It's a smell that not only fills the kitchen but it seems to penetrate the soul. It's the sweet aroma of bread baking in the oven. Even more spectacular is the smell of hot bread when the hot door of the oven is eagerly opened, it's something that reminds me of childhood when times appeared simpler.
Every few days I knead out a loaf, sometimes I'm busy and I'll buy bread. But it's brings me no joy, in fact I'm often quite robotic when I buy bread someone else has made. "It's been a busy few days… we need to buy bread". There is always seems to be a justification for convenience. The bread I prefer to buy is a either a batard sourdough loaf, or a light rye from a lovely French patisserie, both are delicious breads but I've chosen a life with minimal money so I have to stand by my choice, i.e. I need to knead my own bread.
Sourdough has been a mystery for me for many years. I've been using a basic recipe of flour, water and dry yeast. It makes a pretty standard loaf but it's nothing worth writing home to mum about. My curiosity eventually got the better of me and after a few late night sessions flicking through bread books I decided to make my own sourdough. Another learning adventure, continuing the process of becoming even more independent, semi self sufficient to be more precise.
Sourdough makes use of wild yeast which is everywhere around us, it's just a matter of capturing them and making a home for them in a broth of flour and water. I had some almost success starters, then I'd forget to feed them just as they'd ripen, lose interest and go back to baking with store bought dry yeast. The last month however the stars have aligned and a starter is now very much alive and is the sole basis of my new adventures in bread making.
Now it may seem like a simple thing to be so excited about and worth writing about, but for a bloke like me, this is very exciting. It's one step closer to my dream. All I need to buy now is flour. Thats it. I don't know how dried yeast is made, but I know how my starter was made and thats comforting.
A few things I've learned on the way. Organic rye seems to make the best starter culture, then I feed it with a biodynamic organic flour every day. I found the processed flour horrible for the starter. Maybe the pesticides used on the wheat, killed the food for the living yeast to feed on, I'm no expert in this field. I've also discovered that every starter is different. My mum has been on the same sourdough journey and we've been comparing results. She made her starter with organic yoghurt and has a different loaf as a result. Making sourdough takes commitment. You have to make whats called a 'sponge' the night before you knead the loaf, and you need to look after the starter like it's a pet. It needs monitoring, feeding, watering and love. Well not so much love, but it's nice to say g'day to it when you're breathing in that yeasty beer smell first thing in the morning!
The most enjoyable thing about the whole process has been learning by experimenting. I got the basics from books and then went and just played around until I got the results I wanted. I'm adding sourdough bread making to the workshops I'll be running over winter, so keep a look out for details soon, if you're interested. I'll share everything I've learnt and set you on your way to bread independence.