For those who don’t know how our daily bread is made, here’s a quick rundown on how it happens. First comes the flour, which comes from a variety of grains, though wheat is the most common, although sometimes it comes from legumes or even fruits. Then this flour needs to go through a fascinating process called leavening that transforms it into something lighter and softer. Apologies to the impatient, as the agent of this process takes some time to work its magic. After you’ve waited, and waited some more, the dough should be kneaded, and probably kneaded some more (with more waiting in between), before it’s finally baked in an oven. And that’s it.
Now, what does this process of leavening entail? In order to not get too chemical and avoid being plagiarized by some scientific magazine, let’s just say that there are microorganisms in the environment called yeasts, which are fungi. They feed on your flour, causing it to multiply and change its composition. For this to happen we can use live yeast, the one often sold in your local store. Or, if you really want to get into it, you can use the sourdough method, which you are probably already getting impatient to find out what the heck it is.
Dough to start it all
Just remember, patience is a virtue, because this method will take us five days. It’s simple enough to start, basically you mix water and flour. Any flour is good, but the better option is whole wheat. The water, ideally, should be chlorine free. If it comes out of the faucet, let it rest for one hour, or use mineral water. Use a clean glass or plastic container with ample room for your creature to grow. Simply mix equal amounts of flour and water, depending on how much you want. Stir until you have a homogeneous mixture and cover it with a clean cloth and leave it to rest for 24 hours. The next day, do exactly the same again, but add a spoonful of sugar to the mixture. Wait another 24 hours. On the third day we repeat the steps of the first day, without any sugar. On the fourth day we should be able to remove a brown layer from the surface, a very good sign. That day we add only flour, no water. Mix and let rest for another 24 hours covered with a dish towel, so that it breathes. On the fifth day, the dough is ready.
Like all art, the forms and combinations are infinite. There are a variety of flour types, different fungi, mixtures, sugars, and every element that is part of this fascinating process. For example, you can mix this dough with yeast, there are no restrictions. But the benefits of using a sourdough starter, which is considered the artisanal way, are that the bread has more flavor, more body, as well as more acidity and consistency than one made with yeast, plus the bread stays fresher and crispier longer. But if you don’t believe me, why not head into your kitchen and try for yourself.
In case this little dive into sourdough has left you longing to get your hands dusty with flour, I’ll leave you with this recipe.
Sourdough bread with sunflower seeds
- 500 g flour of your choice
- 8 g salt
- 300 ml water
- 140 g sunflower seeds
- 170 g sourdough starter
- Mix the flour and salt in a bowl
- Form a well in the center and add the water
- Stir everything together and mix in the seeds (the mixture should be uniform, neither too watery nor too dry)
- Let it rest for at least one hour, ideally at 20-22°C
- Add our sourdough starter and knead together for at least 10 minutes. Cover and let the dough rise for 8 to 24 hours
- Once the dough is ready, form it into the desired shape and make some cuts across the top (scoring the dough prevents cracking as it expands during the baking process)
- Preheat the oven to 220°C
- We can sprinkle a bit of water on the dough during the first 12 minutes of baking or put a heat resistant container of water in the oven because it is better baked “wet”
- Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes, until it is pierced with a toothpick and nothing sticks to it, or the outer crust is golden brown and firm
Let it cool for about 45 minutes and then enjoy!