Date Syrup Kefir Bread

Date Syrup Kefir Bread

10th August 2013

Here is one for my kefir buddies!

For those of you reading this for the first time, kefir is a living fermented product made by an organism commonly referred to as a ‘kefir grain’.

Kefir Grain Zeb Bakes It isn’t a grain but a culture in the acetobacter family that includes kombucha and vinegar mother, ginger beer plants and so on,  that looks a bit like a brain or a cauliflower. It grows and lives in milk but is chiefly interested it would seem in the sugars that it finds in there. You can either get kefir grains from a nearby friend who has spare or buy them online from various sources.  I believe you can buy kefir in cartons in some places, I have no idea if that would work to leaven bread as I have no experience of it.

 Once you have some healthy grains, they should last a long time, reproducing and being happy providing you treat them right.  There are various websites devoted to all things kefir if you have a little search. I don’t drink kefir unlike some people, but I do make a sort of soft cheese with it which I love and I bake bread, using it as an alternative to both conventional yeast and sourdough starters.

I have changed the formula I have used previously for the kefir bread to make a pre-ferment which doesn’t separate into a watery layer and a top bubbly layer. I am pleased with the results this new formula gives. The preferment came out looking much more like a regular sourdough ferment though it smells nothing like it.

My formula makes two large 900 gram loaves, so you will need to cut the quantities back if this makes too much bread for you. I have frozen one of my loaves from this bake.

I was inspired by Fran who blogs half a world away in Tasmania at The Road to Serendipity –  she is expert in kefir and its ways.  She juggles her feeding routines between home made soya milk and milk and has found that kefir grains are greedy for her home made date paste. I don’t have any date paste but I do have Basra date syrup* and I thought this might give a lovely colour to the finished loaf as well as be less sweet and insistent in taste as the honey I have been using up to now.

Date Syrup Kefir Bread Crumb shot

We really like this bread. It ticks the box of having a soft open sourdough style crumb, no sour taste (so not one for all you acid bread lovers) a bit of extra calcium for me and a gentle subtle flavour and a lovely colour crumb. It is as good with sliced chicken and garden lettuce as it is for morning toast. I am going to make this one again.

Date Syrup Kefir Bread round

Zeb Bakes Date Syrup Kefir Bread

Started 12 midday Thursday  : room temp 22 ºc

Make a preferment with:-

  • 150g  room temperature water
  • 200g fresh kefir (made with semi skimmed St Helens goats’ milk)
  • 250g  strong (bread) flour
  • 50g Basra date syrup

Mix these well together and leave in a covered bowl for approximately 18 hours in a warm room (20 – 22 C)  at which point it should be bubbling and thick and looking ready to go.

Ingredients for the final dough:-

  • All of the preferment (as above)
  • 850g bread flour ( I used a mix of 350g of Stanway Mill bread flour and 300 g of Waitrose Very Strong and 200g of Carrs bread flour)
  • 282 – 320g  water ( I find the amount of water I need can vary by up to 50g or so)
  • 20g salt
  • 30g melted butter
  1. Using a Kenwood Mixer I put the starter in first, added the water and then the flours and mixed for about three minutes on the lowest speed.
  2. Leave to develop in the bowl for 20 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and trickle the melted butter in while the mixer is going and continue mixing till the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
  4. You may need to adjust the dough with more water if your flour is very absorbent.
  5. (If you mix by hand then go with a more traditional order of ingredients, i.e. mix the water and starter together and add these into your bowl of flour. )
  6. I took the dough out once it was reasonably developed and put it into a big bowl, covered with a teatowel, and left it for about three hours. During this time I folded it in the bowl twice, as much to see how the fermentation was progressing as anything. Folding in the bowl is simply picking up the dough from one side and pulling it out and over the main bulk of the dough, like light kneading except you don’t put it on a board. You can put it on a board. There are no rules here!
  7. Once it was showing good signs of activity and had increased in size by roughly a half. I  weighed it into two equal portions.  Then I split those two portions in the ratio 85:15 using the % function on my scales. If you don’t have one of those, it would be about 135g for the small ball to 765g for the main ball.
  8. With the first portion I made a boule which I divided into four quartiles with a thin dowel rod and made a smaller boule with the small ball and put that in the middle.
  9. With the second portion I made a pointy ended baton and then a plait with the remaining ball which I placed along the top of the dough – because the dough had such a long second prove this didn’t come out quite as I had hoped but I like the effect that it gives anyway. A good way to create a nice looking effect on a loaf if you are finding slashing difficult.
  10. I put both loaves on baking paper on trays and tucked them inside clean binliners to prove.
  11. Second proof time was about three hours. Be patient, these are just as slow as a more traditional sourdough to rise.
  12. I eggwashed the crust with a mixture of egg yolk and kefir whey and sprinkled a few sesame seeds on top for interest.
  13. Bake in a preheated oven (with steam) either on the trays or slide them off onto a baking stone or kiln shelf which is what I use rather than a stone.
  14. Starting at 220 ºC for the first twenty minutes and then dropping back by stages to 190 ºC for the last ten minutes of the bake.  About 40 – 45 minutes in all.
  15. Leave to cool on a rack as normal once you are satisfied the loaf is cooked, a nice hollow sound when you thump it is a good sign.
  16. For a .pdf file of the recipe click here → Date Kefir Recipe.pdf.

