When I received an email from Elenore of Eearthsprout and Sarah of My New Roots asking to participate in the Fabulous Fermentation Week that they are hosting right now, I was on a true kick and there was a little fermentation factory in our kitchen. Looking around, I saw jars of kombucha and fruit kvass, kefir, oat yogurt, sauerkraut, and a couple of different bread starters, and admittedly felt a little crazy. To be fair, many of those experiments were for the book, which will have a few delicious recipes involving fermentation. Wild yeasts were floating happily in the air, so it was perfect timing to say the least.
I’d love to celebrate Elenore and Sarah’s wonderful effort to spread the word about the great benefits of fermentation with a loaf of sprouted sourdough bread. Head over here to read all about the health in fermentation and see the list of bloggers’ links, which will be updated throughout the week.
After our summer trip to San Francisco and multiple visits to Tartine bakery, I became curious about sourdough bread, particularly about Chad Robertson’s sourdough method. Those of you who have ever tried Tartine bread know exactly what I’m talking about – there is nothing quite like it.
My ultimate goal was to find a way to make a gluten-free sourdough that tastes good. I’ve heard it’s possible, but have yet to bake one of my own. After experimenting with gluten free options for some time, I realized that I first need to learn to make glutenous sourdough the correct way and only then can I start experimenting. I began to study the Tartine Bread book, which cleared up a whole lot of issues.
It was challenging for me to follow the Tartine technique, as I only worked with sprouted whole grain flours, spelt in particular. I ordered beautiful sprouted spelt and wheat flours from To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. They make it to order, so it is incredibly fresh flour. Sprouted grains are believed to be digested by our bodies in the same way that vegetables are, because the process of sprouting breaks down the starches into simple sugars.
In order to completely understand how to make bread the Tartine way, you would need many pages of detailed instructions, and better yet, the book. But even the most clear directions might not be enough in the beginning – one needs to develop a baker’s intuition, which comes with the experience.
Right now I am working on a gluten-free sourdough bread and hope to share the results soon.
Below are some things that I learned from trial and error with different flours, applying Chad Robertson’s technique:
1. You need to be patient. It may take time to get your starter going, but if you feed it every day, it will always respond to your efforts, even if it seems that it never will in the beginning.
2. You have to discard about 80% of the starter every day and replace it with an equal amount of flour/water mixture. You need a reliable kitchen scale to weigh the flour and water. Bakers always use metric conversions as they’re more exact and convenient.
3. Go on with your bread only if the starter is undoubtedly strong and reliable – meaning that it’s falling and rising predictably for several days in a row. If in doubt, wait and feed your starter one more time. When you see a strong starter, you’ll know it.
4. Only a very small amount, about 1 tablespoon of starter, should be used for bread.
5. The starter does not go directly into the bread, you have to make a levain first.
6. The levain must pass a floating test.
7. The time of fermentation needed for ripening of the levain, bulk fermentation, bench rest, and final rise differs hugely from kitchen to kitchen. It depends on room and water temperature, the type of flour used, the amount of wild yeast in the air, how long and often you bake, your disposition that day, and who knows what else. You can begin with the general guidelines, but be flexible and patient.
8. Spelt sourdough will not rise as much as wheat will. Spelt flour makes the dough kind of runny and doesn’t hold shape well. Taste-wise, though, it is delicious.
9. Sprouted flours work very well in sourdough. You can replace regular flour entirely or partially with sprouted flour. 100% sprouted sourdough will make a darker, denser bread.
10. The degree of sourness of your bread depends on the time of fermentation. The longer you let it ferment, the more sour your bread will be.
11. You can delay bulk fermentation and final rise by placing your dough in the refrigerator. By doing that, you can manipulate the process to fit your schedule.
12. You absolutely need an iron cast dutch oven or a combo cooker to bake your sourdough bread if using a home oven. It allows for just the right amount of steam needed in the first 20-30 minutes in the oven.
