Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread from a Starter

My experimentation with using a starter continued with just a simple loaf of 100% whole-wheat sandwich bread (and yes, I made this quite a while ago, so it will be a short blog). Once again, everything worked just as expected and no new revelations came. I did begin to become a little suspicious of my soaker though – after all I haven’t been using weight to measure quantities and the density of flour changes with the size of the grain (i.e. the coarse the grind, the more volume per once that is needed). So with my next bread, I plan to measure all my flour by weight instead of volume (after checking that the volume of water matched the appropriate weight… so that I could calibrate appropriately if it did not).

I will mention that, once again, I prefer this to the whole wheat breads I have made using a biga.

from: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Raisin Bread

In an attempt to make something a little sweeter (again from my trusted Reinhart book), I tried making a classic – cinnamon raisin bread with a cinnamon sugar swirl in the middle. Different from other sweet breads (like pumpkin bread) in that it still uses yeast to rise instead of baking powder, and the bread is also drier than other sweet breads, less cake like. And though it is sweet, it isn’t nearly as sweet cinnamon buns (it’s cousin with far more sugar…). Making the bread itself is more involved than other breads I have made due to it containing more ingredients, specifically more ingredients in the soaker and biga, than anything I have made before. It is also the first bread I have made that included an egg (which I added to the biga). And yes, it is made from 100% whole-wheat flour.

Overall the bread turned out perfectly, tasting great both freshly sliced and toasted with butter. Truly it is a great bread to try once you have become experienced with baking other simpler breads. Overall I stuck pretty close to the recipe, though I substituted brown sugar for the regular sugar in the swirl, and I added walnuts, both of which turned out to be great options. I also, once again, used dried milk. The only issue that came about was that I was not able to get the raisins to distribute evenly throughout the loaf so they ended up predominantly on the outside of the bread.

Difficulty: difficult

From: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.

Multi-Grain Sandwhich Bread

So, of course, now that I made my starter, I had to try it out. And since I had some brown rice and barley already cooked (and I was running low on whole-wheat flour) I thought what better way to test the starter than with a multi-grain sandwich bread. Along with the brown rice and barley, I ended up using some rolled oats and cornmeal as well, for a five-grain bread (including the whole wheat). Freed from needing to use buttermilk or yogurt (to compensate for not using a starter which naturally has a more sour flavor), I thought I would go back to using the dry milk I had, hoping that the thinner consistency would give me a lighter airier bread. The end result was a delicious, soft textured slice of bread. By far the best I have made so far and definitely worth the effort of making the starter in the first place. And even though I used a starter, the bread was not sour dough bread. The sourness the starter imparted on the bread was subtle enough to enhance the flavor without overwhelming it. And, the texture was nearly as soft as a store bought loaf, though somewhat closer to the density of rye bread. Regardless, it didn’t crumble (well until it had been in the fridge for nearly a week) as the previous loaves have. From now on, whenever it is an option, I am definitely using my starter.

Difficulty: medium

From: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.

The Starter

My favorite breads seem to be made from a starter, specifically rye and sour dough. So, I knew that to make the breads I had truly set out to make (yes I wanted a good whole wheat, but I love nothing more than a good rye). To begin building my starter I had to first begin to cultivate a seed culture, basically allow the yeast that naturally occurs in wheat to develop. And, though there are multiple ways to go about this, I once again turned to my trusted book, yes Reinhart again. From the two examples he gave, I chose to use the mash method; partly because if it has worked for both brewers and bakers for centuries, I had a very good feeling it would work for me. So now I had to make a mash again. Then I mixed a small portion of my mash with flour and water. Then over the next week, I continually added flour, water and stirred as the yeast developed and multiplied. Finally (after a week of stirring adding mixing…) I took a portion of my cultivated culture and converted it into the starter.

If this process sounds tedious, it wasn’t. It only really took a few minutes each day to build. But, I have to admit it was somewhat unsettling seeing food that I planned on eating bubbling at room temperature for a week. Still, I continued on and just kept reminding myself that a starter is fermented dough so… I have to let it ferment…

In the end, when the starter was finished it went into the fridge, ready for me to use for next few days.

Difficulty: medium


I don’t understand why buttermilk always comes in such large containers. I have yet to see a recipe that calls for more than ¾ a cup (or even a cup max). But yet, there it is, sitting in the milk section of every grocery store in quart cartons without any other options. Hell I have yet to see more than one brand per grocer… And every time I buy it I find myself wasting the vast majority of the unused buttermilk. Personally, I hate wasting food so I find this to be completely frustrating. So when I decided to make biscuits, I was torn between using the buttermilk biscuit recipe that looked good (no lard and no added sugar – from the Neelys) and a regular biscuit recipe where I would bake the biscuit on a skillet (and use a cup of sugar – good ol’ Paula Deen). So I thought it would be worth trying to “make” buttermilk, that way I could use the recipe that I wanted to try – no sugar added and baking them in the oven.

