I’m lucky. I’ve been practising staying at home for five years.
In 2015, my work became very stressful, so I took some leave … and never went back. I don’t like to say I’m retired, rather that I don’t work much any more.
So I’ve become used to a day built around my lovely home: walking the dog, pottering in the garden, reading, cooking, baking.
I’ve been baking my own bread every week for all that time, but recently I haven’t been able to find yeast in the shops.
Those hoarders have snapped it up, along with all the flour (and the pasta and toilet paper).
So, what to do?
Of course, I could BUY bread. But I have three little boys who look forward to a delivery of a warm loaf every Friday morning.
Light bulb moment! Sourdough! I don’t need any yeast.
I call my friend Julie in City Beach and she invites me for an at-an-appropriate-distance lesson in making the bread that I now realise has become the favourite thing to bake during isolation.
It seems so easy. But Julie has a ThermoMix, and kneading is a 30-second whizz in the miracle machine.
But there’s nothing on the social calendar, so I have the time to knead dough.
Making the Bread
So away I go, with a starter that Julie gives me. A starter is simply some flour and water that sits around fermenting by capturing the wild yeasts that roam around in the air. After several days, it’s ready to become the basis of a loaf of bread…. simply by adding more flour and water and a bit of salt. Done differently, you could be making glue for papier mâché, or playdough!
Making any sort of bread takes a few steps (unless you have a bread machine): activating the yeast, mixing, resting, rising, kneading, resting again. With sourdough, it’s much the same, except that those steps take place over a few days. It’s resting the dough for two or three days that gives the bread its signature sharp taste, and apparently makes it easier for delicate tummies to digest.
So isolation is a good time to try it. We’re not going out much during the day (a walk on the beach, a kayak on the river, once-a-week food shop), and trips away are cancelled.
Being the owner of a sourdough starter is quite a responsibility. When you’ve mixed your dough, you feed the left-over starter with more flour and water, then pop it back in the fridge.
You need to use it and feed it again within a week or, at most, two weeks. Otherwise it could die. Bit like children or dogs…
When I made my first loaves with Julie, the mix was dumped into the ThermoMix. And all the magic happened beneath a closed lid.
Making the bread by hand, I dump out of my bowl onto the bench what I can only describe as a mess!
But ten to fifteen minutes of kneading turns that mess first into a sticky pile, then finally into a silky smooth ball.
It’s quite fun. And therapeutic. After watching some videos on kneading sourdough, I have perfected my moves. Once the dough has come together, I pick it up, raise it to head height, then slam it down onto the bench from about 40cm.
I’m not quite sure how or why this works, but it feels good. Then turn and fold. Lift, slam, turn and fold…. repeat.
I do this process four times, for four loaves, or eight baguettes.
Then it’s into the fridge for a few days, then bring them out, let them come to room temperature, and bake in a hot oven.
Then resist slicing it up until it’s cool…if you can.
Freshly baked bread is one of the simple but wonderful pleasures of life.
Bread has always been a symbol of life, of sustaining that life. Perhaps that’s why so many of us these days are baking it and sharing it and eating it, preferably with delicious butter.
While we’re staying home and flattening the curve, we’re scoffing generously-buttered bread, and fattening our curves.