#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/


Is it Autumn yet?….

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I am an Autumnophile (if there is such a word). I get terribly excited in about July and wait for that change in the air which denotes the beginning of the new season and having become extremely sensitive to this natural phenomenon I can state that Autumn does begin in August, usually when I’m in France on about the 7th. This year it was on the 5th and I admit to phoning Mr D (who was working in the UK) at 7 am in the morning to let him know, although I don’t think he entirely shares my enthusiasm for cold, damp days and soggy leaves!

I’m not sure where this date stands from an ‘equinox’ point of view but meteorologically the Autumn is supposed to begin in late September. However, the leaves are just starting to turn here, the air is muggy and warm, there are plums in abundance and our abandoned grape vine is bending with fruit. I sense a difference in the light, I can’t quite pinpoint the exact first feelings of Autumn (before the traditional ‘signs’) but it does seems to be in the light, which changes to a more golden hue from the bright, fluffy light of summer. Growing up, I  was always told that Mayday was the first day of summer, with its Green Men and general frolics (now apparently the first day of summer is sometime in late June which surely is close to Midsummer’s Day, the clue being the word Midsummer.) In December we don’t sing “In the Bleak Early Winter” as is meteorologically correct. And I’m sure Midwinter is around the equinox of the 21/22/23rd, therefore, Winter must actually start in November which is ‘meteorologically’ Autumn. See how confusing it all is? Answers on a postcard, please!

But for now, all I can really think about is the prospect of Autumn food, long boots, snuggly jumpers, candles and log fires (although I know it’s too early to indulge). So….to help my with my addiction  I’m going to share a few of my favourite Autumn things over the next few weeks, items which I think are essential to enjoy the nights drawing in and the temperature dropping. I know there are many of you who seek the last days of the summer, praying that it’ll eek out into September, but sorry to say an ‘Indian summer’ is just a ‘Warm Autumn’. Perhaps we are just conditioned to hibernation, the arrival of the orchard fruits in abundance call out to our early genetic makeup to ‘stock up and store’ for the hard winter (which we fail to have now).

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When I take the Collie out, along the lane beside the river and up into the woods the smell of autumn is just creeping in – it is of course the smell of decaying vegetation, and not the most desirable if analysed, but I so enjoy driving through the cider orchards and inhaling the fruitiness in the air before the fruity smell turns slightly alcoholic in early October. I do think a cider post will be essential around that time – after all, it’s only fair to guide my readers through the perils of scrumpy, Perry and the like. But for today, overcast and slightly warm, I think I’ll stay indoors, bake something and just ponder on the wonderful season ahead.

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