White Sonora Sourdough

I ordered white Sonora wheat berries on a whim. I was already ordering some flour from Hayden Flour Mills in Arizona and I decided to just add a bag to my order. I’m so glad I did. This white Sonora sourdough recipe is comprised of a good chunk of whole grain wheat flour and yet doesn’t taste anything like like it.

White Sonora is a soft white wheat that is not typically used for hearth loaves but used more frequently as a basis for food like tortillas. However, there are some bakers, namely Josey Baker in California, making some excellent bread from this wheat. Early in my trials with this flour I made some unexpectedly fantastic loaves, and these early bakes tipped me off to what would ultimately be my focus for this bread: the crust.

There’s something special about the way this flour bakes. The smell of the finished dark crust, and this is amplified when toasted, is reminiscent of a freshly baked pizza pulled just from the oven. You know, one of those magnificent Neapolitan pizzas baked in less than 2 minutes that’s still bubbling and slightly scarred from the searing oven. It has a creamy and sweet smell to it, and even though the resulting loaves look rustic and crunchy it is surprisingly soft and supple. I mentioned in my previous post on my favorite sourdough recipe how I love the crust above almost everything else, and this flour makes that statement true a thousand times over.white sonora sourdough crustAside from fantastic bread, I’ve used this fresh milled flour in several things around my kitchen, most notably, pancakes. Talk about a light and fluffy pancake! This flour made the pancakes sweeter than traditional wheat (if you make these I’d suggest holding back any added sugar) and incredibly light and airy (I make them with folded in egg whites). I could see using this flour in other foods too, like scones, flaky Southern style biscuits and cookies. In fact, I plan to tackle a few of these self-suggestions starting this weekend… But first let’s talk about milling these wonderful little berries.GrainMakerI just had to share this photo. The big, shiny, red GrainMaker is an instant hit with the little one. In fact, they actually warn you about this in the manual (the mill is a massive, heavy beast so you do want to keep an eye on it, the handle is very tempting for a kid to swing on). My son, Luca, gets a huge grin on his face when he sees me pull out the mill. To him it must be the most tempting item ever placed on the counter. I always let him try and turn the crank a few times, a sort of Sword in the Stone test, but much to his sadness his strength is still a few years out.

Flour Selection

White Sonora is an old wheat variety, in fact it’s one of the oldest surviving wheat varieties in North America. It is remarkably drought resistant and grows well in the Southwest region of the USA where freezing temperatures are less common. It was once used heavily on the West coast before hybridized wheat varieties were developed and all but pushed it out. It seems like this grain is making somewhat of a comeback and thankfully you can now find it at several places online1.

White Sonora wheat is one of the oldest surviving wheat varieties anywhere in North AmericaSlow Food USA

If you’re interested in trying to source some Sonora for yourself, see my Resources section at the end of this post for a few places that carry it — raw berries and fresh milled. I’m confident you will not regret ordering a sack or two, even if you don’t use it in bread (but I hope you do).

I know not everyone has access to this flour, or raw berries, but you can for the most part equate this wheat with an “all purpose” flour — that is a flour with lower protein levels. The same process and formula below will work well with many all purpose flour varieties out there.hayden flour mills white sonoraI have been working on a formula that will produce a loaf that is open and light, yet still contains a hefty percentage of the soft Sonora wheat. I ended up with a combination of Central Milling Organic High Mountain Hi-Gluten flour, Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour and of course, freshly milled Hayden Flour Mills white Sonora wheat. The thought here is to add a bit more strength to the weaker white Sonora with stronger flour and you could do the same with something like King Arthur Bread Flour or another flour with higher protein levels (somewhere near 13%).

White Sonora Wheat & Milling

White Sonora berries are a round grain that have a slightly pale color and when milled, the flour turns a lovely yellowish hue reminiscent of very light zabaione.fresh milled white sonora wheatBeautifully fine, fluffy, light of color and a smell similar to fresh cream — intoxicating. With my GrainMaker I’m able to mill the grain to an almost powdery texture, so light in fact that the grain floats up a bit and sticks to the burrs and dust guard. This creates a small mess but the results are worth it: extremely small bran/germ particles and the flour cakes in your hand when squeezed: a good sign that healthy oils from the grain are still present in the flour.white sonora wheat freshly milledGrainMaker flour mill

White Sonora Sourdough Recipe

Vitals

Total dough weight: 1800g
Pre-fermented flour: 6.0%
Hydration: 85%
Yield: 2 x 900g loaves
If you want to halve this recipe just take all ingredients (including the amount of levain used in the final mix) and divide by 2.white sonora sourdough shun

Levain Build

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
35g Mature liquid starter (100% hydration) 50%
35g Giusto’s Stoneground Whole Wheat 50%
35g Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour 50%
70g H2O @ room temperature 100%

Dough Formula

Note that the baker’s percentages listed below are with respect to the final dough ingredients and do not take into account the levain.

