Today, I welcome Amber Eisler to share a with us about the benefits and how-to’s of sourdough.
Sourdough is often thought of as a mysterious, temperamental, or outdated ingredient. However with a little information and experience anyone can bake using this traditional method of incorporating a live culture.
Sourdough is wild yeast and desirable bacteria living in a mixture of flour and water. It likely originated in ancient Egypt around 1500 BC. Sourdough will cause dough to leaven or rise, and can be used in place of commercial yeast. Sourdough is acidic, and contains various strains of lactobacilli that contribute to the development of flavor.
Baking with sourdough is a relatively slow process, as it does not leaven as fast as commercial yeast. During this slow rise the lactobacilli goes to work fermenting the dough. Through fermentation, the simple elements of flour, water, and salt are transformed into dough with wonderful, complex flavor. The slow fermentation also allows more time for the flour to hydrate, or soak up water. A higher hydration produces a moister, lighter crumb texture. The acidic nature of sourdough also improves the keeping quality of the bread.
Using a sourdough can improve the nutritional value when baking with whole grains. Whole wheat flour is more nutrient rich than white flour; however, bran (present in whole wheat flour) also contains phytic acid which binds minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, and magnesium, making them difficult or impossible to assimilate by the body. Fermenting the flour with a sourdough culture neutralizes the effect of phytic acid, so the body is able to absorb the nutrients that the whole grain contains. Many people find sourdough breads more digestible whether or not they contain whole grains, a phenomenon usually attributed to the lactobacilli aiding the digestive process.
Keeping a sourdough culture lively and active is simple and easy once you establish a routine. There are many resources available to learn how to keep a sourdough culture, which requires a minimal amount of time and effort. For in-depth information on how to start and keep a sourdough culture check out informational videos on www.breadtopia.com, or refer to the sourdough primer on www.kingarthurflour.com (or check out the variety of sourdough starters available through Cultures for Health). Basically, the culture will need to be “fed” an equal portion (by weight) of flour and water. Stir it up and let it rest at room temperature until it is bubbly and fragrant. Use the amount needed for your recipe making sure to save some “seed” for your next batch. If the culture is left at room temperature it should be fed about twice a day. Otherwise, store it in refrigerator if you won’t be baking for a few days. If the culture is kept properly, the flavor in the final dough is mild, pleasant, and not bracingly acidic.
One of the easiest ways to get your feet wet using sourdough is to make sourdough waffles. Following is a simple, delicious, and nutritious recipe for whole wheat sourdough waffles:
2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup Sourdough culture (bubbly and active)
2 cups Milk or Buttermilk
1 tablespoon Maple Syrup
¼ cup Butter, melted
½ teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
Combine the flour, sourdough, and milk. Allow to rest at room temperature for 8-12 hours. Whisk together the eggs and butter. Add all remaining ingredients to the flour mixture. Whisk until just combined.
Cook in a waffle iron. Serve with maple syrup, yogurt, and fresh fruit.
Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Here is a recipe for basic 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough bread (pictured at the top of this post). This recipe yields one large, hearty, versatile loaf. We use it for toast, sandwiches, or just slathered with butter:
1 cup Sourdough, bubbly & active (about 8 hours after feeding)
1 ¼ – 1 ½ cups water
3 ½ cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 ½ teaspoons Salt
Mix all of the ingredients with a wooden spoon, dough whisk, or by hand until the dough comes together. Add water as necessary to achieve a wet dough. Turn out of the bowl and knead by hand for about 5 minutes, or until the dough becomes elastic. It should be somewhat wet and tacky. Resist the urge to add more flour!
Place the dough back in the bowl and cover loosely with a towel. Let it rest for 3-4 hours, gently deflating and folding the dough every hour. If your kitchen is cool (as mine always is in Vermont!) you may extend this resting period up to 6 hours.
Shape the dough into a tight round ball and place seam side up in a bowl lined with a floured linen or cotton tea towel. Alternately you can shape it into a rectangle and place it in a greased loaf pan.
Let it rise in a warm place for about an hour. Or place in the refrigerator for a very slow (overnight) final rise.
Pre-heat the oven with a pizza stone on the middle rack to 450. When the oven is hot, place a square of parchment paper on a bakers peel or an inverted cookie sheet. Turn the dough out onto the paper so the seam is now down. Slash the top of the loaf with a serrated knife (to allow steam to escape and for further expansion in the oven). Slide the dough onto the pizza stone. Bake for 20 minutes at 450 then turn the oven down to 400 and bake an additional 30 minutes. If baking in a loaf pan the pizza stone is optional.
A few tips when making whole- grain sourdough bread:
The wetter the better! Remember that the flour will continue to absorb water during the fermentation (rising) process. When the initial mix is complete, the dough should be slack. Excess flour will yield a dry, crumbly, dense loaf.
Add steam. Steam in the oven allows the bread to get maximum volume and good texture. Place a small pan with a half cup of hot water in the bottom of the oven just after you load the bread in.
Practice often and have fun!
Amber Eisler is a Christian wife, mother, and part-time bread baker. She lives in Vermont with her husband Doug and daughter Abigail (2).
Baking with Sourdough – a wonderful collection of 21 recipes
Classic Sourdoughs: A Home Baker’s Handbook
Wild Bread – Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen – one of the best sourdough cookbooks available
Laura’s Guide to Building Your Own Sourdough Starter – a step by step tutorial on sourdough starters along with recipes