This is real bread, not breadlike foodlike substance – just grains, water and salt in its simplest version. And lots of time. Bread isn’t great for a diet, I know that – but sourdough is lower GI than conventionally yeasted bread, longer fermentations like those in no-knead bread ease digestibility, and whole wheat provides fibre alongside the carbohydrates, lowering the GI further. By which I mean it’s probably as diet-friendly as it’s possible to be whilst still being bread, not broccoli or egg whites in disguise. Substituting 10% of the wheat flour for rye also makes it incrementally healthier! It took me many iterations to develop this formula and timings, based on the helpful recipes found online for white no-knead, whole wheat sourdough, and sourdough no-knead – but I couldn’t find a single recipe that combined all three – so here goes.
Having neglected my previous (highly-strung) sourdough starter to death, I wanted to try and develop a basic loaf that would fit in with our daily schedule and be as low GI as possible. This starter is based on Mike’s from Sourdough Home, and it’s wonderful – very stable and with a lovely rise. It was started on organic, stoneground rye but it’s now fed on plain white supermarket own-brand flour/filtered water and has a 100% hydration ratio (equal weights flour and water). His instructions and pictures are great, but the timings can vary depending on conditions – for example, in my cold February kitchen it took twice as long at each stage initially, 24 hours instead of 12 to see any activity. I gave some to a close friend who is a much better baker than I am, and we’ve both been baking with it for a few weeks very happily – so if you don’t fancy the one-week lead time or the faffing about, rather than making your own starter, see if you have a friend who can give you some of theirs. (maybe me!)
For the first six months of my low GI journey – the weight loss phase – I would just look sadly and longingly at bread or pasta when anyone ate it in front of me, as I tried to develop a taste for eggs without toast and zero-calorie shirataki noodles. Of course this meant a few extra-grumpy work lunches, as I made do with another cup of green tea whilst everyone else went for the company-provided sandwich platters, inexplicably served alongside a large bowl of hot chips and several medium-sized bowls of crisps (why is this an option, let alone a default lunch structure? for clarification, I do not work at a carb factory).
I have to admit though, that even in the weight loss phase I never refused dumplings, given the chance. We go out for dim sum about once a month, keep bags of frozen dumplings on standby at all times, and have visited family in Singapore twice since this all began – and every time I’ve eaten exactly what I wanted without gaining weight – which doesn’t make much sense, but I’m not complaining! Anyway, last weekend, one of my oldest friends had us round for lunch (as in most longstanding friends – he’s younger than I am) and, having read the blog, considerately made the most delicious low GI lunch, including an enormous roast salmon, an exquisitely moist cake featuring carrots, nuts, dates and raisins, and prawn dumplings with wholewheat wrappers. It was astonishing, in the best possible sense – and was the impetus I needed to finally move to 100% whole wheat bread.
I’m currently trying to maintain my weight, and this bread seems to be okay as an occasional treat. It’s gorgeous on its own with salted butter, but the Husband likes it Paddington-style and is making strong headway with the homemade marmalade.
I make a small loaf a few times a week, and it keeps very well (needs toasting), easily lasting 6-7 days – the version with a bit of fat in the dough anyway. But of course you can adjust the quantities. It takes very little prep time – a bit of weighing and measuring, a quick stir and then a long rise – a final shaping before it goes into the oven and that’s it, so it doesn’t take long to see to it after coming home from work, just before bed or even first thing in the morning before going to the office. It’s actually less work than my previous workhorse sourdough, and a slightly different beast altogether – it’s a wetter dough, so a little trickier to handle, but this gives it a more open structure and much better crackly crust. It also needs a longer time to prove, which gives it a more complex flavour and a slightly chewier, more elastic texture – whereas the firmer, white bread is more like traditional sandwich bread. There’s a bit more n the science of hydration at the end of this post, but I’ve gone on too much already, so better crack on with the recipe. At least if you’ve made it this far you will have developed a lot of patience, which is also very helpful for this kind of bread.
