Micheal Pollen tells us in the Netflix series, Cooked (Air) that if all you had was flour and water, you could survive indefinitely. Mixing flour and water together and catching wild yeast is how you make bread. And bread, is a really big deal.
I was oblivious to know that one could live on bread. I was shocked to learn that every culture in the world has a bread and that it’s eaten daily. I had no idea that bread is so important to life that wars have been fought over the right to have it. There seems to be a literal WAR over bread every century since at least the 1700s and surprisingly, right up to present day 2016. Whaaaaaaaat?
As I grew up, my belief was that white bread had next to zero nutritional value, but whole wheat was good for you. [I would not eat whole wheat bread! Still not a fan, but I will eat it. I will eat ALL bread]. I’ve always liked sourdough bread and left to my own devices I could eat a whole loaf myself in a day. I said I COULD, I didn’t say I would!
My adult life has consisted of bloating at the first crumb I swallow. It’s just the way it is. It wasn’t until I started connecting food and how my body looked and performed that I started to care about bread. I learned that if I didn’t want to be bloated on Friday so I could feel confident in a dress, that I needed to cut out all bread-like products by Wednesday at the very latest. Bread was a guilty pleasure.
Then, all of sudden it was a health issue. It is HIGHLY recommended for my temperamental digestive system, that I lean toward gluten-free choices. However, gluten-free is not for me. Not only are the ingredients in gluten-free bread ALSO not things I put in my body, there’s just no replacing the soft, airy texture of fresh bread made with wheat flour.
My relationship with bread is as strong as ever. I’ve educated myself a little (a lot!) and it’s going swimmingly. If you’ve been thinking you need to break up with bread, this post is for you. Though, I am instantly reminded 1) to point you to my disclaimer and 2) of my friend with gout who ended his relationship with bread a long time ago out of sheer fear of antagonizing the beast. Bread is not for everyone, obviously.
Here are my new beliefs around bread: Quality matters. I purchase local (I do live in wheat country), organic, stone-milled flour, just like it used to be before becoming public enemy number one. There are LOTS of different kinds of bread and some are definitely better for you than others.
It just so happens that if someone like me were going to eat bread, sourdough would be the one it should be. Fermented foods introduce good bacteria to the gut and are helpful to our gut workings. I’ve been talking about making sourdough for years. Then, in typical Laurie fashion, I volunteered to host a sourdough meetup.
I started a month in advance because I wanted a strong starter and I wanted to have experience with a few different sourdough recipes. Here is my sourdough story.
Sourdough is a Lot of work! It started off great and I used only the finest ingredients…being organic flour and filtered water. Even though we filter our drinking water, I still went out and bought filtered water—just to be sure there was no chlorine. Chlorine kills and sourdough is a very alive thing. So I named her Jane. Jane Dough.
Jane was busting out of her jar within her first 24 hours of life. I moved her to a bigger home and put a plate underneath. Just to be clear, flour and water are also ingredients to make glue. Be sure to instantly clean any surface that comes into contact with sourdough. Third day, she’s busting out of her surroundings again! My bad, I should have dumped a portion of sourdough before feeding, but at 5am, I told her, hang tight, I’ll do this as soon as I’m home. She did not.
I would also joke that Jane drank a lot because it smelled heavily of alcohol when I lifted the lid. Left unrectified, I’d be making hooch—low quality liquor! Hooch was not my goal so I had to find what the symptoms were telling me. That’s when I understood that not only is Jane a living thing, but we’re also very similar! Jane likes to be fed often and on time. As soon as it turned wintery, she was NOT prepared for that and she does not like the temperature we keep our house.
In the end, Jane has a new mom now. I have her contact information and will be sure to check in with her after a good trial period. In the meantime perhaps she’ll find value in the paragraphs that follow.
My tips and general comments are: sourdough is a huge community and people are eager to share their recipes and experiences. So whether you’re looking for recipes or troubleshooting, there is an article or a video to help you. Everyone has their preferred methods. Some cooks weigh their materials for accuracy, some are just fine measuring. One lady insists on using a wooden spoon, despite there being no evidence of such, she thinks it makes a difference, so I did too. Don’t use metal.
Some recipes use a large amount of starter and essentially mix all ingredients at once and left to rise, once maybe even twice. Some recipes use a small amount of starter mixed with flour and water and left to do it’s thing for several hours before adding other ingredients. Nothing is spontaneous about sourdough. If you need a break from feeding your starter ever 8-12 hours —whatever number your starter tells you it is—you can store it in the fridge and feed it weekly. You need to take it out of the fridge up to three days before you’re ready to use it.
The strength of the starter—to know that it will induce rising, is tested by plopping a teaspoon of starter into a glass of water. If it floats, it’s good to go. Cook the loaves even if your dough didn’t rise. There’s nothing wrong with flat bread and the two loaves I made were perfect for dipping in the borscht we ate for supper. (We didn’t eat both loaves with soup at supper). “Dumping” a fair portion of starter happens on a pretty regular basis. Otherwise, you would just have too much. It’s pretty much always doubling in size every time you feed it. Ideally, you would make something out of it. If not bread, then pancakes, dumpling, or a facial mask.
Lastly, I’m very cognizant of high altitude baking. There are different rules when you live 3000 ft above sea level, and Calgary is 4000 ft above sea level. Rules change again above 6000 ft. So, I’ve added most of the links that I used to find recipes and troubleshooting. I hope it saves you some time if I haven’t crushed your dreams already of keeping sourdough in your home. You’ll find your own favourite sources as you learn and experiment and talk to people about yours and their experiences. Sourdough is fun and naming her made it even more fun. Thinking of her like a pet helped me remember to feed her as regularly as I did!
While I live in the city, I will purchase my sourdough from Cobs Breads. Even at $5.00 a loaf, I’ll be saving a fortune.