Feb 072013

several pieces of sourdough chocolate cake on a plateSourdough bread is always a welcome addition to cheap healthy meals, but it need not stop there. A nice piece of chocolate sourdough cake makes an excellent dessert to top off a meal. Or if you tend towards fudgier sweets how about sourdough chocolate brownies?

Often, when people look at sourdough they limit their thoughts to bread. This is an unfortunate oversight because with sourdough the options are plentiful. I even use mine to make delicious crepes. But there are far more pressing reasons than variety, which influence me to use sourdough as leaven for baking.

Aside from saving money on buying brewer’s yeast sourdough preserves and makes nutrients much more bioavailable than bread and other things baked with brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast as leaven only became popular with the recent explosion in fast, convenience foods.

It is much more suitable to commercial interests that strive for speed, predictability, standardization and other mass production concerns. But, as with most, if not all, processed food something essential is lost in the hurry.

Because brewer’s yeast works so rapidly it is mostly an alcoholic ferment as opposed to slow working sourdough. Hence, there is considerably less acidification of the bread and it becomes much less digestible. Some of the detrimental effects are apparent in the fact that commercial bread spoils much sooner than sourdough.

This seemingly lost knowledge was known pragmatically for centuries. When yeast was introduced to the French in the court of Louis XIV in 1668 it was soundly rejected! Scientists, even at that time, knew that it would jeopardize people’s health!

As I noted in another article on cheap healthy meals, the main concern with whole grains is phytic acid, which binds with essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron potentially leading to severe deficiencies. This has to be neutralized by soaking or sprouting if using yeast as leaven.

Whole grain baking products made with yeast as leaven, as most commercial ones are, are very unhealthy for this reason. The long, partially lacto-fermentation of sourdough, almost completely removes the phytic acid concern. Did our ancestors know something that we don’t?

Sourdough is also surprisingly easy to make and to maintain. Although the web is full of sites with specific, sometimes complex, instructions, a child could easily do it. I don’t even use measurements anymore to make mine.

I basically put some freshly ground whole rye flour in a mason jar and add warm water to a thick, but still watery consistency, keep it in a warm place covered with a cloth and feed it twice a day. I begin with relatively small amounts and feed it as little as roughly a Tbs or so of flour and a bit of water.

I never did buy into all the complex measuring and throwing half away and other strange practices that I have read about. I have also seen a lot of jargon about the percent of hydration, which I also ignore. I just follow the KISS principle and use sourdough for everything that I bake or even some of what I fry, as in pancakes.

The somewhat famous Alaskan Frontier Sourdough Pancakes remind me of a humorous anecdote along these lines. Some of the first pioneers drawn to Alaska by the excitement of reported gold strikes would have been lost without their sourdough. I have read stories of where they even took it to bed with them afraid of losing it due to freezing.

The humor is in the fact that sourdough is so easy to maintain because you can even freeze it! The only thing that will kill those healthy little beasties fermenting your dough is too much heat.

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 Posted by at 5:36 pm

  24 Responses to “Cheap Healthy Meals: Sourdough”

  1. We love sourdough. Just didn’t know it was that healthy. I try to eat only whole grain bread but it sounds like the commercial variety is not that good for you. I think my lifestyle will have to slow down for me to partake of this idea

    • I must admit John, I do spend an inordinate amount of time planning, researching and applying these principles, but this old body is loving it and tells me all the time. I actually stopped eating whole grain pasta because of the reasons I outlined, which used to be a favorite. But, no fear, I have a recipe to make my own from sourdough, but just haven’t got around to it yet.

  2. I am starting to eat a lot cleaner, so I am very happy to have found something like this to help me get my bread in, I can’t give up those carbs haha!

    • You and me both Zach. The sweet thing about sourdough with whole grain flour is that because you have the germ included it is a complex carb that the body has to work to digest. So it helps stabilize the blood sugar level and satiates at the same time. Good carbs are good for you!

  3. So for your starter recipe it has to be freshly ground grain? You don’t add anything else to ferment? is that because the freshly ground grain already has yeast spores? I always thought you needed something to make it “start” but that was just processed flour I guess.

    • I use freshly ground grain because that way you get the germ, which is loaded with important nutrients as I explained in another article. It is stripped out of all commercial flours because it doesn’t keep unless refrigerated. Otherwise it goes rancid in a few days. It literally keeps forever in the kernel. Viable whole grains have been found in the pyramids.

      The lactic-acid-producing bacteria you are referring to are everywhere in living soil and on healthy plants, especially those that grow close to the soil. I cover the jar to keep out flies, especially fruit flies who love ferments! The bacteria easily pass through the porous cloth and feed on the flour. Lots of people buy starter, but those that understand the process do it because like anything fermented aging plays a big role in flavor and character. I saw a site where a guy in California gives away starter that has been in the family for over 100 years.

      The bacteria in different places produce their own distinct flavor and once you begin culturing you affect the local population. Usually to good ends over time, but not always. Sometimes they get bad and you need to introduce a stronger species to take over.

  4. Not tried Sourdough Jim but it does look good.
    I will show this to the ‘House Chef’ when she gets home!
    Thanks Jim

    • Dave, if you can talk the “House Chef” into making a sourdough creation I doubt that either of you will be disappointed!

