Thursday, February 5, 2009

It’s alive!

Recipe: Gluten Free Sourdough, a la Durga

I’ve been meaning to write about sourdough for a long time now, and I keep putting it off. I’d envisioned this blog to be accessible to everyone, not just focused on special diets. Recipes that anyone might enjoy, with suggestions for those with restrictions.

Problem is, I’ve never made a ‘true’ sourdough. By the time I delved into the matter, gluten had been purged from my kitchen.

But I’m finding that I have to write about it, because I’m passionate about it. I was so excited the first time I developed a ‘homebrew’ sponge, I wrote up copious notes on it and handed it out to everyone I knew that was even vaguely considering trying a gluten free existence. I was flabbergasted that it worked! Somehow I had the impression that the wild yeasts fed on the gluten. Or that what would grow in the gluten free grains was a strange bacteria that would make us all sick. It just couldn't be that easy.

When I heard that it was possible to mail order brown rice sourdough starter, and having read methods of starting gluten sponges at home, I decided there was nothing to lose except possibly a weird slimy concoction if things went awry. What was I waiting for?

The truth is, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the methodologies. Being alive, you have to feel your way into a relationship with a sponge. It changes from house to house, batch to batch, season to season, flour blend to flour blend.

Like all living beings it’s not a perfectly controllable entity. There’s a reason baker’s yeast was developed - it’s predictable. Mix it with warm liquid, give it something to eat, and your medium has nicely risen within a couple of hours. Throw it in the oven, and within an hour your house smells like a home. End of story.

Except it’s not quite the end of the story. Turns out grains are more digestible when they’ve been sprouted, soaked in an acid medium for a number of hours and then well cooked, or allowed to ferment naturally. In any case, it takes hours. Untreated whole grains contain phytates, anti-nutrients. Hard on the gut. Part of what makes the Standard American Diet detrimental to human physiology.

White flour has been stripped of the phytates - but also of any significant nutrients that make it more than basic fuel. Truly empty calories.

Grains have only been in our diet in significant amounts for the last 10,000 years or so, which is only a small fraction of our time on the planet. We’re not really equipped to handle them untreated. Our forbears tended to either leave them in the fields, where they sprouted a bit before they were eaten, or they soaked and cooked them for long periods which also neutralizes the phytates, or.... they made sourdough, which takes 12 to 24 hours to develop and rise.

I’ve read that when baker’s yeast was first developed there were riots in France protesting the degradation of the nutritional value of the grain. It was known by the food artisans that while baker’s yeast made industrialisation of bread making possible, much of real value of the food would be lost in the process.

Many people with gluten sensitivity find that they can eat a properly prepared sourdough with less or no problems.

I’m not willing to try it. Gluten has done such a number on my system, both my intestines and my adrenals, I’m still recovering. I see no need to test possibly shark infested waters.

Besides, the GF sourdough is fun! I’ve experimented with a number of flour blends, and have one that I like currently, although knowing me, it’s likely to change. Not only am I constitutionally incapable of following other people’s recipes, I don’t follow my own much either.

I’ve been through a couple of starters and methods in the year and a half that I’ve been making it. I started with a classic method, leave the flour mix and water out at room temp in a bowl and watch it bubble and froth. It’s alive!

After awhile, my family complained that it was too, well - sour. Go figure.

So, after a bit more research, reading blogs of others who’d gone before me in the world of GF, I discovered that it was possible to keep the sponge in the refrigerator.

All the time.

It took me months to try it. I just couldn’t believe it would work. After all, the fridge is where you keep your starter when you're going on vacation for a week.

Well, it works. End result - sourdough that’s much less sour, much more kid friendly. The method that works for me is to feed the sponge between every couple of days and every week in the fridge, depending on how often I’m using it. Then either use it full strength, in which case it will rise within a couple of hours at room temp (it’s done it’s long ferment in the fridge), or just use a cup or two of the starter in the recipe. Add fresh flour mix to make up the total quantity of flour in the recipe. This rises anywhere between 8 and 24 hours, usually around 12.

