I have always baked.
My long suffering family and friends have had to suffer an endless procession of bricks of textures varying from gravel to impenetrable Kevlar and rolls that would have gone down well in a medieval siege machine.
Over the years, however, something bread like began to emerge and the number of blue tits with bent beaks in the garden reduced. Sometimes people even asked whether there was any home-made bread in the kitchen, and not to decide that a fast food restaurant on the way home was the gourmet option.
Two people though reignited my love affair with bread and baking. Tim Allen taught us some of the mysteries at Ballymaloe Cookery School and baking on a daily basis for three months honed the skills. The other person I met through Ballymaloe, Declan Ryan, a great artisan bread maker from Cork. In addition to sampling his fine wares at Middleton Farmers Market we visited the Arbutus Bakery as part of our school trip and I was able to get a Sourdough Starter from him.
Back home I decided to maintain the routine of baking on a daily basis and soon every spare corner of the house was filled with different flours, bannetons and tins whilst the brewery smell of fresh yeast and sourdough cultures was an organic Febreeze, eliminating all other odours.
Eagerly I devoured Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters, trying recipes and absorbing the writing, soon I was reading Richard Berthinet’s Crust and Dough, trying his recipes and techniques. My delight at getting a day’s course with him as a birthday present was immeasurable and there were two other ex-Ballymaloe students there as well!
Life settled down as I tried Fougasse and Batons in my newly acquired moulds. Bread was a fact of life and daily experimentation the norm.
Then in the spring of 2012 I met Duncan Glendinning from Thoughtful Bread in Bristol and life changed gear again. Duncan and Patrick Ryan had a book out Bread Revolution and reading through some of the recipes I decided that it would be the new bible. That doesn’t mean that others were dropped, Waterford Blaas (Niam Shields’ recipe from Comfort and Spice) remain favourites but the range of recipes had to be tried.
Anyhow this is all by way of a preamble.
A recent trip to Kent led me to Macknade near Faversham an excellent food store with a wide range of flours available.
The one that caught my eye was a bread mix for a Simple Sourdough! That can’t be right I thought, Sourdough relies on air borne yeasts and a long slow rise. But, it had to be bought and tested.
The list of ingredients were worrying, bread is simple – flour water salt and yeast (wild in the case of Sourdough).Why did the mix need 16 including dried yeast and potato flakes along with something called Dried Wheat Sourdough Powder?
When I bake the only tools used are my hands and a plastic scraper, following Richard Berthinet I do not use floured surfaces, just work the dough until it comes clean of the surface in a soft, springy ball.
“Add water and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and mix together for 5 minutes until it forms a ball of dough, transfer to a floured work surface and rest for five minutes before kneading for 2 and shaping your loaf” were the instructions on the pack.
Hmmm, the sticky mass resolutely refused to form a ball and as much was transferred on to my hands as onto the surface. Using the scraper I cleaned my hands and doubled the size of the blob on the counter top. Perhaps the 5 minutes rest would allow the gluten to develop to a point at which the dough would start to form.
10 minutes of the bread equivalent of mud wrestling and the addition of more strong flour to the surface and I had a “ball” of dough. Now I was going to give this every chance so a bannetons was floured and the dough set to rise. 30 to 40 minutes to double in size promised the packet and indeed 1 hour later it had. A couple of quick slashes to the top and into the oven.
Allowing the packet, and my normal, cooking time of 30 minutes I returned to the kitchen and removed the loaf from the oven.
“Crusty on the outside, chewy in the middle” someone called Peter Sidwell had endorsed the packet. It was. However, despite using only Sunflower Oil the taste was more Focaccia than Sourdough and the annoying little pieces of Kibbled Rye gave it a Granary loaf texture.
Probably if you use an electric breadmaker and usually have only Sliced White Pan as your mainstay bread you would like this but for me, I’ll wait the hours and days and bake proper Sourdough anytime!
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