Just sourdough, naturally.

July 31st, 2011 | Posted by greg in Daily life... | Recipes

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure to meet Philip and Alfred. Two gentleman who introduced Effective Microorganism (EM) products to me.

Effective Microorganism

What caught my attention along the discussion we had, more than anything else, was not the usage of EM to clean toilet or purify water, but the fact that it is a lacto-fermented product with wild yeast in it. As soon as I opened the bottle of EM, I could smell the same odors as sourdough fermentation. Then, on the suggestion of Philip, I tried to drink a little of the biotic liquid and it was like drinking essence of sourdough! It was intriguing from a baker’s point of view.

Philip told me it was possible to ferment bread with EM. I tried to look on the internet for people with previous EM baking experiences, but did not find any… maybe there was a reason, maybe not…

So all the little bacterias were smiling at me, screaming to meet our T65 flour!

The bottle we received had no indication on dilution level, usage, nor guidelines. I tried to look on the net to find a similar bottle, but no success. The only thing we knew, as per our two EM disciple, is that it was all natural and good for your body. And so, in all good faith, we started our baking test:

  • 200 gm T65 flour
  • 125 gm EM
  • 125 gm Water

We left it for 12 hours on the cozy top of our baking oven where normally the fermentation happens very nicely. This time around, the bacterias from the EM completely digested the flour and 12 hours later all we’ve found was some viscous liquid with no fermentation whatsoever. We deducted that the bacterias were too much and too strong, thus we started another batch that we actually kneaded until a good gluten was created; we left it on top of our oven.

Friday, 9:30 a.m.

  • 200 gm T65 flour
  • 50 gm EM
  • 220 gm Water

Somehow (This is true!… and I love starting the sentence with an escaping ‘somehow‘) my friend Mark and I were both off over the week-end and we ended up caring more about our time off rather than work. On Monday, however, big surprise, we’ve found a container packed with CO2  and well ripen dough. So three day later, I refreshed the mother dough:

Monday, 8:40 a.m.

  • 300 gm T65 flour
  • 300 ml water
  • All the first day’s dough

Again this was on top of our oven and it moved very fast, so I’d decided to refresh it once more and keep it in a corner of the pastry at room temperature.

Monday, 04:00 p.m.

  • 600 ml water
  • 600 gm T65 flour
  • All the previous step’s dough

Seeing the fermentation going very well, the next refreshment happened…

Tuesday, 01:00 a.m.

  • 900 ml water
  • 900 gm T65 flour
  • All the previous step’s dough

We had an awesome fermentation at that point so finally, we mixed our bread dough as follow, but also, we took 600 gm of the sourdough to refresh it every 8 hours and start a new cycle.

Tuesday, 09:00 a.m.

  • 80% hydration
  • 40% of the above sourdough
  • 2.2% salt


Folding once the dough

Adding the salt a few minutes prior kneading ends.

After a bulk fermentation of 5 hours, we folded the dough left and right and rested it for another 5 hours, all at room temperature. At 07:00 p.m. I pre-shaped the dough and left it for 15 minutes to rest on the bench. Then, shaped it as baguette.

The final proof happened at 28 C  with 85% humidity for about 2 hours and off to the oven they were.

Very good oven-spring, nice crust, beautiful texture and flavor. Frankly, I had very little to say about the baguette! WOW!

We also tried to ferment the Tuesday 9a.m. dough with a bulk fermentation of 18 hours at 5C and no folding, as well as another dough with 0.2% fresh yeast added. As you can see the results, the dough without yeast came out very nicely, but I have to say the crumb seemed more wet than without 18 hours in the fridge. Probably due to a longer gelatinization of the starch cells. Other than that, the flavor was more sour due to the longer fermentation time, I liked that a lot. The dough with the yeast was, as expected, with a larger texture, and the other features were the same as without yeast, thus proving the effect of fresh yeast in a sourdough.

18 hours, no yeast - perfect sourness!

18 hours dough - top has 0.2% - bottom as no yeast.

That said, I am not convinced that EM made a difference here. When I prepare my own sourdough, I also start with some lacto-fermented raisins and it has the same effect. Nevertheless, I thought very interesting to see how active the first fermentation was.

