This is how my life works. I pick up something casually, a book maybe. I read it and something catches my attention. I end up being fascinated with some new interest and project for days… weeks… months… lifetimes. Such is the case again with my recent phenomenal exploration — sourdough.
I walked down to the lodge a few weeks ago for a soak in epsom salts (I work at a retreat center, by the way). I like to take a soak after a retreat so that I can clear all the funk out of my system.
I entered the back door of the lodge into the kitchen and casually turned to the book shelf and scanned the books. Tassajara Bread Book caught my eye — I had spent a month there last Fall and a few nights I caught the bread-man doing his magic at night when everyone was turning into bed.
I slid into the tub and read the book from cover to cover. The section on sourdough caught my eye because I am a big fan of rinsing/soaking grains before their consumption; this denatures the phytic acid and enzyme-inhibitors in the grain (also found in nuts, legumes, and seeds) and allows for it be more easily digested.
Soaking is a traditional practice that can be found in all our ancestral diets. I found a small portion of the book dedicated to sourdough and it had a few recipes for beginning a starter (the easiest way is to get it from a friend!). The method that caught my eye was making one from old cereal. Here’s what I did:
2 cups old cereal (mine was 7-grain cereal)
2 cups flour
enough lukewarm water to make the mixture soupy
The bread book actually didn’t give proportions, so I had to brave it alone. I let this mixture sit in the pantry in a stainless steel bowl (even though they say you should use ceramic or glass) with a cloth over it for about a week (if the temperature in your space is warmer, you can do less).
Around the 7th day or so I stirred it and smelled that lovely, funky sour smell! It was ready! I put it in a glass container and let it sit in the fridge for a few days more. I fed it a little flour (tablespoon a day) and some water (keeping it gooey).
I was then ready to make my first loaf. I followed Tassajara’s recipe to make french loaves. I cut the recipe in half and made a gigantic loaf. So, I will share the full recipe — just know that you’ll end up with lots o’ bread. I have also adapted it a bit:
5 cups kamut or spelt flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups starter (replenish your starter with equal parts flour/water)
4 cups lukewarm water
in the morning (or afternoon):
1/2 cup oil (olive oil, melted butter, coconut oil, tallow, etc)
1 tablespoon sea salt
5 to 6 cups more kamut or spelt flour
At night, add the starter to the flour without mixing. Then, gradually add the water, stirring everything until mixed well. You’ll end up with a thick, pasty batter. Cover and set aside.
In the morning, fold in all other ingredients gradually with a spoon. When the dough comes off the sides of the bowl easily, move the dough to a floured surface. Knead for 5 minutes, adding flour when needed. The dough will be a little softer and stickier than yeasted bread.
Roll your dough into a ball and let it increase in size of about 50% or so. This will take many hours to a couple of days depending on the temperature of the room.
When you are ready to make loaves…separate your dough into two equal halves. Gently roll out the dough until its 1/4″ thick, the shape of a rectangle. From the lengthier side, roll the dough up like a carpet. Pinch the ends and place on a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, the side with the seam faced down. Make a shallow 1/8″ slit in the top.
Spray the loaves with water and let rise for 2 hours in a mildly warm area. After 2 hours, deepen the slit in the top, spray with water again, and place in the oven for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Open the oven after 20 minutes, spray again, and turn down oven to 375; let sit in the oven for 40-60 minutes longer. When it is nicely browned, it’s ready to take out. Let cool for a 3-5 minutes and serve it up!
Making these loaves has been so much fun. Kneading dough feels to natural and so right. I like to infuse my dough with prayers for nourishment.
My first loaf (whole wheat and white flour) was given as a gift to a new friend — it was her birthday. It was nice and sour, dense, and chewy. The crust was nice and crispy-tough. Here’s the big fella:
For the second batch I made two loaves (mixture of wheat, buckwheat flour, and white flour), covered with caraway seeds and sea salt. I gave one loaf to a friend/farmer who was offering me raspberry bushes to plant; I kept the other loaf for myself. Here’s the second go-round:
Today I made sourdough, blackberry muffins. Wow. I’ve also seen some recipes for sourdough pancakes that I have yet to try. It’s next on my list!
Now, I’m thinking about sneaking in a bakery and helping out now and then…to learn more. I have my eye on my CA favorite, Grindstone Bakery and a local bakery I’ve been reading about here in NC, Farm and Sparrow.
“The peasants of Sicily, who have kept their own wheat and make their own natural brown bread, ah, it is amazing how fresh and sweet and clean their loaf seems, so perfumed, as home-made bread used all to be before the war.”
~D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), Sea and Sardinia