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Well, really Fred II.

He’s, or rather, it’s, my bread starter.And I’m starting his (’cause after all, it is a living thing that must be cared for, much like a pet, so it is far more of a “he/her” rather than an “it”) birthing process tonight. And in 6 days, I’ll have a very weak, hungry, but very much alive, starter.

Ironically, a few years ago, I discovered that I have a wheat intolerance; no, I’m not celiac, I’ve simply discovered that wheat/gluten products make me bloat, make me feel run down. You can tell by looking at me when I’ve indulged my delight of bread, I get, well, puffy.

So for quite some time, I was very strict: no wheat, no oats, nothing with gluten. I cleared my pantry of all my flours. I cleared my fridge of… Fred I. Well at the time, he was just “Fred”, not “Fred I”, but now that Fred II is coming into the world…

Ironic why, exactly? I was, am, a baker. No longer professionally, but still passionately. There is little more satisfying than starting out with some powders and liquids and conjuring up a crispy crusted, fluffy centered, delicious bread. The various aromas created throughout the process are enough to send me to heaven: First the deep, muskiness transforming during its time in the oven to a blissful, I’m at a loss for words to describe the amazing smell of bread baking, but I can say that just thinking about it now as I write, my heart is beating faster and my head is light. It is one of the most comforting smells in the world.

And I gave it all up.

And then, last January, in Paris, I had bread because, c’mon, how can you not have bread products in France? And what I discovered is, I didn’t puff. In fact, it didn’t seem to affect me at all.

My guess is that I’m not necessarily intolerant of the wheat/gluten, but rather all the processing and chemicals to which American bread products are subjected.

I’m intolerant of the adulteration.

So since when we were buying appliances for our new home I convinced Jamie to let me buy the convection oven that I’d always dreamed of, it seems incredibly stupid to not bake bread. And while it is true (he said immodestly), I’ve learned to make a mean loaf of gluten-free bread, it is simply not the same. Not the same in the production. Not the same texture in the pre-baked state: batter rather than soft fleshy-ness. And not, at all, the same smell.

And lets face it, having a convection oven at your beck and call and not baking is like having a Ferrari and driving in the slow lane. It’s denying the machine its nature.

So I’ve paused in my writing and put Fred II together. So simple. And I have to thank Julia Child and Nancy Silverton for the particular starter recipe I use to create my Freds.From Julia’s “Cooking with the Master Chefs” series, I present, for anyone hankerin’ to start their own “Fred” or “Ester” or whatever you choose to call your frothy, bubbling new pet: Nancy Silverton’s Bread Starter (I’m condensing-you can follow the “Cooking with…” link for a video of Nancy making it in Julia’s kitchen.):

  • 2 cups bread flour – she recommends a hard wheat flour-I’m using King Arthur Organic All-Purpose, no processing or chemicals added
  • 2 1/2 cups tepid water
  • 1/2 pound stemmed red grapes
  1. Stir together the flour and water in a glass or plastic container. Don’t worry about small lumps, they’ll dissolve.
  2. Tie the grapes up in a double layer of washed and rinsed cheesecloth.
  3. Crush the grapes lightly.
  4. Swirl the grape bag around in the flour/water mix.
  5. Submerge the bag in the mix.
  6. Cover the container tightly with a lid (if it has one) or with plastic wrap.
  7. Let it sit there for six days at room temperature, stirring once a day.
  8. Don’t do anything else with it. Just let it come to life.

Nancy Silverton: The bag of grapes will gradually appear inflated, and liquid will begin to separate from the flour base. The mixture will begin to taste and smell slightly fruity and the color will be strange. That is as it should be. By the sixth day, the bag of grapes will have deflated, the color will be yellow, and the taste pleasantly sour: the fermentation is complete. The starter is living but weak, and it needs to be fed.Feeding the starter:

  1. Remove the grape bag and squeeze the juices back into the starter. Discard the grapes.
  2. Stir thoroughly and transfer into a clean container.
  3. Add 1 cup flour and 1 cup tepid water.
  4. Stir well.
  5. Let stand, uncovered, at room temperature until it bubbles-3 to 4 hours.
  6. Cover and refrigerate.
  7. The next day, repeat steps 3 – 6.
  8. The next day, day 3, repeat steps 3 – 6.
  9. Your starter is now ready!

I didn’t say it was a fast process, nothing worth it ever seems to be, but it is so very worth each and every one of those nine days. And after this first big production, it gets much easier, you just need to do the three day feeding process each time you want to use it. To clarify, you will not be using all the starter in a recipe, unless, of course, you’re baking a hell of a lot of bread; more power to you.

And now, like Fred II and, indeed, Jamie (who’s been asleep for hours), I’m off to bed, to dream of delicious, crusty pillows of delight!

Ok, so I really, really like bread; so sue me.

Nite, k.

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