It is only when we interact with bakers that we realize how much we take baked goods for granted.
Take for example the humble bread. Bread has become so mundane a part of our daily routine that we fail to appreciate and acknowledge the science and the art behind its construction. I used to be a part of the same family believe me. And it was not until I had the pleasure of interacting with SUJIT SUMITRAN, the acclaimed bread whisperer from Goa, that I came to understand that one needs more than flour, water and salt to make bread…one needs sheer passion and utmost dedication.
For Sujit, Sourdough is not just about great bread, it is about falling in love. “It is about the journey being the true destination. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it seems elusive. The results are ok but not what you are looking for. At times like this, let it come to you. It is not about you being the master; it is about you being the facilitator and letting whatever wants to emerge, emerge!”
An Executive and Leadership Coach and Change Catalyst, Sujit works with large corporations and supports them in their people development initiatives. His love for baking is deep rooted “I am a home baker and I love infecting people with the urge to bake bread for themselves. I bake mainly for my friends and family and while I don’t sell bread, I teach sourdough bread making through hands on workshops.”
At 50 Sujit figured that there was more to life than just working. Thus the joy of baking was discovered. “I decided to open up a boutique consulting practice and used the time I had on hand to fuel my passion.” Bread is Sujit’s forte with sourdough being his area of expertise. There is a lot of learning that goes into sourdough making. On levels of complexity, it ranks far about other types of breads. The dough or starter from which the sourdough takes form needs care and nurturing much like a mother cares for her child. This for its most part is a continuous process. “Sourdough is the final frontier of bread making. Once you’re hooked on sourdough, regular, commercially yeasted bread just won’t do. So I went hammer and tongs and read up everything I could lay my hands on and I experimented almost every day, that’s how I became a self-taught sourdough baker.”
According to Sujit, sourdough is one of the simplest and more inexpensive ways of making bread. “But it does demand that you slow down, be gentle and give the dough the time it needs to develop” he adds.
The process of sourdough making begins with understanding the very basics and it has everything to do with the starter. Available in dehydrated forms that can be bought online and stored frozen, the starter consists of a fermented mix of flour, water, salt and levain. “The levain is essentially an ecosystem of lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast. The bacteria acidifies the dough and provides lots of benefits while the yeast leavens the bread and makes it light. Good sourdough is all about slow fermentation. Time is a vital ingredient.” While commercially yeasted bread is ready in about 5-6 hours, sourdough takes about 18-20 hours from start to finish. The final result however is worth the effort!
There is a sudden wave of interest and a noticeable lean toward baking and consumption of sourdough. While this may be attributed to food fads across the world, most people are catching up on the benefits offered by this particular type of bread. Being naturally acidic, the bread stays at room temperature for upto 5 days before going stale. “Having said that I wouldn’t recommend you leave the bread out for days after baking as the starch molecules will crystallize, making the bread dry.”
One of the biggest health benefits of sourdough is its low GI (gylcemic index). Which means it doesn’t create blood sugar spikes as high when compared to store bought bread! The lactic acid bacteria plays a major role by breaking down the complex sugars into simple sugars which are then consumed by the wild yeast. As a result, most of the sugars are broken down and the slow fermentation process leaves behind complex carbohydrates. Slow fermentation has the added benefit of better digestibility due to gluten degradation.
“Further, all grains and seeds have a naturally occurring substance called Phytic Acid that binds the minerals together making it available to the grains and seeds only if they germinate. The organic acids produced in the sourdough fermentation degrade the Phytic Acid, making it easier for the human body to absorb the minerals.”
Unfortunately, it’s not always pure sourdough that is available for purchase. Most breads use commercial yeast to hasten results whereby the health properties of good sourdough are rendered moot. But with an understanding that is slowly but surely spreading amongst sourdough consumers, the demand for the ‘real thing’ is on a definite rise.
For Sujit, inspiration pours in from nature, the universe, from people…in short, from life in itself.
There are several processes and techniques through which one can make good home baked sourdough an extension of oneself; meaning that the journey to perfecting sourdough is exclusive to each baker. “It is better to compare your current bake with your own previous bakes, rather than compare them with others. Always keep in mind that your future bakes will be better than your past. Each bake is a learning process. Bread baking means different things to different people. It is essential to make time to discover what it means to you.”
Sujit and his wife Sudha will soon have a micro farm designed using permaculture principles. “It will house a rammed earth home, a food forest and some space for hens, ducks and geese. The idea is to live in a sustainable manner, preferably off the grid. When It is ready, we will welcome guests for an immersive experience. And perhaps they can even bake bread with me in a wood fired oven.”
Learn how to bake sourdough by enrolling in Sujit’s online course: Sourdough Online Course