What’s the best way to say “I love you”? Assuming words are out of the question, there’s always the grand gesture – but that can backfire. For example, a chap I knew at university covered every available surface of his bedroom with glowing tea lights, only to be informed by his not-for-much-longer girlfriend that “Fire hazards are not romantic”.
To adequately convey a sense of “I love you – obviously not romantically because that would be super weird – just as friends but somehow more than friends, siblings almost but without any sense of obligation, and in fact it’s more of a collective expression of love; that is, we love you (plural)” I can think of worse ways than a loaf of homemade bread.
You don’t have to use words, or even make eye contact! What could be less awkward than that?
This is real bread, not breadlike foodlike substance – just grains, water and salt in its simplest version. And lots of time. Bread isn’t great for a diet, I know that – but sourdough is lower GI than conventionally yeasted bread, longer fermentations like those in no-knead bread ease digestibility, and whole wheat provides fibre alongside the carbohydrates, lowering the GI further. By which I mean it’s probably as diet-friendly as it’s possible to be whilst still being bread, not broccoli or egg whites in disguise. Substituting 10% of the wheat flour for rye also makes it incrementally healthier! It took me many iterations to develop this formula and timings, based on the helpful recipes found online for white no-knead, whole wheat sourdough, and sourdough no-knead – but I couldn’t find a single recipe that combined all three – so here goes.
Having neglected my previous (highly-strung) sourdough starter to death, I wanted to try and develop a basic loaf that would fit in with our daily schedule and be as low GI as possible. This starter is based on Mike’s from Sourdough Home, and it’s wonderful – very stable and with a lovely rise. It was started on organic, stoneground rye but it’s now fed on plain white supermarket own-brand flour/filtered water and has a 100% hydration ratio (equal weights flour and water). His instructions and pictures are great, but the timings can vary depending on conditions – for example, in my cold February kitchen it took twice as long at each stage initially, 24 hours instead of 12 to see any activity. I gave some to a close friend who is a much better baker than I am, and we’ve both been baking with it for a few weeks very happily – so if you don’t fancy the one-week lead time or the faffing about, rather than making your own starter, see if you have a friend who can give you some of theirs. (maybe me!)
My friend came round for weekend breakfast – sourdough toast with butter, eggs and honey – she brought me some lovely green tea and I gave her a jam jar of starter to take home. The honey in the picture was a gift from the wonderful people at The Ledbury restaurant in West London, where the Husband took me for the best meal I’ve eaten in the UK.
Cost: about £1.50 for a 1.5kg quantity. It isn’t the cheapest bread recipe, it’s true – because of the prodigious quantities of butter, milk and eggs. It is still over 4x cheaper than the cheapest supermarket brioche, however, and unsurprisingly, a fresh homemade loaf is immeasurably superior to its plastic-mummified long shelf-life counterpart.
This richly golden loaf is a glorious indulgence – the sort of thing that is best, I feel, homemade. The crumb is tender and deeply flavoured, but very light and airy, not at all dense. It is suspended within a deeply burnished crust that crumbles pleasingly – either straight out of the oven or toasted the next day. It is a treat but one which is definitely worth it. It takes time (overnight fermenting and long rise because of the enriched nature of the dough), but not much effort at all – especially with a stand mixer doing most of the work.
Cost: 36p per 1kg loaf
In some ways, I find that the most satisfying things to make in the Low-Ceilinged Kitchen are those premium items that are cheap to make, but expensive to buy. Sourdough bread is the perfect example – in theory, it should be cheaper than scientifically enhanced plastic wrapped bread product, but in practice, a loaf of Poilane is about 8x the cost of a basic range white sliced.
I’ve tried sourdough before, but I find the feed-and-discard process of establishing the starter a psychological as well as a technical challenge – firstly, because I can’t bear to throw things away (even, as it turns out, semi-fermented flour and tap water) and secondly, because even keeping a basic organism like yeast alive turns out to be too much of a commitment. Many instructions mention that the starter needs consistent care, like a pet. Personally I have never really seen the point in pets, given that there’s no payoff – they are never going to learn to talk, or take care of me in my old age, or even produce an unbelievably economical loaf of homemade sourdough bread.
Anyway. This time, I followed the excellent instructions for a rye/whole wheat starter from a family friend’s blog – and a week later, a jar of gently bubbling, yeasty jar of starter had taken up residence on the kitchen counter. Now what?
I won’t traumatise you with pictures of all the breads and recipes that followed; the sad flat loaf like a redundant January frisbee, the loaf so dense that I worried it would collapse in on itself and create a black hole that would consume our entire house, the lofty loaf that turned out, on slicing, to be 50% interior air…because at last, after much iteration (i.e. gradually reinstating all the corners I had tried to cut) the results with this method have been consistent…both in overall loaf success and in interior texture.