Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Beauty and the Yeast...

Sourdough. It's the answer I've been looking for for years.

Recently, prior to the opening of my new restaurant, I've been experimenting with bread. I want everything served to have a link to the local surroundings. Not just a nod. But an intimate bond to the terrain in which it comes from. I have amazing organic stoneground flours to work with, unbleached and natural. I can use spring water from the hills surrounding, and sea salt from the coast not too far north. Where does my yeast come from? Most of it, in packets or begged over the bakery counter from my local supermarket.

How disppointing, that final, living link. The one cog in the machine that makes it all work. Tied to the supermarket.

Time to change all that. I've been meaning to nurture a leaven for a while now. Ever since I read about Steingarten's effort (in which volume I can't remember) on making a New York Sourdough. I love the elegance. The chance to hunt wild yeast. So much more ephemeral than picking a blackberry...

So. I did my research. Comparing various methods and recipes I set my starter going.

10 days.

Mix. Feed. Rest. Feed. Rest. Feed. and so on.

I started it with four wild bullaces, with their natural bloom still chalky blue on the surface.

Day 5, it started to smell just like Edelweiss (a wonderful Weissbeer I'm rather partial to.) and also unfortunately a little whiff of banana, which my future wife was not impressed with.

Day 9. Every day now it foams up the side of the jar as if it wants to get out there and do stuff.

Day 10. Knead, Nurture, Wait. Shape. Wait. Slash. Bake.

Day 10. Eat some of the best bread I've ever made. Tangy, individual, irresistable.

If this leaven ever dies, I shall be mortifed (or I'll start it again using the sloes which are so abundant this year). My life has just become slave to a 500g kilner jar.

Ho hum.


Howard said...

Interesting that there's a whiff of bananas with the Edelweiss-like starter. Another Munich wheat beer, Schneider Weisse, has a strong banana aroma when served draught in their Munich beer house.

Alastair Vaan said...

I can't remember ;-)

Bill said...

The banana like smell in beer is caused by an ester (amyl acetate), which is a byproduct of the yeast activity. It is quite likely that your wild yeast is producing the same chemical.

In brewing, two factors control the level of amyl acetate, yeast strain (which in this case you have no control over) and fermentation temperature. The following table is published in An Analysis of Brewing Techniques which shows quite how markedly an increase in temperature leads to much higer concentration of amyl acetate:

Temp (C).....Amyl Acetate (mg/l)


Of course, this is only true for one yeast strain, but the same basic principle would hold true for almost any yeast, so it is likely that if you could culture a small sample of your starter in cooler conditions, you could end up with a simillar starter without the banana aroma.

Alastair Vaan said...

Thanks bill, interestingly I put the starter in the fridge just before your post, to see if it would develop slower as I was away for the weekend, and I want to see if I could leave it a few days without intervention. It will be interesting to see if it a) survives, and b) changes the flavour to the better or worse.