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My three year anniversary for The Perfect Loaf just passed and I felt like it was only fitting for me to revisit an old idea, an old recipe of mine for a seeded sourdough I posted a long, long time ago. I make this whole wheat version intermittently and I do enjoy it, but I wanted to explore some new flavors, textures, and techniques. I mean, after baking hundreds of loaves since the beginning days of this site my process has changed and evolved quite a bit, perhaps it was time to take a new look at this old favorite.
Of course, there are endless combinations of seeds and spices one can bake into a loaf of bread, but finding just the right balance of flavors and textures can prove to be a challenging task. Personally, I find a lot of the seeded sourdough I try to be a little heavy with seeds; conceivably I’m just more sensitive to the deep umami flavors of sesame, the spicy nature of flax, or the anise-like flavor of fennel, but I like to keep it light. Of course, there is a time and place for hearty bread, but I like my seeded sourdough a little more like a gentle peck and less like a heavy, flapping punch.
There’s no denying the additional health benefits seeds bring to bread, and that was one of the prompting factors for me to revisit the idea, but I also wanted to play with seed flavors instead of using them as an afterthought. Some seeds really work well together to play off of each other’s flavors, working in concert to give rise to an overall sense of good taste. The seeds chosen here are those that I personally feel go well together, but there are so many other combinations to be had — if desired, one can endlessly play the seed alchemist.
I’m not a big fan of caraway (it seems like this is a very polarizing flavor) and that’s why it’s not used here, but feel free to experiment with whatever seeds you might have in your pantry: caraway, poppy, white sesame, pumpkin, hemp and so on. Fennel is probably my favorite seed of them all, the bright, zesty flavor seems to go well with most things I make in the kitchen and I had to include it here. On a related note, I was given some olive oil infused with fennel and I find my mind constantly gravitating to it — I just can’t get enough. I’ve been pouring it on toast, bruschetta, salads and even vanilla ice cream (try it!). Since I’ve been on that kick I already had it in my mind to include it in this formula from the onset.
I know lemon zest is overused in baking and probably included in places where it really isn’t warranted, but it’s added here to help complement the multitude of seed flavors in this bread. I found that sporadic bites would display a quick and mellow lemon flavor which was a welcome surprise amidst the backdrop of the deep seed flavors throughout. If you don’t have lemons on hand or feel the flavor isn’t necessary then feel free to omit the zest, of course, it’s up to you.
I baked this bread once with roasted & unsalted sunflower seeds and then here, with raw sunflower (not roasted & unsalted) and found the flavor to be commensurate. Whichever you find in your pantry go for it, no need to buy anything new at the market.
When mixing this dough with my hands I often found myself pausing to look at the snaking sea of black sesame, the golden, gritty semolina and the garish shine of lemon peel and thought to myself: this is going to taste really, really good.
Lately, I’ve been making more and more fresh pasta at home that is primarily comprised of coarse semolina flour, flour that’s milled from durum wheat which has a higher than typical protein content. It’s a deep, luxurious yellow color and is quite granular, very similar to table salt. I like using this for pasta as it gives each bite a little more chew to it, a little density. When rolling thin, for ravioli, for example, this is perfect because you have what is essentially two sheets of pasta pressed together with a filling and if the two sheets are too thick on their own you’ll end up tasting and chewing the pasta more than anything — you want the pasta to be thin but chewy/strong.
For this bread, I added a fairly small percentage of semolina but the taste and texture are noticeable. It adds a little sweetness to help compliment all the robust seeds and many say semolina helps attain a really thin and crunchy crust. I can say my outcome here doesn’t dispute that — the crust on my bakes have been incredibly thin and cracker-like, just how I like it. If you don’t have semolina at hand (durum works, of course) then substituting the semolina percentage in my formula for a stoneground or roller milled whole wheat. This replacement would help add an additional level of flavor and strength to the dough and work quite well.
Seeded Sourdough with Semolina
Total dough weight: 1850g
Pre-fermented flour: 5.50%
Hydration: 79% (not including seed soaker hydration)
Yield: 2 loaves
|25g||Mature liquid starter (100% hydration)||50%|
|25g||Giusto’s Stoneground Whole Wheat||50%|
|25g||Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour||50%|
|50g||H2O @ room temperature||100%|
Target final dough temperature (FDT) is 78°F (25°C).
