We’ve been away for a week visiting our daughter and grandson. Such fun being a grandma!
And I took my sourdough culture with me, and fed it and experimented a bit with Ethiopian flatbread (ingera) (more on that in another post), but for the first time in many years now, we bought bread.
And it struck me that, for several years now through busy times and camping holidays and all the inevitable ordinary routine-breakers of life, baking our own bread has made the cut – something worth doing even when time is the most precious commodity going and a zillion other things are barking for attention. Which is a bit intriguing. Bread baking has the image of being something only hardcore homesteaders do routinely. Yet, while the housework is undone and the pile of washing grows, while my poor garden is sometimes sadly neglected and any resolution to do daily yoga has no hope, the bread gets baked.
Maybe I’m lucky to have a really reliable and resilient sourdough culture, but for me it’s a happy nexus of two things: baking sourdough is a whole heap cheaper and easier than any other option, and baking sourdough gives me bread that is so much tastier and feels so much healthier than any other option.
I have a nice little routine going. Two or three nights a week I take the sourdough culture out of the fridge and feed it. It takes just a minute or so to mix one and a half cups of baker’s flour with one and a half cups of water, mix in the sourdough culture, put half back in the fridge for next time and leave half in a bowl on the kitchen bench, covered with a clean tea towel, for the night.
I use unbleached white baker’s flour for this, because my experience has been that if I feed the sourdough bugs a nice high gluten flour at this point, I can add almost anything else I like and it works. In the morning I have a frothy bowl full of active starter, and I can get creative.
Sometimes I add a porridge of cooked grains – barley, millet, quinoa, oat groats. Sometimes I add dried fruit and nuts. Sometimes I add raw rolled oats, bran and ground linseeds (flax seeds). Sometimes I add rye flour, caraway seeds and a bit of cocoa powder. Sometimes I add grated pumpkin and pepitas. Sometimes I add olives and thyme. Sometimes I add a beaten egg and some yoghurt.
Always a good teaspoon of salt and enough more baker’s flour to make a kneadable dough. Sometimes it turns out memorably wonderful and becomes a favourite. Sometimes not so much. But always it seems to turn out edible.
There’s a feel to kneading bread, and it’s hard to describe. I knead only for a couple of minutes, never the ten minutes in some of the old recipes. Just until the dough is smooth and elastic and has lost its stickiness. I have learned to regard the kneading as my regular “Nana arms” avoidance exercise. If I don’t even have time to do that, I’ve learned I can get away with a very sticky dough and a single rise to make a ciabatta type bread.
Normally though, I leave the dough on the kitchen bench in an oiled bowl covered with the tea towel again, and rush off into my day. By the time I arrive home the dough has always doubled in size. This is the only weak spot in the routine. I need to pick the days when I will be home before about 6 pm, because the bread needs to be “punched down”, or very briefly kneaded again, then put into it’s baking tin with it’s top slashed to allow rising, and left to rise again for an hour or so before baking. And I turn into a pumpkin around 8 pm.
But if I get the dough doing it’s second rise by 6 pm, and I can keep it a bit warm, by 7 pm it is ready to bake. Sometimes I bake flatbreads, rolling it out rather than putting it in a tin after the punching down. Sometimes I put a tray of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create a bit of steam. Sometimes I bake in the mellow oven of the slow combustion stove. Sometimes I put the loaf in a cold George Foreman electric oven. If it has sweetener or dried fruit in it I need to take care to keep the temperature low enough not to burn it. Usually it takes around 40 minutes for a smallish loaf to bake until the crust is golden and it sounds hollow. If I know I won’t be home in time, I just put a fairly wet dough in a rough loaf shape on a tray in the morning and bake a ciabatta style loaf in the evening after a single rise. And none of the bread we ate while away came close to even that last resort option.
We got home last night, and first thing was to feed the starter.