Although it’s one of the simplest elements of life, food is become increasingly over-thought and over-complex to the point of near hysteria. We’re inundated with societal pressures from all sides. From the large-scale food corporate to the pressures of various diet movements like “paleo” “clean eating” and “raw vegan”, to the irony of maintaining a lifestyle that appears to indulge in all the latest restaurants and food trends without admitting to dieting or weight anxiety. Carbohydrates have been demonised in all their forms, with people eschewing them to either focus on animal products or make complex (or depressing) substitutes.
I’m a believer in eating pretty much everything (restriction leads to guilt and over-indulgence). Sticking to as many wholefoods and homemade things as possible, whilst not having a panic attack if you have that quarter-pounder or store-bought chocolate now and then. With this in mind (and a recent relocation to a more rural lifestyle) I’ve begun a routine of making our weekly bread from scratch, at home.
It’s economically more sensible, as bought bread is either expensive or barely filling. Not to mention you know exactly what’s gone into the finished product. It generally lasts a couple of days before going stale – but why would you want it to last any longer, as that’s far from natural. Stale bread (if you have any left to get to that stage) is more than plenty useful in its own way.
A loaf of rustic bread is the simplest meal – and has fed people for centuries. Bread with stew, broth or dripping was the most standard form of meal – when carbohydrates and fats were the mainstay of every diet (for good reason). It has integrity and history – and deserves the respect of that, not to be sidelined as the enemy.
The process itself of breadmaking is one of the more therapeutic routines I’ve engaged in. It’s certainly not spur of the moment – a good sourdough loaf will take about three days of preparation – but you’ve invested far more in it. Everything from the commitment to the drawn-out process of making a sourdough loaf to the repetitive and soothing motion of mixing and kneading is thoroughly therapeutic.
Not to mention the pride and satisfaction of finally enjoying the finished product. Even better when shared. Nothing is better to feed a group than a homemade slab of bread with butter and cheese. It’s comfort food to the extent that it’s ingrained. The weird, natural science of breadmaking is also intriguing, as no loaf will ever be the same. From day to day weather conditions and humidity to the airborne yeast that feeds your starters – your bread is its own entity, reliant on you but largely with a mind of its own.
So set forth, create and feed your starter – then revel in your own loaf of sourdough bread….
MAKE YOUR STARTER
Start with 100g of flour (ideally wholemeal to begin with). Mix with lukewarm water to get to the consistency of thick paint. Beat well, then cover with clingfilm.
Store somewhere warm – a hot water cupboard is perfect. Fermentation should start within a few hours.
Once this has begun, begin “feeding” your starter. Add 100g of flour (can be white or wholemeal) and mix in. Add cool water to bring it back to the thick-paint consistency. Re-cover with clingfilm and leave for 24 hours.
Once a day has passed, discard roughly half the mix. Again add 100g of flour and cool water to bring the consistency back. Repeat this process every day for 7-10 days. Make sure you keep your starter at room temperature.
Once that time period is up, you’re ready to make your first loaf (see Part 2).
Keep your starter on the bench if being used regularly – when you take starter out to make a new loaf, simple “feed” again (ignoring the discard step).
You can make your starter “dormant” by storing it in the fridge. To revive it, bring it back to room temperature and do a “discard and feed” and it will be good to go.
Part 2 coming soon!