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The Quest for Exceptional Organoleptic Bread | Sourdough Companion

The Quest for Exceptional Organoleptic Bread

 Lately I have been looking for a good local source of organic, stone-ground unbleached whole wheat flour at a reasonable cost. My search to pay more attention to the quality of the ingredients that go into my bread was inspired by John Downes, The flowers of Flour


John Downes is credited with starting the modern sourdough movement in Australia and in this post he talks about organic stoneground flours having exceptional qualities. 
Organic, and particularly stoneground flours have the most exceptional organoleptic properties. That is, upon analysis they generally taste, smell, look and feel the best.

After getting over my initial envy of all the choices in flours he talks about using,  I thought about my own baking and that while I am getting confident in my method and producing consistently good bread, what I really need to take my bread to the next level,  a bread that truly tastes, looks, feels and smells the very best; is to get back to the basics elements and find the best local source of the best ingredients. I want to find the best local source of quality organic flour, the best possible salt and the finest water I can use.

So I thought I would start with flour...
Since I started baking just over 15 months ago I have been using an unbleached white baker's flour called BRERO which I found on-line. After paying for postage and delivery it is costing my around $3AU/Kilo. I have just been using this as my mainstay flour and adding some other plain wholemeal flours or rye flours usually sourced from the local supermarket to add extra texture or flavour.
 
Now I can't say I am unhappy with the results from Brero flour, as the proof is in the baking,  but I really wouldn't know if there is a better result to be gained from an all organic stoneground flour and I don't actually know what they are putting in it. The Basic Ingredients website states that they routinely test and evaluate different white flours before they decide what to use in their "Brero" flour. They state that the ideal specs for a suitable flour requires parameters such as Protein Level, Falling Value, Ash level, Starch Damage and Enzymatic Activity to fall in a fairly specific range to make it ideally suitable for Sourdough Baking. Fair enough, however when I get my 5kg package delivered it has no such breakdown on the label. I don't really know what they are sending me.
 
So step one is to try to source a good stoneground unbleached organic flour that I can find locally and do some comparison baking for around the same price $3-$3.50/kg.
 
After some research online and a few false starts including driving out to obscure business parks only to find the "Organic Wholesaler" has moved, closed down or left town on vacation, I think I cracked it. At least for me locally in the Hunter area, I found a great shop called Organic Feast at East Maitland, near where I work. I visited there the other day and was pleased to find they stocked the Demeter Farm Mill range of flours and grains. A bit more research and I am confident these organic flours could be the best I can get easily get my hands on at a reasonable price. In my research I discovered Dementer Farm Mill is owned and supplied by the Wholegrain Milling Company, a family owned company from Gunnedah, NSW, that has specialised in high quality stoneground organic flours for 25 years. Bingo! this was one of the flours mentioned by John Downes as
"the best flours available on the planet"
- so worth a try eh?

Now for the Salt..
I always though salt was just... well salt, and they all are pretty much the same aren't they?  I figured the role of salt in baking, as for most cooking is just to add or enhance flavour. Apparently not in baking bread..., salt plays a far more important role. It not only enhances flavour, but also controls bacteria, strengthens the dough by tightening gluten, and helps prolongs shelf life.
 
So up till now I have been using common everyday Saxa cooking salt but I had noticed others mention 100% sea salt and other various "high end" salts. After doing a little research I found a number of articles and posts that talk about the various salts available for baking and I have seen notes about how each form influences how easily the salt blends with dough. Each form of salt is different in volume as well as the way they dissolve, mix, and adhere. (See Graham's note here about adding coarse flakes)
 
So far I have not yet sourced locally, a good Australian salt but I understand we produce some of the best salt in the world. I was thinking of trying the Murray River Pink salt, as these are salt flakes harvested from pure underground saline waters. I would be interested in some other suggestions from Australian bakers.
 
In the meantime I will try using some stone ground Himalayan crystal salt which I picked up at the organic store. It's supposed to be the purest, most mineral rich, salt on earth being formed 250 million years ago...so it's gotta be good, right? 

And the Water...
I read somewhere when I first started baking that using tap water is a problem in that the chlorine in it can kill off the beasties in your starter and not help your bread dough develop properly..So I have always used chilled filtered water. I use the Brita filter system which I think pretty much removes all chloride and any impurities from our drinking water. It does not remove the trace minerals or fluoride and gives me a nice tasting, clear water which so far I believe is the best water I can use.

