I have decided to take a step by step approach. Let me get some basic bread baking skills before I get to deep into the sourdough. I'll be sure I can walk before I can run this time around. At the advice of my upstairs neighbor professional baker Joe Bowie, I ordered a copy of the Josey Baker Bread book.
I'm enjoying the book quite a bit. He's got a step by step approach. First you learn regular white flour yeasted bread. Then each lesson adds another step toward whole grain sourdough.
I've baked my first loaf, the said white yeasted loaf, and it worked! The flavor leaves a bit to be desired, but I am just happy at getting the damn dough to rise. So it's a success in my book.
Rolled her up and put her to bed:
The finished loaf!
This is not the kind of loaf that we eat on a regular basis, but I'm willing to go through some yeast and refined flour to learn how to do this well. Patience. At least this loaf is free from preservatives, sugar, and other crap that you find in commercial bread.
My second loaf is rising as I write this. This one was done with a preferment, a small amount of yeast and whole wheat flour that fermented over night. According to Josey, this should help the flavor and the shelf life. I can't wait to bake it.
Now onto the why...
This last time we were at the Strengthening Health Institute in Philadelphia, we had gotten into some discussions about where macrobiotics has been, and where it's going. Among the many interesting sub-topics was the idea of the macrobiotic diet being seen as a Japanese diet. Many of the classic macrobiotic dishes are traditional Japanese dishes. It makes sense that this is so, seeing that the macrobiotic pioneers where all Japanese. Also, with meat, dairy, and modern processed food being considered too extreme for regular use, many of the traditional Japanese dishes are void of those things, and many others can be only slightly modified to do so. Take traditional German food for example - what do you have left if you get rid of the animal foods? A little bread and sauerkraut, perhaps. Actually I'm sure there are more macro adaptable traditional German foods (no offense Germans), and actually part of my inspiration for the bread baking is to broaden our variety of grain, beans and vegetable foods - finding traditional foods from around the world that support health and happiness.
The underlying principles behind macrobiotics, although Eastern in origin, have very little to do with Japanese food, and are applicable to traditional foods of any cultural tradition. Akiko and I have been brainstorming ideas on how to create meals that are not Japanese, but are macrobiotic in format -consisting of a grain and at least one or two vegetable dishes. Bread is an important part of Western civilization. They say it is "the staff of life". One might even say that bread and it's simultaneity with the development of agriculture shaped our way of life - commerce, government, art were all developed when humans settled down and started planting wheat and other grains. Traditionally macrobiotics hasn't recommend a lot of bread - only a few slices of whole wheat sourdough per week. The thinking is that once grains are milled, they lose some of their life force. You can plant a whole grain and it will grow. Plant flour, or even a cracked grain, and you'll get nothing. I agree with this thinking, but I am also interested in the benefits of consuming grains as bread. For one, we have the fermentation of the dough. The renaissance of fermented foods and the discovery of the community of microbes in our gut are the most exciting things happening in the food and health worlds these days. I believe I've learned that the live culture of sourdough doesn't survive the baking, but it's still creating new things in the dough during fermentation. Besides fermentation, you can't deny that historically bread sustained Europeans (and others) through rough times, so there must be something to it. In fact, as noted in Colin Campbell's The China Study, the times of difficulty were largely void of modern disease because the people were forced to reduce their consumption of animal foods in favor of whole grains and vegetables.
The problem is that bread is not the same as it used to be. Refined, enriched flour, is quite ridiculous when you think about it. Basically for reasons of shelf life, speed of fermentation, and then social class preferences, they learned to remove the germ and bran of the grain. Then they found that after eating this refined flour for a while, people were getting malnourished. So rather than go back to whole grain flours, scientists added back in the nutrients that were taken out, along with some others I believe, and that is enriched flour as it still exists today. As Michael Pollan says, we're learning that whole foods are not the sum of their nutrient parts. And Colin Campbell and Denny Waxman explain that with whole foods, which are naturally balanced and whose different elements work together, the body can easily take what it needs when it needs it. Things like vitamin pills and enriched flour are force feeding or flooding your system with an excess of nutrients in unwhole form which can be very taxing on the body. Okay, I'm getting off on a tangent here. Needless to say, I'm interested in using the best whole wheat and preparing it in a way that maximizes it's taste, nutrition, digestibility, and therefor enjoyment. Luckily there is a resurgence of interest well-made breads. The revival or artisan fermented foods, bread, beer, and coffee is really exciting. People are ready for traditional foods!
The big goal:
What I'd like to do is come as close as I can to baking Berkshire Mountain Bakery bread at home. This will be a challenge for sure. The owner, Richard Bourdon, is a master sourdough whole grain baker, who came out of the macrobiotic movement. He's been a teacher of many of today's younger hotshot bakers. I don't think Josey Baker studied with him, but his mentors did. Bourdon sprouts his wheat and stone grinds it himself. From what I've seen, all of the best whole grain bakers grind their own grain. I've already been looking at home stone grinders, but again, let me not get ahead of myself. First I'll learn to make a good whole wheat sourdough with pre-milled flour that's not a brick, and then I'll think about the next steps.
Richard Bourdon at the Kushi Institute Summer Conference. August 2014: