Cecilia’s Amazing Kefir Bread – did I doubt her?

11th March 2013

Kefir Grain Zeb Bakes

In 2012 I was lucky enough to be sent some milk kefir grains by Carl Legge, a generous and enthusiastic baker, grower and published author who lives in North Wales.

Kefir FermentingI fed them for a while and experimented with making rudimentary soft cheese with it, but found that the grains grew bigger and bigger and fermented the  milk faster and faster and I couldn’t keep up. So I followed instructions on Dom’s Kefir! and froze them. I defrosted them about a week ago and have been giving them lots of love and so far they seem to have survived freezing fine.

Another kefir shot

My motivation in getting them up and bubbling once more was reading my friend Cecilia talking about using kefir to raise bread :  ‘How to make No-Knead Kefir Bread  and understanding how this bread fits into her life as a very hardworking smallholder, photographer and author. She is another of the extraordinary people I have got to know while blogging. She keeps a diary blog of the goings on on her farm thekitchensgarden. I  am in love with her peacock and her lambs and she has some great stories to share with everyone that I thoroughly enjoy.

My first attempt at making this bread failed as I think I left it too long and it turned into a slime thing long before it got near a tin, but I tried again, using different flour and changing the time scale to suit what I suspect might be a warmer house.

I am much happier using scales so I have converted as I went along using Cecilia’s cups as the base. One cup of my flour weighed 150g so I used that to calculate how much salt to add. The recipe has 5 cups of flour, (750 g flour) so I used 1.8% salt, which worked out at 13.5 g.

I needed a lot more water than in the original recipe in order to get a soft and sticky dough. Flour varies a lot or maybe my cups weigh more than other people’s, so either work from cups or from weight but don’t mix and match. You have been warned!

I mixed the kefir, water, flour and local honey up late one afternoon and the next morning it looked like this.

Frothy kefir preferment

It was separating out below.

Kefir Preferment Zeb Bakes

The first time I tried making this I stirred it up at this stage and left it for the 24 hours that Cecilia gives, but it never plumped up again, so I figured this time I would use it a bit earlier, so this is about 18 hours after mixing.

I mixed the final dough, adding lots more water. I ended up with over 1200 g of dough, so I split it into two portions. The larger one went in a 2lb bread tin and the smaller portion in a lovely old farmhouse tin. I buttered and floured the tins, shaped the dough and left them to rise, covered with shower caps as per usual.

Kefir Bread

After four hours I thought they looked OK. They had more than doubled in height. I baked them in a preheated oven, starting at 200 ºC for 20 mins and then dropping the temp down to 170º C for another 30 minutes.

Kefir Crumb in the Afternoon Sun

It is very much a try it and adapt to local conditions sort of recipe, a true farmhouse loaf.

Here are my gram numbers for anyone who is interested :-


  • 200 g fresh live kefir
  • 150g bread flour – I used Waitrose Manitoba Very Strong
  • 210g room temp water
  • 2 dessertspoons of Glastonbury honey

Final Dough

  • All of the above
  • 300g bread flour – as above
  • 300g Stanway Mill all purpose ‘culinary’ flour
  • 45 g mild olive oil
  • 13g salt
  • 50-100g room temp water

Milk Keffir is one of a family of ferments. The ones I have tried to date in addition to this are the SCOBY ‘mother’ that makes vinegar; kombucha, a very similar sort of SCOBY whch makes a fizzy slightly alcoholic drink from a base of brewed tea and sugar. I have also experimented with kimchi, but found it gave me terrible indigestion, and I regularly make yoghurt and wild yeast (levain) bread.

Kefir BreadIt has surprised me to find out that so many of our foods are produced by fermentation; coffee, chocolate, beer and wine, kimchi, sauerkraut, bread, are some of the better known ones. I dabble on the edges of fermentation and for more information about kefir and the other ferments it is best to look at Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation or get one of his books, or have a good root around on the internet. I am not an expert in any of it, I just think it is great fun!

It is a glorious and fascinating world to explore and I am very pleased to have had a go at making bread using a levain that is unfamiliar to me. I was bemused to think that fermenting milk could produce enough oomph to raise a loaf of bread, but it sure does!

Kefir Bread Windowpane TestThankyou Cecilia! It is a lovely soft textured bread, which Brian says is very tasty and suits his taste perfectly. Edit: I would describe the taste as sweet with the honey and milk sugars, and very mild. If I didin’t know what was in it, I probably wouldn’t think it was anything other than a light milky wheat bread.  He had been raising sceptical eyebrows for the last couple of days while I was doing it so he has to eat his words now, once he has munched his way through the loaves!

Update and Further Notes and Links:-

SCOBY is an acronym for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.

The kefir is the coagulated and fermented curds and whey that is produced by covering the grains in milk, the grains themselves are not used in the dough, just in case you were wondering!

Since baking these first kefir loaves I have continued to bake using kefir as a preferment as an alternative to a more conventional flour and water sourdough, depending on what sort of bread I want to make. I particularly like the soft crumb that I can get with this bread.  Kefir Breads has some of the recipes of breads I have experimented with.

My favourite formula is Date Syrup Kefir Bread and this is the one I make most often.

46 thoughts on “Cecilia’s Amazing Kefir Bread – did I doubt her?

  1. sallybr

    I LOVE the shot of the crumb through the light… will have to try that in a future bread, Joanna…

    Great post, you are such an adventurous baker, always inspiring me (between you and Celia, I have enough to keep me dreaming)

    Hope it’s warming up where you are – it SNOWED yesterday here, and I thought I was going to go into cardiac arrest. A lot of pouting and complaining in our home (poor Phil)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hehe! I have been doing those shots since my very first bread blog post http://wp.me/pSFVI-6 (and you were my first commenter !) I call it the “zeb bakes windowpane shot” kind of a joke about getting a windowpane in your dough, well I thought it was funny at the time :))) The hell is it warming up here, we had SNOW this afternoon and a vicious shiver my timbers, brass monkey wind that sent us scuttling home to bake as fast as our little furry legs could carry us, hence the post xx

  2. heidiannie

    You are a true adventurer in the land of Bread Making! I love this post!
    And I’m so glad Brian liked the bread!
    This is an idea I will think upon.
    As #1 I have no kefir grains of milk.
    And #2 I am not so adventurous in the fermenting world as you.
    And #3 I am kind of at a stalled place in my life.
    But I am intrigued and excited about your beautiful loaves.
    Love the windowpane shot, as always!
    Love you, Joanna- keep warm.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I was just following Ceclila’s lead, She is a true adventurer, changing countries and careers and all. This could be tricky without kefir though. I reckon one could approximate it with a little yoghurt and yeast though if one felt like it. Yoghurt looks like kefir but it doesn’t have the yeast in it, as I understand it. I am so delighted always that you like the window shots, and even more delighted that the sun appeared just at the right time as the bread came out of the oven for me to take advantage. But oh it is cold, am going to put the electric blanket on tonight xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      Nor did I and I doubted that I could get it to ‘go’ so have been extraordinarily pleased with myself today, which is a good feeling :)

  3. ray@garlicbuddha

    I have not come across kefir grains before… Fascinating! A big thumbs up to Sandor Katz too – I love his book…. Must go find it and try something new!

    I like your new blog banner photo too :)

    I have bought myself a cast iron pan in order to try out a new way of baking bread. Pleased with the results of baking my river cottage white sourdough but currently enjoying reading “flour water salt yeast” by ken Forkish. I noted one amazon review complained that there were only about 8 recipes in the book but this only intrigued me to explore more. He goes into great detail about the variables that go into making a great loaf of bread in a domestic household oven. He uses a Dutch oven to replicate the steaming one gets in a professional oven. I had become a little dubious about the benefits of trays of boiling water and water sprays. Will look forward to experimenting and getting to understand the science a little more.

    I have read The Antidote and enjoyed it. I like his weekly Guardian column.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I came across kefir when I was a student and some hippy folk had one living on top of their kitchen cupboard and called it a ‘yoghurt plant’. I remember eyeing it askance and thinking it looked revolting, like a white brain in a jar. I still think it is a bit creepy, all the SCOBY’s are…

      I thought I would change my blog today, tried a new layout but didn’t like it so have compromised by just changing the header. That is the local stream in full flood about a month ago.

      I haven’t read Ken Forkish’s book, it sounds great. I finally got to the end of The Antidote over the weekend, I don’t read a lot of books like that, but like you I enjoy the weekly column.

