Dedicated to my good friend Roberta who once told me that sourdough is the healthiest kind of bread.
Some researchers and health practitioners say that fermented food products are very good for you. We’ve all heard of the benefits of pro-biotics. Let’s just state for the record that I’m not a researcher or health practitioner so I’m not making any claims. I’ve just heard that some people say that we should stay away from gluten products and that if we must eat grain products they should be fermented. They say that the gluten chain is already partially digested by beneficial micro-organisms before we even ingest it. So that’s good. Then some of these micro-organisms make their way into our gut and thereby making it healthier. That’s also good. Me, personally? I just like the way it tastes.
In this recipe we will be starting with the fermented part – a California sourdough base because this is California after all. Wherever you make your sourdough it will be your own unique sourdough.
It’s very easy. Into a crockery bowl or any non-reactive non-metal bowl put and mix 1 tablespoon active dry yeast, 2 1/2 cups warm water, 2 teaspoons sugar or honey, and 2 1/2 cups rye flour or whole wheat flour to make a thick mud consistency. I have used my Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown for years. I always refer to it for basic understanding of bread baking.
Don’t use a metal spoon to stir it. Use wood or any other non-reactive utensil. Set it aside covered loosely with plastic wrap and a towel for 4 to 5 days. Once a day, stir it to add air to the fermenting process. Watch while bubbles begin to form and then it will settle down and start to smell “sour.” This means it’s working. It doesn’t mean it’s going bad. Watch out that you use a big bowl! I had a lovely crockery container that I thought would work fine and then the next thing I know I’ve got Lucy Ricardo-washing-machine-overflow going on. But if this happens, don’t worry. Just scoop it up and put it in a bigger bowl. The sourdough starter is very forgiving. I wish I had a picture of my “volcano.” It was so funny.
Now you can store your starter in the fridge indefinitely. Just stir it once in a while. But better yet use it at least once a week to make pancakes or whatever your little heart desires.
Danish Fermented Rye Bread
This is my Danish friend’s recipe. Her name is Andrea Hejlskov. She writes a wonderful blog that you should check out. Andrea told me that this recipe is not bullet proof or authoritative. This is how she does it. So that is how I do it, too.
Take 2 cups starter and add 4 to 5 cups rye flour into a big bowl. Add 1 cup at a time. You might have to add more. Stir it well. The consistency of the mix should look like what you see in the picture. Thick, sticky mud. Consistency is important when making rye bread. Don’t worry. It’s going to be wetter than a normal yeast bread where you add flour and then knead until it’s dry and springy. No kneading in this recipe.
Now add rye flour or water until you think it looks right. You can also add oil, 1/2 to 1 cup. Not more. I don’t add oil at all and it turns out real nice.
Then in another bowl mix 1 cup sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup each of poppy seed, flax seed and sesame seed, and 1/2 cup each of cracked wheat and cracked rye. Use your imagination. All I had was nine grain hot cereal instead of cracked wheat and rye so I added that. It was perfect. These additions will give the bread a very nice texture. Cover the grains and seeds with water. Andrea and I always use the wooden spoon that we used for mixing the sourdough, and we let it sit in the grains and water for a while. Andrea says, “It’s a superstitious thing.”
Cover both bowls and let them stand for at least 12 hours.
Now it’s time to finish, but before you do, you should replenish your sourdough by putting some of your flour mixture back into the container. Use a couple big dollops and stir it in. Store it for the next time you need a sourdough.
Now back to your bread mixture. Add a little bit of salt, a handful of sugar and a couple teaspoons of fennel in this bowl. You can also use anise. Either one is traditional.
Note: There are a lot of rye bread recipes out there and in most of them you will find ingredients such as syrup, beer or malt. Even chocolate! You can add this stuff if you want, but we find that using simple salt and sugar is the easiest and the bread gets as dark as we want. We think syrup tends to make the bread pasty and beer tends to make it a bit bitter. Experiment around. See what works for you.
Then pour all of the soaked seeds and grains on top of it. The seeds and grains will probably soak up all of the water but if they haven´t drain out the water. Just use the grains.
Stir well and add more whole grain rye flour until you get a consistency that looks like mud.
Coat your loaf pans with a good olive oil.
Fill them halfway up. Then let the batter rest for a while. At least a couple hours, but you can let it rest for longer. How long it takes depends on how robust your yeast was. The dough will rise more and be ready to go into the oven. Here’s where good experience will tell you. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the dough will tell you. If it looks like it’s rising out of the pans, the dough is telling you it wants to go into the oven.
Preheat your oven to 250 to 300 F. This wet dough needs a long baking time. It might be 2 to 3 hours. That’s why we’re using a slow oven. Just keep an eye on the bread and when you think it’s done take it out and tap it with your finger. If the loaf is the color you want and sounds hollow when you tap it then it’s done.
Immediately take out the loaf from the pan. This is done to keep the crust on all four sides of the bread crisp. If you only want it to be crisp on the top leave the bread in the pan a little longer.
The bread should be firm. If it wobbles, quickly put it back into the pans and into the oven for a little while longer. It’s real hard to burn in a slow oven. You’d have to completely forget about it and hours later you will have adobe bricks. That’s useful, too!
Once you take the bread out, this is NOT the time to cut the bread – however tempted you may be – let a couple of hours pass. It makes the bread pasty. The loaf needs to rest, just like everybody else.
Andrea suggests that you eat it with good cheese and carrot marmalade or pastrami. I drizzle it with honey from our ranch and put a good California jack cheese on it. Very delicious and good for you!
I sit on my front porch and eat it while there’s warm afternoon sun. I notice that the quail came to the feeder and that the surrounding landscape is the same color and texture of the bread.