The Fresh Loaf

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Luc Strydom's picture

Howzit from South Africa

August 6, 2012 - 1:30am -- Luc Strydom

Howzit everyone

I'm a complete newbie bread baker. Been baking for a about month now, and absolutely enjoying every minute of it. Its kind of taken over my life really. Havent bought any store-bought bread for 4 weeks.I live in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and thankfully there is a great stone ground flour mill close-by that supplies me with really nice flour.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Two weeks ago, we were nearing the end of a week's vacation along South Africa's southern coast.  We had stayed in Kenton on Sea, Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay.  On our way back to Plett from a day trip to Knysna (who knew it would be in the middle of their Oyster Festival?!), we passed a clearing beside the road with a large banner proclaiming "Saturday Market".  Not knowing quite what to expect, we made plans to return the next morning to see what might be available.  As it happened, we arrived at the market slightly ahead of opening time, so we wandered around the various stalls to see what there was to see as the artisans finished setting up.  There were paintings, beaded work, wire crafts, wood work, clothing and lots of other items to drool over.

Let us not forget the food!  We bought a big chunk of some absolutely wonderful cheese; something in the Emmenthaler / Swiss vein.  There was a place that had the most wonderful apple strudel, studded with raisins, bits of green fig preserves, nuts, and I'm not sure what else.  And they piped whipped cream over it at no additional cost, if you please.  I was pleased.  There were purveyors of olive, avocado and grapeseed oils.  Fresh herbs. Preserves.  Confits.  Pates.  And breads!

Le Fournil, a bakery from Plettenberg Bay, was represented that day.  Their focus was more on pastries, although they had lovely breads, too.  We purchased pain au chocolat from them.  The lady behind the counter spoke more French than I and I spoke more English, American style at that, than she so our conversation was limited.  Still, we got along.  Here are some pictures of the Le Fournil stand:

Ile de Pain, a bakery located in Knysna, was just a few booths to the right.  They featured a broad range of breads, all levain-based.  That was impressive, especially since the brioche I purchased was not just buttery but somewhat sweet, as well.  The brioche also contained nuggets of orange peel and golden raisins, with a sprinkling of coarse sugar on the top crust.  Oh. My. Goodness.  It was delightful with a smear of butter but absolutely intoxicating when toasted.  Here is how their booth looked:

And a closer look at the breads:

Baguettes are on the left and ciabatta front-center.

From the left: Vollkornbrot, 100% rye, brioche and (I think) a pain de compagne.

If you wanted, you could also buy your breakfast by the slice:

I will definitely miss these small weekend markets that are so common in so many places in South Africa.  There really hasn't been anything quite like them in the various places I've lived in back in the U.S.  Maybe it's just as well.  My waistline couldn't take too many shopping expeditions like this!

Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

 


Or to Eureka Mills, if you are more fluent in English than in Afrikaans.


We spent the past week on vacation in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.  Along with spectacular vistas, fynbos, animals we’ve never seen before (who knew that bontebok and blesbok would be so difficult to differentiate?), rolling farmlands, orchards, vineyards, calving whales and two different oceans, we managed to fit in a visit with Nico Steyn, miller and manager of Eureka Mills. 


It was really a happy accident rather than the result of any forethought.  We had stopped at a farm stand, noticed several bags of Eureka Mills flour, and read the address: Heidelberg.   And then it hit us—we were standing in a shop on the outskirts of Heidelberg!   After locating a telephone number, we called and made arrangements to visit that afternoon and see, as Nico put it, “how we make what we think is the best flour in South Africa.”


For those who might be in the vicinity someday, Eureka Mills is located just south of the N2 highway at the Karringmelkrivier (Buttermilk River) exit, west of Heidleberg.  And it is easy to spot: there is an enormous grain elevator visible from the highway which, so far as I know now, has nothing to do with Eureka Mills.  Since it was the biggest and most obvious grain-related structure, I aimed for that and drove right past the mill, only noticing the sign at the last second.  Eureka Mills is a much smaller and bare-bones outfit; as Nico said, a “one-man band operation” that looks like it is one of the buildings of the farm from which it sprang.  All of the buildings were erected by mill staff (including the new expansion that is in progress) and all equipment was installed by mill staff.


Eureka Mills was born in 1998 because two farmers were frustrated by the low prices they were being quoted for their wheat.  They recognized that they could get a much better price for their product if they converted it from raw grain to flour.  As the mill’s output has grown over the years (it currently produces about 100 tonnes/month), additional wheat is now purchased from other growers in the area to supplement the original farms’ production.  Nico joined the mill in 1999.  He had been interested in a career as a chef but, when that didn’t develop, started working at the mill to generate some income.  He has since worked his way up to the miller/manager position.


