I’d like you to meet the man in my life. His name is Pierre, and he loves to bake. For breakfast, he’ll make delicious pancakes or waffles, and for dinner he makes a mean pizza. Most often, he keeps things simple: a loaf of fresh, homemade bread. All he asks in return is a little bit of flour and water, twice daily, and a spot on the kitchen counter.
He really is the most gentlemanly sourdough starter I’ve ever met.
Pierre’s been with me for about three years now. I had been keeping (and forgetting about) a series of rye starters for many years, the first named Ryan, the second Bryan (Ryan B), and so on. When I decided to give a whole wheat starter a go, a different name was called for.
At the time, I was making a headlong dash through War and Peace—the course I was taking gave us two weeks to read the massive tome. The entire class fell head over heels in love in spite of the pace, and I decided to name my new starter Pierre after one of the main characters. A friend got a new laptop at the same time and named it Natasha. A bit of an odd couple—but then, so are the real Pierre and Natasha.
This simple recipe is one I have turned to lately for my daily bread. The long initial soak and later rising period allows the wild yeasts to develop their characteristic tang. A fresh slice of this on a warm day with plenty of dill butter and some sliced cucumber? One of the many reasons I love my Pierre.
Pierre’s Sourdough Loaf
Adapted from a regular yeast recipe in Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads.
- 1 3/4 C whole wheat flour (plus extra)
- 3/4 C water (plus extra)
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 C active whole wheat sourdough starter
Knead together the 1 3/4 C flour and the 3/4 C water with 1/2 tsp of the salt to form a stiff, pliant dough. Cover and set aside.
Mix enough flour and water into the starter to form a stiff dough about 1 3/4 C in volume, or 14 oz. by weight. Cover and set aside. Let the two mixtures mind their own business for 8 to 12 hours—I usually do this the morning of the day before I want to bake.
After the soaking period, tear the doughs into little pieces, sprinkle on the remaining 3/4 tsp salt, and knead them together, adding extra flour as necessary. Knead for 5-8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and slightly tacky, but not sticky. Cover and let rise overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven (with a hearthstone, if you have it) to 425°F. Shape the dough into a freeform loaf and put it on a piece of parchment paper o rise while the oven heats up. When it’s up to temperature, slash the bread with a knife and put it in the oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.