How to use a sourdough starter to make rye bread

First you need starter.  What is starter?

sourdough starter

Love my bread machine for handling dough

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.


Making vollkornbrot

cooked barley is delicious and leftovers go into bread

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.



How to make Yoghurt


Making your own yoghurt is an easy way to make a food that is cheaper, fresher, better for you, and better for the environment. Yoghurt is such an easy food to make if you just think of it as alive. … Continue reading

How to make and live with Kefir

You may have seen kefir for sale in health food stores. It is sort of in between buttermilk and yoghurt, and is very good for your stomach. Most people love the commercial kefir, which is often flavored and sweetened, like commercial yogurt  Unlike yogurt  though, you can’t culture it from the bought product. You need the kefir “grains.”

You can get kefir grains for milk and kefir grains for water. If you have ever had or made Kombucha tea, it is a little like that, but rather than a big opaque sheet that covers the surface, it is little translucent, rubbery globules that eventually multiply. The water kefir grains are for making something similar to Kombucha tea, but I haven’t really gotten into them as much as the milk kefir. You can buy kefir grains
for about $7-$9 on Amazon, like you can buy sourdough culture
online. Mine was given to me, and I share my culture with any friend who asks me, if I have a few spare tablespoons, but if you don’t know me, it’s not too expensive, and then you have it forever.

Kefir grainsKefir is easier to make than yogurt. I’ll put a post up next time I make it, but you have to scald the milk, whereas for kefir you just put the grains in a clean jar and pour in 1 cup of milk per tablespoon of grains. In 12 hours at room temperature it is ready. And my house is not very warm. Yogurt has to be kept warm while it ferments, so again, kefir is easier.

When it is fermented you will see a firmness on the top, and an uneven texture of grains. You can take a little sip through your teeth to check the flavor. Pour it through a small colander into a larger container. Stir the mixture so that the cultured milk runs through. Press the grains with the back of a spoon to push the thickest of the cultured milk through.  Then put the grains back into a clean jar and put more milk on it. The lovely woman who gave me mine told me the grains don’t like metal, because of the conductivity and the acid. She uses one of those collapsible rubbery colanders and a wooden spoon. I’ll look out for one at the Goodwill, but for now, the stainless one works fine. I guess the grains understand I mean well.turn grains with a spoon to drain off the kefir

Kefir gets sourer and sourer if you leave it. It is very slightly fizzy.  I like it sour, but you can add in more milk if it is too sour for you. If you are making more kefir than you are drinking, here are two suggestions: Make your kefir into cheese or put the kefir into sleep mode.

To make cheese, put a clean square of cloth (I use a square torn from a worn sheet) in a colander or sieve, put it into a bowl, and pour in the strained kefir. Cover and set aside overnight. Gather the cloth together and squeeze out remaining whey. Use the whey to give a tangy flavor to soup or smoothie- it is very good for your body. Form the cheese into a ball. Taste and see how you like it. I love to crush a clove of garlic witha 1/4 tsp of sea salt, and mix with a few tablespoons of virgin olive oil, and pour that over it. You could mix it, but the flavor penetrates within an hour, and it looks good. Herbs are also delicious with fresh, tangy cheese.

To put it in sleep mode, just cover with fresh milk and put it in the refrigerator until you need it gain. The first batch will take longer when you take it out. It sulks a little, but soon recovers its goodwill.

You really should use the most natural milk you can get. Don’t insult your body or your kefir grains with skim milk or ultra-pasteurized dead milk. You can’t expect to look like the people in the Got Milk commercials if you drink that pus-laden travesty. I can’t get raw milk here, but I have a wonderful source of milk in my bff’s cousin’s nephew who has the Nice Farm Creamery, in Federalsburg, MD. Their cows are grass-fed and happy, and the milk is pasteurized to the legal minimum but not homogenized. The milk is rich and the cream rises. The butter has great  buttery flavor. My friends pick it up and distribute it through the community network, fridge to fridge, so I get it about once a week. The website is really nice. The guy likes cows.

