So, it’s now officially #sourdoughseptember and a perfect excuse to indulge in proper bread. I first discovered sourdough some years ago in France – its French name is Pain au Levin. It seemed only to be sold in artisanal bakeries and I often wondered what exactly gave this wonderfully flavoursome bread its flavour – fast forward X number of years later and I bought my first sourdough loaf from the then fledgeling Hay-on-Wye based baker, Alex Gooch. Immediately I was taken straight back to France, it was an almost Proustian moment. Over the ensuing years I have made it my business to find out more about this delicious bread; have attempted (and failed) to make it, researched its health benefits and sought out the best in my local area, and a little further afield.
Back to basics
Sourdough gets its intense and slightly acidic flavour from natural yeasts which are created through the fermentation process. Not be confused with moulds, yeasts only have single-celled growth habits. The final taste of the bread very much relays upon the atmosphere in which the starter grows; in fact bakers have noticed distinct changes in flavour when a starter is moved from one part of the country to another; we all have invisible good bacteria surrounded us and this makes or breaks the flavour of the final product. I won’t go into exactly how to make Sourdough but a #sourdoughseptember on twitter will bring about all sorts of baking advice. However, I do recommend the legendary Bread Matters book which is my bible of baking and has several sourdough recipes to choose from, including gluten free.
The World’s Most Famous Bread
The fashion for sourdough in the UK predominantly stems from the opening of Paris’ legendary Poilane bakery in London, producing what was, at the time, Britiain’s most expensive bread. I have occasionally picked up a loaf or two in Harrods and it is good but there are now many contenders out there which equal, if not outshine it.
I often wonder if we are more inclined to enjoy the flavour of a sourdough from our local area because the local yeast flavours are somehow more familiar to us? Perhaps there should be a study of it!
In 2007 Bath was introduced to Richard Bertinet, whose outstanding bread is now available mail order across the country (as is Polaine). Richard now has five books to his name, and several shops. I was introduced to his bread, rather unusually at the fabulous Gloucester Services on the M5 and a soft boiled egg with a slice of buttered Bertinet are things dreams are made of! However, I am not often in Bath or on the M5 and the annual subscription is a little over my budget so I have had to look far closer to home. Interestingly, Bertinet is also famous for producing the first authentic sourdough tin loaf; a feat which took years to perfect and is now sold at selected stockists.
I was so delighted when my local Waitrose store started stocking Alex Gooch’s bread; it makes sourdough readily available to a much wider audience and with no compromise on quality. DO NOT buy the Sourdough Flavoured breads offered in the Speciality sections of Supermarkets, most of these have added sourdough powder for flavour which is actually quite revolting.
So for a while it was just me, the toaster and Alex’s bread but then I discovered The Angel Bakery in Abergavenny; different flavours again and just as delicious. Sadly, its just a little too far away for regular consumption.
Then, one day earlier this year, I was taking a shortcut through one of the little squares off Monmouth’s high street and I spotted Madeleine’s – a great big, handwritten blackboard in the window announced fresh sourdough, made with three ingredients; flour, water and salt. It was as if my prayers had been answered. However, there is one problem….if you don’t get their early it sells out!
I don’t often eat bread per se but when I do I want perfection, and now I realise how much of my life has been wasted consuming mounds of the Chorleywood-method bread, cheap and cheerful overly processed white. Originally, bread was unleavened, ancient cultures then realised that yeasts, created through fermentation, would lighten the bread, thus evolved the yeasted bread of today.
Real sourdough actually heals the gut and there have even been groundbreaking tests which have show that some celiacs can tolerate small amounts of sourdough (I wouldn’t recommend it if you are a Celiac but do google the research). Good bacteria plays a big role in our overall health; Sourdough can reduce bloating, helps keep blood sugar levels regulated – it keeps well too, a good sourdough loaf can be toasted for up to a week, there is no mould growth – it just goes stale.
I do hope that sourdough bread is not going to be one of the food fads, popular for a few years and then off into obscurity only to resurface in ‘alternative’ cookery books twenty years hence. Sourdough deserves to be a British staple; bread has been at the forefront of the western diet for centuries; its had its bad times but now, hopefully the good times are here to stay.
For more information: https://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/