Written by Shannon of Nourishing Days
I wish you could smell this bread. It smells of handmade farm tables and loaves shaped by the hands of our ancestors. It is the kind of bread that you slather thick with butter and eat with soup when snow falls and winds howl.
This is sourdough bread – tangy and moist, dense and nutty. It is the bread made for centuries before the invention of commercial yeast packets.
For over two years we did not make or keep bread in our home for health reasons. Bread now graces our table once again, but without the ill effects we felt before. And it is all thanks to the wonder that is traditional sourdough bread and the many health benefits it contains.
Health Benefits of Sourdough
Sourdough breads are leavened by a starter that contain natural yeasts and acids. The airborne yeast creates the enzymes needed to eat up or predigest some of the toughest-on-your-belly parts of the grain. This action creates carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in tiny pockets of dough, resulting in a natural rising of the bread.
Breaks Down Gluten
The longer soaking/rising time breaks the proteins (gluten) down into amino acids, making it more easily digested. This is why some who have a gluten sensitivity can tolerate sourdough wheat breads.
Better Nutrient Profile
Like all other fermentation processes, the bacteria present in the sourdough starter eat the starch and sugars present in the grain. This results in a lowering of the starch or carbohydrate content of the bread, which is helpful for keeping blood sugar levels regulated. It also increases some of the vitamin and mineral content of the grain.
Naturally Preserves the Bread
The lactic acid in the bread creates a lovely tang and predigests the grain for you. The acetic acid produced in the souring process helps the bread to store longer, inhibiting the growth of molds.
Finally, the bacteria present in the sourdough help to activate phytase, an enzyme that breaks down an anti-nutrient present in all grains, beans, and seeds – phytic acid. This may seem minor, but phytic acid is known to strip your body of minerals and can be hard on your digestion.
None of this can be said of the quick action of commercial yeast.
Recipe: Whole Grain Sourdough Bread
1) Obtain a Starter
You can do this in one of three ways. The first is to obtain an established starter from a friend, feed it, and use it for baking. Another method is to purchase a dehydrated starter from a culture starter company and follow the directions for rehydrating, feeding, and baking with the starter.
If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer like me, then you may want to make your own. Honestly, you won’t believe how easy this is. All you need is flour, water, a half-gallon jar, and a wooden spoon.
Here’s how I do it:
- Day 1: Combine 1 cup wheat flour with 3/4 cup warm water. Cover with towel or coffee filter and secure with rubber band or canning ring. Place in a warm place.
- Day 2: Add 1 cup freshly ground wheat flour and 3/4 cup warm water. Ditto above.
- Days 3-5: Repeat.
The time it takes the starter to become active will probably depend on what yeast beasts you have hanging around in your home. To maintain your starter simply feed it every day and keep in a warm place, or refrigerate and feed just once per week. I also like to pour the starter into a bowl once a week and beat some air into it with a wooden spoon.
2) Make Your Sponge The Night Before
I have found that giving the yeast time to activate without added ingredients results in a better bread. For this step you will need a large, non-reactive bowl, a wooden spoon, and the following ingredients:
- 4 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 cups active sourdough starter
- 3.5 cups warm water
Combine all ingredients and beat well to incorporate air. It should be the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with a damp towel and place in a warm place, like next to a heater or in a warm oven.
3) Prepare Dough to Rise & Bake
In the morning, get out your starter which should look active with bubbles and a bit of rising action. Give it a good stir and then remove 1 cup to set aside for your next batch of bread. To this you will add:
- 1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 5-6 cups of whole wheat flour, or as needed for kneading
- Add the butter/coconut oil to starter and fold in along with sea salt. Now add the flour one cup at a time, while mixing, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, but is still a little sticky. Remove dough and place on a well-floured surface. Now knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until smooth, adding more flour to work surface as needed.
- Butter two bread pans and set aside. Now cut your dough in half and form two loaves. Place loaves in bread pans, give them a few diagonal slits with a sharp knife, cover with a damp towel (tea towel, not terrycloth), and place in a warm spot. This time of year I place them inside of my oven and turn it on warm every time I walk past.
- At this point you wait until the loaves have risen past the top of the pan. Depending on how active your starter is this could take a couple hours or you may be baking bread around dinner time. This is something you have to make peace with when you bake with sourdough bread.
- Once the loaves have risen to your liking you will bake them in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you thump it. Remove loaves from pans and place on a cooling rack to cool completely before slicing.
There are many different ways to make sourdough bread, and I encourage you to experiment. That is the beauty of sourdough – besides it’s health benefits, it is also extremely versatile.
Have you made sourdough bread? Will you, now that you know of the benefits?