The genie of the bread basket.

We’ve got a genie living in the corner of our kitchen.  He’s not very prepossessing.  He’s a kind of fawny-beige colour, and he just sits there, fidgeting and occasionally burping quietly in his pot. He’s just a little smelly.  If we just left him, he’d quietly expire, and probably get a bit more pungent.  But I do feed him, every two days or so.  I spoon a couple of measures of flour and a glug of tepid water into him, and give him a soothing stir, because I’m very fond of him.  We eat a little bit of him every day.

The sourdough genie.
The sourdough genie.

Here’s how.  Whenever we need a new load of bread, I split our genie in two, and return half of him to his pot, with a little meal of flour and water.  The rest I turn into a bowl, add a loaf’s worth of flour, salt, and some tepid water.  And I knead this exceedingly sticky mess until it becomes an obedient ball of soft, rather floppy dough.  Then it’s into a warm place with it for a few hours, till it’s grown a whole lot bigger.

Then it’s time to knock the dough back, form into a nicely loaf-like sphere, and pop it into a well-floured basket: the sort you might have acquired on holiday in France a few years ago to pop your morning croissants into.  Leave it to rise again.

When it’s nearly ready, turn the oven on, good and high.  Put a dish of hot water on the oven floor.  Get a baking tray ready.

Here’s the scary bit: inverting the basket so the dough falls, but doesn’t tumble heavily, out of its basket and onto the tray.  Slash the top of the loaf with a few deep cuts, pop it in the oven, and you’re done.  Forty minutes later, there’s your very own loaf of sourdough bread.

Sourdough loaf, fresh for breakfast.
Sourdough loaf, fresh for breakfast.

The hardest bit is getting your sourdough genie into the kitchen in the first place: it’s a bit of a faff rather than difficult.  Here’s how it’s done: though Googling ‘sourdough starter’ will deliver a dozen or more ways of getting going.   What you’ve done in making your very own sourdough starter is introduce wild, local yeasts into your flour and water mixture.  So your starter will be different from mine. The one you’re making now will be different from the one you make in the middle of winter.  I have a friend who’s been known to take his sourdough starter on holiday with him, to get his yeasts making friends with exotic foreign strains.

I’m having a bit of a sourdough moment.  It’s only a phase.  One day soon, I’ll forget to feed our little genie, or worse, I’ll get fed up and let him die.  Meanwhile, I enjoy the particular magic of creating the conditions for yeasts I can neither see, touch nor smell to come into my kitchen and help me create our daily bread.

21 thoughts on “The genie of the bread basket.”

  1. Ooh, well done you for getting a sourdough starter going! I love sourdough. I laughed that yours is a he; ours has always been a she: our ‘mother’. John used to be the sourdough king and was known to take his mother on holiday with him 🙂 . He’s passed his crown to me now, but my mother will jolly well have to stay behind where she belongs!

    Like

    1. To be honest, Kalba, it’s not really either a ‘she’ or a ‘he’. I never was one for calling cars ‘she’ for instance. But genies are male, I think. Maybe. But John was in my thoughts as I wrote this post 😉

      Like

  2. You took me back in time with your post, way back – I worked in a bakery almost 20 years ago that made almost 10,000 lbs. of bread and pastries each day and distributed its retail locations and other restaurants. Before then, I had worked in another bakery cafe and had spent a week touring Parisien bakeries and cafes to ‘get a feel’ of the ‘French way’ of doing things. It was an amazing experience. I tried to make the dough years back, but never got it to work – I have the wooden basket in the basement, I might even give it a whirl. Thanks for the inspiration and have a wonderful week!

    Like

  3. As you know, I have been responsible for the neglect and subsequent demise of any number of little mothers. I’m relying on you to be more humane.
    Your bread looks fantastic, much better than the cannonballs I got from my first sourdough efforts. Clearly, you are your mother’s keeper. 🙂

    Like

  4. Thanks Margaret. I love the sourdough breads from our shops here in Wellington and have sometimes wondered whether we could make our own. Your description of the process gives me confidence that we could in fact do it.

    Like

      1. That’s true. Though I must say we used to struggle getting a successful mother going in the UK – in Norfolk, at least, which was I think just too dry and dusty! Our original sourdough guru – a French baker who set up a tiny, and sadly short-lived, shop in Holt, inspired us to start mothers in other places (which is what he did). We had two memorable ones: one was from a Greek island, and the other from Beaumes de Venise … between them they largely kept our resto going for several years! So it’s well worth going on holiday – especially to a wine-making area – with a little tupperware container and a bag of flour 🙂

        Like

  5. I’ve always wanted to try this and never taken the plunge. I do like the idea of the little growing thing in the kitchen, cooperating with the cook, and turning into something wonderful!

    Like

    1. Like all genies, he’s got a mind of his own. If he wants to go slow, he goes slow. If he wants to sink back exhausted, he does that too. It’s part of his charm.

      Like

  6. This has to be required reading for Andrew. He’s been muttering about making sourdough for a couple of months now – knowing someone wh has been successful just might be the spur!

    Like

    1. Go for it Andrew. And once you have that starter (but see comments from Kalba on the subject) you can ring the changes indefinitely with different flours, seeds etc. Blog shortly about his experiences?

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s