It is common for people to focus on the slips and stings of life’s journey but I prefer to ponder the diamonds and jewels collected along the way. One such for me has been a chance encounter about 6 years ago that resulted in what is now my passion for sourdough bread.
I have never eaten a lot of bread and still don’t but I learned what good bread was as a child, when my mother started making organic, wholemeal bread with fresh yeast. Sunday night tea was invariably left-over roast chicken with salad and a slice or two of her excellent bread, with lashings of butter, followed by fruit salad and ice cream. Only on Sundays did we eat in front of the TV because we all loved watching Young Talent Time!
How another 45 years slipped by without me discovering the joys of making sourdough bread is a mystery but I now rarely eat any but my own sourdough breads. I must say, though, that when I visit my 93 year old mother I do still love eating her freshly made, wholemeal, fresh yeast bread.
I run workshops about the sourdough method I use and those workshops have helped support me these last 5 years. In fact, if I could find a way to run more of them, I could happily give up various other parts of my work as I love giving the workshops as much as the participants love receiving them.
I describe my sourdough method as an easy, foolproof way to make nutritious, delicious bread. So it continues to amaze me that so many books are written about sourdough baking, and many of them very complicated, because sourdough is an ancient creation and is incredibly simple and natural. Most books have recipes that add all manner of ingredients to the basic loaf which all sound fabulous but which I find detract from the taste of a truly excellent sourdough flavour.
There is one book I do love: The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard. It is the story of Dan’s travels through Europe, Ireland, Scandinavia, Russia and more, recounting the villagers, grain farmers, wine makers, bakers, millers and grandmothers who have made sourdough bread using whatever grew in their climate and was available cheaply, since the dawn of time. It is a treasure of innovation and history and teaches you that fermentation has been harnessed by mankind throughout human history and, really, almost anything will ferment and some of the leftovers from other products (like grape skins from wine making) make exceptionally good bread ingredients.
He does not use exactly my method but the recipes are easily adapted. One of my favourites is a combination of two of Dan’s discoveries, reworked by me to include sprouted, rather than cooked, rye grains as a substantial part of the loaf. I call it “7 days and 7 minutes rye bread” because it takes 7 days from the minute you decide to make it, until you can actually eat it, but it only takes 7 minutes of your time in total!
7 Days and 7 Minutes Rye Bread
Day 1: weigh out 300g of organic rye grains. Put into a bowl, cover well with water and leave overnight.
Day 2: Strain off water. Place the rye grains into a damp calico bag and tie that to a wooden spoon over a deep enough bowl that it hangs without touching the bottom.
Day 3: Fill the bowl with water and let the bag of rye grains soak for 30 minutes. Put the timer on because you don’t want to kill the rye grains by drowning them! Tip the water out and let them hang again.
Day 4: Open the bag. The rye grains will probably be just sprouting. If not then repeat day 3. Once they are just sprouting, remove from the bag, put into a sieve and wash well. Put them back into the bowl and pour over 250ml white wine. Stir and leave all day.
Meanwhile you need to feed the rye sourdough starter twice during this day so you are ready to make the loaf in the evening.
To make the loaf (evening of day 4):
Strain the wine from the rye grains and save both! Beat together 200g starter +the strained wine + water to make up to 150g. Mix in 400g of the rye grains (save the rest, about 1/2 cup, to put in a soup / stew / another loaf of bread).
In another bowl mix 250g organic, wholemeal rye flour + 1 tsp salt. Stir in the contents of the first bowl. It will be a sticky dough. Rye has very little gluten so there is no need to do 2 risings. Simply grease a small loaf tin and dust it with rye flour. (I use a loaf tin that will fit inside my cast iron pot for easy baking.) Press the dough gently into the tin and make an even top. Cover lightly and leave at room temperature for 15 hours….
Day 5: Heat the cast iron pot for 30 minutes at 240C. Bake the loaf as normal…. 35 minutes with the lid on at 240C then 15 minutes with the lid off at 180C. Remove from the oven but put the lid back on and allow it to cool all day in the pot.
Evening of day 5: Remove it from the pot and the tin. At this point it will be sticky and damp underneath. Don’t worry! I wrap it in a beeswax cloth, but Dan says put the loaf in a lightly oiled, brown paper bag.
Day 6: Do nothing! Do not eat it yet!
Day 7: Ok, now you may have a slice for lunch. If it is still a little damp, wait until day 8. It will be fabulous and you will be starting on the next 7 days and 7 minutes rye bread process.
Now, if we all took 7 days to make our own bread, instead of buying bread, we’d all be healthier and happier! This recipe is dedicated to Jan Howard, who kindly showed me how to make sourdough bread back in 2010 when I first moved to Tasmania and who is originally from San Francisco and told me about Tartine.