Rewena Bread - Stage : Making the 'Bug'
After persistent badgering and negotiation (with absurd promises made on my part of producing grandchildren within the next five years), my mother very kindly showed me how to make rewena bread, a Maori favourite. Rewena paraoa (potato bread) tastes sweet and has a slight sour/tang flavour to it, a result of the long period of fermentation it undergoes. A bug or starter is created a few days before the actual baking of the bread, using flour, water, sugar and potato (the potato serving as the leavening agent). This is left to ferment which, when finally added to the rest of the bread ingredients to make dough, produces a wonderfully textured, flavoursome loaf.
The starter can be maintained for an indefinite length of time. Once you've made dough, a piece of it can be removed to make the starter for your next batch of bread, adding flour initially and then water and sugar to keep it alive. My mother talked of how as a child, bread was made every two or three days for her and her seven(!) siblings by my grandmother, using a starter which had been kept for as long as she could remember. This article on bread in Wikipedia talks of how some traditional bakers in Europe have starters which are several human generations old!
This, clearly, is a project that will take a few days. To make the starter, you will need:
- medium sized potato ('rewa' in Maori), sliced
- cup water
- cups of flour
- teaspoon sugar
-lukewarm water, on hand
Place your potato in a pot with the cup of water (with the potato being sliced, the cup of water should be sufficient to cover it). Boil until cooked, then leave in the pot until lukewarm (DO NOT drain the water). Mash the potato.
Gradually add flour and sugar to the pot, mixing all the while until the ingredients are combined resulting in a firm, batter-like paste (you will have to add lukewarm water to the mixture as it gets dry). It will have very small lumps - don't worry, these will break down as the mixture ferments.
Pour the starter into a clean, sterilised agee jar or similar container, cover loosely and leave in a warm place to ferment. Hopefully, it will increase in size so make sure your container is large enough to accomodate it. Over the next day or so, the starter will have to be fed to maintain fermentation: teaspoon of sugar and half a cup of lukewarm potato water. Once it starts to rise and form bubbles, it's time to add the rest of the ingredients to make rewena bread. Come back soon to see if it works!
UPDATE: Don't salt the water when cooking the potato - it negates the fermentation process. Also, if you're able to find some, try using Maori potatoes (taewa maori), of which there are several kinds (PDF file) - try experimenting!