This is a multi-grain, multi-seed “birdseed bread” that offers lots of flexibility. If you want to try out different seeds or grains go right ahead, until you find the combination that you like best. The results are a crusty, flavorful loaf with a soft interior and gelatinous crumb. This recipe makes 1 loaf, but you can double or triple the recipe if you prefer a larger yield.
For one loaf:
- 18 g (1 spoonful) sourdough starter (More about sourcing and maintaining a sourdough starter here)
- 75 g (2/3 C) bolted wheat flour (more on bolting below, or you can substitute high extraction wheat, whole wheat, or white flour)
- 75 g (1/3 C) water
- 30 g (1/4 C) toasted sunflower seeds (can substitute for any other seed desired)
- 30 g (3 Tbsp) toasted millet (can substitute for any other seed desired)
- 30 g (3 Tbsp) toasted amaranth (can substitute for any other seed desired)
- water to soak
- remaining dough:
- 70 g (2/3 C) whole grain barley flour (can substitute whole wheat)
- 70 g (3/4 C) bolted spelt flour (can substitute high extraction spelt, whole grain spelt, or wheat flour)
- 320 g (3 C) bread flour
- 6 g (1 tsp) diastatic malt powder (optional)
- 310 g (1 1/3C) cool to luke-warm water
- 25 g (1/4 C) olive oil
- 13 g (2 tsp) salt
- kitchen scale
- digital thermometer (optional)
- bowl for mixing and proofing dough
- bowl lined with kitchen towel for final rise
- best: cast iron pan with dutch oven lid OR good: baking stone, pizza peel and shallow metal or cast-iron pan for adding water OR good: cookie sheet
First, a note on substitutions:
Three different whole grain flours are used here: bolted wheat, whole barley, and bolted spelt. Bolted and high extraction flours can be used interchangeably. You may also substitute whole wheat for any of these flours or even white flour. Or if you want to substitute another type of grain (einkorn or rye or whatever you have on hand) feel free to do so as well. Basically, take the liberty to play around.
Bolted grains are the homemade equivalent of high extraction flours (flours that have been sifted to remove some of the bran). Usually about 15% of the flour is removed during the process to make a lighter whole grain flour with properties somewhere in between white and whole grain. The picture below shows the process of bolting grains. After sifting, the bran particles remain in the sifter, while the rest of the flour (endosperm and germ and smaller bran bits as well) are caught in the pan on the left.
This recipe also calls for three different types of seeds: millet, amaranth, and sunflower. If you prefer to substitute other seeds that you have on hand or simplify by using only one type of seed, go right ahead. Best results come from toasting your seeds, though you can also skip this step with fine results.
How to make birdseed bread:
The night before you plan to mix your dough (about 8-12 hours prior), make your pre-ferment by mixing 1 spoonful (18 g) of ripe, bubbly, healthy sourdough starter with 70 g flour and 70 g water. Cover and allow to ferment at room temperature until the morning.
To make the soaker:
At the same time that you make your pre-ferment, plan to soak your seeds as well. Add enough water to fully cover all of your seeds. After soaking for 8-12 hours, drain and discard the water. Straining through cheesecloth (or a loose-weave cloth) is helpful to keep from losing the smaller amaranth seeds.
Adding and mixing ingredients:
In the morning, add the water and remaining flours to the pre-ferment and stir briefly just to combine. You may use a stand mixer, a dough whisk, or a spoon. Let rest for 45-60 minutes.
Note: your ideal dough temperature will be about 75-80ᵒF. If your ambient room temperature is much colder, add water that is warmer (around 90ᵒF), and if the room is much warmer, add water that is cooler (around 60ᵒF) so that after combining, your dough temperature is approximately 75-80ᵒF. Keep in mind that dough that is warmer will ferment faster and will be ready to bake sooner.
After the resting period, add the salt, olive oil, and drained seeds and mix until combined.
During the next 2 ½ to 4 hours, your dough will rise during its bulk fermentation. Be sure to fold the dough gently by hand every 30-45 minutes to add structure to the dough. Toward the end of this period, your dough will become less sticky, and will feel softer and almost bubbly. Toward the end of bulk fermentation, be sure to handle your dough more gently (you don’t want to press out all those air bubbles).
Shape the dough into a circular loaf by folding the dough over itself until you have smooth surface, and all of the “rough ends” are tucked underneath and on the bottom of the loaf. You must be very gentle with how you handle the dough at this stage, so as not to deflate the dough. If the dough proves difficult to work with, let it rest for 10-20 minutes and then come back to finish shaping it.
Line a bowl with a smooth kitchen towel and dust it with flour. (Be generous here! You don’t want it to stick at the last minute.) Place your dough inside, seam side up. The bowl should be properly sized so as to provide stability for the loaf as it rises. Cover and let rise at room temperature for an additional 1-2 hours. For even greater flavor, you can do a partial final rise at room temperature, and then refrigerate your dough overnight (8-15 hours) before baking. If you do this, there is no need to bring your dough to room temperature before baking. Just bake it directly out of the refrigerator.
Preheat your oven to 525ᵒF. It is strongly recommended that you use either (1) a pre-heated dutch oven, or (2) a pre-heated baking stone along with a pan below it (these options are described more fully below). If you are using one of these items, allow at least 45 minutes to preheat (60 minutes is better).
If using a dutch oven (recommended): After pre-heating, transfer your dough, seam side down, onto the pan. One easier way to transfer is to put your loaf on parchment paper and set it all inside the dutch oven. Working quickly, use a sharp knife or a razor blade to score the top of the loaf. This allows for the bread to properly expand in the oven. As soon as the cuts are made, place the dutch oven lid on top and return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid (be careful of escaping steam) and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes at the reduced oven temperature of 450ᵒF. To prevent burning on the bottom of the loaf, you may place the shallow pan on top of the deeper dutch oven pan during this last 20-25 minutes of baking. The buffer of air in-between pans will keep the bottom from burning.
If using a baking stone: After pre-heating the oven, turn your dough, seam side down, onto a pizza peel. Working quickly, use a sharp knife or razor blade to score the top of the loaf. This allows for the bread to properly expand in the oven. Make cuts at an angle to the dough so that they are almost horizontal. After the cuts are made, spritz the surface of the dough with water (using a bottle with a spray nozzle), and transfer the dough to the preheated baking stone. Working quickly, add a cup of warm water to the metal pan underneath the baking stone. Reduce the oven temperature to 450ᵒF and bake for about 45 minutes.
With both options (cast iron pan or baking stone), be extremely careful, as hot cast irons or hot steam can easily burn the skin. The idea for using the cast iron pan combo as a dutch oven came from the book Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson (an excellent read and resource), though there are other beautiful options available such as this beautiful dutch oven combo for bread baking. Both methods (pre-heated cast iron dutch oven or baking stone with pan beneath) are designed to trap steam (difficult in a home oven) and to allow for an immediate rise in the dough before the outer crust hardens. We strongly prefer the cast iron method, though both can give good results.
If you do not wish to use either of these two methods, you can use a regular cookie sheet or a bread pan. You can still use the pan of water underneath, but if you choose to leave it out, your crust will not be as crispy.
Ideally, allow your bread to cool for a full hour before cutting into it. But it’s totally understandable if you can’t wait. Let the loaf cool fully before storing it in a bag. If you don’t plan on finishing your bread within a few days, slice it and freeze it for easy toasting.