I bet you have answered this question a hundred times and asked it just as many: if you had to survive on one food alone, what would it be? For me, probably unsurprisingly, it is freshly baked sourdough bread (preferrably my own) with a generous smear of butter with fleur de sel de guerande (Bridel being the only one readily available here).
I bake about three times a week and this is the latest loaf: the same, trusted recipe I have been using for years now, this time with the addition of a generous amount of seeds: poppy, sesame and linseed. Many people think I am mad to bake my own bread (until they taste it).
Here's why I always make my own bread:
1) I just love the taste of freshly baked bread, I love the warmth of the kitchen while I bake it, I love how inexplicably, the whole family enjoys a lift of their mood when I am making a fresh loaf and they all gather in the kitchen - it just puts a smile on everyone's face.
2) I love the fact that my kids are eating proper bread that they must chew and that doesn't disintegrate in their mouth as soon as they put it in. It's good for their teeth, it's good for their digestion, it's good for their taste buds.
3) I love the fact that it is all natural, no preservatives, no e-numbers, no transfats, no activators and stabilisers and whatever else they put in to make bread last for weeks.
4) I love the fact that I can put in whatever I choose to, I use almost exclusively organic flours, which nowadays come in very exciting variations from small artisan milleries around the UK. Plus I add whatever takes my fancy on a given day - seeds, nuts, onion, cheese, herbs... the list goes on.
5) The bread (naturally!) stays fresh incredibly long (that's one of the many benefits of fresh sourdough) - after 5 days, you might want to toast your slice to pep it up a bit, but it hasn't gone stale... if only a loaf lasted that long! Usually, my family tends to find their way down to the kitchen when they smell the bread baking... and before I know it, someone has sawed off a bit and is happily munching on it ;-)
6) I also like how impressed people are when they taste it and ask me where I buy my bread... so many expats living here are used to good-quality bread, something this country just does not produce (at least it's not widespread and tends to be quite expensive).
7) I like how I have been able to spread the love and my sourdough culture, which I initially got sent from Germany, has now got seedlings in many of my friends' fridges - even the most reluctant of cooks have begged me to pass on the culture and show them how to make proper bread - and most of them have stuck to it over the months and years.
This is my own, humble contribution to making this world a better place ;-)
Seeded sourdough bread
(yields one loaf ca 20 cm in diameter)
Sourdough starter (the night before baking)
80-100 g white sourdough culture
100 g water (room temperature)
100 g white bread flour (wheat)
180 g of starter (keep the remainder as your culture in the fridge)
330 g water (room temperature)
450 white bread flour (wheat)
50 g rye flour
10 g salt (very fine sea salt)
2 heaped tbsp poppy seeds
2 heaped tbsp toasted sesame seeds
2 heaped tbsp linseeds
Prepare the starter the night before. Weigh ingredients into a large glass jar and stir through thoroughly until you have a white sticky mass. The starter will rise and could double in volume, so make sure you account for that when chosing your glass. Cover with a moist tea towel and leave to stand out on the kitchen counter overnight. (Make sure that the temperature doesn't fall below 20 C and draughts should be avoided)
The morning after, prepare your final dough. Weigh all ingredients into a bowl and knead until the dough is smooth and comes off the sides of the bowl.(I use a Thermomix to knead the dough, I set it at 1:30'/dough setting.) Brush the bowl with oil (I use a mild olive oil), return the dough into it and leave to stand, covered with a moist tea towel, for 4 - 6 hours until risen. If you have a draughty kitchen or want to make sure the temperature is even, place it in the oven with only the light on (no temperature setting).
Now begin the folding process. Oil a work surface of your choice (a marble worktop maybe, or, like me, a silicone baking mat that sticks to the counter top) and place the dough on it. Extend it by pulling evenly from all sides until you have about 40 x 40 cm. (Don't worry if it doesn't extend that much towards the end when the gloyten has developed and the dough is able to hold its shape much more). Now fold about a third inwards from the left, repeat from the right. Your are now left with a rectangular log of about 15 x 40 cm. Now fold again, folding roughly a third of the dough towards you and a third away from you into the middle. Now you're left with a neat package of about 15 x 15 cm. Return to the greased bowl and leave to stand for about an hour.
Repeat this process twice or until you have enough gluten strength (it will literally become harder to extend). The folding will trap air in the dough and produce those lovely holes that I love almost more than the bread ;-)) After the last fold, return to the bowl with the fold up.
Place a heat-proof pan in the oven (I use a shallow stainless steel pan), heat to maximum temperature (I haven't measured the temperature, but this is in excess of 250C). After another hour, prepare the baking sheet. I usually use a silicone mat and sprinkle it generously with corn meal (somewhat coarser than bread flour) or semolina. Prepare a bowl of water (or spray bottle), some more corn meal/semolina and about 150 ml of boiling water.
Now you have to work fast. Turn the dough onto the sheet, tucking the sides gently in and under with wet hands to shape a round loaf. Sprinkle with some of the cold water and gently soread it over the surface with your hands, then sprinkle with 1-2 tbsp of corn meal/semolina. Place your baking sheet on top of the oven within easy reach. Pour the boiling water into the pan on the bottom of the oven, which will produce a lovely (and scalding hot!) steam. Immediately place the bread inside and close the oven door. Bake at 250C for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, lower temperature to 225C. If the bread is becoming very dark, place another non-stick silicone mat on top to cover - I use a very light-weight one but greaseproof paper should be fine too. You want the air to be able to circulate.
After a total of 40 minutes, take your bread out (close the oven door immediately in case it needs further baking) and tap the bottom with your fingers. If it sounds hollow, it is baked through. If it doesn't, return to the oven and bake until it does.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.
* Based on a recipe published in the novel "By bread alone" by Sarah-Kate Lynch and more or less heavily adapted ever since.