Over several months of baking this bread I have twiddled the process and recipe to come upon a bread I really like. It is a somewhat meaty and relatively moist bread with a rich, mildly wine-like flavor. It is soft rather than chewy and has a fairly fine crumb with small-to-medium holes relatively regularly spaced. It is quite filling. It makes a nice sandwich and goes well as an accompaniment to soups. It stays reasonably “fresh” for 4-5 days. After the 4th or 5th day it makes a really nice toast. When it’s too dry for toast I make it into bread crumbs for meatballs and such. You might call it a country style bread.
The physical aspects of the bread such as texture, moisture, crust, and crumb are mostly brought about by how the dough and grain is handled and baked. The flavor is affected by the ingredients. There is some overlap, but that is the general gist.
I bake 2 loaves at a time, so all the quantities listed are for 2 loaves. We’ll start with flavor.
Salt is key. In addition to affecting the flavor, it is also a dough conditioner and can increase the rise time, and decrease the size of the holes. I use 3 tsp, which is an increase from Mike Avery’s recipe.
The next trick I use is baking soda. I use baking soda not so much for leavening as for flavor. Baking soda is alkaline and so neutralizes acid. Because of this you can essentially use baking soda as a sweetener in sourdough. I use 1 tsp. I personally like the sour in sourdough, but my family does not so I use soda to make a milder bread. It still has the distinctive sourdough taste, but is relatively mild. Additionally, you don’t want to remove all the lactic acid from the dough as this is one of the things that makes sourdough more healthy. It helps to neutralize many of the anti-nutrients in the grains.
Oil can increase moisture retention and make bread stay “fresh” longer, but can also hinder gluten development and so make for a more crumbly, heavier bread. I use 6 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, a slight increase from Mike’s recipe. I’ve noticed that the bread stays moister longer and also has a richer taste, is slightly meatier, and is more filling.
Raw unprocessed honey is full of enzymes that help to pre-digest grains. I read somewhere that spreading a little raw honey on bread and letting it sit for 15 minutes will make the bread much more digestible. I use about 6 Tbsp, a slight increase from Mike’s recipe. The extra sweetness also helps to balance out the sour and thus the bread requires less baking soda to make it kid and wife friendly.