Catching the wild yeast! Invisible but omnipresent all around my kitchen are teensy-weensy near-indestructible eukaryotic microorganisms that do many, many wondrous things in the lively air, but right now a decent percentage of them are fermenting away in and flavouring up my new sourdough yeast starter.
Don’t read on if you are an impatient dinner-on-the-table in-15-minutes kind of person. A loaf of homemade sourdough is time-intensive but low on skills or activity.
Flour, water, yeast and salt. Time, hours and hours of mellow-out time. The longer you let the starter sponge ferment, the more delectably sour your bread will be. Between two and eight hours rising time, between 12 and 18 hours in a cool corner of the kitchen. I knead a little, leave the bubbly aromatic dough to develop for a long time under towels, knead some more or fold and shape a little, flavour to taste, use good olive oil, stone-ground flours, unchlorinated river water. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, black peppers, grains of sea salt.
I have a list up on the fridge door of breads to be made, breadsticks speckled with poppy seeds or toasted sesame seeds, focaccia with rosemary and chopped olives, great crusty loaves of wholewheat, polenta and pumpkin seeds, semi-rye breads with molasses, caraway and fennel seeds picked from the garden last summer and dried. Pumpernickel, caramelised onion breads, Italian panettone with dried fruit.
Breads with character. My coping mechanism for stress relief over the festive season. When the going gets tough, the tough-minded take a wooden spoon, some flour and a little water and feed the starter. The starter billows up and foams out of the jar, threatens to overwhelm the kitchen. I stay calm and knead some silky baby-bottomy dough on a lightly floured board. When in doubt, bake bread. Not the only coping strategy in my toolbox, but a good way to get down and dirty with nourishing results.
Is the world about to end? You’ll find me stretching muslin cloth over wide-mouthed clean jars of seething yeasty goodness. Upending dutch ovens of baked round sourdough bread onto cooling racks. Slathering on real butter and preparing to meet with destiny.