Rob's Slow Bread

Rob Santich has generously passed on the Slow Bread recipe that he mentioned during our 2011 seminar series. Don't miss the end sections on What happened to our bread? along with some recommendations for good Sydney bakeries as well. Enjoy! 

Download: Slow Bread recipe [Adobe Acrobat PDF - 65.17 KB]

Slow Bread

Makes 3 large loaves

Start the process preferably in the evening.  Whilst 6 hours is the minimum fermentation time, longer is better, this allows the activated enzymes time to do their work. So I prefer the overnight ferment, creating the dough at sunset, which means you get a loaf of 12 to 16 hours fermentation. But at a squeeze, you can make dough at 7am, and bake it in the evening. Remember, the longer the ferment, the more nutritious and digestible the bread.  However, dough’s and ferments will vary according to many factors such as the season, temperature, humidity, presence and types of local wild bacteria, different flours, and so on.

Step 1
First make the yeast mix in a small bowl:

Granulated yeast:             1/2 level teaspoon
Plain flour:                       1 teaspoon
Ginger powder:                1 teaspoon
Jaggery or molasses:         1 dessertspoon

Add 1 cup of tepid water (hot water will kill the yeast). Stir well and leave, the yeast, etc. will slowly dissolve.

Step 2
Next prepare the dough mix in a large mixing bowl. Place 2kg of unbleached organic plain wheat flour (not wholemeal, as bran is indigestible) plus 400gm of other flours (for a mixed carbohydrate spread). For this 400gm, I mainly use plain spelt but kamut, rye or barley flours will also be fine. To remove any rough bran, simply sift the flour.

Add Ginger powder: 1 heaped teaspoon (best yeast growth material).
Good salt (Celtic): 1 teaspoon
Then with a claw pasta spoon, stir this dry mix so that it becomes evenly distributed.

Step 3
Before proceeding to the next phase, first ensure that all ingredients in the yeast mix have dissolved. Stir it.
In a suitable bowl, mix the following:

1/4 cup of olive, coconut or other good oil, plus half cup of good yoghurt or kefir, and 3 cups of tepid water. Toss the now dissolved yeast mix on top of all that and stir with a wooden spoon. Then pour this liquid mix into the flour mix and immediately stir in with a wooden spoon until it gets too thick to move any more. Then it’s the hands’ work, get your hands into it, squeezing, kneading, punching dents into the middle of the dough and then folding it over itself and getting air into the dough for about ten minutes.

This mixture is usually too dry so keep adding small portions of tepid water, mixing it in with your hands until you get a good dough consistency. A general guide is that you have to either add more flour to a wet mix, or add more water to a too dry mix. When the kneading is done, make sure you have no dry flour remaining anywhere in the mix, on the sides of the bowl, etc.

The end result should be slightly sticky to touch, not too dry, not too wet. At this point I divide the dough into two portions and then place them in two large stainless steel bowls, because I don’t have a gigantic single bowl, this allows for the rise.  Then place damp tea towels over the bowls and ensure that it does not touch the dough. The dough will at least double in size overnight so I sometimes place a chopstick in the middle of the dough to make a tent and that ensures that there is no contact.  When you get up in the morning, the dough should have doubled, and ideally will be standing up strongly. If it has dropped or sagged, it means that the combination of heat/humidity plus yeast has been too volatile, so you can cut the amount of yeast next time. Given time, even the smallest amount of yeast will eventually spread throughout the dough, causing it to double. Overnight dough’s in winter may need a little more yeast to double, unless you find a slightly warm (not hot) nook where it can stand. You'll get it after a while. Persist; it’s worth the apprenticeship.

Step 4
Next morning, liberally oil your bread loaf tins (or you can make bread rolls on an oven tray or use baguette trays). Coconut oil is best, as it produces brown crusty loaves, and the loaves don’t stick to the sides. If the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, no problems, simply smear a very fine film (half-teaspoon spread with hand) of coconut or olive oil on your table top and on your hands (this helps prevent sticking), throw the doubled dough on it, punch it down, and start kneading and folding over itself, getting air into it, treat it rough for 5 minutes. Do not add more flour at this stage, as it will not be fermented, which would defeat the whole purpose.
Then cut into pieces large enough to fill HALF of each bread tin (it will rise double again). Separately knead these pieces a little more, creating an unbroken top. Place in tins, and with a very sharp knife, cut across the top of each dough, making 4-5 slices at 1 cm deep. This facilitates the rise by an opening the upper surface.

