I have nothing against yeast. Quite the opposite, I think it is a truly remarkable fungus. It is almost alien in its ability to make things grow out of all proportion, seemingly out of nothing. So when I have been messing around with bread making, not using yeast has not been a priority. But even using yeast I could never get the result I wanted – the chewy, aerated, elastic crumb of a dark caramelly crusted loaf. I am aware that the modern par-baked stuff can be very good but I don’t trust it so I want to make my own.
I made up my own recipes, I followed others, I kneaded and I baked and still The Loaf eluded me. I had learnt that in order to get the holes and the chewiness, wetter dough was required but still I failed. After many failures I changed tack again and went back to the sourdough starter.
Ever since arriving in Ibiza I have been trying to attract wild yeast with a view to keeping a sourdough mother alive. Each time I have come a little closer but never close enough to actually be of any use. I have used grapes, I have used figs, I have used pears, peaches, pomegranates and persimmons. All of them gurgled up, thinned out and died. And now after all this time I have managed to make one work without even trying…
I made up the flour and water mix as usual only this time using wholegrain spelt as I had read it has a stronger reaction than white flour. I went to put in the putrefying pineapple with which I proposed to prove it and found it had been thrown out by the over zealous Lucrezia.
The next day I noticed the disregarded mix I had left above the fridge. I lifted it down and there they were; bubbles – unsolicited bubbles, live bubbles. I quickly fed it with a little more flour and water and returned it to it place. That evening I fed is some more and so on for three more days till I had me veritable fizzling goo. I made up a sponge mix ie, a very, very wet bread dough, with warm water, organic strong white flour and a ladle of the starter before going to bed and leaving it overnight.
Following a recipe the next morning I added more flour and a heartfelt quantity of salt. I stirred the goo and attempted to knead it for ten minutes. Its liquidity resembled wet cement and the drops that missed the bowl later set to almost the same solidity. I scraped it off my hands, put it back in the bowl and dusted it with flour being careful not to add too much. It seems that if you add enough flour to make the dough manageable then you aren’t going to get the aeration required.
Every hour for the next four I turned it out, stretched it and rolled it back into a ball and returned it to the bowl. I then poured it into a floured ceramic bowl and let it prove for a further three hours. Then I baked it. I spent a fretful 40 minutes biting my nails and walking up and down the corridor. What if it failed to rise? What if it was close textured? What if it was not chewy? I worried that the whole grain starter would make it a worthy loaf. Worthy of hippies and chickens.
Finally the pinger went and I pulled it out. Burning my hands I ripped it open and there it was – The Loaf I had been searching for. The steam betrayed sourness before I had even got a piece to my lips. I blew and blew and blew so I could get it into my mouth without then having to visit the hospital for first degree burns to the kisser. I pulled it apart further with my hands – the holes were there. I bit it and tore it with my teeth. The chewiness was there. THERE IT WAS: The loaf of my dreams.