Kefir is usually thought of as a fermented milk drink, however this fascinating culture can ferment other substrates as well. It works amazingly well with flour, this no doubt due to the yeast in the grains. This milk free sourdough recipe, aimed at people on special milk free diets and vegans, is the result of some busy experimenting in the kitchen. Bearing in mind that sourdough bread is considered by some people as advanced baking, I have tried to explain things with great detail in order to tempt novices to have a go. Do not be daunted by its length, you will soon get the hang of it. Of course it takes longer to make than ordinary bread, but the results are very rewarding.
To make life easier I keep the kefir grains inside a bag. I use a 8x19 cm/ 3x7.5 inches bag made out of dress net, which is a synthetic material with a 1 mm mesh. However if you prefer to sieve the grains, like in the common method for making fermented milk, this shouldn't be a problem as I made sure that the starter was thin enough for sieving.
The host of micro organisms in the kefir granules can, very reliably, create a good milk free sourdough starter. Here it is what you will need to have your own in a couple of days or so.
Mix the flour with the water so that you get a lump free thin batter, this may be done directly in the jar. Pop in the kefir grains, cover and leave at room temperature preferably in a place where you can watch what is going on. You will notice that soon the contents of the jar will settle into two distinct layers: the flour sits at the bottom and the aqueous layer above it has a creamish to grey colour, which is normal. The latter is where the bag prefers to be, and soon you can see bubbles coming up from the flour below. When the flour is studded all over with bubbles the starter is ready. It behaves very much like fermented milk and even has a very similar pleasant smell. Put it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
For those unfamiliar with sourdough bread making this is an intermediate stage necessary to increase the bulk of your fermented flour in order to enable you to make a big batch of bread. The general procedure is: (i) Bring your starter jar to room temperature to reactivate the culture. (ii- a) If the grains are in a bag remove it and tip the jar contents in a medium sized bowl. (ii - b) If the grains are loose, stir the starter very well and then sieve it through a colander over a medium sized bowl. If you have trouble recovering the grains then I strongly advise you to try a bag instead. (iii) Put the precious grains back in a clean jar - resist the temptation to wash them as this is known to slow its growth - and proceed like for the starter. If using a bag give it a good shake in the batter to make sure that the mesh is clear. The beauty of this method is that you will always have your starter. The more you use the better it will work. (iv) Now back to the medium sized bowl with the grain free batter, add to it:
Mix the whole thing vigorously with a wooden spoon, cover with a damp cloth or plastic, and leave overnight in a very warm place. I put mine in the airing cupboard. Next day, if everything goes well, it will indeed look like a sponge and so you will be ready for the last stage.
Now you might ask, quite rightly, which flours could be used? The answer to that is any that are used in sourdough bread recipes. The experienced baker can easily adapt any recipes to this kefir sourdough. It is all a matter of taste or diet. For the beginners sake I give here a recipe that should give a lightish bread. I am living in the United Kingdom where the home grown wheat has very low gluten, supermarkets sell their own 'strong brown bread flour' which, I suspect, has some imported high gluten flour. I chose that one because it gives a lighter bread. Whatever flours you decide to use, add the water slowly and stop when the dough gets dry enough to knead.
Oven at 220º C, 425º F, gas mark 7.
Tip the sponge in a large bowl and add it to the flours, salt, yeast and oil. Slowly add enough water to obtain a good kneading dough. Knead vigorously until the dough is soft and elastic. Cover with plastic or damp cloth, and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled. Knock down, divide in three equal portions, put them in well oiled tins. Cover again, this time with oiled cling film so that when you remove it doesn't stick to the dough and deflate it. When well risen, remove the cling film and bake in a very hot oven for about 35 to 40 minutes or until it sounds hollow. Cool on racks.
If you like to make bread entirely without baker's yeast I suggest, to start with, you do it with half the listed dough ingredients. It will take longer to rise but will get there in the end. I have tried it with half spelt and half strong white flours and it was indeed a very tasty compact and good keeping bread. Good luck with your experiments and, by the way, I would love some feed back from you.