Bread doesn´t occur to many people when they think of fermentation, but it´s one of the most commonly eaten fermented foods. Bread is a very important food across many cultures; traditionally before people had their own ovens, the baker played a crucial role in the community. The first records which mention bread, suggest it was considered a miracle food. Yeast being added to flour and water, converting sugars into carbon dioxide, causing it to bubble, rise and grow….thus making more food from less. Genius!
As well as the fact that this food seemed to swell as if by magic, consuming bread is so much more nutritious than eating the same amount of grain and water. The process of fermentation makes the nutrients more available for the body to ingest.
Historically making bread was always a cooperative venture, from growing and harvesting the grain, to milling it, to kneading it with yeast and water to make dough, allowing it to rise, forming and finally baking it. The process required from growing grain, to eating it in bread form is quite labour intensive and involved.
I was invited back to Sarnac, this time to see the residents of the small community come together to make bread (which happens every 3 weeks). It was a lot more wintery than my last visit, and there is talk of the temperatures plummeting to -14º in the next couple of days. Some residents assessed if they had stockpiled enough firewood, to keep them going through the cold spell.
The cutting wind and blustery rain bite, as we walk down to the main house. Bread making is an all day affair, with today´s participants gathering in the morning to set the dough rising.
Rayen, Charlotte, Laure and Jimmy (as well as some of the youngest residents of Sarnac) don their aprons and team together to get this bread a-rising!
There are 3 big dough batches being made, 2 with whole wheat organic flour, one of ancient variety (heavier loaf, less gluten). Each person adds flour and water to the starter, which has been lovingly prepared and fed in the days leading up to the session. It´s mixed thoroughly and kneaded, until a dough ball is formed.
Whilst 3 adults knead, one is brushing the loaf tins with oil, and dusting flour onto the cheesecloths in baskets for later. Everyone knows what they need to do, and there is a busy flurry of activity. The dough is then set aside to rise for 2 hours, covered with a cheese cloth.
Baptiste sets a fire ablaze in the 150 year old stone oven and diligently tends it for the next few hours.
This oven kicks out some real heat and becomes a focal point for the day, attracting residents who are trying to escape the cold outside. There is nothing quite like fire making and food to bring people together!
Meanwhile the bread team are joined in an adjoining room, by the rest of the community for a big lunch. Everyone brings a dish and people chat happily, catching up.
Sliced, frozen bread from the last session is thawed and warmed on top of the heater.
After 2 hours the team rush next door to inspect the rise on the dough and begin dividing it into the baking vessels.
There is a quick second knead, then the dough is then placed in the loaf tins or baskets. All the loaves are brushed with water, to stop them drying out too much and prevent the top crust from becoming too hard. Again the loaves are covered with cheesecloth and left for a second rise.
We re-adjourn 2 hours later, but the numbers have dropped off. I´m roped in to get the loaves into the oven quickly, so as to not loose too much heat, and to make sure they all get the same baking time.
The loaves are scored on top with a razor to facilitate the rise. Baptiste skilfully loads the oven chamber up, with loaf tins around the edge, then the round loaves are shunted into the middle of the oven. Then the oven door is bolted closed and we must wait 50 minutes until they are baked. You can feel the anticipation rising as the homely smells of baking bread start to fill the room.
When the bread is baked, the smallish room which houses the oven is suddenly filled to the brim with the community folk. There is one last industrious phase of removing the loaves from the oven and they are set on the table to be weighed and divided.
The weight of bread is noted down in a ledger with a great feeling of satisfaction for everyone who took part. People then slowly return to their respective houses clutching warm loaves of bread under each arm. Anyone fancy some toast?!
I was lucky enough to be given a sourdough loaf, so I took it home and decided to make a sweet tuna melt….
2 slices of sourdough bread
2 slices of tuna belly
1/2 red pepper, sliced
a few slices of cheese
red peppercorns, crushed
Preheat the oven to 180º. Onto a baking tray cut the red pepper into strips, drizzle with olive oil and season. Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes, until its softened and the edges are starting to brown.
Place some slices of cheese onto the bread and melt the cheese in the oven.
Heat a dash of oil in a frying pan and sear the edges of the tuna. When the cheese is melted, lay the pepper strips onto the bread. Put the tuna on top and garnish with parsley and red pepper. Voilà, sweet tuna melt, ready to eat.