Introduction to Traditionally Fermented Bread

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto

My first sourdough loaf

Many people, even kitchen enthusiasts, shy away from making bread as they consider the preparation of bread dough time-consuming, labor-intensive and unpredictable – many times more so when talking of sourdough bread, which is made using wild yeast rather than the more reliable commercial yeast. 

In truth, bread-making is not so much time- and labor-intensive as simply requiring some patience, planning ahead, and tenacity (which, I admit, are challenging aspects in our instant gratification world). Mixing the sourdough starter and/or bread dough isn’t a lot of work, even if you do everything by hand, which is the method I prefer. You get it going, and then you take your mind off it and do other things – and once in a while you check on it and do a quick knead or mix again. 

Nothing equals the aroma of freshly baked bread, but unfortunately, far from being the staff of life, modern quick-rise bread made from white flour offers little nutritional value. The proper way to make bread is to use whole-grain flour (wheat, rye or spelt) that had been allowed a long fermentation process (such as in sourdough).

Fermentation, Gluten, and Traditional Breads

Fermentation makes bread, and any grain products more digestible — often, people mistakenly think they are gluten-sensitive when, in fact, what they can’t tolerate is unfermented grain, and don’t experience any adverse effects when consuming traditionally prepared sourdough bread. The experiment of switching to properly fermented sourdough is certainly worthwhile before making the step of excluding gluten from the diet altogether.

Unfortunately, people who had been used to the soft sponge-like texture of quick-rise white bread will often find whole grain loaves dense and unpalatable. It is entirely a matter of habit, I believe, but nevertheless this can be an obstacle when trying to switch to a healthier diet.

Even if your family absolutely refuses anything but white bread, you can still up its nutritional value by baking with free-range eggs and healthy oils, and adding nuts, seeds or raisins. You may still have the satisfaction of knowing you have created a product far superior to almost anything you can buy at the store, in taste, health and usually price.

What about whole-grain bread not made through a traditional fermentation process? Is it still better than using white flour because it has more fiber and minerals, or is it inadvisable because it’s more difficult to digest? It’s a tough one, but overall I believe whole grain still wins, unless you really experience adverse effects after consuming it.

The World of Sourdough Bread

Recently I got into the exciting world of sourdough bread, using simple instructions for sourdough starter that called for nothing but flour and water, and was a little skeptical at first, leaping with joy when I saw the first foamy bubbles – hurray! It’s working! I’ve captured myself some real wild yeast.

By day five, my starter acquired a prominent yeasty smell and I decided it’s time to dive into baking. I used whole rye flour, opting for sticky dough that is stirred rather than kneaded. After proofing the bread for about 8 hours in a warm kitchen, I eased it into English cake tins and let it stand a couple hours more before popping it into the oven.

Unfortunately, I left rather too much room for rising, forgetting that rye bread, especially sourdough bread, does not rise that much. As a result I got flat and, let’s face it, sorry-looking loaves, but the taste was very satisfying – full, complex, a little sour, with a very pleasant chewy texture. It was delicious warm, covered with melting butter, and was definitely worth the effort and waiting.

I saved a bit of the dough for next time’s starter and froze it, because bread-making happens somewhat sporadically around here. I hope next time I get a loaf that is good-looking as well as great-tasting.

A friend of mine, who makes delicious sourdough bread in the way of a little kitchen business, tells me that her secret to great-tasting bread is in the flour: she buys whole rye and spelt in bulk, soaks and sprouts the grains, then oven-dries the grains and only then grinds them into flour which she uses for bread-making. For practical reasons (my oven is tiny) I can’t do the same, but I still think I did pretty well for a first-timer. 

The content of this post was based on extracts from Nurturing Hands: The Holistic Health Pocketbook

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna’s books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects onher blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here

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