I love the smell of the garden this time of year. Yeast cells working their magic on the over-ripe remnants of a bountiful harvest. The sweet aroma of fermentation, the scent of woodsmoke in the air and fragrance of bread baking in the oven – the aroma therapy of Autumn.
The process of creating a freshly baked loaf of yeast bread is as therapeutic as the wonderful aroma that rewards the effort. Its a wonderful activity for a watercolor artist who can steal away from the studio while the paint is drying to periodically peak at the dough as it rises and bakes.
The biologist in me marvels at the complexity of life on earth and how a tiny, microscopic organism can work such magic. The artist in me takes great joy in creatively shaping the dough and decorating the top of each loaf with herbs and seeds of various colors and textures. The genealogist in me imagines my great great great great grandmother, Catherine Lester (1759 – 1833) loading her crock of sourdough starter into a wagon for her family’s journey from Bucks County Pennsylvania to their new home in Virginia’s New River Valley. I captured some yeast long ago and have nurtured my own sourdough starter for bread baking ever since. I like carrying on a tradition enjoyed by so many talented bread bakers in my family.
“The mother, madre, starter, seed, chef, levain—by any name, it is the bubbling, breathing slick of wild yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria that feed on flour and water, creating the biochemical conditions to make bread rise. Simply put, the yeasts break down the flour into sugars and carbon dioxide; the bacteria ferment those sugars to make acid, creating a complex, pleasantly sour flavor. Starters can range from dough-like in texture to batteresque and are the color of whatever flour the baker uses.” (Why Baker’s Love Their Mothers – Food and Wine Magazine)
This time of the year with its abundance of over-ripe tomatoes I reach for my palette of Autumn colors and my recipe for Sourdough Tomato Cheese Bread.
I’ll share the recipe with you but you’ll have to capture your own yeast or find a generous sourdough baker willing to share.
1 cup sourdough starter
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, undrained
2 packages of dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 pound grated sharp or longhorn cheese
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 to 3 teaspoons safflower or olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons salt (optional)
6 ½ – 7 ½ cups whole wheat flour (or a combination of
whole wheat and unbleached white flour)
Put the starter in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes-cut and mashed-and include the liquid.
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Put aside to proof. Add the cheese, baking powder, oil, honey and salt to the starter-tomato mixture. Add the dissolved yeast and gradually beat in the flour 1 cup at a time. The dough will be fairly thick.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Add more flour if necessary. Place in a greased bowl, turn to coat the dough and cover. Let rise in a warm spot until double in size-about 1 hour.
Punch down and knead for 1 to 2 minutes; then divide into 2 loaves and place in well-greased loaf pans (9 X 5 inches). Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until almost doubled in size (about 1 ½ hours).
Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until loaves test done. Cool on wire racks.