Mundane miracle

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I write with good news of great joy! Not only did ‘the season’ see us celebrate a Saviour, but it also marked my first sourdough success! Partially irreverent* comments aside, in the last few weeks I have baked four loaves of bread based on a starter a friend at college gave me (confession: a batch bakes two). Edible, toastable, very-passable bread – it kind of does seem to me a sort of mundane miracle! The starter managed to survive last semester sans close loving attention and now, having sourced my electric scales from home, it has been rendered productive! Eddie gave me the starter and a very prescriptive (gram measurement inclusive) recipe and, following every line, I can bake sourdough bread! I’m both delighted and grateful and wanted to share!

*NB: They are only partially irreverent because after a lecture on Luther the other week – I can affirm that it is right we celebrate our ‘calling’ to everyday life (bread baking included). I was delighted to be reminded again to do a way with dualistic secular/sacred thinking whenever it tries to creep into our lives, worlds and values. Christians are called, not like monks to a life away and set aside, but to serve God where they are – in their families, in their jobs, in civic life. God uses our work in these places as a means of blessing the world, which in turn dignifies our ‘ordinary’ work and gives meaning to our everyday lives. So sourdough is worth celebrating … while recognizing just how vitally good the news was in those dark fields that first Christmas night too!

The Flour Chronicles : 2

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“Sourdough is the original, truly natural bread. We are talking biblical stuff here …” Jamie Oliver, Happy Days with the Naked Chef (p256)

Perhaps Jamie isn’t aware just how right he is, but for me, a long love of good bread, an appreciation of the benefits of traditional baking methods and a growing theological appreciation for bread’s role as symbol and metaphor were enough motivations to undergo a weeklong experiment. A week and a two loaves after my last post, I thought I would fill you in on my third, almost-beginning-to-be-considered-successful attempt at baking sourdough bread.

Monday – I mixed the 500g of rye flour through some water, enough to make a soft, but still moldable, dough. The dough enjoyed a spot of afternoon sunshine outside to soak up some natural yeasts.

Tuesday – it hadn’t started to bubble (it was meant to) so rather than leave it alone (I was mean to), I added some more water to moisten the dough. Rather than the pliable texture of Monday’s dough, it more closely resembled sticky, greyish mud.

Wednesday – as I had not used organic flour (I was meant to do that too!) I began to worry I might have put the whole dough in jeopardy, but to my great surprise and delight, I discovered bubbles in my dough on Wednesday!

Thursday – now I was about a day behind, I did the Wednesday ‘step’ on Thursday, ‘better late than never!’. I fed and watered the starter, adding a couple of handfuls of wheat flour and enough water to return the dough to the consistency of it’s remedied-Tuesday-texture.

Friday – I feared that disaster had struck when I found slightly frosted, cloudy bubbles on the top of the starter. I imagined these indicated an undesirable mouldy growth. Closer examination revealed that the surface had just dried out. I mixed the ‘crust’ through and the bubbles kept forming. Due to my lack of foresight, the poor starter had to survive a trip to Brisbane in my hand luggage, sealed in a glass container with a plastic lid. It survived nicely and continued to give contended signs of life.

Saturday – my dough happily adjusted to the warm Brisbane temperatures, I went ahead with the next step of kneading in 1kg of wheat flour and enough water to ensure a smooth, elastic dough. At this point I was meant to rest the bread for 14 hours before baking. Several issues became apparent. Namely, my lack of careful reading and addition skills. 14 hours from 1pm was 3am … not an ideal time to bake. I had hastily added the flour (and the salt, meant to be added after some of the dough was removed and reserved to become the starter for the next loaf, grrr), concerned to ensure the bread would have time to rise and bake before my 6pm Sunday flight. My joint fear of airport tardiness and difficulty in slowing down to do the maths both conspired against my need for sleep. However, it was not a concern in the end because the bread rose much faster than expected. In fact, only a few hours later I decided I had better punch the dough down and make two loaves. Even so, by the time we left in the evening for dinner (4 – 4 1/2 hours later), the bread seemed to have exhausted it’s rising power. The structure had begun to collapse. Our tickets to Wicked prevented us from attempting any sort of dough resuscitation at that point and when we returned much, much later the dough had slumped down into the loaf pan. Similarly fatigued, I left it alone till morning.

Sunday – the next morning I reshaped my worn out dough into two small loaves; one in a tin and one on a tray. Although I did give them one last chance to rise again, their efforts the day before had sapped their strength and both remained quite small. After the promising start and long journey (both physical and metaphorical!), it seemed a pity not to bake-and-see. After an hour in the oven at 190oC the loaves were golden and very acceptably bread-shaped. No sooner was it out of the oven and photographed than the bread knife emerged and slices were toasted, buttered and taste tested. Dense and chewy, the sour flavour was present but not unappealing. Ideally my loaves would have been home to a few more air bubbles but this batch was my best and most edible success to date!

Final notes:
– Jamie Oliver is writing from an English context and I imagine his raising times would be based on English ambient temperatures, not northern Australian ones … an important consideration for future loaves.
– the sour dough starter returned with me from Brisbane, it still has a few bubbles, not as many as last week, but I did add that salt too early so what can you do? I’ll just keep an eye on it and see how it grows. Maybe I’ll give it another afternoon of fresh air and sunshine and see what happens!

 

The Flour Chronicles : 1

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There is a delightful scene in the movie Stranger than Fiction where Will Ferrell’s character, Harold Crick, woos the lovely cook Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) by bringing her flowers, flours that is. Flowers, flour, baking, sharing, giving – love in brown paper packages. This my friends, is the way to a baker’s heart, or perhaps at least this hopelessly romantic baker’s heart! Asher took the cue, my gushing over this particular moment in the movie, and gave me basket of flours this year on the 14th of February. Now it appears imperative that I run a series of baking experiments to try out all the different flours! The flour kitty includes;
– besan (chickpea)
– rye
– gluten
– coconut
– barley and
– millet flour.

To start with I thought I would use the rye flour to resume my long neglected attempts at making sourdough. About a year ago Asher and I visited a very out of the way second-hand bookshop with a surprisingly extensive cookbook range. I found and bought Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef particularly for its bread recipes. The sourdough recipe looked straightforward enough and I was keen to graduate from yeasted breads. In the end, after baking a loaf that could have substituted for a doorstop and throwing away the rest of the mouldy starter, I gave up and returned to the Basic Bread Recipe a few pages earlier. Simple and more predictable than sourdough, I baked nearly all our toast-and-sandwich-bread for the rest of the year with this recipe as my guide. The consistent warmth that had upset the finely tuned balance of sourdough starter microorganisms made proving the yeasted dough a dream. It seemed our hot little shed in Geraldton was just not the place to raise a sourdough starter. Now we are living somewhere cooler and more effectively insulated I thought I would try again!

Yesterday was Monday and so, following Jamie’s Sourdough Bread recipe (p256), I began my week long experiment by mixing 500g of rye flour with enough water to make a soft dough. You then let it sit outside for about an hour – presumably to pick up some interesting yeast spores – before coving it with cling wrap and bringing it back inside.

So far, so good. Stay tuned; maybe this time we’ll be lucky!

(Very) Sourdough

A few weeks ago I made my first attempt at sour dough. I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe. It looked nice and easy to follow. A day-by-day step-by-step account. I followed it pretty well. It was however, a week of 30-40 degree days and I think the little yeasts in our bread may have kind of had it by the time it came to cook the bread. It was dense. To say the least. It made okay crutons but even they were pretty chunky (see Caesar Salad recipe to follow!). I think Jamie’s recipe is probably best for English conditions. I might try again in April!
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