8:24 AM

What's the deal with Sourdough?

Posted by Nicole |

So this post is both for you all as well as myself. I have been making sourdough for the last few weeks and am enjoying the challenges and taste, but must admit I hadn't really researched the reasons a lot of nourishing food enthusiasts choose sourdough. So here goes...

A few points I have come across include these positive elements of sourdough breads;

  • Using a sourdough starter is a time tested (dating back to ancient Egyptians) and very effective method for leavening breads. Here is an interesting look at sourdough.

  • Sourdough bread has less impact on blood sugar levels than yeast bread, also thought to be better for diabetics. This is because of the lactic acid that is produced from the wild yeast spores. Here is information on this, as well as here.

  • It is cheap. The bread I make consists of flour, water, a tiny bit of honey and salt.

  • Flour used to make sourdough bread does not need to be soaked. The dough ferments as it is allowed to rise over a long period of time. This is also the reason the popularity of commercial yeast boomed when it became available, however sourdough is easier to digest.

  • It has a wonderful, depth of flavor lacking in commercial yeast breads. It can be adapted to make a more or less sour flavor depending on your taste.

The sourdough starter I made comes from a recipe from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and while it has proven effective, there were days when I questioned it's liveliness. I combined rye flour and water in a large jar and daily "fed" this mixture with more flour and water, each time changing jars and mixing thoroughly. This is a simple method and there are many methods found online some including adding a sugar, or regular yeast to get the starter going. I ignored those and stuck to my flour and water mixture. By one week I had a large amount of smelly flour and water but wasn't convinced it had enough bubbles or froth to be considered active. So I dumped some of this out, split the rest in two and continued feeding my smaller batches in smaller amounts more often (like two or three times a day) for a few more days. I noticed one of my jars had bubbles throughout and I decided it was ready!

Using the sourdough bread recipe also found in Nourishing Traditions I made a half batch of bread hoping for the best. Thankfully a friend who makes sourdough bread stopped by while I was kneading and told me it looked like it should, although she predicted it would be dense. The real test however, was whether or not my dough would rise. This was a little suspenseful as the dough is left to rise for up to 18 hours!! Thankfully mine rose in about 8. It doubled in bulk - yay! But... it was dense. Flavorful but dense. I made this recipe a couple more times with my remaining starter that I had been continuing to feed in between baking days.

Since I have been baking my own bread for a couple of years now, I have made enough dough recipes to know there must be another way to soften my really dense dough. So after looking for more recipes to test, but really wanting to stay true to the traditional methods and ingredients, I combined a couple methods and recipes to come up with a much nicer loaf. My new recipe calls for mixing my starter with more flour and water and letting it ferment a little to create a sponge. To this I add flour, water, salt and a little honey. Once mixed, the dough is left to ferment for 8-12 hours. Then the dough is kneaded, left to rest, kneaded and left to rest again before shaping. Once shaped, the loaves are scored to avoid cracking and left to rise for 2-4 hours, until doubled. Mine tend to double in two hours and are then baked at a higher temperature to brown and then at a moderate temperature to bake through. The bread is cooled and enjoyed, particularly with butter and raw honey.

My experiences have taught me that the real key to success for a completely whole grain, sourdough in my opinion is at least two risings. This is true of commercial yeast whole wheat bread as well, and I am really happy with the results. The whole family enjoys this bread and it lasts a few days on the counter and freezes well. So now I know that real sourdough bread does actually have health benefits I was unaware of and more importantly, it is Delicious! In addition to bread, I have used my sourdough starter to make pancakes (yummy) and am planning to make biscuits tomorrow.


Hanna said...

This is my next challenge. My mom's starter has been around for decades and she is going to give me some when I feel ready. They all use a white starter though, so that it doesn't need to be fed as often. I am curious about doing a whole wheat version but fear killing it.

Nicole said...

I think the older the starter, the more mature it is and it would be heartier. You can keep it in the fridge and feed it once a week or if you plan to bake with it bring it to room temp and feed it once, twice, even three times a day to increase the volume. Also, dumping out up to half every once and a while if the starter isn't being used is supposed to help keep it alive. I haven't found the rye starter hard to manage now that it is going and a smaller amount. And the bread is fun to work with... Hope you try it!

Anonymous said...

Thank your for sharing your experience using Nourishing Traditions recipe for Sourdough Starter and the Sourdough Bread. For the Sourdough starter and bread, I plan to use whole wheat flour no rye. Just to confirm my understand is that your current whole grain sourdough success is still using Nourishing Tradition's Sourdough Bread recipe except added honey (please mentioned amount) and allow 2 rises - 1 rises allow 8-12 hours ferment, 2nd rises allow 2-4 hours ferment 3rd rises allow 2 hours ferment. Apparently 2 rises would prevent the whole wheat sourdough bread not to be dense. I have also heard that too much rising would cause the bread to be too sour especially the 3rd rise. Your feed back is much appreciated.

Nicole said...

The recipe I have been using adds about 2 tbsp of honey and it is all mixed together, allowed to rise overnight then shaped and allowed to rise another 2-4 hours. Three rises would make an extra sour bread, however the biggest issue would be overproofing your dough. As long as you catch the dough after the second rise before it has fallen it should be fine. To counteract the sourness you could try using less starter (and more water) so that it doesn't rise as quickly. Let us know how it turns out. And it really takes practice. Every loaf will be different!

Anonymous said...

This is the 8th day, and my starter use whole grind wheat has plenty of bubbles, but the starter never double in sizes. I am afraid if I use this starter, the sourdough bread will not rise. I took 2 cups of the starter out before another feeding. For testing, 2 cups for whole wheat flour into the starter and formed the dough. I hand knead the dough many times like 20 minutes. I was told that knead the dough until when the dough I pull it will not break apart. Unfortunately,my dough breaks when I pull. I wonder if you have encountered this where the starter will not double. Also, the dough breaks even after many times kneading.

Nicole said...

Yes I have encountered that. My first batch of bread sounds similar to what you have described. I really didn't know if it would rise and my starter was not doubling. I did however seperate my starter into two jars and fed them individually. They did start to respond better this way. The bread dough is just dense! It may not stretch and develope the kind of gluten as regular white flour. You may experiment with a little more water and letting the dough rest before kneading to let the glutten soften. It does take time, but that is the fun of bread baking, it is different every time!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response. I have starter in two separate jars. I do notice that if I use warm water to feed the starter then add flour later. I do notice the starter rise at most to about 25% but never double.

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