Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Baking Bread with Heritage Sourdough

My bread making machine has been made redundant, the blade is missing and it hasn't turned up yet. I did once use the machine to make bread but found its results on the bake mode too variable. You've heard of mud brick houses, I was making enough 'bricks' to build a house from bread! It became just a dough maker and I used it mainly to make dough for sweet breads such as Swedish tea bread and French brioche. However, the main reason the bread maker is out of action, missing blade aside, is that I have rediscovered the joy of making bread by hand.

Three years ago, I was invited by a friend to visit her neighbour who makes her own sourdough bread. She was more than happy to run a workshop for a small group of ladies. I jumped at the opportunity as I was growing rather fond of a shop bought organic sourdough bread and this was not good for the family grocery budget!
We had a lovely morning making bread and touring the extensive food gardens of this older lady who passed on her knowledge so cheerfully. We each came home with a bowl of dough ready to bake in our own ovens, lots of cuttings from her garden and best of all, a jar of her heritage sourdough starter. I say heritage, because it has been passed down several generations of her family; it was her mother's and I'm not sure if she started it or whether it was also passed on to her by her mother. I believe it may have been brought to Australia from Idaho.
Regardless of its origin, my sourdough is really old and affectionately known as 'Grandma'.
The lady implored us not to let grandma die!
I've kept 'grandma' alive by keeping her in the fridge when she is not in use and feeding her regularly with organic rye flour and water. She seems to enjoy the rye and bubbles on the surface tell me there is plenty of life left in the 'old girl'. She smells good too, a healthy, yeasty, fermenting aroma. Before obtaining the services of grandma I had tried to make my own starter. I'm not sure what I captured from the air but it wasn't good, it did not smell right, in fact, it was quite offensive and I didn't attempt to use it. I had read that, if you can obtain a starter from someone else you would be more likely to experience success with sourdough. Not long after reading this, the offer of the bread making workshop came my way, an answer to prayer indeed.

My 3 year old loves kneading!

I make a sourdough loaf almost every day. Some people prefer to bake once a week, make several loaves and freeze them but for me I believe in daily bread, warm and fresh from the oven. I make my dough in the morning before we start lessons and if I am delayed I have been known to knead dough as I give a reading lesson to a child - multi-tasking!

Here are the ingredients I use to make my bread. Remember this is my method and it works for me. My starter is a very stable one and I have found I do not need to do two proofings as many recipes require. This saves me a lot of time. You may wish to take your starter out of the fridge in the evening,place it in a bowl,feed it with flour and water in the proportions the recipe requires, cover and leave overnight, you will reserve some of this culture returning it to the fridge and use the amount required for the recipe.
It is all very approximate as I make my dough by 'feel', adding more flour as I go until the texture is smooth and elastic.

Into a BIG mixing bowl I add

about 1 cup of starter
about 1 cup of lukewarm water
a few drizzles of honey
a slosh of olive oil
several cups of flour.... e.g, wholewheat, spelt or a multi-grain flour
a generous pinch of celtic sea salt (good sea salt should be grey in colour)

I start mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to clump together, and once it is not looking too wet or sticky I use my hands forming the dough into a kneadable ball, if it seems too sticky, I just add a little more flour. Then for the fun part, the therapy session - kneading! I find I only 'need to knead' for about 7-10 minutes. The ball of dough then goes into a plastic container with a lid and I place it somewhere warm to rise, usually this is on top of the oven; as the biscuits or muffins bake, the warm rising air does a wonderful job of expanding the dough. If the oven is going to be used for long periods or if it is turned on again later in the day, I remove the dough from the stove top away from the heat, too much heat can kill off the yeast cells.It also becomes too warm to shape into a loaf and the result will be a flat loaf.

I usually bake my bread in time for dinner. If you like your sourdough ultra-tangy you can bake it the next day, the longer you leave it the tangier it will be! Many recipes advocate at least a 12 hour rising period. I like mine with just a hint of tanginess. I shape the dough into a vienna loaf, slash the top with a sharp knife and bake it on the top shelf of the oven at 190 (celcius) for about half an hour.
I know when it is ready for when I tap the base it sounds hollow, if it seems too soft, I return it to the middle shelf of the oven for another 5 - 10 minutes.
Every time I bake, I feed 'grandma' before returning her to the fridge, usually this is one cup of rye flour and one cup of water. Don't worry too much about lumps they tend to settle out as they are digested! I use a clean wooden spoon to stir in the flour to avoid contaminating the starter. As 'grandma' rises up the side of the jar, every few weeks I pour her into a clean jar. I cover the top with plastic film secured with an elastic band, never use a metal lid.

The dough starting to rise, it can reach the top of
the container. I usually leave it at least 9-10 hours.

