All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Orton's Sourdough Wholegrain Wheat Bread: a Wild Yeast Variation

 Orton's Sourdough Wholegrain Bread

It has been a long time since I've made a sourdough loaf.  Too long, in fact.  And the worst part of this is, my sourdough has languished in the refrigerator.  I haven't refreshed it for so long, I was afraid it would no longer be viable or salvageable.  For the longest time, I would refresh it and not use it, and when this gets to be a habit, I know that it won't be long and I'll just forget refreshing it.  To be useful again, I really should build it back up to fighting strength slowly.

In the absence of incentive to do that, I decided to have a look at Orton's sourdough bread, the second recipe in her tiny wholegrain cookbook.

Orton's Sourdough Wholegrain Bread

Orton's original sourdough recipe would have me put aside a slurry of fresh ground whole wheat with an equal volume of water, along with a packet of commercial yeast.  It is left a couple of days at room temperature, until it develops a sourdough taste, and then you use that as a primer to inoculate the actual dough for a loaf.

Sourdough purists would be horrified.  This is the sort of thing that James Beard popularized and called sourdough, but it is not what the wild yeast users say you should do.

But I've changed Orton's original recipe somewhat. 

Instead, I used 2 1/2 tsp of my own home-made sourdough 'yeast', which was a dried yeast in a rye sourdough made with 75% hydration (something I made some time ago, following the directions in Nils Schöner's book "Brot").  It had been sitting in my fridge, used only occasionally, since I made it.    I wasn't sure how well it would perform in this sourdough recipe.  But I felt that it was worth a try.

I did follow Orton's directions carefully in terms of sieving the freshly milled wheat: she would have us sieve it, and then toss the bran that was sieved out back into the flour.  At first I thought, "What is the point of that?"  But then I thought, it might have 2-3 important effects: (1) it might aerate the flour, or turn the particles such that there is a certain amount of air next to each tiny particle, (2) it might align the bran slightly, such that the sharp particles don't cut as many newly formed gluten strands, and (3) it might affect the volume measurements, as a newly sieved flour will be fluffier when measured volumetrically.  Who was I to argue with the experience of an accomplished baker like Orson?  I sieved the flour and tossed the bran back in.  But I still measured the ingredients by weight.

Sourdough Primer Ingredients by Weight:

    •    470g water
    •    247g freshly milled, sieved and reconstituted wholegrain wheat flour
    •    11g of my own homemade dried sourdough (i.e. 2 1/2 tsp yeast)

Bread Recipe Ingredients Part 1 ("BRIP1"):

    •    700g water
    •    379g freshly milled, sieved and reconstituted wholegrain wheat flour
    •    9g of my own homemade dried sourdough (i.e. 2 1/2 tsp yeast)
-125g of the whole back to the primer

Bread Recipe Ingredients Part 2 ("BRIP2"):

    •    105g powdered milk
    •    26g brown sugar
    •    6g (kosher) salt
    •    579-728g freshly milled, sieved and reconstituted wholegrain wheat flour (656g actual)


While reading Orton's recipe (which is clearly written), I made a little chart for my own quick referral.  Essentially, she makes a sourdough primer, which is left for 48 hours at room temperature before it is ready.  It inoculates some more flour, water, and yeast, and part of this new mixture is returned to the primer, which is then refrigerated.  The rest of the new inoculation is further elaborated into bread.  From scratch, without any sourdough primer already in-house, this recipe will take about 4 days to make.  With the primer already made up, it will take 2 days.  Here is my chart:

My Experience:

I mixed up the sourdough primer.

Because of my work schedule, the primer sat out about 10 hours longer than it should have, around 58 hours.  At that point, the lid blew off the container.  If I had waited just 48 hours like Mildred Orton said, perhaps the lid would not have blown.  But then, unlike her recipe, I wasn't using any commercial yeast in my sourdough bread.

I mixed up both the primer and the Bread Recipe Ingredients Part 1 ("BRIP1") using my home-made rye dough yeast. 
I was a little bit disappointed that the initial primer did not 'rise': but then, at 190% hydration, this is really not meant to 'rise'.  What I noticed was the wheat, when left standing, initially sank below the water; but underneath, the yeast must have become active, and I noticed the liquid layer was turning darker and thicker -- perhaps a layer of alcohol and water (hooch).  There definitely was some fermentation, because gases were developing in the container.  After blowing off the top, it seemed to leave a whole lot of goo at the top of the hooch layer.  I mostly used this top goo layer for my cup of primer, with which I inoculated the Bread Recipe Ingredients Part 1 ("BRIP1") - That might have been a mistake.  There was a substantial amount of gluten in this goo, it was very sticky.  And it was very active, too, I could see plenty of fermentation bubbles.

Things Are A Little Off
After a day with the dough at room temperature (and me away at work), I came home to find that the sourdough in "BRIP1" had collapsed somewhat from where I had marked it in the morning.  This by itself was not too alarming, but the worst part was: it smelled 'off'.  Yes, it smelled bad.  A little like 'sick'. 

