For the past year I’ve experimented with adding traditional sourdough bread to my family’s diet. (Gasp.) Gluten? Seriously?
1) Ummm… It’s delicious, but could it also be nutritious?!
One of my favorite foods for the past 20 years has always been toast; however, when we stopped eating a vegan diet because it was destroying our health, I embraced a paleo-type diet and eschewed grains.
That served us well for a time, because as we slowly started adding things like quality grass-fed dairy and white rice, we were able to track how we reacted to them. It was kind of like going on a diet to find allergies where you eliminate a bunch of stuff and slowly add it back in to see how you react. Only, that wasn’t my plan. It just happened naturally as I learned more from people like Chris Kresser, Dave Asprey, and the Weston A Price foundation.
After some time, I decided it might be nice to have authentic sourdough bread, but my requirements for that sourdough were strict. The sourdough bread had to be organic and it had to be true sourdough… No added yeast. Long-fermented pure levain dough… fermented the old-fashioned way: with a starter.
I wanted my sourdough to be this way because that kind of sourdough can actually be healthy for many people. It’s less allergenic, easier to digest, and has some nutrition.
I never thought of bread as healthy, but I do now.
I remember Chef Pascal, from France, telling us in cooking school that he believed it wasn’t the gluten bothering most people, it’s all of the additives and crap in processed foods with flour. That statement opened my mind a bit.
And, as Michael Pollan said about sourdough bread in his docuseries, Cooked…
“If I gave you a bag of flour and water, and you had nothing else to live on, you could live on that for awhile, but eventually you would die. But, if you take that same bag of flour and water and bake it into bread, you could live indefinitely. … The technique, the technology of baking bread represented this revolutionary advance for our species.”
2) I was moved by Weston A Price’s research of healthy people who had sourdough bread as a staple in their lives.
From the WAPF website…
According to recent news articles, celiac disease–the inability to digest certain proteins in gluten-containing grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats–afflicts at least one in 30 people. So common and so debilitating is this malady that many popular nutrition doctors and nutrition writers forbid the consumption of grains as a matter of course. In The Paleo Diet, for example, author Loren Cordain blames the consumption of grains for our modern deficiency diseases, and the narrowing of the jaw so prevalent in modern humans. According to Barry Sears, PhD, author of The Zone Diet, the switch to a grain-based diet in Egypt was a chief factor in the emergence of the diseases of modern civilization. Dr. Joe Mercola tells his patients to avoid grain, period.
Yet Weston Price studied several societies that enjoyed remarkable good health even though they consumed grains as a principle foodstuff. The primitive Swiss of the Loetschental Valley baked a sourdough bread in communal ovens, made of locally grown rye ground fresh in a stone mill. Rye bread plus rich dairy products–milk, butter and cheese–were the chief articles of the diet. Likewise, the primitive Gaelic peoples subsisted on seafood and oats. Both these groups exhibited beautiful facial structure and were free of deficiency diseases.
Price also found healthy groups in Africa and South America that consumed large quantities of grain, usually as a sour fermented porridge or beverage.
Again, huh… that’s the sound of my mind opening just a bit more. Clearly, bread is not destroying everybody.
3) Sourdough bread is an excellent carrier for grass-fed butter.
More and more people are appreciating the health benefits of grass-fed butter. I’m one of them. So, it’s only natural that I find more ways to get more butter into my diet.
Sourdough bread fits the bill. And, lucky me… my farmer’s market had a baker who made sourdough bread the right way. He uses an old starter that he’s had pretty much forever (generations maybe). It’s long-fermented, pure levain dough. He uses all organic ingredients. It’s super fresh and doesn’t last if you don’t eat it within the few days after buying it, because his sourdough doesn’t have any preservatives. It’s perfect. And it’s perfectly delicious.
It’s just the kind of sourdough bread I’d make myself, if I were making my own sourdough bread, which I never ever in a million years thought I’d do. But, here again, I find myself drawn to making it. Chop Wood. Carry Water. I love cooking and I love the process from beginning to end. The kitchen beckons me. If I’m not in the kitchen creating something, I’ll find something to make.
I started buying this wonderful bread for my family, and, of course, we all loved it. We were ga-ga over having such delicious bread (and toast!).
When I eat it, I don’t even want people talking to me. I have to close my eyes, tasting it fully. I can’t help myself. It’s pure bliss. It tastes so right. It feels so right.
