Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter Recipe

UPDATE : we have a whole (so to speak) new take on making a starter. See our sourdough starter video for a better way to do this.

Back in March we showed how to make a sourdough starter with white flour. This month we converted a white starter over to whole wheat and have baked many successful loaves of bread with it. The reason that we have to do this conversion rather than starting out with whole wheat flour is that whole wheat tends to get moldy before the beneficial cultures have a chance to take over.

You can use our “Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf” recipe to bake loaves with a whole wheat starter by simply substituting it for the white flour starter. You’ll end up with a loaf that’s about half white, half whole wheat.

To convert a starter from white flour to whole wheat flour do the following:

1. Begin with your white flour starter. Our recipe for creating a white flour starter is in a previous post.

2. Instead of feeding your white flour starter with the usual routine of a half cup of white flour and a half cup of water each day switch to feeding it a half cup of whole wheat flour and a half cup of water.

3. After about a week you will have “converted” your white starter to a wheat starter–hallelujah!

As we emphasized with our recipe for white starter, you must feed the starter every single day or it will begin to rot. This is particularly important with whole wheat flour which will go bad much more quickly. If you can’t keep up with the feeding you can temporarily store the starter in the refrigerator, but for no more than two weeks with whole wheat starter. White starter will last in the fridge for longer.

If this turns your crank, you can sit around your compound watching your sourdough starter bubble while geeking out on Cornell Professor Steven Laurence Kaplan’s book Good Bread is Back, which details the revival of sourdough bread making in France in the early 1990s. Kaplan notes that sourdough,

“rises less than a dough made with baker’s yeast and also more slowly. Its crust is thicker. It keeps significantly longer. It has greater nutritional value, partly because it is richer in certain vitamins and enzymes that are by-products of lactic fermentation, and it contains less phytic acid, which blocks mineral absorption.”

So get that starter going and forget about that crap bread at the supermarket!

A Recipe for Injera


One the many searches that leads folks to this cranky web site is the topic of the Ethiopian sponge bread known as injera. We think we know what’s going on. People go out to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant and come home wondering how to make the bread, leading to a fruitless search of the internets for a recipe and our old post about one of the ingredients, teff flour.

The recipe we used comes from the excellent book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. This is a life changing recipe book that every urban homesteader should own–so go out and buy a copy!

So here’s how we made injera based on Katz’s recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups sourdough starter (check out our post on an easy way to keep and maintain a sourdough starter)

5 cups lukewarm water

2 cups whole-wheat flour

2 cups teff flour (an Ethiopian grain available from Bob’s Red Mill at Whole Foods)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda or baking powder (optional)

Vegetable oil

1. Mix the sourdough starter, flours and water. The result should resemble a pancake batter.

2. Ferment in a warm place for 24 hours.

3. Just before you cook add the salt.

4. Katz gives several options with the baking powder/soda. He says that if you like the sour flavor and don’t mind a less bubbly bread skip the baking soda. We like sour, but we thought the final result was too sour so we added the baking soda. Katz says that using baking powder will provide leavening but leave the dough sour. Again, we recommend adding some baking soda.

5. Stir well and let sit for a few minutes after adding baking soda or powder.

6. Heat up a pan and and lightly coat it with oil.

7. Spread the batter thinly in the pan and cook on one side only. Cover the pan and cook the injera over medium heat.

Injera works as both bread and utensil and the batch we made tasted better than what we’ve been served in restaurants.

Irish Soda Bread

In honor of St. Patrick’s day we give you this still from the simultaneously captivating and unwatchable film Leprechaun in the Hood (special thanks to Dough on the Go! for insisting that we watch until the very end when the Leprechaun raps) and from our expanding comments section a recipe for Irish soda bread:

This is the other half of Homegrown Revolution here, and I have to say I am not thrilled with the recipe my comrade in arms decided to post as representative of the best of quick breads. For years I’ve been making a much better whole wheat-ish quick bread (which he seems to have forgotten) and this is how it goes:

Irish Brown Soda Bread

1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 3/4 c. whole wheat flower
3 T. toasted wheat bran
3 T. toasted wheat germ
2 T. old fashioned oats
(note: change up or skip these nuggety bits as necessary–they just add texture)
2 T packed brown sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 T. chilled unsalted butter cut into pieces
2 cups or so of buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425
Butter a 9 inch loaf pan

Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl and mix. Add the butter and rub it into the flour. Stir in the buttermilk until a soft dough forms and you can scrape up all the dry bits. Don’t overwork. It is fairly wet dough. Put it in the loaf pan and bake about 40 minutes — do the toothpick test in the center to make sure. Turn it out of its pan, and let it cool on a rack.

