A couple of months ago, I shared these photos of my homemade gluten-free sourdough bread on social media and immediately people began asking for a tutorial.
I am well aware of the reasons for that. We all love the authentic taste of real artisan breads. I do have one close friend who is not a bread lover. It hasn’t broken up the friendship or anything, but I do confess to wondering at times what on earth is the matter with her!
The other reason, I believe, is that, at the sight of that fresh slice of bread curled up in my hand, people gasped and exclaimed, “You mean it’s possible – it’s really possible to have soft, wonderful, gluten-free bread that doesn’t shatter to dust when you bend it?”
Yes, it is! I will confess, however, that it didn’t come quickly for me and it didn’t come easy. Now that I’ve blazed the trail, so to speak, you can skip all the trial and error and have much more fun on a reasonably quick road to enjoying your bread.
I put a penny next to a fresh slice to give you an idea of the size of the loaf.
When I say “authentic”, I mean authentic and when I say from scratch, I mean really from scratch.
I’m sure you can use this same sourdough in any conventional bread recipe. You’ll be able to find lots of recipes online for that. I use it in my tried and tested, yummy, gluten-free version and I don’t feel cheated – not one bit!
IMPORTANT: Rye flour itself DOES have a certain amount of gluten, but the sourdough process breaks down that gluten, making it much more gut-friendly. However, if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, please consult your doctor before using rye flour.
I know some people run from the notion of gluten-free eating because they either think it’s going to taste “yucky”, or it isn’t “real food” or just because they think it’s the latest weird fad and they prefer not to jump on that bandwagon. I’ll put my two-cents in on the topic of gluten-free in a nutshell and you can take it or leave it.
I promised myself I’d keep this post shorter and simpler than all the ones I read about sourdough when I started, but sourdough takes some explaining. Also, I am the storyteller, so here goes –
I want to live the longest, healthiest life I can live and I’ve had my share of ups and downs with health. You can catch a glimpse into some of that here.
After decades of self-study (because it didn’t take me long to figure out that what the “orthodox” medical care folks knew about nutrition would fit in a thimble), I had it boiled down to this: I needed veggies – lots of ‘em – and they didn’t need to be potatoes, corn and other starchy ones. They needed to be yellow, green and leafy. I needed to get away from white flour because, inside my body, it turned into something similar to that paste we used to see a few classmates eating in first grade – not a good thing for the intestines. I needed to keep desserts to a minimum but, I actually thought that my great love of fudge brownies and glazed donuts could be indulged as long as I ate the veggies and whole-wheat, non-GMO stuff first. I thought fat made you fat – silly me – having falling for that advertising myth. I fed my family lots of homemade goodies made with the best ingredients our budget would allow.
I had some health issues that seemed minor. You know what I mean – it comes under the category of “a million little things”, but it wasn’t cancer, heart problems or some auto-immune disease, so I tolerated those.
Help came with the addition of a balanced, whole-food supplement that helped resolve a lot of the issues because – let’s face it – we can’t eat balanced meals every single day and donuts do happen.
Then came about a three-year period of high stress for me. Some overly demanding stress can be the good kind (months of wedding planning for my daughter), but some is the bad stuff (I lost my mother) and the list goes on. The result? Stage 3 adrenal fatigue arrived and refused to go away.
Now I will fast-forward to a point where, after I chose a new family practice M.D. who specializes in functional medicine (or that holistic stuff you hear people talking about), the doc informed me that adrenal fatigue such as I had could be beat – and then she handed me a big binder, saying, in essence, “Welcome to your next one to three years.”
I decided to show her I was hot stuff. I’d knock her socks off in six months! I’d be the best patient she ever had (and I think I actually might be) ‘cause I’ve got grit. We started a treatment plan. She advised me not to tax those pooped little adrenal glands any more than they already were. Certain foods do that. After three solid months of no sugar (even the “hidden” stuff in packaged foods) and no grains, we could talk again about whether I could add brown rice, quinoa and a couple of other things back into my diet. If I behaved nicely and received her seal of approval, she might let me have sourdough bread.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that by the time I reached the end of that first three months my yearning for glazed donuts and fudge brownies would have reached a fever pitch? Nope. I’d been so diligent at removing all the inflammatory, gland-stressing baddies from my diet that sugar cravings left me around the second week! Only one thing kept calling my name – ONE THING saddened me about this clean eating plan. I. Must. Have. TOAST!
