Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gluten Free Sourdough Bread Starter

In my long line of gluten free cooking projects came the need for gluten free bread. My family has various sensitivities including soy, gluten, corn, egg, dairy, and yeast. My husband likes to say, "not many people have figured out how to make bread...without ingredients."

So, all that to say, I had a dilemma.

There is one brand of bread I can buy at the health food store. It is $6 per loaf, and it does not taste very good. But, it has none of those ingredients we don't tolerate well. I was talking to my mom about it one day, and wondering how they make bread without yeast. She said it was probably sourdough. (I have since found out that some companies rise bread with baking powder. Somehow that doesn't sound as exciting. ;)

That launched a research project. (Not that I need a reason for a research project!)

There is a difference between the yeast in commercial packets of yeast, and the yeast in a wild sourdough starter. Some people with yeast allergies tolerate sourdough just fine. The jury is still out on whether we tolerate it or not, but it was worth a try!

Here's how to do this, if you'd like to try:

White Rice Flour (as organic and additive free as you can afford!)
Filtered water (the additives in tap water can kill the yeast)
Non-metal bowl and utensils (metal kills yeast)

Put two parts water and three parts flour (Try 1 cup water and 1 1/2 cups flour to start) into a bowl and stir together. It should make a smooth paste-y dough. If it's thick and hard to stir, add a splash more water. If it's runny like cake batter, add a sprinkling of flour. Really the consistency doesn't matter until you start baking, but I think it's easier to work with when it's easy to stir but doesn't spill easily. Cover the bowl loosely (I use plastic wrap), and place in the cold oven with the oven light on. (The oven light warms up the oven just enough to help the yeast begin to grow. You can also do this on the counter, but my kitchen is too cold for it to work.)

The next day there may be clear liquid on the top of the starter, maybe some bubbles, and it may smell like wine or vinegar or bread baking. That's good! If it smells rotten, throw it out and start over. If you're not sure, keep going, it's probably fine. :)

Stir it up, and add 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup flour. Put back in the cold oven. (Remember to take it out before preheating the oven for anything!)

The next day, throw away half of the starter (it just gets bigger and bigger if you don't. :) and add another 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup flour and stir.

Do this every day for about 2 weeks. If mold shows up in the starter, scoop out the mold and keep going - the yeast will eat small amounts of mold and the starter will be fine. You may need a little more water or maybe stir more often if you have mold issues.

After two weeks or so, your starter should get nice and bubbly, smell like sourdough bread, and rise (hopefully double!) within about 6-12 hours after feeding. If it just rises a little bit each time (try marking it with a dry erase marker or pencil to see how high it rises) you may need to feed it twice a day to get it really active. (Throw away half each time so you aren't overtaken by starter!)

Once it's active, you can put it in a container in the fridge and feed it once a week until you're ready to bake with it. You can even put spoonfuls of your starter on wax paper and freeze them in baggies. When you defrost and add water and flour, it will come right back to life. Hard to kill this stuff unless it gets bacteria in it.

These same principles will work with gluten flour as well - plain unbleached white flour works great for this. If you want to make whole wheat bread, you can use whole wheat flour, but some people think the starter doesn't start as well with whole wheat. It's best to start with white and then start feeding whole wheat later.

After much experimenting, I have a gluten free sourdough bread recipe (didn't find a single one online!) I'll share it soon! And if anybody wants the short-cut, I'm happy to give you some of my starter instead of throwing it away! :)