Tag Archives: bread

Why sourdough starter

Why sourdough starter

Why sourdough starter? It is the all natural way to ferment grains before they are consumed so our body can access all the vitamins and minerals in those grains.

Grains contain phytic acid which is the principal storage form of the mineral phosphorus, a vital mineral for strong bones and teeth. However, because the phytic acid in grains is in a form of phytates, a molecule which our bodies cannot readily absorb, much of it is removed as waste and up to 80% of the phosphorus is not available to us. Not only this but the phytates bond with other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc and removes them from our bodies. This explains why some people who follow a diet loaded with grains, cereals and commercial bread have high tooth decay. This effect of leeching minerals from your body is even present in raw muesli, which is generally considered a healthy breakfast [soaking the raw muesli overnight is a way to minimize this problem].

why sourdough starter
wheat

The phytates in grains also inhibits enzymes such as pepsin and trypsin in our bodies from breaking down proteins and starch into sugar. This is why people complain about feeling bloated and develop a bloated belly from consuming too much commercial bread. These undigested gluten build up in the body can eventually become toxic resulting in many illnesses because the digestive system has been compromised. The digestive system in our bodies contain 70 – 80% of our immune cells that fight diseases.

why sourdough starter
Long fermentation for a healthy sourdough bread

The wild yeast in sourdough starter breaks down the phytic acid so our bodies can absorb vital nutrients

When we use sourdough starter to make bread, we are introducing wild yeast and bacteria to our grains/flour. The long fermentation process which can take anywhere from 4 – 18 hours is what makes the final bread a living food that allows our bodies to absorb the complex B vitamins, Vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fibre which are rich in the grains.

The wild yeast and bacteria break down the phytic acid thereby releasing these vitamins and minerals for easy absorption. Fermentation is the key to consuming grains in a way that is beneficial for us. Many gluten intolerant people are surprised that they can eat properly fermented gluten bread and cake without any problems.

 

Use only freshly ground grains

GrainParts_300x338_WGC

Grains that are freshly ground gives the final seal of approval for the perfectly nutritious bread. Grains are made up of three parts; the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the edible kernel. It contains important antioxidants, B vitamins and fibre. The germ is the embryo which has the potential to sprout into a new plant. It contains many B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats. The endosperm is the germ’s food supply, which provides essential energy to the young plant so it can send roots down for water and nutrients, and send sprouts up for sunlight’s photosynthesizing power. The endosperm is by far the largest portion of the kernel. It contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Grains lose their nutrients quickly after the outer shell (the bran) is broken. In commercial milling the bran and germ is removed from the flour because the germ gets rancid very quickly once the outer shell is broken. The bran is sold off as food for livestock and only the endosperm is ground into flour. I grind my own flour and I don’t remove the bran and germ as done commercially. In an airtight container in a cool pantry the flour should be good for up to 3 months and in the freezer for up to 6 months

In the 1900’s in the United States the local mill in each community ground only enough flour each day to meet the demands of the people in the area. The flour could not be stored for long, and the people were, for the most part, eating fresh whole-wheat flour every few days. In 1873 there were 23,000 commercial mills in the United States. After the industrial revolution, this decreased and today there are only around two hundred commercial mills in the United States.

With this industrial revolution we also saw the advent of the common instant or dry yeast which most people use today, saccharomyces cerevisae. It was a strain of wild yeast which Louis Pasteur isolated and managed to commercially create in a laboratory and package for home and commercial use because it is predictable, reliable and fast-acting.

The problem with this is that wild yeast comprises a multitude of strains and each one complex in its own way. So to isolate just one strain to facilitate commerce and industry and getting people hooked on fast, instant and consistent results came with the price of poor health. You will also notice that Louis Pasteur is the father of the pharmaceutical industry. While this industry may be needed for many people, it’s encroachment upon food is detrimental to health. All drugs have side effects and the best way to cure your own body is to strengthen the immune system with the right food.

why sourdough starter

Sourdough starter has been the only leaven used to make any bread at all until just 150 years ago before instant yeast was introduced to the world.

