There are many traditional Indian recipes which call for the use of ‘khameer’ – the wild starter used to leaven Indian bread.
Pathare Prabhus too have a unique wild ‘sourdough’ summer recipe and the peculiarity of this ‘bread’ is that it’s typically paired with aam-ras!
The summer after we got married, my wife and I were invited to a ceremonial dinner at a relative’s residence in South Mumbai.
On our arrival I immediately sensed the aroma of the baking sourdough – which my wife attributed to their humid stuffy kitchen and probably some food gone rancid in their bin!
Imagine her shock when I revealed that the smell which she found offensive was actually from the prep of an integral part of our dinner that evening!
The hot humid Mumbai summer offers near perfect conditions to cultivate this culture and is equally conducive to the fermentation process so critical to get the right texture of these leavened breads.
The starter and the resultant product have a unique aroma – unless you’re familiar with the smell, it will certainly strike you as strange and maybe even unpleasant (like overly sour buttermilk or the aroma while making homemade ghee).
Making the starter –
Take 2 fistfuls (½ cup) chana dal in a container with a narrow mouth (कळशी).
Add the peel of a potato, a pinch of soda. Put this container into a dabba with a lid that shuts tightly.
Fill the inner container with a lukewarm mix of milk and water upto it’s neck. (equal proportions – 1 cup each) Shut the dabba and leave it undisturbed for at least 10-12 hours in a warm place. (Preferably overnight).
At the end of this period, the mix will have fermented yielding a sour smelling frothy mix (as seen in the pic below).
An old PP housewive’s tale narrates how the starter making must be kept completely secret.
Legend has it that if your neighbours find out about your plans before the starter is successful, your bread is destined for disaster!
This is what your starter (wild yeast) with which you need to leaven your batter for the ‘Pav’ should look like at the end of the fermentation process.
Making the dough (batter)
Collect the fermented liquid and the froth on top in a large glass bowl. Discard the potato peels and chana dal. Ensure that not a single peel or grain of dal gets into your batter – I’ve been told that it can cause the resultant product to taste bitter – have never tried doing it, hence can’t vouch for this fact.
Into the fermented liquid, fold in refined flour (maida) and mix till you have a runny batter.
If you think you need a little more liquid to get the right consistency, add some lukewarm water to the chana dal and rinse off – use this to adjust the consistency of batter.
Add honey or sugar, ½ salt and melted butter / ghee into the batter.
Pour this gently into the moulds which you will use to bake the ‘pav’. Let these moulds rest. Cover this with a thick cloth / plastic sheet and let the batter rise till its at least tripled in volume.
Bake the moulds in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for 20-25 minutes or till the tops turn a lovely golden colour.
Once they are a lovely golden colour, take the moulds out of the oven and brush the tops with some melted butter.
The resultant bread should be airy and resemble the texture of a moist light muffin.
Serve these with aamras and if you think that’s too radical, have them with a hot cup of chai with some butter sprinkled with grain sugar or smeared with some jam.
Recipe as follows
Chana Dal – 30 gms
Milk – 100 gms
Water – 100 gms
Potato – 3 or 4 slices with peel
Soda – 1/4 tsp
Maida – 200 gms
Ghee – 2.5 tbsp
Salt – 1 tsp
Sugar – 1 tsp
Soda – ½ tsp
Water – 40 gms plus 3-4 tbsp (+/-)
Place the chana dal, soda and potato slices in a narrow kalshi, mix the milk and water together and bring to a boil – pour over the mix in the Kalshi and place this contraption in a dabba with a tight lid. Place the dabba in a warm place *undisturbed* for at least 12 hours (Max 18).
Rub the ghee into Maida, add salt and sugar. Mix the dough by hand (palms). First add the entire fermented starter. Next pour the warm water into the Kalshi and rinse out Kalshi (potato and chana dal to be discarded completely). Add this into the dough and bring to a ribbon consistency. Add soda and mix well.
Grease the moulds and pour the batter till half full. Cover with a lid and towel and place in a warm spot till it rises almost to the top.
Bake in a 180 ℃ oven till tops are golden.