When I asked the doctor if she remembered telling me I could someday have sourdough bread, she nodded and informed me that, lest I be thinking of a trip to the bakery, I’d best be prepared to put on my big girl panties once again and start from scratch.
All store-bought sourdough is fake sourdough. I was to start with rye flour and water only, growing my own little bowl of funk on the kitchen counter as the “natural process” (which is a nice term for something that causes you to shrink back when you lift the lid) drew yeast from the air and eventually became, just as the name implies, sourdough.
Once I’d achieved this, I could bake bread with the gluten-free flour blend of my choice.
I headed for Natural Grocers to purchase rye flour and then frustrated myself for countless hours on the internet trying to find the perfect instructions for not only the sourdough starter, but the bread to follow. There are a lot of bad recipes on the internet, especially in the gluten-free or “clean eating” categories, put there by poor souls who are trying to help others before they’ve found their own way.
The instructions for starting your own sourdough ranged from long and complicated to short and vague. I treated the whole thing like rocket science and had great success. One day, however, a half dozen or so loaves later, common sense arrived and said, “Do you really think your great-grandma over-thought the whole deal like this?” That’s when I relaxed and started doing the whole process by eye and by feel.
Since it will take a week or ten days, depending on the amount of “good stuff” (we can laugh about this later) in the air in your kitchen, I’ll give you the instructions today for the sourdough starter only. In a week or so, we’ll talk about bread.
The photo below shows what I use to mix and store my sourdough.
You’ll need to gather these four items before you start:
Rye Flour (I use the non-GMO Natural Grocers brand pictured. I can get a two-pound bag at my local Natural Grocers for around $2.00.
Water – tap water is FORBIDDEN here. Use distilled, reverse osmosis or some other form of water that does not have chemicals that will kill the natural yeast that is trying to form.
Non-reactive container with a resting lid for mixing and storing. Aluminum will not work and I find ceramic or glass to be best. The lid must keep moisture in while letting gasses escape. A round bottom, such as pictured in the photo, allows for ease in mixing. A snap-on lid will not work. I found a lid from a small dish at a flea market that fit my bowl just right without sliding off. Be sure your container is large enough to allow for comfortable stirring.
Spatula and a ½ cup measuring cup.
Now for my super-simplified instructions and more than honest observations to keep you from over-thinking the process or throwing out your sourdough before you’re even finished. You might want to read all my observations before you even start!
- Choose a starting time. You need to decide on a time of day when you are usually always home and preferably, when you’re usually home twelve hours later – you’ll have a few days when you’ll feed the dough twice a day later on. (Example: 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. if you are working and your schedule allows you to give things a quick mix before and after work.)
- Using the ½ cup measure, add two scoops of rye flour to the bowl.
- Fill the ½ cup measure with distilled or reverse osmosis water to the bowl.
- With the spatula, work the mixture together into a paste-like consistency, leaving no dry spots – every bit of flour must be moist. If it seems too dry to incorporate the flour, add an additional tablespoon or two of water until you achieve a thick but totally moist paste.
- Scrape the mixture from the sides, pressing it into the bottom of the bowl and leveling the top with the spatula. This will help to keep the whole mixture moist and help you to see exactly how much rising has occurred.
- Cover with the resting lid and leave on the counter for twenty-four hours.
- The following day, at around the same time, take your spatula and “slice” through the middle of the paste mixture, scooping out half the mixture to discard. (I place a square of waxed paper on the counter and deposit it onto the center of the paper, then fold all sides in before plopping it into the trash to avoid icky smells in the kitchen. I don’t know if other people run this down the disposal, but it might be a bad idea and you’ll see why as we go.) Add two measures of flour and one measure of water. Mix as before and leave on the counter.