This is a nutty, wheaty, slightly sweet bread. The original recipe came from an ancient Bon Appétit.


Sourdough Recipe #1 The Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf

Whole wheat fetishists will have to wait for our whole wheat sourdough loaf recipe (we’re working on it–whole wheat is trickier to work with than bad-ass white flour). In the meantime here’s the Homegrown Evolution Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf based on a recipe by Nancy Silverton. You can use either our whole wheat starter or our white starter. And though the instructions are long, this is an easy recipe assuming that you have been good about feeding your starter every day and keeping it in a warm place.

Though far less complicated than manufacturing meth amphetamines (not that we know anything about that), making sourdough also benefits from accuracy in measurements, so the use of a scale will give you better results. We’ve tried to give equivalents in cups, but differences in humidity could bite you in the ass and the scale will make things easier.

Ingredients:

8 oz sourdough starter (a little over 3/4 cups)
13 oz unbleached white bread flour (about 2 3/4 cups)
3 oz whole wheat flour (3/4 cups)
2 tablespoon wheat bran
1/2 tablespoon barley malt syrup (optional–makes a darker crust and boosts the rise)
8 oz cool water (about 1 cup)
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1. Mix the starter, flours, wheat bran, barley malt syrup and water. Throw it all in a mixer fitted with a dough hook if you’ve got one, or knead by hand like hell for 4 minutes.

2. Let the dough rest under a cloth for 20 minutes

3. Mix in the salt and knead for another for another 6 minutes.

4. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap (we use a glass bowl with a lid). Let it ferment in a warm place–in our case the top of a stove which has a pilot light for 3 to 4 hours.
5. Shape the dough into a boule (a pretentious way of saying a flattened ball) and place in a floured proofing basket. We have a wooden proofing basket, sometimes known as a “banneton”, which gives the finished loaf a medieval look, but you can also use a bowl draped with a cloth towel. Just make sure to flour the towel.

6. Put it in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours.

7. Take the boule out of the refrigerator and put it in a warm place to ferment for another 3 to 4 hours.

8. Preheat the oven to 500º. Take the boule out of the proofing basket. We slam it upside down onto a scrap of floured cardboard. Slash the loaf on the top.

9. Using the cardboard, slide the loaf into the oven. We have a cheap cooking stone. Turn the oven down to 450º. Spray some water into the oven using a spray bottle. This simulates the fancy steam injection systems that commercial bakeries have. Steam will give your loaf an old-world style hard crust and will be a strike against all those Wonder Bread counter-revolutionaries out there.

10. For the next five minutes open the door of the oven 2 or 3 more times and spray some water in. We’ve also just tossed water in with a glass if we don’t have a sprayer on hand.

11. After five minutes continue to bake for another 20 minutes, but don’t open the oven door.

12. After 20 minutes open the oven and rotate the loaf. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes for a total of 40 to 45 minutes until the crust turns a dark brown.

13. Remove the loaf from the oven, but resist the urge to break into it. It’s still cooking and you could get a stomach ache from the still active wild yeasts. Let it cool down before slicing.

There’s not much labor involved with making this bread especially if you’ve got a mixer, but it does require some scheduling. You’ll note that the time in the refrigerator gives you some flexibility if you’re not a complete homebody.

If you try this recipe, leave a comment and let us know how it went!

Make a Sourdough Starter

Every damn urban homesteader ought to have a sourdough starter living on their countertop. It’s easy and here’s how we do it around the Homegrown Evolution compound:

1. Get yourself a glass or ceramic container with a lid. It should be able to hold at least three to four cups of starter. Don’t use metal.

2. Put into this container one cup of white flour and one cup of lukewarm water and stir until mixed. Put it in a warm place. We use the top of our stove which has a pilot light.

3. Every day, pour off one cup of your starter and add a half cup of white flour and a half cup of lukewarm water.

4. Your starter should begin to get bubbly in a few days. A layer of liquid, known in sourdough fetish circles as “hooch” will form. Don’t be concerned, this is natural and simply stir it in every morning when you add the additional flour and water.

