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SOURDOUGH BREAD

The following recipe using the process of 'retardation' (that is cooling the dough) to lengthen the fermentation process to a few days. It makes a full flavoured bread, with an excellent crumb. Some people who are gluten intolerant have reported that they are free of symptoms when the sourdough bread is prepared with a long proving period.

 

INGREDIENTS

Makes one small loaf.

  • 4 cups wholemeal flour. (1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2 + 2 1/2 cups.)
  • 1/2 cup of sourdough starter.
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
  • 25 grams of lard, beef fat or butter.
  • 2 cups water.

INSTRUCTIONS

Sourdough Starter
Feed-up a sourdough starter 3 times a day with a little flour, for one day prior to using it.

Make the Sponge
Mix with a wooden spoon in a glass bowl 1/2 cup flour with the starter, then mix in enough water to make a thick soupy batter. This is called the sponge. Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place (28C) for about 4-5 hours to prove. The starter should double in size. If you use a glass bowl you will be able to see the formation of gas bubbles in the gluten.

Mix in another half cup of flour with the sponge and put aside to prove for another 3 hours, then add another 1/2 cup of flour and leave for another 3 hours. Feeding the sponge every 3-5 hours will increase the activity of the yeasts. The fermentation times will be dependent upon the temperature of the sponge and the microflora in your starter culture. If you need to add additional water then do so, but be careful not to make it too wet.

Make the Dough
When the sponge is ready dissolve the salt in 1/2 cup of water and add it to the sponge, then mix in the fat. Then add the final amount of flour called for in the recipe, in this case 2 1/2 cups.

If your initial sponge was about the 'correct' consistency (determined by trial and error) you should only need to add a little water to form a dough. (But if you do add water use cold water) Mix the dough in the bowl with your finger tips, (it should be soft and fluffy) then tip it out onto the bench top. Knead the dough until it becomes silky, carefully adding teaspoons of cold water as you go, until you have a soft resilient dough. Note it is preferable to have the dough wetter rather than drier. Depending upon the type of flour, the correct moisture content is usually arrived at (for spelt and wheat flour) when the dough just sticks to the bench top and your hands. The less gluten the more the dough will stick. After you have kneaded the dough for 5 minutes transfer it to a glass bowl, put the bowl inside a plastic bag and refrigerate for 12-72 hours.

(Artisan bakeries sometimes have a retardation refrigerator set at 15C. Since I work from home I use my kitchen refrigerator which runs at 3-5C. At this temperature, I can leave the dough in the refrigerator for days without it rising, but the lactobacilli still seem to do their job. Generally I leave the dough in a refrigerator for 15-24 hours.)

When you are ready to use the dough, unwrap it and leave on a bench top for about 5 minutes to warm. Knead for about 5 minutes, adding teaspoons of water as required until the dough softens and has a silky texture.

Shape the dough and put into a greased and floured baking tin or pyrex dish, cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place (28-32C) until it doubles in size (about 3 1/2 - 4 hours). Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes or until it is nicely browned and a skewer comes out clean. Once the bread is cooked, tip it out of the tin and turn upside down on a wire rack to cool. When properly cooked fresh bread has a hollow sound when tapped with the fingers.

 

SOME GOOD REASONS FOR MAKING A SLOW-RISE SOURDOUGH BREAD

In the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon she tells us that: "All grains contain phytic acid (an organic acid in which phosphorous is bound) in the outer layer or bran. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in unfermented whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.

Soaking allows enzymes, Lactobacilli and other helpful organisms to break down and neutralise phytic acid. As little as seven hours of soaking in warm acidulated water (sic) will neutralise a large portion of phytic acid in grains.

Soaking in warm water also neutralises enzyme inhibitors, present in all seeds, and encourages the production of numerous beneficial enzymes. The action of these enzymes also increases the amount of many vitamins, especially B vitamins

During the process of soaking and fermenting, gluten and other difficult-to-digest proteins are partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available for absorption. If the fermentation process continues for long enough and the requisite bacteria are present then most if not all of the gluten may be broken down. This would explain why some gluten-intolerant people can digest sourdough bread without any symptoms of gluten allergy.

In India rice and lentils are fermented for at least two days, in Africa corn, millet and teff are fermented for several days, Mexican corn cakes are fermented for up to two weeks, in Europe grains were fermented for several days..." (p452-453 Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.)

Properly prepared sourdough bread combines the beneficial effects of Lactobacilli, yeasts, soaking in water, an acid pH and plenty of time. Commercially baked bread uses a fast acting yeast combined with rapid mixing to produce dough ready to bake in less than a few hours. The pH of the bread is alkaline or neutral, no Lactobacilli are involved, only one strain of yeast is used, and the conditions are not suitable for neutralising phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors and breaking down gluten into a more digestible form.

Even sourdough yeasts can reach such a state of activity that the dough has risen before the primary beneficial effects of the sourdough process have had a chance to take effect. It is not unusual for sourdough to reach its peak in a few hours, which is barely enough time for the Lactobacilli to get started. (Sound familiar). (Also, it is not unusual for the microflora of a starter to change. A San Francisco starter may be a San Francisco starter in San Francisco but culture it on the Gold Coast of Australia in a different environment and the microflora may change into something unique to the Gold Coast.)

