Adding sourdough starter to your flour and water when you knead your bread will cause the dough to rise. The importance of “rising” is that this way the heat while baking is more able to penetrate thoroughly thus your bread will be both cooked and light. Bread baked with out any rising agent is quite difficult to digest. There are those who in addition to adding sourdough starter will also use a knife to put deep grooves in to the bread-this is especially if the form of your breads is very thick.
1st-prepare the sourdough starter-you will need good quality flour preferably stone ground organic whole wheat or whole spelt flour which can be obtained at most all health food stores and often found even at your neighborhood grocery store.
In Israel ask them if the flour is ben yomo. If it is being sold from a cold fridge or freezer then ask them if the flour was put into the cold fridge or freezer with in 24 hours of grinding. The reason being, it takes 24 hours from grinding the whole wheat berries into flour for worms (which are of course not kosher) to begin their mysterious growth from nowhere. Outside of Israel where there are fewer problems with worms and bugs this is not an issue. If however the flour has been on the shelf and not in the fridge for more than 24 hours after grinding, it must then be sifted before using. (For some reason which I do not know, this is not a problem outside of Israel).
Also please note that the idea of buying flour is a modern casualty. The best way is to obtain flour is to grind it fresh. Whole grains like any seed once ground or split open begins to loose all its life giving energy and vitamins, and soon becomes what we call rancid. Thank G-d here in Jerusalem most health food stores and even Ben Kamun’s store in the old city get their stone ground organic flour fresh (freshly ground) each week and keep it in the fridge/freezer.
The reason it is best to buy freshly ground or ben yomo flour is because sifting flour not only removes the worms but the bran as well, and though the Gomorrah praises the bread which is made from finely sifted flour, for offerings) considering it to be superior to coarse whole grain bread, even still, our bodies need the natural bran to help the bread we eat move freely through our intestines. For this reason, the usage of white flour should be occasional for it is not so easily digested and can cause blockages in ones intestines. Also please take note that this white flour bread of the time of the Gomorrah which was praised is not at all the processed, bleached, flour of todays world. Actually what the Gomorrah is speaking about is organic freshly stone ground whole grain which has been sifted sixteen times whereas the white flour of todays world is neither stone ground nor whole. Instead, whole grains which were grown in nutrient deficient non organic soil and sprayed with chemical pesticides (both while they are growing and even after harvest with even harsher chemicals which prevents the grains from being consumed by rats and mice) are then put into machines with sharp thin pieces of metal which spin at a super high speed which creates enough heat to utterly destroy the vitamin e and protein which is in the germ of the whole grain. Vitamin e is essential for a healthy heart thus explaining why for years heart attacks G-d forbid where much more prevalent in America than in for instance England where the milling process remained as it once was. Now besides this build up of heat which you do not find by stone ground, these machines also somehow strip the whole grain of its bran-outer covering even before it is made into flour. The world enjoys this because it has got the so called superior white flour without any need to sift out the bran. The more true result is what we call empty starch and not only empty of any nutritious value but also empty of any natural sweet taste, and it is for this reason that almost all the white bread of today except for pitas have in them added sugar for taste.
When you are buying flour, if you have a choice between more grainy less powdery flour and finely ground powdery flour, I myself would choose the grainier flour for it is more chew-able and therefore easier to digest. In general bread must be chewed much more that you would think. It is tricky because unlike eating whole grain, bread becomes soft and moist in our mouths only after just a few chews, and we think we can just swallow it. Best to chew more and more till the bread is fully disintegrated- liquefied in your mouth. Grains digest from ptyalin which is secreted in your mouth, as opposed to for instance animal foods which mainly digest in ones stomach from the secretion called hydroelectric acid.
Next is good quality water such as water from a good high level filtering system, or bottled mineral or distilled, or pure well water. Then the next step is to mix the flour and water in a container/jar which has a wide opening, wide enough to fit your hand in. Also best if the container has a screw on lid, and that it can hold at least a half kilo of flour.
Pour the flour into the jar and then add water, (best to start with one half kilo,) stir/mix it with a fork until you reach a pancake batter consistency. If it is too liquidy just add more flour, too thick, add more water. If you are out of flour and it is a bit too liquidy, just let it be, for it will most probably work/become sour anyway.
