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The Art of Sourdough
A Lost Art
Before commercial yeast became available, every homemaker kept a sourdough starter, carefully tended and fed, in order to provide the family with leavened breads and other baked goods. Now it has nearly become a lost art, and the rich, cheesy flavor, insufficiently replaced by store bought, vinegar soured imposters, has all but been forgotten.
But you can be one of the chosen few to experience this culinary thrill....
Sourdough bread is created by two kinds of life forms- wild yeasts and lactobacilli. The latter happens to be a necessary component of our digestive tracts, without which we would not be able to absorb the nutrients from our food. These bacteria are also responsible for the many cultured foods mankind has enjoyed throughout history: cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, to name a few. The health benefits of these probiotic foods are well known today.
Though the actions of these lactobacilli end once the bread has been baked, their good work has already been accomplished. While the dough is rising, these little wonders break down and predigest the grains, making the nutrients easier for our bodies to absorb and causing some of their more indigestible elements, such as phytic acid, to become deactivated. So raise a toast to sourdough, for your health and for your delight!
How to Make Sourdough Bread
Your Sourdough Starter
For your sourdough starter you only need two basic ingredients- whole grain flour and fresh spring or well water. The flour should, if possible, be from freshly ground organic berries. I used half wheat and half rye with great results. If you do not have a kitchen mill, a food processer will work. A blender might even do the trick. The organic grains that have not been sprayed with chemicals are the best source for the wild yeasts that will raise your bread. Also, be sure your water is as free from chemicals as possible. Good well water or spring water are best.
Step 1: In a clean glass or ceramic dish with a lid, mix 1/4 cup tepid water and 3/8 cup freshly milled organic flour. Cover and leave for at least 12 hours, keeping it free from draft at temperatures between 65-85 F. If you begin to see tiny bubbles on the surface, go on to step 2. If not, leave it alone until you do, but discard if no signs of life appear after 2 days and begin again.
Step 2: Add another 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup flour, mixing well. Cover and leave for another 8-12 hours.
Step 3: Give your starter a good sniff. It should have pleasant, yeasty and yogurty aromas. If at any time it smells rotten or moldy, discard. At this point, add 1/2 cup water and 3/4 cup flour, mixing well. Leave for another 8-12 hours.
Step 4: Discard half of your starter (or save in refrigerator to make pizza dough or flatbread). and add another 1/2 cup water and 3/4 flour. This time, you can substitute 1/4 cup unbleached white flour for 1/4 cup of the whole grain. Soon your starter should be almost doubling in size within 6 hours, then falling back down as the yeasts and lactobacilli use up their food supply. Repeat this step a couple more times or until above result is achieved. Now you can begin using your starter to make bread. Your loaves will improve as the starter matures. Store your starter in the refrigerator, but warm to room temperature before using in bread. If you store for more than 2 weeks, you will need to discard half and feed with another 1/2 cup water and 3/4 cup flour and allow it to rise before using to revive it.
Sourdough Bread Recipe
3 cups whole grain flour (or 2 cups whole grain, 1 cup unbleached white)
If using all whole grain, add 3 tsp wheat gluten
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 of your sourdough starter (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups water
Mix all ingredients in large bowl. (Make sure you feed your starter with 1/2 cup water and 3/4 cup flour. Let it sit at room temperature for a little while to let the microbial activity start up before returning to the refrigerator.) Cover your bread dough with a lid and let rise 6-8 hours or overnight. Turn onto floured board, sprinkle on plenty of flour and knead 3 or 4 times, adding enough flour so that the dough keeps it's shape. Form into a round loaf and place on a floured towel or napkin. Sprinkle more flour on top and cover with another clean towel or napkin. Let rise 2 hours. Next, place a large lidded baking dish or cloche inside your oven and preheat to 500 F. When oven has reached this temperature, quickly open, removing the lid of your baking dish. Remove top towel and place loaf in dish by sliding your hand under the bottom towel and and quickly flipping into dish. Return cover, close oven and reduce temperature to 450 F. Bake for 30 min, then remove lid. If loaf is not browned on top, bake uncovered for 5-15 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on rack for 1 hour. You should have a lovely crust that crackles and splits as it cools. Now slice and enjoy with some organic cultured butter, some aged cheese or wine, some hearty soup or just by itself! You will wonder if heaven could possibly be better.