven temperature to 440°F (227°C) and bake for an additional 25 minutes, or until the crust is deep brown and firm to the touch and the loaves make a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.


Remove from the oven and transfer to wire racks to cool.




6 responses to “The Sour One

  1. That bread looks truly incredible. I’ve always been a bit scared of sourdough bread (the making of it), but this is a really helpful and informative post – Perhaps I should give it a go this week if I find a spare few hours.

    • Thanks Cookie! Bread baking is all about patience and experience. Sourdough just requires a good healthy liquid levain, after that everything else just falls into place. Try it, flour is cheap and bread is usually the one thing you can screw up and it’ll still be edible…..somewhat

      BTW, your blog is lovely!

  2. This looks amazing. I lvoe your photos. I just purchased a bag of rye flour to experiment with after starting a Herman the German sourdough cake starter. I decided to try some of my cake starter to make some bread but failed miserably! I will have to start a new (unsweetened) starter and try again!

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