If you have ever wondered what the big deal about sourdough bread is, or questioned how and why you should soak your grains (no? that’s fine too!), this post is for you. This is also for those of you who are celiac or may be thinking about going gluten free after noticing bloating or other discomfort after eating wheat products, especially whole wheat. Or, if you just came for the recipe, here’s a peek at what we’re making:
First, a little history (I know, I know, feel free to skip down a few paragraphs if you just came for the recipe). Wheat and other grains used to be harvested by hand a long long time ago. When the grains were ripe, farmers and field workers would first cut it down and then bundle it together in large sheaves. These would sit out in the field until all of it was cut, several days, sometimes weeks, rain or shine. The grains would ferment inside the hard kernel, before it was even crushed, sifted from the chaff and ground into flour for baking. In the 1950’s, combines and tractors started to become cheap enough for even small farmers to afford, so they were quickly adopted by many. The long stalks of wheat would frequently clog the threshing blades however, so shorter stalked varieties of wheat became more popular. The new machines could now cut and thresh the grain in one pass, eliminating that fermentation period that used to happen in the field. This change has had a direct effect on the nutrition and ease of digestibility, since the fermentation process is one of just a few methods of breaking down phytase. It’s one of the main reasons that gluten intolerance and celiac disease has become so rampant over the past few decades. Phytates are anti-nutrients found in varying concentrations in all grains, legumes, seeds and nuts as a protective mechanism of the plant. They bind with vitamins and minerals in your digestive tract, making absorption impossible. If you consume a lot of foods with high levels of phytase, your body will actually experience a net nutritive loss, leaving you well-fed but undernourished, and opening the door to disease.
If you are interested in learning more about phytates and methods to reduce them, please go here. I’ll have some future posts that deal with soaking, lactic acid fermention and sprouting grains and other foods to reduce phytase and other enzyme inhibitors, but today’s topic is going to cover sour leavening, or the art of sourdough. Since I’m not an expert (in anything, really, there’s my disclaimer) and this a blog post, not a book, I’m going to refer you to one of the most comprehensive, everything-you-might-possibly-need-to-know resources I’ve found for starting a sourdough culture. If you are really nervous, you can even order a dry starter from the link, but as a lazy diy-er, I can tell you it’s not necessary. Try your hand at starting your own, or ask around to see if anyone you know could share some of theirs. I’m always happy to share mine, since regular “feedings” require that I either use or toss out a certain amount regularly (and I hate to waste it!). If you have any questions about sourdough starting, feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them or direct you to a resource to help you out.
Sourdough is not only an effective way to neutralize phytase, but also adds probiotics, vitamins and proteins, lessens the amount of gluten, and keeps bread and other baked goods from going bad longer. Here is a much more in-depth and better written explanation of all the many benefits of sourdough, especially for those who are celiac or gluten intolerant; I highly recommend you check it out!
So, once you have your sourdough started, and it’s got a few feedings under its belt (adding fresh water and flour to feed the yeasts), what do you do with it? How about the most perfect fluffy pancakes ever? This is a great recipe for those new to sourdough, since other than getting your sourdough started and fed a few times, there is no prep work the night before. Leave your starter out on the counter at room temp the night before you use it and make sure it’s had a fresh feeding to be ready for the morning. This recipe comes from the blog Naturally Knocked Up, which offers a lot of great whole food recipes. I have reproduced her recipe here with my own pictures, but I recommend checking out the link as well for some extra tips. I used just a basic white flour sourdough starter, not whole meal, but future posts will explore whole meal sourdough recipes.
2 c sourdough starter
1 Tbsp real maple syrup or raw honey
1 beaten egg (or substitute with 1 T flaxseed meal or chia seed mixed with 3 T water and let sit for 3 mins before adding)
3 Tbsp melted pastured butter or coconut oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
optional: 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp fresh grated cinnamon, 1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp warm water
Start by melting the butter or oil in your large mixing bowl in a warm oven. It should only take a few minutes. Then add your maple syrup or honey to the warmed oil. I also added a tsp of vanilla extract to mine, then added the egg (or egg substitute), beating it into the sweetened oil mixture. Once it’s all well combined, add your starter and the salt. I added some ground cardamom and fresh grated cinnamon to mine at this point as well. Stir well.
Lastly, mix the baking soda and water together in a small cup, swirling it around to distribute the baking soda throughout the water before dumping it in to the batter and quickly stirring it all together again. The batter should react immediately, puffing up and creating lots of bubbles. Once it has reacted, don’t stir the batter any more than you have to or the batter will start to fall flat and your pancakes won’t be as fluffy. Make sure you let your kids watch you add the baking soda, since the leavening action is a fun lesson in the science of cooking! Now that your batter is ready, heat a large heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat and use a generous amount of butter, coconut oil, pastured lard, or olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. For plate sized pancakes, scoop about 1/4 c into the hot pan, or ladle three smaller pancakes out, 1 heaping Tbsp for each.
You really only get one chance to flip a pancake, so wait until the top is bubbly and the edges just start to show some browning, lifting up the edge with a thin spatula to check progress if needed, before turning. If you used honey as your sweetener, the pancakes will brown slightly faster, so keep an eye on them. Also be sure to keep the pan well greased in between cooking up batches–this will make for a much more flavorful crust, keep them from sticking, and be a source of healthy fat to start your day. These pancakes are so good, it would be a shame to drown them, so a tiny drizzle of real maple syrup, a thin spread of jam, or a squeeze of fresh lemon and a pinch of sugar should be more than enough for even the pickiest eater.