First you need starter. What is starter?
It is a sort of pancake dough looking slurry of flour and water, filled with live yeast. This is the yeast organism you will use to colonize your dough. Different starters have different tastes and rising characteristics, but basically it metabolizes the sugars and starches in the flour to create a tarter flavor and little bubbles in your dough, sort of like beer- it is the same creature. But when you bake it it will be delicious bread.
Why use starter?
Sourdough yeast is the original bread yeast. Back in the old days when everybody baked their own bread they didn’t use little packets of dried yeast. They kept a starter in some form; a “chef” which was a piece of dough from the last batch, or a jar of soupy dough called a starter. Yeast does adapt quickly, so everybody’s starter became slightly different. It rose more or less, and had different flavors. When folks started buying bread at bakeries, instead of just bringing their risen loaves to be baked at the village oven, the baker needed a fast,uniform product. They found that beer yeasts would adapt to fit the bill, and faster, fluffier bread was born.
Better for you
The price that we paid for this convenience was taste and digestibility. The flavor that develops with a longer, slower fermentation is distinctive and complex. Note my last bread post; same thing. It is also better for you. Wheat is an adaptable grain that has become much more complex over ages of human cultivation. Especially over the past 30 years, it has gone from the Ice Age Einkorn wheat to something with higher productivity, shorter stalk, and many more lectins, thereby becoming much more practical for the farmer to grow, but harder to digest and more inflammatory for the human body. This is the argument for “ancient grains,” Kamut, Emmer, and the now widely available Spelt, but they are still not very easy on the gut. This is my synopsis of Dr. Davis’s “Wheatbelly” argument. Sourdough yeast does a leisurely and much better job of unfolding the starches and making them more digestible. Try even letting your normal yeasted loaf rise longer at a lower temperature. You will notice a richer, more fermented flavor, and a darker, more caramelized crust from all the sugars the yeast has developed by breaking down starches.
How to get or make starter
You can order it on the internet! Any kind you want. It comes in a little plastic packet, and you squeeze it out and add flour and water, allowing it to colonize that until you have enough to bake with. You will notice it gets bubbly and develops that characteristic sour fragrance.
You can get some from a friend, along with advice. How wonderful to think lovingly of your friend each time you bake bread- like Friendship Bread. That’s all it is.
You can catch some out of the air. Mix a thin batter of flour- rye is their favorite I think- and set it by an open window. My friend got some from a bunch of unwashed organic grapes from her vineyard. It was particularly effervescent! I guess she just let the grapes sit in the batter. Obviously, you can’t do this with regular grapes from the store which have been sprayed, washed, etc.
I have made bread with ordinary Fleischman’s dry yeast and then saved a chef for the next batch. It worked quite well. No really distinctive flavor, but I let it rise longer at a lower temperature so it was tastier.
Rye in the Bread Machine- big thumbs up
Well, as long as folks are dropping off their bread machines they got for Christmas at the local Goodwill, why not? Rye dough is so sticky that it is a drag to work with so having the machine knead it in a non-stick work bowl works for me. As long as I have electricity, that’s what I’ll do.
OK, I’ll try, but seriously, this is much easier to do by feel and eye. This is how I make delicious Vollkornbrot. First make sure you have plenty of starter. To do this, feed it: dump your starter in the work bowl and rinse your jar into the bowl with approximately a cup of water. Add approximately a cup of rye flour and set the machine to dough setting. If your starter is not bubbly, add a tablespoon of honey. If it was thin and there was bad smelling liquid on top, throw that out first. You can certainly add a larger amount of water and rye flour. When it is bubbly, pour the original amount back in the original jar, which you may have washed if it appeared crusty. Leave the rest in the work bowl and add about
2 cups of spelt or whole wheat flour ( I also like to add in some German pumpernickel mix our local Amish store sells- gives nice black color and a little caraway, which is traditional.)
1 1/2 tsp good salt
handful whole flaxseed
handful ground flaxseed
handful sunflower seeds
handful raw pumpkin seeds
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs honey
If I have it I also like to add leftover coarse oatmeal or cooked barley. Any cooked or cracked and well soaked whole grain is good.
water or more flour as needed to form a nice ball.
Watch the machine as it stirs- these measurements are highly inexact because of all the variables. By now you have used the bread machine enough to know what it looks like when the quantity of dough and the stiffness are correct so that the paddle can move it around and mix it well. If you were kneading it by hand you would be making the same sorts of judgements. Once it is pushing the ball around you can leave it alone for an hour, but you don’t really want to leave it to totally rise in the workbowl. This kind of bread shouldn’t be totally punched down or “degassed.” Grease your bread pan, dump your dough out on a floured board, form it gently into an oblong, and let it rise in the pan until 1 1/2 size its original size and keeps a dent when touched. It is still ok if you let it rise until it is flat on top, but it is more elegant if it still has a rounded top. Bake at 400 F until it sounds hollow when rapped, about an hour. Tip out of pan and let cool. Wrap and allow the crust to soften if you can before slicing. Slice thinly as it is a solid, dense, German style bread best suited for cheese, salami, open faced sandwiches, etc.
You can also use sourdough starter to make lighter breads- fear not! Have at it. If the texture of the dough is right, it should make great bread.