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