The wheat used by Eureka Mills is a hard red variety.  Since the area is short of the 35th parallel in latitude and has more of a Mediterranean-style climate, the winter and spring designations used by European and North American growers don’t quite apply.  Nico describes it as a “pre-winter” wheat.  The resulting flour is approximately 11% protein and contains nothing but wheat.  No malt.  No added vitamins.  No bleaches.  Just wheat.  Visitors to the mill (“All foreigners” a bemused Nico remarks) include James McGuire and Jeff Hamelman and they have been astonished to find a flour of this purity.


The milling process has just a few steps.  The incoming wheat is first screened to remove any stray pebbles that might have gotten in.  It is then screened again to remove any other non-wheat materials.  From the screens, it is mixed with water (tempered) and stored for 18 hours to achieve a 15% moisture content.  After tempering is completed, the wheat is sent through a series of 3 roller mills that separate the outer layer of bran from the inner endosperm and germ.  The endosperm and germ are then ground between two granite burrs in a stone mill.  The resulting (unbleached) white flour is packaged as either white bread flour or as cake flour (roughly equivalent to All Purpose flour in the U.S.).   As I’m writing this, I realize I didn’t ask what differentiates the two white flours.  If it all comes from the same wheat, there can’t be much difference except, perhaps, in the fineness of the grind.  Brown bread flour is made by reintroducing a portion of the bran and wholemeal flour is made by recombining all of the bran.  Nico explained that they had learned that running the whole grain through the stone mills resulted in the bran clogging the stones, which costs them about a day of lost production by the time everything is taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled.  Hence, the initial passes through the roller mills to separate the bran before the grain reaches the stone mills.  Lest I leave you with the impression that the milling is easy, here's Nico's take on the process: "The flour is like a woman; what worked with it yesterday may not work today."


Although none of the grains used by the mill are certified as organic, Nico explained that the growers exercise careful soil conservation practices.  Typically, a field will be planted to wheat for two consecutive years.  It will then be planted with canola (seeing hundreds of hectares of the yellow blossoms is dazzling) for a year.  Following that, it will be left fallow for 2 years.  All of the plant material that remains after harvest is worked back into the soil with toothed implements, rather than with plows or discs, to minimize disruption of the soil structure.  As a result, such fields host plentiful earthworms and other beneficial organisms that are not present in a heavy cultivation/heavy chemical use regime.  Soils in this region tend to be very thin and lacking in organic matter, so such practices are essential to long-term productivity.  I remember driving by one field in which the farmer had gathered rocks into large piles and the soil still appeared to have more stones than dirt.


Eureka Mills also produces rye flour, rye meal and crushed rye because of customer demand.  That rye is imported, since the local climate is not conducive to rye cultivation.  If it hadn’t been for my whining in one post about not finding rye flour locally, I might not have known about Eureka Mills.  MiniOven did some research on the Web, found out about Eureka Mills, and got me pointed in the right direction.


Nico works closely with a number of artisanal bakers (mostly from France or Italy, he notes) and with distributors to extend the use of Eureka Mills products.  He is frequently on the telephone with bakers, responding to their questions or requests; something that he values as much as they do.  South Africa is going through a dietary shift that, in many ways, is both parallel and linked to its social shifts.  Brown bread flour was not previously taxed, therefore it was cheaper for institutions (schools, prisons, etc.) and low income persons to use for their baking needs.  It now has a stigma as “poor peoples’ food” and the growing demand is for baked goods made with white flour.  At the same time, as more people have increasing affluence, there is also a nascent willingness to spend more for artisanal breads.  Most of the master bakers producing those artisanal breads are either Europeans or have European training, hence Nico’s comment that visitors to the mill tend to be foreigners.  Those bakers want to have a product they can trust and a person on whom they can rely to address their needs.


If you would like to visit the Eureka Mills website, the address is www.eurekamills.co.za. And, if you are in South Africa and would like to buy some of their flours or goods made with their flours, you can find a list of distributors and bakers on their website.


Future flour (the green fields in the middle distance, not the grasses in the foreground:


Wheat fields


 


The primary (stones) screen:



 


Secondary (trash) screens:


Secondary (trash) screens


 


Roller mills:


Roller mills


 


Stone mill (foreground) and sifter (background, right):


Stone mill and sifter


 


Cleaning up at the end of the shift.  Anything that lands on the floor is sold to a local farmer as cattle feed.:


Cleanup at end of shift


 


Mill expansion in progress:


Mill expansion


 


Nico Steyn, miller:


Nico Steyn

 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

For those who are keeping score, I moved from the USA to South Africa in late October to work on a project being managed by my employer.  After spending a week in a hotel and a month in a temporary apartment, my wife and I moved into a leased house on December 1.  We're feeling fairly settled now and can find our way to several different supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants and the like.  It's a different landscape, and I'm not just talking topography.  Still, we're learning to navigate our way around without creating unnecessary hazard to ourselves or others.


