Humans have been eating raised breads for 6,000 years, but it wasn’t until the investigations of Louis Pasteur 150 years ago that we began to understand the nature of the leavening process. The key is the gas-producing metabolism of a particular class of (single-celled) fungus, the yeasts. The word yeast however, is as old as the language, and first meant the froth, or sediment of a fermenting liquid, that could be used to leaven bread… Yeasts metabolize sugars for energy and produce carbon dioxide gas and alcohol as by-product. In making beer and wine, the carbon dioxide escapes from the fermenting liquid, and alcohol accumulates. In making bread, both carbon dioxide and alcohol are trapped by the dough, and both are expelled from the dough by the heat of baking. —Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (Hodder & Stoughton, 2004)

This dish celebrates the versatility of yeasts in food and drinks. It consists of various breads, complemented with dry dusts and creamy emulsions: beer damper, chestnut panini and homemade wholemeal bread, with a pumpkin oil smear, dukkah dust, butter emulsion, balsamic cream and a taste of Ferment Brussels. The breads can be served on a piece of rough wood, to complement their colour and texture. Pumpkin oil (cold-pressed) and butter emulsion can be smeared on the plates using a thick brush, or alternatively they can be served in dipping bowls. Dukkah and balsamic cream can be sprinkled on the individual plates, or placed in two shared bowls.

  • 500 g wholemeal flour
  • 11 g (or about a tablespoon) dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 75 g (or about a handful) sunflower seeds
  • 75 g (or about a handful) pumpkin seeds
  • ~50 g mixed poppy and sesame seeds
  • 300–350 ml lukewarm water mixed with ~20 ml pumpkin oil

Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the water and knead until the dough “comes together” and is easy to handle – a lot quicker if you use an electric mixer with dough hooks. You can add a tablespoon of flour or water here and there while you’re doing this if you need to. The dough should be reasonably firm, but not too dry. Allow to prove until doubled in size (about 40 minutes) covering with oiled cling film or putting it somewhere warm (e.g. warm the oven at its lowest setting and then switch it off again before you put the dough in) will help. Next, punch the dough once or twice and knead again, not too much. Shape your loaf or put it in a greased loaf tin (Ferdinand likes the pyrex ones best) and allow to prove again for about 40 minutes until nice and risen. From this stage onwards your bread may collapse if you aren’t careful, so no shocks, bumps, or sudden gusts of wind! Heat the oven to 200°C and transfer your loaf into it. Don’t bang the oven door when you close it and let it bake for 40 to 45 minutes depending on how dark you want it. That should do the trick – your bread will sound hollow if you knock on the bottom (which isn’t really necessary, but just a satisfying way to confirm that it’s ready).

  • 1 kg white bread flour
  • 250 g chestnut flour, and a bit more for sprinkling
  • 25 g yeast
  • 600 ml mineral water
  • Salt to taste

In a large bowl, combine the flours, yeast and water, warmed to 26°C. Mix well, incorporating the salt at the end. The dough must be worked and kneaded on a flat surface for 20 minutes to give it the necessary body. Let the dough rise for 30 minutes; punch down and cut into squares or form into balls; sprinkle with chestnut flour. Let rise a second time for about 1 hour at room temperature, covering the bread with a kitchen towel to keep it from forming a crust (or place in the oven: The secret to making the bread rise is to place the dough in the oven with a pan of water to create a little humidity, and then to close the oven door. This replicates the conditions of a professional proofer and protects the dough against drafts and temperature changes). Just before baking, score the tops of the bread with a sharp knife or razor blade. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place the dough into the oven. Reduce the temperature to 190°C and throw a small amount of water onto the bottom of the oven to create steam. Bake for about 18 minutes or until the bread is nicely browned.

Adapted from a traditional French recipe

  • 500 g self-raising flour
  • 375 ml dark beer (Westmalle Dubbel, Chimay Blue, Coopers Dark Ale or similar)
  • Salt to taste
  • Paperbark
  • Butcher’s twine
  • Small handfull of dried rosemary and thyme (or other seasonal herbs)

Sift flour and salt into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour warm beer and herbs into the centre and work the mixture from centre to the sides. Place the dough on top of a large sheet of paperbark and fold to cover. Tie the parcel lightly to hold paperbark in place. Bake in preheated oven at 200°C for 50 minutes.

Recipe adapted from J.P. Bruneteau, Tukka: Real Australian Food (New Holland Publishers, 1996)

  • 250 g almonds
  • 250 g hazelnuts
  • 250 g pistachio nuts
  • 100 g sesame seeds
  • Dried thyme (a small handful, or to taste)
  • Salt to taste
  • Small pinch of chilli powder (optional, to taste)

Preheat grill oven to 250°C. Mix all ingredients on a shallow oven tray and roast under the grill until the nuts turn dark brown (it shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes). Stir a couple of times, every few minutes. Let the mixture cool for 30 minutes. Grind the dukkah with a mortar and pestle, or in an electric blender, to a desired consistency – anywhere from coarse grit to fine dust. Our mixture was somewhere in the middle – we ground a part to fine dust and in another part left the nuts more chunky, then mixed the two.

Adapted from a traditional Egyptian recipe

  • 250 g unsalted butter
  • 150 g water
  • 5 g fine salt

Combine the ingredients in a small pan and place over medium heat. Emulsify with a hand-held (soup) blender and keep warm.

We obtained the various flours, salt, butter, yeast and mineral water from BIO-Planet in Brussels (http://www.bioplanet.be); beer, balsamic cream and butcher’s twine from a conventional supermarket. If you can’t find balsamic cream, try reducing balsamic vinegar (or another slightly sweet vinegar) over low heat for an hour or so, until it becomes more syrupy. We sourced pumpkin oil directly from a Slovenian farmer in the vicinity of Maribor. We bought the herbs at various markets and cultivated them in our windowsills and balconies. We bought nuts and seeds from our North African greengrocers in Molenbeek. We obtained paperbark at the Adelaide Central Market (http://www.adelaidecentralmarket.com.au). Paperbark might be a bit difficult to source, as it is a native Australian ingredient that we haven’t been able to find outside of Australia. It might be possible to use other kinds of edible bark or wild plants to wrap the damper. We haven’t tried it, but it would be worth experimenting…

(an sidebar recipe)