the Life around the Loaf

Everyday bread can be Extraordinary. I am a baker and good-bread-seeker with a particular interest in Sourdoughs (see first post for explaination) but also a general interest in Life and Happiness and the role bread can play in it.

Saturday, 16 January 2010


Well, long time no blog. First there was broken toe, which will continue to be a problem, I know; then I was anaemic, such fun; then there was christmas at home, which really was fun as I was able to try out baking techniques that I'd had the privilege of seeing in Italy; then there was snow, snow and more snow, which resulted in me not being able to leave home again to fly back to Italy; and now... I am all set to go back tomorrow, I just hope that the floods don't stop me!

An attempt to rethink my approach, in the meantime. From the first bakery I visited late last year, I encountered a problem of terminology and/or understanding. What began as a project about sourdough (pasta madre) breads has become more directed towards observations of the bakery because it is hard to find sourdough breads (those made exclusively with flour, water, salt and a natural culture of yeasts and bacteria). The bakeries I have arranged to visit generally use commercial yeast, even where I've been assured that the bread is made with a pasta madre.
Perhaps the confusion comes with the way that 'lievito di birra' (what we would call 'baker's yeast' - the strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is cultured for commercial use) is thought of as a 'lievito naturale' ('natural leaven'). No-one's trying to mislead the customer, or me. I am becoming more aware that, in craft practices where knowledge has been handed down through generations of craftsmen, a particular term can take on a different meaning. (Differences in language are assumed to be my problem because I'm una straniera - a foreigner - not because a word is being used in the wrong way. It always make me laugh, and sometimes feel a bit frustrated, that I can say exactly what I want in a shop, and the shop keeper will try to sell me something different. When I say it's not what I'm looking for, I'm told "You haven't understood, signorina".)
The question "What is 'natural'?" is a big can of worms, and I'd be mad to suggest that using baker's yeast was 'unnatural'. However, my interest in sourdoughs, in particular, is more widely an interest in the baker's life and choice of process. Why would someone make the choice of wild yeasts instead of commercial yeasts and, in the rest of their lives as well as in the quality of their bread, what difference does this choice make?

So, going back to Italy, I hope that my change of direction leads to more sourdoughs. And if not, why not? Is the use of lievito di birra as dominant as I have seen so far? Are we seeing the death of the pasta madre bread-making process or, as I'd originally hoped, the a faint beginnings of a revival?

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Madeleine (Dilly) Boase