There’s a lot of talk these days about wheat gluten and how it’s probably bad for you. If you don’t have celiac, you might be considering going gluten free anyway because some people think that it makes you put on weight, or makes it harder to lose weight, or it turns to sugar which is bad, or something. You know what? I like bread. Like, a lot. I’m not saying these people are right or wrong, because I don’t know; I just know that I like bread, and in moderation, as long as I don’t down three tablespoons of oil with it, for me it’s fine.
I’ve been making my own bread lately, and it’s really easy. Somehow I ended up trying two varieties on ostensibly opposite ends of the bread spectrum: volkornbrot and white sourdough.
Volkornbrot is a really dense whole kernel bread (which is what “volkornbrot” means), typically 100% rye, that has an amazing chewy texture and rich sour flavor. It can also be made using any whole grains – quinoa, millet, wheat berries, rye berries, spelt, amaranth, or some combination thereof. I used rye and soft winter wheat berries and threw some dill in for fun, which I would do again. The process for making this bread is pretty simple, but before you get too excited about starting this tonight, let’s talk about sourdough starter.
There are already some great (and some really really involved) resources on the internet about sourdough starter, so I’ll keep it brief. Essentially, sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water that takes advantage of microorganisms in whole grain flour, water, and on your hands to promote the growth of wild yeasts. It’s a situation where good triumphs over evil: if you feed your starter every day by pouring off some and replenishing it with new water and flour, any bad bacteria present will (hopefully) eventually be taken over by the delicious yeasty kind.
Making a sourdough starter is, in my opinion, quite easy:
- Mix equal parts white flour and water (1 cup each, for instance) in a glass jar with a lid
- Every day, pour off half of the mixture and replace it with equal parts flour and water
- Tend the starter for week before attempting to use it.
That’s basically it. Keep the jar closed but not necessarily air tight – you’re not actually harnessing wild yeasts from the air. If you want to feed your starter with a different flour, whole wheat or rye work well too. Keep the flour and water mixed well and tended. Bubbles are good. Mold is bad. The starter should smell sour but not rancid, and if you can’t be around to feed it every day, it will be okay in the refrigerator for a week or two. This is what mine looks like:
You can also buy a good starter for your starter from some markets (like Whole Foods), in dry form to begin your fermentation, or order it online.
So let’s say you have a starter, and are ready to start making some dough. I got my recipe from one of those books that changed my life: Making It by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. I cannot recommend it enough. You can see the recipe and buy the book here. I didn’t have any sunflower seeds or barley malt syrup so I omitted them, and I also added a tablespoon of fennel seed with the flaxseed.
I also made a straight up white sourdough.
And proceeded to eat it immediately.
I admit that my loaf did not look like the recipe’s example from whence it came, but the texture was fantastic and the flavor was nearly perfect (flavor has much to do with your starter, and I don’t think I let mine ferment enough after its last nap in the refrigerator). Still, this instructable on sourdough has to be one of the best ever.