Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Perfect Sourdough Recipe

The minute you finally get it right, something bitching comes up like it was a law of nature.   In this case it was a spike in Comex wheat prices; it seems there is a global shortage of good wheat, hence good flour.  I had already gone organic after hearing about a practice called 'desiccation'.  It seems growers like to kill their grain crops off with herbicide because when everything dies simultaneously it dries up and goes through the guts of a combine so nicely.  My wife said “Oh no, they don't do that here in Australia” but I looked on a government agri website and it had a chart of recommended herbicides for each type of grain, with the proviso that malting people don't like dead barley and none of it is very desirable for seed applications.  I met my young neighbour out on the road and asked him what he was going to do about his own lovely crop of waving barley.

Its only Reglone”, he said, and only if the crop is still partly green and/or the weather is a little iffy.  “There's the withholding period and after its been through an animal I don't mind eating it.”

Presumably he meant 'eating an animal that has been fed with the stuff'.  But god only knows how a withholding period means much when something is dry and dead and there is no ongoing exchange with the rest of the biosphere.

But back to global forces which have conspired against the 'perfect sourdough'.  The last lot of organic (same old trusted brand of flour) we bought doesn't work properly.  It is coarse and even a single cup in a blend for any kind of bread turns a previously successful recipe into some kind of a brick that might have been pushed out of a bronze-age campfire with a stick.  We can live with this for a season or two. But what about the Egyptians?  Cheap foreign wheat is the base of their staple bellady bread, which is a sort of plump commercial focaccia that is everywhere and has fueled their multi-generational Malthusian disaster.  Now what little there is must come out more like Turkish flatbread and without wheat there will be lean years once again throughout the land of Egypt.  Will they take to the streets like the Mexicans when the ethanol disaster (that was to make America fuel-independent of famous Saudi charity) only doubled the price of tortillas in Guadalajara?  In fact they will probably stay indoors and kvetch, kvetch - after the revolution their new government looks even uglier, more repressive and corrupt than the old one and it has to be; because half those people yearn for an Islamic theocracy in spite of the lessons from Iran or the Talibs in Afghanistan where life was or is even shittier outside the cabal of wealth and authority than any of us can imagine.  But then I don't know whether they are Sunni or Shia. Whichever, any honest zealot will admit that the other lot needs to all be killed before it can/might work.  And so in human desperation we collectively and respectably grasp at straws that would be grounds to send an individual to the funny farm.

When Herodotus was touring the battlefields of Egypt he noted that the skulls of the Greeks were easily distinguishable from those of the Egyptians.  Greek skulls were thin like eggshells while the Egyptian skulls were thick as a brick.  You can still see this in any of the great museums of the world, the collected exceptions being mostly among the aristocracy; for instance in the ferret-like and effete remains of Rameses 2.  But the upper crust were victims of their own hubris and to maintain royal purity they kept reproduction within the family.  And so they ended up carrying and expressing damaged genes like backwoods rednecks be they in Tennessee or here in Tassie.  Not only did they mate with their own families, they also met their ends at the hands of the same people.  Maybe incest and a sacrifice of romantic choice for duty leaves a residue of resentment.  Maybe there was no viable alternative.

I lived alongside a Greek guy in a share house for a while.   He was personable, hairy and huge, about 6ft.2, had a trade but was an organized crime tragic and wanted most of all to get a handgun and become a stand-over man.  His leisure time was spent on internet porn sites where his obsession was the .1% of humanity that actually needs reduction surgery. 
Occasionally he would find something so wonderful he couldn't contain his excitement and would call me in to see the latest discovery.  There was a mortified Micronesian who had doffed his gargantuan penis gourd, and obviously no amount of cash could compensate for his loss of dignity.  And another time it was a Hottentot lass who appeared to be birthing Dumbo.   Negatives aside, he was certainly more fun and interesting and alive than the average grab-bag, garden variety housemate; like the third occupant; the troubled and gentle lessor to whom we paid rent; who was obviously and admittedly afraid of this guy and was repaid with his contempt.

