Mix one cup of water and one cup of whole flour in a bowl. Add one cup of flour and one cup of water to the mix for seven days until the flour has begun to bubble and smell sour.
For centuries fermented gruel, ale and bread formed the bulk of Europe’s diet – not quick rise white breads, pastas, cakes, biscuits, rice, corn, pizzas, or pancakes but coarse, whole-meal, slow-leavened, soured bread swallowed down with a glass of low-alcohol ale or beer.
All populations ate soured bread if they wanted their bread to rise . The only known way to cultivate yeasts was by harvesting them in a sourdough starter. In fact the process of separating yeasts from their food source to use in quick rise breads was not wide-spread until the early nineteenth century.
According to Suetonius, the “god” Emperor Augustus and pater patria of the Roman empire “…particularly liked coarse bread, small fishes, hand-made moist cheese, and green figs of the second crop.” A man, quite clearly of simple, though impeccable taste. Little wonder then that he out-lived and out-witted his many rivals and managed to rule an empire whose influence reverberates down through the ages. The “coarse” bread Augustus enjoyed would almost certainly have been a form of soured, whole-meal bread.
So what’s so special about a sourdough bread? Just about everything. It is, quite literally, the perfect loaf. Overflowing with flavour, graced with a pleasing texture and packed with beneficial nutrients two slices of soured bread can keep the metabolism busy for hours on end before there’s a rumble in the tum for more food. It has a low glycaemic index reflecting the fact that enough fibre and nutrients have been ingested to keep the body busy for a long while.
When water interacts with the milled whole flour lactic acid bacteria (LABs) as well as wild yeasts that are naturally present in the grain and air begin to feed off the sugars and minerals present in the flour. The wild yeasts and wild LABs live in a symbiotic, harmonious relationship with one another since they are not in competition for the same food sources. A by-product of the lacto-bacteria is lactic acid which in turn lowers the pH of the water-flour mixture. This in turn activates a number of different enzymes that set about deconstructing the biological structure of the bran in a whole-meal loaf.
The enzyme phytase will set about dissolving phytic acid releasing the minerals that have been sealed in the phosphorus of the plant. Phytase is excellent at reducing this anti-nutrient meaning it can no longer pose a problem when ingested.
Amylase breaks down complex starches into simpler, smaller constituent parts such as maltose, glucose and fructose. The enzyme protease begins to alter the structure of the proteins gliadin and glutenins that collectively are known as gluten. Finally, the number of vitamins, particularly certain B vitamins that can only be found in grains, is considerably increased.
The yeasts for their part consume the sugars that the LABs have no interest in as well as some of the LABs by-products. The yeast in turn excrete carbon dioxide which gets trapped between the gluten proteins causing the loaf to rise.
Because of the activity going on between LABs and yeasts it takes longer for the final bread to rise. Typically eight to twelve hours rather than one to two hours for quick rise breads that use nothing but baker’s yeast. This longer proving period allows the LABs and yeasts to go about their work and ensure that the flour in the loaf has been transformed into a more nutritious, easy to digest loaf before it is baked.
Bread which relies simply on dormant flour and yeasts may find that their bread rises quicker but that it lacks the flavours of a sourdough bread, the texture is airier making it quicker to digest and many of the anti-nutrients present in a whole-meal loaf as well as enzyme inhibitors will still be present in the baked good.
There are literally hundreds of ways in which to prepare a sourdough loaf and excellent books and blogs to guide those interested in baking a sourdough loaf for the first time. Master in the Kitchen has set out the most simple and is an adaptation of the Sally Fallon and Mary Enig recipe.