Whole Wheat – Polenta Sourdough

I’ve been a little accident-prone lately. Which is to say, careless. In the past five days I’ve managed to smash a tailbone, a toe, and a finger (I’m fine, really). Luckily, my latest accident involved no bodily injury and resulted in a very nice bread.

My intention was to use 400 grams of whole wheat sourdough starter in this whole-grain bread, but instead of weighing it out I blithely dumped in the whole lot of it, which I’m pretty sure was about 550 grams. By the time I realized the error of my ways, it was too late and there was nothing for it except forge ahead and see what developed.

As it turned out, the addition of the extra sourdough did not seem a bad thing at all. Gluten development is tricky to begin with in 100% whole-grain breads, and the inclusion of quite a lot of coarse polenta here did not help matters any, but the acidity in sourdough helps to reinforce gluten structure. Also, I found the combination of the sourness with the sweetness of the molasses to be interesting and delicious.

That said, there are a few things I might do differently on the next go-around:

  • Develop the gluten before adding the soaker, then mix just enough to incorporate the soaker. Adding the molasses to the soaker might be better also, to keep it out of the dough until the end but make it relatively easy to incorporate.
  • Decrease the first fermentation time and increase the proofing time. Although I don’t mind the density of the bread, I think it could have handled a little more proofing.
  • Shape into two or three small batards rather than a boule. I like to be able to slice these dense breads very thinly, which is difficult with a broad loaf.
  • Pay attention.

If you aren’t fond of heavily-textured breads that require some effort in the chewing, don’t make this. However, for a little less crunch to the polenta, you could try hot water, and a little more of it, in the soaker.

This is my submission for BreadBakingDay #13, Whole Grain Breads, hosted by Jude (Apple Pie, Patis, and Paté) and founded by Zorra (1x umrühren bitte aka kochtopf).

Whole Wheat – Polenta Sourdough

(This is the recipe as I made it. See notes above for possible modifications.)

Yield: 1500 g (one large boule)


  • Soak soaker: 8 hours (do this while you’re elaborating your starter)
  • Mix final dough: 15 minutes
  • First fermentation : 1.75 hours with a fold at 50 minutes
  • Preshape, and rest: 30 minutes
  • Proof: 45 minutes
  • Bake: 70 minutes

Desired dough temperature: 77F

Soaker Ingredients:

  • 200 g coarsely-ground polenta
  • 200 g whole wheat flour
  • 300 g water

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • 200 g whole wheat flour
  • 50 g water
  • 16 g salt
  • 550 g mature 100%-hydration whole wheat sourdough starter
  • All of the soaker
  • 80 g molasses


  1. In a bowl, combine the soaker ingredients. Cover and let rest for about 8 hours.
  2. Combine all of the final dough ingredients. Mix by hand until the ingredients are incorporated. Adjust the water as needed to achieve a soft (and sticky) consistency.
  3. Continue mixing by hand until the dough has reached a low level of gluten development. This might take about 10 minutes. You will probably not be able to pull a windowpane, but you should see definite strands of gluten in the dough. It will still be very sticky and will not have much elasticity.
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured container. Cover and ferment for 1.75 hours, with a fold after the first 50 minutes. The dough will increase about 50% in volume and feel spongy, but without large gas bubbles.
  5. Turn the dough into a lightly floured counter. Preshape it into a ball and let it rest, covered, for 25 minutes.
  6. Shape the dough into a tight ball and place it, right-side-up, on parchment or a floured board. Slash the loaf once across its full width, about 1/2-inch deep, at a 90-degree angle to the loaf.
  7. Proof, covered, for 45 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 425F. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes with steam, and another 45 minutes or so without steam. Then turn off the oven and leave the loaves in for another 15 minutes, with the door ajar.
  10. Cool on a wire rack.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    Very nice looking bread! I love the flavor, color, and texture that coarse cornmeal adds to bread.
    I am quite surprised at the short baking time. 1.5 kg makes a huge boule (it’s only 0.5 kg shy of a Poilane miche)…

  2. says

    I’ve always wanted to try scoring before proofing and see what happens. It’s supposed to be advisable for denser breads like this?
    The crumb looks so nice with the yellow specks. Reminds me of anadama bread.

  3. says

    Good to see you back! Hope you’re feeling good. That bread looks wonderful, I love the color contrast from the cornmeal. I’m sure it tastes just as good!

  4. says

    Hey Susan,
    All the way over here in Turkey, that bread looks delightful, I guess I will try my hand some non-sourdough, Bagels have been requested! Hope your injuries heal quickly, but it’s good excuse for baking more bread!
    Recently Nils made a soaker rye sourdough loaf, it had me wondering if adding the soaker into the sourdough makes any difference? Something to ponder.

  5. says

    Susan that is a fine looking loaf of bread! I have not worked with sourdough and you are inspiring me, especially with the addition of polenta. I imagine this bread is good toasted with some good sweet butter on top.

  6. says

    What a fabulous loaf–I’m jealous. I gotta admit I feel about this BBD as I did the sprouts one. Combined with the surgery I just had and the time of year (i.e., it is hot) I keep wavering on whether to to try to get this one done or not. I’m glad to see yours, at least it put me back in mind of it–and since I already found a recipe, the battle is half won, right? Now I just gotta feel like moving!

    I’m sorry to hear about your tailbone, toe and finger, btw. I am feeling particularly empathetic to bodily woes right now….

  7. says

    Looks like a good accident to me! It’s a very pretty loaf.
    Bread baking is one medium that is pretty accident friendly, I find. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like it so much! (as an accident prone and clumsy person).

  8. says

    Ooowwwwwww!! Broken tailbone. Not fun. I hope you don’t have to spend too much time in a car…

    But lovely accident with the bread. I bet this is delicious very thinly sliced, lightly toasted and spread with goat’s cheese.

  9. says

    rainbowbrown, thanks! Yes, intense is a good word.

    maybelle’s mom, strong mustard, great idea!

    Erin, thank you!

    Boaz, I make an 1800-gram miche that bakes for about the same amount of time. Of course baking times vary by individual oven and the rule is always “bake until done.” :)

    Jude, yes, the theory is that scoring prior to proofing whole grain breads helps the slashes better maintain their definition.

    Chavi, thanks!

    Jeremy, I hope you’re enjoying your time over there!

    Kim, I hope to see some sourdough from you soon.

    Mary, thank you!

    Laura, I hope you have a speedy recovery. I really think you’ll do this BBD.

    Jane, sometimes I’ve had disastrous accidents but quite a lot of happy ones as well. Keeps it interesting, anyway!

    Elizabeth, bruised but not broken. Toasted with goat cheese is wonderful.

  10. says

    Susan, the bread looks delicious. I would have never known the result was due to an accident! I hope you are feeling better..take care

  11. says

    Wonderful recipe….I tweaked slightly, using whole wheat in the soaker, but high-gluten flour plus 100 g wheat germ in the dough. Mine was a little less dense than your picture, but still wonderfully flavorful and chewy. I love the huge miche that this recipe made; it really highlighted the chew of the crumb….I’m inspired to make bigger loaves with other recipes because sometimes my bread is so crusty that the great chew is sort of lost in the crunch.

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  14. Paul Schenck says

    Ouch! This mistake blows my mind? I’m recommending Dusty Bun Bistro in Fresno adapt this idea to make a chibata bun and take their 100% grass fed beef burgers and lay them out on a bun that can match them.
    Any recommendations?


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