Funky Fermentation

Fermentation is some serious fun.  It helps to create some of the best things in life.  Like beer, and wine and bread and smelly cheese.  Lately I have been dabbling in wild fermentation and had some amazing results.  The most recent project has been a whole wheat sourdough starter that I have been making bread with.  If you are not familiar with the term, a starter is water and flour, that you mix and let sit for many days, and then “feed” it more flour daily to build it up.  It creates it’s own gasses and pulls yeast from the air and flour and builds its own yeasty gassy environment.  You then add this to your bread instead of commercial yeast and the result is a beautiful tart, yet filling bread with a crisp crust and a chewy, airy centre.

The sourdough bread that most people have encountered is made from white four, and has quite a nice “tang” to it.  I decided to build my sourdough starter with whole wheat flour for a couple reasons.  Firstly, I watched the documentary “Cooked” on Netflix {I HIGHLY recommend this series to anyone, not just cooks.  If you eat, you should see it} and one of the episodes centres on air and what it does to food.  Michael Pollan is the director and in it he explains that with just water, air and whole wheat flour, you could feed your family for a full year.  These basic ingredients when combined correctly can become so much more than the sum of their parts.  He also speculates that so many people have a gluten intolerance because they only eat white bread, and the amazing health benefits of the full grain (both the bran and the germ) are lost.  The other reason I decided to make my started from whole wheat is that our local 4H Club that I volunteer with was planning a food day where a local farmer was going to come by and show us his Red Fife Wheat (more on that later).

So I began our starter.  Here is the “recipe” I used.


(Start 3-4 days before baking bread)

1 cup red fife wheat

1 cup water

3 Tablespoons pineapple juice

Mix the flour, water, and juice together well.  Let sit overnight.  Each day mix well 2-3 times and add 2 Tablespoons of flour.  The starter will be ready to use after day 3.  A starter can be “fed” and used over and over, just take what you need from it and continue to feed it flour.

The pineapple juice is very optional, this can be made without it.  What it does is adds sugars to your mix that give the wild yeasts something to feed on until your starter has matured and is ready for use.  So what happens when you mix flour and water and no yeast?  The natural yeast in flour and in the air around you mixes with the water and begins to ferment.  This created carbon dioxide bubbles that allow the bread to rise when baked.

funky fermentation, go sports


Here is my starter you can see the bubbles of gas forming.  It’s like a tiny team sport of microbes and  lactobacilli.  Everyone is winning because they are working together to ferment.  The key with a starter is to feed it daily, it needs food to live and continue to cultivate.

In preparation for my 4H meeting Little Chef and I made some test loaves with our starter.  We used this recipe:


(start 1 night before baking)

1 cup starter

5 cups flour (3 cups red fife wheat flour, 2 cups unbleached white flour)

Mix together well, let sit overnight. 


5 cups flour ( 3 cups red fife wheat flour, 2 cups unbleached white flour)

1 cup oil

1 Tablespoon salt

1 Teaspoon lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together, knead dough vigorously on a floured surface for 5 minutes.  Form in to 4 round loaves and set on a pan.  Sprinkle with water and score the tops. 

After 2 hours of rising, re-score the tops, and sprinkle with water again.

Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, then drop the oven temperature to 375 degrees and finish baking for approx. 45 minutes. 

This is what we called the “long recipe” and despite it’s excessive amount of love and time required it was delicious.  It had a beautiful firm crust and airy inside.

Little Chef eating wild fermented sourdough bread

Once at the 4H meeting we did a comparison cook of the loaves I had prepared at home and taken along, and a “quick” bread in my bread maker.  Here is the “quick” recipe we used.

Quick Bread:

1 cup lukewarm water

2 tablespoons oil

4 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups bread flour (2 cups red fife wheat flour, 1 cup unbleached white flour)

1 tablespoon quick active yeast

Add all ingredients to bread maker and choose “quick bake” setting. 

The largest difference between the loaves was the texture and air bubbles.  The Long recipe had far more air incorporated because of the fermentation, and the taste from the sourdough.

Whole wheat sourdough bread made with wild fermentation

After we made our bread, we had a special guest “Farmer Vern” come in a speak to us about Red Fife Wheat.  It was amazing.  The kid’s were excited, but I was wiggling in my seat, so excited, with a million questions.  It was a full on embarrassing fan girl moment and I regret nothing.  Farmer Vern raises Red Fife Wheat on his farm using only horse and mule drawn equipment.  Red Fife Wheat is a very old strain of wheat that is very high in vitamin D, protein and very low in gluten.  It is harder to grow and harvest than conventional wheat so it is not grown as often.  But it has this sweet nutty flavour, and is so great for you.  And he harvests it all with the help of his horses and his community.  I may or may not have invited myself/begged to help with next year’s harvest.  So be sure to stay tuned for that adventure!


After all of this excitement and bread baking I tested a few more recipes and came up with a happy medium between the days long recipe and the quick one hour one.  We have been keeping our starter alive and making this recipe every few days.  It is nutritious, delicious and easy to make.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

1 cup starter

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached flour

1.5 cups water

2 Tablespoons oil

Mix together ingredients well and let stand for 1 hour, add extra flour as needed and knead for 5 minutes.  Form in to one large round loaf and place on baking sheet.  Let rise for 1 hour.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Score the top of the loaf and place in oven.  Bake for 30 minutes or until top is slightly browned.  Let cool and enjoy!

I recommend this recipe to anyone who wants to get more out of their bread.  It leaves you feeling full, but not bloated and is easier to digest because the fermentation process actually starts to “digest” the flours for you.  It also has an amazing flavour and colour.


Let me know if you try it out.  I would love to see some pictures of what you make.


ps. We have some extra special amazing things in the works.  So stay tuned!

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