Carob bread with sourdough starter: a baked superfood, also very tasty
Some of you may know that I spend most of the year in Portugal; this small country, incredibly full of surprises, is also the largest producer of carob in the world (more than 40 thousand tons, followed by Italy with its 29 thousand tons)(1).
Considering my marriage to Italy and Turkish origins, I can say that all my life I have been surrounded by carob trees: suitable for arid areas, evergreen and very photogenic, in truth their fruits are part of the crowded group of underrated local superfoods.
Although carob has important nutritional values, its major use is still linked to the livestock world, as feed for animals. Although I am happy for the latter, I cannot be satisfied until carob and its by-products are re-evaluated and employed in healthy and sustainable kitchens.
Carob flour resembles cocoa powder, for color and consistency, and it is obtained in exactly the same way, that is by grinding ripe and dried pods (or pulp).
The scent and taste remotely reminiscent of the fruit of the gods; it is less fatty than cocoa, containing just 1%; but it is much sweeter, being rich in carbohydrates and sugars. Dietary fibers make up a good part of total carbohydrates, a characteristic which helps reducing bad cholesterol and peristalsis.
Carob flour is rich in calcium, therefore particularly suited for those who do not use milk and its derivatives; it is rich also in copper, potassium, manganese, magnesium, selenium and zinc; it does not contain oxalates (as opposed to cocoa), substances capable of forming kidney stones and interfere with the absorption of mineral salts: therefore it becomes a valid alternative for the many people who must avoid cocoa.
Carob is also rich in polyphenolic compounds such as gallic acid and flavonoids; in any case there are present, even if in lower values, other 22 polyphenols(2), renowned antioxidants useful in fighting free radicals.
I suggest this recipe for carob bread with sourdough starter for 4 main reasons:
– with climate change becoming more and more tangible in our daily lives, it would be good to know and appreciate plants that are adapted to arid soils, therefore sustainable;
– carob bread has less gluten, although is still not suitable for celiac people;
– carob bread is really delicious, thanks to its strong taste which reminds us of cocoa… but without containing any of its undesired effects (the terrible condition of farmers in plantations which are not part of Fair Trade labels; high caffeine and oxalates concentration; migraine triggering effect);
– it is an excellent accompaniment to meals; even if it gives its best with breakfast and snacks, avoiding more caloric and less healthy alternatives such as croissants, brioches or sweets in general.
Time: prep. 30 mins
fermentation 6/48 hrs
bak. 22 mins
Yields: 6 buns
300 grams of whole spelt or wheat flour (preferably stone-ground and organic)
135 grams of bread flour or AP flour (preferably stone-ground and organic)
75 g of carob flour
Sourdough starter 50 g* (see here to find out how you can prepare it at home)
350 grams of drinking water
7 g of salt
approx. 20 grams of all purpose flour to use for bread making procedure
*The sourdough starter should be activated the day before preparing the dough: 1 tbsp (15 g) of sourdough starter should be fed with 20 grams of warm water and 20 grams of flour and left at room temperature if it’s more than 20 °C or more for over night or 8-12 hours. To see if it has been activated sufficiently, make a mark on the jar in which you feed it; if it has doubled in 8-12 hours, it is ready. If you want a leavening period longer than 24 hours, reduce the quantity of yeast by a third, using only 30 grams instead of 50.
Baking time and temperature for buns (double the time if you want a loaf)
10 mins at 230°C
12 mins a 200°C
This is the most practical method that exists. However, if you have the time and willingness to experiment, you can use the same ingredients of whole wheat sourdough bread, in a much more professional way, as I showed in the recipe of no-knead sourdough whole meal spelt (Triticum spelta) bread.
Step number 1
As I indicated in the creation of the sourdough starter, the room temperature is of crucial importance; in the winter months, with the heating on, place your dough close to them (I strongly underline that, close doesn’t mean above: if you exceed 28°C you will do more harm); in spring and autumn without heating, place the dough and/or starter inside your oven with the lamp on, or with a bowl full of boiling water: this method will serve to maintain a stable, warm temperature for many hours (even 5) without requiring the addition of new boiling water.
The type of dough that we will be doing is a medium hydration dough and therefore it won’t be very sticky, however for convenience I do not knead it with the classic techniques, but rather with folding: later you will understand how easy this method is.
Step number 2
In the other recipe (spelt bread) I recommended using autolysis; however, for carob bread with sourdough starter I do not apply it, in order to facilitate the ease of the process: in fact you lose something in the fermentation, resulting in a few millimeters less bread height, but the crust will already have a very dark color, a light crumb with a number of alveoli, despite the reduced amount of gluten.
Every time you let your dough rest, close the bowl with a plate, or use a plastic bag or stretch film: it will maintain high the humidity. Moreover, always place the dough in a warm place (max 28°C).
Step number 3
This is a recipe that does not call for kneading, but also this whole carob bread with sourdough starter will receive our care: stretch and fold the dough over itself. Use your hands but also a spoon or a specific baker’s tool, moving the dough from the sides, from the bottom to the top; repeat the operation for the whole circumference of the dough; make several complete turns, at least 2-3 times.