5. After one to two weeks, you should have an active culture of wild yeasts that will make your bread rise. You can now throw out those annoying packages of commercial yeast and bake bread the way ancient folks did for thousands of years. Just remember to feed your starter every day. We use the Torah’s mitzvah which suggests first feeding one’s animals (in our case our sourdough “pet”) before feeding yourself.

6. If you feel guilty about pouring off that cup of flour every day, and you aren’t making a loaf of bread, try making some sourdough pancakes.

7. If you aren’t going to bake for a few days put the starter in the fridge. Feed it once a week. To revive it, take it out of the fridge and give it a day or two of feedings before you use it.

So how does this work? What you have done is create a hospitable environment for a pair of organisms (wild yeasts and lactobacteria) that work symbiotically. The geeks at Wikipedia put it this way:

When wheat flour contacts water, naturally-occurring amylase enzymes break down the starch into complex sugars (saccharose and maltose); maltase converts the sugars into glucose and fructose that yeast can metabolize. The lactobacteria feed mostly on the metabolism products from the yeast.

The end result is a happy frothing mixture that due to its production of acid and anti-bacterial agents is resistant to spoilage.

Unfortunately the “internets” and bread cookbooks contain a great deal of misinformation about sourdough. Here are some of the many myths out there:

You should add grapes/potatoes/rice to the flour and water mixture to hasten the development of wild yeasts. Sorry folks, the wild yeasts are in the flour and you don’t need anything except flour and water to get a mother started. The wild yeasts on the skin of grapes are a different beast and not the kind that you are looking for.

You should add some commercial yeast to get it going. Wrong. Commercial yeast is another type of yeast that does not survive in the acidic/beneficial bacterial stew that makes up a healthy starter culture.

You should mail-order a sourdough starter. Wrong again. All you need is flour and water and a bit of patience. Wild yeasts, like love should be free. That being said, once you get your starter going, you can of course spread the love around and give some of it to friends so that they can start baking immediately.

You should use bottled water. We’ve done it with plain old LA tap water with no problems.

Wild yeasts are in the air and you have to “catch” them. Yes, there are yeasts in the air, but there are many millions more in the damn flour. If we had to “catch” wild yeasts we’d be making bread with Los Angeles yeasts, which would likely to be too busy yakking on their cell phones in search of an agent to bother helping to leaven a loaf of bread.

So now you have no excuses–creating a sourdough starter simple and there is no mystery to it. Get into your kitchen and get a starter going. To make a wheat starter go here. Check out our bread recipe for how to use your new starter here.

Injera

Hermann Göring is alleged to have said “When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”. These days when Homegrown Revolution hears the world culture we reach for our knife and fork, since our compound’s test kitchen has been busy experimenting with the bubbling and frothing world of live cultures through the ancient art of fermentation.

We revived our sourdough starter (to be explained in a future post), and cooked up a batch of the fermented Ethiopian crepe-like bread called injera. Injera is made by fermenting overnight a mixture of sourdough starter, whole wheat flour, water, salt and teff flour.

Teff is an extremely fine grain grown in Africa. It’s so tiny in fact that a handful of seeds is enough to plant a small farm. Teff is grown in the US by the Teff Company of Caldwell Idaho and is available (though somewhat expensive) at Whole Foods via Bob’s Red Mill. The teff growing folks claim that the iron from teff is more easily absorbed by the body, and that it also includes high levels of calcium and fiber. According to the Teff Company Gezahegne Abera, Ethiopia’s champion marathoner insists on Teff wherever he travels.

Our home-cooked injera was delightfully sour, a perfect counterpoint to spicy food and much tastier than the injera we’ve been served in our local Ethiopian restaurants. Rumor has it that many Ethiopian dives here skimp on the teff by substituting whole wheat flour and skipping the fermentation. Too bad there won’t be any room for growing more teff in America, since we’ll soon be using every available agricultural space for corn to produce ethanol so that we can continue to drive our big-ass SUVs to the mall. In the meantime we’ll enjoy the teff while we can as we declare March the month of fermentation.

Homegrown Revolution got our injera recipe from the astonishing and highly recommended book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Katz offers recipes for every imaginable fermented food, from kimchi to Andean chewed-corn beer (a recipe that involves gathering a bunch of friends to chew corn kernels, spit them out, and then ferment the results).

Anyone up for a chew-in?

