For somewhere near eight years of my life I battled stomach pains so intense that I would curl up in a ball for a day or two waiting for it to go away. I tried and failed to chart what was causing it. When I married my wife, at the time a chef, I asked her to help me figure it out. It seemed obvious it was food related but it was so sporadic when it would hit.
We tried a great variety of different diets to pin point what was happening. We tried removing lactose, gluten, and various other things, and while some of them seemed to alleviate some of the other symptoms of my stomach issues, none of them took away the sharp pains. One of the last resorts we went to was trying probiotics to see if that would do anything, and amazingly it did! Probiotics reduced the amount of time I laid in pain and if I was able to sense it coming I could take a pill and eliminate the pain before it started. But it required constant vigilance to retain a normal feeling stomach.
I wasn’t quite satisfied with it as I believe we can fix many of our bodies health issues by proper dieting and I’d rather work at doing that than taking a mystery pill to fix it. Probiotics are a concentrated form of bacteria designed to bring your stomach back into balance. Yogurt is known to be one of the best sources of natural probiotics, but it didn’t serve me well. And so for a year or two we continued this delicate balance, with no idea what might fix this dieting issue.
Around this time last year, we were watching The Great British Baking Show and I saw a baker bring out a tub of some gooey substance that he claimed he kept in his closet. Steph and I had a conversation about what it was (sourdough starter) and I got super excited about the idea of making bread with home grown yeast. Steph began doing some research on it and found a blog where a mom talked about all of her children having stomach issues and starting her own bread using sourdough starter (levain) fixed all of their issues. With even more excitement we began our own levain. It instantly healed my stomach but after a month of baking bread we forgot about feeding our levain and returned to our normal dieting regime.
Six months or so later we decided to restart our bread making (both for need of my stomach and also for the delicious results of these efforts). As part of restarting our levain, we decided to buy a book and work with it to get things going much better. Steph did some research and found Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish and so began some amazing food experiments.
Book Review – Flour Water Salt Yeast
Ken Forkish writes much about the history of bread, the benefits and drawbacks of various flours, yeasts, and why you only need four ingredients to make a delicious bread. With exclusion to one recipe in his book, all of his bread recipes are constructed from only flour, water, salt, and yeast. (That one recipe is bacon bread, because what isn’t improved with a dead pig? Really, nothing.)
If you want to try making bread with or without levain this book will tell you how to do it and gives you recipes to practice with and suggestions for how you can tweak them into something of your very own.
Ken talks at length about how the best flavored breads come, not from commercial yeast, but from a levain you grow yourself. His method of growing one is very different than what we tried when we did our little bit of internet research the first time, and I think it has a lot to do with how scientific he gets with his approach. Throughout the book he includes very engaging stories of his successes and failures in the baking world. Having made a good number of the recipes I can also say that his theory that all you need is these four ingredients to create an abundance of delicious flavors is very well proven.
This books makes me feel like a bread expert, like I can figure out any issue with the bread. On a knowledge level that might even be true, I have solved several issues, but on a practical level I have trouble working the dough. I simple can’t say enough good things about this book. If you want to know how to bake bread, get this book… it’ll make it seem like baking is as simple as eating cake.
Overall, I give this book five stars.
Next Up: World Sourdoughs from Antiquity by Ed Wood