Sourdough September – reclaim your daily bread (2/2)
As we saw in Part One, our modern bread is making us sick. The Real Bread Campaign’s Sourdough September is an initiative to share the delicious delights of genuine sourdough and to encourage more people to bake their own.
Genuine sourdough made with three simple ingredients: flour, water and salt, plus one more element key to success: time. Bakers nurture the yeasts and bacteria naturally present in all flour to create a ‘starter’ culture which is then used to create delicious, authentic loaves.
Beware imposters and ‘sourfaux’
Despite on-going efforts by organisations like the Real Bread Campaign and others, there is still no legal definition of authentic sourdough bread. This means that the retail food industry (and too many local so-called ‘traditional’ bakeries) are producing commercial bread, to which dried, powdered sourdough starter has been added for flavour and are selling it to unsuspecting customers as the real deal and charging accordingly.
Whenever you buy a so-called 'sourdough loaf', it's worth asking how it was made and with what - genuine sourdough is made using a live sourdough culture (aka a starter or leaven) but NOT any of the following:
- Baker's yeast
- Dried sourdough powder
- Sourdough concentrate
- Yoghurt, vinegar, or other non-sourdough acidifier
- Flavourings, preservatives and other artificial additives
Next time you read the bread label, just remember this: authentic sourdough bread has just THREE ingredients and a helper:
- organic flour (I can't stress this enough!)
- and time
The key to sourdough success
The starter is the key to sourdough success - a 1:1 mixture of flour and water lovingly tended over 6-7 days to create a bubbling ferment from which your real bread will be made.
On each of the first five days, add equal amounts of flour and water into your container, mix, close and leave at room temperature (around 20°C) for 24 hours.
For the first few days, the mixture may appear lifeless and might also smell a bit strange, off maybe. This is perfectly normal and the starter will begin gently bubbling, while the aroma will morph into a ‘yeastier’ scent.
Once your starter is bubbling up nicely, you can use some to bake a loaf of gorgeous, authentic sourdough. But if it’s still not bubbling by day six, keep adding the 1:1 ratio of flour and water (called ‘refreshing’ the starter) until it does.
“Some baker, somewhere, around 6,000 years ago, noticed that the flour and water mix he’d left lying around forgotten was doing something odd. It was bubbling, fermenting; it was expanding; it looked off. It smelt a bit funny. He stuck it in the oven nonetheless - waste not, want not - and became the first human being to sniff that wonderful aroma: the smell of baking bread.”
- Barbara Griggs, The Guardian: The rise and rise of sourdough bread
To get the low-down and recipes for the amazing sourdough breads we regularly make at home (Baker Bridge's Classic White Sourdough and his 5-Seeded Spelt Sourdough Loaf), you'll want to read my book.
As you get into a routine of making deliciously digestible sourdough bread, over time you’ll find yourself with a lot more starter than you can use. Don’t throw it away: make crumpets or pikelets instead - they’re easy, quick and a million miles away from any shop bought offerings.
Pikelets? Crumpets? Who cares... just pass the butter!
The pikelet is said to originate from Wales, where it was known as ‘bara piglydd’ and later anglicised to pikelet. Some call it the ‘poor man’s crumpet’ as it was made free-form by those who couldn’t afford the rings to make traditional crumpets. I tend to make pikelets as opposed to crumpets, which can be difficult to get out of the ring and, because pikelets are cooked free-form, they’re thinner than crumpets so quicker to cook and are deliciously crispy at the edges… all good, I say.
We enjoy them for breakfast or brunch, buttered and topped with poached or scrambled eggs (smoked salmon optional) and served with a pile of well-seasoned buttered spinach and a couple of grilled tomatoes on the side. If I’m craving an afternoon snack (not often, but I sometimes do) then a couple of these beauties, drizzled with raw honey and a dusting of cinnamon (think blood sugar) and a cup of loose-leaf Earl Grey tea, really hits the spot.
What you’ll need:
Coconut oil: 1-2 tablespoons (enough to oil your pan)
Sourdough starter: 270g
Sugar or honey: 1 tsp (or to taste)
Sea salt: Maldon, pinch
Bicarbonate of soda: ½ tsp
What to do:
- Oil a heavy-based frying pan or griddle with a little oil and then place over a medium heat.
- Add the sugar or honey and salt to the starter and whisk well.
- When the pan or griddle is at a medium heat, add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk again.
- Working quickly (the bicarb has a limited ‘fizz’ window) carefully drop a tablespoon of the batter onto the pan. You want the free-form crumpets to be around the circumference of a normal crumpet, but they are likely to be a little thinner.
- Cook for a couple of minutes, until bubbles start to form on the uncooked surface of the pikelet, then flip over to cook the other side - aim for a light golden brown.
- If using rings, oil them really well and set the rings onto the hot, oiled pan or griddle. Scoop the batter into the rings and proceed as above. Crumpets will be thicker and will take much longer for the bubbles to form on the uncooked surface, so watch that they don’t burn, and they’ll need a little longer when you’ve flipped them.
- Butter, generously - and enjoy!
In the unlikely event that you have any left, cover them over and toast them later!
So there you have it. Sourdough, in all its simple, organic, slow-fermented glory is easy, delicious and above all healthful.
Kicker: should we be eating bread at all?
Bread - and grains generally - have been at the centre of health controversies for some time. Some experts advocate for no bread or grains, others advocate for whole grains, some advocate for 'gluten-free' products, while others advocate for organic, traditionally prepared breads and grains. It's confusing.
Based on my research and professional experience, I set out my position in detail in The Real Food Solution... and here's a summary: The nutrients and fibre in whole, organic grains prepared by time-honoured methods (soaking, sprouting and fermenting) can make a valid and nutrient-dense contribution to a healthy diet. That said, there is no doubt that many, many of us have unwittingly provoked digestive issues and suffer a variety of intestinal health and food intolerance issues as a result of years of reliance on damaging commercial breads and modern, hybridised grains.
For those in this position, and depending on the extent of our health issues, transitioning to authentic, organic slow-fermented breads can potentially allow us to enjoy bread without digestive distress. The only way to find out is to source (or make your own) authentic sourdough bread and slowly experiment. I have friends and clients who can enjoy a few slices each week without experiencing any symptoms.
However, others cannot. With guidance and support from a qualified and experienced practitioner, these folks may well need to remove all bread and grains from their diet for an extended period and take important steps to allow their compromised digestive tract to 'seal and heal' before attempting to re-introduce any kind of breads or grains. As the science grows on showing us the critical role our gut microbiome and healthy digestive tract play in supporting every aspect of our health, it can't be stressed enough that taking steps to optimising our gut health should be a priority.