Things I Learnt This Weekend

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.

Stop me if you've heard this one... A buckwheat loaf, a whole wheat loaf and a sourdough starter walk into a bar...

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 as it used to look...

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.

The snazzy new Bracia label!

That’s what I learnt this weekend! You know you wanted to know that…

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