Norman McFarlane is another friend I met on Twitter, and someone as I discovered, with an eclectic background and diverse interests. Amongst these is a love of cooking bread baking. He is also a professional journalist who won the South African Wine Writer of the Year Award for 2012.
I invited Norman to teach me how to make his favourite sourdough-rye bread using his own established and well-nurtured starter.
Because he is such an interesting guy, I asked him a few questions so we could get to know him a bit better:
Oh and if you are interested in learning all about sourdough breadmaking, there are some amazing bits here.
Who is the ‘Man in the Kitchen’?
Well, I’m the Man in the Kitchen, who came to life about six years ago when I started a website (note not a blog, I was in the IT business in those days, and each entry on my website, was a custom built HTML page!) on which to post stories about my journey into the world of food.
My late mum Yvonne was as close to a gourmet cook as one can get to be without any formal training, and she was both my greatest fan and fiercest critic when I decided to start cooking.
Man in the Kitchen stems from me having no clue what to call my brand when I decided way back in 2006 to try to make something of my growing love of food and cooking.
My original intention was to post recipes, cooking tips and tricks, and the likes for men. My thinking was that there are many men who want to cook , but don’t do so for fear of screwing up and begin embarrassed. My idea was to write recipes in a narrative style, that would answer not only the “What?” question but also the “Why?” question, something that most men, being quite technical and rational, want answered. My research showed that most cooking courses for men focused on teaching them to cook by rote: follow the instructions to the letter, and it’ll work. Leave something out and it’ll be a disaster, and you won’t know why.
As it turns out, most of my readers turned out to be women rather than men, once I started writing the food column for Bolander lifestyle & Property, which I’ve been doing since the first edition of the paper on April 18, 2007.
One thing led to another, and I began writing about wine as well, and naturally, it made sense to combine the two.
I converted to a blog in 2008, and I started posting recipes weekly, along with wine and travel-related pieces, as well as theatre reviews, one of my other great passions in life.
A disaster that occurred when moving my blog from one server to another meant that I lost a good deal of my on-line content, but I’m beginning to catch up as I post more and more of the 350 odd recipes I’ve developed over the years.
What is your food philosophy all about?
I’m an ardent supporter of natural, organic, and local produce. I’ll use something that’s been flown across the world, only as a last resort, if it’s not produced locally. An example is genuine Parmigiano Reggiano, which because it enjoys regional designation of origin status under the EU, cannot be made anywhere else in the world. Having said that, I don’t use it very often.
I’m a staunch supporter of humane animal husbandry, so I go out of my way to source animal protein that is humanely bred, reared, and slaughtered. That applies to poultry, meat, eggs, and the like.
I do not, nor will I ever eat, foie gras or veal. My research and reading tell me that neither can be produced humanely and should therefore not be produced.
I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian, nor will I ever be. Whilst I respect every person’s right to eat what they choose to eat, I acknowledge that human beings are omnivores and that a balanced diet must include both a plant component and an animal protein component.
I eat only SASSI Green List fish and seafood by choice. I believe that both Orange and Red List species should be banned outright until the populations have recovered sufficiently to allow exploitation.
As a professional journalist, who do you write for?
I write for Bolander Lifestyle & Property on a wide array of topics, from food, wine, and travel, to politics, economics, and environmental issues. the arts and entertainment, art Literature and much, much more.
Recipe-wise, I range from the complex (olive crusted salmon trout with watercress mash, prawns beignet and lime veloutè sauce) to the simple (poached Eggs, on toast, Spinach and Danish Feta, with Pecorino), depending upon how the mood takes me.
I write feature articles for Classic WINE regularly, and periodically for wine.co.za and also The Month.
Why do you make your own bread and keep a starter?
Many people ask me why I use sourdough rather than yeast when I bake. Well, it’s quite simple really. Sourdough bread has a texture and flavour that is difficult to emulate with yeast. It is also view healthier, because it results in much lower blood sugar than conventionally leavened bread. Here’s a study that explains why this is so. It also makes both starch and gluten easier to digest. Sourdough bread also has increased lactic acid which breaks down phytic acid. Phytic acid inhibits the uptake of critical minerals like calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc.
Sourdough is also just really cool to bake with because it’s so retro. Our forefathers used to bake with sourdough because it was more reliable than yeast. My starter is almost three years old, and I’ve already given part of it to a friend.
Boudin, a San Fransisco bakery has a starter that is over 150 years old, and this story tells of an 83 year old woman in Newcastle, Wyoming who has a starter that is 123 years old.
It is remarkably easy to keep. All you need is a zip lock bag, and a 1litre yoghurt cup in which to store it in the fridge. Conventional wisdom says that you must refresh your starter weekly if you do not bake with it. Refreshing entails tossing half of it and replacing the tossed half with an equivalent amount of flour and water, which you allow to ferment out of the fridge for 24 hours, before putting it into the zip lock bag, in the fridge. The yoghurt cup just makes it easier to store. The plastic bag tends to wander all over the fridge without it.
Don’t store it in the coldest part of the fridge, and never allow it to freeze, or you’ll kill it.
I’ve actually resurrected a starter that was left in the fridge for five weeks. I left my wife with strict instructions to refresh it weekly when I went to the US last year. She promptly forgot, so when I returned after five weeks, I had to decide whether to start again or to try to resurrect it. I dumped half and added two cups of rye flour and a cup of lukewarm water, and left it on the countertop covered, for 24 hours. Hey, presto! It came back to life again and is still in use.
