Gluten Free sourdough mixture
When I first gave up gluten it was not because I personally felt I had a health issue with it. I gave up because I started to open my mind to the truth about something in our western diet which most people still don’t question – that maybe this ubiquitous stretchy substance, the Latin word for glue, is not something we should eat every day, let alone at almost every meal. Ok, I had experienced bloating and feeling lethargic after its consumption in the past, particularly after ingestion of spongy white bread and thick based pizzas. I had always felt slightly under par after eating it if I am completely honest even from home-made dough but until I had started to read about the more deleterious effects of gluten I hadn’t really thought about it seriously. However it was two years ago when I started to question its value as a food stuff when my nutritional therapist friend first pointed out to me the connection between gluten consumption, leaky gut and my daughter’s autoimmune disease.
Now I have done the research I liken the slight discomfort from eating this substance to the old saying: ‘there’s no smoke without fire’. i don’t exactly feel ill but I know that what I have eaten has not done my body any favours either and has even potentially done me harm. Nowadays I not only don’t want to eat gluten ever again, I also can’t physically bring myself to consume the stuff, even though I personally have not been technically or scientifically diagnosed with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity like my younger child.
When I first gave up and instilled the new gluten-free regime in my home, there was a definite sense of loss to the family of not being ‘allowed’ to consume this everyday substance anymore. It is so commonplace and so ‘normal’ to people’s households here in the West after all that pretending that it didn’t matter was really really difficult. I started to feel that being gluten-free in a world that catered for those who ate it, made my daughter and myself particularly feel like social lepers. My older daughter and husband who, like myself, had not been diagnosed with Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity certainly did not take the avoidance of gluten as seriously when out and about in the gluten-filled world as I did. Even though I was still in state of denial about the importance of this substance to all the others out there still consuming gluten, I had naively said to myself that we can make do without bread products and find real alternatives. The mantra of ‘who needs bread after all’ seemed to keep coming out of my mouth. Yes, of course, it is a only a western staple and yes, you can eat other carbohydrates and fill up on those instead. And yes, of course I have subsequently tried most of the gluten-free ranges in the shops and soon discovered that relinquishing all these substitute carbohydrates from MY diet isn’t a problem for ME at all. In fact because I gave up gluten based products so readily, I had soon given up all sweet carbohydrate treats like biscuits and cakes at coffee shops and restaurants, and had soon lost weight without really trying. Giving up the sugar that went with a lot of these products was admittedly harder but having never been a big pizza fan anyway and have always been able to take it or leave it with dough based items I soon got used to it and fortunately lost my sweet craving at the same time. Nowadays milk chocolate does not do it for me any more and the last time I ate some organic milk chocolate it felt like it burnt the back of my throat bizarrely!
Another point I feel I have to make about the bread and other gluten-free product substitutes available commercially are that they are generally poor quality, containing a long list of very dubious ingredients. Worst still these products often substitute gluten containing wheat with maize and soy – two of the most commonly occurring GMO foodstuffs presently within the human and animal livestock food chain. Subsequently I have come to the conclusion that giving up one known inflammatory food stuff ie gluten and then swapping it for another (which may or may not be GMO and of course be prone to high levels of pesticides) is not the answer especially if you already have an autoimmune disease. Corn in addition to being a common GMO crop is also prone to the same mold – Aflatoxin – which can render peanuts poisonous AND is higher on the Glycaemic index than refined white sugar! And on top of it all, gluten-free items in the shops are often up to four or five times more expensive – often without even being organic – than their gluten-containing rivals. Seriously there are so many negatives to finding a shop bought substitute that I just haven’t been able to help wondering whether it’s really worth it?
So, I knew all along that I CAN live quite happily without bread of any form and don’t need to substitute with all the ‘free-from’ cr*p but you try and tell that to your family of gluten-addicts! What is the first sign of an addict after all: denial that there is an issue over it and that person can give up if they are so inclined. Yes, right! Plus there is the teenage hormonal consideration too. The desire to be part of a tribe of ‘what my friends do, I must do also without question and thought because I just know it’s fun’. I would hazard a guess that pizza is probably in the top five of most teenagers’ favourite foods in the developed world today. Yes I am a cynical old b*tch but I am also a mother who is worried about her kids’ long-term health. I am also worried about my husband’s long term health too and know he would reach for something wrapped in conventional pastry over an organic green salad at any given opportunity given half the chance.
