Sunday, February 26, 2012

Freshly ground flour... sifting is your friend!

Instead of taking a nap on this fine Sunday afternoon, I'm writing a blog post. The reason for the writing itch is what I've had on my mind for a while: freshly ground flour.

I got a new grain mill last year, and have been enjoying freshly ground flour in all manner of baked goods, but it's taken me the longest time to figure out how to make decent, real sourdough bread with it. (When I say "real", I mean leavened using only sourdough, no commercial baking yeast.)

Why sourdough bread? I have a peculiar fascination with sourdough. (Read: I am obsessed.) There’s something empowering about not relying upon something I’ve purchased to raise my bread, but rather using yeast that I’ve cultivated from the air. I found this quote about sourdough and liked how it was worded:

Commercial "baking" yeast is a single kind of organism that belches a lot of gas really fast and transforms grain into something that's even less good for you. Sourdough is two organisms, wild yeast and bacteria, in symbiosis. Together they transform the grain to make it more healthful, more digestible, and also resistant to getting moldy or stale.

Okay, so do you get that sourdough is better for you? That's kind of why I'm a bit extreme when it comes to this bread baking. PLUS, I've noticed that when I eat unsoaked flour products, my nursing baby is more fussy.

So, back to my quest for the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. I'd made some sourdough doorstops the first several times I used freshly ground flour. Then I used the Urban Homemaker's 2-step soaked recipe, which worked pretty well... I had gotten a free e-book from her at some point, which contained the recipe. But not all the flour was soaked. (Remember... I'm obsessed!) Then I got a free e-book from Kitchen Stewardship which contained a recipe for Honey Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread which I liked. Still not perfect, but it was turning out better than my other sourdough version, plus, all the flour was getting a pretty good souring time.

But here's the deal...the grain mill doesn't grind the grain to a complete powder. There is fine powdery flour mixed with the crushed bran. The bran acts almost like little scissors on the gluten strands, which keeps the bread from having a bigger rise. I think that's what I've been fighting against, and have only recently had a lightbulb moment in thinking to SIFT the flour. Not sure how I came to that, but I saw this blog post about sifting out the bran, then adding it back into the bread, which some say really helped their final loaf. Somewhere else, I read to soak the bran in some type of fat, like lard or butter, before adding it back in.

Yeah... sift it. But how?

Well, I have this flour sifter that I got several years back that hasn't gotten much use. I've read that you should use these screens made especially for flour sifting... but I have this flour sifter. Soooo.... I figured I'd try it and see. Here's what the inside of my sifter looks like.

There's a handle on the side that you squeeze and it moves two wheels to sift around the flour... I mostly just end up shaking it to get the flour out. But it keeps the bigger bran pieces out, which I do one of two things with: 1. Bran goes into a recipe, like bars or cookies (or cookies that become bars because I can't seem to make cookies that don't become a flat pancake!). OR 2. Bran goes into coffee grinder, gets ground a bit finer, and gets thrown back into my pot of flour. (I wouldn't add it back into my flour grinder, because I think that's bad for the machine.)

So, it seemed to help lighten the loaf a bit, and helped it rise higher!

But, I haven't perfected this concept yet. A few notes...

--I tried soaking the bran in some soft lard and adding it back into the bread. I counted it as some of my flour, but I don't think I should've done that, because it didn't help the bread at all. Made it pretty dense.

--I have left out the bran before, which works very well.

--When grinding up the bran in the coffee grinder, it seems to work pretty well to add it back into the flour.

--I have a tendency to forget about my bread rising.... at least with sourdough, it's not quite as big of a deal as with commercial yeast, which rises a lot faster. But the last several times I've made bread, it rose longer than it needed to, so the loaves ended up falling a bit during baking.

--I need to coddle my sourdough starter a bit more before baking bread so it's at its peak performance when it gets used for bread. I'm going to try to keep my sourdough starter out on my counter a lot more so it's always ready. I found these two recipes, which call for a certain amount of sourdough starter, but no extra flour, so as long as I have plenty of sourdough starter ready, I don't have to think ahead to make these things: Sourdough Crepes (the link is to tortilla chips, but the crepe recipe is on there) and Sourdough Pancakes.

So, my sourdough bread is still a work-in-progress. I realize it will never be like the bread you buy in stores... but I'm okay with that. I don't want it to be! ;-)