A Basic Loaf

by Mollie Doyle

Inspired by Ellen Arian’s Sourdough, Wheat and Rye Recipe from Ellen’s Food & Soul (2010).


  • 1 cup sourdough starter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup room temperature filtered water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. maple syrup (or brown rice syrup)
  • 2 cups whole-wheat bread flour (Baker's note: Anson Mills is my favorite brand. Additionally, I generally keep my flour in the freezer, as do Carol and Ellen. I tried cold flour just to see what would happen and it makes for a much slower rise- more fermentation and flavor, but also more dense.)
  • I cup rye flour, at room temperature (plus additional for dusting)
  • 1/2 cup white bread flour, at room temperature
  • 4 tsp. fine Celtic sea salt
  • Olive oil for the bowl
  • Rolled oats or cornmeal for dusting
A Basic Loaf

Elizabeth Cecil

Makes one 2-pound loaf

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, combine the starter, water and maple syrup. Stir until the ingredients are combined and the starter is dispersed throughout. Add the flours and, with your hands, mix the dough into a ragged mass. Do this mixing with your hands, rubbing the newly-formed dough ball against the side of the bowl to pick up any stray bits of flour. If the dough is not wet enough to clean the sides of the bowl, add one to two spoonfuls of water. The dough should be on the wet side, but not soggy.


Cover the bowl with a plate and let it sit on the counter for at least 20 minutes, or up to an hour. Add the sea salt and knead the dough for about 10 minutes. If you use your hands to knead the dough, you want it to be as wet as it can be, yet still dry enough for you to handle it. If you use a stand mixer, the dough should be wet enough that it only just clears the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl. To achieve desired consistency, add water by the spoonful if it is not wet enough. Using enough water will ensure a good rise and an open crumb.


When you are finished kneading, form the dough into a ball, put it into a lightly oiled bowl, and let the dough rise for 3 to 4 hours at about 75°F. This can take up to 6 or 7 hours in a cooler kitchen. Take the dough out of the bowl and place it on a counter top. Flatten the dough into a disc, and then pat it with your open palms until it becomes a rectangle. Take care to gently press or slap out any large air bubbles or they will appear in your final loaf just under the crust. To make a ball of the dough, fold the left half of the rectangle into the middle, and fold the right half over the left half. Fold the top down and the bottom up.


Place the ball back into the oiled bowl seam-side-down, cover it, and let it rise for about 1 to 2 hours at 75°F. Please note, in a cooler room the bread will need more time and in a warmer room it will need less time.


Remove the dough from the bowl and gently shape it into a boule. Then let the boule rest on the counter top, seam side down and with the bowl inverted over it as a cover, for about 15 to 30 minutes, so that the seam disappears. The goal is for the seam to disappear and the dough to be smooth enough on the bottom that the loaf holds together. Meanwhile, find a smooth cotton or linen towel, with no texture or pill that will “catch” the dough, and dust it with a generous helping of rye flour. Place the towel inside a medium-sized bowl, floured side up. When the dough is ready, place it seam side up on top of the towel.


Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, secure it with a rubber band, and let the dough rise for an hour or two more, depending on the temperature in your kitchen. Then transfer the covered dough to the refrigerator.


The dough should rise in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, and no more than 36 hours.

An hour before you are ready to bake, move the oven rack to the lower third of the oven. Place a heavy, lidded pot inside the oven and preheat it to 450°F. At the same time, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it begin to come to room temperature on the counter top.

When the pot and oven are adequately preheated, remove the pot and line the bottom with a small piece of parchment paper. Then dust the bread dough with rolled oats or cornmeal and gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side down. (The side with the oats or cornmeal should rest on the bottom of the pot, and the floured side will now be the top.) Using a single-edged razor blade or pairing knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern with a wide center square. Then spritz the inside of the pot with warm water in a spray bottle (or sprinkle water with your hands if you don’t have a spray bottle) cover it quickly, and place the pot into the oven for 5 minutes.

Using thick potholders, carefully remove and uncover the pot, and spray the inside once more. Then cover it again and put the pot and dough back into the oven for 40 minutes more. When the bread is ready, it will have an internal temperature of 207°F and it will have a deep brown crust.

Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing.