Sourdough Brown Bread


This European style brown bread is hearty, complex of flavor, and most importantly, delicious. If you need a mid day "pick me up," this bread will give you a surprising boost of energy and sustain you between meals. If you decide to make it a meal in itself, this brown bread is great plain, served with gravlax (cured salmon), toasted and spread with honey butter, and was used to make the most delicious egg salad sandwich I have ever eaten. This recipe calls for a poolish sourdough starter for added flavor and to stand up to the acidity of the other ingredients that give this bread recipe a unique flavor. Please see the "Related" section at the end of this recipe for further information and alternatives to using a sourdough starter.


350 g
Water (Cold Tap, Filtered)
100 g
Poolish Sourdough Starter (100% Hydration)
250 g
Rye Flour
100 g
Whole Wheat Flour
50 g
Balsamic Vinegar
100 g
130 g
Warm Water
100 g
700 g
Bread Flour
20 g
Coco Powder
15 g
10 g
Fennel Seed
5 g
Celery Seed
9 g
Caraway Seed
100 g
Butter (Melted)


  1. The night before baking, combine 100g poolish sourdough starter with 100g whole wheat flour, 250g rye flour and 350g cold water. Stir together in a plastic or glass container with enough extra room to allow mixture to expand slightly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow this "sponge" to ferment overnight, or for about 10-18 hours.
  2. The following day, the sponge should be bubbling and active. Because whole wheat and rye flour are used for the majority of the sponge, the active mixture won't look quite as airy or active as a starter using 100% bread flour. This is normal.
  3. If the sponge is active as described above, add bread flour, balsamic vinegar, coffee, warm water, molasses, and cocoa powder. Mix thoroughly to combine, cover with plastic wrap and allow to autolyse for 20-30 minutes.
  4. After autolyse period, add salt, fennel seed, celery seed and caraway seed. Mix with hands to combine.
  5. Turn dough out onto clean work surface, using the "slap and fold" kneading method to work the dough until it forms a strong gluten structure and can pass the widow-pane test.
  6. Lightly dust dough with bread flour, perform a single stretch and fold, round and allow to bulk ferment in a covered container for about 4 hours or until its volume has doubled in size. You can also retard bulk fermentation overnight at this point to develop more flavor and make the process more convenient.
  7. After bulk fermentation, divide dough into 3 equal loaves weighing 600-640g each.
  8. Form portioned dough into loaves and place in 9" loaf pans that have been sprayed with pan release (non-stick) spray. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to proof for about 2 hours or until the volume has grown to at least 1.5 times its original size.
  9. Brush the top of the bread with melted butter and dock using a sharp razor, making a 1/2" deep incision vertically, down the middle of the loaf.
  10. Bake at 350-375ºF/175-190ºC for about 40-45 minutes or until the crust is a dark brown and loaf achieves a minimum internal temperature of about 200ºF/93ºC.
  11. Immediately after baking, remove finished loaves from pans and set on a wire rack, allowing to cool for at least 1-2 hours before slicing.
  12. Once bread has fully cooled to room temperature, wrap in plastic wrap and store in a cool place, away from direct sunlight.


Alternatives To Using A Poolish Starter

This recipe benefits from the use of a sourdough starter because the natural yeast is much more resilient to acidic bread doughs (created in this recipe by the addition of vinegar, molasses and coffee). If you really don't want to use a poolish starter, mix the sponge ingredients together the night before as instructed in step one, but add an extra 50g of bread flour and 50g of water along with 2g of instant or active dry yeast. Allow to ferment overnight and continue recipe as instructed.

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There are 14 Comments

esavitzky's picture


100g of what form of coffee?  Ground beans, liquid coffee, instant?  Just dont want to make the wrong decision at the beginning.

Looks great.  Likely to try it out  this weekend.


jacob burton's picture

Just regular drip coffee saved from your morning pot. If you want to get fancy and intensify the flavor, you can substitute 100g of espresso.

Be careful...this bread has addicting qualities. Let me know how yours turns out.


esavitzky's picture

It must be addictive if the basic recipe makes 3 loaves devil

jacob burton's picture

That's so true. The husband and wife team that own the Cedar House are pretty healthy eaters, especially the husband who's super active in outdoor sports. He likes to make a sandwich with this bread and take it on hikes with him. I also like to eat plain slices of it for sustained energy throughout a busy day in the kitchen. Hence the three loaf yield.

You can obviously enter the amount of loaves you want in the yield box at the top of this post and it will scale the recipe appropriately.

I also just finished editing the video on this so stay tuned for that.

skflyfish's picture

I have made Hammelman's Rustic bread a number of times and have removed it from my bread list. I found the addition of a little rye and whole wheat flour detrimental to the taste of the bread. In one word, it was bland.