What precisely does it smell like?  Well, think of the way the Midway Tarmac at the Fair smells, underneath the Ferris Wheel, after a long day in the sun, when its riders have been eating too many candy apples and cotton candy.  That's sort of the sick smell I'm talking about.

I knew that this stuff should be tossed, but I went ahead with the experiment anyway.  I figured I would end up tossing the whole mess in the compost in the end, but hey: what would I lose from the experience?  4-5 cups of flour?  By continuing, at least I'd gain some experience with the procedure, and by considering it a lesson, it wouldn't be a total loss.

I returned 1 cup of the Sourdough's 'Bread Recipe Ingredients Part 1' ("BRIP1") to the refrigerated Primer, and stirred it in (holding my nose).  Then I weighed the remaining "BRIP1" and added the rest of the bread ingredients (Bread recipe ingredients Part 2, or "BRIP2") to the sourdough mixture.

I was able to add 4 cups of wwflour easily enough in the bowl, and then I was able to knead 51g of the remaining cup too (I sent back 72g, so I only used a total of 656g in the the "BRIP2".   The more fresh flour I kneaded in, the less bad it smelled.  But that didn't mean it smelled good, still.

It bulk fermented 1 hour and 15 minutes in my Excalibur Dehydrator (it spread a bit, but I don't suppose it actually doubled.   I think it could have used a longer bulk fermentation).

Then I punched it down, divided it, kneaded it, and shaped it into two tight little loaves.

They proofed in the baskets for 45 minutes (should have been longer).

I scored one, and left the other. 
Then I baked them for 45 minutes at 400 degrees F.

Baking bread smells great, doesn't it?  Well, usually.  Not this bread.

I think that the stink diminished a little with the baking, but it didn't entirely go away either. 

Both loaves blew apart dramatically in the oven.

Before I set the bread out to cool on the racks and went to bed, I took a final sniff at the deep sulcus in each, and recoiled in disgust.  The steam rising from the score marks and expansion marks still had that peculiar odour, now something like baby barf and fungus.
Thinking I'd continue the experiment so this wouldn't be a complete waste, I decided to experiment on the crust while I was here.  One bread I swept much of the excess flour off the top and applied butter.  The other I left 'as is'.  Then I went to bed.

In the morning when I awoke  I could still smell a faint hint of the barf bread from the night before's baking.  But when I got brave enough to stick my nose down to the bread again, I did not smell that sickness.  I smelled a faint sourness, but nothing disgusting.

I know that I haven't exactly painted a word-picture here of an appetizing bread.  I haven't sold it to you.  But of course, you know what I did next.  I had to try it.  I had to eat some.  I cut myself a slice of each loaf.  Again, I held it up to my nose before daring to put it to my mouth.  Again, there was a sourness to the scent, but it wasn't unpleasant … exactly.

The crumb shows an uneven expansion.  I think that this is because I didn't proof the bread long enough.  This was born out in the mouth-feel of the bread (especially the one I did not score): it has a dense, mealy texture, that to me indicates that it didn't rise quite enough.  Of course, if the bread is rising because of some of the lactobacillus bacteria, and not much wild yeast, I suppose you won't see as much of a rise.  It is the yeast that do most of the heavy lifting in sourdough bread.

And the taste?  Not my favourite.  Initially, when you take a bite, you think it is quite flat, maybe I didn't have enough salt.  But when the mouth's digestive enzymes start to wake up to what you are chewing, suddenly you get these flavour notes.  Finally, just at the moment when you want to swallow, you think, "hey, that is sour."

I took some out to the chickens, who are very discriminating.  They had no problem with the bread, and gobbled it down greedily.  They even preferred eating it to eating some lettuce I had given them.  They liked it so much, in fact, I thought to myself: "what do they know that I don't know?" 

I had some more myself.  And you know what?  This bread, without butter, or oil, or jam or cheese or any topping at all, tastes okay.

It grows on you.

Notes to Myself

  • Many people seem to think that the stink of some nasty sourdough cultures like this one is due to too much of a certain bacteria called leuconostoc.

    However, other people disagree, and state unequivocally that leuconostoc is a part (albeit it should be a minimal part) of many excellent sourdoughs, and is important for some distinct flavour and scent notes.  I don't know who to believe, but I suspect that leuconostoc will always be present in sourdoughs, it just depends on how much is in the culture as to whether or not the culture will work to give you a good tasting (and smelling) bread.

    A number of bloggers have discussed leuconostoc and many have wondered if it is dangerous. These threads are representative:

    Fresh Loaf Blogs
    Wild Yeast Blog

    Certain leuconostoc species are important bacterium that are used to ferment things like sauerkraut and pickles and cheeses. But there are more than one species. The question in everyone's mind: is there something here that might be dangerous? No one ever commits to that.  Sourdough is found to be beneficial, and even if you do it wrong, as I surely have done so here, one still ends up with something that is edible (er, to a starving person).

    The situation is different if you are somehow injecting live leuconostoc bacteria into your veins -- as apparently happened during a hospital outbreak in a Spanish hospital in 2003-4.

    The Pineapple Juice Solution

    Peter Reinhart is famous for popularizing the 'pineapple juice solution' to the 'leuconostoc problem' (that is the sourdough starter technique he presents in his 'Whole Grain Breads' book), but he credits Debra Wink at King Arthur Flours for developing the idea.