I’ve spent more and more time in the last two years baking and in particular bread products. I’m fascinated by the magic of leavening and have made sourdough bagels, exquisite thin-crust pizza bases, mini baguettes and hamburger buns the likes of which you just cannot get from your normal sources.
I’ve also spent some time seeking out the best flours to use, and commercially I buy Golden Reef and Eureka unbleached flours (rye and wheat) by choice. Both are whole grain flours which include the wheat germ and most of the bran.
When I can get my hands on it, I buy meal (that’s the correct term for stone-milled whole grain flour) from the Beaumont Watermill at Beaumont Family Vineyards in the Overberg. It costs about R20\kg but is worth every penny.
The Sourdough rye loaf – 3 days to prep | 45 mins baking | 1 – 2 loaves
After some tinkering with the recipe – the dough was initially very moist and difficult to work with – I finally figured out what to do to make my ideal wheat/rye loaf.
It relies on a poolish (only the first time) and a starter, and takes a couple of days, but that allows you to fit it into your busy life. It’s become my weekly bake: we no longer by conventional bread.
Proportionately, it’s about 60% rye and 40% wheat flour, but it is beguilingly delicious, particularly toasted.
The loaves it produces, are floury and gnarled, riven with fissures and barely round. Nonetheless, it is lovely, with a moist light crumb, and large bubbles, due no doubt to the long leavening time.
You can also bake it in a conventional bread tin, which I usually do now, which makes a loaf ideal for cutting sandwich and toast slices. You can, of course, bake the rough cob-like loaves if you prefer.
Ingredients, Selection and Preparation
- ½cup lukewarm water
- ½cup light rye flour
- Thumb size piece fresh yeast OR 1/2tsp dried yeast
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 2 cups light rye flour
- 3 cups light rye flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 4tsp salt
- 4 cups bread four
- Prepare the poolish three to four days before you wish to bake for the first time. In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water, then stir in the flour. Cover tightly with cling film, set aside to ferment for 12 to 36 hours.
- For the starter, in a large bowl, dissolve the poolish in the lukewarm water and stir in the two cups of rye flour until smooth. Cover with cling film, and let ferment for 24 hours. Refrigerate for up to 24 hour if you wish.
- The evening before you want to bake, sift the whole wheat flour and rye flour evenly over the starter. Cover with a kitchen towel and plastic, and stand in a warm place overnight.
- Three to four hours before you want to bake, stir in 3 cups lukewarm water and 1tsp salt until smooth.
- Lift out two cups to form your starter for the next batch, stored in a zip seal bag in the fridge. You’ll never use yeast again for this bread!
- Add 3tsp (1tbsp) of salt and sift and stir in one cup at a time, between three and five cups of bread flour. Knead until smooth and elastic, for about 10 minutes with well-floured hands (the dough will be moist and quite sticky).
- If you have a stand mixer, knead for 10 minutes as well. I find adding three cups of flour first off then kneading for a minute or two allows you to determine your dough consistency. When it’s just right, the dough will pull away from the mixing bowl, and accumulate on the dough hook. If it’s too moist, it will not do so. Add flour and knead it in a half cup at a time until the texture is just right
- Place the dough in a well-oiled large bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, to prove for three to four hours. It should almost double in size.
- If you have a panel heater against the wall, switch it on, and place the dough on something which will position it in the centre of the heater panel. Drape a towel over the heater and the bowl to contain the heat.
- If you’re baking during the day, and it’s sunny, place the dough in a clean black plastic garbage bag, fill it with air, and tie it off. Place it in the sun to warm. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the dough proves.
- Place a baking tray or unglazed quarry tile in mid-oven, and heat to 230 deg C (250 deg C fan oven). Once the oven is at temperature, turn out the dough on a well-floured surface, and divide in half.
- Pour a ½cup of bread flour into a medium bowl. Drop half the dough in the bowl, and toss the dough for up to a minute until it so a rough round. Cover the other half of the dough with a kitchen towel.
- Turn the dough out onto the tile (baking tray), and bake for 15 minutes at 250 deg C (230 deg C fan oven) then turn down to 220 deg C (210 deg C fan oven) for 30 minutes.
- The loaf is done when it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Heat the oven back to 250 deg C (230 deg C fan oven), and repeat with the other half of the dough.
- If you want a regular-shaped loaf that is easy to cut for sandwiches and so forth, bake it in a standard-sized bread tin. Oil or butter the tin lightly to prevent sticking.
- Turn the kneaded dough out onto a floured surface and roll it into a large sausage that will just fit into the bread tin. Prove and bake as described above, and just before you put it into the oven prick the surface with a sharp knife, or make a shallow cut from end to end. This allows the gasses that are emitted during baking to escape without cracking the bread crust.
- Place on a rack to cool uncovered for 24 hours for a crisp crust, or covered with a couple of kitchen towels for a softer crust. Keeps well for up to a week in the fridge in a zip lock bag.
- Refresh the starter a day or two before you plan to use it, or weekly if unused for more than seven days: discard half, and stir in 1 cup lukewarm water, and two cups light rye flour.
- If you want to grow your starters in order to start somebody else off, remove yours from the fridge, and add two cups of rye flour and two cups of lukewarm water. Stir until smooth with a fork, then leave covered with a kitchen towel for 24 hours.
- Lift out two cups of the starter and place in a plastic bag. Your friend now has their own starter, cloned from yours, a real case of spreading the love.
Thank you for sharing your delicious bread recipe and all the know-how on Drizzle and Dip.
I look forward to connecting with you again in the future.