This crucial operation must be repeated 3 to 5 times every 15 minutes; after each fold, give the dough a spherical shape, close the bowl with the plate and place it in a warm place.
So after about 1 hour of stretching and folding, you should notice both the growth of the dough and a greater uniformity, more elasticity and resistance: it sounds good.
Step number 4
At this point you have two options: let it rest at room temperature in summer, or in case of cold weather in the oven, for another 5-6 hours in order to obtain a relatively short fermentation, otherwise you can put it in the fridge (always covered with a plate or a plastic bag) and proceed to a long fermentation of 8-48 hours.
You just have to remember to take the dough out of the fridge at least 2 hours before baking and bring it back to room temperature: I personally find carob bread more convincing with a short fermentation; I am waiting for your opinions in case you opt for a long fermentation.
Step number 5
After having completed the first fermentation, it is necessary to give a pre shape to our bread, or better to say to buns.
Divide the dough in 8 balls, after having done a last round of folds; then sprinkle them, under and over, with a little bit of flour and lay them on a floured surface covering them with a cloth: too much flour can cause problems, therefore do not be generous.
Turn on the oven at maximum power, inserting the baking pan chosen.
Step number 6
Leave dough to rise for a last time for 45 minutes.
And now the time of truth!
Step number 7
The maximum temperature ensures that the heat is not lost quickly as soon as you open the door to insert the dough. I would like you to use this time (45 minutes) of maximum oven power, taking advantage of it to bake something else: not wasting the heat generated, i.e. the energy, is fundamental; for example a huge tray of seasonal vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beetroots, pumpkins, or tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes seasoned with a tasty tahini sauce (see here my frequently proven recipe).
To produce a good ‘baker’s’ bread, the only variant that can make a real difference is the characteristics of the oven. The high, but more stable temperature, combined with the great ability to hold steam, create the perfect combination essential for a crispy crust: neither too hard nor too soft.
The web is full of recipes using the famous Dutch oven, or cast iron pots with lids, whose respectable results which simulate the characteristics of a professional oven very well. But what if you don’t have either? I, for example, fall into the latter category and I am not discouraged, never: in fact, I often make uniquely beautiful loaves of bread and wonderful buns.
For a carob bread loaf, if you have a refractory pizza stone, you could use it in combination with a lid made from an earthenware baking dish or a resistant steel pot (used as a lid upside down); or you could use a simple steel pot (with lid) resistant to these temperatures, as long as it doesn’t have plastic handles or glass lid.
After approx. 45 minutes of heating up, take out the baking tray or what you chose without scalding yourself, place the ball or buns inside by gently turning it upside down on it, using a spatula if necessary.
The most butterfingered ones can use baking paper to transfer the ball into the hot cooking medium: to do this I recommend you wetting and squeezing the kitchen paper so as to eliminate any creases, inevitable if it was dry, therefore able to make unaesthetic signs on the bread surface. Use this paper instead of a dry cloth before transferring your dough from the dough board to the basket. But since the dough will not be turned upside down, keep the smooth surface on top
Just before putting back in the oven, make an incision about 0,5 cm deep with a razor blade or baker’s knife, or a sharp knife; I successfully use the blades of my chopper, holding them at an angle of 45°.
This will allow the air that will form in the bread to exit homogeneously; in the meantime it will allow the temperature to penetrate into the “heart” of the bread: the risk otherwise is to make it crack, or swell on one side and deflate on the other. So do it, but in case you forget it (personal experience) it will not be the end of the world.
For the preparation of carob bread in the form of buns, I do not make any incisions, and I think they always look very good.
To bake the whole loaf, you could cover it with the lid (or its substitute) before closing the oven door (the buns do not need it), but doubling the cooking time.
Furthermore, in order not to leave the buns without steam, I put a grill in the lowest rail of my oven and insert an oven safe dish with water inside on it. This will continue to provide the necessary steam during the first baking phase, which will last 10 minutes at a temperature of 230°C.
The next 12 minutes we will reduce the temperature to 200°C; carob flour contains more sugar so it tends to burn more easily thanks to a stronger Maillard reaction: always check it, especially the first times.
Step number 8
And if you’ve done everything right, you’ll get nicely leavened rolls with a crust that will invite you to take a bite right away!
However, restrain yourself: cutting the bread before it’s completely cooled will return it to you wet inside, which means ruining all your dedicated efforts.
Luckily, unlike a large loaf, buns take less time to cool, and after about an hour they’ll be ready to take to the table.
Enjoy your carob bread and good revolution to all
2) R.W. Owen, R. Haubner, W.E. Hull, G. Erben, B. Spiegelhalder, H. Bartsch, B. Haber,
Isolation and structure elucidation of the major individual polyphenols in carob fibre,
Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 41, Issue 12, 2003, Pages 1727-1738, ISSN 0278-6915