So having started down this path I will post my results as I start using the best ingredients in my breads. This weekend I began the experiment by using 20% organic spelt wholemeal flour with my usual multi-grain weekend loaves and the Brevo baker's flour.
 
I did use the Demeter Farm Mill, organic multi-grain mix and some pine-nuts and sunflower seeds for crunch. I must say I am already starting to taste the difference.
 
In the coming weeks I hope to try 100% organic flours & grains.., so we will see. 

Of course it may all be just subjective indulgent and self-delusion in regards the exceptional "organoleptic properties"  of high quality stoneground organic flour and good salt and water... but as we all know literally at our gut level, once you see, smell, taste and feel a really exceptional sourdough you intrinsically know the difference and cannot ever go back to that bland commercial stodge sold as bread in most places today.

happy baking...
 
johnny
 

16 comments

 

They are so beautiful, I think I'm going to cry...........

Power to you, Johnny, for unrelentlessly striving for ways (and, ingredients in this case) to perfect the simple but, oh, so important, BREAD!

Going by the pics, those are about as good as it gets.

Artisan bread is all about quality as far as I'm concerned. I figure that if you're going to bake your own sourdough, you might as well use the very best ingredients available (within reasonable economic parameters, of course).

Don't reckon you can go wrong following John Downes' recommendations re flour, but in case you're interested in comparing a few top quality organic flours, I can highly recommend the ones I use: Eden Valley stoneground biodynamic/organic flours. They're farmed and processed in WA, so might be a bit pricey over east (they're quite pricey here for that matter, @ around $4 per kilo). Not sure about availability outside WA. They do list a distributor in Powelltown, Victoria (see website). Whatever, I can certainly taste the difference between these and lesser non-organic flours, which I started off with before switching to Eden Valley - further, I believe the stoneground element is an important factor contributing to the quality of bread.

Shiao-Ping mentioned in a recent post that the acclaimed St Kilda bakery Baker D Chirico uses Laucke flours, so they're no doubt top quality. And I believe kialla foods distribute excellent organic produce also.

I'm with you on filtered water; I use Brita filtered water, also.

Re salt, I've always used cheap pure sea salt, but have just bought a small quantity of grey flaked French sea salt that is supposed to be special. Must admit, I'm a bit sceptical about that, since I would have thought salt is NaCl is NaCl regardless of where it's from...but one way to find out. Will be trying a bake with it in the coming week.

Would be interested in the recipes for the breads you've pictured, by the way. They look just superb. Doubtless there are others who'd like to try doing whatever you're doing, too!

Cheers
Ross

 

 Great bit of exploring there Johnny.  Beautiful bread!  I'll just say that in the flour area fresh stone ground flour makes great tasting bread.  Just my poke for you someday to start milling your own flour.

Salt:  Yes there is a lot of info about salt and for the record I use the pink Hymalayan salt.  I like it and it gets the job done.

Water:  I live in the country and have well water.  To me it is just very wonderful tasting water and has worked well for making bread and starters.  Here is something that might be interesting to try if you can and I know other people have done this.  Is it possible for you to use rainwater?  I remember visiting a neighbor and drinking their rainwater.  That was also a very good tasting water.

You are right after eating real bread who could eat mass produced junk bread.  They are just worlds apart in flavor and texture.

Thanks guys, been away and just got back to find your nice comments.

Ross, the recipe for the breads is nothing special. I just used 40% spelt wholemeal and for the topping I shaped on a bench with a light spray of oil (rather than flour-to help the seeds stick) and then after shaping rolled each loaf in pine nuts or sunflower seeds. The actual proportions were for the 2 loafs:

  • 600g Baker's Flour (Brero)
  • 400g spelt wholemeal
  • 780g water
  • 400g Starter
  • 20g Salt
  • 100g 7 grain kibble mix with a few extra nuts or seeds mixed in.
  •  

My method was my usual use of the fridge overnight after I first mix up and after bulk fermentation.

Duane, I have thought about the home milling and I was very tempted after reading your posts and seeing your set-up. I guess I'm just a bit too lazy and can't really justify more time and expense to my bread than I already give.

Anyway thanks for the encouragement and suggestions. I can't wait to start trying the best ingredients but at the moment I have quite a lot of the Brero flour to use up so I made some more of the multi-grain, spelt wholemeal loafs this weekend.

Also just got myself a new coffee machine. One of those Delongi - Nespresso machines with the pods..very nice coffee.