I like how kefir feels in my stomach, and I find it easy to make and use. The cheese is easy to make and I like it for flavoring gravy as well. If you like it sweetened, put in a little homemade jam or raw local honey and stir well. Easy. You should try it.

How to make Kimchi (without fish)

making kimchi (1)

Real men eat kimchi

What is Kimchi? Kimchi is korean sauerkraut; a spicy-sour, fragrant, delicous fermented cabbage that has allegedly been used to prevent the avian flu. This may be apocryphal, but supposedly Korean farmers were giving it to their chickens to save them from the bird flu. All I know is that I am addicted to the stuff. It has an ….odor…well, it is fermented cabbage. My sister has the same lust for kimchi that I have, but her 6 kids can smell it in the next room when she stealthily opens the jar in the refrigerator. “Oh Mama, you’re into the Kimchi again!” they chorus. Maybe the Korean farmers’ children were sprinkling kimchi around the chicken coops so their parents wouldn’t eat it in the house!

Fermentation is a miraculous and wonderful thing. Think of all the things we eat and drink that are fermented. Wine, beer, cheese, vinegar, pickles of every kind, whether brine pickled or vinegar pickled, yoghurt, kefir…. Fermentation breaks down and transforms raw materials by the aid of friendly bateria, in a way that not only preserves food but also makes it more nutritious to us. The lactobaccillus in sauerkraut protects your stomach from nasty invaders. I read that Julius Caesar carried barrels of sauerkraut with him and it protected the Roman soldiers from dysentery as they drank water in different lands. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s logical. Kimchi makes my stomach feel good when I eat a little with every meal.

So by now I hope I convinced you to try making some. I use the Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats recipe. (This is my new Amazon link to a page where you can buy it and I get 4 cents.) This is a cookbook everyone should have. The author, Sally Fallon started the Weston Price Foundation and has a farm not far from us. If you haven’t heard of Dr.Weston Price you have a treat in store. His discoveries on the benefits of a pre-industrial diet are really enlightening reading. But I need to get down to the kimchi!

1 head Napa cabbage, cored and chopped

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 cup grated carrots

1/2 cup grated daikon (optional and I don’t)

1-2 tablespoons grated ginger root (man up and do 2)

3 big cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 tsp dried chili flakes, or 2 fresh cayenne type peppers

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 tablespoons whey (if not available add another 2 tsp of salt)

1/2 cup filtered water.

I have almost directly qoted Sally’s recipe here. I just lean towards more garlic, ginger, and spicy peppers. The whey is a thing us fermentation heads keep around. If you add it to the soaking water for your beans, oatmeal, etc. it makes them more digestible. You can skim it off the top of some yoghurt, and just add a little more salt, and it will work. Salt prevents the beginning of nasty cultures until the lactic fermentation can get going. The whey kickstarts that.

making kimchi (3)

My grandmother’s food processor

I don’t shred the Napa cabbage because I like the texture of inch long pieces of cabbage midrib. So I chop it rather coarsely. There isn’t much core to a Napa, either. Her recipe implies that you can use other cabbages, but I really love the Napa. Put all your ingredients in a large bowl and toss well to distribute the salt. The cabbage will immediately start to wilt and give off water. Take a potato masher or something blunt  that you can bash with, like even a jam jar if you can get a comfortable grip, and pound the cabbage. You are out to bruise it thoroughly so that the lactobacillus can penetrate the tissues rapidly, and the plant sugars can feed it. Just bash it, turn it, and pound some more.

making kimchi

This cabbage has been pounded into submission

When it looks like it has given up, pack it into a glass jar or a crock with a good lid. You want to pack it down with a clean fist, so that water is coming to the top. Add the water after it is packed, if necessary to cover the cabbage. Let it sit at room temprature for 4-5 days. As it ferments bubbles will push up the cabbage, so push it down periodically. There won’t be any scum like with German sauerkraut. There will be a smell though. You can taste it any time to check how it is coming. When it is pickled enough for you, or you don’t want it any sourer, you can pack it into smaller jars and refrigerate. That will slow it down for months.When you are ready to make more, save the liquid from the last of the kimchi to start new batch. So delicious!