The Real Bread Campaign main-man Chris Young is keeping me informed on the progress of attempts to bake a loaf of Real bread in a breadmaker (I assure you, it's gripping!) and I find that the game's been raised: he's trying to make an 100% sourdough. In other words he's not using fresh or dried yeast, let alone fast-action yeast, regardless of the breadmaker's very short programmed production time. I'm going to go on about breadmakers a bit, but I'll try to keep it lighthearted. It's just because I'm oven-less and unemployed in London. Over in South Wales, at my parents' home, I am told my 23 firebricks have arrived and are waiting to be turned into an oven-base (the shop's entire stock = a very small oven, but it's a start). I have arranged meetings with Mr Environmental Health and the local Planning Department to discuss, on condition I win the lottery, building a Serious wood-fired masonry oven without worrying that I'd be breaking some law or other and having it taken down again. Mr E.H. tells me that bread is a low-risk food-stuff, "but it's still possible to do some damage with it."
Loaf 3. I decide to go half-way again, making a sponge with my sourdough starter, Monster Baby, then adding normal yeast with the rest of the ingredients. (A sponge is, to me, a salt-less dough using a proportion of the final ingredients that, made earlier in the day, gives the natural yeasts and bacteria a chance to get going before being added to the main mixture. It can also be called a pre-ferment or a production starter. To do this in a breadmaker, you put in a spoonful of starter and some of your flour and water and set it to 'Dough' setting to combine (no need to kneed) then leave to culture. It's perhaps necessary to 'feed' the sponge in stages. I'll see how it goes without, first). When the sponge is looking bubbly, and smelling sour - Monster Baby is more lively than the last time - I add the rest of the ingredients and set the machine to make bread for the next morning at seven when I will be springing from my bed to do my Yoga, ho ho.
I have changed the recipe, reducing the oil, sugar, yeast and milk powder, but still there's more than I'd like, and than would be allowed by the Real Bread Campaign's definition of Real Bread.
The irate beeping of the breadmaker wakes me and I run down to find... a wonderful, tall loaf! It is interesting in texture, springy and light, with a crisp crust and an acid tang. Then for the real test, I give a slice to Tim, my housemate, who is officially a Supertaster and can taste subtleties that pass me by: he eats a whole slice, then says "Dilly, that is Brilliant". This enormous compliment is, I then realise, in comparison to the offerings so far.
Next night, loaf 4: I decide to use the sponge method again, because the flavour of loaf 3 was so interesting, and to add only the tiniest pinch of yeast and sugar, no oil or milk powder. I expected this to have an effect on the speed of the dough rising (lacking both the yeast and its sugar rush) and the colour and crunch of the crust, which relies upon the original recipe's oil and sugar. Again, an all-day sponge and an overnight bake.
Result: A tiny, dense loaf with a pallid crust and gungey, undercooked crumb. One big hole in the heart, otherwise very tiny bubbles. However, the flavour is just perfect! A hint of sourdough but overall a warm a delicate sweetness that needs butter and nothing more. I conclude that I need to make sure that my starter has more 'oomph' before I try to make an 100% sourdough in a breadmaker. Feeding the sponge in several stages may work. Tiny bricks of bread, no matter how good they taste, make very silly-looking sandwiches.
The picture is of yesterday and today's loaves, (today's is half yesterday's height!) because I love cutting right into the middle of loaves and seeing the patterns of bubbles, caught in the act of rising and as unique as whorls on a fingerprint.