Sourdough

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: AM

bread /brɛd/

food made of flour that has been mixed with milk or water, made into a dough or batter, with or without yeast or other leavening agent and baked

food or sustenance

livelihood - to earn one's bread

slang - money

idiom - break bread: to eat a meal, especially in companionable association with others

Bread is fascinating - it is history - the very basis of our food since millennia, a spiritual symbol, accompanying many religious festivals, used both as a token of prosperity and hardship, suppression and liberty. Lack of bread has caused famine and protests have been started because of the price. It began as rather flat and thin, somewhat of a necessity in order to make it remotely digestible, however after the discovery of wild yeasts all leavened loaves were made using these naturally occurring yeasts - this bread was therefore naturally sourdough - with a slower rising time. Sadly with time being money, the development of commercial yeasts, meant that bakers could develop faster rising breads, this coupled with sourdough falling out of fashion meant that the art of sourdough could very well have been lost forever. But with thanks however to a band of wonderful traditionalists the sourdough art was kept alive, bakers such as the great Pierre Poilâne, whose four pound loaves - made using stone-ground flour, sea salt from Guérande and a wood-fired oven - are still baked to this day in France and since June 2000, also in London. It took them understandably over 2 years to obtain the permission needed to use a wood-fired oven - understandable, since the Great Fire of London in 1666 began in a bakery - but we are so glad they persevered, as this is where we have historically bought our supply.

Before London we honed our bread eating skills in the mecca of sourdough - San Francisco - whose artisanal bread movement was reincarnated and reinvigorated during the 1980's by the likes of Acme Bread founded in 1983 by Steven and Suzie Sullivan, who wanted to offer a better bread. Brought to California by French bakers during the gold rush, sourdough continues to thread its way through history. The Boudin family, upon arriving in San Francisco discovered that the sourdough culture there was very unique and established their bakery in 1849 which is still baking today "with a portion of the original mother dough still starting each and every sourdough loaf".

Our own sourdough culture, which has been loving fed and watered since last spring does not quite come from such lofty heights. Nevertheless it is a necessity as, not having easy access to the wonderful breads of San Francisco or London, I do need to bake them myself. Experimenting at home is fun, as in Germany and Scandinavia sourdoughs are more traditionally rye breads, our bread is usually in that vein albeit with different variations, using my rye flour starter I personally like to add rye or spelt flour, sometimes even pearl barley, seeds are good, salt obviously is a must, different herbs or a combination of caraway, fennel and aniseed, a little honey and water, then a slow rise of at least two days, baked in a cast iron casserole - I find this wonderful bread with its delicious smell always gets the weekend off to a good start.

However, if their is one chink in my otherwise perfect start to the weekend, it is the oven, according to some bread aficionados the most important part of any baker's equipment is always the oven and I would have to agree, in the case of sourdough bread you really cannot beat the dark caramelised chewy crusty taste that can only be achieved by baking in a wood fired oven. My bread, however delicious does not quite have that smokey taste achieved from the wood fire and it is on days like these that I head down the road to the lady who lives in an old water mill, where she bakes divine loaves reminiscent in taste and texture of those delicious first bites of Poilâne bread - you see there is always a solution, however when we travel back to London we do always make sure to stock up on the real thing. 

February 2017