An introduction


To begin at the beginning - it was starless and bible black.  oops, sorry, wrong script. 

Before I start posting recipes, I'm aware that I do things differently from many people, so it might be as well if I post a bit to let you know where I'm coming from. 

I first tried baking (with yeast) when I was at university.  The results were not very good, but I eventually found I could make adequate pizza dough, and that I preferred to use wholemeal flour (less messy!).  Around this time I got in to wholefoods, and started to prefer using wholemeal for the flavour and the fibre - in fact, now I rely on its fibre.

Over the years, I tried various forms of breads - some tea breads were ok, but wholemeal was generally disappointing in volume - and since I often wanted to make toasted cheese, the volume was a problem.  Somewhere along the way I became insulin-dependant - the amount of carbohydrate in what I eat is _important_ to me!

Some years later, I was in an accident and spent a protracted period in hospital.  After that I never made it back to fulltime work, but I did have more time on my hands.  I started looking at more authentic recipes.  First, Tom Jaine's "Making Bread At Home", and later Joe Ortiz's "The Village Baker" - inspirational, but the front-of-book recipes are in the incomprehensible American cup measurements - at the back of the book are "commercial" versions with proper weights, which can be scaled down. 

Before this, I'd developed a liking for pain d'epice using wholemeal rye - I used to make a fresh starter each time, but this was extremely unreliable and slow. 

Eventually, after I'd taken early retirement, and spent a long time failing to create a high-volume wholemeal yeast-bread recipe, I realised the best way for me to get an acceptable bread for sandwiches and toasting was to buy it!  Meanwhile, I'd had interesting breads on holiday and figured I could have a go at making sourdoughs.  I started with wholemeal wheat, and this was very successful.  Later, I tried rye and at first it was problematic.  Eventually I tweaked the recipe until I got something usable. 

For me, the important things in baking sourdough are -

° wholemeal flour (or wholemeal rye) for the levain

° levain able to last for some weeks in fridge door between bakings

° less than a day to refresh it

° small loaves - somewhere between 300 and 400gm suits me - I keep these in the freezer, and then the current loaf is kept in the fridge for up to about 9 days depending how quickly I eat it (some people say this is absurd, but it works for me) - a thick, flavourful but tough, crust

° Low salt - the French always think English bread is too salty, and when I made yeast bread I used to reduce the amount of salt.  Funnily enough, for regular sourdoughs I had to _increase_ the salt to make the sour taste less prominent.  I now prefer to use salt _flakes_ and to dissolve these in the water which I add to the starter before I mix in the flours.  Again, this is probably heresy.  For German breads, less salt (to accentuate the sourness) is essential.

Mostly, I like coarse breads.  In summer, when I'm eating a lot of fruit, I'll eat whiter breads and even buy things like brioche for part of my breakfast.  In winter, I like to add lots of seeds to german-style rye breads - I'm still  searching for a reliable way of getting coarse grains in rye, grinding grain flakes doesn't totally do the job, grinding grain is slow and hard to judge.


Till later,




rossnroller 2010 July 27

Dissolving salt in the water then adding it to your starter is really not a good idea. Salt and yeast are not good buddies, and in my understanding yeast always comes off second best if they're in direct contact like that. That's the reason for autolysing - gives the yeasties a chance to work with the flour in the absence of salt, then when the salt is added, it slows the fermentation down so that flavours can better develop. At very least, why not try adding the salt with the flour (or even dissolving it in high concentration in a small amount of the water and adding that last).

Just thought I should mention this, as I'd be surprised if you're not compromising your bread by having salt and your starter in direct contact right from the start.

I'm with you on lowering salt content. I started reducing to 1.5% (ie: baker %) rather than the standard 2% out of necessity (my partner is on a salt reduced diet), but over time I've grown to enjoy the subtle notes of flavour that come through many breads when salt is reduced. The only one that does suffer a bit through having salt reduced is pizza dough...but then, a lot of the toppings that are customarily added to pizzas are high-salt, so it's not such a sacrifice.

On rye breads: you may find this thread of interest.


Millciti's picture
Millciti 2010 August 1


My starter was started with a recipe that actually calls for a few grains of salt, but only the first day.  The reason for this is to slow or restrict the growth of other microbes that don't love the acid environment of the LAB and yeast beasties you want to cultivate.  The method I used was based on a Frenchman's method - who is very important in the Culture of Artisan Breads - and Sourdough of course, Professor Raymond Calvel.  Just remember salt is Sodium Chloride - an acid.

But to use salt in my starter now that it is mature?  A healthy starter has plenty of acid of its own manufacture, and like Ross says, you may be restricting the growth of some of your beasties.




BackyardPermaculture 2010 August 2

Hi Terri,

That sounds really interesting - but I'm puzzled by your statement that salt (sodium chloride) is an acid?

