Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Staff of life

In my family of origin, bread was our religion. My maternal grandmother only ever bought a commercial loaf called "Hollywood Bread" and there was great angst when we could no longer find it available. My paternal grandmother considered a thick slice of homemade white bread with butter and jam as dessert and ate it with a smacking gusto that remains one of my favourite memories.

In a long-ago post, I began a sourdough starter trying, finally, to get one to work. Using the methods outlined at I now have to lovely living starters, one white and one whole wheat, in the kitchen. I try to make two loaves a week from them and experiment occasionally with other things such as pancakes, cinnamon buns and, for the last couple of days, I have finally gathered the courage to do an artisan loaf.

What does courage have to do with bread you might ask? Well, artisan bread is a real commitment. While my humble daily loaves take a maximum of 20 minutes to put together (not including the 10 minutes spent the day before making the sponge or baking time), an artisan loaf requires some attention on each of four days. For the complete process see but basically you make a wet dough on day one, let it rest overnight in the fridge. Day two, fold it in half and put back into fridge. Day three take it out in the evening and each hour for 4-5 hours stretch it out and fold it, then put back in bowl to rest. Then after 5 stretches, put into a banneton (a very odd looking wooden oblong bowl) that gives artisans that distinctive oval shape and ridged crust. and set back into fridge for its final sleep. Morning of day 4 bake in a steamy oven at 420 F for 15 minutes and 410 F for 30 minutes. Voila, an artisan bread with the romantic name of Pain a l'Ancienne! Doesn't that just scream for a good cheese and red wine by the fire?

Ok so maybe the work load isn't that tough but just try remembering the stretch and fold routine while you are engrossed in a good book or movie!

Anyway, it turned out. Not exactly as pretty as the bakery loaves (more John Merrick than Angelina Jolie) but a good honest loaf. Now to figure out what to slather on it??

For those of you who prefer to gather your culinary expertise from a good book, try Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. It is a treasure-trove of bread varieties and methods. It was gifted to me by a friend from Honeymoon Bay and remains one of my favourite cookbooks. Not for the faint of heart but worth the adventure!