Johnny

 

How much hydration does your starter have??? Is it 100% or lower? You have 78%+ hydration????

 My starter was probably a little over a 100%. I refresh over 2 builds:

First build

Starter 40g

Flour 80g

Water 80g

Total 200g

Second Build

Starter 200g

Flour 100g

Water 100g

Total 400g

 

 

 So I couldn't wait to use up all my Brero flour and went out to the organic store I found and bought home 5kg of whole wheat and 5kg of the stoneground unbleached white 100% organic stoneground flours. These flours are from Demeter Farm Mill and 100% organic so I was eager to try them to test John Downes assertion that organic stoneground flours "generally taste, smell, look and feel the best".

The dough was much more silky then the usual feel for me and at the last minute I decided to roll the dough in some spelt flakes to give the bread some crunch on top.

The crumb was a bit denser than I thought it would be but it was certainly very big on taste. The taste to me was very much a strong wholemeal flavour which I liked very much. It also had a more intense sourness which I love having started baking sourdough for this very reason.

 

Overall I would have to agree with John...these breads do taste, look and feel better. I am definitely going to continue with these ingredients and my quest for exceptional organoleptic bread.

Well done dude!! spread the light.

Thanks mate..I'm loving this bread! It is now my Saturday morning standard.. I have adjusted the wholemeal mix to my liking and as you can see it is easy to get consistently great results when you use consistently great ingredients

 

 That bread looks amazing!!! I've been going around in circles wanting to make sourdough but scared by how little I know about it. Your pictures just gave tipped me over the edge and I am going to start reading in earnest.

 

I've got no idea what I am doing but we can only learn 

 

 

 Welcome Bigred!  

Don't be scared to jump right in. This site has lots of help and good advice. If you have any questions as you start your sourdough journey just ask! There are lots of helpful people here who are more than happy to help. It's called action learning...you never know until you have a go..

good luck!

Two little points: I read somewhere that not all Himalayan salt is authentic. If you think about it, this is quite likely true. Considering how much we in developed countries are willing to pay for it, and considering the extremely low income of the people living in the Himalayan regions, the temptation for fraud is high. Just a little red flag there.

 

Personally I use a Marisol sun-dried sea salt from Portugal although I will be switching to French Palaudier soon because of cost. There is the nagging worry that the oceans are polluted, especially of late, but I still have some sort of faith in Nature. And also the oceans are Very Very BIg and also basically her waters are Alive, teaming with all sorts of micro and macro organisms so I am comfortable as long as it passes the taste and view test.

 

Brita: I had water problems last year and researched filters quite extensively. Two points:

a) Brita is the most expensive and least effective of those easily available. Of course, it's the most popular one for some reason. Cost calculated as in cost per litre. Efficiency as in percentage of stuff removed. Good ones for the money tend to be gravity fed (i.e. slow) and ceramic. Those with silver in are better. Daulton in the UK pioneered this type of filter and if they have an outlet they are very good. They have special units focusing on chlorine, or fluoride. You can even filter stagnant pond water if you have to.

b) there is the remineralization or ionization or alkaline business, aka 'revitalization'. Especially if you have city water, it has been filtered after going through industry, toilets, sewage areas and so forth. Even if all organisms and toxins have been removed, the water is dead. ( for some articles on this see www.alivewater.net including reference to Viktor Shauberger's seminal work on the properties of water.) I actually installed one of those gizmos and within 30 minutes my semi-wild cat started demanding water from the tap and now won't drink it from outside as she used to for years. Something changed, that's for sure. There are quite a few products out there that claim to remineralize, revitalize etc.

 

I think you are right to be paying attention to all these things. Flour, salt, water, these are the main ingredients (assuming you use a natural starter which comes from these as well). I am lucky in Nova Scotia. I have two good organic millers to choose from: Speerville in New Brunswick and LaMilanaise in Quebec. I personally prefer the results from the latter. But I have played with a few different flours and the same technique and good flour definitely makes a significant difference. I am not sure about the salt, but I have studied how bad industrially refined 'table salt' is for the human organism and haven't used it in years and certainly wouldn't put it into anything I offer to my valued clientele.

 

Boy, what a good forum this is, eh?

