Sourdough Bread Recipe

The large kitchen is almost dark. | Across the plain of even, diffused light, | copper pans on the wall and the window geranium | tend separate campfires. | Herbs dangle their Spanish moss from rafters.

At the table, floury hands kneading dough, feet planted | steady on flagstones, | a woman ponders the loaves-to-be. | Yeast and flour, water and salt, | have met in the huge bowl.

It’s not | the baked and cooled and cut | bread she’s thinking of, | but the way | the dough rises and has a life of it’s own, | not the oven she’s thinking of | but the way | the sour smell changes | to fragrance.

She wants to put | a silver rose or a bell of diamonds | into each loaf, | she wants

to bake a curse into one loaf, | into another, the words that break | evil spells and release | transformed heroes into their selves, | she wants to make | bread that is more than bread.

The Acolyte, Denise Leverto

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       Expression of the heart. The method for everyone can not be contrived. The way the heart is expressed through each person is unique, natural to who they are, no force. For some it’s yoga. Rock climbing. Music. Cooking. Art. The list goes on with the gifts life offers us to cope with its curves, it’s complexity, its pain, its truth.

The way the heart moves through a person is really about letting go of structure and creating space for organic process, for life to move through in a natural way. Sure, there are recipes to follow. Of course their are lyrics to a song. There are vinyasas to move through. But these structures are the practice ground for the jump-off of true self embodiment, when a person lets their spirit move freely through the experience of just being in what happens. Responding to life without thinking, without doing. Simply with being in response to life.

I see this reflection in the way fermented foods are processed. All of these live foods, whether it be water kefir soda, kombucha, yogurt, sauerkraut, sourdough bread. They all have a mind of their own, and I am working alongside that organic process and supporting it to flourish. The minute I try to rush the process or don’t respond to the foods natural growth is the minute the end product is compromised. I must create a dialogue with the food, listening and responding to how it wants to grow. Just like the way a bass player and drummer have a conversation to create the perfect moment in tune. In those instances, consciousness is experienced.

Within the journey of baking bread, a story transpires. From start to finish of the creation of a loaf, life happens. Death happens. I see myself grow, the universe shift. The baking experience acts as a map for life.

One of the last loaves of bread I made, I created alongside my amazing baking accomplice Eliza. Throughout its development, we talked about changes in work, relationships, our bodies. We practiced yoga, which involved some falling, some body positions we moved into which had never taken shape before. After she had left, between the bulk rise to the shaping of the loaf, I found out a dear friend and beautiful spirit Amy died.

As I shaped the bread, I shaped my shock into it. My sorrow, my anger. I tried to create language around the pain I felt inside my body, trying to make sense of it all. And in those moments when life takes a swift turn, there are often no words. But there was bread, ready to be shaped. It was a much needed catharsis, to have a live source of nourishment needing me to help it grow.

That bread turned out to be one of the best breads I have made so far. And of course, it’s purpose was to celebrate the life of another dear friend, her birthday evening layered with fresh slices, with the complexity of life weaved into each one. Created to celebrate birth, it’s growth helped me process the trauma of loss.

I am so grateful I have a method of processing life. Creating food is a healing process. Just like a guitar will always be there for a musician, waiting for a new song to move through it. Such is the process of baking bread for the hungry spirit.

Herbal Sourdough Bread

Ingredients

85 g ripe sourdough starter (levain), 192 g organic whole wheat bread flour, 128 g organic all purpose flour, 240 g filtered water, 7.5 g sea salt, 6.5 g finely chopped herbs of choice (i often use sage for its aromatic and energetically cleansing properties), 15 g organic wheat germ,  32 g extra filtered water, organic gluten free flour (i often use brown rice or cornmeal)

Helpful equipment

digital kitchen scale, large glass bowl, large cast iron dutch oven, cast iron skillet, cutting board to shape the dough upon.

Directions

I generally begin my bread making process during the afternoon, so my bulk rise stage is complete right before bedtime and I can bake my loaf upon waking the following morning. You want to make sure you have spaciousness to bake your bread, so pick an afternoon you know you will be around your home.

