Rich Howell of Pain du Famille has been a member of Genuine Jersey since early 2014 thanks to the baking of his phenomenally good sourdough bread. Rich talks us through the gloriously slow process, it takes almost 24 hours to bake each loaf and this is what provides the bread with the flavour and texture which makes it irresistible to eat.
Making bread isn’t your full time job, so what sparked your passion to bake?
In the summer of 2010 I had the pleasure of hanging out with some amazing folks in Wales at the Do Lectures (www.thedolectures.com) Here amongst other things I met Tom Herbert a fifth generation baker from the Cotswolds and baked bread on a camp fire at a workshop he was running. This really caught my imagination and I went on to take another of Tom’s workshops this time at his bakery in the Cotswolds. Tom gave me some of the starter his family have been baking with for the last 56 years and from there I caught the sourdough bug and haven’t stopped baking it since. I’ve been a member of Genuine Jersey since early 2014 and I’m also a member of the campaign for Real Bread.
The making of sourdough can’t be rushed, could you talk us through the process from start to finish?
The process starts when I feed my sourdough starter flour and water – this is the wild yeast engine of my bread baking. This is left for 11-12 hours to ferment.
Once the starter is ready I start the process of making the loaves – this involves mixing the sourdough starter with water, flour and salt – the ingredients may be minimal but are the best I can find; stoneground organic flour and the organic sea salt.
I don’t knead the dough in a frenzy of activity but use an old world technique which involves folding the dough over five hours to help it develop in to a dough that’s ready to use.
This is then weighed out into loaf size pieces, shaped and left to proof in a fridge for around 16 hours until they’re ready to bake. To make great bread you need time but unfortunately most bread is fast, made in just a couple of hours, my extended process helps the bread to develop it’s distinctive flavour and texture.
How often do you bake?
I had been baking every day but have now slowed my schedule down to only Saturdays so I can focus on making better bread.
What makes it different from conventional bread?
The main difference is the time taken and the minimal amount of ingredients used in my bread. Conventional loaves are baked using the Chorleywood process which mixes and bakes a loaf of bread in around two hours, my loaves take at least 24 hours and only include four ingredients. Take a look at the ingredients on a bag of conventional bread and you’ll be amazed at how long the list is.
Are there any particular health benefits to eating sourdough over conventional bread?
There’s no particular benefits that I’m aware of but if the sourdough loaf uses a long fermentation technique, a lot of evidence points to it being easier to digest than conventional bread causing less bloating that is associated with gluten intolerance.
Where can we buy your loaves?
Currently my bread is only available through my community subscription bakery. Subscribers take a predetermined amount of loaves each week which they prepay for at the start of the month and collect from my house every Saturday.
What’s your preferred way of eating your bread?
There’s so many ways, but if I had to choose it would be fresh from the oven, just cooled enough to cut and slathered with butter and maybe a sprinkling of sea salt.
How easy is it to make your own sourdough starter, any top tips for aspiring bakers?
There’s no great mystery to making sourdough. It just takes practice and a lot of patience. There are many ways to make a starter but try this as recommended by the Real Bread campaign…
The following is both simple and effective. Rye grains apparently host very large microbe populations and certainly, testing this recipe has produced a very active starter that’s made a mess of my kitchen worktop more than once. As the yeasts live on the outside of the grain, your chances improve when using wholemeal flour, preferably from organic farms where they will have used less or no fungicide.
A plastic container with a lid is convenient for storage and if your starter gets lively, the lid will simply pop off, where a glass jar with a screwtop or metal clip seal could crack or shatter.
30g rye flour
30g water (at about 20°c)
Mix together and leave at room temperature (again about 20°C) for 24 hours.
Mix in another 30g of flour and 30g of water and leave for another 24 hours.
Days three, four, five and six
As day two.
Once it’s bubbling up nicely, you can use some of the starter straight away to bake a loaf of Real Bread, or keep in the fridge until needed.
A couple of notes
▪ For the first few days, the mixture might seem lifeless and could smell a bit iffy. Don’t worry about this as by the end of the first week – perhaps even by day four or five – it should start bubbling and the smell will develop into something yeasty, slightly acidic and maybe even floral. If your starter is a bit lethargic (it will take longer in a cooler room and some flour will have lower amounts of, repeat the refreshment for another day or two until it comes to life.
▪ Don’t worry if the flour settles out and you you end up with a layer of brownish liquid. This is normal. Either stir it back into your starter or pour it off. If your starter hasn’t been used for a while, the second option is probably better as the liquid (sometimes known as hooch) will have started to become alcoholic, which can slow the starter down and also may lead to less desirable flavours in your bread.
For a bread recipe I’d recommend getting hold of Dan Lepard’s book The Handmade Loaf and Chad Robertsons Tartine.
Do you bake anything else?
Pain au Levain is the only loaf I make for sale at present but I’m currently experimenting with danish rye loaves and morning buns.
For further information or to contact me visit www.paindefamille.com