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Sourdough Craze

Ever wondered how to bake sourdough bread?

I clearly remember an argument between my history teachers at the university, if flour milling has been invented prior to blacksmithing. We couldn't agree on the answer but the fact is that "the origins of bread-making are so ancient that everything said about them must be pure speculation" (Encyclopaedia of Food Microbiology, Michael Gaenzle).


Prior to sourdough, bread was flat. And then some baker, somewhere, around 6,000 years ago, noticed that the flour and water mix he’d left lying around forgotten was bubbling, and expanding and it smelt odd. He stuck it in the oven nonetheless and was amazed: his bread was chewier, it had an interesting flavor. This, of course, is speculation, but however it happened, the new baking technique caught on, was developed, and gradually spread all around Europe and the Middle East.


This is the process known today as sourdough, in which a “starter” of combined flour and water is fermented over several days with regular additions of flour and water by the wild yeasts and lactobacilli naturally present in ground grain: this starter is then added to the baker’s dough, which is left to rise for several hours, and produces delicious bread full of holes, with a firm springy crust. Bread production relied on the use of sourdough as a leavening agent for most of human history. And even if yeast took its privileged place some 150 years ago, sourdough gets back its glory nowadays. I personally eat only sourdough bread and my digestive system thanks me for that.


Why Sourdough Is a Health Food


Why should sourdough bread be the only option? Maybe you heard about so called phytic acid, the principal storage of phosphorus in seeds, found in the bran part of the grain. In humans, and animals with one stomach, this phytic acid inhibits enzymes which are needed for the breakdown of proteins and starch in the stomach. These phytic acid molecules bind with other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, which make these important nutrients unavailable to us.  It is this lack of enzymes which results in digestive difficulties. The wild yeast and lactobacillus in the sourdough neutralise the phytic acid as the bread proves through the acidification of the dough. This prevents the effects of the phytic acid and makes the bread easier for us to digest. The lactic acid bacteria present in sourdough enhance acidification, which lead to increased magnesium and phosphorus solubility. Simply put the phytase enzymes released by the yeasts as the dough acidifies effectively pre-digests the flour, which releases the micronutrients and in turn reduces bloating and digestive discomfort. Sourdough bread also takes longer to digest. Lactic acid bacteria produce beneficial compounds: antioxidants, the cancer-preventive peptide lunasin, and anti-allergenic substances, some of which may help in the treatment of auto-immune diseases.


Sourdough is very rich in vitamins and minerals - it contains vitamins B1-B6, B12, folate, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin E, selenium, iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and potassium. Most commercially produced breads maintain only a fraction of their original nutrient content after all the processing they undergo.


A simple einkorn sourdough bread

Einkorn is my preferred type of flour as it is a good source of protein, iron, dietary fiber, thiamine, other B Vitamins and an antioxidant lutein. Moreover, einkorn I use is grown locally and I personally visited the farm that grows it.

To create an einkorn starter, simply mix an equal amount of einkorn flour and water. Add a tablespoon of flour and water to the mix every day and observe how the mixture starts to bubble after only a couple of days. Once you have a starter, you can start baking! In the morning, mix 400 grams of whole einkorn flour (around 4 to 5 cups), the same amount of filtered water and around 200 grams of the sourdough starter. Mix it thoroughly. Oil a pan and transfer the dough into it. Cover with cloth and let stand on the counter for 6 hours depending on the temperature of the room. In winter, I preheat my oven to 35 degrees C (95 F) and switch it of when preheated so the dough can rise slowly at a stable temperature. While the time passes, you will see small bubbles forming on the surface.


When the dough has risen almost to the edges of the pan, you are ready to bake. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees C (480 F) for 15 minutes. Put the pan inside the oven, spill a glass of warm water on the (as well preheated) pan on the bottom of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, open the oven to let the steam evaporate, lower the temperature to 220 degrees C (420 F) and bake for another 20 minutes. Take the pan out, quickly dump the bread on a grill and bake for 10 more minutes. DO NOT cut the bread while still hot!



Happy sourdough baking!

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