Target final dough temperature (FDT) is 78ºF.

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
353g Fresh milled White Sonora 39.42%
306g Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour 34.13%
237g Central Milling Hi Mountain Hi-Gluten Flour 26.46%
9g Diastatic Malt (optional) 1.06%
753g H2O @ 90ºF 84.13%
18g Fine sea salt 2.01%
130g Mature, liquid levain 14.55%

I added a small amount of diastatic malt to this formula to help color the crust even more and get that nice caramelization during the bake. The malt is completely optional and you’ll still get bread that is just as fantastic without it. I like to use this diastatic malt, made in the USA, but any will work just fine.

dough in bulk fermentation

Method

1. Levain – 9:00 a.m.

Build the liquid levain in the morning and store somewhere warm around 77-80ºF ambient. Alternatively, you can build your levain in the evening the night before and leave out at cooler, room temperatures (around 72ºF) and it should be ready in 10-12 hours.

2. Autolyse – 10:30 a.m.

Mix flour and water (reserve 50g water for mix, later) very well in a bowl and cover. Ensure all dry flour is hydrated. Store near levain (we want the temperature of the dough to remain warm).

3. Mix, Step 1 – 2:30 p.m.

For the first step scoop out the required amount of levain on top of your autolysed dough and using about 30g of the reserved water hand mix the levain into the dough so it’s incorporated.

Dump the dough out onto a dry, flourless counter and slap and fold for approximately 3 minutes. A very quick slap/fold session here at the beginning helps get the dough off to a strengthened start. As the flour is a bit weaker I find it helps to slightly develop the dough at the beginning, and then proceed through bulk per normal with stretch/folds.

If you prefer not to slap/fold on the counter you can build strength in another way, such as stretch and folds in the mixing bowl. Perhaps somewhere close to 30-40 rotations. You want the dough to start to hold its shape and lose just a tad of that shaggy look.

Let the dough rest 30 minutes before proceeding to Mix Step 2 (where we add salt).

4. Mix, Step 2 – 3:00 p.m.

30 minutes later spread the salt on top of the dough and use the remaining water to help dissolve. Mix thoroughly with your hand to get the salt incorporated, but no need to mix too intensively as we’ve already strengthened the dough enough at Step 1.

Transfer dough to a tub or thick-walled bowl for bulk fermentation.

5. Bulk Fermentation – 3:00 p.m.

At 78-82ºF ambient temperature bulk fermentation should go for about 4 hours. Perform 6 sets of stretch and folds during bulk. The first three are at 15 minute intervals, and the last 3 are at 30 minute intervals. After the last set of stretch and folds let the dough rest, covered for the remainder of bulk fermentation.

6. Divide & Preshape – 7:05 p.m.

Divide the dough into two masses, each scaled at 800 grams (essentially the dough mass in half). Lightly shape each mass into a round, cover with inverted bowl or moist towel, and let rest for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes remove the towel or bowl and let the dough rest 5 more minutes exposed to air.

7. Shape – 7:25 p.m.

Lightly flour the top of your dough rounds and flour the work surface. Use a little extra flour on the work surface and ensure your hands are nice and floured, shaping this white Sonora can be tricky as it wants to fall apart easily and stick to just about everything.

Shape as a batard or boule and place seam side up in a proofing basket or banneton.

8. Rest & Proof – 7:25 p.m.

Cover your banneton with plastic and immediately retard in the refrigerator at 38ºF for 12-13 hours.

9. Bake – Next Morning: Preheat oven at 6:00am, Bake at 7:30 a.m.

Preheat oven for 1.5 hours at 500ºF. Bake 20 minutes at 500ºF with steam, and an additional 35-40 minutes at 450ºF, until done to your liking. These loaves took a little extra time in my oven (about 10 minutes), keep an eye on them at the end and go until they have a nice and dark crust.white sonora sourdough shaped and bakingwhite sonora sourdoughI steamed my oven in my usual way, described here in my post on how to steam your home oven for baking.

Conclusion

From my very first trials baking this white Sonora sourdough my focus for this has been all about the crust. That first taste gets you hooked so bad you can’t see anything else besides that next bite of crust, chomping down until you realize you’ve eaten half the loaf. It’s a dangerous thing, this golden bread.