As the matriarch of the family and the self proclaimed ruler of the kitchen I just had to make a stand. But it is a stand with a compromise. (Isn’t that what being a mum is all about?) If wheat or gluten-based bread was now off the family menu forever my goal was to be super-mum and provide a tasty alternative and now I think I have finally found it! Yay! Gluten free sourdough and yesterday I made my first GF sourdough pizza which the whole family enjoyed without complaint. The taste is slightly malty – a bit like rye bread but less dense and somehow it just ‘feels’ healthier – tasty and something reasonably natural compared to the usual shop bought gluten-free but mega-expensive sh*t!
The first thing you need to appreciate before embarking on this recipe is to realise that making sourdough takes a little ‘gut feeling’ as well as common-sense. A prescriptive follow the recipe to the letter mentality is NOT what you need to do. Like all fermented food, the natural bacteria or yeast involved in the process will be wild, natural and come from your own personal environment including your own body. I know this sounds gross but if we physically touch something our own skin microbiome will affect the end product we are making so we need to be aware of not only hygiene in a normal way but not to be too obsessively hygienic either.
This reminds me of what a Polish friend said to me recently after trying my sauerkraut. I explained I had kneaded it with my hands but he suggested that next time I could try using my feet instead (clean ones obviously) like the French famously did when treading grapes. In my mind this conjures up the idea that although you wouldn’t jump into a vat of grapes with feet caked in mud, at the same time, the feet are not going to be so clean as to be completely bacteria free as we are so often encouraged to aim for with the plethora of antibacterial hand gels and cleansers everywhere. As such, using highly perfumed artificial soaps on our skin prior to working with something ‘organic’ in all senses of the word is obviously not a good idea either.
The surrounding temperature or micro-climate of your home will also affect its development as well as all the ingredients and utensils you use. It is all a natural process and something of which we need to be aware.
When I first started investigating the idea of making gluten free sourdough, I knew it was going to be time consuming (you start the whole process at least ten days before you get the final end product), and as such is a challenging and far from an immediately rewarding exercise. Sourdough, even with normal gluten based grains, always takes a lot longer to rise. You have to activate the wild yeast or microbes already on the grains of your flour and hopefully encourage wild yeasts to arrive via the surrounding air. Gluten free or not – you can start with your (gluten-free) flour, just plain, filtered water and perhaps a little additional substrate such as raw honey or kombucha. Gluten-free flour mixed with water is almost completely inelastic on its own so one or two other items are also useful to improve its stretchiness such as psyllium husk powder and egg white. A further warning: even when you leave your prepared dough overnight, please do not expect a huge difference in size from the dough you left to rise ten or so hours before. Be content just to notice a few air pockets visible in the dough showing that the sourdough is still alive.
Having said all this, below you will find a recipe for the sourdough that I have made. It is time consuming and requires a lot of patience, but once you have practised it several times, maybe without much success at first, keep trying and you WILL be rewarded in the end. The pizza I made successfully yesterday was my fourth attempt at sourdough – the first was a complete disaster, the second wasn’t much better either as I actually forgot I’d put it in the oven (you know what it’s like being a multi-tasking woman) and ended up with a kind of artisanal gluten free crispbread (which was actually tasty) and the third attempt was just right.
I deliberately made this example as a kind of flat bread as I was still unsure about making a whole ‘loaf’. My first ever and failed attempt as such, the dough did not cook on the inside even after having been in the oven for an hour and a half!
Ingredients and equipment to make the sourdough yeast:
- a glass jug
- filtered water
- Gluten free buckwheat grains
- Gluten free wholegrain rice
- sea salt, or himalayan rock salt, finely ground
- an egg white
- psyillium husk powder
- raw honey or kombucha
- a dessert spoon
- a whisk
- some muslin with an elastic band large enough to fit round jug or a clean tea towel
- an electric flour mill/coffee grinder
- Grind a couple of dessertspoonfuls of buckwheat grains in the grinder till it becomes flour.
- Put in jug, add two dessertspoonfuls of water and mix thoroughly. Leave for about ten minutes and check consistency. At this point you may need to add more water as buckwheat flour is quite absorbent. The mixture wants to be thick but at the same time still pourable.
