Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sourdough 101

Why Sourdough?
 Many of us know that whole grain flours are better for us than white flours. This is because the whole grain has the germ and bran still intact. These parts of the grain not only provide fiber but also many vitamins and minerals. What is less known is that the hulls of seeds (bran in the case of wheat) also have a substance called Phytic Acid.

     Phytic Acid is found in the hulls and outer layers of all kinds of seeds, grains, and nuts. The Phytic Acid helps the seed by binding with certain minerals and keeping them available for the seed so that it could use them to sprout and grow someday. While that is all good and well for the seed it doesn't work out so well for non-ruminant animals and humans who ingest whole grains. In order for our bodies to be able to absorb the minerals in grains we have to disable the Phytic Acid.
This can be done in a number of ways depending upon the seed, grain, or nut in question. If we have healthy flora in our intestines our bodies can break down some of this Phytic Acid.    But if we are lacking in key enzymes or eating large amounts of grain the Phytic Acid may actually be working as an anti-nutrient  and causing mineral deficiencies. 
 We can help our bodies out by doing some of the digesting before we actually eat certain seeds, nuts, or grains.   Simply cooking seeds can break down some of the Phytic Acid, but a soaking period prior to cooking renders grains and seed far more digestible.  Oatmeal for breakfast should be soaked overnight. I mix my oats, half of the water required to cook them, and for every cup of water I add 2 Tbs. of a healthy acid (apple cider vinegar, buttermilk, whey, kefir, plain yogurt, or lemon juice). In the morning I just add the rest of the water and cook for about 5 minutes.  For bread making I use a sourdough starter to break down the anti-nutrients in the whole wheat flour.

What Is Sourdough?

     A sourdough starter made from wild yeasts (not store-bought commercial yeasts) has bacteria called, Lactobacilli, which produce lactic acid which helps break down Phytic Acid.   A true sourdough starter is a symbiotic culture of yeast and lactobacilli bacteria growing together in a flour and water mixture. The yeast is wild, airborne yeast. It will metabolize the sugars in the flour and produce carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is what causes bread to rise. The lactobacilli will keep the environment acidic, which keeps harmful bacteria from growing and also makes the bread more nutritious by breaking down Phytic Acid.

How To Get Started.

     To get your own colony of yeast and lactobacilli growing all you need is flour, water and a quart jar. On the first day start off by mixing equal amounts of flour and water together in the jar. Start off small, 2Tbs. of each is plenty.   The jar should be left open if possible or cover with a cheese cloth to allow airborne yeast spores to find a home in the flour and water.   Don't worry if you have to put a lid on the jar do to flies etc... There should be yeast spores on the flour that will begin growing.   Whole wheat flour has more yeast spores in it than white flour and whole rye flour has ever greater amounts of yeast spores.   If you use flour that was stone ground as opposed to flour ground with steel burs it can have more yeast spores that survive the grinding process because of the lower temperatures achieved in stone grinding.   The second day you want to add 2 more tablespoons of water and flour and mix well.            

     Incorporating a lot of air in the mixture will help the yeast to grow better because in needs oxygen to thrive. There should be 1/4 cup of mixture in the jar.   The third day add a 1/4 cup of flour and water. There should be a 1/2 cup of mixture in the jar now.   On the third day you should start seeing air bubble forming in the starter. This is a good sign. It means you have yeast growing and producing carbon dioxide.   On the forth day add 1/2 cup of flour and water.   There should be 1 cup of mixture in your jar now.   On the fifth day you should pour off half of your starter. There will not be enough yeast to raise a loaf of bread yet but if you don't want to through it away you can make a loaf of regular bread (with commercial yeast)  and add the 1/2 cup of starter to it just to use it up.   The reason you need to pour off half of your starter is so that  it doesn't out grow it's jar.   After you pour off half there should be 1/2 cup left.    Feed it with 1/2 cup of flour and water.   Each time you feed your starter it should double in size.   So now there should be 1 cup of starter.   On the sixth and seventh days repeat the steps for the fifth day.

How To Make Bread With Your Starter.

      By day number eight the yeast should be concentrated enough to raise a loaf of bread.   By now it should be doubling up to twice it's size when you feed it and deflating by the time you need to feed it again.   There should be one cup of starter in your jar.   Feed it with 1 cup of flour and water.   Measure out one cup for your bread and put the rest that is left in the jar into the refrigerator.

