Cuisine Fiend

wholemeal sourdough loaf


Wholemeal sourdough

The nice thing about learning a skill is that you can subsequently jettison it and do your own thing. Once you’ve mastered an art or technique, you can break the rules and go freehand. Matisse could surely have painted a perfect likeness of aunt Jemima on holiday, if he had so desired, but that doesn’t mean every street portrait painter in London or Paris will be a great artist after hours - with full respect to the, undoubtedly many, hugely talented of them.

I’ve been making various sourdoughs for a while now but pretty much always following one recipe or another. I’m a dab hand at bread in general - with only an odd flop every now and then - but I’m not an expert. Autolyse and I are not on first name terms and the window pane test works for me only when I pick a lump of dough and hurl it at a window. Hydration levels - dear God, I do pretend I understand them but it’s a bit like maths in high school. I got by, having grasped basic algebra in my first year and subsequently winging differential equations and calculus by frowning knowledgeably. Don’t ask about tests.

So while I clearly ain’t no Bertinet, I decided to go freehand. I calculated my hydration level (and got it totally wrong, probably); I added some rye for sharpness and seeds for interest - and to conceal the potentially awful taste. Seedy bread, you never really know what it tastes like, right?

I am quite pleased with myself here, autolyse or no autolyse. It’s a very very decent loaf of bread, crusty all right, with open crumb as they say on expert forums - that’s air bubbles to you and me. Slashing didn’t go quite as planned: I was aiming for ears.

Sourdough in Dutch oven

Still. A lot. To learn.

wholemeal sourdough loaf

Servings: 1 large loafTime: 3-4 hours plus overnight fermentation


  • For sourdough from scratch: here are reliable recipes for basic wheat sourdough starter, starter with pineapple juice and rye sourdough.
  • 180g sourdough starter, fresh or freshly fed
  • 300g lukewarm water
  • 50g light rye flour
  • 150g wholemeal flour
  • 225g strong white bread flour
  • 6g fine sea salt
  • 50g mixed seeds: pumpkin, linseed, millet, sunflower, sesame, poppy


1. Dilute the sourdough starter with the water, use warmer water if the starter has been kept in the fridge.

2. Place the seeds into a large bowl, add the flours and salt. Mix the diluted starter into the flours until it’s evenly distributed, using a spatula or a dough whisk.

3. Leave for 30 minutes and then stretch and fold the dough a few times with oiled hands every 30 minutes for 2 hours. Refrigerate for 12 hours.

Proving sourdough

4. The next day bring the dough to room temperature, it will take 1-2 hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is. Turn it out onto a floured worktop, pat it gently into a flat round and pre-shape a loaf by folding edges into the middle. Turn it seam side down and leave to rest for 25 minutes, covered with a cloth.

5. To shape a round loaf, turn the dough seam side up and flatten to a disc. Lifting the edge close to you, roll it away until you get a fat sausage. Flip it seam side up and roll in the opposite direction into an even fatter sausage. Flip it again seam side down, cup its far side with your both hands and gently drag it towards you. You’ll feel the top smoothing and tightening. Turn it 90 degrees and drag it towards you again. If the dough sticks, flour your hands lightly.

Folding and shaping sourdough

6. Place it in a well-floured banneton or a bowl lined with a floured cloth, seam side up. Cover or place in an inflated plastic bag (just blow into it and tie the ends) for 40 minutes.

7. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7 with a medium sized (23cm) cast iron dish inside.

8. When the time is up the loaf won’t have risen much but it should spring in the oven. Turn it swiftly out into the cast iron dish (better to remove it from the oven for that bit), slash the top with a serrated knife or a baker’s lame, put the lid on and transfer into the oven.

9. Bake it for 20 minutes with the lid on and 20 with the lid off. Shake it out of the dish and cool on a wire rack.

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