Make sure your sourdough starter is ready to use. I keep my starter in the refrigerator and take it out the night before I am going to make bread. I feed it the next morning with 4 times more flour then starter and enough water so when it is thoroughly mixed, the texture resembles thick pancake batter. The starter should be ready to use within a few hours. To determine its readiness, drop a small amount of starter into a glass of water. If the starter floats, it’s ready to use. If your starter sinks, feed it with more flour and water, place in in a warm spot and check on it within an hour or so, using only when it passes the “float test.”

Mixing the Dough

When the starter is ready to use, add it to measured water (aside from water reserved for later use) and mix with fingers thoroughly. Place water-starter mix in a large glass bowl. Add flours and wheat germ and begin to knead the dough. There are various methods to kneading dough, but the one I prefer is to bring the upper left corner of the dough into the middle, turn the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat. Continue kneading the dough until it feels developed enough to hold shape but not overworked, when it begins to stick to the edges of the bowl or loose dexterity. Let rest for 1 hour with a towel draped on top. After one hour add salt, herbs of choice, and the remaining water. Continue kneading until herbs, salt and water are well incorporated. Place towel back over the bowl.

Bulk Rise

Every hour for the next four hours, fold the dough once, flip it, and place it back into the bowl, covering with your towel after each fold. The folding method I prefer is to take the north end of the dough towards the center, then repeat with each direction moving clockwise. Then pick up the dough with both hands, flip the whole thing over, and tuck in the edges. Folding will incorporate more air into the bread, adding to more of an “open crumb”, more holes and less density within the finished loaf.

Shaping the Dough

After about four folds within the bulk rise stage, your dough should have developed some visible air bubbles, be well spread but easy to handle. Place dough onto a floured surface. I use a non-gluten flour such as brown rice or cornmeal so the bread does not stick to the work surface. Lay the bread out in an oblong form. Now you will begin to shape the loaf. My preferred method is to envision my laid out dough in three sections, a top, middle and bottom. Fold the top third right edge towards the top left edge. Then fold the top left side over to the top right. Next, fold the middle right towards the middle left. Fold the middle left to middle right. Fold the end right to the end left. Fold the end left to the end right. Then tuck the whole top portion into the middle, then roll the top portion you just created towards the base. Place the bread on the work surface so the seam is on the bottom, smooth side up. Do this at least two and at most three times, every 20 minutes or so, covering the bread with the bowl when its resting so moisture doesn’t release into the air. After your third shaping, place the shaped loaf seam side down in a a bowl coated with a thin layer of olive oil and floured generously with your non gluten free flour. Place the bowl in a plastic bag, tie the bag closed tightly, and place the bowl in the fridge for about 8 hours or overnight.

Baking the loaf

Preheat the oven to 500F.  Place a dutch oven in the oven to preheat, beforehand coating the inside base of the dutch oven with a thin layer of oil and a light dusting of your non gluten free flour. Take the shaped dough out of the refrigerator. It should have risen noticeably more then when you put it into the fridge the night before. Once the oven is preheated, take the dutch oven out and flip the dough into the dutch oven, put the lid on, with the seam side facing up. Within the photos I have shown in this post, I used the method of slicing through the smooth side of the dough with a sharp blade called a lame, but for the purposes of this post I have simplified the method so don’t have to buy fancy equipment to make a great loaf. Take your cast iron skillet and place on the bottom of the oven, and add a glass filled with water to create steam within the oven, closing the oven door quickly so little steam escapes the oven. Turn the oven down to 450F and bake loaf for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, open the oven and take the lid off the dutch oven, add more water to the cast iron skillet if it has all evaporated, and bake the bread for another 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Place on a cooling rack and cool completely before storing in a paper bag, so the bread can continue to breathe (as opposed to storing in a plastic bag) until it is all gone. Enjoy.

All photos within this post captured by yours truly.

This post is dedicated to the amazing spirit of Amy Regan. May you rest in peace.

Elizabeth Gross