over the hill

Now, that phrase can be rather misleading.

And this is something I had come to learn last November 2013 as I made my way by foot from the junction of South Terrace and South Street where the free Fremantle Blue CAT bus service had let me off (bus stop #7) towards the Challenger Institute of Technology.

Stopping every 500 metres or so, I was greeted with the same response, “over the hill. To your right, across the oval”.

Well, what would have been helpful was if I had been told that it’s a BIG hill – somehow the art of describing how strenuous and challenging the different hills one has to encounter on foot is something only the residents of San Francisco has it refined to the ‘t’.

What’s interesting is my mother has over the course of 5 years or so been trying to make the ‘perfect’ San Francisco sourdough bread.

Having left the ‘brick’ stage some time back with the help of online forums, countless of hours spent on YouTube videos, and many, many guinea pigs who has been or lived in San Francisco as testers, the phase of inconsistent results of ‘blisters’, ‘open crumbs’ and ‘ears’ continues to haunt her.

This resulted first with amassing a collection of sourdough or levain publications by the “who’s of who” of baking, followed by stalking self-proclaimed local artisan bakers, to eventually combing farmers markets of Europe and begging strange Swiss, Italian and French men covered in powdery white substances to Pilates professional moonlighting as organic artisan bakers for private lessons.

Almost giving up hope, a lovely Australian man – Derek – responded to her email queries, agreeing to provide her with some lessons one fine day.

The respond was timely with a last minute visit I had planned for after receiving news of an old family friend who is terminally ill in Perth.

Needless to say our laborious hike up South Street was well worth the visit and the very fact that we had traveled all the way from Kuala Lumpur gave us not only automatic access to the Challenger Institute of Technology premises after hours but an escorted tour around by the security personnel on duty.

Derek on first impression was unassuming and friendly.

While waiting for the rest of the ‘friends and family’ who would be joining the baking session that evening, I went about taking the roots off some onions that would be used later, while he went about answering my mothers ‘technical’ questions.

With the party ensemble at the agreed upon time, class started with Derek explaining the lesson plan for the night and put a batch of flour, sourdough starter and other base ingredients for the white bread with tumeric, feta and onion sourdough; one of three breads that we would make that evening, into a larger mixing bowl.

As the dough was getting a good workout in the industrial sized stand mixer, Derek produced loaves of risen 50% wholemeal with home brewed stout and torrified wheat that he had made earlier in the day, and went about describing the technique of slashing. Once we had all had our rounds of slashing 2 to 3 loaves each, Derek went about preparing the loaves with a glaze before baking them.

Between sips of the left over home brewed stout, the feta cubes and diced onions were folded into the tumeric dough over three intervals of stretch and bench rests before being shaped and dropped into foil tins that allows easy transportation, as they were to be baked on our own the next day.

With drinks drained very quickly from the plastic cups, Derek then got us busy with a quick rise white bread with black sesame which were eventually shaped into numerous shapes and sprinkled with not only black sesame but white sesame and poppy seeds.

Smelling of earthy fresh baked bread, we returned to the hotel renewed with energy and hope.

Here’s a BIG thanks to Derek for his generosity and kindness.

But more importantly for showing that when it comes to sourdough, you can’t seem to be over-the-hill – it takes little strength and effort, and it can be one of the most forgiving bread to make.

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