Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Healthier Bread

Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.

Isaiah 55 : 2

Long gone are the days when I used to pile up my trolley at the supermarket with plastic packages of soft, white, sliced 'plastic' i.e bread. I hesitate to call it bread these days and I'm so pleased I discovered what real bread tasted like, bread that was not devoid of nutrients or fortified by manufacturers who had stripped away the goodness and needed to add something back in that would appeal to consumers who were starting to become more health conscious.

I was brought up on the soft, white stuff as a child and bread making was never taught in my home economics class. My mother relied on processed, convenience foods which lined the shelves of the local 'Tesco' supermarket. Everything came out of packets and tins and even the fruit in the basket on the laminate sideboard was plastic! As a young wife and mother I started to pass on the legacy of white 'plastic bread' to my family. I was ignorant, I never thought to read the list of ingredients and I always bought the cheapest, sliced bread thinking I was making a wise 'thrifty' decision! I had never read or understood the wisdom of Isaiah 55 verse 2 and it had never occurred to me that the Bible was more than just a spiritual book and offered so much practical advice on matters relating to physical health and well being. Some of the healthiest foods that God provided for us are mentioned in the Bible... herbs, fruit, olive oil, milk and honey to name but a few and of course bread!

I probably had consumed homemade bread at some stage (not my own!) but I did not taste bread that had real texture and flavour until I sampled authentic sourdough from the bakery in the region where I now live. By this time our family was well and truly on its journey into health. I was now aware of the artificial ingredients added to bread, we had the made the switch to wholemeal and wholegrain loaves and I was committed to buying preservative free bread. I was also using my bread making machine but having discovered sourdough and knowing that it was one of the healthiest breads around I wanted to be able to make it for myself. God provided for our daily bread and 'grandma' came into my life thanks to a lady in the community who provided me with a heritage sourdough starter and a bread making class at her home. You can read more about my early days of sourdough baking in a previous post 'Baking bread with Heritage Sourdough'.

I can report that my elderly grandmother is still alive, full of health and vitality and living in my fridge! I bring her out almost every day to feed her with flour and water and I clean her home (i.e the jar) about once a month. The old lady on the jar is a real grandmother from generations past - an ancestor of my husband, I could not resist using the picture to make a label for my starter jar! It is a visual reminder that 'grandma' is old and needs to be looked after.

I rediscovered the joy of making bread by hand and kneading the dough is one of my favourite parts of the process. Why would I choose to give up kneading the dough? I'm not sure but I am always open to suggestions and when I saw the article on sourdough in the latest issue of 'Above Rubies' to land on Australian shores I was more than prepared to give Serene's 'no knead' sourdough a go. I followed her instructions to the letter and I even watched her 'You Tube' demonstration but I have to say my experiment with a really wet dough pounded with a rolling pin in a pot failed miserably! It led me to think 'If I was dough what would I prefer? To be pummelled with heavy rolling pin or lovingly caressed with bare hands?'! The finished result reminded me of a house brick and it took ages to bake in the oven and after more than an hour was still doughy in the centre. The family wanted to know 'when the bread was going to be ready?' and the next question was 'What happened to your bread?' I had missed the kneading which only takes me ten minutes and the next day I returned to making my sourdough the way I had been taught in my first bread making class. Back on the table that evening was the familiar Vienna loaf, slashed across the top with a dusting of flour, its interior crumb is dense, moist and chewy but definitely not stodgy and of course it has that tangy flavour one associates with sourdough!

By all means, give the 'no knead' wet dough method a try and by the way Serene offers some excellent information about the health benefits of sourdough but I am returning to the method which works for me. I enjoy my daily bread (or sometimes it is every other day) - it means grandma gets regular feeding and I have my regular workout... kneading is great therapy! My twin girls love to help knead too!

If you are a novice sourdough baker or a more experienced bread maker who likes to experiment there is a book I purchased earlier this year which I would love to recommend to you. It is called 'Wild Sourdough' the natural way to bake by Yoke Mardewi. She is an Australian sourdough bread making teacher and a home-baker. Her book is written for home- bakers and not aimed at professionals using commercial ovens. This book is a comprehensive manual that tells you everything you need to know about sourdough...the health benefits, getting started, the variety of flours you can use, different methods and recipes, oh the recipes! It is packed with so many recipes and unusual variations for sourdough. I would never have thought of using 'beetroot and feta' in a sourdough! There is even a recipe for a 'bitter chocolate, cranberry and pistachio spelt' loaf. I have picked up some very useful tips from Yoke - I do not need to add honey and oil and allowing my dough to rest or 'autolyse' for 15-20 minutes ' creates a dough that has better volume and is even tastier! I will not share any more advice from Yoke as I would love for you to buy her book. If you want to improve your sourdough breads and become more adventurous with your recipes this is the book for you!

