Kernza Sourdough Bread, and kernza grain and flour

Kernza Sourdough

Imagine a new type of grain with a sweet nutty taste that has a positive impact on sustainable agriculture and climate change. Kernza is harvested from a perennial wheatgrass that lasts years between plantings. Its deep roots protect and nurture soil while sequestering carbon. Farmers and researchers have been working for decades to domesticate Kernza and improve yields. While years remain before Kernza may be grown globally, you can bake at home today with this remarkable grain. 

What is Kernza?

Conventional wheat is an annual that requires replanting every year, an energy-intensive process that disturbs soil releasing CO2 and requires chemicals. In contrast, Kernza grain is a perennial. The wheat grass root structures reach more than ten feet into the soil providing a sink for atmospheric carbon. Kernza produces grain for 3-4 years, and when grown as a wheatgrass forage crop can last 10-20 years. 

Still much work remains. Over 20 years ago, The Land Institute began domesticating a perennial, forage wheatgrass to improve the grain – now called Kernza. Grain size and crop yields are still far below traditional wheat, but development continues. Given the substantial ecological impacts and resilience in the face of climate change, Kernza has the potential to contribute to the food supply on a global scale.

Kernza Grain Field

Kernza is a versatile grain that can be used in baking and brewing. Though high in protein, it develops a weaker gluten network than traditional wheat. In our Kernza bread recipe, we pair Kernza flour with traditional bread flour which provides strength to the dough while allowing the flavor of Kernza to shine through. Kernza flour has subtle notes of toasted nuts and maple and brings a unique flavor and delicate crumb to breads, such as this Kernza sourdough bread recipe. 

Kernza Sourdough Recipe

To allow time for fermentation, proofing, and baking, start this recipe the day before you want to finish baking your sourdough.

Yield

Two 700g loaves

Timing

Active: 2 hours | Total: 22-24 Hours

Ingredients

For the levain:

U.S. VolumeGrams U.S. Weight
Starter3 T40 1.4 oz
Water⅓ C802.8 oz
Kernza four⅓ C + 2 T401.4 oz
Bread flour¼ C + 2 tsp401.4 oz

For the dough:

U.S. Volume
GramsU.S. Weight
LevainAll2007 oz
Water2 ¼ C50417.8 oz
Bread flour 4 ¼ C56419.9 oz
Kernza four1 ½ C1364.8 oz
Kosher salt2 T + ½ tsp160.6 oz

*We always recommend weighing flour for bread recipes. If you must measure by volume, dip the cup into a container of flour, then gently level off with a straight-edge such as the back of a butter knife without packing the flour.

Equipment

Getting ready

Set the Proofer to 78 °F / 26 °C.

Instructions

Day 1
Make the Levain:
In the morning, mix the levain. Combine the active sourdough starter and water and stir until well combined. Mix in the bread flour and kernza flour. Place in a loosely covered jar or bowl and put in the Proofer set at 78°F. Let the levain ferment for 4 - 6 hours, or until it has doubled in size and is very bubbly, but has not yet fallen. 

Mix the dough: In a bowl, combine levain and water and mix until the levain is dissolved. Add the bread flour, kernza flour, and salt and mix using a dough whisk until the dough forms a shaggy mass. Using your hand, fold the dough by picking up one side of it, stretching it and bringing it toward the center. Rotate the bowl and repeat this folding motion 10-15 more times. 

Mixing dough with Brod & Taylor dough whisk

Bulk proof: Place the water tray in the middle of the warming plate on the base of the Proofer. Pour ¼ C / 60 ml water into the tray and place the rack on top of the tray. Place the bowl of dough in the Proofer. The dough will need about 3-4 hours total for bulk proofing and will be given 4 stretch and folds during the first two hours. 

Performing a stretch and fold during bulk proof, part 1

Fold the dough: After the first 30 minutes of proofing, remove the bowl from the Proofer and perform the first set of stretch and folds. With the dough still inside the bowl, pick up one edge of the dough, stretch it as far as it will go, and then fold it into the center. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat this motion three more times, until you have gone around the circumference of the bowl. Repeat this folding 3 more times at 30 minute intervals for a total of four sets of stretch and folds over a two hour period. No folds will be performed after the first two hours of bulk proofing.

Performing a stretch and fold during bulk proof, part 2

Shape: Turn the dough onto a floured countertop. Divide the dough in half and preshape each piece into a round. Rest 20 minutes. Shape each round into a boule or batard. Place into floured bannetons and cover.

Boule shaping 
Gently flip your dough over and flatten it out into a rectangle. Working with the side that is closest to you, stretch the dough as far as it will go and then fold it towards the middle. Grab the left and the right side, stretch them as far as they will go and fold one over the other. Stretch the top of the dough and fold it towards the middle. Turn the dough 90 degrees and fold it over on itself to form a log. Carefully round the dough tucking it under itself until you end up with a tight ball. Place the ball of dough seam side up into your proofing vessel. Pinch the seam closed using your finger tips.  

Batard shaping 
Gently flip your dough over and flatten it out into a rectangle, working carefully so that you don’t pop the bubbles in the dough. Stretch the top of the dough as far as it will go and fold it towards the middle, repeat with the side of the dough closest to you. Then, turn the dough 90 degrees, stretch the top of the dough again and fold three quarters of the way towards the center of the dough, pinch the upper right and upper left corner of the dough. Repeat this two more times, during the last fold, you should be able to roll the dough over to form a log. Gently roll the log towards you to create tension on the outer surface of the dough. The dough should feel tight and appear smooth. Place the dough seam side up into your banneton. Pinch the bottom of the dough closed using your finger tips.

Final proof: Place the bannetons in the refrigerator overnight. The final proof will take place overnight in the refrigerator.

DAY 2
Bake: The next morning, preheat your oven to 450°F with a dutch oven inside. After about 45 minutes of preheating, remove one loaf from the refrigerator and turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper, and score. Place inside the dutch oven and bake for 20 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and continue baking for 15-18 more minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining loaf.

Overall Bread Formula:

IngredientGramsBaker’s %
Bread flour60477%
Kernza flour17623%
Water58475%
Salt162%
Sourdough starter405%

Note: We follow the convention of using the sourdough starter as a single ingredient in the baker's percentage calculations. This is the simplest method and provides for easy scaling of this recipe. Separately, we also compute the overall hydration using the total flour and total milk and water including the starter ingredients. 

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