The Miracle of Sourdough

The best bread I’ve ever made contains only three ingredients.  Wheat flour, water and salt.  Yes I’m aware that there is no yeast added to the recipe but I assure you – it is there.  I’ve recently been testing a new and superior recipe and method for making sourdough bread and I’m really excited about the results I’m achieving!  So excited that I want to share my results (and in my next blog, the recipe) with everyone!

The science and lore of fermentation has been a subject of fascination for me over the past few years.  And way back when I went to culinary school it was a revelation to learn how to make bread from scratch.  But I never put the two together until I came to Northwest and really started to explore food in such an in depth way that working in a professional kitchen never afforded me the time to do.

It’s astonishing to think of all the invisible, microscopic life that goes on around us.  The bi-products and effects of this microbial life have the power to transform our food into wonderful and completed different food.   Bread is one of the most amazing examples of this transformation.

Yeast is covering everything in our world.  This little one celled fungus comes in 100s of varieties (some of them not so pleasant).  But the yeasts that cover many of the plants we eat are just the right kind to change a dough of wheat flour and water into something that becomes aerated and actually grows.  This is the most miraculous thing about bread making.  As a bread maker you are creating life, so to speak.  You are responsible for a miracle!    Who wouldn’t want to do something that makes you practically a god.

So when the wheat berries (which are covered in millions of little yeast cells) are ground up into flour and mixed with water the yeast begins to consume the food that was locked inside the wheat berry, namely the starch and the protein.  Given this food the yeast does its thing.  It grows by dividing itself in two and produces waste – carbon dioxide and alcohol.  Once enough time has passed, and as long as the fermenting mixture has been fed small amounts of flour and water each day, a strong population of yeast as well as lactic and acetic bacteria will be present and this starter will be capable of leavening a loaf of bread.


The Leaven


The bread making process starts with combining a very small amount of the starter with enough food for the yeast to cause an explosive growth in the population of yeast.  Basically the yeast in the starter is introduced into a new environment full of food and no competition for that food.  This causes a population boom.  The population boom of the yeast has momentum and as long as the Leaven is incorporated into a bread dough at the right time to take advantage of the increasing population, the momentum will continue and enough gas will be created (as a bi-product of the yeasts’ life cycle) to make beautiful, delicious and well aerated bread.


Just remember that this whole process takes time, about three days once you have your starter established, but only a couple minutes of your active working time here and there over the course of the three days.  It’s a rhythm that once you become familiar with can be easily incorporated into your daily activities.

If you would like some starter drop by and pay us a visit.  We’ve always got extra!

As I teased above, in my next blog I’ll actually share the recipe and walk you through the methodology for making a great sourdough bread.