For those in Israel you can get from me some of my sourdough starter and add this to your starter and this will jump start your starter and it will be done in a half a day! Benzion-0526187701
Then close the jar by first fully tightening the lid, and then turning back just a bit-about a quarter turn. It should not be left closed air tight. Also there should be ample room between your flour and water mixture and the top of the jar. It needs room to expand and grow. A good sourdough starter could expand to the point that it pops the top right off that jar!
Now begins your own experiment and new experience, for at this point I can only tell you approximately what should and could happen. This being that there exists numerous factors which can have an affect on your flour and water mixture. Generally, in the summertime this mixture will become sour and ready to be used to help your dough to rise even after about only three days of sitting outside of your fridge.
During the cold season it may take longer and everything can depend on whether your home is air conditioned or heated, etc. Once your sourdough starter has a very sour smell and is beginning to bubble, at that point, so to safeguard its oomph (power to cause dough to rise) and to keep it from becoming rancid-moldy, you must then keep it in the fridge. Then, when it comes to making your bread, my advice is to allow both your sourdough starter and your flour to reach room temperature by taking them out of your fridge a good few hours before kneading your dough. Note that you too must refrigerate the ben yomo flour which you bought if you do not plan to use it within 24 hours.
Feeding your sourdough starter- Sourdough starter, in order to retain its oomph it must be occasionally fed with more flour and water. Often just re adding flour each week after you use your starter to make your Shabbat bread is enough. In fact the jar itself even if empty will still have within it a sufficient quantity of bacteria left on the walls of the container. With a used container you can produce a new batch of sour dough starter within a half day, of course as mentioned depending on the room temperature. I have had occasions in the past where for lack of time I would either put my sour dough starter or the dough itself near the oven or near a heater or under the rays of the sun. This is not recommended but rather a last resort last minute procedure to help the dough rise.
2nd-Kneading the flour, (salt,) water, and sourdough starter in to dough-you will of course need a large bowl which is not only big enough to hold the amount of flour you would like to use but also spacious enough to give you the freedom to knead.
How much flour to use depends on how many guests you plan to have and or perhaps if you would like to say the blessing for taking Challah. There are various hallachic rulings as to exactly how much dough must be kneaded in order to say the blessing: Baruch Atah Adoni Elohanu Melech Haolom Ashere Kidishanu BiMitzvotav Vitzevanu Lihaphreesh Challah Mae Eisah. Most poskim hold that the smallest amount in which a blessing using G-ds name may be said is 2 kilos and 400 grams-about two and half kilos. This amount makes enough bread to feed at least four Shabbat guests at all three meals.
The obligation to take Challah with a blessing begins at 1 kilo 200 grams. The amount of dough taken is a keziyit which is approximately 28grams. Say the blessing as you are separating the keziyit from the dough and then hold up the Challah and say Zu Challah-this is Challah. The Challah then must be wrapped double in tin foil and burnt in your oven or thrown away. You can put it in your oven together with the bread you are baking.
Challah must be taken not only from the bread you are baking but from every baked product which you are baking that day which has in it one of the five grains for which The Land of Israel is praised. They are Wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and oats.
Challah can be taken either before your dough has risen or after. When taking Challah from your dough it is not enough to just have in mind everything else which you are baking that day, instead the dough from which you are taking Challah must actually touch/kiss all the other dough-pie dough, cakes, etc You can simply stretch the dough to reach the contents and so to say, touch/kiss the other.
If you will be trying to produce softer more spongy bread (similar to Dr. Mark’s bread) then your dough may be a bit too mushy to properly take Challah. In this situation when the dough is likened to a thick liquid, the hallachic suggestion is to then take Challah after the baking when it is bread. When this is the case and you are baking for Shabbat, keep in mind that by taking Challah from the bread itself will leave you with one less whole-Shalaim bread.
Put all the contents together in the kneading/mixing bowl. I suggest first, adding the flour, then, salt-approximately two teaspoons of good quality sea salt for each kilo of flour. Of course sprinkle the salt around so it will not be condensed into one area of the dough. I also suggest not making your bread or any food you eat too salty. Salty bread will only make you feel quite tight and uncomfortable after you meal, and instead of having the true calm feeling of what the Torah calls Satisfaction you may instead at the end of your meal and/or even during the meal, feel a craving for lots of water, juices, fresh fruit, oil and/or sugar-something sweet/honey.
