How to Make Organic Red Fife Sourdough Bread
Sourdough Baking With Ancient Grains: Red Fife
Red Fife is a heritage bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) variety 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 the Ukraine, or Turkey. According to Wikipedia, it originated in Turkey and then made its way to the Ukraine, where it was grown by Mennonites. My Red Fife came from an organic family farm in Sortheastern Alberta, where it has been grown for at least 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 I hadn't known about. The sourdough, in a word, was AWESOME. It was love at first bite.
Organic Red Fife
Storing Your 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.)
Two Handy 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.
KitchenAid 600 Professional Stand Mixer
I love my KitchenAid 600 - I bought it to mill my grain, but also use it to mix large batches of dough - the dough hook does a great job!
Ehnes Organic Farm
My quest for Red Fife began at Ehnes Farm. The proprietor, Bernie Ehnes, was really knowledgible when it came to heritage wheat, and so he should be -- his family has been farming here since they homesteaded the land way 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).
Milling Your Own Flour - Cracked Red Fife
Okay...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 - When you want your flour FRESH
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.)
You can see the coarseness of the grind in the photo above.
Milling Your Own Flour - From Coarse Cracked Wheat To Fine Flour
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 it all the time, but find the dough easier to work with if I add a bit of white flour.
I'd love to hear from anyone who bakes this bread - sharing experiences is half the fun.
This recipe yields about 1.8 pounds of awesome sourdough.
- 1.5 cup Red Fife Fine Flour
- .5 cup Red Fife Cracked Wheat
- 1 cup Unbleached White Flour
- 1.25 to 1.5 cups Water, Start with 1 1/4 cups water
- 1 -2 teaspoons Kosher Salt (salt to taste - I recommend 1.5 tsp/8 grams)
- .5 teaspoon Chia Seed
- 1 half cup 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.
The Lodge Dutch Oven - My Secret Weapon - This is the perfect vehicle for creating artisan sourdoughs.
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.
The oven is mentioned in the recipe; although you can certainly bake sourdough without it (I did for years), 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 merged photo shows the dough after being moved to the oiled bowl. The left half of the photo shows the raw dough - you can clearly see the cracked wheat and Chia.
On the right side of the photo, you can see the dough after covering with plastic wrap.
Sixteen Hours Later...
After proofing for about 17 hours (at room temperature), the dough nearly fills the bowl. It can now be removed, punched down and shaped.
Ready For The (Dutch) Oven!
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.
Information About My Resources
- The Canadian Encyclopedia
"By the 1860s Red Fife was distributed and grown across Canada."
- 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.."
Artisan Red Fife Sourdough - Just Out Of The Oven!
This is the sourdough produced to build this lens - My daughter - the one who introduced me to Red Fife Sourdough in the first place - was the lucky recipient.
This was my very first loaf of Red Fife - it was awesome.
Do You Love Sourdough?
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.