Why do I call this bread Champlain Sourdough?
Because I live on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain (in Vermont).
I made the starter here. I bake the bread here. And this is my favorite all-purpose loaf. I make it more often than any other. This is my go-to recipe, and it best typifies my style of bread and method of bread baking.
If I were to have a signature loaf, this would be it.
So as far as I’m concerned, this is the bread of the Champlain Islands. And since Jeffrey Hamelman already popularized the name “Vermont Sourdough“, I’ll keep mine a bit more local and call it “Champlain Sourdough”.
This is an ever-changing loaf. Though I’ve provided a recipe here, it’s really just an example of the archetypal loaf I make. I’m often tweaking something here or there. But there are some commonalities that typify the Champlain Sourdough:
1) It’s a mostly white bread with a whole grain percentage ranging from 10-15%. This keeps the loaf light and versatile while offering enough whole grain to keep the flavor interesting and robust. I typically make the dough with bread flour (except when I’m out) because I prefer the dough quality and the slight chewiness bread flour confers, but you can sub all-purpose flour if you like.
2) The whole grain content keeps a close ratio of 2 parts whole spelt and/or whole wheat to 1 part whole rye. I’m particularly enamored with the 2 to 1 ratio of spelt to rye — I consider it the representative flavor of Champlain Sourdough — but I occasionally throw in some whole wheat just to mix things up (or if I’m running low on spelt).
There’s just something compelling about this combination of whole spelt and whole rye. I absolutely adore the flavor profile it gives. And the 2 to 1 ratio scales beautifully. What I mean by that is you can take this ratio to whole grain percentages as high as you want.
For example, you can make a high percentage whole grain loaf consisting of 40% whole spelt and 20% whole rye. The profile still remains perfectly balanced, you just get a much stronger whole grain flavor and a heartier heavier loaf.
And on the occasion that I mix in some whole wheat, I still keep that 2 to 1 ratio. A common recipe for me is to use 5% whole wheat, 5% whole spelt, and 5% whole rye. That keeps the amount of wheat/spelt at twice that of the rye. The balance remains the same, just a slightly different flavor profile than using all spelt.
I also often use that same ratio in other non-Champlain Sourdough breads. An example would be my European Peasant Bread, which is 11% whole wheat, 11% whole spelt, and 11% whole rye. It keeps that 2 to 1 ratio of whole spelt/whole wheat to rye, but just ups the amount to create a much hardier loaf.
This 2 to 1 ratio of whole spelt to whole rye is the signature flavor of Champlain Sourdough.
3) Hydration typically ranges from 70-75%. This is not a super hydrated Tartine-style country loaf. I’m not usually going for a ridiculously open crumb when I make this bread. That said, even at these hydration percentages you can still get a very open crumb if you handle the dough properly . . .
This particular loaf probably isn’t the best example of the moderately open crumb I typically strive for — it’s a bit too open — but it goes to show that you don’t need highly hydrated dough to achieve a light and open crumb. It’s a good thing I wasn’t planning on making sandwiches with this loaf.
4) This should be a long fermented dough. I’m originally from California so I’ve a taste for tangy breads. The starter can be either stiff or liquid (I use both depending on the occasion, with the stiffer starter providing more flavor and tang).
The key is to use a fully mature starter (8-12 hours old, but not overripe and proteolytic), in a small amount (typically I use 50 grams for an 800 gram loaf). This usually works out to around 5% pre-fermented flour, plus or minus a percent or two.
I try to get around 8-10 hours total fermentation time at around 78 degrees Fahrenheit. That usually works out to about 6 hours bulk fermentation, 1 hour while it rests after pre-rounding, and another 3 hours for proofing.
If I can get 10 hours I’m a happy camper — that seems to give me the best flavor. Of course, times vary with the weather and circumstance so I’m flexible.
I don’t typically retard my loaves because I prefer the flavor I get from the warmer fermentation, but feel free to adjust fermentation times and retard your loaf if you prefer. Retarding the loaf will also help you get a more open crumb if that’s what you’re after.
5) One last feature of Champlain Sourdough is that I almost always use the “pre-mix” method that I described in this post. While not a required part of the process, this method of mixing will enhance your loaf in several ways: improved flavor, improved dough quality (gluten development and extensibility), and improved crumb (more open). Pretty much all the benefits you’d expect from a long autolyse, just to a higher degree. To put it simply . . .
Pre-mixing your dough ahead of time helps you take your loaf to that next level.
I find it to be even more effective than a simple autolyse, and for that reason I consider it a stand-out feature of the Champlain Sourdough process.
So with all that said, below you’ll find a recipe that consists of the most common iteration of Champlain Sourdough that I make. It’s a 70% hydration dough with 12% whole grain (8% spelt, 4% rye). Unless I’m playing around, this recipe is my default. It is the quintessential Champlain Sourdough.
Champlain Sourdough Recipe
389g Bread Flour
38g Whole Spelt Flour
19g Whole Rye Flour
50g Starter @ 100% Hydration (25g All-Purpose Flour/25g Water)
As noted above, I “pre-mix” this dough. The evening prior to bake day I’ll weigh out all my flour, water and salt; and quickly mix it all up into a shaggy lump — just as if I was making an autolyse. Be sure your ingredients are more or less evenly incorporated, but don’t mix to the point of developing the gluten.
Cover this mixture and toss it into the fridge for a few hours. Because this mixture is going to sit for so long, it’s helpful to chill the dough to prevent too much wild fermentation and enzymatic activity. The inclusion of salt helps with that.
Don’t worry though, even with the inclusion of the salt this pre-mixed dough will still show all the attributes of a long-autolyzed dough, and then some.