We did this for many months, having sourdough maybe once a week. Sometimes less, sometimes more. Every time we ate the sourdough bread we felt great. There was no bloating. There was nothing but satisfaction.
I think a trick to having sourdough bread in my life is that I don’t get carried away. I don’t eat it at every meal and I make sure that it doesn’t start taking the place of our veggies.
So, after finding myself making my own kefir, yogurt, butter, and cultured veggies, I entertained the idea of making my own sourdough bread.
It seemed so friggin’ daunting though. People say it’s easy but I couldn’t get comfortable with it. Therefore, I dove into researching it with the gusto that I research everything else.
In the end, I came out with a plan which used different tips from various sources.
The things I read in learning about sourdough bread:
I read a lot of books, articles, and websites about making sourdough. I spoke with my friend in Austria who convinced me to create my own starter instead of buying one, and she shared the details about how sourdough has been a healthy staple in her family’s life for generations.
The one common thread throughout my sourdough bread research was that it could, and should, be very easy to make.
Still… I couldn’t bring myself to take action.
I kept reading and re-reading and re-reading articles and books. I was trying to absorb as much as possible so that it would become second nature by the time I started.
However, I think the trouble I had with my sourdough bread research was that, in spite of some common directions from various sources, there were also some distinct differences.
For example, there were some people with specifics (like water temperature and using a scale) and other recipes where they didn’t weigh ingredients or mention anything about temperature for making sourdough bread.
I read that not every one kneads sourdough bread! That was interesting – like, really? Then, “folding” is enough? How? Why?
I also learned that some people vigorously stir the starter when you feed it and others just mix until combined.
I read a book where the chef uses oil on his hands instead of flour when working with the dough. I never saw that anywhere else.
Then, there’s proofing baskets and whether to use those. And, what do you bake it in? A Dutch oven is popular, but it should be the right size for the perfect loaf. Of course, there’s a regular bread pan but those don’t have lids like a Dutch oven does which apparently is important for getting a nice exterior.
There’s something called a “hydration ratio.” Yikes.
And don’t even get me started on trying to make tweaks to the recipes so that you get a good “crumb” – I mean, what the heck does that mean? Can there actually be a “bad crumb” with sourdough bread?
Another wrinkle is determining which flour(s) to use. There is an ancient wheat called einkorn which is probably the best wheat to consume (once made into sourdough bread). Its origins date back to 7600 BCE and is referred to as “original wheat.” It’s not hybridized, has more nutrients, and is more gentle on the body than contemporary wheat.
I was intrigued to use einkorn, for sure, but I learned that it doesn’t behave exactly like other wheat. Another example is rye… it’s a flour that can be easier to digest but also behaves differently, i.e., harder to work with.
But, wait, there’s more. We have sprouted flours as options which also can behave differently.
Lastly, there’s the issue of whether I should use freshly ground flour, as I have a stone grinder. However, it seems it’s wasted if using it on making (or feeding) the sourdough starter, but that using it with which to bake the sourdough bread could be amazing.
What should I do???!!! The decisions!!!
I found that all a bit confusing.
Yet, I guess all of these variances should prove that sourdough bread is forgiving and doesn’t require so much precision.
In the end, I realized that making sourdough bread is more tacit knowledge than anything else probably, though I felt better at having studied it so much.
So, for my entry into the sourdough baking world I decided to be as precise as possible. I chose to make my own starter following Ken Folkish’s book, Four Water Salt Yeast because he details so much, including times to do things, weights, and temperature. He’s Portland’s rock star legendary baker… so I chose his directions for my starter. To be clear, not all of the recipes in his book are basic sourdough without added yeast (as you can glean from the title), but he does have a couple long-fermented pure levain bread recipes, and I plan to try his first.
I will forgo the einkorn wheat until I’m comfortable making a basic whole wheat / white wheat combo sourdough bread, without the added distraction of sticky einkorn dough. From there, I can compare the way einkorn works and tastes. I’d ultimately like to have a sourdough bread that uses mostly einkorn for nutritional reasons.
Mmmm. Where’s my toaster and butter?
So, here are links to sources I used in my research:
- Cultures for Health – This company sells sourdough bread starters and has many recipes for using their starter. They have amazing online customer service. I have bought their yogurt starter (awesome) and milk kefir grains (haven’t tried yet).