Recipe: Whole Wheat, No Knead, Sourdough Bread
(67% hydration, based on 100% hydration starter)
225g strong whole wheat flour
25g rye flour (optional – or just replace with more whole wheat flour)
100g sourdough starter, fed (or unfed, in which case add 4g/1tsp of instant easy bake yeast)
Optional: 1 Tbsp powdered milk (or 1 Tbsp butter, or substitue 50ml of the water for milk)
5g table salt
1. Weigh the salt into a mixing bowl, then the flours on top, to limit contact between the salt and the yeast. (If using butter, rub it in to the flour at this stage)
2. Make a well in the flour and pour in the water, followed by the starter, powdered milk and instant yeast if using. (Now may be a good time to feed your starter and put it in the fridge). Mix it in with a spoon, incorporating flour from the sides until you have a stiff, shaggy mass. It should only just be able to cope with all the flour (and you can add more water if you really need to, but be patient) – but don’t worry, it will slacken and hydrate.
3. Leave at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight until the volume has approximately doubled. The mixture will be much less solid and have large bubbles in it. At this point you can shape it (next step) to bake in the next 2-3 hours, or refrigerate it for up to 3-4 days until you find a convenient time. It’s slightly easier to handle when cold.
4. Thickly dust a baking sheet or work surface with flour and semolina (or just flour) and use a spatula to form the dough into a smooth ball. This should be relatively easy when you run the spatula around the sides of the bowl. Gently tip the ball onto the flour-dusted sheet, and carefully fold the edges into the centre to make a fat rectangle. Make sure it isn’t sticking, turn it 90 degrees and fold the edges in again to make a rectangle oriented the other way. Repeat a few times, incorporating as little flour as possible – the outside surface should not tear – the surface tension will help the loaf keep its shape. The wetter the dough, the longer this stage will take.
5. Gently place the shaped loaf, seam side down, on a flour-dusted piece of baking parchment and cover loosely with cling film. If the dough is very wet and struggling to hold its shape (more likely for higher amounts of white flour used) then place it with the baking parchment in an appropriately sized loaf tin, bearing in mind it will rise by about 50%.
6. Leave to prove again, about 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
7. When you are ready to bake, take the loaf out of the fridge (if it’s in there) and preheat the oven to 230C (non-fan), with a large cast-iron dish with lid inside. When it has reached temperature, snip deep cuts in the surface of the loaf to enable it to rise – about 3cm deep and 3cm apart down the length of the loaf. I find using kitchen scissors works well for this – the dough is too wet to slash with a knife.
8. Working quickly, take out the cast iron pan, place the loaf inside (with the baking parchment, using it as a sling) and cover it. Bake, covered, for 15 minutes, then remove the cover and bake for a further 30 minutes until the base sounds hollow when tapped.
9. Leave to (mostly) cool, so that the steam doesn’t escape too soon. Then slice and enjoy.
- 50/50 white and wholewheat works well here, as does 100% white – you will get a more open structure with more white flour, but the trade off is less of a rise, because it is a wetter dough – or use a tablespoon less water. Whole wheat flour absorbs more water, so the same proportion of flour and water gives a stiffer dough
- Higher hydration leads to better texture but not as much rise – loaves are more pancake-shaped but slice into perfect toast soldiers
- The sourdough starter is ready to use 12 hours after being fed (I keep 200g of starter, and discard* half and refresh half with 50g plain flour and 50g filtered water). It should double in volume and be bubbly when ready to use. After this it will fall back a bit – then it should be used as discarded starter below).
- You can use unfed starter in this recipe that you would otherwise discard – but dissolve add a pinch (1/2 tsp or so) of instant yeast into the water.
- Quantities can be doubled (or more!) for a more reasonably sized loaf
- I relied heavily on this article on no-knead bread by the amazing Kenji to understand the process behind Jim Lahey’s fantasically innovative no-knead process, before adapting it for sourdough and whole wheat.