It has been a busy summer in the office despite the short break from teaching. The son is home after completing his first year of college. No, I have not been busy cooking for him. Young men who need not work through the summer prefer to spend long hours playing mind-numbing games on the Net. This cannot be done during daylight hours because the computers are occupied by parents working to pay college fees. Nights turn into days and days into nights (for the son) and we are lucky if we catch him at lunch.
It was good that we whisked him away on a vacation the moment he was home and managed some ‘quality’ time before he could react! Around the same time my sister also visited us and it was great to extend the vacation and spend time together. Even she was complaining that I haven’t been very regular with my blog posts…
I lost the mint this summer, and blamed it on Sanjay, the gardener. It really was his fault. As summer progressed the promise of grapes came through. The grapes were special because they were home grown. I have to admit that the crispness of a fresh grape is quite something. You will have to grow your own to know. These grapes were full of seed but the colour was unique; not what you find on the seedless common hybrids. Is good wine not made from the old seedy varieties, now? Hardly a case of sour grapes.
Right on time this year, on the last day of June, the monsoons reached Delhi and we’ve had a good spell since. The slightest of showers is sure to bring my rain-lilies out in their splendor; a pretty sight from the office window.
In between I found time to write about another cup of tea, barely in time for A Mad Tea Party’s national TV debut. (Featured in the documentary Food – Feasting Fasting on NDTV 24×7. Click on the link to watch it online!)
All of you remarked on the prettiness of the pink tea, and made appreciative noises about the minuscule TV appearance of the demure 🙂 lady behind the Madness here. But you overlooked the beautiful slice of sourdough bread alongside the tea in the post. I had hoped that there will be oohs and inquiries about where I sourced it from (and some additional exclamatory marks thrown in for good measure!!), followed by aahs on hearing that I baked it myself! I would then elaborate further on how I had made it from scratch. Really from scratch. I cultured the animal myself!
Yes, the beast yeast is home grown! And how it grows!
Making biga from scratch had been on my list for some time. While summer is conducive to yeast activity, is is not exactly the kind of weather when you want to muck about in the kitchen for much longer than absolutely necessary. Breaking bread is not as elemental as drinking tea you might say. So I started this project while it was technically still spring.
The first attempt bode well. Here are the diary notes.
10am: 3/4C atta+3/4C water+1″ cube of mexican gud (I had some :-); it tastes and look just like our regular kind. Or just use some sugar). Stir in a steel jar.
9am: halve the starter (use half to knead dough for khamiri roti). Transfer to glass jar. Feed 1/2 C atta+ 1/2 C (cold) water
rises steadily till 7pm then falls.
12:00 midnight: fed it 3/4C atta+ 1/2 C water. Transfer khamiri dough to fridge to use next day.
Khamiri paranthas for breakfast.
Tiny bubbles throughout starter. Bottle seems too small to store final quantity needed to bake. 11 am: Change to bigger bottle.
Bad idea. Flop.
Followed same steps, this time in the bigger glass bottle. No activity. Maybe it was not the transfer to the bigger bottle but the bottle itself? The glass bottle had earlier contained salted pickles.
Attempt 3: Third time’s the charm!
Day 1: Used large PET bottle. Used only atta, starting with 1.5 C of it.
Day 2-9: Same routine as attempt 1.
Day 10: Feed using maida. Doesn’t rise much. Changed to atta next morning. Back to normal!
Day 11: rose and fell quickly by 2 in the afternoon. Refrigerated for the rest of the day. Fed at night. Morning covered with huge bubbles. Almost double but not exactly.
For another couple of days kept it refrigerated during the day, fed it and left it out on the kitchen counter at night.
Day 13: In the morning find it doubled and covered with the most beautiful huge bubbles on the surface! My biga is ready!
I researched a lot on the Net before attempting to grow my own starter; this was my primary reference. I made changes as I learnt form the failed attempts. Here are a few things you might wish to keep in mind should you attempt this fun mission:
- Whole wheat atta (I was using Shakti Bhog brand) seemed to work better for me than maida (AP flour).
- Delhi’s heat makes this process go much faster than whatever I read about making biga. After the first few days I found the yeast multiplying very fast and the batter rising and falling in a few hours signaling the exhaustion of available food. Rather than feed it repeatedly (for a few days I fed it every 12 hours) I preferred to let it stay in the fridge during the day and allow it to grow in the relatively cooler nights after a feed.
- Missing a feed will not kill it.
- Every feed involves removing half the biga and supplementing with fresh flour and water. If like me, you are not prepared to throw ‘edible’ food, be prepared for fresh cooked breakfast daily using this leftover somewhat-sour biga. I discarded it on very few occasions.
- Once the biga is at the usable stage you need to feed it just once a week and refrigerate. Weekly sourdough bread baking takes care of the amount you need to remove!
This is one of my fave paranthas during summer. Usually I don’t need to use a starter – the dough turns bubbly and sour in two days even under refrigeration in Delhi’s summers! Nothing to the recipe really. Take your sourdough (or knead some dough using your starter) and knead in some oil, salt, and red chilli flakes. Roll out and pan-fry as usual. My preferred way though is to chop some onion really fine, and roll out and cook as with stuffed paranthas!
There are many recipes for sourdough pancakes so it wasn’t such an original idea as I thought at the time. I remember I used a mix of buckwheat and whole wheat flours, an egg, some milk, oil, salt, and sugar. Check out some recipes that use yeast and replace yeast with sourdough starter. Remember to allow the batter to leaven for a couple of hours at least. These were surely amongst the best pancakes I have eaten.
I have baked enough bread now to not need a recipe anymore. Besides, I know most breads are forgiving. I loosely follow this recipe of mine, knead well for at least 15 minutes. If you are using a mix of atta and maida (whole wheat and AP flours), then add one heaped spoonful of wheat gluten, if you have some, for every cup of atta. It will result in a lighter loaf. For the same reason wait as long as it takes till the dough has doubled.
When I used only the sourdough starter for leavening the finished bread was too sour for our liking. The next time around, I added a little bit of yeast while kneading (1 teaspoon) which reduced the rising time a little and resulted in a not-strongly-sour bread, which is how I remember sourdough bread tastes. That may not be artisan enough for some but it is how I am baking mine now. Sourdough bread has given me the best crust yet! This was my best loaf ever!
[PS: I returned to Sourdough in 2016 and it’s a whole different ballgame since! Incredible breads with just a hint of sour and 100% sourdough, no commercial yeast.]