Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bread from the Start: Part 1

Several weeks back, my friend Florence and I got to talking about baking our own bread at home.  Not the soft textured, easy to eat hot out of the oven breads that you can turn out in under 4 hours, but the toothsome, slightly nutty and perhaps a touch sour breads you can make when you birth and nurse a starter.  Florence and I consulted different cookbooks (she chose Moro, I chose La Brea Bakery) but started out nearly the same- with a bag of flour, a clean container, some cheesecloth and 500 g of black grapes.

Since the first day of the experiment, I've had a roving eye.  I see starter recipes everywhere now and am making a list which I plan on writing about in this series.  I will explore a recipe sent to me by a friend which is copied from Fergus Henderson, another from Seattle chef Leslie Mackie who owns and operates Macrina Bakery, another from Clothilde of the ubiquitous Chocolate and Zucchini blog...

Before this whole process of testing starters began I was a full fledged, no questions asked devotee of Nancy Silverton.  In the mid 90s, I spent countless days veering off of my path from work to home or home to work to stock up on loaves of her spectacular bread, tossing other wonderful delights into the grocery bag as well- smoked paprika I could find nowhere else, lovely cheeses, divine sweet pastries.  I was truly delighted when I left LA and was able to find her bread in San Francisco later in the 90s.  And then in 2009 when I relocated to London, I was astonished to find her bread (now being made by an Irish concern who bought her out years ago, but still honor her recipes and use her branding) in my local Tesco Express.  I am still a huge fan of her work, but with withholding some of my former blind enthusiasm.  And I have to blame starter for my mixed feelings...

The process was very straightforward, crushing grapes, adding flour and water, letting it sit for several days while it matured and then beginning a series of feedings over the course of 15 days.  Once I started baking I found the starter to be very resilient and alive, and began making gorgeous loaves of bread!  The only drawback is the amount of flour sent down the drain in the process of keeping the starter alive and the reviving it back from sleep.  To get to that first batch of bread I used up 20 pounds of flour.  At the start of every day, around 2 cups of starter were retained while nearly 2 quarts were poured off.  As a sentimental former pet owner, I became very attached to my yeasty friends, but unless I open a small bakery in my home and buy a couple of full sized fridges, this process will always require a fair amount of waste.  So onwards and forwards to other recipes that require a bit less waste.  To be continued.

Oh! And if you're in the London area, ping me and I will shoot some starter your way.

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