I have to admit, I have become a LITTLE bit obsessed with making sourdough bread. In today's "wheat is the root of all evil" culture, particularly in the fitness and fat loss industry, that seems to be a bit counter-intuitive, maybe even a bit crazy, but bear with me...
See, I've never been a "X is always bad" kind of guy when it comes to food. We've gone through a number of nutrition/diet fads and trends during my lifetime so far (low-fat/high-fibre, sugar-free, fat-free, low-carb, gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, and vegan among others), and the takeaway once the hype behind each of those blows over is that eating healthy really comes down to eating a wide variety of real foods in moderation. Anything can be bad for you in too big a quantity, or when it is consumed too frequently / to the exclusion of other things.
When it comes to wheat and other grains, the reality is that human civilization has thrived for thousands of years on varying diets that nearly all included the consumption of some sort of grain. It's only really the rise of industrialized, highly-processed food and our tendency towards excessive consumption in the more affluent nations that has turned a highly efficient food source into the demonized, health-destroying monster that grains, especially wheat, have become.
With my school-aged kids more often than not taking sandwiches for their school lunches, I've been waffling back and forth for the last few years about trying to make better bread at home for them. I briefly considered buying one of those accursed bread makers just so I could say I made an effort. I tried making yeast-leavened bread, but couldn't really nail it to where the girls liked the bread, and I never really felt happy with the product either - something was just missing from the process that left me feeling uninspired and unsatisfied with what I was producing for my family.
Consider that traditional sourdough bread, including the starter, contains only three ingredients (water, flour and salt) compared to fourteen in the loaf of Wonder bread that has sat, uneaten, in our fridge for the last two weeks. Compared to yeast-leavened bread, the long fermentation process of traditional sourdough creates numerous nutritional / health benefits to recommend it (here's a good article that outlines 5), and eaten in moderation, it can be a very tasty part of a healthy diet.
The good news is that sourdough baking is relatively simple, but it does take time. The first step towards healthier, more delicious bread is making your starter. If you live nearby and want to have some of my established starter to work from, just let me know - I'd be happy to share! Otherwise, you can follow this guide I made to make and maintain your own on the BTG Recipes page. I've also included a couple of recipe links at the end of the article. Again, you just need water, flour and time - the starter takes 7-10 days of twice-daily feedings to be established enough to leaven bread.
Now...off to buy myself a copy of "Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza" by Ken Forkish (of Ken's Artisan Bakery in Portland, OR). Bread porn...LOL!