Of course there is a time/situation/place for every type of food as will be discussed as I explain the wisdom of The Jewish Year Diet. However with all that being said, an amount of salt is needed, one, to give the bread taste and two, to balance out the large quantity of water which will be used.
We can further discuss in class the occasional use of natural sweeteners, or oil, or nuts, and fruits in your bread/dough. Often with out even knowing the addition of these sweet/oil substances into your dough will change the end product from bread to what the Gomorrah calls Pat Vikisneem whose blessing is Mezonote.
After you have added the salt then add your sourdough starter. How much to add will be your own experiment. Some people like bread which has a nice sour/pucker taste though others do not, however you must add enough sourdough for the bread to rise.
I suggest starting with about one half a cups of sourdough starter for each kilo of flour. Adding the water is a bit tricky. I know for myself that when I am kneading three kilos of flour I will begin by adding a full liter and a half of bottle of water, and from there usually a bit more depending on how much starter I am using, and whether or not if my starter itself has a more liquid consistency or not.
As you begin to knead the flour and water you may see that the water has been quickly absorbed in to the flour creating the beginnings of dough. If this dough is a bit too mushy then add a bit more flour-(therefore it is a good idea to have an extra bag of flour on hand) if however you have not yet used up all the flour in your bowl in that case then just continue kneading till you have a thick mass-dough that you can work with.
I suggest kneading your dough about 250 times (takes only about 10-20mins, depending on how strong you are.) If you feel the dough is too hard/solid then add a bit more water and be careful not to add too much-just a bit at a time. Once fully kneaded, put a dry towel (or any other cover) over the bread and let it sit for at least 6 hours. Again, it all depends on the room temperature. It is best that once it has risen to then knead it again just a bit to push down the rising. At this point good dough will begin to rise again within less than one hour.
The time to put it in to your hot oven is just as it is beginning to rise again for the second time. The Midrash tells us that by Sarah Emanu that her dough always rose twice. A good idea is too allow the second rising to occur after you have formed the dough into braided challote (or any other form) on the baking pan or baking containers. Your baking pans should not be made of aluminum (aluminum is a cheep metal which when baking with it or cooking with it, enters our bodily system and has been attributed as the main cause of “Alzheimer’s” G-d forbid.) If however you put down baking paper then in may be o.k. to use, and this way your bread will not stick to the pan.
Other ways of keeping your bread from sticking to the pan is to use a small bit of Sesame oil. Non toasted sesame oil is best for baking and toasted is best for sautéing vegetables. Olive oil is best eaten raw and becomes very hard to digest when cooked or baked. Corn oil may be your second choice, then sunflower oil. Smear the oil so that there are no “puddles.” Often experienced bakers will not use oil at all knowing that if the dough is firm and not sticky that it will not end up being stuck to the pan. Others, to prevent sticking will at least sprinkle a bit of flour on to the pan before laying down the loaves. In our modern world today we have baking containers which are made out of silicon, a rubbery substance which will never allow your dough to stick to it and the silicon itself will not melt even at very high heat. The silicon is very good to use if the consistency of your dough is too thin to shape. So far there exist no negative reports about the usage of silicon in our cooking. I hope that the research is true…
Baking the dough in to bread- It is best in order for your bread to rise that your oven is preheated-nice and hot before your place the formed dough inside. The amount of heat needed is normally 350 degrees Fahrenheit or approx 180 Celsius. All ovens are different! Therefore the amount of time it will take depends on your particular oven and which shelf it is on, that is, how close is your bread to the flame/heat source. Generally it should not take less than or too much more time than 40mins of baking. Obviously if you are using metal baking pans and your bread is placed too close to the heat then the bottoms of your bread will burn.
A rule of thumb is that better that your bread is a bit over baked than not enough baked. Knowing when the bread is fully baked and ready to be taken out of the oven will come with experience. You can check to see if your bread is baking properly and not burning by opening the oven door though at least for the first 20mins of baking keep the oven door closed.
Once the breads are fully baked and you have removed them from the oven then let the pans cool for five minutes. Then carefully remove them from the pans in order to place them on something which will allow for air flow to flow under the breads. Be careful! Hot breads break easily. Once fully cooled down, (might take a full two hours) then to insure that they remain most and fresh, it is best to close them tightly in to a bag. Bagging them before they are cooled down will cause condensation thus causing your breads to be soggy on the outside and dry on the inside. If you are in hurry and need to take them somewhere then put them in an open basket or into a bag though leave the bag open.