Place ½ a cup of organic raisins in a tall glass jar. Pour 5 cups of clear water (40 oz.) and cover the jar with coffee filter, and place an elastic band on to hold it. Make sure the room temperature does not drop below 65◦F, or above 72◦F. After about 5-7 days your liquid ferment should be ready; remember to stir once daily.
The day you’re ready to make the dough, uncover the jar and stir. Strain out the amount you need, usually 55% -57% liquid ferment of the total flour weight. Continue on with kneading; if it’s too tacky add more flour, one tablespoon at a time. Cover and let it rise, which might take anywhere from 12-24 hours depending on your environment.
After that press it down and shape it as you desire. Then cover and let it rise again for another 2-6 hours.
Preheat your oven, and just before putting it in take a razor blade and make a few scores on the dough so it won’t burst as it expands during baking. Once again, if you are a seasoned home baker this will be a piece of cake, and if not, you will learn with practice.
Please, understand that I’m not trying to teach you how to make basic bread, and I do not claim to be an expert in bread science. I’m introducing a novel way for sourdough fermentation, eliminating the traditional method of such process, which is intimidating and very time consuming. That’s why you cannot find sourdough bread as easy as ordinary bread. The big companies cannot find ways, simple enough, to venture into spontaneous fermentation. Perhaps this method may trigger their interest.
The beauty of liquid spontaneous fermentation is that it’s endless. After you get some experience you should begin your own experiments. To your ferment you can add other goodies, such as, fresh or dry herbs, flowers of any kind, and veggies. Use your imagination but try not to lose your basic ferment. Always keep some to inoculate your next batch.
Of course, what I have described is the most basic starting point for liquid fermentation. Over the years I have designed some very complex ferments with astounding results, though not all favorable.
This past decade “Barilla R&D” the company from Italy that makes pasta, ventured into research of liquid sourdough fermentation for industrial applications. I do not know all the details of their research materials, but I suspect, their aim was to produce “same” bread time after time. Well, nature doesn’t work that way and nothing is “same” from one moment to the next. Every loaf of bread you’ll make will be great but not the same.
There are other companies in Europe that manufacture and provide liquid sourdough ferments to artisan bakers. But why buy it, when you can make it yourself? Fresh and better. You and I are concerned not with the industry of bread baking, but rather with our daily bread.
But why go through all this trouble? There is endless information on the web regarding the many nutritional benefits of eating sourdough bread, and not to mention flavor, no need for me to get into that.
Also I see a great need for building small communities of daily “bread clubs” down the road. Why not? We have “book clubs” all over the world, which have been thriving around for many years.
“Bread clubs”, will bring us closer, so we can break bread, dip it in olive oil with some good cheese and gossip about our daily affairs. Even though the unbroken history of bread baking goes back to thousands of years, we’re just about beginning to scratch the surface. Oops! I just opened Pandora’s bread box. Some of you artisan bakers will start scratching your heads wondering, “What is this crazy guy talking about?” Make sure you don’t bleed; stop scratching and start experimenting with the endless web of sourdough bread. Who knows what wonders you will encounter!
Certainly some of you will have questions of similar nature, how come it didn’t rise much, or, my bread does not taste sour, my ferment looks weird, etc. Especially if you are a beginner. That’s why I suggested a bread book or one of your choice about the art of bread baking.
I’ll also keep up with your wonders and try to answer in a general platform. In time your expertise should surpass mine, no doubt.
Enjoy your sourdough journey,
This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book (even though I have no agent or publisher yet) to pop up sometime soon! Maybe!
"...It was a pleasure to cook and make bread but my son will attest to this day that the bread I baked then was as hard as a brick because I did not use commercial yeast, and over three decades of making sourdough bread it became a mission and a nightmare, much like the apple pie.