It’s scary to think that this wheat variety was almost lost to us, and is just now starting to come back and become available. What was once a prominently used grain in North America, almost totally abandoned for one reason or another — I’m glad the hard work of these local farmers help to keep this wonderful grain available. It also makes me wonder, what other varieties have we lost to time?

Crust

white sonora sourdough crust detailsMy foreshadowing at the beginning of this post is reiterated here: the crust is something very, very special with this bread. It bakes to a shiny, golden hue that crackles and crunches as you bite. In the batard above I slashed a bit differently to get that “double ear” you see there (theres an edge on both the left and right side). To get this effect you slash straight down the center with the blade at a 90º angle with the dough (perpendicular). I did this in some of my later bakes with this bread because I wanted even more of a dramatic opening in the middle. That open area is a little softer than the surrounding crust and is flaky & thin — it almost resembles pastry. If I could magically make the entire loaf open up this way I surely would.

Crumb

white sonora sourdough crumbA cream colored crumb cannot be a bad thing, and in this case it surely is not. Very tender, light and no sour notes or bitterness to speak of.

I had to shape this bread rather gently to preserve the open structure of the crumb. The soft white wheat almost tears if you tug on it too intensely, you’re hands need to be gentle yet confident. I believe I could open things up even more through fewer shaping movements and more practice. Of course we are always walking that fine line between sufficient tension and gentle handling.

Taste

white sonora crumb
Beautiful gelatinization and translucent webbing throughout. This bread that has a good chunk of whole wheat flour in it, yet tastes nothing even remotely close to whole wheat. It’s sweet and creamy, absolutely no bitterness present and holds up surprisingly well to robust flavored accompaniment like sharp cheddar or gorgonzola. However, I have found a special fondness to toasted, slightly warm slices topped with thinly shaved manchego. Heaven.

Buon appetito and may the crust be with you! (…hey, I just watched Star Wars, a second time)white sonora sourdough darkwhite sonora sourdough crust

White Sonora Resources

Hayden Flour Mills

This is where I purchased my 10 pound sack of White Sonora berries for milling. A really great resource for not only white Sonora but other grains, especially if you live in Arizona!

http://www.haydenflourmills.com/

Grist & Toll

At the time of this writing fresh milled white Sonora flour is available here (no wheat berries, their offering is already milled). Grist & Toll has a fantastic reputation for high quality grains.

http://www.gristandtoll.com/products/

Roan Mills

A family owned farm based in California with a wide variety of hard-to-find grains and flour.

http://roanmills.com/

Delitaliana

I have not purchased from this supplier, but they indicate their white Sonora is grown organically in California, available through their Amazon store.

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  • JMK

    I wasn’t in love with the flavor of this flour. After a couple experiments I found it tasted good mixed with sweet malt flavors. I ground malted barley from the beer store and used a fairly large quantity. Malt tends to make the dough gummy, but white Sonoran has such weak gluten it doesn’t really harm anything more than exists already.

    • Did you find just a lack of flavor overall or the specific taste? I find it to have a subtle sweet flavor to it, and the crust is light and crackly with no bitterness at all, pretty fantastic! I agree with malt, I try to steer clear from using too much as the interior will get gummy. It’s a balance for sure, to get a nice color on the crust without going overboard. Good point on that balance here with this bread, since Sonora is so soft it could take on more malt. I’ll have to give that shot. Thanks for the comments!

  • May the crust be with you! Ha. Well done. That needs to be on a shirt. Fantastic post, Maurizio. You nailed the bread – just beautiful. And pancakes! I cooked up some home-milled Sonora pancakes over the weekend and they were without a doubt the best I’ve ever made. Wow that flavor. In terms of the bread recipe, my longest autolyse thus far is 2 1/2 hours but it looks like you went with 4. Did I get that right? I was reading “Bread” last night, and happened to come across the section where Hamelman discusses how softer wheats benefit from more strengthening. A long autolyse would certainly speak to that. It’s a bit counterintuitive since you might think the softer wheat would start to break down with too much work (not sure what the science is on that). It’s all a fascinating balance. In your Sonora/T70 experiments, was the hydration and levain % about the same? I plan to try this formula subbing in the T70.

    • I really like that shirt idea! I’d wear that for sure. Thanks for the comments!

      Yes, I went with a much longer autolyse here, and I think it helped pull out more sugars from the flour (to get an even nicer color on the crust) and it helped add a tad of extensibility to the dough. When working with the Sonora I knew I’d have to add a bit more strength in the dough so that was the reason I added that short slap/fold session at the beginning, and it really helped. I might have been able to go a few more minutes, but I didn’t want to risk overworking the dough so early, the surface started to slightly tear and that’s when I call it quits.