Note that the baker’s percentages listed below are with respect to the final dough ingredients and do not take into account the levain.
|673g||Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour (unbleached, malted flour, ~11.5% protein)||76.46%|
|140g||Semolina (coarse milled Durum wheat)||15.87%|
|67g||Giusto’s Stoneground Whole Wheat||7.67%|
|19g||Fine sea salt||2.43%|
|125g||Ripe, liquid levain||14.20%|
|37g||Toasted Dark Sesame Seed||4.23%|
|51g||Raw Sunflower Seed (not roasted or salted)||5.82%|
|–||Zest of two lemons (optional)||–|
1. Levain – 9:00 a.m.
Build the liquid levain (everything listed in the Levain Build section above) in the morning and store somewhere around 78°F (25°C).
2. Autolyse – 3:00 p.m.
Mix flour and water (reserve 100g water for the mix, later) in a bowl until all dry bits are hydrated. Cover bowl and store somewhere warm (around 78°F/25°C) for 2 hours.
3. Prepare Seeds – 3:10 p.m.
After you’ve mixed your autolyse, prepare the seed mixture. Turn on your oven to 350°F (175°C) and let it preheat while you measure out all the called for seeds.
Once your oven is preheated spread the dark sesame (only these) on a quarter baking sheet and toast in the oven at 350°F (175°C) for 10 minutes. Keep an eye at the end of this to prevent any burning. Remove and set somewhere to cool.
Set a kettle of water to boil on the stove. Once it’s just about boiling pour 150g of hot water (not boiling) over the flax seeds in a bowl and let sit to cool. Once this water is cool to the touch, mix in the cooled sesame and fennel. Let this mixture soak until called for in the bulk fermentation step.
Note that I didn’t incorporate the raw sunflower seeds into the water soaker, you could do this if desired1.
4. Mix – 5:00 p.m.
By the time we will use the seed mixture they will have absorbed the entire 150g of water they were soaking in. Knowing this, you should expect the dough to be a little slacker later in bulk when the seeds are incorporated as they start to release a little water into the dough. To combat this we will build additional strength in this dough at the start.
Add the 128g levain to the top of your dough and using some of the reserved 100g water wet your hands and mix the levain in thoroughly.
I chose to do slap and fold for about 5 minutes, just until the dough starts to show signs of a smooth surface and it’s catching some air. If you aren’t comfortable with slap/fold method or don’t like it, you can do stretch and folds in the bowl until your dough tightens up and slightly hard to stretch out and fold over. Medium development.
When finished mixing, sprinkle the salt on top of the dough and use the remaining water to help dissolve. Pinch through a few times and fold the dough over itself to help incorporate.
Transfer dough to a tub or thick-walled bowl for bulk fermentation.
5. Bulk Fermentation – 5:10 p.m. to 8:50 p.m.
At 78°F (25°C) ambient temperature, bulk fermentation should go for a little less than 4 hours. Keep an eye on the dough, for me, fermentation was moving rather rapidly and the dough became extremely puffed up (see preshape photo below).
Perform a total of 4 sets of stretch and folds during the bulk, spaced out by 30 minutes. If the dough feels extremely slack to you at the end of the 4th set, do another set for a total of 5. After the fourth or fifth set of stretch and folds let the dough rest for the remainder of bulk. Keep an eye on the dough nearing the three to three and a half hour mark during bulk fermentation, it will rise quite a bit and could rise up all the way to your plastic or towel covering your bowl. It helps to use a larger sized bowl for this dough!
After the second set of stretch and folds (1 hour into bulk) add in the seed soaker and zest of two lemons (optional). I’ll typically do my folds, spread the seeds evenly on the top of the dough and then with wet hands massage it gently into the dough. Fold it in thoroughly without being overly rough.
6. Divide & Preshape – 8:50 p.m.
Dump out the dough from your bulk container onto an un-floured work surface. Pre-shape the dough into two round boules and let rest 20 minutes uncovered.
I want to warn you that the dough can be very sticky here at this point. Use plenty of flour on your hands and rely mostly on your bench knife to bring the dough into two taut boules.
You can see the significant activity in my dough, it was seriously jiggly and quite puffed.
7. Shape – 9:10 p.m.
To coat the outside of your loaves with seeds (optional) as I’ve done, lay out a towel next to the shaping area that’s covered with a seed mixture. Take equal parts raw black sesame (don’t use the toasted ones, these will bake in the oven on the outside), flax and fennel, and mix together in a bowl. Spread this mixture out in the center of the towel evenly into a thin but cohesive layer. I didn’t include sunflower seeds in this mixture as I prefer the look of this bread with only small seeds on the exterior — personal preference. After the dough is shaped we will quickly roll the top of each batard or boule in this mixture.
