Home' Scoop : Scoop 52 Winter 2010 Contents scoop WINTER 2010 197
Bread has been around for a
very, very long time -- before
McDonald s even. Back in the
Stone Age, people made solid cakes
from stone-crushed barley and
wheat, and bread s mentioned in the Bible dozens
of times. Should you happen to be passing the
British Museum in London, you could drop in
and find loaves that were baked more than 5000
years ago... and I don t mean in the cafeteria.
Back then, however, all bread was unleavened
-- in other words, it contained no yeast and didn t
rise. That changed around 1000BC, when a baker
left his lump of bread dough in the open air. While
he was away, a few zillion wild yeast spores took up
residence, pigged out on the carbohydrates in the
wheat and started raising families.
Pretty soon, there were entire colonies of spores
on the dough, playing Scrabble on Saturday nights
(although being single-cell fungi, they probably
didn t get many triple word scores) and merrily
producing carbon dioxide.
When the baker returned and popped his
bread into the oven, all the little pockets of carbon
dioxide expanded and hey-presto, the bread rose.
Leavened bread had been invented.
Later on, Roman author Pliny the Elder told
of how the Gauls and Iberians used the foam
skimmed from beer to produce "a lighter kind of
bread than other people s". In parts of the ancient
world where they drank wine instead of beer, they
used a paste composed of grape juice and flour
that was allowed to begin fermenting as a source
of yeast, or wheat bran steeped in wine.
The most common means of leavening,
however, has always been to retain a piece of
dough from the previous day to use as a form
A sourdough s characteristic flavour comes not
from the yeast but from a lactobacillus that lives
in symbiosis with the yeast.
The lactobacillus feeds on the by-products of
the yeast s fermentation, and in turn makes the
culture go sour by excreting lactic acid, which
protects it from spoiling.
Because natural yeasts are as region-specific as
any other growing thing, the taste of sourdoughs
varies depending on where they re made. In fact,
you re likely to find sourdough aficionados online
at this very moment, buying different dried
sourdough-starters from around the world.
Until the 19th century, all yeast-risen breads
were sourdoughs. Then scientists discovered the
microbes that made the dough rise, isolated them
and mass-produced them. Ever since, specific
strains of yeast have been identified and cultured
for use in bread-making. Marketed as "Baker s
Yeast", they quickly became the norm in the
mass-production of bread.
Despite the common availability of yeast,
however, any baker worth his or her salt still has a
favourite sourdough-starter. At Perth s Greenhouse
restaurant, for instance, breadmaker Courtney Gibb
grinds his own Eden Valley biodynamic wholegrain
flour and has two sourdough-starters he s named
BUTTER UP: (above left) Abhi's rustic ciabatta;
(above) Italian breads from Il Panino; (right and
opposite) A selection from Barrett's Bread.
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