All of us have that one food we’re snobby77777… wait, connoisseurs… about.
From coffee to wine, or from to tacos or pastry. For me it’s bread. I’ve worked most of all my adult life in and around organic, wood fire, stone milled, artisanal (and so on) bakeries. So, having good bread literally at my fingertips for so long became second nature. It wasn’t until we moved away to Vancouver that I began to really see that I had taken it for granted. Landing in Vancouver I was 1) shocked to see that good bread really didn’t exist in the same way I was used to, and 2) if it did, it cost an arm and a leg. So two years ago out of desperation, I began making my own bread at home and haven’t looked back since.
Today, most store bought breads get a bad wrap, and with good reason. They are often filled with sugars (like corn syrup), colours, potassium bromate (which is banned nearly everywhere but the west), and l’cysteine which is made from either chicken feathers or human hair!! Beyond these, they often contain a trove of ingredients you’d never want in your kitchen let alone your body. Homemade bread (specially sourdough) on the other hand is a different story, and for me it’s a love affair.
In an age where gluten and bread are often seen as evils, sourdough is like the shining star that can prevail. Unlike yeasted breads which are rushed for proofing and often loaded with a mile long list of ingredients, homemade sourdough is a slow process that involves fermentation and basically just three ingredients- flour, water, and salt. The lengthy preparation means that the protein gluten is broken down by amino acids making it more digestible and suitable for those with gluten sensitivity (but still not suitable for celiacs – I will share a g/f sourdough soon). Plus it contains Lactobacillus which means the phytates found in flour are neutralized, allowing more minerals and vitamins to become available to you – happy tummy indeed! This lactic acid slows down the rate in which glucose is released into the blood meaning it even has a lower glycaemic index compared to yeasted bread.
While just starting out, getting into bread making can indeed seem like such a daunting endeavour (especially when there is SUCH good bread around). I’ve decided to break down my “choose your own adventure” method just to show you how easy making nutritious bread can be.
i) BASIC EQUIPMENT
- SCALE– All bakers will agree that to bake you need a scale, and this is never more true that when it comes to bread making. I have an inexpensive digital scale (from here) that I don’t love all that much, but places like Amazon sell loads of inexpensive varieties you can choose from. When looking for a scale try to find ones with proper buttons, as the buttonless (touch screen type) ones often have issues working and zeroing (a frustration I deal with regularly).
- FLOUR– Using the best flour you can get your hands on is key. It’s like that old saying about the quality of your work being as good as your worst ingredient. Look for brands that don’t use additives (many of which are banned in most parts of the world outside of North America). Keep it simple with just one ingredient, the grain. Of course, if you can get local, strong bread flour, that is an added plus. I love to use locally ground flour that is stoned milled such as GRAIN. They are my favourite local brand and they’re offing readers 15% off with the code WHOLEHEARTED15.
- FILTERED WATER – Anytime you ferment something in a city or urban environment, from pickle making to yogurt making, you’ll have to use filtered water. Water additives like chlorine inhibit fermentation, so bottled or filtered is best. That being said, I’ve used city water and I still ended up with a tasty loaf of bread.
- DUTCH OVEN– Since we’re not all rocking the wood fire oven in the back yard ;), a dutch oven is the next best vestal to bake in. I often use a Staub pot, but any heavy pot will work, just make sure it doesn’t have a plastic handle like some le Creuset.
- BLADE – To score your bread, you’ll need a lame, or a razor blade (I stole some from Adam’s shaving kit), but a good sharp knife (that is not serrated) will also do.
ii) STARTER CARE
- CREATING A STARTER -You can make your own starter (The Kitchn has a great tutorial), or if you’re like me and put off by all this work, you can simply get some from an established batch. Many of the bakeries I’ve worked at will sell a coffee cups’ worth of starter for a couple of dollars – since they often compost so much of it daily – so don’t be afraid to ask your local bakery. Another option is asking around in your friends groups or online. Most people won’t mind sharing a Tbsp. or enough to get you started. Finally, if you find a group of avid bakers in your city, they will be thrilled to share, so check online for Facebook groups and express your interest.
