Turning grapes into . . . bread?!

Bill's sourdough rye bread, hot from the oven, with a glass of Mario's Dolcetto d'Alba
(photo by Kim Millon)

Topsham, Devon January 16, 2006The annual transformation of grapes into wine is one that I consider little short of miraculous. But grapes into bread? Those who passed by the Vino Wine Cellar last Saturday may have had the chance to sample a rare treat: Bill Barnes' homebaked sourdough loaf, kindly brought to us by Bill and Yolanda, straight out of the oven. It was sensational, still warm in the middle and incredible with just a dribble of Monte in Vito or Fattoria del Colle extra-virgin olive oil. And it was all the better for the fact that the sourdough starter had been made from grapes harvested from the Pebblebed vineyard in Ebford!

Bill explains what he did:

"For the sourdough starter, I used a bunch of Geoff's grapes (Seyval I think!). I tried to follow the instructions an Italian friend from Turin gave me late one night in a restaurant in Cork (it turned out we both loved making bread - and he used a sourdough starter, something I had never tried). As he explained to me, the surface of unsprayed grapes have yeast organisms on them, and it is this that can be used for the starter. I squashed the grapes by hand over a bowl and then added the squashed grapes to the liquid, covered the lot with a tea-towel and left it for 2 - 3 days at room temperature.  The next step was to strain off the liquid through a sieve, discarding the bits, skins etc. and retaining the liquid. I then mixed in enough flour (plain organic flour from Otterton Mill) to make a runny paste and again left the whole lot with a lid over it for a couple of days (a big empty jam jar will do - but make sure the lid is only on very loosely - as the yeast multiplies gas (carbon dioxide) is given off.  After that I poured away half of the mixture each day and replaced the lost volume with a mixture of water and more flour.  Every day, before pouring half of the mixture away I would check what it looked like, and the smell.  The smell is a key indicator - it should smell slightly sour, it should also look as though it has been developing bubbles (it won't look anything like the wonderful Vino champagnes though).  If it has worked it should have these characteristics after about 5 days.  Nothing is precise here - that's one of the things I love about it!  If it doesn't work just try again.  No grapes? No problem - you could try organic raisins but frankly, I have found just leaving a bowl of flour mixed with water, covered by a tea-towel, will often work - the mixture picks up yeasts floating in the air in your kitchen!

"As for the bread, I blended together 100g of walnuts with a spoon of honey, a spoon of butter and a spoon of flour and enough water to make a paste.  I Then mixed in 150g of sourdough starter (that leaves enough to add some flour and water and build up the starter again), 300g plain flour, 100g wholemeal flour and 100g of rye flour, and added a teaspoon of salt and finally a really big handful of walnut halves. I kneaded this lot for maybe 1 minute, put it back in a bowl and left it over night to rise.  The next morning I kneaded it again, probably only 30 seconds this time (it really doesn't need more) and put it on a metal sheet, placing it on the back of my ancient gas oven for an hour to rise a little.  I then slashed the surface with a sharp knife and baked to loaf for 1 hour at gas mark 7.  Next step - off to see if Geoff and Marc like it....."

Thanks again, Bill. We most certainly did like it! It was absolutely awesome, possibly the best homemade bread I've ever had. Bravissimo. (When are you going to open a Topsham bakery?!)

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