Poor old Saddo Abroad, reduced to being a depository for
links to Sinfini
. And soon, if my web-designer, aka my son Adam, can figure it
out (which I’m sure he can) Saddo Abroad will become integrated into my spiffy
new WordPress website. I hope we can do this without any followers having to
I’ve just been up to Scotland on a sourdough bread-making
course and if anything on this planet can induce a new blog that isn’t part of
the Sinfini remit it has to be something with sourdough in the title. I already
did Sourdough Abroad a while back, when in Los Angeles I think, so Sourdough
Saddo it has to be.
Sourdough bread, for those that aren’t sure, is the oldest
type of bread, made without the addition of yeast. Instead, a mash of flour
(rye or wholewheat) and water is left to create its own bacteria and yeasts
which develop over the course of a few days. This mash become a leaven, which
when added to more flour and water allows the bread to rise. It sounds complex
(and the science can be a bit baffling) and slow, but once you have your leaven
started you can maintain it forever (it will even keep in the freezer),
replenishing and nurturing it, and this is what I plan to do. There’s no reason
why I should ever use yeast again. And if something goes wrong with my leaven,
I can simply start another.
The course took place in a remote farmhouse south of
Edinburgh, kitted out with a large, open kitchen, at one end a log-fuelled
bread oven and at the other, large windows giving uninterrupted views to the
border hills. Standing at high, solid oak tables, eleven of us spent two whole
days mixing, kneading and baking, instructed by Andrew Whitley. I say “instructed”
but Andrew has a guru quality to him. Bread is not just a foodstuff, it is a
philosophy, a key to living well. By which I don’t mean living luxuriously, but
responsibly and soundly. When we weren’t working we talked and asked questions,
and we were fed meals, cakes, tea and coffee. And bread, of course.
Most bread sold in most commercial outlets is crap. “In-store
bakeries” are, as Andrew put it, “loaf tanning salons”, dough squeezed from
bags or delivered half-baked from massive factories. So-called sourdough bread
sold in supermarkets is 99.9% certain to be sourdough flavoured; that is,
conventional commercial bread flavoured with powder and sold at a mug-alluring
premium. There is no obligation for supermarkets to adhere to any standards
when it comes to sourdough. They can lie about it without fear of regulation. The
real stuff takes time and craftsmanship, neither of which are much use to
profit-motivated supermarket chains. The real stuff is also much, much better
I’m not going to begin to try and distil a whole course into
a few words. Take a look at www.breadmatters.com
for a fuller understanding of
the principles and ethos of good baking. The thing I could happily bang on
about for hours is how much better sourdough bread is for you. Yeasted breads
are made quickly. Commercial breads are made within a few minutes. There’s no time
for the glutens to mellow and the bread is hard for the stomach to digest.
Andrew told us about a study in which 17 volunteers who had been diagnosed as
gluten-intolerant took part. They were fed a bread, 30% of which was wheaten
sourdough, the rest gluten-free. 30% would normally be enough to trigger a
negative reaction, but not one of the volunteers suffered a reaction. I wonder
how many people who avoid gluten, so many of them self-diagnosed, could eat
proper bread if they switched to eating authentic sourdough.
I can’t recommend a Bread Matters course highly enough.
Andrew is funny and kind, professorial yet practical. He could talk for days
were it not for his wife Veronica’s occasional exhortations for him to shut up
and get on with it. I drove back south with six delicious loaves, all made by
me and my own leavens. I’d baked an Arkatena (which contains chick pea flour),
a pumpkin and linseed loaf, a San Francisco, a no-knead loaf, a seeded rye and
a fruit-filled bannock.
Before I left I topped up my rye leaven with a good splodge
of Andrew’s, which he was happy to share out. This has its origins in Russia,
carried to Britain in the early 1990s hidden inside one of Andrew’s socks. From
now on my rye breads will have a link all the way back to the collapse of the
Soviet Union. I think that’s simply brilliant.