I prefer to shape these as a batard, as follows:
- Flip pre-shaped round
- Fold bottom up to about halfway
- Fold the left side over to about 3/4 to the right
- Fold right side over to cover left
- Stretch top up & away from the center and fold down to about half (you’ll now have a “letter”)
- Grab a little of the dough at the sides near the top and stretch it over the center so the dough crosses. Imagine lacing up a shoe where you first grab your laces and cross them over
- Repeat 3 times from top to bottom (the result will look like a laced up shoe)
- Take the bottom and gently roll the dough up to the top and try to seal it slightly when done rolling
For more instruction on how to shape this dough as an oblong loaf, see my post on how to shape a batard (with video!).
Once you’ve shaped your dough lightly spritz the top with a water mister, this helps the seeds stick to the exterior. Then, using your bench knife scoop up your dough and invert it so the seam side is facing up onto the towel with the seed mixture. Roll it around gently to coat and then transfer seam-side-up to your final proofing basket.
Coating the outside is a little hectic at first, but you get the hang of it after a few tries.
8. Rest & Proof – 9:15 p.m.
Cover your baskets with plastic and then retard in the refrigerator at 38°F (3°C) for 10 hours. Even at such cool temperatures this dough can quickly overproof so keep an eye on it in the fridge in the morning. By the morning my dough was very gassy and had risen quite a bit in the fridge.
9. Bake – Next Morning: Preheat oven at 6:15 a.m., Bake at 7:15 a.m.
I steamed my oven in my usual way, described here in my post on how to steam your home oven for baking.
Preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C).
Scoring this bread can be difficult because the seeds form a hard crust on the outside. Get the blade into the dough and move quickly down to make a score. If the blade slips out of the cut just continue where it left off and keep it going.
To make a double-score as you see below, make two straight, vertical slashes on the top of the dough. The top one starts near the top-left of the dough and goes down halfway, the second one starts a little higher than where the first one left off and goes down straight almost to the bottom of the loaf. To visualize this hold your two index fingers out in front of you so the tops of your fingers are at the same height. Then shift your right hand down until your right fingernail lines up with your left finger’s middle joint — your two scores are the entire length of your index fingers.
Bake the dough for 20 minutes, then remove the steaming pans from inside the oven. Then, bake for an additional 30-35 minutes until done to your liking. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 1-2 hours.
This seeded sourdough is such a great departure from weekly whole wheat or white sourdough, it brings deep flavors and interest to each slice. The interior bakes to a custard-like texture while the crunch from the semolina-infused crust and densely woven seed mixture give a wonderful contrast. When toasted I find the flavors actually amply further and the bread, specifically the crumb, takes on another level of brittleness that crackles constantly. It’s exemplary with good quality cultured butter and cheeses of all types (more below).
The dark, tawny crust is so thin and crunchy it feels like this bread was wrapped tightly in a splintery cracker. The semolina has to play a role here, as does the high hydration and further impacted by the seed soaker. Speaking of seeds, the ominous look of the dark seeded exterior is a sight to behold. I showed these loaves to a few family members and their initial reaction is always: “wow that’s beautiful.” I have to say though, the only downside to these seeds and cracker-like crust: a messy kitchen after slicing. Worth it!
The crust has to be one of my favorite parts of this bread, but then there’s the crumb.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that finding the right texture for this type of bread can be challenging. I went heavy with the proof and pushed it as far as I felt possible. The dough was incredibly gassy and light, and this shows here in the interior. The entire loaf was very well fermented, extremely tender and gelatinized through and through. I found that the soft, succulent interior of this bread works really well with the seeds and crust.
When you first see the outside of one of these loaves from the oven, you might think this bread is going to be way too flavor-forward, but as I said, in the beginning, I wasn’t looking for that with this formula. The loaf seems imposing, yes, even the interior, but when you taste it, you’ll see it’s more subtle than initial thoughts might indicate. Not including seeds like caraway, the loaf has just nudges of the seed flavors but nothing overpowering.
As mentioned earlier, I had a slice spread with a mixture of goat cheese, crushed pink peppercorn, lemon zest and a drizzle of Amabile extra virgin olive oil2 that was just out of this world. The hearty flavors of the seeds were balanced by the citrus flavors, mellow goat cheese, and fruity olive oil — I could live on this.
I have to say I really like this reworking of my seeded sourdough, perhaps even more so than my original. Maybe I have learned a thing or two baking relentlessly for the past 3 years after all?
If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look!