The Art of Sourdough

Bread, deceptively simple, and demonised by anti-carb crusaders in recent years, is finally beginning to see some of the attention and recognition it deserves. San Francisco’s Tartine was the pioneer of this movement, and the refreshingly laissez-faire attitude of its legendary founder Chad Robertson is summed up in his intention ‘to push the whole state of bread, by putting it out there and seeing what people will do…eventually it will push you to innovate and change and create new things’.

The New York Times recently detailed the somewhat unorthodox quest of Nathan Myhrvold, author of Modernist Bread, to photograph every depiction of bread in the Louvre. Myhrvold’s book hones in on the scientific element to breadmaking, specifically aiming to de-romanticise its history, but rather than making the subject unpalatably dry, he instead proclaims the most exciting age of breadmaking to be right now.

While there is a high-level of technicality involved in bread-making, we’d argue that the creation of from-scratch bread is an art form, and that life breathed into each loaf via the baker’s TLC is akin to the attention of an artist, rendering each creation unique. Sourdough, for instance, which has seen a recent rise to popularity, requires an intense behind-the-scenes labour of love. Chef Daniel at BELON had been cultivating his prized sourdough starter for four months prior to the restaurant opening, and on his days off goes in to feed the now 23 month-old yeast. Certain bakers pass these starters down generations, and others like Zak Stern deem them so precious that when faced with Hurricane Irma, he took a cutting of his sourdough mother in his hand-luggage when evacuating.

Daniel’s sourdough has developed tangy notes which lend to a nutty bread with an intense chew. The starter introduces large air pockets and adds heft to the loaf, which is spritzed with water according to the humidity and left to rise overnight in a proofing basket before baking in a cast iron pot. In keeping with his fervour for local sourcing, Daniel sometimes experiments with adding miso paste or mandarin peel-infused water.

Amidst a rapidly changing culinary landscape, the art of breadmaking has seen a more gradual evolution that matches its emphasis on time, effort and patience. The finished product is well worth the work, as each loaf, each offspring of each mother becomes its own entity with character that is tangible in each bite.

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