Grains have much to offer us in terms of health. It has been consumed for hundreds of years by all our forefathers and in Biblical times the breaking of bread was significant as Jesus Christ called Himself the bread of life. From Egyptians to Indians to Westerners bread has always been a staple diet. Yet today it has been demonized and called bad for health and people are advocating a gluten-free diet. The answer is not to go gluten-free but instead prepare grains through proper fermentation to allow our bodies to fully benefit from them.

 

Baking with sourdough starter

Baking with sourdough starter

Sourdough starter is just wild yeast. As most bakers would use commercial yeast for baking, I use sourdough starter instead. Whether you bake professionally or at home, you will be familiar with commercial yeast usually sold in dried, powdered form. This yeast is saccharomyces cerevisiae, a strain of yeast, man-made in a laboratory to control the activity of yeast so as to produce a consistent result at all times.

sourdough pizza base
sourdough pizza base

The problem with this is that our bodies are missing out on the variety of bacteria and wild yeast that are made up of many different strains and not just one. This rich diversity cannot be replicated in a laboratory.

Many people use both sourdough starter and commercial yeast but all my bread recipes use ONLY sourdough starter. I also use starter in some of my cakes and anything at all that requires grains/flour [Please read “Why Sourdough?” to learn the health benefits of doing this].

To bake with sourdough starter, obviously you need to have some starter. Click here for guidance to make your own starter. If you don’t have the time or find it is too much trouble, you can buy a starter from those who have already established theirs. I will be giving out my starters FREE to those who sign up for bread-baking classes with me. Otherwise you can purchase the starter.

sourdough starter
An active starter should look like this. Bubbly with some holes and about double in volume after feeding

For loaves that are about 800 gm to 1 kg, use about 200 gm of dough starter. Dough starter is a starter that has one part water to two parts flour. It is more stable, stores longer between feedings and develops more fully in taste over time. As it is also stronger, you get a better rise in the bread.

Using the sourdough starter

Once you own a sourdough starter, you will need to maintain it with regular feedings. Click on the same link above on how to make a starter to learn how to maintain one. The starter should remain in your refrigerator when not in use. I would say a dough starter can keep comfortably for a month or month and a half without feeding in the fridge. Having said that it takes a lot to kill a starter[but that’s another article in itself 🙂  ]

There are techniques to knead a bread properly to get the best rise. I will teach this in my classes or you can watch video tutorials posted by others online.

For all the sourdough bread recipes I give you on my website, these are the key things you need to remember:

1. As this is a website for healthy food I never combine commercial yeast with wild yeast

Nutrients in Wheat

2. All my flour is freshly milled as grains quickly lose their nutrition from the moment they are milled. The milling process is also very important. Commercial milling usually heat the flour destroying vital nutrients. They also remove the bran and germ which contain valuable nutrients because it gives the flour a longer shelf life. The flour you buy commercially that has been transported over days weeks and sitting on supermarket shelves has actually very little, if any, nutritional value.GrainParts_300x338_WGC

3. You start every bread recipe by mixing the starter with the liquid and then add the flour. Just loosely mix without turning it into a dough yet. Leave it to sit for an hour before you add salt and then knead into a dough.

4. Dough should be allowed to prove for a minimum of 4 hours. Advanced bakers like to extend this period through what is called retardation or slow fermentation in a fridge overnight for longer hours to develop the complex flavors of the bread.

5. Contrary to popular belief, sourdough bread need not be sour at all. Only if you leave it to prove for a long time will you get this sour taste.

6. You can bake bread quite successfully in a conventional home oven but ensure you have a tray of water in the oven just above the bread to allow for steam and moisture while baking.

 

Sourdough Bread Baking Workshop

Sourdough bread baking workshop

It was off to Mooladhara, for a sourdough bread baking workshop. Mooladhara, nestled in the tranquil foothills of the Watagan mountains is the rustic abode of Warwick Quinton.

Warwick is an artisan baker. A master craftsman of bread in a world that doesn’t know what real bread is anymore due to corporations’ greed to bulk produce, cut out the time needed for fermentation and I won’t even go into the unethical agricultural and milling methods of grains.

sourdough workshop
sourdough workshop at Mooladhara
sourdough workshop
Outside the bakery trailer, Gypsy which holds Luna the oven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has contributed to much modern day woes such as gluten intolerancy, irritable bowel syndrome, candidiasis, Crohn’s disease, bloating stomach and many other diseases.