Date Syrup Kefir Bread  and Zeb

I was wondering if Fran or anyone else would consider making this using soya fed kefir and see if it performs the same magic trick of leavening the bread. I suppose the next step on from that would be to see how it does with gluten free flours and then all those of you who don’t eat either dairy or gluten would have another trick up your sleeves.  I am not very experienced in the gluten free world, but I know it is very popular these days so it would be good to know if this worked. (* Sept 2013 I tried making a perferment with Doves GF white blend and it ferments it but it is very smelly and sulphorous and I didn’t fancy baking with it, something in it that wasn’t to the kefir’s taste? Wish I was more of a scientist…)

*Basra Date Syrup is available online and you can find it in quite a few shops in Bristol these days, like Bristol Sweet Mart in St Marks Road, Easton.

My camera is away at the menders so hope these pictures give you a reasonable idea of how the bread came out, a borrowed camera is never quite the same.

Date Syrup Kefir Bread 2

 And now you can see how Fran (Narf7) got on with this when she adapted it brilliantly to her vegan kefir by clicking here and visiting her Tasmanian kitchen.

44 thoughts on “Date Syrup Kefir Bread

  1. Emily

    Totally fascinating; it is like magic! So do we assume this acetobacter critter exhales CO2 as a yeast cell would? I like the challah-like glaze and sesame seeds, too.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Yes I believe so. the internet sources such as Dom’s site describe kefir as a bio matrix of yeast and lactic acid bacteria etc, so produces some alchohol content as well as CO2. I am not a scientist so am wary of writing as if I know firsthand that much about it Emily. I have read around but as an ex teacher I don’t post stuff unless I am certain of my sources. I haven’t done long experiments with the culture, i.e. doing multiple refreshes as you would with a traditional sourdough, so don’t know if it would become more sourdough like over time. I have looked for a long time for a way to get a mild soft textured non-commercial yeast bread and this I think is it.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thank you! The hands on time isn’t usually that long. Though sitting down and trying to figure out the maths sometimes makes me scratch my head a bit ! This time I played with shaping a bit more elaborately than I do normally, so I spent maybe an extra twenty minutes. Otherwise, it is mix, leave, wait, shape, wait, bake. Hands on time normally, if you exclude grabbing the ingredients, maybe 15 minutes or so.

  2. heidiannie

    Beautiful. Really beautiful.
    I am not really good with extra responsibilities- even sourdough is hard for me to keep up with. My niece teases me about having to feed the sourdough “kitty” as I don’t really like to care for animals, or water plants- but I have to keep feeding the sourdough. I hate to think about the stress kefir would add to my life ;)
    I do like the look of that texture and color, however!
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thank you Heidi, I was so pleased with how it came out that I just wanted to show you all and share with those who I know are playing around with using kefir for bread. I think that one of the reasons regular yeast is justifably so popular, useful and ubiquitous is that it comes in a nice dried form which doesn’t require looking after. I like yeast !

      And you are right this is an extra thing to remember and fret about – but one can stash the grains in the freezer, buried in milk powder, when it all becomes too much. I have been putting the jar with the grains and milk in the fridge when it has been so hot and they slow right down in there.

  3. maree

    Yum!! The photos look good enough to eat Joanna. I wouldnt mind a slice right now to finish off breakie. I love the idea of using date syrup. I have a bit of a thing about dates at the moment particually when combined with Orange Flower Water…its a great combination in baking. Have fun xx.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Maree, hope all is going well with the baking project. I thought about adding chopped dates into the bread, but I thought I would see how it worked as a ‘straight’ bread first. Hope all’s well !

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Sally, I must get into date syrup more, I use it mostly in marinades and haven’t used it much in baking to date.

  4. cityhippyfarmgirl

    I’m so trying to get on to the kefir wagon at the moment and I’m having a bugger of a time trying to find water kefir grains. (I don’t want the milk ones.) I’m loving how your loaf turned out though Joanna. Isn’t bacteria wonderful :-)
    I strained off some of my sauerkraut yesterday for the liquid to go into my bread…the more bacteria the merrier.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Maybe a blog reader would be able to help you source some water kefir? It’s one that I am not particularly interested in, but then I am not big on sweetened drinks. I don’t drink the milk kefir, just use it for other things. Brave you making sauerkraut! I haven’t really got into that side of the Ferment Nation, my one experiment with kimchi left us with terrible indigestion.

  5. hotlyspiced

    The bread looks lovely. I haven’t heard of kefir grains. I love the image of the sliced bread in the basket and in the background is a stunning and very colourful garden (and a gorgeous dog too of course) xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hee hee the dog thought maybe I would leave the basket there and he could borrow a slice. It is a very normal tasting sort of bread, you wouldn’t know that it had been leavened with something as strange as fizzy milk :)

  6. Ann

    Zeb looks as if he would like a slice of that gorgeous bread – and so would I. I must see if I can get hold of some date syrup but I don’t think I could cope with kefir – I’m lucky that George the sourdough starter does not mind being abandoned in the fridge for long periods. Date syrup might be nice in those buns/teacakes – the latest batch had dates, apricots and ginger in them but they haven’t been delivered yet so I will await the verdict. So far the favourite is the poor man’s gibassier version.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I would be delighted to share with you Ann and see what you think of it. There are all sorts of different yeast and lactic acid bacteria out there which can ferment flour and leaven a loaf, I have read in old books about potato yeasts and fruit yeasts, the world teems with yeasts and the ones that people use are the ones that are readily available to them and consistent. This project demonstrates another way of doing it, it has good points and bad points. The bad point is that you have to feed it with milk and strain and sieve it and wash the jar out carefully, the good point is that you can choose which milk to use and get a lovely product which has mulitiple uses. I think in a very hot climate it wouldn’t be particularly easy to manage and you would need to keep it in a cooler of some sort.

      I bought buns yesterday from a lovely artisan baker in the city called Laura Hart who has taken on a premise inside one of the railway arches at Temple Meads, the main station for Bristol. I bought her almond apricot danishes, bacon and egg muffins, and two almond croissants and a loaf of her sesame crusted sourdough. It is a lovely happy bakery!

  7. maree

    The baking project is going really well, thankyou for asking. Its so enjoyable that it doesnt feel like work at all. I love the 6:00am start as you can really make the most of each day. Being a very small venue I make small quantities but with lots of variation. Sweet and savoury muffins and brioche, calzone, friands, nonettes, madeleines and mini tarts etc.
    Large cakes dont seem to go very well so I am also playing around with reducing std recipies into mini cake sizes. A lot more work but the customers like it, and it sells well.
    Take care:)

    1. Joanna Post author

      The visual attraction of the small cake – I had to look up nonettes, does it refer to the ring that you bake them in? There seem to be lots of different sorts of nonettes. I came across a mini dessert thing in the noodle bar the other day, three tastes of their desserts on a plate. The London french patisserie cafe Valeries, many. many years ago, before it was a chain franchise like now, used to just plonk a plate of cakes on the table along with your coffee and then would charge you depending on what you helped yourself too. A bygone age :)

      1. maree

        The nonettes that I make are very similar to a friands ie mainly ground almonds, but are flavoured with ginger and home made Orange marmalade…a splodge in the middle. They are finished with a light lemon icing that forms a glassy crust. Not sure where the name comes from but they are tasty.

  8. Melanie

    I am jealous! Such wonderful looking bread!! I wish I had as much patience and persistence as you do to learn new techniques in baking and cooking. Looks like Zeb is very interested in that bread too.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I make less bread experiments than I used to, I only wrote about this as a follow up to the earlier posts. All owed to Celi at thekitchensgarden as I wouldn’t have tried this without her inspiration.

      It has good keeping qualities too!

  9. sallybr

    Absolutely awesome! You always take bread baking to another level… love the color of the crumb and the way it is moderately open, it seems moist and smooth, with a nice crust, not too hard, not too soft… wow, I can ALMOST taste it!


    1. Joanna Post author

      You are very sweet, you should also pop over to ofbreadandquinces and see his awesome water kefir sage and hazelnut loaf. Wow!

      You would find this straightforward if you had the kefir I think, very similar to handling sourdough, and maybe you would whisk one of the kefir off to your lab to see what is really going on? :) I reckon you could make a more open crumb with a higher hydration – If you count the kefir and syrup etc as liquids this is around 65%, so not that high.

  10. michaelawah

    Oh Joanna, you’ve gone and done it again!! Now here’s another kefir must make!!!!
    This is gorgeous. It looks so light and lofty. I love the shot of the two halves on what must be the thickest bread board i’ve ever seen. The crumb looks really soft and very inviting, and the date syrup lends it such a nice overall tone… I would love to be there slathering butter on this one. I totally agree on the date and sesame combination. I’ve put dates and sesame before in bread, and the mix is very good. I don’t really care for dates on their own (unless they’re medjool dates) but together they’re something.

    So what’s diff abt this formula is that the qty of water+kefir combined is proportionately (compared to the flour qty) greater than in the last formula? And there is more kefir as well? It’s a good idea. The preferment in the last formula was quite watery. I should, must try this, just to see if I can get a proper preferment going.

    Re date syrup, the Middle Eastern shops here have date, carob, blackberry and grape molasses. I can’t tell you how I itch to buy them all!

    Cityhippyfarmgirl: i have water kefir grains. They are not in the best of health (my fault entirely for the neglect) but if you would like some, I could send them to you, if they can be sent??? (Sorry Joanna for hijacking your space to reply.)

    1. Joanna Post author

      I think the main difference is that the preferment has more flour, I decided, like you, that I didn’t think it should be watery and separating at the same time that it was ripening, it was somehow not quite how I imagine a preferment to be, so I experimented and this was the result. I have yet to repeat it and double check my numbers. I think the place to adjust the hydration of the dough is in the final mix, so for a more open crumb than this one should simply up the final water, or mix in fresh kefir at that stage?

      I don’t know if date molasses has some preservative quality but I just finished one loaf today and it was still soft. I Don’t laugh, but I ordered the Nawal Nasrallah book because of your blog; I read your review and have just started reading it today and it is a joy. I see date molasses have been used for a very very long time indeed to sweeten bread. I have the grape molasses too, pekmez, haven’t tried that as an alternative in bread yet. I think I bought it for an aubergine dish or something. I haven’t come across blackberry, does it have an Arabic name?

      Brydie (Cityhippyfarmgirl) lives in Australia and I am not sure that one can send live things through the post with their quarrantine restrictions which are pretty strict. But I will email her to tell her about your kind offer :)

  11. michaelawah

    i am very envious. I have absolutely no time to read now, and even if I did, I feel the wrath and disdainful stare of the piles of unread and half-read books lying around… I had no idea date molasses were actually used in bread!!! I bet the recipes will be winners too.
    I’ll look up the name of the molasses the next time I pop by.

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    1. Joanna Post author

      It has a lovely flavour, not as strong as molasses or honey, I guess something between a malt syrup and a fruit syrup. I have also tried grape molasses, or pekmez, which has a slightly medicinal quality to it. I am guessing that the yeast component of the kefir culture finds it a good and easy source of food. I experimented over a week or so this last month with just feeding and re-feeding the kefir preferment with flour and water as you would a regular sourdough and it kept going for a while but I felt it became less and less active, so for a long term flour and water based starter I would stick to one’s regular culture which has organisms which have self selected for that environment.

  13. narf77

    I am finally back from the wilderness! We have been away sorting out our studies and beavering away in order to get ahead and enjoy our holidays next week. I get back and my name is up in lights…I am blushing :). I am going to give this recipe a go and see if my non-dairy kefir will work. I know it has yeast in it because it bubbles and fizzes and when I was away with my visiting friend and left Steve in charge of the kefir routine (where all he had to do was open the lid of the container of it and didn’t…) I came back, went to unscrew the top and it blew straight out of the fridge!!!! I now have a kefir that sulks when I put it back into regular milk because it is wholeheartedly addicted to date paste. Date syrup is just thin date paste as far as I can see. I am experimenting with using pureed cooked apple along with the dates and am trying to find the best regime for my happy kefir babies. Can’t wait to give this recipe a whirl and see if Brunhilda can bake something that I would be proud to share with you all :). Cheers for making me feel a million dollars today, absence does make the heart grow fonder ;)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hello! Waves madly! I know you have been super busy with the birthday and the studies! Would be honoured it you give it a whirl one day in the future – be prepared to add more water to the final dough as flours vary so much in their ‘thirstiness’. I just made a variation on this with 50 / 50 wholemeal and white flour and it is just fine. In other experiments recently I tried feeding the kefir with a branded gluten free flour and it produced a very eggy stinky thing, it was not amused by that at all, ‘oh no’ it said, that was a step too far and it wasn’t particularly convinced when I experimented and refed the original flour fed one over a few days with just flour and water, sulked in fact and went into a decline rather than adapting. But as one makes fresh kefir all the time there is no need to do that. Allow a good 18 hours or so for the kefir to make the first preferment and then away you go, use it as you would a sourdough starter. :)

      1. narf77

        HIIIII! Waving back furiously :). I can’t wait to give this a go. A friend has been making kefir bread for a while but with sugar. I love the idea of date paste and will make a straight loaf with my non-dairy kefir first up to see how she flies. My guess is that I will need more flour as my non-dairy kefir isn’t thick like normal kefir unless I have used a lot of date paste. I am getting excited about this! :)

  14. narf77

    I just put the pre-ferment together. As someone who hasn’t baked much with anything other than regular yeast, this is interesting. My non-dairy kefir is quite virulent and explosive so I figure it has enough “oomph” to do the job. I will let you know how it goes when I bake it. Fingers crossed…this is exciting! :) I might even have to do a post about it ;)

    1. Joanna Post author

      ooh! treat it as scientific discovery and then if it goes spectacularly wrong, you can go ah ha, well that didn’t work and now we know :) I tried feeding the dairy kefir with gluten free flour and date syrup and it produced the most pongy ‘thing’ ever. If this one ferments much quicker than the 18 hours or so the dairy takes then maybe use a proportion of it to make a loaf, rather than two big loaves. Shall I work some numbers out to try? Maybe a 1/3 or so would give you a reasonable test loaf. You may need more or less water in the final dough, that is the one number that varies a lot depending on what flour you use. I was reading about Callington Mill the other day, is that anywhere near you?

      PS Dan Lepard has a lovely bread recipe with soya milk and linseeds which one might be able to adapt to this too, just remembered it!

      1. narf77

        It IS very exciting isn’t it! We are treading on territory that as far as I am aware, no-one has trod before :). I put the preferment into the bowl at 11am. It’s not a very warm day here and it’s now 4.38pm but it is bubbling very slightly so it is thinking about getting active. I would love you to suggest as I have NO idea what I am doing here. I have never used a preferment before and have only baked straight yeasted bread of the “regular” kind. I will do whatever you say as I want this bread to have the best chance of working. Cheers in advance for your advice and assistance and we can be biochemists together! :)

          1. narf77

            Its 4am, just got up and the preferment has risen well and smells nice and yeasty/kefiry. Can’t get the mixer cranking quite yet as Steve would have something to say about it…it is Sunday you know woman!!! ;). Might take my mind off the defeat that my political party just got slathered in…slathered like bread in French butter and they are just about to be eaten with relish…sigh…oh well, at least I can bake some bread! ;)

  15. Joanna Post author

    The thing to do is to have a good sniff of the preferment after about 12-14 hours, if it smells nice, I know that sounds subjective, and is bubbling away a bit like a hot mud pool then mix the dough, if it smells ok but could be a bit bubblier leave it a bit longer. if it smells very acidic or vinegary it might have gone a bit far. If it smells of rotten eggs, like the one I just did with the gluten free flour, well, you could try it, the smell would probably go on baking, depends on your experimental frame of mind :)

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  17. rabidlittlehippy

    Hi, of from Narf’s blog to try this out. Sadly the free ferment has had closer to 30 (or even more maybe) hours to ferment as e day just got away from us. If I was still a drinker I would be dipping in to try it! Boozy much? ;) Still I’m giving it a try and we shall see how we go. I hope to have more success than my sourdough which I can currently manage teeth breaking heavy but very tasty sourdough loaves. Light and fluffy is only manageable with my daughters fluffy hair. ;) Kefir however I seem unable to kill no matter how hard I try. I’ll let you know how we go. :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks for visiting and nice to meet you. The preferment should look thick and bubbly before you mix the final dough but give it a go and keep track of what you do. Good luck :)

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