This article is all about bread. Sourdough bread, to be precise.
In my arrogant youth, I thought I knew everything there was to be known about this important staple for ¾ of the world’s population; whether they were flat, unleavened, steamed, baked, sundried, yeasted or naturally leavened.
Now in my maturity (not old!!), after my years of eating and travelling, the one regret I have is not having spent time in the kitchens of the over 40 hotels which we opened and managed in my 30 years of running hotels.
Oh yes, I would help with the menus and critique the dishes—but I missed the opportunity to learn the secrets of our wonderful chefs in the kitchens.
So I rely on my faculties that are still acute and functioning well: My Taste Buds and my sense of Smell! That’s one of the reasons I am a food critic! It is a wonderful hobby which keeps me learning all the time.
So what makes sourdough bread so special?
The wonderful thing about sourdough bread is that it doesn’t smell sour. Nor yeasty. There is a mild tang and a slightly chewy texture which differentiates it from other breads.
Sourdough is naturally leavened bread, which means it doesn’t use commercial yeast to rise. Instead, it uses a ‘starter’ – a fermented flour and water mixture that contains wild yeast and good bacteria – to rise.
Some bakers are fortunate to “inherit” a starter dough which they “feed” and keep for years while others begin each batch from scratch every time, allowing for varying leavening times depending on what bread they are making.
Ann Tan, baker extraordinaire is one of these. Meticulous to a fault, she selects her ingredients with care, leavens her starters accordingly and bakes to orders received.
Ever since I first “discovered” Ann and her sourdough breads, I have been a fan, pleading with her to make me the crusty farmers bread which I fell in love with in my travels through Europe.
However, with my ever increasing dental issues and the fact that I always toast my bread, I now find that I cannot handle the crusty breads any longer and was beginning to rely on her focaccia. However, Ann has now shifted her attention to making Shokupan.
When I first came across the term, I was curious. Never having baked, I wanted to know more.
Shokupan is a Japanese-style bread sometimes called Hokkaido milk bread, or simply Japanese milk bread. The hallmarks of this bread are its soft, aromatic, and golden crust and an interior that’s ultra-tender. If you could make bread from gathering clouds from the sky, this would be it.
Ann’s Shokupan is made without milk, making it the perfect bread for vegans who eschew all animal products. It can come as a perfectly rectangular loaf with barely a hint of crust and cut into thick, even squares which is perfect for sandwiches. It has a sweet flavour and a feathery soft texture that tears into wispy strands and melts in your mouth. It has none of the naturally leavened holes or sourdough tang that’s prized these days among bread nerds.
Without getting into the technicalities of Shokupan, bakers will use either the Yudane method or the TangZhong for their starter. Essentially using a slurry of flour and water (some use milk) as starter, the details tend to be lost on me.
Suffice to say, Ann’s Shokupan is delicious. I am now hooked on it. She is very creative in mixing various other natural ingredients in her dough such as sweet potato, chocolate powder, spinach, pumpkin and even red yeast rice.
As you can see from the photographs, her ingenuity knows no bounds. I love her cocoa swirls which leave a mild hint of chocolate-y nuances on the palate and her green spinach swirls make you feel self congratulatory for being so healthy!
At the end of the day, eating sourdough bread is good for you. WebMD says that according to some studies, sourdough bread acts as a prebiotic, which means that the fibre in the bread helps feed the “good” bacteria in your intestines. These bacteria are important for maintaining a stable, healthy digestive system. Sourdough is also lower in gluten than other forms of bread. The starter, a mixture of water and flour, develops a population of wild yeast. This yeast produces lactic acid, the source of sourdough bread’s distinctive tangy taste. This acid both flavours the bread and kills unwanted bacteria, keeping a sourdough starter safer from going bad.
I usually freeze my bread and eat it slowly throughout the week. A quick toast is all that’s required to get the bread back to its original flavour.
So dear readers, what are you waiting for? Call Ann to order.
Call to order: +6012 522 2291