Back then any information about the subject was in some bread books, a very small section with pretty much the same directions... very time consuming, and maybe you will end up with a decent loaf of bread if you’re lucky. Yes, lady luck plays some kind of a role although she is blind. That’s how people did it thousands of years ago and still do.
For example, you mix a cup of flour with a cup of water to make a paste, you cover it with some cloth and the next day you discard half and replenish it again with the halves of water and flour. You stir it and cover, and wait for the next day... and so on and so forth, keeping it at about 67°, and pray for the invisible yeast bugs to get into the jar and multiply, the sooner the better! You must be nice to them and give them little treats- "Halas!" like the Arabs say.
After about six days, the starter should get very bubbly; ready for you to make bread, but if it doesn’t work don’t worry! Be happy and start over again... and again.
Nowadays, you can order through the internet many kinds of exotic yeast bugs from distant parts of the planet which you may never get to visit, but for a few dollars you purchase the invisible rascals trapped in a dry, cake form, which you must revive with flour and water, but you still need to continue and do the rest of the "half this, half that" process. There’s no way of escaping it.
That’s how our great-grandmothers did it since the very beginning of making bread and they never complained, like my mother, washing clothes by hand everyday for nine of us, with suds-less soap, and she never complained. When my brother Nikolas bought her a washing machine, she shed tears of happiness and went to church to light extra candles and thank God for the "miracle machine."
What I’m about to share with you is like the appearance of the washing machine, except it is not about washing clothes, it’s about making great-tasting bread, much easier than ever before.
The story continued with me setting out to make sourdough bread. Things went smoothly for a while and then, BANG! Nothing was happening, and I had to keep starting all over again with more might as though it would make a difference, persisting for several years, giving up and starting again but I was never pleased with the results. Every once in a while I’d end up baking some very good bread, but I still often thought that some important component was missing.
As the means of communication improved I began to contact bakers, masters of the art, and sadly kept getting the same answer, the same old recipe- that of our great-grandmothers... "There is no other way!" the last master baker said, and those words triggered the lights on. That’s all I needed to hear in order to embark on the journey of fermentation.
For the past thirty years I have read and heard some many fairy tales on this topic, far surpassing those of the Neraϊdes of Crete. Being Greek, I decided to open Pandora’s Box, thinking that whatever I found would be in Greek anyway, which may help. The Box is still open after all this time and I’m still finding stuff.
Those of you my dear friends who know how to work with flour and make bread, you will enjoy making real bread. The rest of you who may become interested in learning, I would suggest you read Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, to get familiar with the know-how. Once you get your hands wet, it will be much easier to follow and use this method which I will share with you.
There are very many factors and variables involved in dough fermentation, and the one that literally has never been written or talked about is ground temperature. Yes, the earth below the surface, not the atmospheric temperature. To me, that remains one of the greatest mysteries, how it influences any kind of fermentation.
Then comes the question of flour, ranging from white all-purpose to whole wheat, durum, barley, spelt and many others, each with very special characteristics beyond the scope of this book.
Even though I know the last chapter of my writing I cannot write it until I get to that part... the same goes for bread, making it necessary to complete the stages throughout and in between the start and finish. For the first fifteen years I was beating around the bush, getting nowhere. In time, I realized that fermentation and flour were worlds apart but shared the possibility of becoming united into one form- dough. And so the saga begins...
I had to study and learn everything possible about the world of brewing: beer and wine, top and bottom ferments, and even indigenous and modern scientific techniques. Eileen, the reference room attendant at my local public library, has never failed to find and deliver any book or research document I have requested on this subject over these many years.
I went through thousands upon thousands of printed pages and ended up with four pages of notes. I started brewing fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, grass, and even dry and fresh flowers, observing their particular behavior and making mental notes which was and still is one of my biggest problems- assuming that my memory is the same as it was when I was twenty, not writing down the results I observed, and then a year later I find myself scratching my head, frowning, wishing to recollect. You know how that goes.
