Saturday, July 21, 2012

... on making bread.

Someone new came to live with us recently. I say someone rather than something as he has a name, is most definitely alive, and requires almost as much attention as a cat. Almost!
This is Mr Stiffy.

He is a sourdough starter, a ball of dough named for his texture, and I can't take responsibility for his name as it came with him from Phil, gifter of sourdough starter and moonlighting artisan baker.
Now, I'd never made my own bread before. My Ma did, when I was a kid, and I sometimes kneaded it for her, but as far as ingredients go I didn't pay any attention beyond noticing that the yeast came in a packet and sometimes it was too old to make the bread rise.

With the arrival of Mr Stiffy, I learned that a sourdough starter contains all the yeasty fermenting beasties required to make bread rise, with the particular type of beasties giving sourdough bread it's distinctive taste. The beasties eat gluten, and will chew through all of the flour fed to them in about 24 hours at Brisbane winter room temperature. Being fed causes Mr Stiffy to rise - expand and fill with lots of little bubbles. Once all the gluten is eaten, he starts to slump as the bubbles disappear and if he were not fed again, the yeasty beasties would die. So, Mr Stiffy requires maintenance in the form of daily cleaning, feeding and kneading. And to avoid ending up with a ball of dough so large it will engulf your kitchen? Make bread, of course!

The first loaf I made was using white strong (a term meaning it's high in protein) flour, and was surprisingly palatable, if somewhat flat. I left it to rise overnight and the resulting bread was quite sour, but delicious.
Loaf two was a mostly wholemeal affair, with a daring application of seeds to the top. Although it looked quite beautiful, it was extremely dense and it was Indigestion Central around here for the rest of the day!
After these two loaves, I reviewed the recipe. Those first two were recipes from the internet that involved using only part of Mr Stiffy, and adding flour, water and salt. Allowing the loaves to rise overnight did indeed give them a strong sour flavour, but it seemed to me that the dough never got as 'bubbly' as Mr Stiffy did himself, and made for a very dense bread.

So, I just made Mr Stiffy into loaves. I fed him using the ratio given to me by Phil (which is, for the record, 1 part sourdough starter to 1.2 parts water  to 2 parts flour) before bedtime, and by the morning he'd risen enough to fill a small mixmaster bowl. I then divided him in two and fed each piece again, kneading and forming them into loaves. In about 4 hours they'd risen to a respectable loafy size, so I popped them in the oven for about half an hour.

May I add here that I'm finding the process of kneading bread dough a thoroughly wonderful thing to do. It's so... basic. When I do it I feel connected to everyone who's ever made bread since the dawn of time. We've all made the same motions with our hands, and we've all touched a ball of dough with our fingers thinking 'That's enough.' and nothing about that process has changed!

The result was a lovely pair of loaves, slightly sour, bulky enough to make toasted sandwiches from, and with a much lighter texture than the previous two.
Since then I've repeated this process a few times and the results have been uniform, which is very encouraging. I haven't bought shop bread for three weeks, and found that Mr Stiffy is quite happy living in the fridge to slow him down. But you know what the nicest thing is?

The best-smelling kitchen in the world!

1 comment:

Angelhellcat said...

Hmmm....interesting name.