      Yes, I am pretty sure the hydration was the same, if not a tad higher. I found that sack of T70 I had could really take on extra water. So yeah, very close hydration numbers!

      Good luck, let me know how it goes, of course!

  • Hi Maurizio, a couple of questions. First of all though, this crust is truly beautiful. And the little fella too. I just sent my baby to college this year but happily he reported over Christmas that he would welcome regular deliveries of freshly baked bread to campus because he’s not eating all that well (he is only a couple hour drive away) so this provides even more motivation to progress with my baking. I mentioned in IG that your blog has truly been a wonderful resource for me, so thank you again. I made my first what I consider really great loaf over the weekend and it was such a great feeling and so delicious. As to the questions: (1) I noticed that in some of your recipes you do the autolyse mix first and then a short time later either add the liquid levain plus the remaining water, or break up the stiff levain and the additional water, over the autolyse . . . and in other recipes you do as Tartine calls for and mix the levain & liquid, and flour and water, all together at once, and then the additional water and salt later. Is there a reason or can you direct me to the post where you discuss this? (2) When you were in the beginning stages of break baking, how did you gauge how long to bake the bread for? I am in Los Angeles, I have a quite cold 1911 craftsman bungalow house with truly ancient EVERYTHING and a sloping kitchen floor which means I put the oven on a brick to try to evenly distribute the heat so I am just copiously taking notes and accounting for all of the different variables. I do have heat in the home, but hate to keep it on non-stop. I may need to invest in a proofing box. But anyhow, do you measure the temp of your loaf while it is baking? A couple of times I’ve taken it out too late because the rise/spring died and partially shrunk, but the bread didn’t have that nice crust and also sounded really wet and heavy when I tapped. I’ve also found my combo baker burns the bottom of the crust about 25% more than I’d like, as well as almost always causes sticking so that I can’t retrieve the bread without some gymnastics and abuse to the loaf. If I use oil it still burns and even worse but doesn’t stick. I realize I’ll have to figure most of this out on my own, which is half the fun, but I’d love your thoughts/experience. Thanks!

    • Thank you, Sue! I’m so glad to hear of the recent baking success, that makes me happy. Your questions:

      1. A true “autolyse” is always just flour + water, no levain. I always have an autolyse step at the beginning, where I later add my levain to, and then later add salt. These are always the steps. Sometimes I add the levain and the salt together right away, and at other times I let the dough ferment a bit longer before adding the salt. Salt, among other things, slows fermentation so I sometimes let the levain get a foothold in before slowing things down. I’ve found this helps get the dough much more active, quicker. You can do whatever works for you, but I suggest giving the dough that 30 minutes before adding salt. So to clarify, there are three steps there really: 1) autolyse with just flour and water, typically for 1.5 hours but anywhere from 1 hour to overnight; 2) add levain to autolysed dough; 3) add salt.

      2. I used the Tartine baking times and temperatures as my first guide, but then quickly changed things to suit my preferences. I now almost always bake 20 minutes @ 500F with steam, and then around 30 minutes @ 450F without steam. Each loaf is different, sadly, so at the end of the baking time I pull them out when I think they look “done”. To me “done” is when the loaf is baked nice and dark, almost too dark, but just before 🙂 It’s whatever you enjoy, really. Do you like that dark crust or do you prefer a more pale one? Up to you! Some books recommend an internal dough temp of 212F but I stopped taking the temperature probably 1 week after I started baking 🙂 I’m not sure if that all helps, but really I just use that starting guideline and adjust that remaining 30 minutes up/down depending on how the bread looks. If you want to try and prevent the bottom of the loaf from burning in the Dutch oven, when you uncover it turn the lid upside down and then quickly place the side that is containing the loaf inside the flipped lid — this helps create a temperature buffer of sorts.

      I’d also like to mention that baking times can drastically change when you add certain ingredients in your bread. For example, if you add raisins, which are very sugary, you might have to reduce the temperature and/or time of your bake because the added sugar in the loaf will cause the crust to darken rather quickly. In this instance I’ll keep a close eye on the loaf at the beginning to see if it starts to color too quickly.

      I hope that helps, it’s a lot of info to digest!

      • Thank you for taking the time to so thoroughly answer my questions. I like dark crust! I am about to go online shopping for some more baking tools which should be very enjoyable. 🙂

  • Maree Tink

    Beautiful! What a great right of passage, waiting patiently to be able to grind the grain. 🙂

  • MakingBakingNana

    Hi maurizio
    I would like to make just one loaf…….do I use the full amount or levain or half that too? I love your site by the way ?

