How to Make Organic Red Fife Sourdough Bread
Sourdough Made With Ancient Grains
Red Fife is a heritage wheat variety (Triticum aestivum) that Ontario farmer Dave Fife and his family started growing in 1842. Its name is derived from the original red colour of the wheat kernel and David's family name. (That's pretty much how grains were named back then.)
Red Fife is one of Canada's oldest varieties of wheat; legend has it originating in Ukraine or Turkey. According to Wikipedia, it originated in Turkey and then made its way to Ukraine, where it was grown by Mennonites. My Red Fife came from an organic family farm in Southeastern Alberta, where it has been grown for the last 100 years.
My love affair with this ancient grain began a year ago when my daughter brought me a chunk of Red Fife sourdough from a local artisan bakery. The sourdough, in a word, was AWESOME. It was love at first bite.
- 1 1/2 cups Red Fife fine flour
- 1/2 cup Red Fife cracked wheat
- 1 cup unbleached white flour
- 1 1/4–1 1/2 cups water, start with 1 1/4 cups
- 1–2 teaspoons Kosher salt, to taste, I recommend 1 1/2 tsp
- 1/2 teaspoon Chia seeds
- 1 1/2 cups active sourdough starter
- Dissolve the salt in the water and set it aside. (Do not use iodized table salt, as it may impede the sourdough culture.)
- Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. I prefer using my KitchenAid bowl for this, but any bowl will do. (You will also need a second bowl for proofing the dough - more on this later.) Add the water after the salt has dissolved and mix thoroughly, then add the active sourdough culture.
- If the mixture is too dry, add small amounts of water until the dough can form a cohesive ball. If the dough is too wet, and is difficult to handle, add small amounts of flour until you can form that ball.
- Prepare a second bowl that's about 4 times larger than your ball of dough by coating it lightly with olive oil. Place the dough in this bowl and roll it over so the top has a light coating of oil, then cover the dough with plastic wrap. This will keep the crust of the dough from drying out during the proofing process.
- Let the dough proof ("rise") for 17 or 18 hours, then remove the plastic wrap and throw it away. Place the Lodge Dutch Oven in your oven and pre-heat to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Dump the dough out onto a floured cutting board - I use my Epicurean Kitchen Series 15-Inch-by-11-Inch for this - it's the perfect size.
- Gently flour and fold the dough a few times until you can form a round loaf - do not knead the dough. When the oven reaches 475 degrees, remove the Dutch Oven (carefully - it's HOT) and place it on a stove burner or other safe place and remove the lid. Carefully place the sourdough in the Dutch Oven, replace the lid, and return it to the oven. The Dutch Oven will retain moisture from the dough and steam it, producing a lovely, thick, chewy crust.
- Bake for 30 minutes, remove the lid, and bake another 15 minutes to brown the crust.
- Remove the bread and place it on a grill to cool. Resist the temptation of cut the loaf - let it cool for at least 30 minutes.
How to Store Grains
I keep my grains in food-grade containers purchased from local shops. The type of container designed for making wine is just right for storing 50-pound bags of grain, in this case, Emmer, from Ehnes Farms.
(I use a variety of containers for various purposes.)
Flour and Grain Storage Containers
Here are two of the containers I use to store open flours and grains. I prefer the one on the left for its hinged lid, and use the type on the right for my generic modern flours.
I found these at a local plastics shop, but they should be widely available.
Ehnes Organic Farm Red Fife Wheat
My quest for Red Fife began at Ehnes Farm. The proprietor, Bernie Ehnes, was really knowledgeable when it came to heritage wheat, and he should be—his family has been farming here since they homesteaded the land back in 1911.
Bernie ships his ancient grains all over North America, and I'm certain he'd be delighted to ship it to you, too. You'll find contact information on his website (and a link to it at the bottom of this page).
How to Mill Your Own Flour
Now that you know where to acquire this wonderful grain, you'll be presented with two choices:
- mill your own, or
- have someone mill it for you.
Because I wanted to have the flexibility to produce any type of flour I wanted on-demand, I decided to do it myself. The photo above shows the coarseness of my cracked wheat. I use a half cup of cracked Red Fife for my artisan sourdough because I love the texture it adds to the bread.
Messerschmidt Family Grain Mill Attachment
After a bit of searching, I discovered this superb Family Grain Mill from Pleasant Hill Grain (link at the bottom of this page). KitchenAid also offers a grain mill, but the Messerschmidt came highly recommended, so that's the one I bought. Here you see the model designed for use on KitchenAid machines—I have a KitchenAid 600, and the mill was a perfect match. (There is also a free-standing model for those who prefer a separate mill.)
How to Mill Flour From Cracked Wheat
This flour was milled using the Family Grain Mill's finest setting. I use it in my sourdough recipe as well as the cracked wheat. The difference between the two grinds is apparent.
The cracked wheat's also great as a breakfast cereal, or soaked in water for 24 hours and served as a vegetable.
There are endless variations of this recipe and process. Purists may prefer using 3 cups of Red Fife and skipping the Cracked Wheat and Chia. I do this all the time, but find the dough easier to work with if I add a bit of white flour.
This recipe yields about 1.8 pounds of awesome sourdough.
The Lodge Dutch Oven
I consider several things essential when it comes to my baking. One is my enameled cast iron pizza pan, another is my 12" pizza stone, and another this marvelous Dutch Oven. This is the perfect vehicle for creating artisan sourdoughs.
The oven is mentioned in the recipe, although you can certainly bake sourdough without it. The Lodge consistently produces a thick, chewy sourdough crust without which it just isn't sourdough.
Update: I now use a Sassafras Stoneware Baker for my sourdoughs, but still love the Lodge!
Proofing the Dough
This above photo shows the dough after being moved to the oiled bowl and covered in plastic wrap. You can clearly see the cracked wheat and Chia.
After proofing for about 17 hours (at room temperature), the dough nearly fills the bowl. It can now be removed, punched down and shaped.
The dough has been punched down and shaped, and is now ready for baking in the Dutch Oven. The Chia seeds and Cracked Wheat catch your eye right away.
- Pleasant Hill Grain
This is where I found my Messerschmidt Family Grain Mill.
- Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery
Home of the Lahey no-knead bread baking method...
- True Grains
This is another great source for ancient grains, located on Vancouver Island and in Summerland in the Interior of British Columbia.
- Sourdoughs International
Ed & Jean Wood's incredible sourdough site - this is where I obtain my exotic cultures.
"The seed might have originated in Turkey, then moved across the Black Sea to the Ukraine.."
Having grown up in Sourdough Central (the San Francisco Bay area), I fell in love with tangy sourdoughs long before most of you were born. Later in life, this led me to start baking my own, and I've now been at it for more than twenty years.
It would be nice to know how many sourdough fans there are "out there," which is why I added this brief poll.