There’s something bubbling in the fridge and it’s not the over-ripe Picos Blue cheese kept in a special lead-line box to avoid cross-contamination, nor the bottle of Champagne that’s waiting for a suitable celebration to pop its cork. It’s a Kilner jar full to bursting with yeasty goodness.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been adding flour and water to that jar each day to make a starter for sourdough bread. First it was just a sludgy mess like I used to use for sticking pictures to scrapbooks when we didn’t have any glue, we were poor, us. Then it started bubbling and foaming, and I knew we were ready to make bread.
We’ve had a series of breadmakers over the years, each one worn out from over-use. After all, there’s nothing simpler than putting all the ingredients in a machine before going to bed, then waking up to the smell of freshly-baked bread. Many a time I’ve complained as I ate my doorstep-sized sandwiches that the bread was too warm to cut thinly…
But sourdough is different, you can’t force it into any machines or rush it. Sourdough takes its time and may or may not turn out to be a great loaf, it just depends how it’s feeling that day. The floury mixture bubbling away in our fridge is unique, a melee of Calverley yeasts and maybe a few we’ve brought back from our travels on our clothes. I suspect there may be a hint of what the cat brought in too, but we’ll let that lie.
After seven days of fermenting, it’s added to flour, water and a bit of this and that and quite likes to be left alone for the night to bubble a bit more. The following day the dough is made and kneaded, then left again in a proving basket or sitting on a couche cloth, which is a cloth covered with so much flour it’s practically rigid, stopping the dough sticking. It works too and the longer it’s kept, the better. A few hours later and the dough is ready for the oven which has to be hotter than hot and somehow damp, either from a spray or a tray of water sitting in the bottom. Some 40 minutes later, there’s a loaf, a very fine loaf indeed.
So is all this faffing worth it? The proof is in the eating, and I can tell you that each bite has that tang of Calverley, Chamonix and Canada, it is, quite simple, glorious. I think it’ll go down well with a glass of champagne.