This word “artisan baker” has been exploited so much for marketing purposes today that the true meaning of the word is lost on the world until… you meet the real deal.

Warwick Quinton is the real deal. He ventured into sourdough baking in 1985 when there was no internet. He had to scour bookshops, libraries, health food stores and hippy kitchens to learn more about sourdough bread.

For centuries bakers have used nothing but sourdough starter to bake bread. The starter is nothing but flour and water that combusts over time into a bubbly blob caused by the voracious appetite of wild yeast and bacteria which are present all around us.

sourdough sciatta

 

sourdough workshop
pre-prepared dough

The problem with using nothing but starter is the difficulty in obtaining consistency in the end result because there are so many variables.

So commercial bakers look for shortcuts which will eventually hurt your health. But a Master baker knows how to work with these variables to consistently produced not only great tasting bread but bread that is good for your health.

Warwick’s “school” is a rudimentary, outdoor, makeshift classroom. We all gathered onto an elevated wooden platform for our sourdough bread baking workshop. There, prepared dough inside rectangular plastic containers awaited us, on long tables.

“The dough you see have been left in the fridge to ferment for 8 hours now. In my house we usually eat bread that has been fermented on average 14 hours,” Warwick informs his students, many of whom have traveled down from Sydney to learn from this sourdough guru.

Ever since Warwick turned his back on the corporate lifestyle of trying to bake in bulk while still staying true to his conventional methods, he has been happier as he has been able to concentrate on the craft rather than the “business”.

We had two dough to work with that day. One that Warwick had made and let rest for eight hours which we were to shape and slash and bake and take home by the end of the day. The other was the dough we had to prepare from scratch.Sourdough class

It was a very hands-on workshop with everyone getting a chance to knead, shape, slash while at the same time concentrating on his vigorous scribbling of invaluable information on the blackboard from pre-ferments to the various types of ovens and even how to modify your home kitchen oven for the best bread-baking experience!

Speaking of ovens, there was Luna, looming over our class eagerly waiting to devour our hand-crafted balls of dough. It seemed so surreal having a bread-baking class surrounded by nature and sounds of wildlife. Yet so apt as that was why we were all there.

Sourdough workshop
Adding the soaked wheat berries

To salvage the reputation of this “staff of life” that commercial industry has ruined to the point many people don’t even know what true bread tastes like. As Warwick said, “And that’s what I’ve learned about bread-making -it’s a confidence trick. But it’s so much harder now – we’re surrounded by ‘food porn’ on every newsagent’s window and our TV screens. We are spoilt for choice through the proliferation of Artisan Bakeries which seem to spring up in every town and suburb. Everybody knows what great bread looks and tastes like. Or at least they think they do. That’s until they try just one loaf of amazing home-made sourdough bread.”

I found several students at the workshop were not just there for the rustic allure of a bread-baking course in the wilderness. Not even for serious concerns about health, but those who actually liked the taste of rich, elemental sourdough bread. So much for the over-rated phrase, “Something that tastes this good, can’t be good for you.”

sourdough baking
Loading the dough into Gypsy the oven

One student was an old client who unabashedly admitted he follows Warwick wherever he moves his bakery. The workshop was a birthday gift from his children (probably because he is a big fan). He finally got to see what it takes to produce the loaves he loves so much. It takes a lot of time and care which the profit hungry bakeries of our era have replaced with production-line-factory-bread.

Finally it was time to fire up Luna while we added pre-soaked wheat berries to our dough and gave it a last round of thumping…oops, kneading 🙂 although Warwick did demonstrate a slap and twist technique I found quite appealing to relief stress.

Luna, the grand princess seated inconspicuously in her carriage, or rather bakery trailer, waiting to wave her flaming wand over plain dough and turn them into incredulous bread.

Ever the environmentalist, Warwick even uses old, stale bread as fuel for Luna. Yayyy! Thumbs up for Warwick.

Warwick’s only passion that can be said to rival that of sourdough baking is his love for building woodfire ovens. Luckily, they complement each other 😉

Check out his sourdough bread ovens; and for a quick oven demonstration.

At the end of a full day’s workshop we all went home with one still warm bread birthed from Luna’s belly and dough we made from scratch to bake at home.

Bell pepper on toast1