11th March 2013
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.
I 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.
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.
It was separating out below.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
It 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!
Thankyou 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:-
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.