I have been making bread all week. Not lots and lots of bread, just one loaf. You see, I love food that talks to me, that responds, that carries some magic. Think ginger beer plants, elder fizz, kefir yoghurt and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Many years ago I shared a restaurant kitchen with an eccentric psychologist who made bread because he liked to. I would go in at 6am to bake cakes and begin breakfast and he would be there, before work, with his hubble bubble pot of starter, making the most delicious rye sour dough which he would return to bake at lunch time. During the summer, the starter would sometimes erupt out of its jar and glup its way down the shelves in the pantry. Late at night, when everything was quiet, it would quietly grumble away, keeping me company in the empty building.
Bakers keep their starters as guarded secrets between the chosen few. Sour dough is a bit of a mystery, more magic than science. Definitely time for me to try…
Five days ago I began: carefully measuring accurate quantities of unbleached white flour, whole meal and boiled rainwater cooled to 40 degrees centigrade. Each day the process was repeated, I’m not going to tell you the exact amounts because then I would have to kill you…
The optimum temperature to activate the starter was 28 degrees centigrade. Ha! (This recommended by an English cook - bet she had great central heating.) Of course, on day 2, winter returned and the temperature in the house hoveried around 14! After a couple of days, a couple of fires, the starter was beginning to show a few bubbles and beginning to smell a bit fruity…all good.
Today was baking day. Before breakfast I made the production leaven (I don’t remember this bit from before.) This needed to sit for 4 hours before making the bread. Okay, weigh and mix, go for a walk and come back to it. I have made a lot of bread over the years and I’m not convinced this is right, it looks dry and crumbly. I bravely added some more water and went off to have lunch.
Now the directions said add more water and more flour with a little salt. I add all white flour as I have concerns about the rye having not enough gluten. Suddenly I have something that looks like a lump of zebra. Knead, knead and knead again and its back to looking like bread dough. The extra water has softened it up and I am happier now that it pops up when I press it.
It’s off to its (don’t forget to oil it) tin to rise till double now. The recipe warns it could be five hours. Magic does happen, it just happens rather slowly. Now I have to figure out what happens to the rest of the starter and the lump of leaven in the fridge. The recipe doesn’t tell you, I’m sure she thinks you would have given up and thrown it in the chook bucket by now. The author said the recipe came from a friend of hers (!) I must remember that excuse next time someone complains one of my recipes didn’t turn out great.
In all this fun, I quite forgot that today was the day I try and discipline myself to write the blog. I asked Amita over lunch, what do you think I should write about this week? The bush fire? Drive out and take ghastly photos of devastated bush and moan about the lack of support for the local fire brigade volunteers? I looked over the benches, flour, dough, leftover starter and baking tins. No, I’ve got a better idea.
It could be a long night; I’ll let you know tomorrow how it turns out!