  4. cecilia

    Oh excellent, I fiddle about with the recipe all the time, sometimes it is hard to write a recipe. I am so glad you made it work for you. And your loaf does look perfect, gorgeous and nutty brown. It makes great toast too. I am thrilled that you tried it. phew.. thank goodness it worked for you! c

    1. Joanna Post author

      I am so pleased you approve the look of the loaf, I think the brown colour comes from the honey and milk sugars. I left the loaves to do exactly what they wanted in the oven, no slashes, flours or toppings and am really looking forward to breakfast. It really cheered me up making them today, funny the things that make you feel happy sometimes. Thank you once again Cecilia for being you xx

      1. cecilia

        joanna what a lovely thing to say.. did I tell you I made French vanilla icecream with a cup of kefir added today, I just had a wee bowl with a cup of tea.. lovely.. the pigs enjoyed the cake!.. and now I am off to bed.. I love bed.. c

  5. spiceandmore

    Ooh I wish I had thought of freezing the kefir before I let them die a lonely death in my fridge. They got too much for me to keep up with as well – I had water kefir and milk kefir. I must buy some more and try this bread. I am so curious to find out what it tastes like. That kefir is mighty powerful stuff so in a way I am not surprised that it produced such a great looking loaf. Then again, you are bread baker extraordinaire so perhaps it is you rather than the kefir?!

    1. Joanna Post author

      It is an easy bread to make if you have some active kefir. Just two mixes, no kneading unless you feel like it and a nice slow rise. To store them the best thing apparently is to dehydrate them first and then freeze them, I rinsed mine in fresh milk and then patted them very dry and buried them in milk powder in a container before freezing them. They were in there for about three months. I am not sure they are back to fullest strength yet. In theory if this works then you should be able to use the water kefir as well I am guessing?

      1. spiceandmore

        The water kefir are not as strong/vigorous as the milk ones. Not sure they would work as well in bread. I had to feed the water ones a wedge of a lemon and a date or two – made for a rather delicious lemonade-like drink. That is why it was so much more popular in our house with the kids. They thought the milk kefir tasted like sour milk (they love yogurt but had to be forced to drink kefir).

    1. Joanna Post author

      Yes do have a go, it is really not that difficult, just the timings vary I think depending on ambient temperature but you should be able to judge that with all your experience :) x

  6. Ann

    Lovely new picture of Zeb.
    I’m impressed by your kefir bread – very adventurous and a superb looking loaf. That kefir looks rather scary stuff – I can imagine it growing and growing………..!
    Hope you are keeping warm – have just been looking at pictures of all the snow you are having.

    1. Joanna Post author

      It is a bit scary, I investigated one last year to see just what it was. They grow bigger quite quickly and seed little ones in the kefir which are just one tiny blob at first and then they expand. They are all crinkly so they look a bit like a cauliflower, but definitely remind me of brain with all the convolutions. They produce a gooey liquid and are hollow in the middle which fills up with air or CO2 or something and they are pretty strange. This snow has missed us so far, we had a couple of heavy flurries in the day but nothing settled. So pleased you like the new photo, it is a bit wintery!

  7. thefoodsage

    Very interesting post and adventurous project. The finished loaves look amazing. Out of interest, how would you describe the bread’s taste? It looks very soft.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I have edited the post to add a tasting note, good thought! I would describe the taste as sweet with the honey and milk sugars, and very mild. If I didin’t know what was in it, I probably wouldn’t think it was anything other than a light milky wheat bread.

  8. gillthepainter

    Another adventure at Zeb Towers. A beautiful result too. And such a different approach and loaf to sourdough, although you are employing the same skill sets I think.
    Nice one Joanna.

  9. My Italian Smörgåsbord

    beautiful bread and amazing how the kefir leavened it… just like sourdough! I have started to use commercial kefir to ferment my flours, but still use yeast or sourdough for leavening as I would not know where to get live kefir in Sweden. one question: to feed the live kefir, do you need flour or only water or milk? ciao! Barbara

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Barbara, thank you, it is very similar to sourdough, maybe a bit slower, but hard to say. I don’t know what would happen if I kept feeding the original preferment like a sourdough with water and flour whether it would become more like a levain or whether it would give up in the absence of milk sugar. I speculate that eventually a natural sourdough would emerge in the mix anyway, as it would if you were making a brand new starter?

      if the kefir you have will ferment the flour, then will it leaven it, ? Maybe worth trying with a little bowlful and see if you get a preferment like the one I show here?

      The live milk grains as in the photos are fed on milk not flour, but I understand there is also a variety of kefir known as water kefir which you feed with water and a nutrient like fruit juice or sugar. So far I have only tried feeding milk kefir with full fat and with semi skimmed milk but I am pretty sure one can feed it with goats milk say or other milks too.

