My go-to recipe when I am overwhelmed or busy with aspects of life beyond bread making is Bread #38, which I have adapted time and time again for making 20 to 50 percent whole grain breads. It is always a miracle to me when oven spring occurs and doughs turn into delicious breads. This recipe template is 100 percent successful. It doesn't matter that I am an imperfect baker, making various mistakes along the way; the breads turn out fantastic.
Now Bread #38 was a white bread, but almost every bread I have made since based on its approach has been partly whole grain. The major adjustment is adding more water. Just this week, I made two breads, a rye and a whole wheat, both of which came out of the oven looking so lovely that I found myself not wanting to ruin them by slicing them up for eating. If Plato were conceiving the ideal loaf of bread, these two would be top contenders.
Three easy steps
1. Make the sponge in the evening, put it in the fridge, and take it out the next morning. Let it mature, making lots of happy bubbles, throughout the day. Come home to a gorgeous, lively sponge.
2. Mix the sponge, some more flour, water, and salt to make the dough. Over the next hour to an hour and a half, do some stretch and folds. Notice the evolution of the dough along the way. Usually four stretch and folds, but fewer for a rye dough. Details below.
3. At the end of step #2, shape the dough and put it in the fridge for 24 hours, more or less (I'm pretty elastic on this measure). Heat up the oven and put in the already shaped dough. Remove from oven when dough is fully baked.
There you are. The approach is about as friendly as possible for incorporating bread making into a normal life.
100g starter - I have made this dough with much, much less (down to 10 grams of starter) during the summer months. Just remember to adjust the amounts of flour and water when reducing the amount of starter.
200g bread flour
125g water for breads that are 20 to 50 percent whole grain, but adjust accordingly (100g water if using all white flour)
200g whole wheat or other whole grain flour
100g bread flour
I used a rye starter for one of my breads, in which case I added only 50 grams of rye flour and put in 250 grams of bread flour. For the rye, I also added 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds. I'm not boasting when I say that I can't conceive of rye without the seeds.
add the sponge
Mix well. Cover.
Stretching and folding
The classic form of the recipe calls for four stretch and folds over the course of an hour to an hour and a half. Keep this regimen for whole grains. EXCEPT - rye breads. For the rye version, even at only 20 to 30 percent rye, do just two stretch and folds - very gingerly - over the course of an hour and a half.
Once the stretching and folding is done, shape the dough, cover it, and place it in the refrigerator for the next roughly 24 hours. I have to admit that I've reduced this to 18 and increased the duration to 30 hours with fine results.
The next day
An hour prior to baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. If using a la cloche or dutch oven, preheat that as well. I sometimes bake at 500 degrees, sometimes at 475 degrees. For the rye dough, however, reduce immediately to 465 degrees and decrease once again at 15 minutes to 440 degrees. Another confession - I forgot to do the second decrease on the rye this time to no ill effect. There is a but. I baked for much less time because I made the bread in a baguette shape, which takes about one quarter less time than if I had been making a boule.
The boule baking time is about 40 to 45 minutes. For a baguette shape, and a thick one at that, the bread took only 30 to 32 minutes to bake.
The oven spring is beautiful and the bread itself is fabulous - each and every time.
This is it, my go-to bread. Can't miss.