Sourdough

Sourdough is a type of bread made with natural or “wild” yeast and bacteria. These organisms occur naturally in the air around us and in the flour used. One of the benefits of sourdough is that it lasts a lot longer than bread made with regular yeast. It takes about a week for a loaf of my sourdough to stale (if I haven’t eaten it before then!), which means I can make it weekly and none of it goes to waste. It is also supposed to be easier on the stomach, and people who have trouble with eating regular bread (for example IBS or indigestion) often have no trouble with sourdough.

You start by making a starter. A starter is just flour and (filtered) water. Every day, you have to discard some of the mix and add more flour and water to “feed” the starter. It is like having a hungry and demanding pet! Some people even name their starters. I thought about naming mine but nothing has really come to mind. Any ideas?

Now I have to confess, I attempted to make a starter once but by the fourth day or so I got a bit freaked out by the terrible smell and ditched it. Luckily, I had some offers of starters from friends. Since then my starter has also had “children” which I have gifted to friends. Starters change and develop over time depending on their location and the flour used to feed them. San Francisco sourdough is famous because it contains a type of bacteria only found in San Francisco. Starters can have a pedigree similar to that of dogs or racehorses. Their lineage can be traced back through the generations. Franco Manca, possibly the best pizza place in London, make their pizza dough from a 300 year-old Neapolitan starter.

In comparison, my starter is a bit of a mongrel. I obtained my current starter from Helly of Fuss Free Flavours and I have no idea where she got hers from!

After your starter is up and running you can keep it in the fridge for a week between feedings, or you can even freeze lumps of it in the freezer ready for quick defrosting a la Dan Lepard. Making a loaf does take a bit of planning. You need to take your starter out of the fridge a day or two before you plan to have bread on the table. However you will spend very little time actually physically making the bread.

I’ve learned a lot about making sourdough through my experiments and research. The starter has to be really active before you add the rest of the ingredients for the bread, or it will take too long to rise. However, a long rise can give longer for the flavours to develop, and I think bread that has taken longer to rise also takes longer to stale. You can put your dough in the fridge to slow it down. Rye flour can really speed up the activity of a starter and has a nice flavour. Stoneground organic flours are definitely the way to go, and even though they are quite expensive it works out much cheaper than buying bread.

Most of my efforts to date have not been particularly photogenic, even if they have tasted good. But I was quite proud of this loaf:

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Some useful links:
Sourdough Q & A
Sourdough.com
Sourdough Baker
Dan Lepard‘s website. His very useful sourdough recipe is here.

My obsession with the perfect loaf has now spilled over into my working life as I have recently started working on the Real Bread Campaign. But more on that later!

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Egg hoppers

When I lived with Marissa she would often tell me about one of her favourite Sri Lankan foods, hoppers. In Sri Lanka I finally got to try them for myself.

Hoppers are made from rice flour, yeast, and coconut milk. They are cooked in a small wok, with the batter swirled around the sides so they end up bowl-shaped, with crispy edges and a spongy middle. You can have plain hoppers or egg hoppers. Egg hoppers have an egg broken into the middle of them while they are cooking.

Hoppers are eaten for breakfast or dinner. They are common on special occasions and the first time I tried them was at Marissa’s wedding. As they are best eaten super-fresh there will be a man at the buffet table cooking them to order.

Before I had been back in London for 24 hours, I was already craving hoppers. On Ms Marmitelover‘s suggestion, I went to Ealing Road in Wembley, where I managed to source a hopper pan and hopper mix. Once you make up the mix with coconut milk you can freeze it until you need it.

Egg hoppers are my favourite!

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After the egg is cracked, a lid is put on the pan and it is cooked for about 5-6 minutes.

Then it is slid onto a plate and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and pol sambol (a spicy coconut and chilli mix).

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The great thing is they taste even better with organic eggs than the rather anaemic-looking eggs you find in parts of Sri Lanka (often the yolk is the same colour as the white).

Now I just need some milk rice, potato curry, dal and lots of fresh tropical fruit to complete my Sri Lankan breakfast!

Liverpool

A couple of weeks ago I visited my friend Dan and his girlfriend Jovi in Liverpool. Only now I think I should say “my friends Dan and Jovi” – although I’ve known Dan for donkeys years and Jovi only a year (since they visited me in London this time last year) I feel like I got to know Jovi a lot better this time and poor Dan was possibly feeling a little ganged-up-on by the end of the weekend.

There was another reason for my trip to Liverpool too – I wanted to go to Make, Do and Knit to see the giant knitted poem that I worked so hard on last year. Make, Do and Knit was a new knitting show with a vintage vibe. It was very busy when I arrived – hopefully the show was a success and will run in future years.

I wanted to see the poem because the last time I saw it, I spent some time fixing up a wonky corner to make the poem (hopefully) perfectly square. However the room we were working in wasn’t big enough to lay it out flat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t laid out flat in Liverpool either – it was draped over the pews of the chapel at the venue.

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It was still nice to see it.

That evening Jovi cooked an amazing vegetarian lasagne, and then whipped a pavlova out of the fridge. Amazingly, since she’s never eaten a pavlova made by anyone else before, this was pavlova perfection:

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The next day we did the obligatory ferry trip on the Mersey:

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saw a WWII German U-Boat:

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and wandered around. Liverpool is quite small so it’s very walkable. There’s a lot of public art, much of it left over from Liverpool’s year as the Capital of Culture in 2008. Just around from Dan and Jovi’s flat is the rotating wall, possibly the coolest piece of public art I have ever seen. Liverpool is also full of strange creatures called lambananas. Yes, they are a cross between a lamb and a banana. That link takes you to the explanation of the original lambanana, but now they have multiplied and Liverpool is full of hundreds of multicoloured lambananas. It’s absurd and slightly freaky and very, very cool.

This was my favourite though:

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All the suitcases have (or had – bad vandals!) name tags representing famous Liverpudlians.

It was a great place to visit. Dan and Jovi may not be in Liverpool for much longer, so I’m looking forward to going to see them wherever they end up next!