Many sourdough breads are not true sourdough because there has not been sufficient time for the bacteria to produce enough lactic acid to give the bread that characteristic flavour. (In fact many commercial sourdough breads taste much the same as a non-sourdough bread.) If you want to gain the full benefits of sourdough bread you need to ensure that Lactobacilli are present in large enough quantities, and find a way to lengthen the period of fermentation.

 

NOTES ON REJUVENATING THE STARTER

Ideally a sourdough starter needs to be used every day in which time it is replenished with fresh flour. If you only make one loaf of bread each week then the starter will probably lose some of its yeast activity and not make the bread rise to its full capacity. This is in part, because when the alcohol content reaches a certain level it kills off the yeasts.

There are a number of things that you can do. On removing the starter from the refrigerator (where it should be stored) take one teaspoon of starter and feed it 1/4 cup of flour and some water every six hours. After two days the starter should have regenerated itself. If the starter is still not active enough add one tablespoon of raisins to the starter. Raisins generally seem to work better than sultana's or currants.

An alternative is to add freshly made rejuvelac to the sponge. Rejuvelac provides a range of lactobacilli and yeasts and boosts the activity of your starter. So why not just use rejuvelac as a starter? Well you could, except that rejuvelac does not provide the range of micro-organisms that a mature sourdough starter does and therefore will not provide the same flavour and aroma.

As a last resort add a teaspoonful of rice malt, barley malt or blackstrap molasses. Artisan bakers would probably object to this practice but for home bakers who may only bake bread once a month this could make all the difference.

In addition we need to remember that the rising of the bread should remain secondary to the removal of the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, which I believe is probably more achieved through the use of a mature starter. When a starter loses its activity we are generally referring to the loss of yeast activity. When a starter loses its lactobacilli activity then we lose flavour. So one way to gauge whether you have a true sourdough bread is by the flavour. If it tastes yeasty, like commercial bread then you need to modify your technique until you get the flavour, which is an indicator of lactobacilli activity.

 

ADDITIONAL NOTES ON BREAD MAKING

  • Many factors influence the making of sourdough bread; the ingredients, type of oven, temperature of your kitchen and so on.
  • The incubation temperature is critical to the success of your bread. The optimum temperature is 28C. Between 35C and 45C the yeasts will die. The lactobacilli activity peaks at 34C so if you wish to get a sourer bread then incubate the bread at 32C. At 21C the activity of the yeast will be roughly half that of 28C so the fermenation will take twice as long.
  • Use 30-60% of the flour called for in the recipe in the sponge. The percentage of flour used in the sponge will affect the rising time and flavour of the bread.
  • If adding ingredients such as dried fruit and nuts then add them at the end because they may cause the gluten to break.
  • Most of the gluten should be digested in the sponge. Once all the gluten is digested the dough will not rise, hence it follows that sourdough bread that has risen must contain undigested gluten.
  • Knead the dough for as long as possible.
  • The technique of 'punching down' the dough is to de-gas the dough and increase the structural strength of the gluten. (In the same way that strong scaffolding will support a bigger building.) You may gently roll out the dough with a rolling pin to degas it.
  • Try the stretch test for gluten formation. Take a tablespoon of dough and tease it with your fingers until it is tissue thin and transparent.
  • Learn to recognize when a dough is under or over proofed.
  • Hard flour contains more gluten than soft flour.
  • Dough that has been retarded in a refrigerator will brown more easily.
  • Some bakers add a small bowl of hot water to the oven, the steam mixs with the sugars in the top layer of the dough causing it to caramelize and brown. The steam will also prevent the bread from drying out as much and create a loaf of bread that is more moist.
  • To make a low-gluten dough rise add some potato flour to the mix, and just before you bake it add baking powder. (Tricky). This will work best with the wet method of sourdough bread making. Gluten free bread may be improved by toasting.
  • A dough that is kneaded with a machine is often quite wet hence it is known as the wet-method. Dough that is kneaded by hand is much drier hence it is known as the dry method.
  • Some texts state that 1% salt will kill yeasts, hence it is generally added towards the end of the recipe
  • The fat coat of wild yeasts can be removed by vinegar, which effectively kills the yeast.
  • Some yeasts will store selenium.
  • Good quality double-thickness bread tins with reinforced corners will produce a better crust than cake tins. After use just wipe then clean with a paper towel. Pyrex dishes are useful for learning how to bake bread because you can watch the bubble formation as the dough rises.
  • Stand the baking tins on a steel tray in the oven to give more heat to the bottom. Bake the bread in the top third of the oven.

 

MEASUREMENTS
1 teaspoon = 5 ml / 5 gm. 1 tablespoon = 15 ml / 15 gm. 15 tablespoons = 1 cup / 225 ml. 1 cup = 8 fluid oz / 225 ml. 1 US gallon = 3.6 litres. 1 lb = 16 oz / 454 gm. Temperature 20C = 68F. Conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius: C = (F - 32) / 1.8. Conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit: F = C x 1.8 + 32

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