To make buttermilk I put a tablespoon of white vinegar in a cup of milk – let it sit while I got the rest of my ingredients together – then measured out the amount I needed. The milk itself just smelt like vinegar, which worried me. The final results of the biscuits lacked the rising that I had hoped for, confirming my fears. I am very suspicious of the vinegar and it’s chemical reaction with the baking soda/powder. But they still tasted excellent, flaky and moist, almost like a croissant, exactly how I wanted them to taste. But next time – I will just buy the buttermilk…

Difficulty: Easy

From: The Neelys’ Recipe on foodnetwork.com

Keep and eye on your oven, especially if you have a convection oven – I nearly burnt mine and I took them out a good 5 minutes early and they were only supposed to take 20 minutes (I was using a different oven then I am used to – and it is a convection oven).

Potato-Rosemary Rolls

I am sure by now many of you are wondering if I secretly work for Peter Reinhardt… well, no. I just only own his baking book, and I am somewhat obsessed with trying to only eat breads made from whole wheat (good recipes for 100% whole wheat are rather difficult to find). So, I eagerly embarked on yet another adventure in delayed fermentation method bread making, this time finally attempting the Potato Rosemary bread that I have wanted to try for some time. Using Thanks Giving as my excuse, I ended up making 25 dinner rolls (all knotted up).

The dough itself was time consuming to make. First I had to boil a potato, which, though it doesn’t take much time still added a day to my planning. Then, on day two I simply made the soaker and biga as always (using the potato water from the night before). Unfortunately, I did not plan ahead properly and ran out of water, so I mixed some filtered water in to fill out the recipe. But that was only a minor logistical mistake; my forgetting to roast the garlic was a bit more of an annoyance. As a result, I ended up spending a lot more time than I anticipated roasting garlic (I chose the option of adding roasted garlic and pepper), cleaning rosemary and preparing the ingredients to be mixed. And then came day three, time to form the rolls. As I said, I ended up making 25 rolls, all knotted. To do so I had to roll a small section of dough into a rope, then tie that rope into a knot. Once risen, I brushed them with an egg white wash (I should have used more so the crust would have been glossier) and sprinkled sesame seeds over half of them.

The end result was definitely worth the labor. Fresh they were delicious, with enough flavors to merit eating without anything else. However, the subtle rosemary, garlic and pepper flavor and pillowy soft interior called for dipping in olive oil or soup (both of which paired perfectly with the rolls). I am even thinking of using them for burger rolls (doubling their size of the rolls of course) at some point in the future. And along side the turkey, stuffing and gravy at the Thanksgiving table (why I baked them in the first place)… the dinner rolls were perfectly at home. All in all this has been my favorite bread to date, even with the added labor and time.

Difficulty: Difficult

From: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.


1) Plan ahead to limit the time in the kitchen.
2) Use more water than is recommended when boiling the potatoes since some water will boil off.
3) I found it helpful to mash the roasted garlic into the potatoes – as if making garlic mash potatoes. It made incorporating the garlic into the dough a little easier.
4) Get parchment paper – well worth the expense for lining trays when baking rolls.

Multi-Grain Hearth Bread

Building on my repertoire of Peter Reinhardt breads, I tried the hearth version of a multi-grain bread. Being a hearth style bread, it was lean (like the bagettes), but this time I used oil and honey to soften the crust slightly and lend a little sweetness. For the grains I used cooked whole grain rice, rolled oats (yes the type used for oat meal), and some corn meal. I used about even quantities of each (though slightly more rolled oats), which comprised a large portion of the soaker. As a result, the soaker was fairly drippy at first, though it did solidify somewhat overnight. For the final loaves, I chose to form two batards – baking them directly on my baking stone.

As a whole this bread turned out very well, soft interior and crisp crust (without being overly hard). It went excellently both as a sandwich bread and also just plainly with cheese. Actually goat cheese seemed to lend the perfect blend of flavor with this bread. All in all I think this was a far more successful departure into the multi-grain style of breads than the Anadama Bread I had previously made, and I plan on experimenting with a variety of different grains and possibly switching to the sandwich style (adding milk into the soaker). The only real disappointment I had was with the forming of the loaves themselves, but that is really just my ineptness as a sculptor. I think next time I make a free-standing loaf, I will just make a single batard.

Difficulty: Average

From: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.


1) If you plan on using larger grains like whole grain rice, it is best to precook them.
For cooking rice I was recently taught a very helpful trick. Place your hand on the rice (in the pot/rice cooker) and pour the water into the pot/rice cooker until it reaches your knuckles… then you have the perfect amount of water.

2) Smaller grains (like rolled oats, corn meal, or any type of other flour…) can all be used without precooking them.