Fermentation

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My sourdough starter kicked the bucket about a month ago… or, more accurately, I brought about its demise through sheer neglect. Still, not one member of the bread-eating family was prepared to say good-bye to fermented bread and just about that same time, with plenty of milk between Mabel and the goats, milk kefir was back up and running in our kitchen.

Milk kefir is probably my favorite fermented food, in case you hadn’t picked that up here on the blog or in Traditionally Fermented Foods. I use it for drinking, salad dressings, desserts, snacks, to ferment whole grains, and to sour breads. It is one of those foods that seem to really encourage gut health, energy, and nourishment so it has become a staple in our home when we are in milk.

So I started making kefir-soured tortillas and these lovely biscuits on a regular basis. They are flaky and tender, tangy and light, with just a bit of a crisp edge as one would want in a biscuit. I ferment them overnight, generally, but you can extend that to a full 24-hour fermentation if you prefer.

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In the morning I put on a kettle for coffee and the morning milking. I preheat the oven, hand Stewart the milk pail, and then start rolling out these biscuits right on the baking sheet. The biscuits are golden and flaky by the time the cow and goats are milked, the chickens out and fed, and the family gathered around the table. It is at this point I am dishing up homegrown eggs from a cast-iron skillet and sitting down to join them.

Somehow even though I’ve made these over a dozen times this past month, this family of mine still doesn’t seem to be growing tired of them. And the milk kefir appreciation continues…

Kefir-Soured Biscuits

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Ingredients

Directions

At least 12-24 hours before you wish to bake the biscuits, combine the kefir, bread flour, and softened butter or coconut oil in a medium bowl. Mix all ingredients just until roughly combined and the flour is moistened. Cover and leave to ferment at room temperature for 12-24 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a baking sheet generously.

Uncover the fermented dough and sprinkle over the salt and baking powder. Fold the dough over onto itself (and the salt and baking powder) several times, breaking up the dough and kneading until the salt and baking powder seem well distributed.

Transfer the dough right to the greased baking sheet and roll out to 1/2 – 3/4 inch thickness using a rolling pin. Cut the biscuits into squares using a knife or bench scraper or into rounds using a biscuit cutter or narrow-mouth canning ring. Gently gather up any scraps and form a few extra biscuits.

Move the pan to the oven and bake 20-25 minutes or until deeply golden on the bottom and brown and crisp around the edges. Allow to cool at least five minutes before serving.

For more easy-to-make naturally leavened breads, including a Sourdough Biscuit recipe that uses only sourdough starter as leavening, see Traditionally Fermented Foods.

milk-kefir-straining
We started making milk kefir again and I think everyone is happy about it. Annabelle is crazy about straight milk kefir, for some reason, and pretty much drinks it as fast as I can make it. So when Susan asked if I wanted some milk kefir grains, I happily said yes and within a couple of days those grains she dehydrated were churning out probiotic milk kefir on a daily basis.

The longer I work with cultures, the more I am convinced of two things: First, cultures are really resilient. I have killed my fair share of cultures when I have been full on negligent, don’t get me wrong. But when someone is diligent in caring for them, for the most part, and just misses a day or two here and there in the feeding schedule, the cultures usually bounce right back with no ill effects.

Secondly, cultures vary widely depending on the source. One of the reasons is simply because cultures pick up microbes from whatever are they are in. So my milk kefir grains might have differing strains from someone up in Iowa after just a few weeks of culturing, even though we both purchased them from the same place. Another factor of importance is whether you purchase dried or fresh cultures. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but from what I can tell dehydrating cultures is mostly done when cultures are sold on a larger scale. And I do believe there is some compromise to the culture in the process.

Then again, the dehydrated grains Susan gave me seem to be culturing and multiplying readily so perhaps it has more to do with the scale of the operation than the dehydration. Dehydrated cultures might also be something those of us in warmer climates consider, especially if we are ordering in the heat of summer. Shipping means the culture isn’t fed for a number of days and while this can be only a minor stress on the culture in cooler times, it can kill the culture rapidly in warmer temperatures.

Kefir Creme Fraiche from Traditionally Fermented Foods

With all of that, here are my two favorite sources for grains, dehydrated or fresh:

Dehydrated – When I am looking to purchase dehydrated grains, Cultures for Health is generally my choice. I have worked with them before and while they don’t always multiply as rapidly as the fresh grains, they do a great job of culturing good kefir. When things get crazy, like when we have a new baby, I have also used their powdered kefir culture since I know I’d probably forget about the grains and kill them in no time.

Fresh – Strangely enough, Amazon is where I found my favorite fresh milk kefir grains through a seller called Mr. and Mrs. Kefir. I think I ordered these when I was working on Traditionally Fermented Foods recipe-testing and I needed fresh grains fast. I may be remembering this incorrectly, but I think I gave some of these grains to Susan who was able to grow out many extra grains and dehydrate them. And these are the grains that she gave to me that I am using today!

Kefir-Pancake-Syrup

Kefir Pancake Syrup from Traditionally Fermented Foods

As for equipment, I really just use quart jars with paper towels or coffee filters fastened with canning rings. The one thing I use every day with my kefir that I really find useful is this mesh strainer. It fits right into a canning funnel and I can stir or tap the kefir through and easily collect the grains for the next batch.

As for what I do with all of that kefir? Most of our family’s common kefir recipes are found in Traditionally Fermented Foods:

  • Kefir Buckwheat Muesli
  • Using Kefir as a Cheese Culture
  • Kefir-Cultured Creme Fraiche
  • Smooth-Sipping Second Ferment Kefir
  • Kefir Pancake Syrup
  • Fermenting Grains with Kefir
  • Okroshka
  • Kefir Salad Dressings

Do you make milk kefir? How do you make it and use it?