I remember visiting Paris, France when I was 13 – my first trip to Europe to visit my sister Gosia and her family in the Netherlands, and anywhere in Europe was as close as Wisconsin Dells was to Chicago. I was enamored with the city, the architecture, and the ambiance (not knowing the word back then). I was a slightly overweight American teen, already jumping from diet to diet. I was off bread at that time. I was also curiously observed that so many slender and pretty Parisian ladies were walking around with pastries in the morning, mainly with long baguettes. Bread, croissants, and other baked goods were abundant, I had to let go of the “diet.” For a long time I wondered why eating bread (ok not just bread, most other foods as well) in the U.S. made people overweight and unhealthy, but many Parisians ate bread daily and seemed not to suffer those effects. Looking at the ingredients in most “American” bread, and having the feeling that 20-30 ingredients shouldn’t be in the ingredients list. I know now that one of the main reasons was the age old fermentation process of sourdough bread and baked goods.
Having been raised Polish and Roman Catholic, it was hard to give up gluten when the issue came about. Sure, the evidence was compelling- like Dr. Hyman’s article, to many scientific studies (i.e. that serological markers for gluten remaining in the body for 6 months after consuming gluten), entire health websites (i.e. greenmedinfo) and other authorities like Dr. William Davis and his book Wheat Belly, Dr. David Perlmutter and his book Grain Brain. No grain left unturned, in many cases it turned out that the so-called whole grain products were actually worse than the low grain due to the processed separation, making the glycemic index pretty high. Certain naturally occurring toxins like gliadin and lectins in whole grains can cause inflammation and even permeate the gut, causing a whole host of health problems.
But for crying out loud, my grandparents and great-grandparents and ancestors in general were raised on and sustained with bread. Considering the raveges of wars and subsequent poor living conditions, malnutrition, and lack of hygiene, they were pretty healthy. Evidence now shows that grain has been used by certain populations for over 10,000 years +. Bread was equated with life, sanctity, and everything Slavic/Polish (as is so in many other heritages and cultures). The Bible is teeming with examples, parables, and discussion about grain and bread. From Weston A. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, I remember the isolated Swiss valley with extremely healthy individuals that grew up and subsisted upon traditionally prepared rye bread and dairy. According to Dr. Price the Vatican Swiss guards were chosen from among these men for their fine figures and robust health. All this information was constantly striking a major chord of dissonance for me.
With beginning thyroid symptoms and rising autoantibodies, symptoms of IBS ( painful digestion and moreso) after eating most wheat/ conventional flour based foods, I was sure that the gluten free diet would work. I wasn’t for using the usual gluten free substitutes, since they were so high in the glycemic index and in many cases very artificial and/or processed (possibly more unhealthy than the gluten full versions). The flours I used were buckwheat, lentil (or other bean), millet, coconut, almond, sometimes rice, no corn ( due to the fact that so much corn is genetically modified with Bt toxin and already naturally seeping with lectins) and no soy (also due to the genetic modification factor). But the baking results using these flours, besides pies and crumbly cookies, were not too satisfactory.
Digging further and looking for more answers, the evidence seemed to point out that it’s not just the wheat, but that chemicals like glyphosphate ( Round up) that were creating this problem. In addition the higher hybridization of dwarf strains of wheat that amplify the gluten content, as well as the adding of more gluten to commercial and processed breads were adding to the toxic mix. With so many factors combined together, the raw materials (grains but especially modern wheat) and the modern processing of bread and baked goods are all leading to an epidemic of celiac disease, gluten intolerance in the last 40 years or so.
After more digging ( and discovering that I am a foodie at heart), this article summed up the history of bread and baking in a decent nutshell – The rise and rise of sourdough bread. After watching Catalyst – Gluten: A Gut Feeling I felt even better about my return to grains and bread. Certain research also seemed promising. One case study showed that pediatric patients with celiac disease could consume wheat based products that were thoroughly soured/fermented without adverse effects. Another study demonstrated that fermented sourdough products can heal early stage intestinal damage and inflammation persons with celiac disease.
