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Are there any bread machines that would allow making a sourdough rye bread? If not, could a bread maker simplify the process of making a sourdough loaf?

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Although I'm limiting my answer to the question asked, I think you're better off investing in a stand mixer capable of handling bread. It won't cost much more than a top-notch bread machine, and has a broader range of uses. Plus, if you really get into a baking you'll end up tossing the bread machine and getting a stand mixer anyway. Furthermore, Kitchenaid stand mixers retain most of their value on the resale market, so if you find you really do want a bread maker, you can recoup most of your investment. The same cannot be said of bread makers, which I often see in thrift stores. –  BobMcGee Jul 27 '11 at 17:13

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are three courses of action for producing sourdough with a bread machine:

  • Use the bread machine just for mixing dough, then rise and bake it separately. This will produce the best result, defined as the best texture and strongest sourdough flavor. In this case, you get to monitor the progress of the sourdough as it is rising, which gives you better control over the results. With this course, make sure to start preheating your oven early, because it has to be fully ready when the dough is. It's heartbreaking to watch helplessly as beautiful sourdough loaves collapse while your oven preheats. Also, you can throw a handful of icecubes into the oven a minute or two before the bread, to get steam, which gives maximum oven spring and a softer crust. This helps prevent the common problem of dense sourdough.
  • Do a "cheater" sourdough that incorporates both yeast and sourdough starter. This is the most hands-off approach, but it won't yield as strong a sourdough flavor results as option one. Basically, you take a standard bread recipe that uses a poolish preferment, and you replace the poolish with equivalent-hydration sourdough starter, but retain the yeast. So, you're getting leavening primarily from the yeast, but flavor from the sourdough. Up to half the flour can come from the starter. You can gradually reduce the yeast amounts and increase rise time until it's approaching a true sourdough. See recipe below!
  • Do true sourdough with a bread machine that allows you to program VERY long rise/proofing times. This is the worst option, because sourdough rise times vary greatly, even with the same starter. The leavening power of starters also varies from almost as fast as instant yeast, to over 12 hours for a full rise. I think you'll have a hard time finding a bread maker that can be programmed for the longest times, and because you're relying on a fixed timer, the dough will inevitably be either under-risen or collapsing. Sourdough can go from under-risen to over-risen and collapsing in as little as 30 minutes.

Cheater Sourdough Recipe derived from Pain Sur Poolish:

Ingredients:

  • 425g/15 oz sourdough starter, fed the night before with equal volumes all purpose flour and water (or about 6.7 oz flour per 8 oz water)
  • 227g/8 oz bread ("Strong") flour
  • 227g/8 oz all purpose flour
  • 200 g/7 oz warm water
  • 1 tsp instant yeast (SAF Red Label)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Optional: 1 tsp diastatic malt powder
  • Optional: 1/4 cup dry milk powder

Procedure:

  1. Mix together dry ingredients, then mix in wet ingredients until incorporated.
  2. Knead about 8-10 minutes on stand mixer speed 2, or until the dough is soft and stretchy. It should be a little wet, but not too much.
  3. Rise dough for ~45 min-1.5 hours, or until doubled. If using a bread machine, rise an extra 30 minutes or so, and skip to step 9.
  4. If using oven: start preheating to 500F/260C with a pizza stone in the lower rack
  5. Divide dough in half, and shape into two loaves, making sure not to handle too much as this will remove gas.
  6. If using oven: coat an inverted aluminum 1/2 sheet pan with pan spray and corn meal, then transfer loaves to pan. Cover with plastic wrap with the bottom coated in pan spray.
  7. Proof bread 45 minutes to 1 hour, until it stops rising and a finger leaves a dent in the loaf.
  8. If using oven: throw a handful of ice cubes into the oven to generate steam, then slash the loaves and load into oven.
  9. In oven: Bake @ 500F/260C for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to 435F/225C and bake for a further 15 minutes. In bread machine: bake at about 375F/190C for about 30 minutes. If not using diastatic malt, crust may still be somewhat pale.

