A couple of weeks ago, I received a gem in the mail – the highly anticipated and bestselling Wholegrain Sourdough at Home cookbook by my dear friend and sourdough master, Elaine Boddy. It did not take me long to immerse myself in her writing and the stunning photography that accompanied it. I knew that I had to share her gift with everyone that I knew. Since then, I have gifted the book to seasoned and beginning bakers alike. Their responses have been a mixture of joy, excitement, curiosity, and determination – similar to the sorts of emotions one experiences when they are about to embark on a journey – one that changes you, teaches you about yourself, and builds your confidence. What follows is a feeling of accomplishment that makes you realize that you are limitless and can achieve a thing you truly have a desire for.
Creating sourdough is a science and there are few resources out there that actually guide you through the process in a way that the average home baker can master. Elaine’s book is just that. Wholegrain Sourdough at Home is simple, direct, and free of the kind of jargon that makes baking complicated. Her method of teaching focuses on joy, simplicity, and patience. You will find that her baking sessions are therapeutic, foolproof, and satisfying for the soul. Besides teaching you the basics to create delicious sourdough from scratch, the author takes you further and explores mouthwatering and wholesome flavor combinations focused on ancient grains. Elaine will teach you how to make a successful starter using a variety of delicious and wholesome grain flours such as einkorn, emmer, spelt, khorasan, dark rye, and whole wheat. And then she walks you through the simple process of integrating the starter into the dough that will become your very own loaf of flavorful sourdough.
My initial interest in Elaine’s techniques stem from the beginnings of bread baking in the Middle East. I have always been intrigued by the history of sourdough. It is one of the most ancient ways of creating food. Since the beginnings of recorded time, three simple ingredients came together to create sustenance for entire civilizations. Flour, water, and salt have always been the only ingredients necessary to make delicious and nourishing bread. “Eish”, the classical Arabic term for bread means life. Bread is truly life. It is the food that has always been accessible to everyone, uniting all classes.
Bread is essential. In ancient Egypt, where some of the first uses of sourdough were recorded, flour and water were left out in the sun for several days to produce a rich and flavorful starter. The process has always been so effortless. And one of the many lessons we have learned this year is how uncertain life can be in the midst of a global pandemic. We have experienced periods of food scarcity and became self – reliant for many services we once relied on. Being able to make sourdough from scratch when bread or yeast is out of stock is a valuable gift. Even when the world goes back to a new normal and life becomes fast paced again, we can still value the the importance of taking a moment to slow down. To stick our hands in wet dough and knead our stressors away.
The flavor combinations in Wholegrain Sourdough at Home are reflective of the author’s life experiences. When reading a book, especially, one that gets you involved in a skill, I like to know about the writer. I am intrigued about what inspires them and how they developed the very talent they teach. In this case, I was lucky to have known Elaine since I began my blogging journey, around 5 years ago. She is intensely passionate about what she does and shares her knowledge with both precision and simplicity. Elaine spent her childhood living as an English expat in the Arab world, the Emirates of the 1980s – a very different scene from the one in modern day. This upbringing would shape her tastes for ancient grains, spices, potent aromas, and of course, Middle Eastern breads. Apart from her using grains native to the Middle East, her book includes recipes such as spelt biscuits infused with zaa’tar – fusion in the best sense of the word and my kind of baking!
Some of my favorite recipes from her book include the spelt and poppy seed loaf, khorasan and golden flaxseeds loaf, einkorn and chia seed loaf, all the focaccia varieties, and the list goes on and on. Every page of Elaine Boddy’s book makes your mouth water and your curiosity wander. Wholegrain Sourdough at Home is the cookery book that every serious baker has been waiting for. It not only teaches you how to bake but it also provides an abundance of delicious and inspiring recipes to experiment with. It is simple and detailed, well thought out and full of charm. The pages sparkle with Elaine’s touch and she truly went the extra mile to make every space in the book memorable. Unique, inspiring, and essential, I truly believe that every baker needs this book in their kitchen arsenal.
And with that I leave you with one of my favorite recipes in the book, Emmer and Za’atar Buttermilk Biscuits. This recipe is so me and so Elaine. Fluffy and deeply flavored sourdough biscuits infused with fragrant zaa’tar. The recipe reflects the beauty of bringing cultural cuisines together. And it is this very concept that kindled our friendship years ago. I hope you enjoy this recipe and if you give it a try, please share your creations with us!
Emmer and Za’atar Buttermilk Biscuits
Source: Wholegrain Sourdough at Home, page 112
Author: Elaine Boddy
INGREDIENTS/ MAKES 15-16 BISCUITS
86 gr. (scant 1/2 cup) active starter
200 gr. (1 3/4 cups) white spelt flour
150 gr. ( 1 1/4 cups) emmer flour
300 gr. (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk
15 gr. (1 tablespoon) olive oil
7 gr. (1 1/2 teaspoon) baking soda
25 gr. (2 heaping tablespoons) zaa’tar
4 gr. (1/2 teaspoon) salt, or to taste
Step 1: In a large mixing bowl, using a strong spatula, or your hand, mix together all the ingredients. It will come together very quickly into a soft, sticky dough.
Step 2: Preheat the oven to 400 F (200C) convection or 425F (220C) conventional. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Turn out the dough onto a well-floured counter and spread and push it with your hands to flatten it out to a 3/4 -inch (2 -cm) – thick disk.
Use a 2 1/2 – inch (6 – cm) – round cookie cutter or a similarly sized glass to cut out the biscuits: Push the cutter directly downward, then remove directly upward – do not twist it to cut or release the dough — because you will lose the neat edge and the biscuits will not rise.
Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheet. They can be placed close together as they do not spread outward. You may need to use a palette knife or spatula to lift the rounds from the counter.
Once you have cut out as many rounds as possible from the dough, bring the rest of the dough together again, push it back down into a disk 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick, and cut out more rounds. Keep doing this until you have cut out all of the biscuits.
Step 3: Bake for 16-18 minutes, until nicely browned
Step 4: Remove the biscuits from the oven and carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool briefly.