You never achieve a high-top loaf with sourdough as you would with ordinary baker's yeast but I don't mind as I much prefer the health benefits and taste of a good sourdough bread.
My family is now enjoying extra health benefits from our bread as I am using freshly milled flour. From my reading of books such as Nourishing Traditions, I knew that wholemeal flour goes rancid and loses it nutrient value after a very short time. I also read in the Bible:

'Bread flour must be ground; Therefore he does not thresh it forever,
Break it with his cartwheel,
Or crush it with his horsemen.
This also comes from the Lord of hosts,
Who is wonderful in counsel and excell
ent in guidance'
Isaiah 28 v 28-29

People believe the Bible to be only a spiritual book, yet it offers so much wisdom on physical health and well-being. There is a beautiful passage in Psalm 104 that offers much insight on God's natural provision for our health and it really does highlight how far man has strayed from God's original plan.
It says in verse 14a 'He causes the grass to grow for the cattle'
But today cattle are confined to feedlots and fed genetically modified grain. That is why we always try to source meat and milk from cows that have been pasture fed.
Verse 14b 'And vegetation for the service of man that he may bring forth food from the earth' Food in its natural state is there for our benefit but man in the pursuit of profit and convenience has taken that food sprayed it with pesticide, processed it, taken from it and added to it artificially, stored it for long periods (result - mushy supermarket apples - yuk!) and probably the worst disservice has been, to alter its very nature through modification of its genes.

Bread has suffered considerably as a result of the industrial revolution when factories took over the making of bread; the removal of the best parts of the grain and the aggravated promotion of an inferior white product adversely affected the health of the population which the makers had to try and rectify by adding back in artificially, the vitamins and minerals they removed. The final part of this passage in Psalm 104 mentions 'bread which strengthens man's heart' (v15b) Our most vital organ is sustained by bread! This is why I want to give my family good bread to eat. Even if you are buying wholemeal packaged bread or if you think because it says 'fortified' it's going to be good for you, you are being misled. Even at your local bakery which bakes daily, ask what percentage of wholemeal flour is in their wholemeal loaves. You may be surprised. Thankfully, there is a movement happening which I am proud to be part of, that is seeing bread making returning to the home and for those who are not in the position to make their own bread, there are entrepreneurs starting up small bakeries all around this country and in other parts of the world, who have returned to the old ways of making bread, artisans who care about their product. You will find them at the farmer's markets and judging by the queues at their stalls and the fact that they often sell out of their bread, people are discovering there is a big difference between this bread and what is sold in plastic bags in supermarkets.

So on to my wish list and the prayer list went an electric grain mill. We did some research and decided we would, when finances allowed, go for a Schnitzer or a Whispermill. This year, my prayers were answered when we were able to purchase a new Whispermill, saving over $200 on the retail price. What a blessing. I bought my first 10 kilo bag of wheat and I have been using the flour in all my baking with good results. I have only one reservation and it concerns my sourdough. I read on someone's blog (can't remember where) that when she used freshly milled flour to feed her starter it died. Has anyone heard of this happening before? I know that heat is the starter's enemy, so was her flour too fresh and still warm perhaps? I was going to buy some rye to grind for the starter but I don't want to kill 'grandma' by changing her diet.

I do use sourdough to make other types of breads, adding extra honey, dried fruits and macadamias to make a sweet version.
I have a great little book about sourdough I purchased for 50 cents from a garage sale. It is really interesting as the author has researched the history of sourdough around the world.

My children have grown to love sourdough; sometimes we just eat it plain with a little butter or cream cheese. It's lovely topped with a poached egg and fabulous to dip into pumpkin soup on a winters day.

So will the bread making machine end up at the recycling centre? If I don't find the blade soon, it may. As my 9 year old son once famously remarked 'It's not lost, I just can't find it'!

I still use conventional baker's yeast from time to time.(But never in my sourdough bread, that's a no no!) I do love a light 'melt in the mouth' brioche filled with apricots and drizzled with a little icing and I make barmbrack (thanks to Rhonda Jean! Go and visit her blog for the recipe, it is beautiful bread.)

Making bread has become such an important part of my daily routine here at eight acres of eden, I was compelled to write about it. I love to make bread and I am saddened when I see parents stacking up their trolleys with white 'cardboard'. Even if you are not into making sourdough, I do hope this has helped you in some way. If you haven't tried sourdough bread before, give it a go! On my first tasting I wasn't sure about sourdough, it was strange to my tastebuds but it grew on me. And if that bread machine has seen better days and is starting to churn out bricks, destined to end up in a garage sale, why not return to making bread by hand and find the delight in this wonderful home art.

With love and joy,

Coming soon 'The Craft Cupboard' and a sweet, simple craft for Easter.

1 comment:

A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

Oh I can just smell the aromas...
I used to bake bread daily but yes I did use a bread machine but it was pretty great.
Then all of a sudden i too started the brick thing!
I need to find a super easy recipe for bread for sure ...My kids eat lots ,lots of bread.

I wish somewhere round here sold bulk flour...Now that'd be a blessing.
I use heaps,I bake every week several times for snacks and bikkies.
I love how your breadmaking is such a passionate subject for you.


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