Now this recipe sounds like bland isn't an option. I like the use of molasses (though I will probably add some honey too), but the other spices and flavors sounds like it will be anything but bland.

What a beautiful crumb.

This will definitely be on my list of breads to make ...... soon.


jacob burton's picture

You can accuse this bread of many things; bland isn't one of them.

The molasses is an important flavor component, it really gives it a unique tang. I would save the honey for drizzling on top of the toast, especially your honey. The honey that you sent me was so complex yet subtle; I think if it was baked into this bread it would get lost.

Just yesterday I had this for breakfast as toast, spread with a little room temp butter and drizzled with the honey you sent me. Paired with a good cup of coffee, probably one of the best yet simplest breakfasts one could ask for.

esavitzky's picture

I am an equal opportunity baker.  Here is the Sourdough Brown Bread.  

The only thing I regret is not making the third loaf.  There is NOTHING bland about this loaf. Love the addition of the fennel and celery seeds and the contrast with the caraway.

Yesterday was an all day marathon of Brown Bread and Sourdough boule, while trying to get work done from home at the same time.  Conference call,,,, slap and fold....emailing....divide and form....conference call.....check the temp...etc.  I guess I have to  get a job as a baker.

Time to make some egg salad so I can have an excuse to eat this bread.  OK, so I dont really need and excuse...

Thanks Jacob!

skflyfish's picture

Well I made these as yeasted brown breads as I am not happy with my current sourdough and haven't refreshed it in a while. I made a poolish the night before with the rye and whole wheat flour and finished it the next day. I also substituted apple cider vinegar for the balsamic vinegar.

I have to say this bread is tasty and it is also nice and soft. After tasting it, I quickly ran down to the local deli and bought some corned beef and Swiss cheese. Made a darn good Reuben. (of course the sauer kraut must be home made in a crock) I haven't tried it but I bet it would make an excellent vegetarian Reuben (substituting raw sunflower seeds for corned beef).

Probably next time I will cut the fennel that I have, in half. It is pretty potent fennel and I think it shows too well without the sourdough starter. This bread will definitely stay on my list of breads to make.

Good show Chef Jacob.

Now to try your savory bread next. ;-)

skflyfish's picture

Thanks Elliot. Yours look great also.

I am having a corned beef, swiss cheese, dijon mustard, butter and mayo on this bread. Oh so good.

horst's picture

Today's bake was a first attempt at this bread.  It came out tasting fabulous, but the bake had it's issues.  Everything went pretty much as shown in the video until the shaping and proofing.  During the shaping, the dough felt stiff and wouldn't easily stretch.  It almost felt dry.  The top layer would constantly tear rather than form a smooth skin during tension pulls.  Then, I also had trouble getting the loafs to proof, but finally figured out they were cold.  I put them into the cold oven with the light on for an hour and that helped.  However, I was short on time and had to start the bake before they had fully proofed.  So, I got some really 'artisanal' loaves.  ;-)  Happily, they taste so good, the evidence will be gone soon.  Then I'll get to practice again.

jacob burton's picture

Hey, that's some nice looking bread. It's possible that the type of whole wheat or rye you were using has a slightly higher gluten content, so it will soak up more moisture.

Next time if your mixture looks a little dry, just add some more water during the kneading stage.

What I like to do in these circumstances (when I need more water), is I'll place a small container of water on my scale and hit the tare button to zero it out.

Then I'll add enough water so that my dough looks correct. I'll place the remaining container of water back on the scale, and record the negative readout in grams, so I know exactly how much water I added. I'll make a note in the margins of my recipe, that way I can remember what I did for next time.

horst's picture

Checking in since I've not commented in a while.  I've been baking a batch of brown bread just about every weekend now.  In fact, I have 3 loaves in the oven right now.  Debra thinks this is the best bread she's ever tasted, so that about nails it.  Plus, by baking this, I return about $40 a month to the grocery budget that we used to spend on store bought bread.  Anyway, it's all good.  Charlie ( my starter ) is perking right along.  One day I'll need to make one of those country boules again just for that crust.

Thanks again for all of the great advise and guidance.  I can't wait to see how Stella moves forward.  I really enjoyed the sauces video.

Almost forgot to mention.  Even though rye bread wouldn't be the first choice for bread pudding, it turns out this bread is excellent when used with 

Note that I substituted almond milk for the dairy with great results.

jacob burton's picture

@ Horst,

Thanks so much for the update! I'm glad you nailed down this bread and are enjoying it. It's still one of my favorite breads to date. So much flavor, so much versatility, whether using it for sandwiches, toast and butter, or cubing up into croutons.

Please keep me up to date on your progress, and let me know if you have any more questions.