Sourdough additions, two ways

A good, artisan bread, with its thick crust and its chewy and strong crumb, is like a blank canvas ready to take on whatever flavours you throw at it.

This week I threw two very different flavours at my basic sourdough. Both turned out great.

These breads start with my basic pain au levain (from Peter Reinhart), and can take any number of additions depending on the time of year, and what you’re baking for.


Halloumi and Walnut

On the left, a 40% whole wheat boule, filled with walnut chunks and cubes of dry fried (without any oil) halloumi cheese. If you’ve never tried halloumi before, you can’t imagine what you’re missing out on. The rich, salty and firm cheese from Cyprus stays firm when cooked, giving it a caramelized crust that is almost too delicious (I did so much snacking on the cubes, I almost didn’t have enough for the bread!).

For this bread, I cut the halloumi into 1/2″ slices, laid them dry in a skillet heated to medium high (a grill would work too) and aside from some slight shaking to prevent sticking, left them alone for a few minutes until the liquid released from the slices had evaporated and the bottoms were a deep golden brown. Flip and cook the other side until they’re also caramelized. Once the slices have cooled, chop roughly so you get bite size cubes. Pieces the size of your thumbnail and ideal. Too big and the cheese will get in the way of gluten development

I might have added a bit too much cheese to this one, as it had some difficulty rising over three days in the fridge, but as you can see, it sprung just fine in the oven.


Tips for adding extras to artisan bread:

  • As a general rule of thumb, try to keep additions to your break at between 30% and 40% of total flour weight.
  • Smaller pieces makes them easier to incorporate, allows them to spread out more (so you get more in each bite) and helps avoid gluten problems.
  • If you’re using additives that will add any sort of dairy or fats to the bread (like the nuts and cheese here), add them in the folding stage, not the mixing, so that the dough has a chance to start to form gluten strands. The oil and diary both inhibit gluten formation.
  • Bold flavours work best. You’re going to get more satisfaction out of herbs like rosemary, sage and dill than you would out of oregano or dried basil (though fresh basil would work well).
    • This is particularly true with cheese. If using cheddar, buy an older or more flavourful cheddar. Clothbound is nice, Welsh cheddars (which can be tangy to the point of bitterness if eaten alone) are good, or anything aged 5 years or more. With Halloumi, Chevre, or Feta, the fresher the better. If you can get fresh (in brine, not packaged) halloumi, definitely go for that. If you’re buying packaged, and you’re in Canada, President’s Choice (Superstore) is the only brand worth buying, in my opinion.

Stay tuned later this week for a post about the other bread in this duo – the French-inspired lemon, hazelnut and herbs de provence boule.


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