The smell of freshly baked bread can be hard to resist. When it is freshly baked sourdough bread, it is impossible to wait until the loaf has cooled before cutting into it!
Sourdough has been the traditional way to make bread throughout most of human history. Making sourdough is a complex art that gives you moist, chewy, flavorful bread. With some extra patience, you can bake a sourdough bread that is healthier for you than regular bread.
Why Eat Sourdough Bread?
Sourdough bread is a healthier bread than what you find on store shelves. Properly made sourdough can be made with three ingredients: water, salt, and flour. The dough ferments over a long period to transform the taste and texture into sourdough bread.
Sourdough bread rises because it uses wild yeasts that are found in the sourdough starter. This starter begins life as simply water and flour, but becomes much more over time. It collects wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria, able to leaven bread.
A starter is fed on a regular schedule, usually once a day. As it collects the yeasts and bacteria in your area, your bread becomes truly local.
In the 19th century, yeasts were isolated and bread could be made without fermentation. A strain of yeast was identified and became what we know today as baker’s yeast. It makes bread rise more reliably and quickly without the flavors and textures that develop from bacteria in sourdough.
Breads made quickly with baker’s yeast lack the complex flavors and textures that you find in a sourdough bread. Because we lose the time and bacteria, we add sugars, oils, flavorings and sometimes chemicals to make the bread’s flavor and texture better.
A growing gluten-free movement in our country shows that something is adversely affecting our health. Is it gluten? Modern wheat? White flour? Added chemicals? Quick acting baker’s yeast?
One theory is that we are making our breads too fast, and not letting nature do its work to make nutrients more available in our bread. In our haste to standardize baking, we have lost the health benefits of sourdough.
Sourdough bread is healthier than non sourdough. The long fermentation time builds up lactic acid, which helps your body to absorb nutrients better. Fermentation also breaks down the gluten that might affect your digestion.
Some say sourdough spikes your blood sugar less, but apparently that varies from person to person. Over time, eating sourdough may affect your beneficial bacteria levels, but short studies did not show this.
Sourdough bread does not last long, because it is a natural product. If you don’t want to make your own, you need to buy it locally. Seek out local bakeries and try some!
How to Make Sourdough Bread
There is a ton of information online and in print about how to make your own sourdough. It can seem intimidating, even though sourdough is the way we have made bread for much of human history.
Many amateur bread bakers are looking for the ideal sourdough. This means one that is round, tall, crispy and chewy, and has lots of irregular holes. But sourdough is a method, not a particular type of bread. If your fermented bread rises, bakes well and tastes good, then you have sourdough.
Sourdough bread begins with a sourdough starter. You can get one from a friend, or you can make your own. It is easy to make your own, but takes some time.
Mix up 60g of water and 60g of flour. Each day, pour off half of the starter and add another 60g each of water and flour. Over a few days, you will see bubbles starting to form in your starter.
As your starter matures, it will begin to grow each day. Bubbles in the starter make it rise and then fall as the sugars in the flour are exhausted. Once your starter is growing regularly, it is ready to use!
New sourdough starter may smell pretty funky when it is getting started. A mature starter should smell sour but not like cheese or other unwelcome odors. You shouldn’t see mold unless the starter isn’t being fed properly.
I have had sourdough bread that only took 6 hours to rise (it was hot and humid and central air was not available where I was living). In another house, my sourdough took 14 hours. As you learn how your particular starter works, you’ll figure out what timing is best for your breads.
Though the classic boule bread is delicious and impressive, you don’t have to make one. My favorite sourdough is made in a loaf pan, and makes fantastic sandwiches. It’s a lot easier to throw multiple loaf pans in the oven than a bunch of dutch ovens.
Right now, I’m playing with my sourdough loaf and fresh ground whole wheat flour. I’ve learned that substituting half whole wheat flour makes a slightly denser, but still fluffy loaf. My goal is to get it to 100% whole wheat!
Sourdough is really both an art and a science. It takes time to learn how your starter behaves, and you may get bricks at first. As you tweak your recipes and processes, you will find what works best for you, your starter, and your family.
Since sourdough bread does not stay good for long, it is definitely the kind of food you want to buy locally. I encourage you to seek out local bakers and markets and see what breads they have available.
Buying real sourdough bread isn’t cheap. Yet it is worth seeking out for the health benefits.