Monday, 6 February 2012

Van Morrison - a Celtic Sourdough for a Celtic New Year

Van Morrison sourdough


Imagine Van as a loaf of bread.  Chinese Australian Shiao Ping has done just that on her bread-making blog and she's serious.  Here are highlights from her post about Van Morrison sourdough: 
"For 30 years you've enjoyed an artist, he has accompanied you from when you became a young adult, marriage, career, through till you retired, and has begun your second 50 years of life... 
...If you are discerning enough and are able to extrapolate the lessens you've learnt along the way, you will see the relationship between your life and bread (or any other serious endeavours).  What you can learn then is beyond bread.   What masters can teach, then, is beyond bread.  If you are able to find in masters such continuity and such value, you have transcended beyond the physical.    
In Van Morrison I have found such a master, and value for all my investments in him.  I have found a life evolving, unfolding, deepening, and ever refreshing.  
I wanted to do a bread to pay him tribute.  I am pondering if Spelt would be a good fit as Spelt is an ancient grain and Celtic is an ancient culture.   I went to Dan Lepard's The Homemade Loaf for some help; I thought maybe Dan's proximity to Van Morrison's Irish Celtic roots would give me some hints as to what bread would do him honour.   Under the heading Ireland, all that I can find is Irish Soda Bread which is not a leaven bread.  It uses bicarbonate of soda in place of yeast so requires no proofing.  I was told from other sources that the soda bread is a staple of the Irish diet.  It was and still is used as an accompaniment to a meal.   
Why Celtic New Year?  To the Celts, their year begins with the festival of Samhain on 31st October at the end of the harvest season, when nature appears to be dying down ... but "from death and darkness springs life and light."
I have a few months up my sleeve and I am brushing up my skill for a Irish Celtic stew too.  To soak up the Irish stew and Guinness beer, a hearty, somewhat dense, bread is what I need. 
My Guinness soupy starter 
420 g Guinness draught stout (brewed in Ireland by Guinness & Co., St James's Gate,* Dublin)
84 g white flour
100 g starter @ 75% hydration  
*  The only St. James that I know of is Van Morrison's Saint James Infirmary in his album What's Wrong With This Picture, what a monumentally beautiful song.  
I heated up Guinness to 70C (158F) then stirred the flour in.  When it cooled down to 20 C, I added the starter and let it sit covered overnight.  
In constructing my Celtic Sourdough, I took cue for some of my ingredients from Dan's soda bread which has soft wholewheat flour (white wholemeal flour?), fine oatmeal, lard** (I used dripping fat from roasting a leg of lamb last week), butter milk and milk (I steered clear of dairy products), and sugar (I used black strap molasses for that deep colour and bitterness). 
** Have you ever heard of a Chinese 50-year old stock pot?  Yes, in Europe or US you have 150-year old starter; in China, there is the 50-year old stock pot.  If you ever see a picture of it, you swear you're never going to get near that stew the shop owner is brewing out in the open.   My stock is, oh, maybe 18-month old (against my husband's knowledge), and it lives safely in my freezer; it gets ever renewed with each new stew or roast I am making.   Can you imagine the deep meaty savoury aroma that comes out of the little bit of lard that I skimmed off from my stock pot and put in the dough (below)?  
My formula 
200 g Guinness starter from above (hydration about 328%)
280 g organic spelt flour
120 g organic stone-ground wholemeal flour
50 g fine oatmeal
30 g dripping fat from a roast ** as above
20 g organic black strap molasses
167 g water 
10 g salt
Rolled oats and oatmeal for dusting
The dough hydration from above (74%) may seem high but it is not at all; the dough feels more like a 65 - 68% dough because of the fat and molasses which are not exactly liquid, and also because oatmeal soaks up a lot of water.  I was in two minds about whether I score or don't score.  The ancient Celts, if they ever made breads, would they score like the French village bakers?  I left it untouched.  On hindsight, a score would have helped it bloom.  Anyway, here is my rustic Celtic Sourdough:   

Celtic Sourdough:  a Celtic banquet?
The crumb may look heavy, but, gee, it is not heavy at all, it is soft and tender made possible by the Guinness soupy dough and fat; you can clearly smell the lamb fat.  The crust is extra crispy also because of the fat.
                              
                                befitting to Celtic hospitality?
A few years back there was a new Van Morrison biography by the English Australian composer and writer, Andrew Ford, Speaking in Tongues, that was released; I placed an order, but my friendly neighbourhood book shop never rang me back about my order and I just left it there.  So I don't know much about Van Morrison the person.  And I don't know if my Celtic Sourdough would suit his tastes if at all; doesn't matter, at the end of the day, it's me, not him.    
In the end, it is you that matters, not the masters.    
Shiao-Ping 
p.s.  Van Morrison: some of the albums I love: 
Into the Music
Poetic Champions Compose
Inarticulate Speech of the Heart
Wavelength
The Philosopher's Stone
Hymns to the Silence, and
Moondance



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