      1. My Italian Smörgåsbord

        this is so interesting! can’t wait to get some kefir grains and start experimenting!

  10. drfugawe

    Your sun has returned! Now exhilarating – now let’s get on with the rest of spring.

    I’ve been having a renewed love affair with my two year old kim chi, pulled from the recesses of the fridge. I always heard that old kim chi was nasty stuff, but I’m finding that not to be the case. I made mine initially with a low dose of ‘heat’, and I think that suited my taste buds nicely – yesterday for lunch I chopped some of the old kim chi and heated it up quickly in a fry pan with some cooked rice.

    Wow! Great stuff – my new love. They were wrong – again!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Now the sun came out just for that loaf’s photo call but the temperature is hovering around freezing and has been since the weekend and it is COLD here, bitter wind, snow flurries, shocked daffodils not knowing where to hide, foolish blossom shuddering….

      Glad your kim chi is doing well, I haven’t ventured that way again since my first gut busting attempt!

  11. bakecakecrumbs

    I am amazed once again at the ingenuity of bread makers, at your spirit of adventure and success with your kefir loaf (which looks amazing!). And once again I’ve had to go away and read about what you’ve introduced me to – I’d never come across kefir before. Perhaps that’s my thing to learn for today!

  12. Sincerely, Emily

    The no-knead bread I make is very dense and thick (if that makes sense) and I look at this kefir bread and it looks so light and airy and makes we want to take on milk kefir grains. I have avoided them with all the other projects I have going on. I am still making kombucha and ginger beer and about to have a crock of sauerkraut fermenting on the counter. still want to start a sour dough starter…. after seeing this, I can see using kefir to make no-knead bread.

    I also got to thinking as I read your post, I might have to try using kombucha in place of water to make a no-knead bread load……

    1. Joanna Post author

      I am still not as comfortable with the kefir as the the kombucha but it was an interesting experiment. All the honey in the mix keeps the bread sweet. It had a texture something between toasting white bread and a very good ‘biscuit’ (scone in UK Engish). You could try the kombucha in a dough but I would make a preferment with it first, to make sure it wants to ferment the flour and raise the dough.

  13. Pingback: Kefir Bread Recipe » Carl Legge

  14. michaelawah

    oh this is so interesting. I have milk keffir, and you have just reminded me that, among the hundreds of bread recipes i’ve listed in my head to try, milk keffir bread is one of them. A long time ago, i tried incorporating it in the dough, but just as a substitute for part of the water, and not as a leavener/fermenter as in your case. I got a slightly sweetish bread with a tighter crumb—I guess it had the same effects on the dough as would milk/yoghurt—but nothing special otherwise. You’ve reminded me that I must have a long overdue go at it again. I’ve even wondered what would happen if i start a leaven fed solely on milk keffir, hmm.. But i try not to go down that road, seeing that i’ve got enough fermented stuff on my hands! I wonder though if a bread leavened by keffir, minus any honey or sweetener that would mask the taste, would have a special taste to it, and how it would compare to one made with a leaven fed solely and regularly on keffir, and how this leaven would take to different flours…

    I see that you’ve used extra strong manitoba bread flour in the pre-ferment if you like. Why did you choose extra strong flour? Did you think the pre-ferment needed it?

    And about milk keffir, you say yours multiply with alacrity? How often do you feed it? And at what temp do you leave it at? I’m terrible with mine. I give it milk and then in it goes into the fridge straightaway where it can stay untended for weeks… (my water keffir has also been languishing for months since summer. I tend to like it in warm weather, and since that is severely lacking this year…). But even when i used to feed my milk keffir slightly more regularly, it never once multiplied. Perhaps it doesn’t take to me:) the water keffir, on the other hand, can double.

    And thanks for the tip on freezing milk keffir, should i ever have more than my share of it, but i doubt so!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Well I suppose it is making a levain with it isn’t it? Though I only used it in the one bread and didn’t save any and refeed it. I chose the extra strong flour because the original recipe from Ceclia talks about leaving it for a good long time before incorporating it into the final dough, but no reason apart from that. I don’t know much about kefir really. I have read chunks of Dom’s site but I haven’t got it all in my head – that really is the go to site for all kefir information.http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html

      As to the grains I have, at the moment I am feeding them on semi skimmed organic milk, I find full cream milk gives me too rich an end product. My kitchen varies between 17 C and 21 C if the heating is on. (Still cold and damp here). If I leave it out it ferments and bubbles madly within about 12 hours. If I put it in the fridge it takes about five days to a week to ferment and doesn’t bubble. If I leave it out the grains grow big and fat and juicy and start making little ones. Nothing much happens in the fridge.