- Cover with muslin etc and leave in warm place for 24 hours.
- Check the mixture and see if any bubbles have started to form. If nothing has happened, give a stir and leave for another 24 hours. If bubbles have formed, repeat process from day 1, adding the same amount of freshly ground flour and filtered water. This is where it can start to get confusing. I used buckwheat flour which I ground myself. If you are using a different form of GF flour, the effects after 24 hours might be different. The ambient temperature of the room etc will all exert effects.
- Repeat as for Day 1 if mixture continuing to bubble. If nothing has yet happened, continue as Day 1 too. I would also add half a teaspoon of raw honey at this stage too if the mixture has failed to show much activity.
Days 4 – 5
- By this stage, the amount of mixture in the jug has increased substantially and now is the time to discard half of the mixture unless you have a friend you can pass some of the mixture onto for their own sourdough who already knows what to do!
- Some days you may find there is a kind of surface layer of water forming above the yeast mixture below. This may mean you have added too much water to flour so skim off this excess liquid.
- Continue as previous days – checking for bubbling activity, water content and inactivity. My sourdough’s activity seemed to vary a lot according to room temperature. I first started at a time of year when the house heating system had been turned off as it was Spring but some days were obviously colder (or warmer) than others. You could use lukewarm water each time you add more liquid but this won’t necessarily make much difference if the room temperature is on the chilly side as the temperature of the yeast mixture will cool very quickly anyway.
Day 9 and further ingredients/equipment
The penultimate day before finally making your final gluten-free product pizza discard half the mixture again (or pass this onto a friend who would also like to try and make sourdough bread them self).
- the flour mill/grinder
- a large preferably see-through glass mixing bowl
- a measuring jug with ‘cup measurements’
- Another jug for water
- a whisk
- a teaspoon
- the ground salt from ingredients above
- a clean tea towel
- a wooden spoon or spatula for mixing the ‘dough’
- Baking stone or greased baking sheet
- Ingredients for pizza topping if making pizza (simplest is Margherita, a topping of just tomato passata, mozzarella or grated cheddar cheese, shredded basil leaves or dried oregano, freshly milled black pepper) or a handful of fresh basil, salt, crushed garlic and olive oil drizzled over the top of the dough once prepared for the oven.
Method – makes enough for three medium or four small pizzas
- Measure out enough grain/flour at a ratio of approximately 70% buckwheat to a scant 30% whole grain rice and mill to fine powder/flour (approximately two cups altogether of finished flour) and place in large mixing bowl
- Add a teaspoon of psyllium husk powder to the bowl and whisk together to blend fully.
- Measure approximately 1 pint of lukewarm filtered water and add a small egg white to the mix and whisk together.
- Add a small amount of liquid to the bowl and blend with a spoon, adding a little more of the water egg white mixture at a time. The mixture will be dry at first but more elastic and sticky as more water and egg white mixture is added. Continue stirring until the dough is half way between being thicker than cake mixture yet thinner and wetter than regular bread dough. Start to use your hands at this point and knead, even though the mixture will stick to your fingers. At this point no salt has yet been added. It is important to remember this but do not add it yet.
- Shape the dough as much as possible and then cover with the clean tea towel and leave in a warm place (like an airing cupboard or under a pile of big cushions) over night.
- After about ten to twelve hours, see if the dough has risen slightly. It may be hard to notice a real difference but there should definitely be air bubbles visible in the mix through the glass sides of the bowl.
- Add approximately two to three teaspoons of the ground himalayan/sea salt and mix thorough.
- Preheat the oven to approximately 200C.
- Take a third or a quarter of the mix with your hands and place on an oiled baking stone or baking sheet and spread into a disk shape with a spatula or back of a spoon. the dough will still be sticky and not that easy to handle. You can add a little more ground flour so that you can knead it slightly and treat more like normal dough although it should remain wetter.
- Do the same with the rest of the mixture making three to four disks and finish pizza by adding your favourite toppings. Or conversely just make ‘flat’ bread which will rise in the oven by leaving the disk untopped or conversely add some crushed garlic and a handful of fresh basil, a pinch of salt, chopped herbs and drizzle with olive oil.
- Bake in the preheated oven for twenty to twenty five minutes depending on how thickly you spread the mixture.
- When the dough has started to brown and the topping looks cooked, remove from oven. Slice and enjoy!