Making sourdough bread is often considered a daunting task! But through the power of kefir, making sourdough bread is actually very easy. Kefir evens adds it’s own yeast. With kefir you can make basic sourdough bread with only three ingredients: kefir, flour and salt. Could it get any easier?
A little background.
Kefir is milk that has been fermented by the addition of a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. If you are new to this stuff, that may sound frightening, but it is not. The process is similar to making yogurt, but is both easier and better for you! Kefir makes milk better by adding a rich array of probiotics, and breaking down things like lactose, that are often hard for some people to digest while making nutrients more easily absorbed by the body. Many people who are lactose intolerant are able to tolerate kefir.
Kefir means “good feeling” in Turkish, and when I drink kefir, I do feel good! Some days I swear it improves my mood almost instantly. Perhaps it is the strong dose of B vitamins.
And the benefits (without getting too technical) of making sourdough are:
• nutrients (like B vitamins and more) are broken down and are easier to digest and absorb
• reduces blood sugar spikes that can be common with carbohydrates
• makes bread that often can be tolerated by those with gluten sensitivity
• creates preservative-free bread that stays fresh longer than regular bread (due to phytic acid)
• is part of the ancient art of making bread (there is something magical about making bread this way!)
1 cup of rye flour
1 cup of kefir
1/4 cup of water (if needed)
1/2 a packet of yeast (optional)
1/2 tablespoon of salt
2 cups of white all purpose or bread flour
1 cup of diced Swiss cheese (or another medium-firm cheese)
1 cup (more or less) of dried cranberries
1 dash of oil
1 egg white to brush on top (optional)
Make the sourdough starter:
Mix the rye flour and kefir together in a glass jar with a lid. Leave the lid a smidge loose so any pressure can be released. Allow the flour and kefir to sit at room temperature for 2-3 days. Give it shake from time to time. Your mixture should be like thick pancake batter. If the mixture gets too thick, add some water to thin it out a bit. Open the lid from time to time and smell. You will begin to smell the “sour” that give sourdough bread it’s distinctive tang. If you want a more powerful sour flavor, let your starter go a couple of days longer. But for me, I find that 2-3 days is just about right for a good, but not too powerful sourdough flavor.
Make the dough:
When you are ready, add all of your sourdough starter into a mixing bowl. If you have a mixer with a dough hook…that is going to be perfect. If you want strong arms, use a bowl and a strong spoon. Remember to stretch first, and stay hydrated if you go the bowl and spoon route. If you want, add a half packet of yeast now and mix thoroughly into your starter. This will ensure you have an even distribution of yeast. Adding yeast will merely speed things up.
(A note about the yeast… Kefir contains yeast already. You do not need to add additional yeast, but sometimes I do to speed along the process. If you add the yeast your bread will probably rise in a couple of hours. If you opt to skip the yeast, your dough may take an extra day or two to rise. Both options are just fine, I do it both ways.)
Add the salt and mix thoroughly.
Begin to add your white flour in half cups, mixing along the way. You will probably need to stop the mixer, scrape the sides, and shift things around to get an even mix. Keep adding white flour until your dough “comes together”. If using a stand mixer the dough might begin to clean the sides of the bowl and hold together. You want a nice, pliable dough, not too dry and not too wet. Adding your flour slowly will let you judge things. Do not rely on my exact measurements for flour…you need to add enough to make your dough just right.
When your dough looks right, add the cheese and cranberries and mix until incorporated. I often rehydrate my cranberries in warm water to make them softer. This is a great idea. If you do this, you might need to add some more flour to adjust for the extra moisture.
Dump your dough onto a clean counter and knead just a bit. Your mixer may have provided enough kneading, but it’s always fun to get your hands on some fresh dough. Over kneading will cause your dough to start to look rough…stop if you hit this point.
Add your dash of oil into the mixing bowl and turn the bowl a bit to spread the oil around. Plop your dough into the bowl and give it a swirl to get it oiled up, like a coed trying to get a tan. Then flip the dough over once to make sure the entire dough ball is coated with oil. Cover your bowl with plastic wrap. If you don’t get a good seal, use a rubber band. I always save those bands that keep the broccoli together. Usually these can stretch to fit my Kitchenaid mixing bowl. Set your bowl in a warmish, draft-free location to rise. If you added the optional yeast, your dough might double in about two hours. If you do not add extra yeast, your dough might take a couple of days to double. This is not bad! Flour that gets more time to ferment is even better for you…plus you get to work on your patience!
At the risk of getting lengthy, I will add, that if your dough is rising, and it’s bad timing to bake it, you can punch it down, put it into an oiled Zipoc bag and toss it in the fridge. Bread dough will easily keep a few days this way! Often, I make a two-loaf batch and toss half into the fridge to bake a day or two later. Cold dough will just take longer to warm up and start to rise again.
When your dough had doubled in size, turn it out onto the counter and knead a bit more, shaping the loaf into the size to fit your container. You can use a typical loaf pan, or a pie plate, or even just place it on a baking sheet. This time I used a baking sheet with a piece of parchment. If you use a loaf pan or pie tin, make sure you oil or butter the inside before placing your loaf into it. Remember that your dough will likely double in size after your second kneading and shaping, so allow for expansion.
Cover your dough with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap. If using plastic wrap, give the top of your loaf a bit of oil so the dough doesn’t end up sticking to it. Trust me, I’ve done this…learn from me.
Allow your loaf to rise until doubled in size. Beat an egg white with a half tablespoon (yea…like I measure anything!) of water and brush on top. You won’t use all the egg, not even most of it, just brush on enough so you can see the top is glistening. This step is optional, but gives the top a nice shine. Sometimes I save a few slivers of cheese and make a design on top. Totally optional. Today I went with a radial design. Then, make an omelette with your leftover egg.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30-45 minutes. Factors vary, the size and shape of your loaf, etc. will all factor in. I set my timer for 20 minutes, and start checking my bread at this point. I typically will give my loaf a half a turn in the oven as well, as sometimes ovens don’t heat evenly.
Bake until done. Keep checking as needed. You want a nice brown loaf, but the real test for doneness is if your loaf has a hollow thump when you give it a thump with your finger. If doesn’t have that hollow thump, pop it back into the oven for a bit more time.
If you have a nice color but not the hollow thump, place some foil very loosely over the top to prevent the top from getting too dark. If you seal your foil on top, you will steam your nice crisp crust…let’s not do that, ok?
And now that I’ve gotten you to buy some kefir…please make sure that you drink it! I really do believe that kefir is really one of those very special super foods. If you don’t like the taste of it plain, it blends really well with nearly any fruit. Or you could sweeten it up with honey. If you use sugar…that will be our little secret. I hope you try kefir. Even more, I hope you find a way to make kefir and other fermented foods a regular part of your diet. I have found it to be utterly life-changing.
Also, you could totally strip this recipe down to three ingredients. Kefir, white flour and salt. Just just those three and this technique, you can make plain sourdough bread over the course of about 4-5 days. Give it a try!