- FEEDING A STARTER – The idea of feeding a starter is daunting! And my forgetfulness/laziness about remembering to feed things dissuaded me from making one for years. Truth be told, starters are resilient. Sometimes I feed mine weekly and sometimes a month or more will go by and I’ll forget to feel it, but it always works out in the end. This is not ideal care, but it’s good to know if you forget about it for a while, it can be revived.
To care for a starter, keep in in the fridge unless you’re using it daily. Otherwise, the night before you want to make bread, take the starter out and compost all about 2 Tbsp. Feed this remaining starter an equal ratio of flour and water (if you’re making 1 loaf below you’ll need 100g of this mixture, so you’ll want to make a little extra to keep your starter going. I recommend feeding it 75 g flour and 75 g room temperature water). Cover this mixture with a plate or lid and let ferment overnight. The next day go on with making your bread, returning the extra fresh starter to the fridge. On weeks when you don’t make bread, follow this same method but use less flour and water (say 50 g of each).
If you get a starter and want to change it over to a different type of flour (say rye, or even gluten free), you can feed your starter in the method stated above, but instead of returning it to the fridge, keep it on the counter feeding it every 12 or so hours. After a couple of feeds your starter will consist of nearly all the intended flour.
PROBLEMS THAT CAN ARISE WITH STARTER
- Liquid – Sometimes you’ll get a layer of greyish liquid on top of your starter. This is called hooch and occurs when the starter isn’t fed enough (like when I forget to feed it for months on end…. 😉 ) and it’s basically going hungry. If there is lots of this liquid on top you can pour it off, but I often just stir it into the next feeding, no problem.
- Apricot / Alcohol Smell – This is again a sign that your starter is hungry. It is consuming itself and you’ll need to feed more often. If this happens, feed your starter as you normally would and continue using it.
- Mould – I’ve never seen this happen, and it will only happen if you use an unsanitary jar. If you do see mould you can treat it one of two ways. If there is a little mould on the top, remove it with a clean spoon. Take a little bit of the starter and feed it. Continue feeding it for a couple of days to ensure their is no mould growth, then return the starter to the fridge until you need to use it. If the mould is beyond just the surface area, your starter is garbage and you’ll need to start over.
- Heat– I’ve had this happen to a couple of friends who have left their starter in the oven (to keep it slightly warmer) and accidentally turned it on. In cases like this, your starter is cooked and you’ll most likely need to start fresh.
Plan to get started two days before you want bread. 99.9 % of this time is inactive waiting, with only about 40 minutes total work. This is a tentative schedule for how I’d make bread.
- 9:00 p.m. Friday- Make leaven
- 10:00 a.m. Saturday- Make bread dough
- 10:30 a.m. Saturday- First fold
- 2:00 p.m. Saturday- Place dough in fridge
- 8:00 a.m. Sunday – Bake
BASIC RUSTIC SOURDOUGH RECIPE
10 grams sea salt
500 g grams flour (I like 50% sifted and 50% whole grain-but use any ratio)*
100 grams leaven (made the night before)
375 grams water (room temperature)
seeds or nuts (see below)
*The more white/sifted flour used means you’ll have a lighter loaf – the more whole grain, the denser.
STEP 1 – MAKING THE LEAVEN –
Two nights before you want bread, you’ll need to make the leaven (a word from French to “give rise”). This is usually the last thing I do before I go to bed. Take out about 1-2 Tbsp. of your starter from the fridge and mix it with 50 g of room temperature water and 50g of flour (sifted, whole grain, spelt, or a combo, whatever you prefer as long as the flour to water ration is 1:1).Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it on the counter to ferment overnight (a minimum of 8-12 hours). The next morning you know you can begin making bread if you pinch a little bit of the leaven off and it can float on the water’s surface (this means it’s full of fermented gas). If the ball of dough sinks, let the leaven sit out a little longer to ferment. If you can’t get to making bread until later in the evening, that shouldn’t be too big of a problem.