By the way, you don’t have to use the sponge only for bread. We make pancakes with it every Sunday. Just feed it the night before, and use it full strength in place of the flour in your favorite recipe. Omit all or most of the milk or other liquid. (You still need the eggs....) Also omit the leavening, maybe add a half teaspoon of baking soda. Yum!

I actually use it for nearly everything I bake now. So much easier than soaking a mess of flour in lemon water, and easier to digest than using straight untreated flours.

One little piece of advice, if I may - don’t buy a starter. Don’t even get one from a friend. Although, if you insist, I’ll give you some of mine.

Make it yourself. Watch it bubble and puff, colonised with beautiful yeasts and bacteria indigenous to your very own home. From the air you’ve personally breathed. A sponge made this way is all your own.

And, if you’re making it gluten free - use some teff flour, a traditional Ethiopian grain, in your mix. Yeast LOVES teff!

Gluten Free Sourdough, a la Durga
gluten free, dairy free (if you don't use the ghee), salicylate free. egg free (if you skip the optional eggs) NOT low carb.

First make your GF flour mix. Here’s what I’m using currently, but if you have something you work with and like, use it! I highly recommend using at least some type of starch, whether potato, or tapioca, even though they’re devoid of nutrition. Your final product will suffer if you omit them. I firmly believe food should taste good as well as be good for you.

Also, you can use a pre-mixed blend, and many are very good, but if you want to keep up a sponge, you’ll end up spending lots of money. At the very least, buy the flours separately and mix them yourself. If you find you really get committed to it, you’ll want to invest in a flour mill. Well worth the money with the savings you’ll realize when buying your grains whole.

GF flour mix

3 cups garbanzo flour
1 1/2 cups white rice flour (I grind my own, and use white basmati rice)
1 1/2 cups brown rice flour
1 1/2 cups teff flour
1 1/2 cups potato starch
3/4 cup tapioca flour

Make your starter with your GF flour mix. (Directions are the same for gluten flours, by the way, and I’ve read the recommendation to make starters with whole rye flour rather than wheat. Don't use the bread recipe below for a gluten bread - follow a traditional recipe.) Start with 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of filtered water. Mix it together in a non reactive, wide (rather than tall) container. Throw an open weave cloth over it to keep insects out, and leave it somewhere relatively warm, with a free flow of air around it. Indoors or out, depending on the season. Add a few whole organic grapes or a plum to it if possible, to take advantage of the ‘bloom’ of yeast on their skins.

Every day for a week, stir in a cup of flour and enough water to keep it fairly loose. If you find a bit of mold on the surface, scrape it off and feed it again. It will go through changes, from bubbly, to puffy and smooth, to flat and inactive, separating from the liquid. As long as things smell somewhere in the range of mild, tart, yeasty, intense, even a little farty, it’s all good - if you find it’s really slimy and you want to gag when you smell it, pitch it and start over. Feed and stir it more often if you find that’s happened.

After a week, it’s colonized. If you’re going for a less sour product, start keeping it in the fridge. Feed it anywhere from every day to every week. I’ve left it longer and had it recover once I started feeding it again. If you like sour, just continue to feed it every day at room temperature. Freeze it if you need a break from your new pet.

Okay, now for the bread -

6 cups GF sourdough sponge (or 2 cups of sponge and 4 cups of GF flour mix. You’ll need to add more water if you use the flour)
3 eggs (optional)
2 tablespoons molasses, coconut or date sugar
1/3 cup melted ghee, olive oil, butter, or other saturated or monounsaturated oil (coconut oil not recommended)
1 scant tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 cup seeds, nuts or whole grain of choice; one or mix of sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, chopped walnut or pecans, millet, GF oats...
Warm water or choice of fruit juice as needed (pear juice if salicylates are an issue), will depend on the consistency of your starter, and whether you use it full strength.

