Each week I go to the market and buy really beautiful, ridiculously expensive, ‘artisan’ bread. If my family could live on only one ingredient, bread would be it.
I started baking my own bread a few years ago, before kids when I had more time on my hands. I took it seriously. I read all the ‘right’ books and tried many different methods to produce the perfect loaf. I recall the bread being acceptable, the fruit loaf in particular was very good. I used instant yeast in those days, always wanting to make my own starter but put off by the antarctic conditions of our drafty Victorian terrace, where we lived at the time. My bread baking days were short lived – I’m not quite sure why.
So when I bumped into a friend at the market last week and she offered me some of her starter and a refresher on bread making, I jumped at the chance.
After a quick run down of bread making basics, a lovely cup of tea and a chat, that was just as lovely, I was sent on my merry way with a basket of dough, a small container of starter and a book called Tartine Bread. It felt a little like leaving hospital with your newborn baby, it’s a big responsibility and you’re not quite sure what you’re doing. What if I kill the starter?!
I baked the bread that had been prepared for me and it turned out a little flat, but full of flavour. For some reason it didn’t rise as much as it should have. I put this down to an unfamiliarity with my oven for the purpose of bread making and turned my attention to the starter.
Starter is a mixture of flour and water set to ferment, and according to Tartine Bread, ‘a baker’s true skill lies in the way they manage fermentation, this is the soul of bread making’. I was feeling the pressure. Impatient me expected to be able to make bread straight away with the starter I had been given. This was not the case. The starter wasn’t ready, or was not ‘active’ enough. As I understand it, the starter needs to adjust to a new environment (container, temperature, feeding schedule) before it’s at it’s most active and therefore ready to bake bread with.
So my starter and I took a couple of days to get to know each other and when we began to talk the same language, it got all airy on me and I knew the time was right. The result was the golden, crusty loaf you see in the photos.
While I was happy with the way my bread turned out, the real satisfaction comes from the slow, manual process of making the bread – understanding the starter, watching the dough during fermentation and reading it for readiness. I can see how people dedicate their lives to the pursuit of the perfect loaf, much like the author of Tartine Bread has.
So while your bread may not turn out like the Burnham Bakery Sourdough on the first try, surely the pleasure you get from tending to the dough yourself excuses any deficiencies your first loaves may have. Not to mention the simply joy in sharing and eating bread fresh from the oven!