Acids (including pineapple juice, lemon juice, etc.) are beneficial in the early stages of starter development to reduce unwanted bacterial development and promote yeast development. I believe that Calvel's addition of salt, on the other hand, is to reduce the enzyme effects since the early stages of the starter occur over a very long period.




rossnroller 2010 August 2

From my research and in my experience, salt does not "promote yeast development" - on the contrary, it inhibits it. This can be a good thing, since slowing the fermentation process can enhance flavour development. Gerard Rubaud adds a little salt to his starter during a 3-stage build to slow the fermentation for this very reason (if you haven't come across Rubaud, see Shiao-Ping's excellent write-up). However, too much salt will kill the yeast; thus, it is not a good idea to have salt in direct contact with natural leaven when mixing dough.  The salt-in-starter issue is a different one.

I'll leave the acidity issue to Terri to respond to - don't know enough about that aspect.


zarniwhoop 2010 August 5

Hi Ross,

sorry about the delay in replying.  I've been making the wholewheat breads for 2 or 3 years now, maybe longer, and I too was extremely dubious about this.  I used to take the refreshed started, add water and mix well, then add the flour, mix, knead, and add salt at the end.


When I switched to sea salt from table salt, I tried to continue doing the same thing - but the salt flakes need to be ground, and catching them in a measuring spoon doesn't really work.  I also imagine that a spoonful of flakes (large, angular) contains some air and so has less salt in it than a spoonful of ground salt.  But equally, salt flakes will clump in the dough.


So, with misgivings, I tried diluting the flakes in the water.  Couldn't see any adverse effects, the bread didn't seem any different.  I've done this at least six times now, and it seems to work well for me.



zarniwhoop 2010 August 5

Hi Terri,


see my reply to Ross that I've just posted.  Beyond that, maybe I should add that I don't use salt in the starter.


Briefly, I make a starter in a conventional way (organic wholewheat flour, water).  I then save some of it.  When I'm going to bake I take this, refresh it, and leave it for about a day.  Once the process has been going for two or three times I always save a quarter of it (80 - 100 gm) and use the rest to make three loaves [ the first time, I make less but I always save a similar amount ].


It's this just-refreshed leaven that I dilute, and to which I now add the salt.



zarniwhoop 2010 August 5

Based on my long (and disappointing) experience with yeast breads, I never got on with using a sharp knife for slashing.  Nowadays I use a bread knife (with a scalloped blade) to saw the ventilation lines.  My doughs are usually firm!  Also, I don't use proofing baskets.


Most of the time, I make a variety of breads (for wheat, that might be wholemeal, granary, country - with white flour, or french-style rye).  Because I'm keeping these in the freezer, I use a different design to identify them.  So, the wholewheat gets a diamond-pattern like a 'pain polka'.  It's also a low bread (I spread it out when shaping it) because that suits this style of decoration.


Been experimenting with dutch ovens recently - in my case, using inverted loaf tins.  Needs a lot of space!  For some of the loaves, this helps, but I've got to make sure the loaf will fit under the tin.  For the wholewheat, I'm less convinced - I prefer a well-done or overdone crust.



Millciti's picture
Millciti 2010 August 9

I had this really great reply written up Tuesday and then hit my one of the other links at the top of my screen and lost it all.  It was late and I was tired... Now I don't even remember what I wrote.  I only remember saying that I was seeing a lot of different comments about salt in sourdough lately, both in starters and in preferments and doughs. 

Mick I think I started respond to your comment... I guess I didn't read enough of the "Taste of Bread" - to get Calvel's intent.  And after checking my chemistry - salt especially in water is generally considered neutral.  I still have this thought that someone mentioned it is a weak acid.  OOPs It may have been something that I actually missed in Human nutrition.  Maybe that was why I still need to take the class again to bring my grade up. 

So my recent adventures with salt are... I made Saltless Sourdough Tuscan Bread for a local Italian festival at a farmers market to go with Italian sausage and peppers, bruscetta and fresh marinara sauce.  It uses a paste method that I actually have not tried before.  The paste consisted of 130g of whole white wheat and 70g of semolina to which I added 225g of water that was not quite boiling to make a sort of maleable doughy paste.  Once it cooled to room temp I folded and kneaded it in to the dough which was a mostly white 70% hydration mostly white.  Then after a short rise, I formed a loaf in a basket with a tea towel and put it in the fridge overnight.  It actually turned out quite well - moist crumb nice flavor even without salt.  If I can repeat it I will have to post it soon. 

The process is interesting because it really increases the hydration level because of gelatinizing the grain.  You may want to give this a try with your rye flakes instead of grinding them.  After pouring the water over the grain and allowing it to cool you can break up the flakes.   I am thinking of revisiting the method with rye and spelt soon.  PR talks about it in his whole grains book.  Well off to start tomorrows bread. 

I haven't tried a lame yet that I liked and still use my serrated german bread knife an a pair of kitcheaid shears.  And my normal bread has a lower percentage of salt than most - my hubby has HBP.


zarniwhoop 2010 August 13

Posting my recipes has unfortunately been delayed - my figures for hydration just don't add up (50% hydration!).  I'm hoping to be travelling in the next few weaks, so I might not be baking for a while.  I've made a note to weigh at each stage to try to get more accurate figures - at the moment my recipes are based on "a quarter of the refreshed levain, x gms flour(s), y gm water, salt ... then add more water as necessary while mixing the dough".



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