Quick Breads


Here at the Homegrown Revolution compound we used to make our own sourdough bread. In fact we used the exhaustive, fetishistic and ridiculously detailed instructions to be found in Nancy Silverton’s book Breads from the La Brea Bakery. Silverton did for bread what Starbucks did for coffee, before she arrived on the scene America was a Wonder bread wasteland but now, in our coast to coast boho yuppified age, you can even find decent La Brea Bakery bread in the red states. Now we’re a bit contrarian at Homegrown Revolution, so while we’re not quite ready to go back to Folgers (though that day will come), we are ready to try some down home white trash quick breads. OK, so Homegrown Revolution has changed our minds on the previous paragraph, and we’re back to making sourdough. That being said, an occasional quick bread ain’t a bad thing:

Quick breads are easy, involve no yeast or rising times, and are nearly foolproof, which is why the knuckle draggers in flyover country like them so much. Now the problem we had in our boho days with maintaining a sourdough starter is that it required daily feeding–in fact it was a bit like having a pet–a very boring slightly messy pet that leaves moist and moldy flour all over your countertop. Sourdough is best for slacker cooking geeks who plan on baking bread almost every day, a process involving multiple risings and sometimes dicey results if the ambient temperature is either too cool or too warm. By all means give a try sometime, but for the lazy we recommend quick breads, which can be whipped up quicker than riding the Xtracycle to Trader Joes.

With this in mind the Homegrown Revolution test kitchen will be experimenting with quick breads in the next few months and presenting the results. Today’s quick bread experiment, we are happy to report, was very successful–Whole Wheat Walnut Bread from the book Country Wisdom & Know How.

3/4 cup unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed [note: SurviveLA recommends reducing or eliminating the sugar--this recipe is a bit too sweet for our tastes]
1 cup walnuts, coarsely broken
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Combine all the dry ingredients. Mix the buttermilk and the vegetable oil in a separate boil. Mix the liquid and dry ingredients together just enough to make sure they are combined. With all quick breads you should minimize the amount of mixing. Bake at 350º until a knife inserted into the bread comes out dry. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of the pan you use.

We invite Homegrown Revolution readers to submit their own bread recipes.

Revolutionary Rusks

Today Root Simple is proud to present a contribution (and amazing photo!) from photographer, velolutionary, and Culver-Town homesteader Elon Schoenholz:

Rusks are sturdy biscuits of Dutch South African origin, slightly sweetened and heartily nonperishable. Like biscotti, they’re double-baked, dry and crunchy; unlike the chocolate-dipped and plastic-wrapped crap on the counter at Starbucks, however, homemade rusks are practical, nourishing and inexpensive. The version we prefer, with chopped almonds, is subtly delicious. Stored in an airtight container, rusks are good to eat for 2-3 weeks. We enjoy dipping them in our coffee. Also, they’re great cycling snacks because you can throw them in a jersey pocket; they’re good all day without refrigeration; and they provide a quick simple-carb fix, as well as protein and complex carbs.

The recipe we use is from the “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes From the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant

To make the most of your time and maximize energy efficiency, bake two batches and stack them all up together for the 12-hour dry-a-thon following the initial 25-minute bake. You’ll end up with about 20 pieces from a single batch, and they go pretty fast. While rusks historically were created as hot-weather food, baking them during the winter is more pleasant because you end up having the oven on all day or night.

Recipe:
Dry ingredients
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour (the recipe calls for coarsely ground whole wheat flour but we use all-purpose whole wheat flour and then add 2 tablespoons wheat germ and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed)
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped almonds

Wet ingredients
½ cup melted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
2 teaspoons pure almond extract

preheat oven to 400º
In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients
In another mixing bowl, mix the wet ingredients
Pour the wet into the dry and stir until you have a soft dough
Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll or pat it to a ½-inch thickness
Cut the dough into 2×4-inch rectangles
Bake about an inch and half to 2 inches apart on buttered (parchment paper will work, too) baking sheets for 25 minutes
After you’re finished baking the rusks, pile them up pyramid-style on a baking sheet, throw them in the oven, turn the dial to 200º and come back in 12 hours

Pointers for first-time bakers:

  • Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, and then mix them together.
  • Make sure to mix the wet and dry ingredients well, but once you combine wet and dry, don’t overmix or the dough can become tough.
  • Pour the vanilla and almond extracts into the butter first and then add the butter to the rest of the wet ingredients, as the fat will encase and preserve the flavor.
  • When rolling out the dough, use flour on the rolling pin and on the dough to prevent sticking.