Just one of the recipes you will find in 'Wild Sourdough'..I will be trying this one soon! I love sweet potato or kumara as I still call it!

I have yet to try some of the more unusual sourdough recipes in 'Wild Sourdough' but I am starting to experiment. I have been adding herbs and cheese to create savoury loaves and pizza bases and the apricot, almond and macadamia fruity sourdough I made the other day was sensational. It kept so well and could be sliced as thick or thin as one desired. It was delicious toasted and lovely to have with apricot preserves.

Flour, water, salt and starter are all you need to make one of the best breads!

Have I convinced you yet to try sourdough? If you bake bread with conventional baker's yeast have you ever considered attempting sourdough? If you can find someone who already has a starter who would be willing to give you a culture you are well on the way to discovering the healthiest, most delicious of breads or you could be brave and try to make your own starter. I have given away jars of my starter before but the friends I gave a portion of 'grandma' to, did the unthinkable - they let her die, mainly through neglect! I am paranoid about killing 'grandma' she has antique status and to think she has been passed on down generations of one family and been multiplied and given away to people like me! I feel like I am a custodian of the sourdough starter! So when I read that someone had killed her starter by feeding it with freshly milled flour I was mortified. I contacted Yoke by email and she reassured me that it was fine to feed my starter with the flour I milled at home. 'Grandma' has responded favourably to the freshly milled flour but I do let it cool down before I add it to the jar.

Yoke has an informative website www.wildsourdough.com.au and if you are fortunate enough to live in Perth you can attend one of her classes! I'd love to meet her in person. I have not attempted to make sourdough croissants or flat breads before and I'm sure a hands on class would really help. I've tried making ciabatta following Yoke's directions in the book - with a reasonable result but my family still prefer the wholewheat Vienna which is our daily bread.

Educate yourself and your children about bread! Bread is a wonderful topic for a homeschool project. It covers so many subjects:-

You can study the history of bread making.

Do a Bible Study on bread (so many verses!)

Learn about bread making around the world.

Discover the chemistry of bread... watch yeast inflate a balloon and observe its action as you actually bake a loaf and watch it rise! Learn about gluten.

Use this study to learn more about the commercial process of bread making and research the ingredients used.

Even politics can come into the study - have you ever asked why was bread making taken out of the home?

So dare I ask - what is your daily bread? It may not be a sourdough but is it a good bread made with wholesome ingredients? What your bread is packaged in can be indicative of what it contains but check the list of ingredients, the longer the list the more likely it is to be detrimental to your health. Does it contain preservatives? 282 or calcium propionate is the one to watch out for and is still widely used in many commercial breads, particularly Turkish breads and can cause adverse effects such as lethargy, gastro-intestinal disturbances and depression. Migraine sufferers are advised to avoid this additive. Several of the commercial franchises have stopped using 282 in their baked goods but it is commonly listed on many supermarket breads. Even bread baked daily on the premises of a bakery can be stacked with artificial ingredients. Occasionally, I am pleasantly surprised to find a bread at the supermarket made with whole ingredients, for example, Woolworths make a butter croissant which has no added extras, they are packaged on foil trays and even I occasionally break my 'no white flour rule' for these as you can tell they are made from butter but watch out they also make 'mini croissants' packaged on round plastic trays which do have added extras - emulsifiers and so forth.
My local supermarket stocks a wide variety of breads, the usual plastic, packaged brands but also organic breads and a range of organic, authentic sourdoughs including the locally made one which was my first experience of 'real bread' made only with flour, starter culture, filtered water and sea salt. They do cost more but because they are so filling and satisfying you only need a slice or two whereas ordinary sliced bread.... well it takes more than one loaf of commercial sliced bread to feed my family at a meal!

A jar of starter culture is all you need to get started!

I did realize though that the desire for healthy sourdough to become our family's daily bread rather than just a weekend treat could prove to be costly if I had to purchase it on a regular basis and this is what led me to begin making my own sourdough bread at home. Making bread has become part of the rhythm of my life, it is a routine which nourishes my soul because I know I am creating something which nourishes my family. I always feel an immense sense of satisfaction when my loaf comes out of the oven!

I love sourdough bread and I make it with love for the ones I love! I could not agree more with Yoke's sentiments in her opening chapter of 'Wild Sourdough'.

'We can buy so much 'soul-less food' these days, but there is something soulful about handmade bread. When we make something with our hands at home for those we love, I believe our good feelings and good intentions get transferred into the nourishing food or bread we make- making it taste infinitely better.'

