Date completed: 26/3/16
One of the reasons I started this challenge was to fuel my interest in cooking again. I had become bored with the day to day recipes I used to make and it was feeling more like a chore than anything. I’m pleased to say that not only has the challenge got me enjoying cooking again but it’s sparked an interest in using different techniques, types of foods and the cultural, ritualistic side of the activity.
I recently watched the Netflix television series “Cooked.” If you’re yet to see it, I can highly recommend it. It’s a four part series that explores the anthropological side and some of the scientific processes involved in certain types of cooking. I found it fascinating.
The final episode was based around bread and the process of fermentation. I was intrigued and decided, whilst I had the time, to try my own sourdough bread.
Now I realise that this is technically not part of the Round the World challenge I set myself, but bread has been an essential part of a huge range of cultures for centuries and, in many ways, crosses international boundaries. I decided to do it as what I’m referring to a ‘side note’ challenge – not officially part of any country’s culture, but familiar for many.
The first essential ingredient you’ll need if you’re thinking of making sourdough from scratch is time. This challenge took me well over a week to complete. Most days only really involved a few minutes of work but it needs to be consistent and the baking day itself took over 8 hours including the time needed for the dough to sit.
Instead of using dried yeast as you would with many doughs, the raising agent is created from scratch using what’s called a ‘starter.’ The basis for this is rye flour mixed with warm water and left to sit and ferment over a course of many days. Each day you ‘feed’ the starter, adding more water and flour over the course. The mixture begins to froth and bubble naturally and is where the bread gets its sour taste.
I was completely expecting myself to fail miserably at making the starter but I’m pleased to say it was pretty easy to do. Not only did I end up with enough starter to make a couple of loaves of sourdough, but enough to leave some in the fridge to use at a later time.
Once your starter is done, it’s time to make the bread dough and get your bake on! This is done over the course of a day (and a night if you count leaving the levian for the 8-12 hours it needs). Again, the process itself is fairly simple but is delicate and I suspect takes quite a lot of experience to perfect.
The dough takes a good 15 minutes of kneading in order for the gluten to form properly. This may not sound like much, but it’s actually quite a work out! It is important to knead it properly however as the gluten forms a net that traps the air in the dough and without this net, the dough wouldn’t rise and you’d end up with bread that I imagine would take on the lightness of a brick.
There are long periods of setting the dough aside to rise over the course of many hours and this will vary depending on how cold the room temperature is in your house. The weather has been much cooler where I am in Melbourne over the past week or so and I found the timings listed in the recipe used to be sufficient for what I needed.
Before putting the bread into the oven, several scores are made in the dough to help direct the escaping air. Without these the air would have no direction and would burst out of the dough wherever it could and make the shape all wonky.
I was quite happy with my end result. Sourdough is always going to be heavier than the bread you’d get in the supermarket but it was lighter than I expected and had that lovely thick, chewy crust that you’d expect. I added a cup or so of wholemeal flour into the mix and it also gave the end result that little kick of added flavour.
My bread was cut and shared with family for Easter breakfast. It went beautifully with the sausages, eggs and bacon served and I’m looking forward to trying some of the left overs toasted and topped with fresh avocado. Yum!