Making bread is one of the most wonderful things you can do. It makes your whole home smell good. It makes you feel good just because you did it. And that feeling never goes away, no matter how often you bake.
It’s also much easier than you might expect.
I had a long patch – four years in the US – where I made all my own bread. At that stage, quite a few years ago, it was extremely hard to get good bread, and if you could find something that wasn’t over-preserved fluff, it was incredibly expensive. (Seriously, you could keep most of those loaves for months and they would never get mouldy. Horrible).
I experimented with all kinds of flours and grains, and developed the most delicious, healthy, whole-grain bread imaginable (using boiled grains), along with much more conventional loaves. I wasn’t working, so I had the time, and doing it is such a pleasure.
People used to ask me to bring one of my sourdough loaves to dinner, rather than wine, which I was always proud to do.
The key, I think now, was the starter. I found that one online – Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter. They sent a small pack of the dehydrated starter, and off I went. It was magnificent It survived a lot of mistreatment and reliably produced the most delicious breads.
But then it was time to come home to Melbourne, and I left the starter behind.
I live near Natural Tucker bakery in North Fitzroy, and they made truly delicious sourdough bread. I slowly stopped bothering to make my own, when I could get theirs still warm, straight out of the oven.
But lately they’ve changed either baker or recipe, and it’s not the same. It’s dryer (rather like the product of another, more-famous local baker), and lacks that lovely moist crumb that was always so perfect.
And then a couple of weeks ago, I was offered some really interesting starter, a very old and vigorous strain.
So, I’m back. I had one small experiment at the weekend with some cinnamon rolls, with reasonable success, and yesterday I launched into loaves. Just plain sourdough white, nothing fancy.
The technique I use is based on the No Knead style, which makes it simplicity itself. This is just a simple white bread, but the method is adaptable for almost anything. Except that the heavier the flour or grains I use, the more likely I am to add yeast as well for some added lift.
As I get myself more organised again, I’ll make sue I mix in a good quantity of pasta dura flour, as it makes for a better crust.
Take a cup of the starter and put it in a bowl with 5 cups of flour and enough water (preferably boiled and cooled) to get a dough. Use a wooden spoon to mix. This will be enough to make two small loaves. Extend to 7-8 cups of flour for bigger loaves.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it somewhere out of a draft at least 12 hours, or overnight. It should double in size.
The next day: scrape out the mix onto a heavily floured bench. Add a teaspoon of salt and a couple of teaspoons of oil. Knead for just a minute or two until you have a smooth dough.
Cut the dough in half. I rolled up the dough tightly one way, and then cross rolled it the other. Spray with some water.
Place those loaves somewhere warm for about an hour to rise.
Bake at 220C for 25-30 mins. The base should sound hollow when you knock it.
Result: There is nothing in the world like fresh bread.