Fermentation is more an art than a science, says Australian wholefood chef Holly Davis. She shares a recipe for Celtic speckled tea loaf from her new book Ferment: A Practical Guide to the Ancient Art of Making Cultured Foods.
Holly first got into fermentation at 14 through an interest macrobiotics, in which fermented foods are used as condiments 'little and often', so she's been learning about it for 40 years now.
Most people know yoghurt involves a culture, but did you know that without fermentation we wouldn't have vanilla, coffee, chocolate and black tea?
Not to mention cheese, olives, salami and cured fish.
Ara'n brea (aka 'barmbrack') is an Irish loaf made at Halloween that is a cross between bread and cake, Holly says.
Leavening is the form of fermentation used in making the loaf, with the help of spent yeast leaves from dark ale or stout.
Grains are inherently difficult to digest and many people have problems with gluten, but a sourdough starter does leavening for you and 'pre-digests' the flour making it easier for your body to get nutrient value from grains and digest them.
"You have a cup of tea and a piece of barmbrack and you're in heaven."
Recipe: Celtic speckled tea loaf