Thursday, June 8, 2017

Recipe: rye sourdough

A lot of people asked me how do I prepare homemade whole rye sourdough from spontaneous fermentation.

The interest for this recipe is justified by many facts:
  • Bread baked with alternative flours sucks, and it’s not even that healthy
  • The way bread is prepared today, so with baker’s yeast, is not the same way bread has been prepared for the majority of our history
  • While baker’s yeast only contains one strain (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) spontaneous fermentation employs a plethora of wild yeasts and bacteria. You can make an interesting analogy with mono-crops and wilderness
  • A such, the fermentation is so much slower. Yes, this is an advantage: if it takes 4 days to prepare a loaf you’re likely to eat less bread than if you were buying it in the supermarket. It will also teach you the cost of healthy food, and why junk food is so cheap
  • The fermentation breaks down gluten, in fact sourdough is extremely well tolerated by people with REAL celiac disease. Those for which gluten intolerance is all in their heads, will still experience adverse reactions even with sourdough (it’s called nocebo effect)
  • Bacteria and yeasts are lazy, just like us… they will consume with preference simple sugars and starches, before attacking longer chains of carbohydrates. This means that sourdough has a Low Glycemic Load. Sourdough is to white bread what broccoli is to pastasciutta
  • The by-product of lacto-fermentation is lactic acid, a natural preservative. Industrial bread may contain artificial preservatives: while they efficiently preserve food from spoiling early, they surely don’t preserve us… from spoiling early
  • Minerals in the cereal and the bran are released and made bio-available (longer fermentation activates phytase)
  • The fermentation process also produces tons of vitamins from the group B and Vit-K
  • If you have kids at home, this is a fantastic activity to do together

And last but not least (actually it should have been the first) rye sourdough is damn good. You all know I am a “bon vivant”, if I go through the hassle of doing homemade sourdough believe me, it is not because of phytic acid, gluten, glycemic load or Vit-K2. It’s because I like spreading raw-butter on it.

So, let’s start.


The ingredients are pretty straight:
  • Whole rye flour from organic produce, but you can use any cereal based flour
  • Salt, for the taste and for preventing the proliferation of moulds
  • White sugar, to support the initial phases of fermentation, when yeasts and bacteria are still weak
  • Water (not in the picture)

Let's start the batch!

In a sterilised bowl (hot water is enough), put 20-30 grams of flour, with 15-20 grams of water. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. Add some water, keep the batch pasty, not too liquid. Whisk everything with a sterilised fork.

First refresh

After 24 hours, add some flour, some sugar and water. Whisk everything again with a sterilised fork.

And again, cover the bowl and store it.

Next refreshes

Let 24h pass again.

I am preparing this batch in June, temperatures are high so it took only 2 days for the yeasts and bacteria to wake up. If you do it in winter you may need a 3rd or even a 4th refresh.

You know you are doing it right because your batch is inflating and you can see some nice bubbles through the glass. It also has to smell pleasantly, if it doesn’t (or if you notice the formation of white moulds on the top) throw everything and start again. However, if you follow my instructions and sterilise your tools this is very unlikely to happen.

Also, don’t breath or sneeze over the batch. And don’t put the sterilised fork in your mouth and then keep mixing.

The “mother” is ready

This is your homemade version of the backer’s yeasts cube you can buy at the supermarket. It can be used to make bread and not only: I successfully prepared sourdough pizza, sourdough muffins and Alsatian pain d’├ępice.

Prepare your bread

Add flour, some sugar and water. Mix everything. Keep the batch pasty, if it becomes too liquid add some flour.


This picture is to give you an idea of the expected consistency.

If you think it is too dry, remember this: yeast fermentation transforms sugars into alcohol, and lacto-acid fermentation transforms sugars into lactic acid. You don’t want your batch to be too runny, or the texture will break down and you won’t get those nice holes, so characteristic of sourdough bread.

Preparing the pan

Put some oil of olive in a pancake pan and spread it with a brush or a cloth. Alternatively you can rub the interior with some butter. Add some flour, move it around and throw the extra. This is to ensure your bread is not going to stitch to the bottom and to the corners.

It is an important step… so I mention it twice: add a thin layer or fats and flour. Thy be warned!

Put the bread into the pan

With the help of a spoon or a spatula, pour your batch into the pancake pan. As usual cover it with a humid cloth and let it leaven for 6-8 hours.

Longer fermentation is possible, but I would advise to use whole wheat in that case: over leavening rye is not giving good results: you’ll get a very compact and pasty dough.

Leavening phase

I usually let it leaven directly in the oven so that all I have to do is to remove the cloth and turn on the oven, thus not breaking down the bubbles that are going to form during the final leavening phase.

Ready for baking!

Look how beautiful it is... ready for baking!

Bake it, at 200°C.

Depending on your oven, it may take from 50 minutes to 1h. I cannot give precise instructions here, every oven is different. Do your experiments and accept the idea that the first loafs will not be perfect.


Carefully extract the loaf from the pan (I did a small one this time).

Let it cool down.

Use your bread for spreading butter, or cream cheese, or make a club sandwich. Do whatever you would have done with fake bread from the supermarket.

With its nutty, sometimes cheesy, with some acidic after-taste… you’ll fall in love with it and you’ll wish you had a time machine to go back in time and teach your younger self how to make it.

Final notes

Sourdough is particularly addictive. Even if it is 1000 times healthier than white bread or those “works of fantasy” you may have seen in gluten-free blogs… it is still a lot of carbohydrates! 

Unless you are digging your fields and harvesting and grinding your rye, you’d better not abuse it: this used to be a staple for people doing manual jobs and soldiers, not for internet surfers.

Consider it a tasty, healthy and nutritious treat.

Sourdough gallery

Follow my instructions and you will never fail one.

The True Alsatian Pain d'Epice is prepared
with a very long sourdough fermentation.
Here, in muffin version.

Real pizza is done with sourdough and cheese,
not coconut and pineapple...

Was it put some butter on your bread...
... or some bread under your butter?
I never remember, in doubt I did 50/50