1. In a medium sized glass jar, mix 70g of rye or whole spelt, or wheat flour (I use sprouted flours – spelt, wheat) with 70g of purified water. Cover the jar with cheese cloth, a nut bag or anything breathable. Wait for 24 hours and see if any bubbles appear. If not, leave it for another day or two, checking periodically. A crust may form on the surface. Remove it with a wooden spoon, check for bubbles and a specific sour smell.
2. Discard 100g of the starter and replace it with 50g of flour and 50g of water. Repeat that every 24 hours. Observe your starter carefully, it should begin to rise and fall in several hours after the feeding. Your starter is ready when it gets into a pattern and rises and falls predictably, at the same time.
1. Take 1 tablespoon of the starter, place in a large glass mixing bowl, add 100g of flour (you can use a 50/50 mixture of whole sprouted flour and white flour, all sprouted flour, or any ratio you prefer) and 100g of purified water (78F (25C)). Leave to ferment overnight, covered. Your oven is a good place for that.
2. Perform the floating test. Drop a small amount of levain into a bowl of water using a wet spoon. The levain should float on the surface. If it does, begin mixing your bread, if not – leave to ferment more and check again in 30 minutes. I’ve noticed that all whole grain levains don’t float as well as 50/50 levains. At times, even if the all whole grain levain floats for a few seconds and then sinks, it is enough to make bread. That is if your levain looks obviously well aerated – all bubbly and porous when moved with a spoon. It should also smell in an overripe fruity sort of way.
Mixing the Bread Dough
1. Weigh 100g of levain in a large bowl (never use metal when working with sourdough). Dissolve it in 350g 80F (26C) of purified water and add 500g of flour (sprouted, whole grain or a mix, whichever you decide to use). Mix it with your hands until no dry lumps are left. Leave it covered for 40 minutes to an hour to autolyse. Don’t skip this step.
2. Add 10g of sea salt and mix it in, squeezing the dough between your fingers.
1. Begin a series of turns. Every 30 minutes, grab the underside of the dough with wet hands, stretch it up and fold it back over the rest of the dough. Repeat this action 3-4 times until you complete the circle, to let the dough be evenly developed. Do this over the course of 2 hours.
2. Then leave the dough undisturbed for another 2 hours. You may need a longer bulk fermentation time if your ambient room temperature is very cold or the dough doesn’t become lighter after 4 hours.
1. Turn the dough onto a liberally floured (use brown rice flour) working surface. Dust the surface with more brown rice flour and shape it gently and briefly into a round loaf. Leave for 30 minutes, covered with a bowl or a kitchen towel. The dough will spread to the degree that depends on the flour that you use.
2. Fold the third of the dough closest to you up and over the middle third of the loaf. Then fold the thirds that are right and left to you, one at a time, over the center. Finish with the farthest side from you, stretching it over the previous folds. Grab the dough nearest to you, stretching it up and over, rolling the whole piece away. This way all the seams should be on the bottom. Round your loaf against the work surface.
1. Prepare a basket or bowl covered with a clean cotton or linen towel and generously dusted with brown rice flour. Turn your dough into the basket, seam side up and cover with the towel.
2. Let it rise for 3-4 hours at warm room temperature (around 75 F (24 C)) or place in the refrigerator for up to 20 hours. The time of final rest will affect the taste of the bread. The longer it ferments, the more complex and acidic the taste will be.
1. Preheat your oven to 500F (260C) 30 minutes prior to baking time. Place your cast iron combo cooker or dutch oven in the oven.
2. After 30 minutes, unwrap the dough, place a piece of parchment paper over and invert the dough onto it. Score the top of the dough with a very sharp knife.
3. Quickly but carefully remove the bottom of your combo cooker or dutch oven from the oven, leaving the lid behind. Use oven mittens and be very careful. Drop the loaf into the cooker together with the parchment paper. Transfer back into the oven and close the lid tightly. Decrease the temperature to 450F (232C) immediately. Bake for 20 minutes.
4. Open the oven and remove the lid. Bake for another 20-25 minutes until a nice deep colour. Wait for 1 1/2 hours before slicing if possible.