Step 5
The proving.  Place the bread tins into a 40°C oven until the loaves double again in size, this usually takes between 50 – 60 minutes. Don’t rush this stage, I usually leave the loaves at 40°C for 50 mins and then simply increases the temperature to 170°C and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Ovens vary a lot. Fan-forced ovens give a better distribution of heat. You will discover your own timing eventually. Catching the loaf as it reaches peak rise is an art that cannot be easily explained. If this second rise goes overtime, it may sag in the cooking, or if it goes into the oven
under time, it will still expand while cooking and so crack along the sides. This will not affect the edibility so much, more the aesthetics. If your oven is cooking unevenly, open the door after 20 minutes and turn the bread tins around for the last 15 to 20 minutes. Tapping the crust of the bread will indicate if the loaf is cooked. There will be a hollow sound, and the surface will spring back. With experience you will be able to tell, by touch, tap and tone, when the loaf is just done, medium done or well-cooked.

Step 6
Remove loaves from tins immediately once cooked, or they will keep cooking and dry out. You may need to run a sharp knife around the sides of the tins to loosen the loaves.  Place on cooling racks. Once the loaves are totally cool, you may package in snap lock plastic bags and place in the freezer. Later, when you de-freeze it will be as fresh as when you cooked it. The loaf that you start to eat direct from the oven should stay in a bread bin for the first day. That evening, put it in a sealed plastic bag and keep in the fridge. Long-fermented bread has a much longer shelf life than quick bread.  Quick breads will soon develop tell-tale fungi, long-ferment breads hardly at all, even after weeks.

You may make many variations upon this theme eg add olives in a savory loaf, add organic dried apricots and fermented walnuts with rapadura sugar and cinnamon for a sweet loaf.  Add all these extras into the dough at the beginning, that way they will ferment as well.  This is particularly important for nuts and seeds that are full of anti-nutrients.  These are removed and/or transmuted by fermentation.

What happened to our bread?

Before the 1950’s, most bakeries in Australia and indeed the world, ran 2 shifts of workers because the dough was fermented throughout the night, long and slow. That bread was made from plain, unbleached wheat flour, and now, seen in retrospect, was superior to most breads of today.  During the 1950’s, the US-based bakery giant Tip Top came to Brisbane, and started to buy up all the small bakeries it could and other bakery giants competed with them. One of the very first actions these corporate bakers took was to introduce the fast loaf (3 hours from start to finish), effectively eliminating the need for half, or one entire shift, of their labour force. This was actually required by a new law called The Bread Act.

This seemingly innocuous cost cutting decision would relentlessly impact and

compromise the health of each and every bread lover since, that’s virtually

everybody since the 1950’s, and bestow a myriad of miseries, as it continues to do and be responsible for the totally unwarranted rise of the brand new dysfunction, gluten intolerance.

Gluten once properly fermented is a wonderful vegetable protein and is a mix of the two elastic proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Gluten has become a falsely accused monster. The so called gluten intolerant adults and children have eaten this long-ferment bread with amazement, in that it does not cause a problem. We are not gluten intolerant; we are allergic to the accelerating haste of modern life and the corporatisation of the food industry!

So what about wholemeal bread, isn’t that supposed to be healthier?

Wholemeal bread is prepared from wholemeal flour that contains bran. Bran is the outer husk of any grain or seed, it is indigestible, and is high in phytic acid that robs our bodies of nutrients, especially minerals, and stifles digestion. If we are

eating well, we don’t need such gross fibrous brooms to “sweep out” our bowels.

Bran robs us of nutrients in other ways because bran is an irritant to the bowel.

Its radical stimulation of the peristaltic motion means that any foods accompanying the bran get shunted along far too rapidly in the bowel, severely restricting the crucial extraction of minerals and vitamins which would occur in a normal (slow) passage through the colon.  Bran is now lauded as a lifesaver and is present in so many of today’s foods. A huge market has been created for what was regarded for thousands of years and deservedly so as crap.

Don’t toss it out though; it’s ideal for the compost heap or chipboard manufacture.

There is one Sydney bakehouse, Sonoma, which ferments its bread for 32 hours. SOL Bakery, out of Brisbane, and Goanna Bakery, out of Lismore, both make

excellent long-fermented breads. Another realized baker is Crystal Waters on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

Have fun, fermentation is the way to go!

Rob Santich