    The cooler temperatures in the refrigerator with slow the yeast's growth down so that it won't need to be fed every day.    Starter kept in the refrigerator will need to be fed every week.   Check it frequently, though, if it develops a liquid on top you should feed right away.  The liquid is a sign that the bacteria has used all the food and is hungry.   The liquid is not harmful but does make the starter have a more sour flavor so you may want to pour it off.   To make bread dough combine 1 cup of starter, 1 cup of water, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and about 3 cups of flour.  This is a basic ratio.  You can also add 2-4 Tbs. of sweetener (honey, molasses, sugar, agave nectar, etc...), and 2 Tbs. of oil (olive oil, vegetable oil, melted butter, etc...).

     Sourdough bread should be mix up in a non-reactive bowl.  Choose a glass or ceramic bowl.  Avoid bowls made out of metal or plastic.   Sourdough bread dough can take longer to absorb all of the liquid so it is a good ideal to mix in the ingredients together and then let the dough rest for 30 minutes before kneading.  

     The dough should be kneaded well 8-10 minutes.  You may need to incorporate extra flour to make the dough workable but you want it to stay on the sticky side.   Once the dough is kneaded cover it and allow it to rise in a warm place.  Sourdough can take any where from 6-12 hours to rise depending on the strain of yeast in your starter and the temperature of the surroundings.  The dough can be mixing up late in the day and let rise overnight.  When the dough is doubled in size shape it and put it in a greased loaf pan.   Cover and let rise until just about doubled, 2-4 hours. Bake at 375* for 50-55 minutes.  Sourdough bread should be moist and stay fresh longer than bread made with commercial yeast.  It should be eaten within a week or frozen for later.

I hope you have found this lengthy post to be informative.  I have enjoyed learning the benefits of baking with sourdough and thought I would share some of them with you all.  I started my own sourdough using the method described and use it to bake most of my family's bread.  If anyone has questions, please ask in the comments section and I will be happy to answer them! 


SouthernGirl said...

Thanks for all the great information!! I plan to make the sourdough bread today, with the starter I have. I'll let you know how it turns out. Thanks again! =)

A Heart of Praise said...

Excellent job explaining everything! I didn't know all this; it's really interesting! In the past I had thought about making sourdough, but never did. I think I was to impatient to wait until the starter was ready when I wanted to make a loaf of bread that same day. I should have made my bread, and also started the starter for later. :) I just might have to try it now though! :) Does the starter stay good "forever" or should one remake it every once in awhile? Thanks for taking the time to post this!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and helpful information--thanks for sharing! I've never made sourdough before; it would be fun to try.

Sister in the Mid-west said...

I am glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for the comment. :)
To answer your question:
Yes, a sourdough starter should be good indefinitely if well fed. it is possible to freeze a starter if you are unable to feed it for a long period of time, say if you go on a long vacation or you just want to take a break from sourdough. All that you have to do is put your starter in a freezer container (a glass jar is fine) or a freezer bag and then put it in the freezer. When you want to bake with it again just pull it out of the freezer and thaw. You can start using just like you never froze it.
A word of caution:
Only freeze a well established starter. After the first 7 days you should have a strong colony of yeast. Before this point the starter should not be frozen.

Anonymous said...

That's really neat about being able to freeze a sourdough starter! That could come in very handy someday. Thanks again for writing about this, it is something I have wanted to do for a long time! =)

Anonymous said...

This was very helpful indeed. I'm a longtime baker, but have not been satisfied with the few attempts at sourdough. My husband is of Czech descent and he likes the bread VERY sour -- do you have any tips for me on that?
Thanks again. Sibyl

Sister in the Mid-west said...

Hello Sibyl,
Thank you for the question! In my family we try to keep the sourness to a minimum, so, I can recommend to do the opposite of some of the things we do to make our bread "sweeter." :)
1. Letting your starter, "go hungry," will cause it to become higher in lactic acid. I am not sure how long you can go without feeding your starter before it starves. I can get by with feeding mine once a week (when it is stored in the refrigerator) and still have mild tasting bread.
2. Instead of discarding the liquid that accumulates on a hungry starter you should stir it in when you feed your starter for a stonger sour taste.
3. A slow rise at cool temperatures will lengthen the fermentation, allowing more complex flavors to develop.
I hope this helps!

Sister in the Mid-west said...

Hello, again, Sibyl! :)
I also wanted to share this web page :
http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/our-daily-bread/ .
I found it when I was doing research about sourdough. The article on that page gives instructions for a traditional Russian sourdough bread. I don't know how similar that would be to the kind of bread your husband remembers. But I thought you may want to check it out. Happy baking!
-Sister in the Mid-west