 About the time I left he made an awful mess in the laundry; emptying the oil from the shock absorber struts on his Japanese car and refilling them with axle grease, thereby converting it to a sportier version or so he thought.  Some time later I went by the house. He was gone but his car had been rolled and still sat crumpled in the backyard.  I know he survived - he must have seen my vehicle back in the area and I received a rambling text message, something about his knuckles getting familiar with my head.  This was in regard to a deposition I had made for the other  housemate in a court case about the rent. The Greek had run up the phone bill gratuitously and secretly moved out without paying either.  He had intimated he had something fun like that planned although I didn't reveal that in the statement.  There seems to have been a lot of healthy genetic mixing since the time of the pharaohs and had he not survived the accident, his undamaged skull would have made a great doorstop or footstool. 

A similarly bastardized leven is also the essence of a good sourdough starter.  I began mine during a trial batch of sauerkraut, and at the height of its bubbling ferment I skimmed a friable white powder off the top along with all the rest of the scum.  This would have been candida yeast, probably albicans (white it was) but just because you have a name for something doesn't mean it's the same pathogenic organism that will give you thrush or  trench foot.   These things have broad genetic variations but are opportunistic as they must be to survive.  Like the 'Liberal' party is a broad church.  The other major part of the starter is lactic acid bacteria and it is in the balance of these competing organisms that the rise can be controlled. The warmer the rising, the more lactic acid is produced which inhibits the yeasts and carbon dioxide production.  In other words there is a point at which the rise stops anyway, flour quality not withstanding.

My number one criterion for a 'perfect sourdough' is to avoid all the work of mixing, kneading and cleaning up, so it is best to have someone else do all the work; in my case it's a Panasonic bread maker.  But since there is a limited rise, the bread should not be punched down which is unfortunate because electric bread makers are programmed to do this. The cheat is simplicity itself.  

 Use the bread maker basic recipe.  This is 350 mls. water; salt, three cups of flour (50% white at least.)  Add a tbsp. of oil or butter.  Substitute the 50 to 100 gram lump of your starter from last time for yeast (you might try premix but there is a lot of odd gunk in it) and use at least a quarter tsp. of salt.  Don't try and do some alternative life-style thing without salt; those organisms don't work well without it and neither do you. You have to replace it in your own body all the time and if you disbelieve try tasting the sweat or urine of yourself or a significant other.  And low salt bread tastes like hell too. You may also add a tbsp. of whole or skim milk powder as a treat for the lactic acid bacteria or even better add a teaspoon of sugar which will turbocharge your rise.   Punch the menu button until a short 45 minute dough cycle comes up.  When that is finished put some flour on your hands, reach in and remove some dough for the next starter, and put it in a glass jar with a lot more space than it takes at this point.  Don't screw the lid on tight for reasons that will become apparent.  Remove the paddle because you won't need it again and there is no sense having the hole in your loaf.  Repair the damage with your fingers, patting the ragged bits flat, spray or wipe the top of the dough with olive oil and put the thing aside until you are happy with the rise and lactic acid content, somewhere between 12 and 24 hours.  Cool actually rises slower but better, warmer makes it more sour.  Put the starter in the fridge before this, it will grow stronger slowly until next time. I make two loaves simultaneously with 1 breadmaker by doubling the recipe with perhaps 100 mls less water altogether and after the dough is mixed turn it out onto a floured countertop, knead a little bit, divide in two and press into bread pans.

The rise will eventually come close to the top.  Where it stops is all you get.  Prick gently here and there with a toothpick to keep the top layer from collapsing if there are gaseous lumps and bake 45 minutes to an hour (if you like it crusty) at 190 -200 degrees starting in a cool oven or use the breadmaker again if you are doing a single loaf which will give you an identical result if you simply let it churn through a whole cycle without the pan and dough which you delay putting back in until the last hour or thereabouts; any time after the last punch cycle has finished.

With a whole ecology evolving at your fingertips some organism will arise in time to occupy any available niche. So a lot of gluten and many other things will already be partly metabolized. It will be heavier than you are used to but less likely to produce that heavy feeling in your stomach after lunch. No more baker's yeast ever; as long as you cycle it regularly the starter is immortal yet constantly refining itself.  Just be sure to remember to remove some dough and save it for next time you bake or you will have been witness to your starter's very last incarnation.  If you are over forty and no longer enchanted with the new age hypothesis, just save your starter and don't worry about a few micro-organisms.  They were born to die and accordingly have their own agenda and if it coincides with yours (which it does), you can find each other and that's beautiful.

*This may be freely transmitted or reprinted for study or non-commercial purposes (in a literary sense) if correctly attributed to my blog.
Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment