A few years ago, someone gave me water and milk kefir grains, and I’ve always wanted to experiment with these in relation to bread-baking. All this was put on the back burner until i saw Joanna’s post. She also pointed me to Carl’s attempt. I decided it was time to reactivate my poor milk kefir grains that mostly languish in their pool of milk in the fridge. I made an attempt based on these two recipes.
150g Fermented milk using kefir grains (no grains!)
75g Strong flour
All of preferment above
300g T65 flour
25g Olive oil
30g Fermented milk using kefir grains (again, no grains)
This bread required a special kind of patience, at least in the case of my kefir. When I first mixed the preferment, the texture was reminiscent of crepe batter, thin and in need of much whisking so the flour would not clump. Carl and Joanna cautioned that it would take a long time for the preferment to be ready, anything between 12-18 hours. Perhaps my kefir was still sluggish, perhaps it was because the temperature took a dip, but mine never doubled or showed signs of great activity. I should have taken photos, but if you look at Joanna’s photo of her preferment, it has the bubbles and poofy surface of a leaven, that is to say, something recognizable. Mine never came anywhere near. It would show promising signs of activity then back down. At the 20-hour mark, I thought I had two options: throw or try anyway. Of course, I had to try 🙂 So with great skepticism, I plodded ahead.
Both Joanna and Carl said they added extra water accordingly. On hindsight I could have gone for a higher hydration, but since I was not expecting much out of it anyway, I stopped when the dough seemed to come together. I used more KEFIR instead of water because I thought it might find that extra kick helpful! I probably overhandled the dough because I changed tins, then decided to shape it into two rolls instead of one long one, probably deflating more than one air bubble. Again, there was not much sign of life in the final dough—until I thought I’ll leave it in a spot of sunshine on the doorstep.
That’s where I realized my milk kefir and I are more alike than we think. We do not take kindly to the cold. Although kefir is said to originate from the Caucasus, which is anything but warm. In less than an hour, the dough had miraculously puffed up to almost double its size. I had noticed already when feeding the grains that it was quite sensitive to temperature. We read all the time about proofing dough at ‘room temperature’, but it’s still funny to see how a matter of a few degrees can make all the difference. (Btw, this idealized ‘room temperature’ always makes me laugh because one man’s room temperature is another’s sauna or fridge, just whose room temp are we talking about anyway???)
Anyway, so I happily proceeded to bake it, at too high a temp, which browned it too fast. But it was all right. Taste-wise, I can’t say it is any different from an enriched dough, except for a certain coolness. On the other hand, in spite of the very long fermentation, there was no hint of sourness at all. I’ve made sourdough brioches and pan de mie before, and I’ve been able to detect a slight tang in some of them. I wish I could scrutinize these colonies of yeast and bacteria under the microscope and see just how similar or different they are from the ones in the usual sourdough leavens. We had these over three days and I noticed they did not dry out at all. Hmm, I miss them already.
I’ll like to make these again, with a higher hydration and cutting out the oil and honey to perhaps get at a truer taste of a kefir bread. But first I’ll like to try to bake side by side loaves made from a usual water-, water kefir-, and milk-kefir fed leaven. Knowing me and my propensity to get distracted, this will take ages. I’ll also have to take the water kefir out of storage! Anyway, thanks to Joanna, Carl, and another blogger Cecilia, who sparked off Joanna and Carl’s attempts!