Monday, October 13, 2014

Einkorn Sour Dough Starter for Low Gluten Bread Making

If you're eating for your health, you may be working to keep the inflammation levels in your body as low as possible.  As you may know, gluten consumption can cause dangerous disease-creating levels of inflammation in the body.

 Here are some facts about how you can lower the gluten content in wheat bread:
  1. Ancient wheat has lower gluten than modern wheat.  Einkorn is one of the oldest wheat forms available on the planet today.
  2. Lower chromosome wheat has lower gluten than modern wheat.  Einkorn has 12 chromosomes and modern wheat has 48 chromosomes.
  3. Organic wheat has lower gluten than chemically fertilized and pest controlled wheats.
  4. Using a traditional sourdough starter, rather than yeast, significantly lowers the gluten content in bread.  ( By sourdough we mean lacto fermentation and not the "sourdough" taste additives you sometimes find in commercial breads that are actually leavened with yeast.)  In some cases the gluten content can be lowered to the point that the bread is actually considered gluten-free according to FDA standards which is that there be 20 parts per million of gluten in a food or less.   
In the past weeks I've been working extensively with organic einkorn ancient wheat flour as a lower gluten alternative for baking and experimenting with sourdough starters.  It's been challenging to develop a proper sourdough starter and I thought I'd pass on some tips I've discovered (mostly with help from Doug Baehr at Uncommon Kitchen in Tahoe City).  

Use any flour--   First, let me just say that you can use any good sourdough starter to bake your einkorn four bread.  You do not have to use a starter made with einkorn flour.  A good rye or regular wheat flour based starter will work fine to begin with.  Once you have it active, you can feed it with einkhorn flour.

Buy ready made--   If you don't wish to make your own starter, you might try asking for a small bit from a local baker to get you started.  Or you can order one online.   Cultures for Health might be a good place to start.  

Allow some time--   If you make your own starter, it takes days to get it up and going.  Set aside the time and be patient with the process.  

Taste improves with time--  A more mature starter will be tastier than a brand new one.  By the tenth baking, your loaves should have a much more developed flavor.  

You must feed your starter--  Keeping a starter active requires regular attention and care.  Twelve hours before you use your starter you must feed it so that the cultures are activated and ready for your baking  If you are baking daily or regularly, you will need to do daily maintenance on your starter.

In the course of my experimentation in baking bread with einkorn flour, I've had good luck with a sourdough starter I was gifted with.  I've also made a successful loaf using kefir as a starter (although the kefir starter creates a bread with a slight but distinctively cheesy taste and smell).  However, I had the desire to learn how to make an einkorn flour sourdough starter.

I am finding that the stages that would normally take about 6 hours of starter development are taking about 24 hours in my kitchen.  Is this because Einkorn flour develops more slowly than wheat flour or is it because the temperature in my kitchen is rather cool?  I don't know the answer to that.  I live in the mountains and the air is relatively cool here year round.  Even during the mild months of the year my kitchen is often cool and in the winter it is kept around 65 degrees in the daytime and 60 at night.

In either case, you will have to carefully watch your starter for signs that it is becoming active.  When it is active and fermenting, it will soften, grow and smell sour.  In my proofing stages, my starter has not yet bubbled, but some starters do.  

Here's how to create your einkorn flour starter:

Day One:  Mix together 1/2 cup of einkorn flour and 3 tablespoons of warm water until it forms a silly putty textured ball.  Place the ball on a plate and cover it with a glass jar turned upset down.  Allow it to create it's magic for the next 5 days.  Do not be alarmed if it turns brown and hard on the exterior or even if it develops mold.

Use a sharpie to label the jar and its contents along with today's date.  This is especially important if you are making up more than one starter.

Day Five:  Remove the crusty exterior and any mold carefully saving only the clean activated interior (about 1-2 tablespoons).  Add 1/4 cup einkorn flour and 1 1/2 tablespoons warm water to the start and stir.  Allow it to remain out on the counter until bubbling or growing activity can be detected.

When 6-24 hours have passed since adding the new flour and water, examine the starter for signs of fermentation, softening and growth.  When you see these, throw away half of the starter and add 1/3 cup and 2 tablespoons of water to the start.  Stir and repeat the process of watching for activity.

After another 6-24  hours have passed repeat the process of discarding part of the starter and feeding it, but this time add 1/2 cup flour and 3 T warm water.

After the next 6-24 hours add 1 cup and 6 T and then at the next feed 2 cups and 12 T.  This will give you a nice quantity of active starter and it is time to start baking.

Einkorn starter with fresh water and flour just added.

Einkorn starter after hours of fermentation.  Ready for use.

Note:  You can speed up the proofing process by putting your starter in your oven on the bottom shelf with the oven light turned off.  This should bring the temperature up to somewhere in the 70's.  Your starter should be able to fully proof in a matter of several hours in the oven.

Once your starter is humming along, you can feed it, wait for it to show signs of activation and then put it in the refrigerator for safekeeping.  Be sure to feed and grow it within at least 12 hours before any baking.  This way it will be activated and ready to work its magical leavening and gluten consuming power on your bread.

The good news is that baking bread with einkorn flour is much less work and fewer steps than baking with regular flour.  Once you get your starter up and ready, your baking process will be fairly easy.   

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