Don’t those loaves look divine? Can you not just smell that wonderful fresh bread aroma floating out of your screen? And they taste just as good as they look – because these are Andrew Whitley’s sourdough loaves. No, not the supposed sourdough loaves that you can buy in every high street now (Andrew calls them ‘pseudough’), but real sourdough, made, slowly, with that ultra simple fermented flour and water starter.
Slow and hassle free – those are Andrew’s messages on the subject of sourdough. Let nature get on with doing what it does best – ferment. That way the natural yeasts and bacteria in the flour will produce carbon dioxide to make the bread rise but will also to work on the protein and other constituents of the flour to break it down thus making it tastier, more nourishing and more digestible.
So ignorant am I about real bread that, until Andrew’s talk at the launch of this lovely little book, I had not realised that using yeast to make bread rise is relatively recent. One of those Victorian industrial miracles which allowed bakers to speed up the bread rising process and thus make more bread, more quickly. Before that, all bread had been made by mixing flour with water, allowing it to ferment to make a ‘starter’ then using that ‘starter’, diluted, to make your loaf. (All of which finally makes sense of the Jews fleeing from Egypt having to leave their unbaked bread as it had not had its necessary overnight fermentation period…)
But the arrival of yeast heralded the demise of the old fermentation methods. Because yeast was expensive, in the early days a combination of the old fermentation method was speeded up by addition of some yeast, the ‘sponge and dough’ method. But then yeast became cheaper, and cheaper… and then, in the 1960s, Chorley Wood Bread Processing was invented. This process, using large amounts of yeasts, spurred into even speedier action by the addition of a range of enzymes, allowed bakers to produce the the ultra light (ultra tasteless and, apart form the added vitamins, totally nourishment-free) modern supermarket loaves in a matter of a few hours – and properly fermented loaves all but disappeared off the market.
All but – but, fortunately for us, not quite. Thanks to a few craft bakers, such as Andrew at the Village Bakery in Melmerby, both the passion and the knowledge were preserved, helped, quite by accident as it happens, by the growing incidence food intolerance.
I first came across Andrew when, in the early days of the FoodsMatter magazine in the 1990s, some of our subscribers told us about the bread that they had bought at the Village Bakery that they were able to tolerate even though ‘ordinary’ bread made them feel ill. Andrew was already experimenting with sourdough and with less processed wheat, rye and other grain and grain-free flours. At the time I assumed that it was the alternative flours that were making the difference but now I wonder if, in fact, it was the sourdough process. Certainly, Andrew’s later work looking at fermentation processes and their effect on gliadin,the protein fraction that causes so much trouble for coeliacs, would suggest that this might be the case.
(Back in 2006 when his excellent Bread Matters book was published, Andrew was already quoting Italian research that had demonstrated, both in vitro and in vivo, that sourdough lactobacilli are capable of neutralising gliadin fractions in wheat flour. Since then he has continued to ‘worry’ at the subject and has further research studies planned. For more on the medical aspects, see our review of Bread Matters on Foodsmatter here – or go and buy the book either from Breadmatters here or from Amazon – an absolute must read for anyone seriously interested in bread.)
But, whether or not the sourdough process is able to neutralise coeliac disease, it most certainly does produce very much more nutritious and digestible bread – and so easily! Which is exactly what this little Do/Sourdough book is all about!
Whether you already have some starter (and you can buy it dried from Bread Matters) or you want to start from scratch, Andrew leads you step by step through ‘refreshing’ your starter, mixing your starter dough (a one minute process), leaving it to rise (4 hours), mixing and kneading your final dough, leaving to to rise again (4-5 hours although this is very flexible) and then baking. He gives you timetables of how you can easily fit this into almost any schedule (the dough is very forgiving and can happy ferment and prove for up to 12 hours if that suits your timetable better) and lots of recipes for different grains. There are also recipes for other goodies that you can make with your sourdough mix – ciabatta and rolls, pizzas and crispbreads, crumpets or honey and ginger bannocks! (He even maintains that you can make sourdough pasta, although he does not give a recipe for it in this book. Far more digestible, he says, than standard pasta which is no more than ‘boiled raw dough’!!)
Apart from the instructions and the recipes the book is filled with luscious mouthwatering pictures of bread in every stage of its development – and several of Andrew actually making it – by Jonathan Cherry ! All amazingly good value for a mere £8.99 – especially as the publishers are giving you a free e-book version with every print copy that you buy!! Just check in to their website here, where you can also listen to Andrew lecture on ‘Why bread needs time’.
So, I suggest that you buy a book and get out there and get baking – and then check back with us as I am hoping to persuade Andrew to write more for us about the whole fermentation/digestibility/coeliac question – so watch this space.
Do/Sourdough – Slow bread for busy lives by Andrew Whitley. Published by the Do Book Co up can buy it here on Amazon.