25 July 2014

slow bread, fast cakes


A certain fondness has developed between me and my sourdough starters. Four jars, each with varying degrees of acidity, are still alive and kicking. Just like babies, they each smell slightly different and I'm not averse to a quick sniff just for the pleasure of catching the scent. It's all quite addictive in a slow, relaxed way. I've yet to perfect the technique though. My first attempts using Dan Lepard's method (his book Short and Sweet is more detailed) made a chewy crumb with a pronounced flavour, but would not rise very much and hardened up very quickly. My latest trial, using Hugh Fearnley-Whitenstall's "sponge" method" but Dan Lepard's "folding" technique is much softer, less strongly flavoured, but a better keeping loaf - and a little burnt. Waiting for the sponge to bubble and the dough to rise and re-prove takes up the best part of a day - making a good sourdough it seems is as much about the pleasure of deferred gratification as it is about the all round sensual experience of delivering a tasty loaf. I can't help thinking it's good for the soul. And when it happens, all in good time, my perfect loaf will be bigger, crustier, with a slightly waxy, open texture. Patience, patience.

I only wish cake making was quite as fulfilling just now, for we are in cake stall season and this means hygiene, volume, efficiency. The joy of making cakes is fading fast for I find I am in a baking rut, relying on the old favourites that I know I can bake in batches and rely on very time - rock cakes for big hands, fairy cakes for little ones, banana bread or carrot cake for those who see these as the healthy option, cup cakes for those with a sweet tooth, apple cake for the fruity. It has to be quick, able to travel well, easy to cut, cream-free, affordable for those who can't pay Broadway Market prices because cakes for all is our motto. So Delia is my bible, Nigella my comfort, Rachel Allen a distraction, Mary Berry my penance, and inspiration my prayer.

I'm reaching the point that I can't look at let alone eat a cake for pleasure. Help is clearly required.


10 comments:

ALoadofOldTat said...

Ah but "cakes for all" isn't that a great sentiment?

Liz said...

I'm the opposite. I've fallen out with bread making and all of that waiting and wondering and even more waiting till it's cold before slicing. Cakes and biscuits, however, are another matter and I'm enjoying trying new (to me, at least) flavour combinations (rose and pistachio, for instance)and, of course, vegan alternatives. Restraint isn't necessary as I get to dive in quickly. However, I can understand the loss of passion when you're having to churn out dozens of the things on a regular basis. (My gran got to the stage where she couldn't abide fish and chips. She was the fish fryer in our local chippy.) Not sure what to suggest. Pies, maybe?

colleen said...

It's amazing how conventional some customers are, quite reluctant to try anything unusual. I think the solution may be to try out new things "off season" and then introduce them at big events where there are likely to be at least a few adventurous souls. The other thing is, of course, that failure isn't an option! There's nothing worse than having to reject a cake that's not properly baked!

annjennyg said...

Aah - sourdough is quite addictive;just like nurturing a baby through all its stages ... and like a baby, it can't be hurried! I love making cakes too, but I can see that making dozens to order would lose its charm. Good luck and may the 'cake fairy' be with you!

rachel said...

I've given up on bread, as I just couldn't get the knack (I suspect my reluctance to get my hands messy may have a lot to do with this!) and I'm not overly fond of sourdough anyway. But when I used to bake cakes every day for the deli, I got to the point where the smell of baking, especially a lemon drizzle, actually made me feel nauseous. You have my sympathy!

Sue @ Quilting the Green Star said...

Your bread looks great, I would certainly buy it. I have tried no knead bread from this blog http://attic24.typepad.com/weblog/2014/01/artisan-bread.html which was so good and rose in the airing cupboard without filling it with dough. Thanks for the recipe for sour dough.

Annie Cholewa (aka knitsofacto) said...

I think you could probably sell posters of that last Delia to prayer line.

Roll on the season when you can bake a lot of what you fancy!

E15 kids said...

I know just what you mean except that here cake/biscuit cooking for others peaked at the end of term. The added complication was Ramadan which meant making things for school events that could be transported home and eaten at the Iftar meal. I have taken to cooking a lot of individual small cakes (Victoria sponges, lemon and poppyseed and the like) in the Lakeland baking trays designed for this purpose since they transport well.
For new recipes to try I would certainly recommend Rose Carrarini (both her books and her occasional column in the FT magazine). I'm also trying out some of the biscuit recipes in Justin Piers Gellatly's new book. Which brings me to smell. Justin is keen on malt syrup (his malted milk biscuits are good) but I couldn't place the smell when I opened the jar. Then I realised it was the smell of a hundred and one protest meetings when I was an undergrad - pro Sandinista, anti apartheid, pro feminism - all of which used to be accompanied by drinking the awful but ideologically sound barley cup. Proper Proustian!

DDKK said...

Don't forget there's always granny's fruit cake...

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

My grandmother used to make seed cake when she couldn't face baking anything else . It would live in the cake tin balefully till someone ... usually one of my everhungry boy cousins ... would crack and finish it off .