#sourdoughseptember

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

IMG_6059 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.

Healthy Choice

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/


Heavenly Bread @ The Angel Bakery

  

 
Abergavenny is a relatively small, very rural and ancient market town in the north of Monmouthshire but it’s always been far ahead of the competition in its foodie credentials – I have written about the famous annual food festival before and today, on a cold, crisp, sunny afternoon I set off to discover its most recent culinary offering – The Angel Bakery. 

The Angel Hotel is one of Abergavenny’s great success stories – once the hub of the thriving town (my great-great aunt worked there at the turn of the 20th century) it fell a little behind the times but in recent years has been restored and is now holder of the title ‘AA Hotel of the year’ as well as enjoying great renown for its afternoon teas (one of the best in the uk) but that’s for another day – I was here to visit the very stylish Angel Bakery hidden to the side of the hotel in the street which led up to Abergavenny’s famous castle.

The Angel Bakery is beautiful, from its elegant shop to its enormous light and bright bakery with its huge window overlooking the tiny street. Officially opened on the 19th December the bakery predominantly makes sourdough bread, the traditional way with organic, British milled flours. 

  

The Bakers hail from London as does the sourdough culture which, interestingly, is changing in flavour all the time, due to the local water, air and flour. The flour is all organic and each loaf is developed through much testing to decide which flour is best for the job – three different mills are currently used Shipton, Gilchester and Cann Mill however there are plans to use more local mills in the future. Aside from sourdough loaves which come in several different varieties,

 

The Angel Bakery produces splendid baguettes, beautifully crisp, yet yielding, which take me straight back to French summer holidays;

  

 

Buttery croissants which really do melt in the mouth;

  

Rich and vibrant Focaccia which adds an elegant authenticity to a platter of antipasti;

  

And Brioche – the cake of Marie-Antoinette’s famous misquote. The grapefruit glazed individual Brioche is a picture to behold, glistening and unctuous, calling for little more than a good cup of cafe au lait, of course they also make the classic larger sharing Brioche (though who would want to…) with its sugar coating and pleasantly fluted undercarriage – Fig jam is my personal choice with good Brioche although my son favours (rather heinously) Nutella.

  

The bakers are obviously very passionate about their bread, as I was there a batch of fig rye was being placed into tins ready to prove. There is a wonderful newness and lively competence about the place – The ovens are immense and had to be installed before the feature window due to their size. 

   
 

The shop also offers takeaway hot drinks, delicious coffee and tea.  

I see a great future for this bakery – as a champion of slow food nothing beats real soughdough lavishly spread with fresh butter, and sourdough, once the realm of the ‘knit your own yoghurt’ brigade is now very firmly back on the culinary map and as someone who thoroughly disagrees with the modern fast bread of the white sliced generation I for one will be a regular!