  5. More good stuff, Jim. I could get really healthy reading your posts!

  6. Sourdough is a staple around here, but we have never ventured out into making sourdough brownies. We have sourdough biscuits, bread and pancakes. And now we have some more avenues to pursue with our sourdough. Great job, my culinary buddy!

    • Sounds like you are a part one of the fortunate families that understands the importance and health benefits of well established culinary traditions. I keep the rapadura and other natural sweeteners to a bare minimum because I eat the chocolate cake and brownies fairly regularly. If you like both chocolate and sourdough you will probably love their combination.

      After reading “sourdough biscuits, bread and pancakes” I have a sudden urge to scrounge up some grub!

  7. Sourdough pasta now that sounds good. We love pasta in this house but as stated the whole grain version can be counter effective. The Durum wheat version we use is from semolina made by Napolina any idea is it OK to consume as it is really tasty.

    • With Napolina that is a difficult question to research because it is a big commercial product. My best guess is that if they don’t advertize it as having been soaked or sprouted they haven’t removed the phytic acid. I had this discussion with one of my daughters. We decided that we don’t eat pasta often enough to really worry about it because we couldn’t find any made with soaked or sprouted grain.

      I am very careful because I eat a significant amount of whole grains and/or pulses every day. So I am really picky with them but fairly relaxed about things I only eat on occasion. So, unless you eat a lot of pasta I wouldn’t be too worried about it.

      • Probably about 2-3 times a week. Having rice or potatoes the other days with fish chicken and wholesome vegetables.

        • That is quite a bit more often than I eat pasta. I haven’t tried it yet, but an ebook I bought on sourdough has a pasta recipe that looks fairly simple to make by hand without a special machine. I am going to try it some time. If I ate it regularly 2 or 3 times a week I would probably offset the commercial pasta with some sourdough pasta if I couldn’t find some sprouted or soaked.

          Having had some pretty major dental issues I have become a tad paranoid about phytic acid because I believe it is one of the biggest culprits, right up there with insufficient bio-available vitamin A, D and K2.

  8. I am pleased to say that I have kept my sourdough starter going for 1 year!
    How do you bake the sweet items with sourdough? What quantity do you use to replace raising agents eg.1 tsp baking powder in a brownie recipe?

    • That’s great Erica! Have you noticed any improvement in your baked goods over the year? The starter often improves with age. Actually, I use baking soda in all my sourdough baking. I started my own starter from freshly ground rye kernels then over time changed it to wheat to give my crepes more strength. I find the local yeast makes mine very sour so I add baking soda, pure sodium bicarbonate with no additives, to help sweeten it a tad.

      With both my chocolate cake and brownies for a typical 8 or 9″ square pan I use 1/2 cup of starter and a heaping Tsp of baking soda. Funny thing is, now that I think of it, I don’t add any baking soda to my crepes and I love their taste. Maybe I should experiment some more without baking soda in other stuff.

      • Thanks for that. So in chocolate cake for example, do you add the sourdough for it’s nutritional qualities or as a raising agent? And do you soak the flour or let it sit longer than normal for a cake recipe? I’m guessing you add the baking soda at the last minute, before baking.
        I am still struggling to consistently produce a good loaf.I have been concentrating on No Knead recipes which may be a step too far for a beginner. Although everything I make does get eaten! Fresh bread and butter – yummy! But I find sourdough pancakes work well (with some baking soda) and I was successful with English Muffins that are griddled rather than baked.

        • In the chocolate cake as with most of my sourdough baking I use it both for the nutritional qualities as well as a raising agent. For the chocolate cake and similar things I mix the starter with flour and let it soak and rise for 8 to 12 hours. And as you have correctly surmised I add the baking soda just before baking with cake, for example. Also with pancakes and English muffins.

          I have been experimenting for some time with sourdough bread and have finally got a system that works well for me. I tried no-knead several times without a lot of success. Perhaps, because I don’t have a machine to mix the dough. What I do know is mix as much flour as I can get in with the starter and water and soak it overnight. Then I add honey and baking soda and knead in the rest of the flour, form loaves and let them rise for a few hours before I bake them.

          I finally figured out, sorta by accident, why I was not getting the loft I was looking for. I was low on starter and fed it excessively for a day or two. It was really active when I made my bread and it rose so well that I was pleasantly surprised! I also find pancakes and English muffins work well and are yummy! For the pancakes I use freshly milled Red Fife wheat, which is a heritage wheat and half buckwheat.

  9. Dear Jim,

    Help! My rye sourdough starter has started to develop what looks like mould on top once it’s been stored in the fridge, or even when left out following a recent feeding. It grows well when i feed it and I’ve successfully made rye bread (have a look at virtuousbread.com – her simple rye bread).
    Is this a problem?
    I have recently made a white flour sourdough starter and am having good results with the no knead method. I think practise helps and a little faith and actually following the instructions sometimes!

    • Mould growing on sourdough starter is unusual, but certainly occurs. One of my daughters complains about the same. I would scrape it off and put the starter in another container. I tend to use my starter very regularly and usually avoid mould by feeding it twice a day and giving it a really good stir, as well as regularly pouring it into a new container. If the starter is really healthy and vibrant it usually can fight off any mould spores.

      • Thanks, I don’t think it’s really mould – certainly not pinkish or fuzzy so I think it might just be the slightly drying out bit at the top.

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