Ode to Sourdough Bread

I just did two weeks without gluten just to see what would happen. Nothing, thank gawd. My respect goes out to all those with a real gluten problem, I know it’s not pretty and it’s sure as hell not easy!!! 

Anyway since I’ve been thinking about bread nonstop for 14 days but not been able to eat it, I thought I’d eat it with my mind, so here are some ramblings on sourdough. Thank you heaven and earth for letting me have it again…. 

It all starts with yeast, this really fabulous one celled organism that reproduces quickly and converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It’s a delicious bubble making machine and we have been using it for centuries (we’re talking Neolithic era, as early as 4000 B.C.) to make booze and bread – still two of the consumable pillars of our society. Yeast is essentially man’s first industrial microorganism. Respect! 
Sourdough is made using natural yeast and lactobacilli, those fabulously useful bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut.

Fermented foods are responsible for feeding and multiplying all the good bacteria that play a vital role in balancing not only our digestive system but possibly all of our body, even our mind. (Double wow for sourdough!) According to growing numbers of experts in the medical field, “microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways”(1). Pretty great stuff!

IMG_5078 I am a seriously lucky woman in that my husband took up baking sourdough bread as a hobby a few years ago – I showed him the New York Times ‘No-knead bread’ recipe (still a go-to) by Mark Bittman and said, “Here honey, give this a try!”. The result has been freshly baked sourdough almost every weekend! 

Sometimes he even lets me join in the fun of the process. The above photo is a loaf I made recently. I won’t pretend it’s as perfect – you get used to analysing the rise and texture of a loaf in our house but at least we’re only really discerning about taste. But here is the greatest thing about baking sourdough at home – it’s rustic defined, each loaf looks a little different and perfection is to taste – some like it soft and some like sour to the max (like me!), but there is no wrong way.

It’s fun to play around with different recipes, experiment with different methods, hydration levels, flours and yeasts. It’s really a messy science. Once you’ve got it down though, it doesn’t have to take too much effort, just a bit of time around the house to work the dough, and being nearby when you’ve got to throw it in the oven. That easy and it’s lovely knowing that you’re creating something in your kitchen that humans have been making for eons. A little bit of history right at home.

I have played around with four methods and recipes: Richard Bertinet’s ‘Sourdough Baguettes’ from his book ‘Crust‘, an old sourdough recipe card I found in a battered file filed by a woman from the 1940’s on, a handout from my time at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, and our household favourite – Tartine by Chad Robertson. I’ll share it with you soon, but it’s still in the testing stages.

If you haven’t gathered yet, sourdough can be a bit complicated… but the good kind of complicated. For me it has been a love affair turned into a marriage – something I’ll be working on for a long time and from which I will enjoy wonderful benefits.

Stay tuned…

(1) A. Selhub, A Logan, A. Bested, Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry (J Physiol Anthropol. 2014; 33(1):2, published online January 2014.

 
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