Should You Be Eating Sourdough? Try an Easy Rye Bread
Given that this is a food blog and I've posted quite a few recipes related to sourdough starter and discard, you can assume the answer is "yes." But why? Is it worth all the hassle to make and eat sourdough products? After considerable time, effort, and a lot of eating, the answer is yes. And no. Yes, sourdough products can make a great addition to your diet. But no, I'm not convinced the hassle is necessary. Don't get me wrong. I think sourdough products are worth making for health reasons and because they taste good. Nonetheless, I don't think you need to go to a lot of trouble to make the sourdough products. Plenty of websites, cookbooks, and cooking gurus on u-tube will walk you through "must know" steps on sourdough. I just ran across an article that described several days' worth of steps to make a loaf of sourdough bread, including a 90-minute kneading session during which you need to turn and press the dough three times at 30 minute intervals. Hmm. Really? How can anyone with a full-time job, a houseful of kids, or any other sort of responsibilities that require time and attention make sourdough bread a routine addition to their diet (that is, the homemade version, not the store-bought bread that contains commercial yeast and sourdough flavoring powder)? The answer is, you can add sourdough to your diet pretty easily, but not by paying a large amount of attention to the gurus who want to complicate the sourdough process.
Following are some points about sourdough from my research and not terribly scientific kitchen tests. I'm also including a recipe for a simple loaf of sourdough rye bread. I made the bread yesterday afternoon--Sunday--to see whether a mostly hands-off, low-work loaf is possible. I also wanted to streamline the process because I knew I would be using the oven for our evening meal and because I discovered I had a nicely risen/bubbly starter that my husband had removed from the refrigerator while pulling out his breakfast. Instead of putting the starter back in the refrigerator, he had inadvertently left it on the top of our refrigerator. Oops. So stay tuned for the rye bread. It really is easy and good.
Why Eat Sourdough?
For many people, sourdough is easier to digest than breads that contain commercial yeast. The long fermentation process involved in making sourdough may help those individuals with gluten sensitivity by reducing or eliminating gluten content, release more of the nutrients in flour so that they can be digested, and reduce FODMAP levels, according to some studies. The sourdough fermentation process also extends the shelf-life of breads without the additives usually found in commercial yeast breads.
What is the Sourdough Process?
When flour and water are mixed, amylase, an enzyme in the flour, begins to break down the starch molecules in the flour into sugar. Wild yeast and good bacteria--lactobaccilli--present in the flour and air begin to feed on the sugar. As the wild yeast breaks down the starches and sugar molecules in the flour, carbon dioxide gas bubbles and alcohol are produced. The yeast action leavens the bread, then, when the leavened bread bakes, the gas bubbles expand in the heat and produce a chewy texture. The lactobaccillus, as it feeds on the sugar, produces lactic acid and acetic acid. The lactic acid is responsible for sourdough's mellow flavor, and the acetic acid provides the sharpness. Depending on how much of either is present in your bread, you may have a sweeter or more sour loaf.
If Sourdough is Good For You, Why Don't We Have More Of It?
Sourdough bread is available, but it's more time-consuming and expensive for commercial bakeries to make than bread using commercial baker's yeast. Humans have relied on sourdough and wild yeasts for leavening bread for thousands of years--probably at least as far back as bread baking in the Fertile Crescent. Baker's yeast is relatively new--scores, not thousands of years--and began replacing sourdough on a large-scale basis in commercial bakeries in the early 20th Century. The big advantage in commercial yeast is time. Most bread made in commercial bakeries in the United States is produced in hours, not days. The bread can go from the bakery to the store in the same day.
Homemade sourdough bread happens, but not often, I suspect. As more women entered the work force, particularly in the 20th Century, they looked for ways to save time. Commercial yeast, which could leaven bread quickly, was one of them. Buying ready-made bread from the store was another. Interest in sourdough, particularly in Europe, seems to be increasing, but the process of creating the long-fermentation bread at home is daunting for many people. Maybe it has something to do with the pages and pages of instructions and tables on the "correct" hydration levels.
I admit that I'm continuing to sort out all the information available about how to best make sourdough bread. I have a feeling, though, that some of the most useful information may well come from my grandmothers and great grandmothers who had no access to the internet, a lot of cookbooks, or fancy ovens. They cooked by feel, trial and error, and in consultation with their neighbors. And my grandmothers, in addition to many chores on their farms, had to produce bread on a daily basis to feed their families. Their bread-making couldn't be too fussy. Maybe that's not such a bad thing for modern-day cooks.
Easy, Non-Fussy Sourdough Rye Bread
Rye breads traditionally have relied on sourdough cultures rather than commercial yeasts. Rye has weak gluten, and rye dough needs a lower pH level--which the sourdough process can facilitate--to help it bake well. Rye breads don't need much kneading and won't rise as high as wheat loaves. Nonetheless, the sourdough process will make the rye loaves moist, tasty, and easier to slice. The recipe I'm offering you below produces a bread that's rather ugly--sorry--but quite good. It's dense, complex in flavor, and studded with walnuts. I like the bread plain, but I'm sure it would be great slathered with butter, marmalade, or even cream cheese. And the bread is a far cry from doorstop rye loaves.
Sourdough Rye Bread -- Makes 1 Loaf
1 cup of starter/discard (I used a rye-based starter, but any will
1 cup of rye flour
1/2 cup of water
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 tablespoons of molasses
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
Grease or coat a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix the starter, rye flour, water, canola oil, and molasses together until well blended. Add half the all-purpose flour and the salt. I use a wooden spoon (because the dough is wet/sticky), but you can also knead in the flour and salt, if you like. Gradually stir or knead in the remaining flour until you have a damp dough. It should take you 3-5 minutes. Stir or knead in the walnuts. Pour the dough into the prepared pan and smooth it out evenly with your fingers. Let the dough rise until it's about doubled. This can take 4-6 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen. I mixed up the dough at about 2:30 PM on Sunday afternoon and baked the risen dough at about 7:30 that evening. Bake the bread for 30-40 minutes or until it registers 190 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Let the bread cool before slicing it.