Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Wild Yeast Chase

I zoomed off from Somerset the other day in search of something that turned out not to exist – but in its place I found something much more exciting!

Anyone who makes, or attempts to make, sourdough bread will tell you that it’s like casting spells, it’s magic, and as such you get very superstitious about every element. Is the leaven hubbling and bubbling properly? Is it the right kind of flour? Should the water be bottled or can it just be tap? Will only the best sea salt do? And what about the proving basket, or the cloth to line the basket? Will a bowl do? Will an ordinary tea-towel be ok?

We don’t go through all this anxiety with yeast risen bread; we just throw it together and chuck it in a tin and it comes out fine. But sourdough isn’t just bread, sourdough is a mystery and an art. Sourdough captures an invisible vital ingredient from the very air and harnesses its strengths to make a subtle potion. Bread that rises without any visible means of support – magic!

After my little problem with the not very well floured tea towel (see post passim) I became convinced that what I needed was the right kind of cloth to line the proving vessel. I learnt that I could get one from Breads Etcetera and I was told that they were for sale at their new café in Clapham High St, London. (Blue fascia, just beside Sainsbury’s). I drove from Somerset convinced that the purchase of said cloth would be the finishing touch to my sourdough mise en place – the proved dough would virtually somersault on to the bakestone.

In torrential rain I found the place – so new on the High St that it doesn’t even have its own name above the door yet. Blank faces and mystified expressions met me – proving cloth, what proving cloth? I must have looked crestfallen, because they found one of their founder bakers, Kurt Anderson, and got him to come and talk to me. And talk we did, as his mobile jangled and his staff raced around and customers thronged through the door. (This place is going to do gangbusters business.) They don’t use cloths to line their proving bowls at all. They just flour the bowls, which are made of some sort of coiled wooden material that breathes and that I can order from them. And yes, sometimes the dough sticks a bit, but the amazing thing about sourdough is that the structure is so internally robust that sticking a bit doesn’t seem to do it any harm. If an ordinary dough got a tear at that point it would collapse. Not sourdough.

Kurt was a delight to talk to, passionate and enthusiastic, and having been up all night baking, remarkably alert. I bought one of his walnut loaves and, two days later, it is still moist and delicious. I bought cheese especially for it (see yesterday’s post), and I truly think I could live on it. But there were a few other things that caught my eye in the café; what looked like black rye, which I’ve never known how to get to work, and a pile of other goodies.

The best thing? Kurt invited me to go and bake with them. I was completely taken aback. Of course I said yes. Abracadabra!


Susan in Italy said...

I'm glad to know of a place in Europe where I can buy proofing bowls. I've converted 2 people to the sourdough experience and have had to furnish them with the spiral twisted wooden bowls through a kitchen store in Minneapolis. That meant waiting to go back to the States for holidays. Do you know if this bread company ships?

I flour my proffing bowl directly as well. It will stick more in the beginning and will get progressively more floury and non-stick as you use it.

But I'd really like to know how you use tea towels. I can only make round loaves (plus the occasional fougasses w/o a proofing bowl. The towel lets you make baguettes!

June said...

Susan - the picture of your proving bowl looks exactly like the ones available online through Breads Etcetera - www.breadesetcetera.com/baskets.html - and Kurt told me the same thing - that they get easier to use the more you flour them.

You can get baguette shaped containers from them as well - all sorts of shapes actually. Or if you can find a long shaped basket it will work fine if you line it with a floured tea-towel. I have tried just using a floured tea-towel, drawn up to make a channel for the dough to rise in, but it's a bit hazardous when it comes to transferring to the baking tray!

June said...

Susan - typo!

lindy said...

I have a couple of coiled baskets like this, and they work very well for a round bread. I think the beehive-y look they give the bread is very nice too.

For baguettes I use a very heavy linen cloth that I did buy especially for the purpose, from a french company, the name of which I forget.(Matfer?) It has become impregnated with flour over time, and is un-sticky now. I am very fond of it.

However, I think heavy linen artists canvas,untreated and not bleached, from a good art supply store would be absolutely identical.

I keep this cloth and some baskets lined with linen, and the coiled baskets, all in a large zippered, pretty much airtight plastic bag that a duvet came in, in the closet. You might want to consider this sort of storage for anything you are keeping floury, to prevent the development of bug and moth colonies.Seems to have worked pretty well for a few years.

I am terribly jealous about your baking invitation!

June said...

Lindy - excellent idea about the storage, especially as ant time is upon us, and I'm sure Susan will be glad to hear about the cloth.

Susan in Italy said...

Yes, Lindy, Thanks for the proofing cloth ideas.

Bonnie said...

I hope we'll get to see a post about your baking experience with Kurt! What an amazing opportunity.

June said...

We've arranged the baking night for the beginning of July. Will post about it then.

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