I like yeast. I also have a soft spot for Lactobacillus. With this in mind, a few weeks back I decided to make the leap and advance my ridiculously rudimentary baking skills with the preparation of a wild yeast sourdough starter.
I used the amazing tool that is the internet and searched out a bunch of recipes for basic sourdough starters. I then transmogrified said recipes, decided that I knew best and whatever educated decisions I made would be worthwhile, had a great time telling Catherine that with Microbiology and Food Science degrees under my belt this would be a cakewalk (perhaps I punned it up and even said bakewalk) and began.
A blend of whole wheat flour, plain flour and a scattering of millet was hopefully going to provide the wild yeast and bacteria that I was to need for this to work. I threw caution to the wind and added a dash of cider vinegar (oh, how swashbuckler-like I can sometimes be) to slightly lower the pH of the water and grain mixture and then decided that a pinch of mixed Lactobacillus culture from a yoghurt-making sachet I had in the fridge would definitely help with sourdough action. I fed it daily, talked to it on occasion and even jumbled together a few songs on the guitar… Bake Me Up Before You Go Go, All My Oven, Po Atarau (Now Is The Flour)…
At day eight, I had a nice, slightly alcoholic, slightly fruity smelling doughy concoction that I successfully made my first ever Whole Wheat Sourdough Loaf with. I was impressed, patted myself on the back with flour and dough encrusted hands and began to think of all the interesting loaves I could make in the future.
This weekend, I decided to make a Buckwheat Loaf with the starter. Buckwheat is interesting in that is free of gluten, meaning that I was likely to end up with a loaf that was more like a rock than anything else. Gluten is important in baking due to its elastic nature. When dough is kneaded, it acts like a big net, trapping the granules of starch and little pockets of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast, giving bread it’s nice soft, chewy texture. I cheated a little and used some whole wheat flour as well. I didn’t want something that could have been used as a projectile by some Middle Ages siege engine to take down castle walls.
This is where I come to the most interesting thing I learnt this weekend. When at Thornbridge, we brewed a beer called Bracia using Chestnut Honey sourced from Italy. Chestnut Honey has a very unique character. It borders on medicinal, is bitter and sweet and wholesome and has a fragrance that I can only really describe as smelling like Chestnut Honey. I’ve had a go before and come up with descriptors like “window putty” (which I found out gets its aroma from linseed oil), woody or musky, but have never been able to hit the nail on the head.
Bracia smells like Buckwheat bread! As a brewer and beer judge, I spend a load of time smelling and eating as many random things as I can. It’s a great way to build up a repertoire of descriptors for describing a beer. Bracia had always stumped me, but now I can say it smells like buckwheat, window putty/linseed oil and woody, musky honey.
That’s what I learnt this weekend! You know you wanted to know that…