The Schauberger information is great, thanks. The old bakers ive spoken to were unanimous that the best bread was made with rainwater. There are small regions famous for their bread and it is taditionally associated with the water. Same with Ale. It may be that the extra-hydration associated with these enhanced waters may also cause deeper hydration in the flour matrix...even enable the enzymes to act more deeply on the flour , which would explain the point Andy raised in the enzyme bread tech blog, comment "more" (cant get the link to work soz) that some sourdough breads stay fresher longer and the reason isnt simply hydration, its enhanced hydration as though the enzymes can penetrate more and fully digest the flour matrix, leaving no seed "crystals" of starch to re-seed the starches back to a more crystalline structure, ie stale. Perhaps some far out event happens in which the enzymes morph or genetic transfer is enabled for morphing so as to form a structure which could fully act on residual starch? This is suggested again as Andy reports,  from brewing tech.,and which is enabled by the action of certain waters containing the appropriate ions.

The concept of the vortex seems too far-out for most people, but like Stiener, perhaps the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Biodynamic flour is always exceptional, especially bioactive as far as leaven making is concerned, and Stiener had similar thoughts to Schauberger it seems. But Stieners thinking is like taking an hallucinogen and most cant relate to it. But the results from his agricultural methods, bio-dynamics, are palpable.

Do you make bread with this water? Could you do a trial with it and "regular" water to see if the sensory characteristics and technical qualities are changed or improved?

I really should do a proper test. It would be quite easy. Take some water direct from the well. And the revitalized water from the tap. I will try to do it this week before things get really busy.

 

I didn't read the other thread you mention - but will try. And I agree that it's not simply hydration, but partly this is a semantic difference. The issue as I framed it (I think) is that some doughs/methods result in the water being retained longer rather than initial hydration per se. In the case of my pudding loaves being different that way, I believe it is because of the density of the grain (course-fresh-ground) and increased soaking time that ends up with the breads retaining moisture longer. But I also agree that this is not really what is being discussed. What is being discussed, I guess, is how essentially the same sorts of typical breads that rise with nice crumb structure etc. etc. can have such different 'shelf lives'.

 

I think you are onto something in terms of the starch chrystals. I just read that the reason you don't put bread in the fridge is because the starch crystals form at low temperatures at which point it is stale. Now those loaves that come out with a shiny, soft crumb (translucent is the word often used) they do seem to last longer, and that translucence has something to do with the starches, I gather. My gut feeling on this is that it will have something to do with the mix and balance of yeast versus bacterial fermentation. This probably has something to do with the nature of the starter cultures to begin with, which has many causative factors such as food, water, temperature, bio-energetic ambiance etc., and also the same during the building stages in dough development prior to baking. So then assuming that all the food/ingredients and ambiance is equal most times, the main variables might be things like temperature, humidity, moon cycles and background music.

 

Personally I have not noticed a repeatable difference between when the dough leavens in silence, when listening to Bach, or talk radio. But then I haven't perhaps paid enough attention yet!

Drat! I forgot to do the test. Will try to remember this week. Suddenly - and unexpectedly - became extremely busy. Good for the bottom line. Bad for experiments!

 

Vortex: one effect is to push the bacteria to the outside where they get exposed to oxygen and die. Another effect is temperature cooling.

 

The simplest, most fascinating aspect of the brief commentaries on Schaupeter I read are how water has cycles, i.e. young water, mature water, exhausted water, both naturally and unnaturally caused. We tend to think of water as H20 with extra stuff floating around in it, either good or bad. It's not that simple.

 

Another very interesting read is The Hidden Messages of Water by Masaru Emoto.

 

Here you see the effects in terms of chrystal structure differences between fresh and tired water, even before and after various types of music. There's more to water than H20. Our dead-matter pseudo scientific view is way out of line with reality. People like Shauberger were the real scientists. If we had been using his implosion (versus our combustion) engines the past century there would be no pollution issues.

Man, homebread shoo these breads are so homebreading nice my hometoasts. I would really like a pie e of my family homebreads so i can home have some hometoast to heat with my homemade homeloaf.

Outside of a bread machine, this is the easiest bread recipe humans have yet devised. You know refrigerator bread? It's easier than that. You know no-knead bread? It's easier than that. Why? Because it's a no-knead refrigerator bread! Once the dough is ready — and the measuring and mixing only takes about 20 minutes — only a hot oven and a half an hour separates you from a piping hot loaf of your own. Anytime you want bread, you just form a loaf and pop it in. I still like to make more complicated breads sometimes — croissants, bagels, that sort of thing — but this is my dead-easy standby.