    Wink blames
    Leuconostoc mesenteroides for the too-early fermentation of wheat flour, but unless I haven't read her note carefully enough, I don't think she makes the connection that leuconostoc is the (only) bacteria causing the evil stink of a yucky starter like mine.

    As for the method of the 'Pineapple Juice Solution': Briefly, during the earliest stages of making a sourdough culture, Wink suggests using pineapple juice. The theory is, this effects the pH of the culture, encouraging the main Lactobacillus species and yeasts to increase their population at the expense of the leuconostocs. The wild yeasts are, of course, encouraged in the acidic environment.

    Some sourdough purists have suggested the pineapple juice is not necessary (Wink herself seems to indicate that given time, the leuconostoc population will modify itself to appropriate levels). I've had success with using the pineapple method. But despite Wink's actual microbial scientific sleuth work, I have come to doubt whether leuconostocs alone are the real problem causing this really bad stink. Yes, they seem to cause the earliest fermentation, but they also seem to be important for the overall ecology of the sourdough culture. If you inhibit them early with pineapple juice, maybe you are upsetting nature's balance.

    I've seen some abstracts of some studies (thanks Google Scholar) that show that the feared and dreaded leuconostoc bacteria can ferment very well on their own, thank you very much, without any help from yeast at all (e.g. Study of the behaviour of Lactobacillus plantarum and Leuconostoc starters during a complete wheat sourdough breadmaking process by Hervé et. al., (2005) LWT - Food and Science Technology, April 2006.)

    All of the lactobacillus bacteria can ferment. It really depends on what flavours you want to develop, how much of each you will use.

    There is an awful lot of guesswork going on in the blogosphere, even by some self-professed experts, and sourdough remains a huge mystery. I'm simply adding to the guesswork here, of course. A lot more study on my part is required, and I don't pretend to be any kind of expert. My experience is very limited.  As is most people's.  Just take a look at this sample page from Google Books (Bakery products: science and technology, by Yiu H. Hui, Harold Corke) , to see how many different sourdough techniques have been tried in Finland and Russia. There is no one way, so purists who have settled on one way and can't learn any more, be damned.

    What about bacteriophages
    (e.g. see this snippet of Wood's 'Microbiology of fermented foods'? Could that be yet another source of the stink?)

    Obviously, I need to research all of this in more depth. As does the entire world.

  • What was going on in this bread to make it smell so bad? Here is what I believe happened.

    There was some yeast in my homemade wild yeast, but not enough, and soaking it in the high concentration of water for 48 hours did not promote its growth. It likely awakened, and found conditions a bit not to their liking after 24 hours. There were other bacteria present in the flour that produce lactic acid, and they took over happily at that point, and their population (perhaps especially that of the leuconostoc) was the cause of the fermentation that ultimately blew off my container's lid.

    When I scooped a cupful of this fermenting goo mostly from the top of the primer, I was getting tons of lactobacillus bacteria, including leuconostoc, and very little yeast, which was probably still surviving under the layer of hooch. Moving this goo into the new environment ("BRIP1") meant that these bacteria had a field day. The further fermentation simply increased their population at the expense of any yeast I might have moved.

    What was wrong here was the
    method of the recipe: it was designed to use commercial yeast, and to capture a few of these wild flavours in a happy balance. Sourdough purists would be appalled at the method from the very first step.  That is why I turned to my own homemade sourdough wild yeast. Unfortunately, the method was unnecessary for my own homemade dried yeast.   It encouraged the growth of these lactobacillus bacteria, and I got the bad stink as they produced gases.

    Better them than me.
  • On another note:

    While I was making this, I visited a used bookstore and bought an old copy of "Laurel's Kitchen-A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition" -- I already had the spin-off book, "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book", but this was the earlier book that capitalized on the 70's whole food, vegetarian lifestyle. And it contains a short section on bread. The earlier Laurel's book talks about using oil in breads. She suggests that you ought to use a vegetable oil, rather than butter, and explains that oil makes the crumb much more tender, and the bread doesn't stale as quickly. Huh. I Didn't know that. She seems to be talking from experience. For me, it's another piece of the puzzle.
  • The Laurels' Kitchen book's section on bread also answered another question I'd been having: why use powdered milk, why not use milk and cut back on the water appropriately? (Laurel's Kitchen recipe book seems to use many of the same set of ingredients as these Orton loaves. Was milk powder a '70's' thing? You don't see too many recipes nowadays with milk powder) Laurel Robertson writes,
    "Yeast dissolves best in water, so for convenience we usually use water for all of the liquid. Where milk is preferred, we add it in the form of no-instant dried skim milk and sift it in with the flour. When whole milk is used, it should be scalded warm in order to develop proteins that inhibit gluten development. Broth and fruit juices are sometimes recommended, but we've been unhappy with each: broth because it can give an off-flavor and fruit juices because they are sometimes too acidic for the yeast. Bread made with water has a coarser, chewier crumb and a tougher crust than that made with milk."

    Hmm, interesting -- even if it is only anecdotal.

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