Monday, February 6, 2017

Sourdough Starter

Bread's got a bad reputation lately, but it hasn't always been that way. Bread has been a staple of the European diet for thousands of years, so why is it suddenly so bad for us? It's all about how it's made.

Store bought bread has been optimized to be fast and cheap to make. Industrialization is all well and good for some things, but it's turned bread from a nutritious food staple to junk food. There are 2 issues at play here:

  1. Our guts can't break down the nutrients in most grains. Ever notice corn kernels in your poo? It's not just corn that we can't digest, most grains are that way. Grains are full of nutrients, but our guts need help use them.
  2. Store bought breads are full of sugar. The sugar makes the bread dough rise fast, which manufacturers love. It also gives the bread a soft texture and sweet flavor, which we love. Unfortunately, the sugar is about the only part of the bread our bodies digest. This gives us a brief sugar high followed by a crash.
Before we had commercial yeast and sugar to leaven our breads, we had to do it with sourdough. The yeast in sourdough is slow. It takes no less than 24 hours to leaven a loaf of bread. During that time it's fermenting. The yeast slowly digests the flour and lets off CO2. This not only makes the dough raise, it also pre-digests the grain, unlocking the nutrients that our guts couldn't use before.

It's that simple. The natural fermentation that occurs when making sourdough makes bread a guilt-free nutritious food. Now here's how to make healthy delicious sourdough bread at home:

Making a Starter

Sourdough bread only take 3 ingredients: flour, water, and yeast. A starter is a simple mix of flour and water inoculated with yeast. You can get some starter from a friend, or you can make it yourself.

I think it's a great idea to make your starter from scratch. It helps you get acquainted with the fundamentals of bread making. Also, the flavor of each starter is unique to the place where it was made, so your starter will "taste like home" in a certain sense.

Making a starter from scratch will take about 3 weeks. To do so, mix half a cup or flour and half a cup of water in a glass container (I use a pint sized mason jar). Drape a small towel of cloth over it to keep stuff from falling in there and leave it on the counter. Once a day, scoop off the top half of the mixture and mix in 1/4 cup of fresh flour and water. After a week or two, you'll start to notice bubbles in the mixture. ITS ALIVE! By the end of 3 weeks, the mixture will be a fully mature starter, producing lots of bubbles and a tangy yeasty smell.

Storing and Maintaining a Starter

Taking care of a starter is a little like having a pet. You need to feed it and care for it regularly. I named mine Mittens.

You can keep your starter out on the counter indefinitely. Just remember to keep it covered with a cloth and feed it once a day. Feed it by scooping off the top half and mixing in 1/4 cup each of flour and water.

If you aren't using it regularly, you can put your starter in hibernation in the refrigerator. Feed it as you normally would by scooping off the top half and mixing in 1/4 cup each of flour and water. Transfer the starter to a clean glass container and cover with plastic wrap. Poke a few holes in the plastic to let it breath and put it in the fridge. I've kept my starter in the fridge for several weeks without any problems.

To wake a starter from hibernation, move it to the counter and feed it. Let it digest 12 hours, feed it again, and wait another 12 hours for it to be fully revived. Now your ready to bake!

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