Right before you go to bed, take the dough out of the fridge and set it on the counter to slowly come up to room temp overnight. By the time you get to it next morning it should be just the right temperature.
2. Add Starter
Weigh out your starter and add it to your dough (it helps to use a clean bowl here). The technique I use to make sure the starter is fully incorporated into the dough is best understood by watching the video.
Basically, you just want to spread the starter out on top of the dough then dimple it in to help work it deeper into the dough. Then you’re gonna fold the dough over itself several times to create layers of starter and dough sandwiched on top of each other.
Next, you’ll knead the dough by rolling it into itself over and over. This expands the number of starter layers exponentially and spreads it throughout the entire batch of dough.
Just a warning though: because the dough sat overnight the gluten has already pretty much developed. If you roll the dough too tight you’ll begin tearing the gluten sheets.
As soon as you feel the dough really starting to tighten it’s time to take a break and let it relax for a few minutes. I usually knead the dough for 5-10 minutes to start, then take a 10-15 minute break to let the dough relax, then come back for a few more minutes of kneading at the end.
Adjust as necessary.
It really shouldn’t take too much effort to work the starter into the dough. Especially if you’re using a liquid starter. If you’re using a stiffer starter, you may need to add another start/stop mix cycle to be sure it’s completely mixed in. But even so, I’ve never needed more than 3 start/stop cycles over the course of 30 minutes to get it spread all the way throughout.
3. Bulk Fermentation/Folds
This dough should take 4-6 hours before it’s ready to shape. Preferably closer to 6. If the weather is too warm I might lower the amount of starter to make sure I hit my target. I’ve gone as low as 25 grams of starter, and as long as 8 hours bulk.
Adjust as you see fit.
The thing to pay attention to is proof volume. You don’t want this dough doubled in size. That’s too far gone and you’ll degas the dough during handling. You want to keep it slightly young. You need enough air inside for it to hold its shape instead of flattening out, but not so much that the dough deflates to any degree.
I usually eyeball about a 30-50% rise, but that’s just an approximation. What I really judge is the feel of the dough as I fold it. It’s a far more accurate method to determine degree of proof, but not so easy to describe. It’s just one of those things that you pick up over time. But know this, if your dough degases even in the slightest when you handle it, then you’re either being too rough or the dough was too proofy.
I try to fold this dough hourly, but don’t let the folds run your day. You’re still gonna get good bread even if you don’t fold the dough at all.
But folding does improve the strength and structure of the dough. And it helps in lengthening the bulk fermentation due to the tension it builds into the dough (more tension requires more force to expand, thus necessitating a greater quantity of gas to achieve the same volume of proof).
Fold the dough in the bowl, as shown in the video. If you tip it out to fold it on a floured bench you’re gonna change the consistency of the dough, and you’re gonna damage it. Don’t compromise the integrity of your dough. It won’t be pleased with you, and doing so will result in a tighter denser crumb.
Easier demonstrated than described, so watch the video. Just be sure to be gentle at all times here. The rougher your hands, the tighter the crumb. So handle the dough with a light touch, but keep your movements quick and confident. Practice makes perfect.
As far as for how long to let your pre-round relax before shaping, 30-60 minutes should do. I usually aim for a 1 hour bench rest after pre-rounding. I find I get a better shaped loaf and greater oven spring with the longer wait.
But that’s dependent upon achieving the proper degree of proof before I turn out my dough (and how fast it’s rising). If I have a leisurely proofing dough, and judged the timing right, then a 1 hour bench rest usually isn’t a problem. If I misjudged (which I do from time to time) then I’ll shape whenever the loaf is ready.
How do you know if your pre-round is ready for shaping? See my article about proper benchwork for more detailed information on pre-rounding and the signs I look for before shaping.
I like to proof this loaf seam-side up in a linen-lined basket lightly dusted with rice flour. Of course, you can proof it in the basket without the linen if you prefer. You’ll get a better defined line pattern that way.
I prefer to proof in linen tea towels for a few reasons: 1) it guarantees the dough won’t stick to the basket. 2) it provides a convenient cover for the proofing loaf. And 3) it helps prevent “spread”, meaning the dough is more inclined to proof “up” rather than “out” making for a higher rise and a better shaped final loaf.
6. Score and Bake
I bake this loaf most often at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. I use a cast iron combo cooker (a dutch oven would work just as well) and keep the loaf covered for the first 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 25-30 minutes.
I’m aiming for a deep rich color, but I typically bake it lighter than some of the ultra-dark loaves that are popular these days. Yes, color is flavor, but I also want to make sandwiches that have a user-friendly crust. I want toast that doesn’t turn to hard brittle charcoal.
When I want super dark and crusty bread, this is not the recipe I use. Champlain Sourdough is my all-purpose loaf. And so I bake other breads when I’m looking for something super dark and crusty (which I enjoy, as well).
Sometimes, especially when I know I’ll be serving this bread to kids, I only bake it at 425F for 45 minutes. It makes a wonderful lightly colored and soft-crusted bread that’s easy on the jaw and perfect for toast.
All that said, score and bake this loaf however you prefer.
7. Cool and Enjoy
You know the drill — wait at least 2 hours before cutting into the loaf. You want the crumb to be fully set before you dig in, and the flavor will continue to improve the longer you wait.
But I know, I know . . . hot bread is hard to resist. So go for it if that’s what you’re craving. I won’t tell.
So that’s Champlain Sourdough for ya. I hope you found the video helpful and that you give this recipe a try. If you do, be sure and tell me your thoughts in the comments section. And if you have any questions be sure to ask them.
Trevor J. Wilson