Milk Kefir Bread, and what we have in common

milk kefir crumb
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!)
50g Water
75g Strong flour
15g Honey

Final Dough
All of preferment above
300g T65 flour
25g Olive oil
6g Salt
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!

milk kefir loaf

8 thoughts on “Milk Kefir Bread, and what we have in common

  1. Joanna

    That looks pretty perfect to me! Very interesting that it took off once you mixed the dough, do you think it was that it was simply starving for some nice carbs? Maybe the preferment could do with a spoonful or two of the flour from the main dough in there? Who knows really what is going on. It is very mild though isn’t it? Not a sourdough type bread at all. I wonder if it is one of the more thermophilic type cultures, like yoghurt? I once tried putting some of the kefir grains in the yoghurt maker, which heats up quite a lot and the result was very alcohol rich and sour and I couldn’t eat it, so I think that was too hot. I find that what happens when I make mine at the moment, is that after about 8 hours it has bubbles and fizz and hasn’t quite separated into curds and whey, but then another 4 hours or so passes and it stops fizzing and separates. Possibly for maximum oomph in a dough you need to catch it at the bubble and fizz stage? I think that is what I did the second time I made it. The first attempt I chucked the preferment as it was flat much as you describe.

    Anyway, let us know if you do more experiments! So pleased it worked for you 🙂 all best, Joanna

  2. michaelawah

    hi joanna,
    yes i notice that too when feeding the grains. There are a few bubbles, then when i look again, it’s separated out. Actually for this attempt, I used the strained kefir before it reached the separation stage, and I wondered if I shouldn’t have waited a bit more for more fermentation to carry on. I felt it wasn’t quite ready but it was already quite late in the evening so I went ahead. As you said, who knows what’s really going on! I had to go and look up ‘thermophilic’ as it is:)

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  7. michaelawah Post author

    Dear Nina,
    I think using water kefir will make it quite a different product, but you can give it a try. I have substituted water kefir for the water in some other breads, for example, the sweet potato hazelnut loaf (, and I think you can basically do this substitution for any bread, you’ll just have to watch the bread as it might ferment faster.
    But i haven’t got round to building a levain with water kefir and flour. It’s on my list of things to try, so if you do try, let us know!


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