I never thought those miniscule rascals could be so complex, which, by the way belong to the plant kingdom and could very well have been the first organisms to appear after the "Big Bang," meaning that you and I could not possibly survive without them.
One of those most common yeast organisms, baker’s yeast, has preoccupied scientists worldwide for many decades and it will continue to do so. At one time or another, most of us have purchased one of those packets at the grocery store following the instruction meticulously, in order to bake some yummy doughy stuff. Did you know that there are billions upon billions of cells in that packet? It’s almost unthinkable, but very true. Why are specialists in the field of genetics so interested in this particular species? Because it functions like a human cell and they can clone it very easily. That packet you and I used to make dough contains billions of clones!
In 1989 scientists began the sequencing of the yeast genome under the direction of Professor Andre Goffeau, a biochemist at the Catholic University of Louvain La Neuve in Belgium, a worldwide effort of more than one hundred laboratories, most of them in Europe and the rest in the United States, Canada and Japan. By 1996, the greatest achievement of sequencing that largest genome to date was complete- more than 12 million base pairs of DNA, making it the first of its kind; an organism whose cells are like those of humans. More than half of the 6,000 genes uncovered during the process were unknown despite many years of prior scrutiny by yeast geneticists.
Since then, the special brains are trying to uncover the precise function of each of these genes, which will help them and us to understand the origin and evolution of more than forty diseases. After that’s done, the rest will be a piece of cake because other specialists will design smart drugs, promising to eradicate those nasty diseases so you and I can breathe easier, but please do not hold your breath, I sense a little problem which actually borderlines horror! All of us have been eating and drinking these billions of clones, everyday, for a very long time. Could their likeness to our cells have something to do with the forty diseases? Could these clones, who love sugar or anything sweet, have an influence on the metabolic processes in our body? May be!
Instinctively, I decided not to work with that species which I found very domesticated, ordinary with predictable results, always the same. And so I chose the wild type, let nature do its thing and waited to see what would happen.
Every so often most of us wake up in the morning after a good or bad night’s sleep with a "knowing." This is not acquired knowledge from a book, or someone, but from deep within. Exactly where is impossible to know. I also have noticed that this "knowing" is always extremely proximal to this very moment of doing. In life so far I’ve experienced many such moments steering my experiments in a very chaotic, precise manner.
And so, one day, several years ago, I took a handful of black raisins, threw them into a glass jar, filled it up three-quarters of the way with clean water, covered the top with a coffee filter and elastic band (to keep the dust particles out of the solution) and left it on the table near the window in the living room, undisturbed.
Every morning I would look at it and for a couple of days it didn’t seem like much was happening with the raisins, they looked asleep at the bottom of the jar. On the third day I noticed some of them coming to the top and by day five they all had left their beds to form a tight cluster above, engaged in furious activity. At last! The yeast rascals were in full swing, billions of them doing something.
I lowered my head, positioning my left ear above the jar mouth, listening to the most amazing symphony, and a form of sacred music perhaps, it went on and on. I realized I had a starter, a spontaneous ferment (most people call it wild fermentation) developed by Mother Nature in a very precise manner. I didn’t really have to do anything complicated or time consuming, just wait a few days. I didn’t have to purchase exotic yeast from down under or Saudi Arabia, just simply local rascals leaving me to wonder about their intricate personalities.
Did they require a mind to accomplish their single, pointed intention? Could they cultivate will? Do they harbor feelings like us? I didn’t wait for answers and proceeded to make bread, which turned out to be one of the best I’d ever had, and this is how I did it.
Step one: Get a tall glass jar like the ones for keeping spaghetti in, wash it with mild soap, rinse it clean and let it dry.
Step two: Once the jar is ready, put in ½ cup of black raisins, preferably organic then pour in five cups of clean, non-chlorinated water. Put a cloth or coffee filter over the opening with an elastic around it place on a table to remain undisturbed at room temperature for about five to seven days. By then, the raisins will make it to the top, forming a foamy, scum with the yeast rascals playing their music. Your spontaneous liquid ferment is now ready, packed with several diverse species.
