Monday, 8 June 2009

Sourdough bread, a heavenly pastry and job-hunting

I, J. Hardspear de la Azotea finally managed to produce a genuine sourdough loaf! (Well two actually) Much as I want to say that I have cultured the initial sourdough starter (suurdeeg plantjie) myself, I cannot claim that. After not getting it right, I sort of put off and put off and putt off doing it again, though I very much wanted to give it another shot. Then I heard about this peculiar bakery in Vanderbijlpark – remember I live in the Dirty Vaal Triangle. The place is called the Civic Bakery and is situated in an obscure place sort of on the edge of the CBD. Now, as everywhere else in South Africa, the CBDs of towns and cities have degenerated quite dramatically. High-end shops are now situated in malls in the middle-class and upper-class neighbourhoods. Now, when being told about this not-easy-to-spot bakery in Vanderbijlpark (town known for its mega-sized steel industries) which sells divine and heavenly items of confectionary, real sourdough bread and even unusual items such as pain de fantasie (breads sculpted into forms like animals or plaited or highly decorated breads), I must admit that I was sceptical. I had to go there though. I found it because of the good directions I was given. Walking up to the bakery, I was confronted with shop-front windows painted cream sporting a non-descript logo and the words ‘civic bakery’. It had the look of a low grade industrial bakery. Inside looked much the same, save for what was stacked behind the glass of the counter and shelves. ‘S true’s nuts! Little bread rolls looking exactly like tortoises, twisted & plaited breads. Crisp sugared doughnuts and the most irresistible looking Danish pastries. I chose a cherry Danish. I then asked the lady behind the counter if they use real sourdough. She replied that they did, especially the German and Austrian rye breads and the Italian chiabatta. I lamented that I am unable to culture my own sourdough starter and asked if she would sell me a piece of theirs. She then told me that her husband is the baker and that he is not in. I asked her for his number so that I can ask him myself. I must have looked desperate, because she went to the back and came back with a walnut sized piece of sourdough in a greaseproof bag. She looked a bit worried and informed me that she sincerely hopes that her husband would not be angry with her, and that he still would have enough for tomorrow’s batch. Outside I opened my little box containing the Danish and gingerly took a bite. At the sound of violins I closed my eyes and ascended to heaven. The fresh flaky pastry melted in my mouth. The richness of the buttery pastry, the sweetness of the icing and the tart cherry filling made me slowly spin in the air. I gave the big old black dog that has been snapping at my heels all week a great big kick in the mouth and he ran off yelping into the distance. Yes, no Prozac can dissolve depression like real top quality confectionary! But then it must not be a dry bready piece of confectionary filled with evil gag reflex inducing gelatinous confectioner’s custard or fake soapy confectioner’s cream made from dairy substitutes so loaded with trans fats that it coats your tongue and palate with goo reminiscent of rancid sheep’s fat. To make it worse, some of it is covered with “chocolate” which turns out to be chocolate icing made from cheap margarine. The strange thing is though, people love this crap. They queue at supermarkets’ bakeries to buy these abominations. Back on earth I manage to find my car and drive home. When I arrived I’ve sufficiently recovered to give the sourdough some attention. I made a well of flour (1 cup) on the countertop into which I poured ¼ cup warm water. I broke up the sourdough ball in this well and proceeded to incorporate some of the fresh flour into the middle. (Some higher-end SPAR stores sell organic unbleached bread flour from Eureka Mills near Heidelberg in the Western Cape.) I continued till all the flour was incorporated into a rather stiff ball of dough. I then kneaded till soft and very malleable. I then put it in a bowl covered with a tea towel in a warm place for about five hours. I repeated the process a few times every time increasing with a greater amount of flour and water till by the next day (Saturday afternoon) I had enough to bake with. All this and I ended up with two lovely loaves of Pain Blanc au Levain (white bread made from sourdough) We invited friends over and I made soup for starter and a hearty stew for mains. I served the bread as an accompaniment to both. The soup and stew went down well, but everyone raved about the bread. They finished both loaves and complained that I didn’t make more bread. One guest actually became upset. I managed to appease him a bit with baked pudding which he had with both cream and custard! As I have said, I had the old black dog on my back last week and did not have the energy to post regularly. The whole out-of-work-staying-at-home thing is getting a bit long in the tooth now. A cherry Danish saved me though, and bread baking gave me some purpose. I have saved a piece of my second refreshment of the sourdough and put it in the fridge. The challenge now will be to keep my sourdough alive. The bread is so delicious though, I have enough motivation to keep on baking. The next bread I am going to try is.... TADA!... a real San Francisco Sourdough! I have started looking for jobs with renewed vigour now, and I have actually had initial responses from putting my cv on a job-site on the internet. I am also considering going to the baker of that weird bakery to ask if he would take me in as an apprentice...

5 comments:

angel said...

Oh... dude- you have got to cool for me too!
;)

Betty said...

Hey. You have no idea how jealous I am - about your trip, about your bread... if you can afford to be the guy's apprentice, how astonishing will that be? So very well done, and thanks for the tip on the flour.

I am going to give making a starter a shot. I need to get equipment first. I am always curious to find out where people have a 'warm place' in winter. But I will make a plan. Will keep you posted!

Am also glad about your fighting off the black dog. And keep on looking, I know what you are going through.

momcat said...

Too right on those disappointing baked goods. They look so good behind the counter but they leave a bad taste in your mouth or repeat on you for hours afterwards. So nice to find a really good bakery so totally hidden away. Just now you're going to tell us you're going into catering.

Spear The Almighty said...

You should start a restaurant with lekke SA food. Call it "Jou ma se kos"

:)

Tamara said...

I am now craving sourdough bread. Thanks for that.