Part of the learning process involves getting acquainted with new players in familiar roles.  In the case of bread, this includes different flours, a new starter, a different oven, and a different elevation (approximately 4200 feet above sea level, give or take a kopje).  None of these are especially difficult to cope with, but the collective effect has me slightly off kilter.


Prior to this weekend, I had baked bread three times, with results ranging from dismal to passable.  


This weekend saw some improvement, with plenty of room for additional improvement.  I baked a pain de campagne from Clayton's Complete Book of Breads, a honey oat sandwich loaf and scones from KAF's Whole Grain Baking book, and Mark Sinclair's version of Portugese Sweet Bread (in hamburger bun form).


The pain de campagne calls for a yeasted "starter"; I used my own sourdough starter to build the levain.  I'm beginning to wonder if there is something about the whole wheat flour that I'm using (Snowflake brand Brown Bread Flour at 12.5% protein, if memory serves).  My impression is that it tends to absorb less water than other whole wheat flours that I have used, which produces a stickier dough.  By sticky, I mean almost rye-like stickiness.  The grind is a bit coarser than I have seen in other flours, so it may be that I need to go with extended autolysis to give it enough time to absorb moisture.  And I may need to dial back on water content, too.  The closest thing to AP flour that I've located so far is something labeled cake flour, at 10% protein content.  The initial dough was quite sticky after mixing (did I mention stickiness earlier?), so I gave it a series of stretch and folds during the bulk ferment that lasted about 5 hours.  Temperatures in the house ranged from the low 70'sF in the morning up to about 80F yesterday afternoon.  I shaped the dough into two batards, achieving a good gluten cloak, and set them to rise in a parchment "couche".  When they had expanded about 60-70% in size, I preheated the oven and baking stone, along with the steam pan, then poured in about a cup of boiling water.  I slashed each loaf and jockeyed it as gently as possible onto the stone, using a baking sheet for a peel.  Oven spring was modest, with the slashes opening partially.  The loaves colored up nicely, indicating that the yeast hadn't run through all available food.  I haven't cut into either loaf yet to know how the crumb turned out.


Things went quite well with the honey oat sandwich loaves, but for two glitches.  One was that I had intended to make each with a cinnamon swirl but failed to remember that until I was pulling them out of the oven.  The other is that both loaves were over proofed and partially collapsed during baking, even though they did not come close to reaching the volume ("one and a half inches above the pan rim") recommended in the directions.  Eish!  At least they taste good.


This morning's scones also tasted wonderful, but failed to rise as much as they should have.  Maybe the oven runs a bit cooler than the controls would suggest.  Then again, its geared for Celsius and I'm not.  I think I'll pick up an oven thermometer or two while we are back in the States over the holidays.  Then we can find out if it is a calibration issue, or operator error. 


The Portugese Sweet Bread was everything that I wanted it to be, though.  Texture, color, flavor, rise, everything worked just right.  If only I could figure out why!  My track record so far would suggest that it is more of a fluke than an exercise in skill.  Right now, I'm just happy to have had a bake go the way I wanted.


The experimenting and learning will continue.  I will keep trying various flours and methods until I get to where I can produce consistently good results. 


Oh, and if anyone can tell me where to look for rye flour, I'll be grateful.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

The past couple of months have been something of a whirlwind.  Just before leaving for an internship at Mark Sinclair's The Back Home Bakery, my boss asked if I would accept a 2-year assignment on a project my employer is managing in South Africa.  Without subjecting you to the lengthy discussions between my wife and myself as we considered one factor after another, suffice it to say that we agreed to the assignment.  Since then, we've sold cars, furniture and household goods; located a tenant/housesitter; packed; made lists; checked off lists; etc., etc., etc.  And so, here I sit in the Delta Sky Lounge in the Atlanta airport, waiting to board the 15-hour flight to Johannesburg.


For being a new adventure, its beginning is remarkably mundane.  Sitting in an airport just isn't particularly, I don't know, romantic?  Exciting?  Heady?  Whatever, this isn't the stuff of high drama; although I will admit that the lounge is much better-appointed than the gate area.


With any luck, I'll locate a place to stay in the next few days and be moved in by the time my wife arrives in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, I'll be checking in at TFL from time to time to share vicariously in your baking.  Once I'm settled, I'll get a new starter up and running (can't see the hotel staff playing along with an attempted head start) and start baking again; something that hasn't happened at all since leaving The Back Home Bakery.  The new assignment is going to chew up a lot of my time and energy, so baking opportunities may be limited and cherished.  We'll see how it plays out.


So, if I'm quieter than usual, you'll know why.  See you in Jo'burg.


Paul

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