First let me clarify that when I say this sourdough sandwich bread is yeast-free, I mean it’s free of any added yeast. There is yeast in this loaf, but it’s the wild kind, seduced from the air around your kitchen by the flour and the water and by the potent chemistry they create together.
This is the most perfect sandwich bread I’ve ever baked, and yes, it’s mostly white flour, but I don’t feel like the devil about it. Research shows that the healthiness of white sourdough bread far exceeds that of wholegrain and multigrain breads. That’s because sourdough has a powerful effect on blood sugar: when left to work its fermenting magic, it breaks down the starches in the foods it’s added to, making them easier to digest. Sourdough is also probiotic, which means it is packed with healthy gut bacteria, so you can feel truly holier-than-thou when you smear this bread with some peanut butter or use it to cradle a delicious vegan burger.
Many sourdough breads need to be started a day before, but this one can easily be made in about eight hours from start to finish, including three rise times. So if you start your bread late in the morning, you can easily have some in time for dinner.
I understand that most of you probably aren’t sourdough nuts and don’t have a jar of bubbly starter sitting on your kitchen table or in the refrigerator, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to convert you. Making sourdough starter is one of the easiest things you can do– all you need to do is stir flour and water with a spoon. Nature takes care of the rest. I used a recipe from the King Arthur Flour website to make my starter and it’s excellent. I did change the hydration — the ratio of water to flour — of the starter. The King Arthur recipe has 50 percent hydration, which means it has 1/2 cup of water for each 1 cup of flour used to make and feed the sourdough. My sourdough has 75 percent hydration, meaning I add 3/4 cup of water for each cup of flour when I feed my sourdough. I find the 50 percent hydration starter just a tad too firm for my baking.
I am in love with my starter. I’ve been using it almost every weekend to make my whole-wheat sourdough waffles and they are such a hit that Jay and Desi demand them every week. This bread is our new favorite way to use it. All I need now is to name my starter– I read somewhere that sourdough aficionados do that, and my friend Margo told me the other day that her mother, who kept hers alive for more than 30 years, called him “Herman.”
- Place the sourdough starter in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add to it the wholewheat flour, 1 cup of all-purpose flour, and water. Mix well and set it aside, covered, in a warm place for four hours.
- Add 2 cups of all-purpose flour, olive oil and salt and mix. Add more flour as you knead until the dough becomes quite firm but still feels a little sticky to your fingers.
- Turn out the dough on the kitchen platform or any flat surface and knead by hand for 4-5 minutes or until the dough feels smooth and springy to your fingers and it barely sticks to the platform.
- Shape into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning the ball of dough around once to coat the top with oil.
- Cover tightly and place in a warm spot (like an oven with the light turned on) for at least two hours or until the dough has doubled.
- Punch down the dough and divide into two. Prep two standard loaf pans by spraying lightly with oil and then sprinkling on some cornmeal or semolina.
- Shape each portion of the dough into an oval. The dough should be very pliable and should shape easily.
- Place each loaf into the prepared loaf pans. Cover with a kitchen towel and let them stand in a warm place for at least two more hours or until the dough rises above the top of the loaf pans.
- About half an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Place the loaves in the oven and bake 40 minutes.
- Remove the loaves from the oven, turn them out on a rack, and let them cool thoroughly before slicing.