By Shannon Stonger
Health Impact News
In recent years we have seen a resurgence of interest in breads given a longer fermentation time via sourdough leavening. While these may seem like a lot of work due to the delay between mixing and baking the dough, they can actually be prepared quite simply with no more hands-on time than your usual loaf of bread. A little timing and planning are all that are required.
The reasons for the longer fermentation are many. Health and flavor seem to predominate, but bread that will “wait” is also helpful.
It is often easier to digest. The process of leavening a bread with sourdough involves much more than the rising of a bread by trapping carbon dioxide. There is a whole matrix of microorganisms present in a sourdough starter which break down fibers, feast on sugars, increase beneficial bacterial counts, and enhance the vitamin content found in the grain itself.
With digestive problems on the rise, those with compromised guts are finding breads made with a longer fermentation (rise) period to be more easily digested.
It tastes better. If you’ve eaten real sourdough bread and thought it somehow tasted more vibrant and fuller in flavor than a commercially risen loaf, you are not imagining things. During the yeast metabolism that takes place as the fermentation happens, a natural amino acid known as glutamate is formed. This amino acid produces a naturally occurring flavor-enhancer called umami that is also found in aged cheeses, fermented soy, and other foods like mushrooms.
Umami creates a savory flavor profile in sourdough bread that cannot be recreated outside of a longer fermentation time in which a sourdough starter is given time to impart the full spectrum of microorganisms, including lactobacilli.
It might actually be more convenient. It may seem counterintuitive to say that a bread loaf that takes 12-24 hours to produce is actually more convenient for some than yeast-risen loaves that only take an hour or two to rise and bake.
Here is why a longer fermentation might actually work for a busy schedule: The hands-on time of mixing, kneading, shaping, and baking are generally done with long stretches of 4-12 hours in between.
For example, in this sandwich bread recipe, the dough is mixed and allowed to rest for a few hours before adding the sourdough leavening. This resting (known as autolyse) is useful for lessening kneading time and increasing the elasticity of the dough. It can be skipped, but if you choose to use it, the dough can be mixed up while you are cooking supper and then left alone until shortly before bedtime.
From here there are stretches of 4-12 hours in between the steps of bulk fermentation, kneading, a second bulk fermentation, shaping, and finally baking. Don’t let all of these steps, and the instructions below, fool you. The hands-on time to make this bread is approximately 25 minutes with a baking time of 30-35 minutes.
A similar recipe using commercial yeast would require close attention to the dough during the proofing stages as it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.
Refrigeration can be used to slow down the fermentation process. A cold environment slows down the fermentation significantly. Therefore, refrigeration can be used at various points in the bread making process if you need to hit pause and have the bread wait on you instead of you waiting on it.
The best place to halt fermentation is after shaping into loaves, though other fermentation steps can also be done in the refrigerator. Generally speaking, you can leave the dough in the refrigerator approximately twice the number of hours it would have taken at room temperature. If the dough has been shaped for the final proofing, it can remain in the refrigerator for upwards of 1-2 days. It will need to be checked on every 12 hours, however, to ensure that it has not reached its doubling point.
After removing from the refrigerator, the dough will need to be brought to room temperature and given any extra proofing time necessary to reach the volume called for before moving on to the next step.
This whole wheat sourdough sandwich bread is a great place to start experimenting with long-fermented breads. It is made with whole grain and sifted flour, making it easier to work with than a 100% whole grain flour. The bread takes approximately 24 hours from start to finish, assuming you are fermenting the dough at a cool room temperature.
Don’t let the detailed write-up fool you, this recipe is pretty straightforward and can be made by anyone with a basic knowledge of bread making.
Whole Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread
- 3 cups glypohosate-free whole wheat flour 
- 3 cups glyphosate-free white flour , divided (plus more for kneading)
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup active sourdough starter (having been fed in the last 6-8 hours)
- ¼ cup butter  or coconut oil , melted and cooled
- 2 Tablespoons raw honey 
- 2 teaspoons Himalayan salt 
Combine the whole wheat flour and two cups of the white flour in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the water with a wooden spoon until a stiff dough is formed and there are no more bits of dry flour on the dough. Cover with a damp towel, lid , or plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1-3 hours.
After the autolyse, or straightaway if skipping, mix the sourdough starter into the flour and water mixture, being sure that all of the flour is moistened. Stir or mix with clean hands until a sticky but uniform dough is formed. Cover tightly with a damp towel, lid, or plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 8-12 hours. It should double during this time.
After the preferment, mix the melted butter or coconut oil, raw honey, salt, and remaining one cup of white flour into the dough. Mix with hands, or in a mixer, until the dough starts to come together. Turn out onto floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic, adding plenty of white flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Shape the dough into a ball and place, top-side down, into an oiled bowl. Flip the dough so that the oiled side is facing up, and cover with a damp towel, lid, or plastic wrap. Allow to ferment approximately 4 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
Final Proofing & Baking
Punch down the dough and split into two equal pieces. Grease an 8” bread pan and set aside. Form a loaf by rolling the dough into a rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Fold the left 1/3 of the rectangle over the middle of the rectangle. Fold the right 1/3 of the rectangle over the first fold. Pinch the edges together where the dough meets. Roll it over so that the seam side is down and carefully stretch the dough towards the seam to form a loaf shape. Place this in prepared bread pan and repeat with second half of dough.
Cover pans with a damp towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise for approximately four hours, or until the highest point of the dough reaches 1” above the rim of the pan. Remove the towel or plastic wrap and carefully slash the bread lengthwise with a very sharp knife. Place the pans in a cold oven and immediately turn the heat to 375 degrees.
Bake loaves for 30-35 minutes, or until a thermometer reads 200 degrees when inserted into the center of the loaf.
Turn loaves out carefully onto a cooling rack and brush tops with butter for a soft crust. Allow to cool to room temperature before slicing.
About the Author
Shannon grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota. She studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married her husband one month later. They were then blessed with two baby boys within the first four years of marriage. Having babies gave their family a desire to return to the old paths – to nourish their family with traditional, homegrown foods; rid their home of toxic chemicals and petroleum products; and give their boys a chance to know a simple, sustainable way of life. They are currently building a homestead from scratch on two little acres in central Texas. There’s a lot to be done to become somewhat self-sufficient, but they are debt-free and get to spend their days living this simple, good life together with their four young children.