I made bread for Christmas Eve like I tend to do and finished the rest of my instant yeast and it made me wonder how people in the past used to make bread. Did they have yeast starters that they would pass around or was there somehow else that they made their bread. If you have read through my blog or Instagram you have seen that I have made quite a bit of bread. I have most of the major tools to make it but until now I have always used the instant yeast that you can buy at the store. So here is my story of falling down the rabbit hole of learning about how bread used to be made.
I started by using dear old google learning a lot of things about natural yeast. I’m not foreign to fermentation. Husband uses to make his own beer, we have made home made wine and I used to also make homemade water kefir, with water kefir crystals, which I love but haven’t been consistent enough in keeping alive and free of other contaminants. I’m bad at keeping it healthy and unlike sourdough it isn’t something you can just throw out and start over with what you have at home.
I learned that sourdough is actually easier on our digestive systems. The wild yeast and lactobacillus in the leaven neutralise the phytic acid as the bread proves through the acidification of the dough. This prevents the effects of the phytic acid and makes the bread easier for us to digest. These phytic acid molecules bind with other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, which make these important nutrients unavailable to us. Long slow fermentation of wheat can reduce phytates by up to 90%. This process means that it does take longer to make sourdough bread because the yeast and the bacteria take longer to break down the phylic acid BUT you end up with a bread that doesn’t make your belly wish you had never even looked at that delicious morsel of bread. Great thing is that you can even make a large batch of dough and keep it in your fridge only to cut some off and make fresh bread every morning OR you can make many different loafs at once.
Sourdough is made from the natural yeast that is all around us and in the grain itself. All you need is four and water and use your hands to mix the starter together. If you are in a hurry you can add a whole grain of some sort which will have more strains of yeast in it. I added just a teaspoon of wheat bran to the starter because I didn’t have any whole grain in the house and because I am all about seizing the day and not waiting because then it won’t happen because I have lost interest already I didn’t wait. I just used what I had on hand which was organic unbleached flour and organic wheat bran and water.
Here are the things you need to start your starter
1 glass or plastic container
2/3 cup water
one small ORGANIC apple grated with the skin but staying clear of the core.
The next day I fed it the exact same measurements BUT only white flour this time and water. Yep, fed it. Yeast is alive and hungry all the time. It needs to be fed and for sourdough you need to feed it white flour and water. It is recommended that you do this every day or two, throwing out half or using it in recipes that call for starter throw outs, until day 5 or 7, depending how warm your house is and if you had whole grains and used your hands or not. You are looking for a good bubble and nice active reaction within 2-3 hours of feeding, but like the instant gratification person I am I could only wait until day 4 to try it out the first time and it wasn’t showing much of a rise because of my cold house. I had nice bubbles going on in the started and all so we will see what happens. Update: the first bread was a dense flop and I threw it out. After 2 days I tried again and had a little better results but it wasn’t great. Both loaves where super heavy. Both the ugliest loaves of bread I have ever made.
We keep our house pretty cool during the winter because we have a pretty big house that is expensive to heat and so that our kids keep clothes on. Our 3 year old thought that pants were optional before winter hit and keeping the house cool makes him want to put pants on. Anyway, this makes for slow fermentation in our house. Because of our cool house my starter was having a really hard time getting going. I would get a few bubbles but no rise. I did some trouble shooting searching and they recommended a seed starting heating mat, which I already had in the garage and boom my starter took off like gangbusters.
When I had finally gotten the nice bubbly rise out of my starter on the mat I tried again and Boom! I got amazing bread with great rise. I am so glad that I stuck with it and kept trying and troubleshooting. Key is to have the starter in a warm place where it stays at least 70F otherwise starting from scratch is a bit difficult. I’m told that mature starters are a little hardier.
If you are not brave enough to make your own starter then here is one that Amazon will deliver to your door with instructions on how to keep it alive.
Anyway, sourdough starters can be used in so many recipes in stead of instant yeast. I look forward to the nutritious things I will be able to make for my family with this fun starter and it is very easy to put these guys to sleep. You can keep your starter in the fridge to slow down their rumbling tummies, but you still need to feed them once a week, OR you can dry some of your starter out and put in a Ziploc baggy and keep them in the freezer for a long while then start them up again by re-hydrating and feeding them. That I can get behind also starting a new one isn’t that hard if you end up sadly killing your first from starvation. Makes for a win-win science experiment in the kitchen.
Stay tuned for my concoctions made with this magic starter. I see a lot of fun in my future.