Encouraged, I started with the easiest no knead sourdough bread, made mostly with spelt or rye flour. Sorry, but after a few rounds, the results didn’t give the effect of the bread that I had eaten in Paris – the bread was too hard, not very palatable.
Giving up, as I was daunted by the whole idea of true sourdough, I sought out local bakers and found a local bread ( from Iwanisk) that delivered to the local health food store. It was 100% rye ( a grain with a higher nutritional value than conventional wheat), different from any other bread that I had eaten in Poland or anywhere else. Hearty, chewy, and most importantly unlike most other breads or baked goods bought ( I didn’t buy many artisan or sourdough breads in my student years), the bread hardened but never got moldy. Always delivered in its round boule form, always crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and very filling. The bread didn’t give the the symptoms previous baked goods did.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), for the past few weeks the bakery stopped delivering. My family and I were distraut since healthful sandwiches ( great travel fare) and breakfasts were limited. In my search I found this wonderful website with exacting details on how to prepare and even approach the idea of sourdough: www.theperfectloaf.com. I was enamoured with the author’s zest for all things sourdough and at ease since the instructions were systematic and explanatory – from the idea of using temperature as an ingredient, to exact amounts and times.
My first bake was a flop – I used spelt flour (I though it was wheat, my bad), too quickly overheated the first rise by putting it atop the oven. It was a start, a poor one at best. One hard loaf, edible, better than most common bakery fare, but not delectable.
For my dad’s name day ( July 15th, Henry) I decided to make the best homemade present – a proper, well prepared sourdough bread. In order to prevent lengthening this post more than needed, please refer you to the Perfect Loaf’s beginner’s sourdough page for terminology and specifics. I used the country sourdough recipe with less levain with a few tweaks. I did a 3 hour autolyse – mixing of just flour and water with no levain or salt to free sugars for the future fermentation, and to help build the dough in general. I did the bulk fermentation with minimal folding, since I mixed in some spelt flour in the mix ( now I know I overhydrated the dough). Shaping was a bit tricky, but I added a bit of flour to get it stiffer before the second proof. An overnight stay after the final proof and into the oven at 5 am on Friday.
The set of ingredients used first:
For the levain ( early Thursday afternoon)
Time: 5 hours
25 g mature starter
50 g white wheat flour
50 g spelt flour
80 g water at 29 C ( 84 F) – please note this was too much water still
At the 2 hour mark the autolyse was set, which included:
900 g white wheat flour
100 g spelt flour
700 g water at 29 C (84 F) – note that I should’ve used less water here too – about 650 g would be better
These were mixed in a bowl and left to sit under a plate. At the end of the 3 hour autolyse – 5 hour levain mark I mixed the levain with the autolyse. The final mixing also included 20 g of salt.
At that point I let it sit for about an hour to get a good rise out of it. Then I just lightly folded the dough four corners of the earth ( north-south-east-west) style every half hour, until it about doubled.
Then I dusted the wooden board (work surface) for the shaping phase – rolling the dough in circular fashion, preventing it from sticking to the board. I need to buy the proper scraper/bread-making knife, I used a thick sharp regular one but it was tricky – needs-must.
Then I finally shaped the dough into one piece and let it sit for over an hour. After than I took a basket, lined it with linen dusted with rice flour and plopped the dough in, and it was into the fridge for overnight.
The next morning at 4:30 I set the over for 250 C (the highest the over will go) and placed the dutch ovens inside to heat up for about 20 minutes. I took out the dough and started to shape ( good shaping video here). After I shaped I scored – or lightly cut the top of the bread to help release gases and makes it a unique loaf every time. In went the two pre-breads into the oven at 250 C (about 480 F) for 20 minutes, then 10 minutes at 230 C (450 F) and then the breads were uncovered and finished off after another 30 minutes at 230 C. The finished product were delivered to my dad, looking like this:
Don’t judge too harshly please – the crust was a little thick and not the prettiest, the crumb was a bit dense, but I mentioned that I deviated in a few ways. I hoping to make this a point in the learning curve. Tomorrow is a day off and I start again. Wish me luck – Cheers and good health!