Generally, I’m a bit of a carbophobe. I lose weight when I avoid wheat, and constantly wonder whether I might not be a little bit gluten intolerant. But when you have kids, and especially when you’re not working, it’s much easier to see why bread is such a staple part of the western diet. It’s quick and easy, fills up hungry tummies and is generally pretty good value. And, when all is said and done, I do love it.
The problem is, in London, a loaf of the good stuff can set you back £3.50 a pop, and that’s too much for one’s daily bread. And so, in times of strife, I always find myself baking. Kneading away your worries on a stretchy piece of dough is as good for the soul as it is for your pocket, and with time up one’s sleeve- itself a luxury in hectic Lonon, it feels productive using it on creating something that can form the basis of tea time, breakfast time, or any other time, really, if I’m being honest.
In the past, I’ve experimented with wholemeal and rye, but with my current obsession with fermented foods, Tom decided to try to make sourdough, which is a bit fiddly because you need to make a starter first – rather than using yeast, this dough uses the natural yeasts in the air and in the flour, as such needs to be left to cultivate for a few days in which you “feed it” with fresh flour and let it do its thing at room temperature.
We used rye flour and strong bread flour, and followed this recipe from Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast on Channel Four – you don’t actually need to build a brick oven, although we considered using a piece of granite we had lying around after tiling the bathroom floor for that authentic “stonebaked feel” but, in the end, we didn’t bother. A pan of water in the bottom of a hot oven (230 fan) creates steam, and a hot floured baking tray produces an excellent crusted loaf that lasts three to four days.
The dough was pretty sticky – you use half and save the rest to add more flour to, to keep the fermentation process going – it’s a bit like yoghurt or kefir making, which, to my shame (yes, I used to mock the yoghurt weavers too), I’ve kind have got into since I’ve been buying raw milk from Broadway Market, and the kefir is so expensive at £6 a litre it seems silly not to just make my own by using starter cultures from Nourish, adding more milk to the last half inch in the bottle and leaving it to “brew” for a couple of hours at room temperature. But once you get going, and if you do it regularly, like any “home brew”, it soon becomes worth the effort.
Tom wants to experiment with the proportions of rye and white flour as, without a dough kneading attachment on our mixer, it would be a labour intensive job, and one or two loaves have been so sticky they’ve been hard to shape. But there’s nothing more pleasing than shaping a mound of slightly sour yeasty smelling dough into a neat fat sausage, thrashing it across the top thrice with a sharp knife, popping it into a steaming hot over (230 fan) for 35 ish minutes and taking out a piping loaf that will last at least half a week.
Lovely with butter, toasted with raw honey or made into soldiers for egg and dippers, you actually can’t beat a homemade loaf – and since I’m off work at the mo, I have time to run off the extra calories – not that I’ve ever counted them anyway. It’s a pace of life I could certainly get used to. And with small pleasures like homemade sourdough to enjoy, it certainly puts any other worries I might have firmly in perspective.