I hope I have inspired someone somewhere through these last few posts to search for healthier alternatives, especially when it comes to staple foods such as bread, something which most families consume every day. For the sake of our health and the health of our families it is an issue that deserves our attention. Just start somewhere... begin by reading the label, switching to preservative free bread, persuading the husband to try wholegrain bread for his sandwiches and encouraging the school or community organization to also offer wholemeal bread at the next sausage sizzle fundraiser! Try something different, a preservative free lavash or pita bread at your next family barbecue! I dare you to taste an authentic sourdough from an artisan baker! You may even be tempted to start making your own bread at home and discover the delights of handmade loaves that truly nourish.

Until next time, enjoy your baking!

With love and joy,


A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

Ann you are on amazing writer and woman.
No wonder you are having these Happy healthy kids.
You get out what you put in.
I do make bread but it is a Breadmaker effort.
I have trouble some days just getting time to Butter some bread! lol!

As you mention once it becomes just part of your rythum of the day i am sure you would just do it.

What timme do you rise and go to bed....??
As whilst doing evevryhting form scratch is Prefferrable it is alos time consuming.

I am one of few in our circles that even cooks and bakes!

SF said...

Thank you Ann for this very thorough post - I definitely wish I made more time for bread baking, at this stage it's something I only do once or twice a fortnight and not enough to be our only bread intake!!! However I do look for good alternatives and my children don't even like white bread when they have it occasionally in someone else's home! Thanks for the inspiration to bake bread more- and maybe even learn to do sourdough sometime soon. :)

Chookie said...

I make my own bread sometimes and have found that because it tastes so good, everyone eats more of it than they do the supermarket bread! Haven't tried sourdough though, mainly because I suspect Sydney's summer humidity might do bad things to the mother. (Does Yoke's book address climatic issues?)

Fruitful Harvest said...

I have just started making my own bread daily!
I use my 2 bread makers...the kiddos load them up each night and by morning we have wheat bread and the house smells wonderful!
I need to get a wheat mill yet but do buy organic wheat flour and wheat glutten!
I just dicovered blackstrap mollasses!

What a great post!
I love the picture of your grandma on the jar!
So cool!
I love sour dough but have yet to make it!
I will get started right now! hee hee!


Ann at eightacresofeden said...

It is encouraging to hear that people are once again baking bread at home!
Starters and humidity.. I live in a region that can become quite hot and humid in the summer. My first attempt at making my own starter was not good and I do think the humidity had something to do with it. I experience problems with sprouting seeds on the kitchen bench in the summer..the humidity causes mould to grow. I also followed some advice on the net to leave your starter out on the bench and I managed to kill a batch even though I was baking with it regularly. Since keeping grandma in the fridge I have had no problems. On the morning that I bake I take her out and let her stand for a while. After use I replenish her with a 1:1 ratio of flour and water and return her to the fridge. Rye is the best flour to use for the starter. Do not use chlorinated tap water (we have rainwater tanks) and never allow metal to come into contact with the starter. Do not use a tight lid on the jar. I have left grandma in the fridge for a week without feeding her in the past. You can also dry some of your starter and freeze it if you are going away. The yeast cells become dormant but do not die. My friends who killed their 'grandmas' left her too long sitting in the back of the fridge, they were not baking on a regular basis and forgot to replenish her.
I have managed to keep my grandma alive for nearly 4 years now. I know I am blessed to have a very stable starter, it always bubbles up and looks mousse-like and foamy on the surface after it has digested the flour. If you are seriously thinking about baking with sourdough get Yoke's book, she offers so much useful advice which is easy to understand.

Kylie.. I have been getting up at 6am every morning for years... it was a good habit I picked up from our time on the dairy farm. I go to bed at varying times, as early as 8.30pm if I have nothing else to accomplish or much later if I am writing a blog post! Even later, if blogger is not cooperating! My children do the dishes and kitchen clean up most nights and I fold the laundry. With Christmas coming and craft projects I want to finish I expect I will be having a few late nights... will prepare me for when I will be staying up with a baby again!

Anonymous said...

If you would like I have a recipe for starting a sweet starter for a cake like loaf, called German Friendship Cake.

Best wishes
Jen in NSW
(you have my email - jungle_mama....)

Dave said...

Hi Anonymous
Don't suppose you would be gracious enough to share your recipe for German Friendship Cake would you? I remember my mother and her friends use to make it when I was perhaps 10-11 years old. I'm now 34 and have been trying to find one for years now.
If you would be kind enough to share please email me on frasier013@hotmail.com

Jen said...


I have posted the link to where I have typed out this recipe for you. I am now yearning to find some fresh yeast and get this started again. 7 years ago with only a toddler and a preschooler I sadly would eat most of this cake. With an 11yo, 7.5yo, 4.5yo and a baby now I am sure this will be eaten quickly.

Best wishes
Jen in NSW


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