Friday, September 29, 2006

It’s Alive! Sourdough Bread Experiment – Part I

Our innocuous little experiment, just some rye flour mixed with water, came alive!



And it stinks! Whew! Talk about sourdough!

We started our experiment by mixing 100 grams of rye flour with a little lukewarm water. Just enough to make a thin paste. We covered it lightly, and left it for a day.

Nothing. Not a bubble.



It’s like waiting for Christmas. Lots of hype. Then lots of nothing. Just the waiting. With the ever growing doubt that this is all real. Maybe it is a conspiracy. Hmmm.

After a day of nothing, we fed the mixture. Though it didn’t seem very hungry.

Another 100 grams of rye flour mixed with a little lukewarm water. This then mixed into the initial mixture. And I set it, covered, in a room that gets lots of sunlight, so is relatively warm.



And got busy with life.

By the time I got back to check on it, about 12 hours later, it had blown the lid off the container. It had expanded into a blob of bubbles at least 5 times its original size. I had to transfer it to a larger bowl.



And it started to stink. No so bad yet. But noticeable.

I fed it again. Same procedure. 100 grams of rye flour mixed with a little lukewarm water. And covered it for the night.

The next day – it was alive!

A light fluffy blob of bubbles. Some popping as we watched. Like it was on the stove cooking.

And stink! Whew! A strong sour rye smell.

I have to admit, I didn’t think it would even work. It seems too simple. Rye flour and water. Hopefully our house is infested with good bacteria. And I certainly didn’t think it would work so fast! I was planning on at least a week of waiting.

Well, I fed it again today – same procedure.

But now, it starts to bubble immediately. No waiting necessary.



It’s time to make bread!

If I have time today, I will try to bake the first loaf. Although, not being an expert bread baker, I have zero hopes the first attempt will come out.

But – can’t be so negative!

The first attempt will be for a spelt – rye bread (Dinkel-Roggen in German). Something I remember from Munich days, but can't get here in SoCal. This combination is common in northern European countries. As both rye and spelt are cold weather grains, historically surviving much better than the soft wheat grains in the cool climates.

All the sourdough Web sites (I’ve only researched the German ones) warn that this is a tough mixture to get to rise well.

Rye is especially tough to get to rise due to the makeup of its cellulose molecules, which differ fundamentally from wheat cellulose molecules. Rye cellulose contains a high amount of pentose sugars, which act to weaken the dough structure formed through kneading that traps air bubbles and leads to rising of the dough, and a light textured bread.

This pentose sugar, however, is easily dissolved in a light acid solution. Eliminating the pentose, such as by infusing the dough with a light acid during fermentation into a sourdough, allows the dough to retain much more of the necessary structure to trap air bubbles, and raise the dough.

That is one reason that many breads baked in this region are sourdough breads. The sourdough fermentation process allowed viable baked goods to be produced from grains that grew well in that climate.

Plus, from my perspective, it traded the yeast, which was just one more ingredient that had to somehow be procured, for bacteria, which is everywhere, and available for free.

To get the dough to rise, my sources recommend about 30% to 40% sourdough starter to additional flour and water. I.e. if you normally make a loaf of bread with 5 cups of flour, this time you use 3 ½ cups of flour and 1 ½ cups of starter. The rest of the starter is used to create another batch of starter for the next loaf.

They also recommend to bake the bread in a form. Even though the sourdough starter acts to improve to rising ability of the dough, the dough tends to both run out easily as well as to lose the trapped gas easily during baking. The form acts to both contain the dough during baking as well as to keep the air trapped inside the dough.

In Munich, they had wonderful ceramic baking pots with lids and those characteristic ridges built into them. I don’t have anything that elaborate, so I’m not sure what I will come up with.

But, with any luck, I’ll have a picture of something tomorrow. How tall of a something is yet to be determined!


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4 Comments:

Anonymous alli said...

hi - i, too, am a wild yeast sourdough fanatic and have some resting in my fridge right now. i grew starter in WA state, then moved to HI where I started a new "baby". it took off here in a day, compared to the week it took in WA. good luck with your loaf. i have not had much success with rye. i usually mix it with regular flour. a 100% rye sourdough will be a tough one to get to rise. what are you adding for the acid? are you anticipating that the lactic and acetic acids produced by the bacteria in your starter will break up those nasty pentose rings?

5:37 PM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Alli -

Thanks for the support! Lucky starter gets to grow in HI!!

I am such a naive novice, that I am indeed hoping the acid produced by the bacteria in the starter will break up the nasty pentose and allow a rise. The pictures on the internet sites I am referencing all got their doughs to rise, and the Internet never lies ; )

I did mix the rye half and half with another grain called spelt, uncommon here, but found often in Europe.

Other than the two flours, the bacteria and its emissions, and water, that's all I have put into this first dough. At the moment, it has just about doubled in size, so I'm thinking about getting it in the oven soon.

Pictures may follow shortly, or not, depending!

7:50 PM  
Blogger Brilynn said...

I've been wanting to try this for a while, good luck!

11:21 AM  
Blogger ejm said...

Too cool that it worked!!!

How do you know how much of the starter to use in the bread you're making and how much to store for another time?

-Elizabeth

10:33 AM  

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