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Breaking bread with a bread whisperer

Kuheli Bhattacharya Rane
The world over there is a conscious move towards eating more mindfully, cooking food with age-old and time tested techniques, and getting more attuned to nature.
This week ‘Goa on my plate’ continues with its profiling of home chefs and this time around there’s a difference.
Sujit Sumitran bakes artisanal sourdough bread in a wood-fired oven. He built the oven along with his wife Sudha Sumitran in his backyard behind a sprawling Indo-Portuguese style house in Brittona, overlooking the Mandovi. The couple made Goa their adoptive home two years ago and have imbibed the very essence of Goan living. The susegad lifestyle has been misinterpreted by most as the ‘easy life’ when it really means ‘slow life’, and sourdough bread is a slow-cooked food where time is an essential ingredient.
Sujit Sumitran, also known as the bread whisperer, brings to life the symbiosis of yeast and lactobacilli in an alchemic baking of sourdough bread. The use of wild yeast makes sourdough intrinsically different from other breads made with commercial yeast. Teeming with the bacteria lacttobacili, also known as the good bacteria, it is a probiotic, fermented bread dough.
As mentioned above, this time we have a home chef cum artisanal baker with a difference, because Sujit not only sells his bread but also he teaches others to make them. The slow life is not exactly the easy life and sourdough demands patience. It demands that you wake up early on a Sunday morning to head over by 8 a.m. to Sujit and Sudha’s home, it demands precise measurements of flour and water and salt, it demands you learn the basics of bakers mathematics and gluten physics. The ‘susegad sourdough bread’ demands you to coax and pull, fold and tuck every 30 minutes until it is pliable and pillow soft. The entire process takes over eight hours.
Sujit bakes bread in his wood-fired oven by using coconut shells and broken twigs and dry leaves. This sustainable, organic approach also weaves into their own kitchen garden with fresh basil, chillies and vegetables for picking.
The real test of the bread is in the tasting and it begins with the warm, earthy look. The bread is gorgeous to look at with its brown baked crust and dusting of white flour, along with elaborate etchings known as scorings, but it is also a much healthier form of bread. Tap the base for the hollow sound, this means the crumb within is aerated and fluffy, the gluten strands which have been stretched now truly come into their own when the bread is cut. The crusty outside and soft spongy inside is exactly what a breadophile dreams of. We tasted the green chilli and sundried tomato sourdough as well as the eight grain sourdough bread. The piquant chilli and earthy tartness of the sundried tomatoes were perfect. A mild acidity of the bread lends flavour and body, much like the fermentation of grapes does to wine. The eight grain sourdough was nutty, crunchy and wonderfully aerated thanks to Sujit’s signature style of baking bread in a double Dutch cast iron oven.
The day-long cooking class meant that we were served lunch as we waited for breads to proof.
Sudha’s cooking is very much like the home she keeps; at first glance simple and Spartan, but a closer look shows personalised details and various layered nuances. So while her home has a neat stack of terracotta pots and pans, and shiny brass and copper teapots, there is also a string of dried herbs and spices adding a touch of whimsy. Her Kerala inspired vegetable stew has staples like coconut milk, but layered flavours of chillies, peppers, ginger, bay leaf and cinnamon. Sudha conducts cooking classes as well, and her repertoire of appam and coconut milk-based curries like the ishtew and chemeen curry are perfectly suited for the Goan palate.
Goa is also one of the few places in India, which is a historically bread-eating state. We boast of many versions of the Goan bread, pride ourselves in our baking skills with every family having the in-house home baker, and are lucky to get our bread freshly baked every day from the ubiquitous podder. Sourdough bread compliments Goan eating habits. It enhances the nutritive value of the bread by allowing the bacteria and wild yeast to help digest nutrients and increase their bio-availability.

(Sujit and Sudha’s baking and cooking classes are attended by food and cooking enthusiasts from all over the country. You can book a class on their website or call on 9880151825.)

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