Friday, 29 July 2011

Secrets of Sourdough at the Agrarian Kitchen

Last week, I was generously invited back to the Agrarian Kitchen to photograph and participate in the Secrets of Sourdough class.  It was taken by the quietly humorous and gentle Graham Prichard of Companion Bakery, located in Oatlands, Tasmania.  You might have seen some his bread at the Tasmanian Farm Gate market on Sundays.

For two whole days, we had our hands full of flour, as we mixed doughs and made amazing breads.  I love the anticipation of bread baking -- you never quite know how it will turn out until it comes out of the oven.  Oh, the smell of fresh bread!  I want to bottle it up. 

The day began with a sunflower and walnut sourdoughs.  We used spelt flour from the Callington Mill -- a wind powered mill, producing organic, stone ground flour from local grains.  It is also in Oatlands, right next to Graham's bakery.  When I did this course last year, Graham was on the final stretch of the mill's restoration.  I was pretty excited when I saw their flour in the shops and have been using them ever since.  I'm yet to make my way up to Oatlands, but have found this lovely post of the mill from Island Menu (I love this blog!)

We made two more batches of bread before the first day ended, both were to be proved overnight.  A simple country batard dough, and a rich briochoe, with just a little butter...  It was a tag team effort between Graham and Peta to get make the brioche.  It was not for the faint hearted!

The next day, we mixed our final dough, made from freshly milled rye still warm from the grinder.  I was talking to a friend about rye sourdough (poor girl), so this loaf was dedicated to her.  This was my favourite bread from the entire course.  It was a great looking bread with its white floury crust, marked by dark rugged cracks.  By my friend's account, it was pretty tasty too.

Just before lunch, we learnt how to score the bread on our country batards.  The knife must be in motion before it hits the bread, using quick precise movements.  Straight down cuts were a no-no, as it destroys the structure of the bread, and one must cut (almost) horizontally.  The scores guides the bread where to go as it springs open in the oven.  What appears to be decorative and simple can dramatically affect the bread.  I think this is what makes bread making so beautiful.

Did I mention about the delicious lunches we had over the two days?  Fresh mushrooms from Peta, veggies from the garden, dough wrapped pheasant and agrodolce wagyu.  I loved these lunches: fantastic food, great company with lots of time to listen and to talk.

It was amazing to learn about sourdough from Graham -- there's so much to learn!  I came away from the class with greater appreciation of the sourdough, a bag full of warm bread, and a fast friend.

You never know what you'll find at the Agrarian Kitchen :)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Truffle Experience at the Agrarian Kitchen

The short truffle season is upon us again.  Blink and you will miss it.  There's a buzz in the air, as everyone seeks out the precious 'black gold' for a special occasion treat, and truffle dishes pops up in restaurant menus.

The Agrarian Kitchen holds an annual lunch that showcases truffles grown locally by Perigord Truffles.   Last year I went to the same lunch with my mum and sister.  It was great to be back again, but at a slightly different capacity -- I was to photograph the lunch.  Severine enjoyed my post from the Pastry 101 class, and so, I plucked up my courage and asked whether she wanted photos to be taken at the truffle lunch.  Amazingly, she agreed.  It always pays to ask!

It had rained all day on Friday, and the morning of the lunch was no better.  It was going to be difficult to photograph.  But what can you do?  Let's try and make the best of it, at least, the light would be beautifully soft.  I got there about half an hour before lunch started.  It was misty and cold up in Lachlan, but it was warm and welcoming inside the house. 

We had some lovely tea to settle in, and mingled amongst ourselves.  I'm instantly gravitated towards the big bookshelf of cookboos.  I may have found yet another cookbook to purchase (gasp!), The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook.  Oh, I'm definitely paying them a visit when I visit the US!

Soon, we were invited to take a seat and Rodney began by giving us an introduction to truffles, and talked a little about each of the dish.  Lunch was going to be one extraordinary meal.  He then introduced us to Peter Cooper of Perigord Truffles, and he talked about the ins and outs of growing truffles.

It's hard work and requires a lot of patience.  A tree takes about 5 years from inoculation until it begins to produce -- that's a while to wait for results!  Even if a tree is not producing, it is kept for at least 15 years, and removal of trees is rare.  We are incredibly lucky to have truffles growing in the state by Peter, who has turned what seemed impossible into reality.

Then it was all hands on deck!  Lunch had officially started.

We were treated to 6 courses of pure indulgence, all featuring Peter's truffles.  By the end of the day, we would have consumed a kilo of truffle amongst all of us.  And here's what we had...

First course.  Purple cabbage and baby root vegetable salad with truffle salad cream.  It was a light salad to start us on the truffle journey.  Coleslaw will never be the same again. 

Second course.  Crayfish raviolo.  This was my favourite dish of the day.  The crayfish was caught by Mark Eather, who is the producer behind the Sustainable Seafood Lunch, also at the Agrarian Kitchen.  The filling of the raviolo was a slice of truffle wedged between crayfish mousse and crayfish meat.  The sauce was spectacular and may have danced a little as I ate in pure enjoyment.  I could have licked the plate and was encouraged to do so by the kitchen staff!  I struggle for what seemed like minutes, but decided against it and left my dignity intact for one more day.

Third course.  Truffled Wessex Saddleback and goose sausage with polenta and golden turnips.  The pig and goose were raise right there, at the Agrarian Kitchen.   The sausage had great flavour and was coarsely ground, which gave a fabulous texture.  See that at the bottom?  Best polenta I've ever had.  The corn was grown in the gardens just beyond the kitchen, hung dry, ground and cooked over 3 hours with stock and milk, in the largest cast iron pot I've ever seen (thank you, Jamie!)   I want to grow some corn next year and try this.

Forth course: Rabbit truffle pie.  The rabbits came from their next door neighbour's 14 year old boy, who bred rabbits for pocket money.  It's a really cute story, and great food mileage.  The filling was slow braised rabbit with b├ęchamel, all warped up in a flaky and buttery pastry.  

Fifth course: Adrian's cheese, from a secret location only known to Rodney.  The cheese was incredibly pungent and soft, oozy.  Generous slices of truffles were wedged into the middle, and the flavour had permeated throughout the cheese.  Amazing.  It was served with some beautiful sourdough, candied walnuts and apple and quince sauce. 


Last course: Steamed apple and honey pudding with truffle anglaise, with some wild damson jam hidden in the middle.  Perfect dessert for a rainy day.  All I needed was a blanket and I could have snoozed in my chair.

It was a great privilege to play photographer at such a special event and to watch great chefs at work. As I left, I couldn't help but take a photo of the door handle.  Every time I visit, I find another beautiful detail I've missed.  I wonder when I'll see these doors again.  Soon, I hope.

If you would like to see more photos from lunch, the full set can be found here, and as a slideshow here.