    • Thanks, I appreciate that! If you are halving the recipe, also halve the amount of levain you would use in the final mix: instead of 130g use 65g.
      Happy baking!

  • lindy

    Hi Maurizio,
    I am still stuck on the Sonora bread I made after reading your first blog on it. I’ve also tried the more recent Spelt experiment, but my first love is Sonora Wheat. I just wanted you to know, if you didn’t already, that BKW farms in AZ sells an organic Sonora Wheat at a really great price. I bought 30 lbs. of it for a little over a dollar a pound. Thanks again, as always for keeping us posted. It’s a service bakers crave!

    Lindy

    • I’ll have to look into BKW, sounds like a great resource! I still have some Sonora berries I mill from time-to-time and I just fall in love with that flavor all over again. Thanks for the comments, I really appreciate that!

  • Molly

    Hi Maurizio,
    I’ve been trying out some of your recipes lately and have been loving the results. My only issue is that I’m not getting great oven spring (although the crumb is lovely and open) and I’m trying to figure out why. My current guess is that I’m retarding for too long in the fridge overnight, and I was wondering if you think that could be it. If I made the recipe above, for example, starting relatively early on the first morning and getting the dough into the refrigerator by mid or late afternoon, baking the next morning around 7am, do you think it’s likely over-proofing? Curious to hear what you think, although of course it’s hard to diagnose these things at a distance.
    Thanks!

    • Molly,
      So glad to hear that your bakes are turning out well! Like you said it’s really hard to diagnose at a distance without more details. I find that about a 8-12 hour proof in the fridge (at 37-38ºF) is usually safe for most people, in general. Of course this depends on the dough and how it’s developing, the flour used, percentage of levain, etc.

      If the interior of your loaf has lots of really small holes, tastes a little on the sour side, and doesn’t rise as high as you’d like it could be that you are overproofing. Try cutting back your proof time in the fridge 2 hours and see if you get more rise next time.

      If the interior is very dense, gummy and you have stunted rise it could be that your dough is actually underproofed and needs more time in bulk, or at a warmer temperature. The telltale sign of this condition are dense areas in your dough with potentially some large holes here and there.

      Finally, it could be simply your shaping is not tight enough and so your dough spreads out more than it rises up. Make sure you have a tight enough skin on the dough after shaping.

      I would recommend trying to see where your dough fits in these cases and if you think you have an idea try to keep everything as consistent as possible each time you try to solve the problem. Use the same flour, temperatures, times, etc, while adjusting a single thing at a time so you know what moves you in the right direction and what doesn’t.

      I hope that helps! Feel free to shoot me an email (Contact at top) if you’re still having issues!!

  • Matthew Wong

    Question! When you are milling fresh, do you use the flour right away or do you let it sit overnight? I’ve had some fresh milled flours used immediately into my bake, and the dough ferments aggressively fast, and they always end up over proofing.

    When I let the flour sit out uncovered overnight and use it the next morning, it proofs much more predictably.

    Was wondering what you do and if you do use flour straight after mill, how do you account for the unpredictable timeline?

    • Yes, fresh milled flour has incredible fermentation activity. I almost always use flour the same day I mill. I compensate for the activity by lowering my levain percentage to very low levels (usually single digits) and I use the fridge to proof the dough.

      When using fresh milled flour I have to really watch the dough and adjust the timeline depending on how the dough looks and feels — it keeps you on your toes!

      • Matthew Wong

        Thanks, Maurizio! Good to know. Do you think that the flavor deteriorates if you leave the flour out overnight to let it “calm down” a bit?

        I might have to give 7-8% levain a try. Is there a % you usually start with as a ballpark?

        • Hard to say definitively whether there is a decrease in flavor waiting a few more hours or night. I know that essential oils and nutrients diminish as oxidation occurs but I have never seen any scientific data on durations for that process.

          It depends on what other flours are involved with the recipe and the percentage of fresh milled flour in the recipe — if there is a significant amount I usually start right around there: 7-10% levain.

          The taste of fresh milled flour is so incredible it’s worth the little bit of experimentation and guesswork 🙂 Happy baking!

          • Matthew Wong

            Thanks, Maurizio! Always such a help!

  • James Sadler

    Thanks for this. I’ve been on the fence about trying some White Sonora wheat from a local grower in SoCal. They only sell in 50# bags so I’ve been tempted to get it, but wary at the same time since I’ve never used it. Looks like I will have to give it a try.

    • That’s a large quantity but it’s a really awesome grain. You can use it for so many other things in the kitchen as well (pancakes, waffles, cakes, etc.), I think it’s a worthy investment!