Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Let's start at the very beginning

It's a very good place to start...

Well in the last couple of months, I've got back into breadmaking in a big way, particularly by using a starter as opposed to my comfortable recipes asking for fast acting dried yeast. However, I did come up against one obstacle in the shape of fresh yeast. Last year when I read The Savvy Shopper by Rose Prince, I had no problems, as she suggested going to supermarket bakery counters and being given free yeast (special call out to Tescos staff here, who grew to recognise me and would often chat about what I was baking that week, its a little thing, but it made a huge difference to a shopping experience). So once again I hauled on my ugg boots, wrapped up warm and pottered off to my local supermarket - no longer Tescos, but Morrisons. Whereupon a delightfully truckulent member of staff refused to give or sell me any fresh yeast as he's "not allowed." A likely story, but when I had finished crossly rolling my eyes at the absurdity of the comment, I decided that it was time to dose myself up with painkillers and brave the bus to my local Sainsburys. Where the story was the same, we're "not allowed" to give you yeast. Well this time I was really annoyed, my back was hurting and I was beginning to doubt myself. I'm sure I had no problem with this previously, was it definitely in the book that if requested staff were supposed to give out fresh yeast? I checked and it was, however, on discussion with some friends who know more about supermarkets than this particular wannabee savvy shopper, the policy change is probably due to staffing and training restrictions, the bottom line being it's too expensive to train your staff to give or sell yeast! For the love of God! What I wanted was to move towards eating a more nutrient dense, healthy bread that tasted of something but it was seemingly moving out of reach because of a cut in training budgets? Oh sweet mother of God.

Eventually, a friend managed to cajole a member of Sainsbury's staff into selling him some fresh yeast, and Project Starter could begin. I consulted Andrew Whitely once again and put together a starter that was to live in our house for the next 8 weeks. A starter is basically a living thing, and needs to be fed and watered fairly regularly, although we were cheating slightly by using fresh yeast and not relying on naturally occuring yeasts (although this is a plan for another post - Sourdough bread here I come). I made this one (pictures to follow as they're on the other camera) with fresh yeast, wholewheat flour, warm water and a little salt and sugar. Instead of working to a recipe, I basically made the starter by touch, working in flour until I got a mixture that was similar to the first stage of breadmaking. You know just before you start to knead the dough. Half of this got used to make the first loaf of bread, and another half cup of flour, pinch of salt and sugar and warm water were added to the starter to give it some extra 'food' before we next wanted to use it. Stored in the fridge, the starter kept going for about 8 weeks (the last two weeks being over the Christmas period meant that I overlooked feeding and watering duties in favour of Winter Pimms and carols. Yes I killed my starter by neglect *weeps*) Each time I made a loaf of bread, pizza base or batch of rolls, I'd add between a quarter and a half of the starter in the bowl, top that up with some extra food, and then add flour, warm water, salt and sugar to the starter that was going to become this loaf of bread.

As a rule for every quarter of the mixing bowl worth of starter I was using, I would add about 300g of flour (the type varied), a cupfull of warm water and probably half a teaspoon of salt and sugar. Again, I worked largely by touch, relying on how the dough felt as to what I added. This was very different for me, being largely recipe dependent to be confident. What was interesting was that as time progressed I got to know what the bread needed without thinking about a recipe, just by working with it.

Today, I'm back on the breadmaker and fast acting yeast again - I know I'll be able to tell the difference, but can't go to get more fresh yeast today or the rest of the week owing to pain levels, doctors appointments and meetings to try and organise a return to work. I do however have a weekend at home so plan to Start at the very beginning once again... lets see if I can beat 8 weeks!
Future plans for bread include:
  • As mentioned, a sourdough loaf that uses entirely naturally occuring yeasts
  • Amish friendship bread (because I like the sentiment, and when you're on long-term sick leave , and reliant on painkillers to move; 10 days is a good period of time to work on a project)
  • Doing more with the starter - I pretty much stuck with loaves of half and half or wholewheat bread, or rolls, but I would like to use my starter to try sweetened breads and buns, or even flavoured ones.


Jules said...

Is it wrong that when I saw the title for this post I started singing the song?!?

Sad to hear they will no loger give away free yeast :(

Catherine said...

I did exactly the same thing Jules, unfortunately I do only know two lines but hummed the rest!

Anonymous said...

That's rubbish news about the yeast. I'd love to do this but my fridge is teeny-weeny. Am looking forward to hearing about sourdough bread, I love it.

Pen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pen said...

It's not wrong at all Jules! :-) I firmly believe that life would be better worldwide if more people spontaneously broke out into song, and dance...

Sadly I can do it the whole way through as it just goes straight into Doe a Deer... although the high notes may be beyond my reach these days ;-)

And Ginger, it does take up some space in the fridge which is a pain, but the Amish bread doesn't use a dough starter so that (apparently) only needs a small container. I'll update when I know how it goes. Sourdough may be a task for the weekend I think.


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