For almost twenty years, I made my yummy homemade whole wheat bread for sandwiches, but in the last year I learned the benefits of sourdough bread. It’s interesting that sourdough has made a comeback in the last few years when it is a traditional food that has been around since breadmaking began! After tinkering with a few recipes, I have created the easiest healthy sourdough sandwich bread, while also being the most frugal!
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Is Sourdough Good for Sandwiches?
You have probably seen pictures of those lovely round sourdough loaves that make me want to go to France. I tend to be more practical, and while those loaves are beautiful, I would probably only serve those to impress dinner guests! For consuming on a daily basis, a sandwich loaf is the only way to go for my family. We use it for toast, breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, and if you want delicious bread to go with dinner, it may not be as pretty as a round loaf, but it still tastes delicious!
If your kids eat nothing but PB&J, sourdough bread may be a bit strong for that type of sandwich. Depending on how long it takes your bread to rise, it will have either a mild or moderate tang. A longer rise goes best with more rustic types of meat sandwiches or grilled cheese. It is also wonderful for toast with a thick smear of butter. You can place your dough in a warmer spot to speed up rising and it will not be as tangy.
Health Benefits of Sourdough
What originally drew me to sourdough was the fact it is a traditional food. The oldest sourdough starter originated in Egypt and is 4500 years old! Thousands of years ago, there were no grocery stores to run to for yeast. The rising agent was actually sourdough starter which takes on the natural yeasts in the environment. You just can’t get any more natural than making your own yeast!
Because it is a bit slower to develop and rise than yeast breads, more of the bread is pre-digested. This benefit is transferred to you when you consume it, and it is much easier to digest. Sourdough has a lower glycemic index, being friendlier for those with blood sugar issues and diabetics. The fermentation process also breaks down much of the gluten found in wheat, which is helpful for those who are gluten sensitive.
What Makes My Sourdough Sandwich Bread Healthy
Many recipes I’ve seen for sandwich bread call for all-purpose flour, so you’re missing out on many of the nutrients found in whole wheat. These recipes may look all white and pretty, but they aren’t as beneficial to your health as consuming the entire grain. Other recipes that use whole wheat may call for mixing in only some of the flour to soak, adding the rest later. This defeats the health benefits listed above if not all the flour is broken down. Many people feel soaking or sprouting bread is needed to break down phytic acid, but if only part of the flour is soaked, you don’t receive this benefit. My recipe uses 100% whole wheat AND all the flour gets mixed in with the starter to fully predigest the dough.
What Makes My Sourdough Sandwich Bread Frugal
If you can afford flour, you can afford to make this bread! Your starter is simply flour and water (more on that below). The dough only calls for starter, more flour and water, and salt! In my search for the perfect sourdough bread for sandwiches, I came across recipes that call for oil and honey, like my yummy homemade wheat bread. When making a yeast bread, the oil and honey can help create a soft bread that stays moist longer. I found with my sourdough bread, those items simply weren’t needed, leading to the most frugal sourdough bread you can make!
What Type of Flour is Best for Sourdough Starter?
A traditional starter is generally made from rye flour. This type of starter is mostly used for those beautiful chewy round loaves- not what we want for sandwich bread. Another choice is whole wheat flour. I have discussed the health benefits of using freshly ground whole wheat in bread making, so you may feel this is the best option for a starter. However, an investigation into different flours for starter by Serious Eats states the following regarding whole wheat flour: The inclusion of bran can inhibit gluten development. The tiny bits of bran are sharp and act like razor blades, mechanically disrupting the bonds formed in a gluten matrix. Impeded gluten development means your bread might not rise as high, retain its shape, or effectively trap gases. Bran is also high in fiber, which makes whole wheat flour more water absorbent than processed white flour (resulting in stiffer bread doughs).
I have had wonderful, happy starter from using all-purpose flour. It’s important that you purchase unbleached flour, as bleaching reduces the microbe population in flour. Fermentation of any kind depends on natural microbes in the food. Your starter will develop faster and “stay alive” better if you purchase all-purpose unbleached flour. I’m a bit of a purest and try to purchase organic, as wheat crops are frequently sprayed with Glyphosate at the end of harvest to dry the crop quicker. This is a practice used on most grains, so please buy organic when possible.
How to Make a Sourdough Starter
I’ll be honest and admit that I was so intimidated by this process that I refused to even try making sourdough for all my years of bread making! That’s a shame, because I made it much harder than it is. It requires being mindful of feedings, but takes hardly no time or effort. “Babysitting” your starter only needs to be done for about a week, then the fun begins! There are some complicated ratios out there, but a simple 1:1 ratio of flour to water works perfectly. Follow this schedule for a happy sourdough starter:
- Day 1- Mix one cup of flour and one cup of water in a medium sized bowl. You will want something easy to mix and pour from with plenty of room, because you will be doing this part fairly frequently. I used a glass 8 cup measuring cup. like the picture at the top of this post. Cover with a towel and let set on the counter for 24 hours.
- Day 2- Discard half of what you have in your bowl, then add one cup flour and one cup water. Mix together well and set aside another 24 hours. You’ve probably seen recipes for “discard” recipes. Your starter isn’t quite ready to use for recipes yet, so hang tight.
- Days 3, 4 and 5- Continue to discard half of your starter, then add the one cup flour and one cup water, and allow to set covered for 24 hours. You may begin to notice some little bubbles around day 4 or 5. Your starter is becoming a living thing! This is the point you may use your discard for the many “discard” recipes out there and you will get the beneficial bacteria at this point.
- Days 6 and 7- This is where your starter needs a bit more of your attention. Make sure and plan your schedule around these two days. Instead of every 24 hours, you will now be repeating the process every 12 hours. Discard half, add one cup of flour, one cup of water, stir and cover. By day 7 you should have a strong starter that’s ready for a hearty bread recipe! You will know it’s ready if it’s bubbly and smells faintly like beer.
Why do I Have to Discard Half of My Starter?
There are two important reasons for doing the discard process. First, you will be using about 10 cups each of flour and water. There wouldn’t be a bowl large enough to contain the starter plus all you’re adding. Second, you need a smaller amount for the beneficial yeasts and bacteria to thrive and grow. Hopefully you now see why I used unbleached all-purpose flour. This is the most cost-effective for the large amount of flour used in this step. I didn’t want to be baking every day with all discard, so it didn’t offend me to simply throw it away. If this bothers you, you can throw it in a compost pile, give it to chickens, or bless someone else with it. Then point them to this post so they will know how to grow it and bake bread with it!
How to Store Sourdough Starter
Once your starter is happy and bubbly, you can use it in my yummy bread recipe below. This recipe will use about half of the starter. You can simply transfer to a quart size Mason jar and keep in the refrigerator. I use my starter about once a week and it always perks right back up and ready for bread! Once on an extended vacation, I went two weeks with it stored in the refrigerator and not fed. It didn’t miss a beat! So don’t be afraid of killing it once it’s thriving. I would make sure you’ve been using it consistently for at least a month before leaving it longer than a week without feeding.
The process each time you use it for bread or another recipe is:
- Remove from refrigerator and allow to stay at room temperature a couple of hours.
- At this point, I do NOT remove half of my starter- that is only for the growing of your starter. Add one cup of flour and one cup of water, mix well, and cover. Leave at room temperature for 8 hours.
- Your starter should be bubbly and active. If not, discard half and feed again. Let set again but watch it- it may be ready in just a few hours.
- For me, the process looks like this: Remove the starter from the refrigerator around dinner time. Let set on counter until before bed. Feed, cover, and let it set till morning. My starter is usually already bubbling that night before I feed it but it’s really ready to go in the morning! I use what is needed for my bread, then pop back in the fridge.
Step by Step Instructions for Healthy Sourdough Sandwich Bread
Just like making the starter, the bread recipe itself takes very little of your time, but it does require setting a timer and being mindful. It gets kneaded several times and with each rest it stimulates the gluten and will get less sticky. This is part of the trick to making this bread turn out so wonderfully!
Mix together 1 1/4 cup of starter, 2 1/2 cups of water, 7 cups whole wheat flour, and 1 Tbs of salt. Mix well until a loose, sticky dough is formed. I use a Kitchen Aid mixer and recommend something of this strength, but if you enjoy a workout, you can do so by hand. Let rest 20 minutes.
Knead 4 minutes, let rest 20 minutes.
Knead 4 minutes once more, then place in a warm oven, covered, and let rise until double or triple in size. This generally takes 4-6 hours. You don’t want it to rise too quickly or you miss the fermenting time needed. You also will not have much of a tangy taste. The longer it takes to rise, the more of a sourdough you’ll have. If you prefer a really sour bread, you can let it rise at room temperature so that it takes longer. Just note that you will want to start nice and early in the morning or let set on the counter all night.
Punch down the dough and divide into two loaves. This dough is always so beautiful and elastic that it is very easy to shape into loaves. Place in greased bread pans and place in warm oven for second rise, covered. This will take about 2 hours.
Bake at 425 for 30 minutes. Remove promptly from loaf pans and allow to cool on cooling rack. Yum… perfectly soft, hugely fluffy loaves every time! Resist the urge to slice your yummy sourdough sandwich bread for at least 30 minutes.
Whole Wheat Sourdough Sandwich Bread
- 7 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 1/4 cups sourdough starter, active and bubbly
- 2 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 Tbs salt
- Mix all ingredients together until a loose sticky dough is formed. Let rest 20 minutes.
- Knead dough 4 minutes. Let rest 20 minutes. Dough should be coming together and less sticky.
- Knead dough 4 minutes one last time. Dough should now hold together well, be elastic and barely sticky. Place in warm oven, covered, for a rise for 4-6 hours, or until almost tripled in size. If you prefer a stronger sourdough taste, allow instead to rise more slowly at room temperature, approx. 8 hours or until tripled in size.
- Punch down dough, place on floured surface. Divide and form into two loaves. Place in greased bread pans, and allow about 2 hours for second rise.
- Bake at 425 for 30 minutes. Remove promptly from pans and allow at least 30 minutes to cool on wire rack before slicing.