Step three: In a large metal, wood or ceramic bowl, put 32 oz. of white all purpose flour (please don’t get fancy until you acquire experience) 1 ¼ tsp. of good salt (yes there is a huge difference between real salt and common table salt) and mix it all thoroughly, and make a well in the center.
Step four: Bring your liquid ferment to the working space, uncover, and with a long wooden handle agitate it for a few seconds until everything mixes and looks cloudy, which should take about five seconds. Measure out 2 cups through a strainer and gently pour it into the center of the prepared flour, then add one tbsp of olive oil. Now you are ready to roll up your sleeves and start mixing and kneading until it gets to the consistency you like. If it feels sticky towards the end you may need to add a touch (one or two more tbsp) of flour.
During the process of kneading you will transfer the dough onto a floured board or your table in order to complete this phase. I cannot teach you how to knead dough, meaning you either know it or you will have to learn through trial and error. For many years I did this by hand, but now I use a dough mixer, not a bread machine. Assuming that your dough is ready, clean the bowl and oil it a little, then place the dough in it. Wash and dry your hands, take plastic wrap and seal, and cover the bowl and put it on a table to remain undisturbed until it rises almost double in size (about 16-20 hours) then take it out for one more kneading, divide, shape loaves how you desire, cover them, and let them rise again for about two to six hours depending on the room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Prior to putting the shaped dough in for baking, take a razor blade and make a few scores in the top of your loaves to avoid unpredictable bursts as the dough expands during baking. After about fifty minutes, your sourdough bread should be ready. Take it out of the pan you used to bake it in and place it on a grid or rack for the cool down phase, brushing it or sprinkling it with some cold water.
I am certain you know what to do with your bread after it cools down!
Oops! We almost forgot the remaining starter. Strain it and discard the raisins, wash the jar with warm water but no soap, just use your hands to rinse it and put in the left over starter, ½ cup of new raisins and more water. Cover it and let it do its work, except this time it will happen much faster, within 24-36 hours you will have a new batch ready to go. After several successive rounds of fermentation, your bread will acquire a mild sour flavor, but that’s not really the sole purpose of making sourdough bread.
First and foremost, you do not use yeast clones, which someday may turn out to be deadly. Secondly, during the first long fermentation the flour is almost predigested by the wild yeast, expressing full flavor characteristics, nutty, buttery, peppery and very aromatic among others depending on the flour you use. So, if many of you, my dear friends, begin to make this wonderful bread or pizza at home (which is another use for the same bread dough, making pizza!) the big bread companies might start scratching their heads if their profits drop, and they may consider offering a real bread without clones.
Now you have the basic recipe method to make the best bread you’ll ever taste, and like Peter Reinhart says, "May your bread rise, always!"
Since I am on the subject, I must confess that I had an ulterior motive to excel and bake the best bread I could. After I met Siriana, I took this basic recipe to levels I never thought possible. If it weren’t for her, this method would still be locked up in Pandora’s Box. I of course never told her that she was the driving force behind all that I have accomplished since I met her, expecting her to smell my fingernails and read my thoughts. Strangely enough, was it about language conception, or perception of static words to express motion? I don’t think so anymore because what if I were mute, I would have to find another way which I know would be attitude and dignity, not to confuse it with pride which can be a character disease.
So if any of you, man or woman, at this moment shares your life with a living treasure, I urge you to pour out your attitude with true dignity and feel what happens, like wild fermentation of sourdough bread, your relationship will climb to a level you never imagined, kept hidden in Pandora’s Box. Dare to open it!"
Give this a try, challenge yourself and I would love to hear your feedback whether it's positive or negative. I will answer your questions as best as possible. Also do not be intimidated by errors due to lack of experience. In time you will make great bread!
Dionysios A. Skaliotis