This post is for those who thought that we could spend all this time at sea without bread. Let me tell you that we could not!
If you already tried to bake bread, you might have experienced that it is a real learning curve, and onboard taught us to let go and trust our fellow salty crew, regardless of the efforts you put in to mix the dough or knead it, as usually the one making the bread isn’t the one who will shape and bake it.
Our breadmaking journey started this year in Den Helder with a sourdough starter given by a generous bakery from Amsterdam and a recipe that has been used onboard in previous years.
Sourdough bread is a real art and is pretty demanding, as you need to feed the sourdough starter, make the dough, knead it, proof it, shape it, bake it and finally enjoy it. To make things a little more spicy and interesting, imagine all this being done in a moving galley, where you have to dive into the bouncing dry store to pick up flour when you can be called at any time on deck for manoeuvers while your hands are dipped in flour, and where the temperature and moisture evolve as we sail along different latitudes.
As we all love to have fresh crispy warm bread for breakfast, the bread-making process is split in between watches to have it ready for 7h30. The dough is thus made from 20 to 00, kneaded and proofed from 00 to 04 and baked from 04 to 08.
We have been experimenting with many different consistencies and shapes, and don’t get it wrong, all bread was always appreciated, however, not all looked like bread. Do not get mistaken, bread making is not a fair game, regardless of the time and energy you put into it!
As a sourdough starter needs to be fed 3 times a day, ours became one of the “babies” we have onboard, got a name and got taken care of by all of us alternatively, big up to those who have taken greater care.
Here is a shortened version of the sourdough starter saga.
Early in our journey, our first sourdough starter had been named Herbert. To supply our bread consumption, the sourdough starter had to get bigger but still fit in the galley. That’s how Herbert got split in two one morning and became respectively Her and Bert.
Eventually, Her got spread all over the galley table by a gentle wave one morning. Scooped straight back in her homepot, she turned out the next day to be more active than Bert! Accidents sometimes make things better than they were before!
However, all stories do not necessarily end well. Unfortunately, our beloved sourdough did not survive the post north Atlantic ocean crossing in our stopover in Martinique where they got left aside a little too long, ending up with respectively an ore-dish and blue-greenish colours on their tops.
Fortunately, as all sailors have to have at least a plan B, we’ve been backing up our sourdough attempts with dry yeast, which turned out to be the easiest, less demanding and best bread results we made so far.
For those how are curious, here is the recipe the Tres Hombres crew (almost) always succeeds to make.
In a bowl, put 2 kg of flour with:
2 Tablespoons of salt for the taste
1/2 Teaspoon of dry yeast for the fluffiness
2 Tablespoons of sugar to feed the yeast
A drop of vinegar to reduce the yeast taste and help fermentation
Mix dry ingredients and add 1 litre of water.
Cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 6 to 10 hours depending on which latitude you are
Shape and bake for an hour at 230 degrees. Enjoy! (For nicer results use a Dutch oven!)
7 days at sea, which is pretty speedy for this leg.
We seem to be just speeding the whole thing really. Which is both amazing and exhilarating to be travelling so fast, but also exhausting as that means that the boat is moving and lurching all over the place all of the time. Walking from one side to the other becomes a complicated manoeuvre, getting dressed is difficult and sometimes nauseating and the galley a perilous place to be.
Two statements keep going round my head: “the galley is the heart of the ship” (and it is always warm as well) and “trust nothing” (especially in rough weather of course, when the galley can become the perfect setting for the Chaos show – beware also of the downwind sunny rolling by the way). Both things are, of course, not mutually exclusive and I feel grateful and honoured to be the current custodian of this space.
To reside there I have had to perfect a few new moves: “The Saturday Night Fever Disco Slide” (with a knife in hand), “the Emergency Karate Kicks” (to brace myself against an unexpected wave) and “the Ninja Catches” of various objects from various angles. And the most important lesson: ‘expect the unexpected’, a more positive-sounding version of the equally true, in this environment, ‘trust nothing’.
The food seems hell-bent on escaping, this recently included flying parsnips and twice saved tahini (now with extra seasoning). As for the dry store, that is a whole other matter! I caught 80kg of brown flour trying to make a break into the forecastle, little did the flour know that it would never find its freedom there. Numerous bilge potatoes – perhaps hoping to catch a ride out with the anchor chain?- and a mass exodus of lentils some of whom are still on the run but will no doubt be found with more extensive searching in port. To those that won’t, good luck to you – you deserve it. There was also an orange that ended up on a shelf 4 meters away, a commendable effort. Some of this is down to the odd bit of ‘interpretive’ lashing I discovered down there, but most of it is just because it really has been that hectic.
And so I embrace the chaos and love every minute.