All together I have to say the results were quite impressive. However, it leaves me a bit skeptical on the EM concept itself…

Fundamentally, I think different bacterias are made to evolve in different environment where they naturally belong, without the need of human intervention to put them together. And perhaps cultivating 4 or 5 of them together isn’t something nature would do, but human would. It’s like in wine making, there is the wild yeast which occurs naturally to later become a solid part of the wine’s terroir identity. And there is the commercially cultivated yeast which, while still natural, will bring a much more uniform taste and format to the wine. That is the same between sourdough bread and yeast bread.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I felt like it was a sourdough on steroids. Call me conservative, but for now, I will stick to my good old sourdough and perhaps give EM’s a try to clean my windows!

Edit on August 27, 2011:
Mr. Robert Sweeney just sent an email to notify me he was the first to publish a recipe for EM sourdough. It’s admirable and although the bread recipe is adapted from another book, the sourdough base is his own. However, his recipe is very different than the above.  Robert’s website.

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18 Responses

  • Would love to learn more about your method for making sourdough. I’ve recently started to experiment with raisin yeast water but I use the water to make a multi-build levain instead of a sourdough starter. It works well but the crumb is not quite the same as a you would achieve with sourdough.

  • Carl Legge says:

    That’s really very interesting Gregoire. I’m doing a lot of playing with natural fermentation at the moment: vegetables, wine, beers, sourdough…

    The EM concept sounds interesting. I wonder if we can back engineer this at home and use malo-lactic organisms for cleaning?

    Nice post Chef, merci beaucoup

  • I’d love to hear more about multi-build levain as I am not too familiar with it… anything is possible in baking! :)

  • Not sure if this is a good method but it’s easier to maintain than sourdough and most importantly, no discarding of flour which I find very wasteful. To do this I just mix equal amt of flour and yeast water, feed it again after it has doubled, stirring in equal amt of flour and water equal to weight of seed, then feed again. After three builds, the dough mixture is added to the main dough.

  • I see! Yes, it’s a good method if you’re not baking everyday. With the right calculation at work, we end up with no waste and we keep on feeding our levain for the last 6 years now, but indeed, it’s hard to follow that method for home baking! :)

  • Chef Michaud, it appears tht your website/blog, gregoiremichaud.com is not working. I’ve tried many times to access your page on the sourdough but no luck…

  • Hello Judy, yes, I noticed it today too! I am not sure what is the issue and the technical team on the other end is working hard to fix the problem! Sorry and thanks for your readership! :)

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  • After we met and talked baguette…I’m getting the idea, observe, try, observe, try again…and so I go for the quest!

  • Ok…Gregoire…I’m trying to figure out how to get the bakers percent for the feed, is the flour 90% 25% levain, then 100% water? Can you explain the breakdown of the numbers in the consecutive feed…Sounds dopey, but there is more levain then both water and flour in each feed…

    • Sorry for the confusion Jeremy! Like I mentioned to you when we met, I am probably not the best writer around when trying to explain technical things! ;)

      Basically, it’s as follow:

      100% flour (ideally T65)
      80% water
      40% sourdough (obtained from the process above)
      2.2% salt

      The sourdough is not very much hydrated as you can see on the photos. The dough gained body with the long resting time and the folds. At the end, it was still very sticky and we used a good amount of flour for the shaping.

      hope it helps! :)

      • Jeremy Shapiro says:

        sorry Greg, I meant the feeding percentages…. so it’s 25% starter to equal flour and water? then you in crease the water to say 125% and the build is fed at what? 1.1 ratio flour and water??

  • Cameron Jenkins says:

    I came across this website a few days ago, and fortunately I’m also into making my own Bokashi so had some home made EM sitting around at home.

    The EM is made by getting a rice water rinse and letting it settle for 7 days, then adding 1:10 ratio of the filtered rice water rinse to milk, and letting that ferment for 2 weeks. What is left is a pure lactobacillus serum, which I then stabilise with an equal weight of unsulphured molasses.

    I’ve been making a rye/spelt/whole wheat sourdough for some time, and decided to make a couple of loaves using some EM. I took 50ml of EM, 250ml of water and 150gm of Rye flour and mixed, saw no reaction which was unusual. Then started adding Rye flour and water each day and after 3 days I saw a tremendous volume increase that I don’t think I have seen with my regular Rye starter.

    The loaves have turned out great, have not had a chance to cut them open yet as they are still cooling down!

    • greg says:

      Hello Cameron,
      Thanks for sharing your EM making technique. I like it very much and I would definitely love to give it a go.
      I guess EM need to have the right environment to “get to work” with the enzymes of the flour.
      The result from my test was stunning, the development of the crumb was beautiful and the flavor was of course exceptional.

      I hope your rye loaves turned out great! :)

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