August 1, 2012
Make your own sourdough
The August full moon is here, and traditional people celebrate this time as Lammas, the first harvest of grain. Take this opportunity to make your own sourdough starter! It is fun, economical, and satisfying to create unique loaves with very little work.
Rye is the member of the grass family that has the highest content of pentosans, polysaccharides found in plants. Pentosans absorb much moisture and compete with the glutenin and gliadin (the two compounds that form gluten) for moisture, thus inhibiting gluten development. Rye ferments more quickly than wheat, which is satisfying when making your own starter.
I use a rye starter because it is delicious, low in gluten, and rye berries can be sourced locally from Butterworks Farm. It takes about a week for the starter to ferment. Once it is ready, you can bake bread as often as you like and keep the starter in the fridge when you are not baking.
To make the starter, mix 1 cup rye flour with 3 cups water in a mason jar. Cover with a thin cloth so that natural bacteria from the air can enter and help the mixture to ferment.
Stir the mixture at least twice each day - I try to do so in the morning and evening. After about a week, the mixture will start to smell like yeast. Now you know that it is ready for baking.
Before you go to bed, pour half of it into a large mixing bowl.
Add 1/2 cup each: millet flour, rye flour, spelt flour.
Add 2 cups water.
Stir vigorously, cover with a cloth, and set aside until the next morning.
Take the rest of the starter, add 1/2 cup each rye flour and water, stir well, screw on a lid, and place in fridge until the next time you are ready to make bread.
The next morning, mix the batter, add more rice flour to create a dough-like consistency and enough salt to give it flavor (1-2 teaspoons).
Knead for a few minutes inside the bowl with floured hands. Cover and let rise for 2 more hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Knead dough again, and either shape it into a round and place it on a greased glass baking dish OR place it in a greased loaf pan.
Coat the top with a mixture of water and olive or sunflower oil to prevent cracking.
Bake for 20 minutes, turn, then bake for 20 more minutes.
You will know the bread is done when you take it out of the oven, lift it off the baking dish, tap the bottom, and hear a hollow sound.
Let cool for 30 minutes, slice and enjoy!
I like to experiment with adding cornmeal, sunflower seeds, and the seeds of spices such as cumin, coriander, fennel, anise, and caraway.
When you are ready to make bread again, pull the starter out of the fridge one day in advance to re-invigorate it. Stir it well and cover it with a thin cloth. Let it come to room temperature for a day.
Separate half of it into a mixing bowl and repeat the bread-making process above.
Then, feed the starter again with 1/2 cup each water and flour. Stir it, screw on the lid, and place it in the fridge for next time.
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