- Ken Folkish’s Artisan bread site with videos and book (plus various other bread making books, but I like Ken’s best)
- Jovial for einkorn flour
- Various internet articles like this one from Holistic Squid
- Cooked docuseries by Michael Pollan
Here we are today… I started my sourdough starter.
And… It worked!!! It’s alive.
As I said, I followed a recipe where I weighed everything, used an instant-read thermometer to ensure water temp, I used spring water (I like Castle Rock), and I used a thermometer next to my starter so I knew the temp and could ensure I had that area of my house between 75 to 90 degrees F.
I bought a special, and I mean special, dutch oven. She’s the right size, 4.5-quarts, but, more importantly, she’s pink: Le Creuset Dutch oven. It’s going to be dedicated to making my bread so I wanted something, well, special. And, oh my dear, I love it. The minute I pulled it from the delivery box, my heart danced and smiled.
I even slept with it the first night. #DeadSerious
My le creuset… sleeping with us.
I named her Blossom (short for cherry blossom because those are my favorite flowers).
Baking sourdough bread tools.
I opted to get the right bannetons for proofing (two of them since many recipes call for making two loaves of sourdough bread – I have no idea why – and I’m not comfortable halving the recipes yet), but I can cook them successively in my one Dutch oven, Blossom. I do have a larger Dutch oven I plan to try so I can compare the resulting shape of the sourdough loaves.
I bought the right oven mitts
for handling the Dutch oven as it comes out of the 500 degree oven.
I went the extra mile and bought all of this stuff because, well, it’s a long story but I’ll try to make it short and perhaps elaborate on another post, but basically…
I’m making some life changes.
I find that being so strict with things in my life, such as food, is not serving me. And, in many ways, I’m becoming more relaxed and go-with-the-flow. Taoism is at the heart of it… accepting that the universe has a certain way to it, and you can either fight it or flow with it. I’ve decided to do the latter. So, making bread is an example of the life change I’m making cuz it’s fucking bread. It’s a big thing and having that beautiful pink Dutch oven is a symbol of that for me. I’m in a new chapter of my life and embracing sourdough bread is a big part of that. I’m chilling out more, enjoying the things that bring me pleasure.
I know gluten, bread, grains… they’re all controversial as to whether they’re healthy and if people should eat them. But, everyone is different. If there’s one thing to notice over the past few years of health news is how much genes play a role in people’s health and that includes our individualized responses to dietary variables.
For me, I think of how we evolved, how foods are prepared, what I’m drawn to, and what feels good with respect to my food choices. Then, my family experiments. If something doesn’t work, we stop doing it. If something does work, we keep doing it. I would encourage everyone to do the same. Think of what you’re drawn to, try it, and see what happens.
And besides… health is so much more than food. My health stems from multiple things including tons of walking and movement (we don’t even have a couch anymore), meditation, family, and community, too. It’s not all food.
Back to making my first ever sourdough starter:
After following the instructions for making a sourdough starter by Ken Forkish, after the first day I had success! Like, wow.
I couldn’t help but name my starter, Bertha. After she started to grow, she became Big Bertha. I imagine her helping me bake big beautiful loaves of sourdough bread.
Here she is, right after mixing the first time. It was simply organic whole wheat flour and 90 degree F spring water mixed together by hand until incorporated. I left it as is for two hours before covering it and placing it in a warm spot of 75 to 90 degrees F which meant my oven. Parts of the day I had the light in the oven on and parts of the day it was off. Parts of the day I cracked the door open and parts of the day it was shut. All the while keeping track of the temperature around the starter.
My first sourdough starter in the making. #notglutenfree
Here’s after day 1. I woke up to see that my sourdough starter is alive and well. She had some bubbles of activity and smelled nicely.
Per the instructions, I removed about 3/4 of the starter which was thrown away. “Spent fuel” as Ken Forkish calls it. Then, I added more organic whole wheat flour and 90 degrees F spring water. Mixed it by hand, until incorporated, and did the same thing as day one with respect to leaving it uncovered for two hours, followed by covering it and placing it in the oven where the temperature seems best.
1 day after sourdough starter was made, the beginning of day 2.
Halfway through day 2, Bertha is a strong girl.
I’m excited. I can’t wait to bake my first loaf of sourdough bread in a few more days. I’ll keep you posted. Read about the following days here.