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A taste of the up­per crust

It’s Sour­dough Septem­ber, the month when the Real Bread Cam­paign goes on a mis­sion to prove that not all breads are cre­ated equal. Michelle Dar­mody vis­its some of the coun­try’s top bak­eries

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Low-carb di­ets are on the rise and bread can of­ten be dis­missed as un­healthy. But not all breads are cre­ated equal.

Al­most ev­ery cul­ture through­out the world makes bread in some form or an­other. The word com­pan­ion means ‘with bread’. In its purest form bread is flour, salt, water and a prover, such as yeast. They are brought to­gether, al­lowed to rise and then baked in an oven. This sim­ple amal­ga­ma­tion of in­gre­di­ents, and time, give us one of the found­ing foods of hu­man­ity.

So why has bread sud­denly got such a bad rep­u­ta­tion? Much of it is down to the mod­ern man­u­fac­tur­ing process where fast act­ing provers are used to rise the dough.

Rather than bread dough ris­ing and fer­ment­ing over many hours, a loaf is started, risen and baked within forty min­utes. Like many of the food pro­duc­tion meth­ods that de­vel­oped in the last cen­tury, con­ve­nience and price are the driv­ing fac­tors rather than health or nu­tri­tion. When dough is al­lowed time to fer­ment it adds to the nu­tri­tional value of the wheat, or whichever grains used, and makes the re­sult­ing bread more di­gestible.

The fer­men­ta­tion also helps to break down the gluten. Gluten gives bread its light, airy tex­ture but as Sarah Richards, from Seag­ull bak­ery in Tramore de­scribes, “gluten is sim­i­lar to the sub­stance in­side a golf ball, solid and rub­bery. It needs time to soften and be­come more mal­leable and di­gestible”. In her bak­ery she en­sures this hap­pens by slowly mak­ing bread us­ing a sour­dough starter.

A starter is made by mix­ing flour and water to­gether and then leav­ing them to at­tract wildly oc­cur­ring yeasts in the air. Yeasts alight on the mix­ture and then mul­ti­ply and bub­ble up. A por­tion of the starter is mixed with the bread’s other in­gre­di­ents but the re­main­der is kept and ‘fed’ with more flour and water to be used in fu­ture batches. Sour­dough bread is pro­duced by al­low­ing the dough to fer­ment us­ing this starter. The re­sult­ing loaf has a mildly sour taste, has a very spe­cific tex­ture and it tends to keep very well for quite a few days.

To find out more about sour­dough bak­ing I joined Shane and Char­lotte from Scéal Bak­ery in Dublin. On a crisp bright au­tumn morn­ing I vis­ited their one room bak­ery in an En­ter­prise Cen­tre in Smith­field. Shane was pour­ing a moun­tain of flour onto the scales as I ar­rived, he uses a mix­ture of flours in his dough which in­creases the nu­tri­tional value of the bread, water was added then salt and fi­nally Shane added his starter.

Scéal Bak­ery are a small op­er­a­tion, bak­ing a few hun­dred loafs a week, but they have a very loyal fol­low­ing. Their breads and pas­tries are all hand­crafted and taste de­li­cious. The busi­ness was started in a very mod­ern way re­ly­ing on In­sta­gram and pre-or­ders of bread on-line to get them off the ground.

They do not have a “bricks and mor­tar” premises yet, each week­end they sell their loaves from their stall in The Fum­bally Mar­ket, they are quickly snapped up.

Shane showed me the ba­sics and al­lowed me to mea­sure and pre­pare my own loaf. It is a beau­ti­fully tac­tile process, the dough is soft and warm and un­less han­dled cor­rectly can be very sticky. I ex­pe­ri­enced a huge sense of sat­is­fac­tion when I cre­ated my own, smooth ball of dough. I then left it to stand in a warm place with a tea towel cover­ing the bowl.

The ba­sic na­ture of the in­gre­di­ents be­gin even at this stage to change. The starches in the flour are break­ing down and the bac­te­ria lac­to­bacil­lus be­gins to pro­duce lac­tic acid.

In the 1800s we be­gan los­ing nu­tri­ents in flour, the husk was of­ten dis­carded and brown flour was in­creas­ingly re­placed with white. This along with more mech­a­nised pro­duc­tion and the fast rise have made mod­ern white bread hard for many peo­ple to di­gest and not as nu­tri­tious for us. Real Bread Ire­land was set up as a sup­port net­work for those who are bak­ing and sell­ing bread made in more tra­di­tional, sus­tain­able and nour­ish­ing ways.

They are call­ing this month Sour­dough Septem­ber. Through­out the month many of their na­tion­wide mem­bers, who you can find listed on their web­site, will be giv­ing away sour­dough starters and recipes, so that you can make try to make your own loaf at home. It does take a bit of skill and spare time but is very re­ward­ing. Many of the Real Bread Ire­land mem­bers host bread mak­ing classes which will teach you the ba­sics and get you started.

When I check back on my bread dough it has dou­bled in size. My wheat and yeast are now large and swelling in the bowl, feed­ing on the sug­ars and warmth. I shape it into a neat ball. The warm, smooth cir­cles of Shane’s dough ex­pand and grow along­side my smaller loaf. We place them into lightly floured bas­ket to rise again.

Bread moulds have been dis­cov­ered along­side the pyra­mids in Egypt. Ex­ca­va­tions show the ru­ins of huge bak­ing ovens which were part of gi­ant bak­eries, set up to feed the work­ers who steadily built the pyra­mids. The size of the moulds in­di­cates that the bread must have been leav­ened or al­lowed to rise. Egyp­tians mainly used bar­ley and em­mer-wheat flour in their bak­ing which have less gluten than mod­ern flours. Their bread would have been in­cred­i­bly heavy and dense by our stan­dards, yet they did use the sour­dough tech­nique of gather­ing wild yeasts from the air.

Seag­ull Bak­ery’s open style kitchen al­lows you to see the magic hap­pen, Sarah tells me that her cus­tomers re­turn again and again for the freshly baked loaves and she re­counts many of those peo­ple telling her that they find her bread eas­ier to di­gest than any they had pre­vi­ously eaten. With its unique tex­ture and taste the de­mand for sour­dough bread made with care is grow­ing. In Lim­er­ick Sun­flower Bak­ery sell their pop­u­lar loaves in the Milk Mar­ket and in Kilkenny the won­der­ful Arán bak­ery and café has re­cently opened. There are queues out­side their door at seven am each morn­ing. As with most things that take time and hu­man hands to make sour­dough bread does cost more than a sliced pan but you also get more ben­e­fits, more taste and for me more sat­is­fac­tion.

 ?? Photo: Philip Doyle ?? Sarah Richardson of Seag­ull Bak­ery in Tramore.
Photo: Philip Doyle Sarah Richardson of Seag­ull Bak­ery in Tramore.
 ??  ?? Shane Palmer and Char­lotte Leonard Kane of Scéal Bak­ery in Dublin.
Shane Palmer and Char­lotte Leonard Kane of Scéal Bak­ery in Dublin.
 ??  ?? Sour­dough on the shelves at Seag­ull Bak­ery.
Sour­dough on the shelves at Seag­ull Bak­ery.

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