This recipe (with slight modifications) is now my standard bread, which I bake frequently. I'm still tweaking the exact time to bake at the reduced temperature; if the top is browning excessively but the interior is underdone, it may help to flip the loves over for the last few minutes of cooking.

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Well, you can find one that can be programmed for 12 hour rises, but for a price comparable to a stand mixer. Details in my answer... –  derobert Jul 27 '11 at 16:55
    
@derobert: I think a bread machine is only a good investment if you make multiple loaves of sandwich bread per week. Otherwise, it's better doing loaves by hand/with a stand mixer. –  BobMcGee Jul 27 '11 at 17:17
    
Thank you @Bob. I already own a basic bread machine and use it 3-4 times a week for making a yeast bread - I like the fact that it is so easy to use and does not take too much of your time. The problem is that my favourite bread is really sourdough, and I can see now that preparing it will require a bit more effort. I will start with your advice of using the machine for just for mixing and if I find that I do it often enough I may look into investing in a stand mixer. Thanks again for an excellent advice. –  kristof Jul 27 '11 at 19:17
    
@kristof: I've done a major rewrite, which includes a yeasted "cheater sourdough" recipe that is quite good. It's designed for use with a normal oven, but you should be able to do it in a bread machine at about 375F/190C for 30 minutes. –  BobMcGee Jul 28 '11 at 0:29

The Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme can be programmed for rise times up to 24 hours.

It comes preprogrammed to make sourdough, using the "commercial" (type 2) method. You could do the type 1 (traditional) method using its custom settings, especially since you can modify the program as its running (e.g., keep an eye on it, see that its ready after 10 hours, tell it to go ahead and bake now). An anonymous user says this works well for his/her whole-grain sourdough and that it takes about 11 hours total, including bake.

Details are in the instruction manual, starting at pp. 24 (PDF page 13).

That said, despite owning one, I personally make sourdough with a stand mixer and an oven. You'll also note the Zojirushi is comparable in price to a good stand mixer.

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It's still a programmed rise time; unless you're in a professional bakery that uses, feeds, and stores the starter every single day in exactly the same way, the sourdough will demand different rise times with each batch. –  BobMcGee Jul 27 '11 at 17:20
    
thanks @derobert, I think I will stick with the basic machine that I own currently and follow Bob's advice of using it for mixing. Perhaps in a long run I may invest in a stand mixer as both you and Bob suggested –  kristof Jul 27 '11 at 19:20
    
@BobMcGee: Yes, its a programmed rise time. But as I said, you can change it as its running, so you could set it to 24 hours (the maximum), then keep an eye on it as you would were it sitting on the counter, and then tell it to proceed when the dough is ready. Only advantage really is that it saves you from having to clean one piece of cookware and also that the Zojirushi has a controlled rise temperature. –  derobert Jul 28 '11 at 22:18

My bread maker makes sourdough bread just fine. I made some tonight.

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This would be much more useful if you could explain how to do it. Manuals for breadmakers usually come with instructions for yeast bread only. –  rumtscho Aug 8 '13 at 9:06

I often make sourdough with just my starter. After feeding my starter and letting it double in size in the usual way I take what I need for the recipe add everything to the pan and put on a dough cycle. After about five minutes I check to see how wet my dough is. I often have to adjust the dough by adding flour or water a table spoon at a time until the consistency is good. I leave it to mix for five more minutes then cancel the program and restart a normal whole wheat cycle with the delay timer set to give me a total bread making time of 12 hours inclusive of the starter times. For example time for starter to double in size is four hours. Bread machine cycle set for 8 hours. I have produced good sourdough loaves and often get this ready at night so I wake to fresh bread. With a few attempts my timings got better and the bread was light chewy and sour. It's easier than people say and fits well with my shift work.

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