Mix the seeds or whole grains, dry flour mix if using, salt, coconut or date sugar (if using) and xanthan gum thoroughly in a bowl.

Mix the eggs, molasses (if using) and oil in the bowl of a mixer with paddle attachment.

Mix in the sponge on low. (I recommend bringing your sponge to room temperature if it’s been in the fridge - you can do this quickly by nesting a bowl in a second bowl of warm water and mixing your sponge in the top bowl for a couple of minutes.)

Mix in the dry ingredients. Add water or juice as needed.

Mix on high speed for three and a half minutes. This dough is really a thick batter, should not make a traditional dough ball, but should stick to the sides of the bowl and be fairly wet. Add liquid or GF flour mix as needed to achieve desired consistency.

Split between 3 - 4 small or 2 larger greased and white rice floured glass loaf pans, filled about 1/2 - 3/4 full. You can make a couple of rolls in a muffin tin if you have extra batter. Let rise in a warm, moist place until increased by about 1/4 to 1/2, about 2 to 24 hours depending on whether you use starter full strength or add mostly fresh flour, temperature of your sponge and area it is rising in.

Slash the top of your loaves with a knife so if your loaves rise more in the oven, it won't force the top of your loaf to separate from the rest.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes to 1 hour and fifteen minutes, depending on the size of your loaves. Test with toothpick, or by thunking it with your finger and listening for a hollow sound. If you cut into it and there are doughy spots, cook it longer.

Remove from pans to cool on a cooling rack. When cooled, slice with a serrated knife and freeze immediately. Put slices in the toaster to defrost, or spritz the whole loaf with a bit of water, wrap in tin foil and warm in an oven for 20 minutes.

Note: This bread will dry out fairly quickly if not frozen.

Makes 2 large or 3 - 4 smaller loaves.

Let me know if you try it!


Blog said...

Thanks for the recipe! Sounds wonderful! My mother is GF, I will pass on the recipe to her! She has yet to find a bread she really enjoys!

Anonymous said...

Sunny and I are going to try this!

BTW, a fairly local commercial product that is made in a similar manner and that doesn't have the cake-like consistency or general sweetness that plagues other GF offerings is the Ciabbata Roll from Grindstone Bakery. I like the herbed version. Very dense, so you have to cut it into smaller slices. Quite excellent, but unfortunately quite spendy!

Underwater Girl said...

How much xantham gum do I add? I don't see it in the ingredient list.

Durga Fuller said...

Stephanie - I took the xanthan gum out. Kept hearing strange things about it, and finally decided to research a substitution. The chia does quite nicely!

Give it a try!

Underwater Girl said...

I made the bread and it never rose very much at all plus it stuck to the loaf pans. However, the taste and texture were really quite good and the other problems could have been my fault or just circumstantial. I would definitely try this again. Thanks for the recipe!

Durga Fuller said...

Great, Stephanie!

It can be finicky. There's a couple of things you can try -

Don't use coconut oil, if you did. I think the antifungal properties may retard the natural yeasts and bacteria. Try ghee if you can tolerate it, or sunflower or olive oil. Or pastured lard, if you want to go that direction!

Make sure it's in a warm environment to rise.

Make sure the dough is more like a batter than a dough. Sometimes if it's too stiff it has a hard time rising. If it's really wet, watch it, though! You'll have to cook it as soon as it rises, or it will rise and then sink.

If you have access to water kefir, or a true milk kefir, add a bit to your starter. Sharon Kane, who teaches classes on GF sourdough on the east coast calls this a 'boosted' starter.

About it sticking - did you oil and then flour the pans? I don't generally have too much trouble with sticking....

Let me know what you discover!

Durga Fuller said...

I'll occasionally throw a few more organic grapes in the starter if I think it's getting sluggish, and leave it out of the fridge for a few days, feeding every day again.