- Now you’ve arrived at Day 3. Repeat the process, discarding half the mixture and adding more rye flour and water. Repeat this again on Day 4. You’re probably starting to notice some changes occurring in that bowl.
- Now it is Day 5. It’s time to repeat the process twice a day now. Happy mixing and tossing! Continue the twice-a-day process for Days 6, 7 and 8, or until your sourdough starter is doubling in size in between each time you toss out half and mix in more.
- Now your sourdough starter has been properly fed, is poofy and bubbly and is ready to use in breads, pancakes, pizza dough and all kinds of other yummy recipes!
Now it’s time for tough love, folks. The awful truth that most of us, as modern day germaphobes who wrinkle our noses and pull the bleach wipes out of our holsters faster than Marshall Matt Dillon drawing on yet another Bad Bart, must face is that sourdough is good for you and isn’t going to kill you or your kids. It is, however, going to be disgusting.
Embrace a little logic with me and admit that back before those tidy, little yeast packets appeared in stores, your ancestors grew their own. These pioneers of sturdy stock survived making sourdough and so will you!
Having read what seemed like the entire internet to learn all the technicalities of how sourdough works and what’s really happening in that bowl, lest I mess the whole thing up and end up without toast or, even worse, kill us all, I’ll share my gleanings and eye-witness testimony.
After the first day or two, depending on the warmth of your kitchen and the amount of natural yeast in the air, you’ll see changes occur in your bowl of starter and they won’t be pretty. It’ll get gray, then grayer, then disgusting to the point where you’ll be holding your breath when you remove the lid to go through your toss and mix routine.
Now, which of our ancestors looked into this pot of stench and thought it would come to a good end had more faith and optimism than I’ve ever possessed. We can add sourdough to the list of things, along with octopus and artichokes, that will go down in history as head-scratchers, making us wonder what poor, starving soul decided to give that a try.
There are two kinds of bacteria growing in there. One is the yeasty, fruity-smelling kind we associate with fresh baked goods. The other is an unspeakable horror. What you are doing as you daily toss and mix is removing some of the horror and giving the yummy-yeasties a chance to take over. It’s a jungle in there and we want the right critters to be king! Around Day 5, you should notice a change in the look and smell. It will be doubling in size each day as the horrible smell fades and the yeasty smell grows stronger and stronger, causing you to say to yourself, “Mmmm…when can I make bread?” rather than, “Please, can I just scrape this all off into the garbage?”
Speaking of scraping, another thing I’ve observed is that the word “paste” couldn’t be more applicable. However, upon drying, a more appropriate term is “concrete”. Immediately after using your spatula (or if you should transfer the starter from one bowl to another), submerge your utensils and dishes in water because, if it dries – Honey, it is on there!
Once your sourdough has turned into the real deal, you can keep it forever as long as you “feed” it at least once a week, which means scooping out a cup or so to use it in a recipe, share with a friend or toss so that you can add more rye flour and water. If you neglect this, it will go funky on you and you’ll be starting over and who wants to go through the icky part again? Once fed, leave it on the counter for a couple of hours to get it going before refrigerating it and when you pull it out again to use or feed, give it another couple of hours on the counter first to “poof”.
I’ve not tried to freeze or dry my starter in order to take a break for vacation or other reasons, but I’ve heard it’s possible to do that and “wake it up” when you need it again.
Get your starter started and in a week or so, we’ll make bread!
If you’d like to be ready for this yummy gluten-free bread, here’s your shopping list: Brown rice flour, tapioca flour and arrowroot powder (you’ll need at least a cup of each), cream of tartar, a small amount of honey, kosher salt, yeast, refined coconut oil, milk or milk substitute.
And don’t forget the butter!
Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments during your process and I’ll try my best to answer. I know I had lots of them when I started!
Share this post with your friends who’ve been frustrated with bread making or who are searching for gluten-free, dairy free or just plain healthier food options.
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