      If the kefir is a yeast bacteria colony suited to living in milk then it probably isn’t the best culture in the world to convert to a flour and water diet, probably the yeasts that are on the flour are better for that, but I can only hypothesize as I am not a scientist :)

      1. michaelawah

        thanks for the reply. after reading your post, i am now attempting to be kind to my milk keffir by leaving it out of the fridge and feeding it regularly. This morning is the first day; we’ll see how it goes. It will probably need many feeds to be properly resuscitated. Then again, maybe it’s the strain of milk keffir? I’ve read that there are many strains of it. Dom’s site is quite something, isn’t it. I always tell himself to try making keffir cheese.

        when i succeed in making ths milk keffir bread, I’ll report back.

  15. christelw

    Hello All

    I need some help or advice.

    The bread I bake is dense and brittle, why???

    What I use and do is this:
    2 cups of Milk Kefir
    4 cups of whole wheat flour
    1/3 cup of rye flour
    1 tsp salt
    1/2 cup of oil

    I mix/kneed all with the dough hook for 10 minutes and them put the dough in the warm cupboard for 24 hours. Then I kneed it again until the dough comes together, transfer it to the baking form and put it in the oven for about 6 hours on aprx 35˚C for the second rise. Then I bake it for 60 minutes on 180˚C.

    The end result tastes good but it crumbles like a slice of cake.

    I appreciate any sugestions.

    With greetings from down under New Zealand

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Christel, you are using a quite different method and ingredients from the one I used here and without replicating what you do I don’t know quite what to suggest. Was the kefir you use bubbling and active with yeasts from a home made source or was it commercially bought kefir? I don’t know if the commercial stuff works the same, I haven’t tried that either.

      I used white stoneground bread flour or bakers flour as I think it is called in Australia not rye and wholemeal (wholewheat). The flours you use will make a huge difference to the end result.

      All best, Joanna

  16. Pingback: Milk Kefir Bread, and what we have in common | ofbreadandquinces

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hey that looks just great. I will write to you over on your blog in a moment. I think the grains get bigger in the first place and then I think bits break off and form new grains of their own and then there are the few little tiny single cell blobbies that tend to slip through the sieve but do eventually form new grains too. I am currently feeding the kef with goats milk, and find it much nicer, less of an alcoholic thing going on in there. And I collect the fermented kefir over a few days, strain it, as you would to make labneh, boiled muslin and all that, and then I press it a bit and salt it and it makes lovely fresh light spreadable cheese with a mild flavour. I am not that keen on drinking it to be honest. I put the whey in my bread, so that is what I do for now. I reckon you could use it as buttermilk equivalent for scones and pancakes and so on. I don’t make that much at any one time, maybe a 1/4 to 1/2 a litre. If the grains get too bulky I either give them away or dispose of them.

      1. michaelawah

        Yes, labneh was on the agenda! Until I went and drank up the milk haha. I was very surprised to discover that since a few days ago, the alcohol taste was hardly present even though I had collected the strained milk in a jar over a few days. I would have expected a sour and strong alcohol fizz. Another mystery… I must try goat’s milk then, although I don’t really like the taste of it. I read on Dom’s site that using raw milk gives uneven results; I would have thought the kefir would prefer raw milk. And yupe, I’ve used it in pancakes and even soups. I imagine it would be great as a soaker liquid, would break down all those whole grains and seeds and releasing of phytic acid etc.

        1. Joanna Post author

          The relationship between the yeasts and the bacteria is always a bit of a mystery, as you said on your post, short of having a lab and being able to really work out what is going on, we can only speculate about temperature and process. I am not keen on goats milk per se, but it seems to make a lovely gentle kefir, but then I don’t have your raw cow’s milk to experiment with here. The goat’s milk I have access to is from the supermarkets so it too has been pasteurized. I can get two sorts, one is St Helens and is very mild in flavour, the other one is more goaty. I have made a long time ago a bread using a piima culture (yoghurt) to soak grains – a Finnish style bread, the recipe was from a poster on Dan Lepard’s old forum. A sort of soft grain milky sandwich loaf, it was very good, I should look at the recipe again and give it a spin. Here it is if you are curious … https://zebbakes.com/2010/08/05/piima-bread-for-moomins/

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