Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Bread-o-lution: March Black Pumpernickel

Month three of my Bread-o-lution project, and to be perfectly honest I am finding it a bit hard to keep it up. Partly due to quite difficult breads I have chosen and partly due to, well, being a working mum. I have also started a parenting (read ranting) blog which is taking some of my time as well. 

So, this month’s project is pumpernickel – this is not new new recipe for me, as I have tried it twice before, but just wasn’t happy with the results. 
 I made my very first pumpernickel following Nancy Silverton’s recipe – it turned out way too dry, and with very gummy feel to it – most of it ended up in a bin :( 
The second attempt was made following Andrew Whitley recipe from “Bread Matters”, and even though the result was edible, it wasn’t quite what I was after – the bread was too light, not enough salt in it and it went all moldy only two days after I baked it. 

This time I was determined to do it right and spent most of the month doing the research. As always, good old TheFreshLoaf turned out to be the best source ever. I looked at these blogs by dmsnyder and ananda, which had the easiest to follow and had the best pictures. As always, I changed a couple of things just a little bit, and here is the end result : 

Sourdough Black Pumpernickel 
200g 100% hydration rye/wholemeal sourdough starter 

Rye berries soaker 
140g rye berries 
250g water 

Old bread soaker 
140g old bread – preferably rye or brown 
160g water 

All of starter above 
All of berries above (drained) 
All of old bread above (squeeze out as much water as possible) 
175g rye chops 
220g white flour 
275g sping water 
1 level tsp of dry yeast 
12g salt 
25g black molasses 

I didn’t start planning for this bread in time, and have been working mainly with wholemeal starter. I’ve only refreshed the starter with rye flour for a couple of days before I started on this loaf, so it was somewhat of an in-between wholemeal and rye starter. 

Soak rye berries overnight and boil them for about an hour or until they are properly cooked – I think it took about 40 minutes in my case. Skim any grey form that forms on the top. 

Cut old bread in cubes and soak overnight. I didn’t have any rye or sourdough bread in the house, so I ended up using some old shop-bought bread, and I think some of it was plain white bread too. But it would definitely be better to keep some slices of old rye bread in the freezer for this reason exactly – I will need to remember to do it for next time 
Next day 
Drain rye berries and leave to dry for a couple of hours. Squeeze as much of water out of bread soaker (hardly any water came out of mine). Mix starter and both soakers in a large bowl and mix until everything is evenly distributed and you have a mix of a regular texture. 
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix everything together with a large spoon for 5 minutes or until it comes together. I am sure you can mix this dough in a mixer as well, but my lovely KitchenAid is still broken :( Plus the dough is really wet, and feels almost fragile and I would be afraid to over-mix it. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest for 40 minutes at room temperature. 
Oil your kitchen top slightly to prevent the dough from sticking and pour it out on the counter top. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape them into cylinders. “Shape” might be a bit of an optimistic way to describe it, you pretty much just roll the dough to form a thick sausage. 

Most of the recipes call for a Pullman loaf tip to give you that traditional flat top shape of pumpernickel. And whilst its something that I do have on my wishlist, I wasn’t going to buy one just for this recipe. I ended up using two of my 900g square side loaf tins – one narrow and long and the other one wide and short. Old the tins and line them with parchment paper.

Place the shaped loaves into loaf tins, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for 1 – 1.5 at room temperature. As soon as you start little bubbles forming in the dough and some bubbles trying to “break” through the top of the loaves – they are ready. 
Tear two large pieces of foil (large enough to fit over a loaf tin), run one side with a bit of vegetable oil and cover each tin with a piece of foil (oiled side down). Crimp foil around the edges of the tin to form a sealed “lid”. 

Preheat the oven to 180C (fan). Take a large baking tray – place both loaf tins in the tray side by side and fill the tray with water – about half way. 
Bake loaves for 1 hour, check the water level and top up if required. 
Turn the oven down to 130C and bake for another 3.5 hours. Turn the oven off and leave the loaves in overnight or for at least 8-12 hours, without opening the oven door. 

Take the loaves out, wrap them in clean kitchen towels and leave to rest for 24 hours. 

Slice very thinly and enjoy with some hard cheddar and onion or some cream cheese and salmon 

Overall thoughts : 
my make-shift Pullman pan idea worked well, I ended up with reasonably flat top loaves
-  I could have baked the loaves for another 15-20 minutes easily, but I was worried about them becoming too dry 
- when the loaves came out of the oven, the colour was a bit un-even at the bottoms, but 24 hours later they wend rich dark brown all over 
- thin and long loaf tin produced better bread than short and wide one 
- I could cut down on molasses by 5g or so, molasses flavour was a bit too strong for me 
- I need to cut bread for bread soaker in smaller pieces, as now and then I’d come across a “chunk” of old bread 
- But all in all, this is a wonderful bread, and I wish I sliced and froze some to use as a soaker for next time 
- I will definitely make it again

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Bread-o-lution - February Pain de Campagne

It has taken me a while to write this post up, partly due to time commitments, and partly due to the type of the bread I’ve chosen to make. February project is Pain de Campagne – a traditional French sourdough loaf. I have first seen a recipe for Pain de Campagne about I guess 10 years ago, and as a beginner baker I found it really interesting. Its French – I love all things French, its sourdough – which sounded difficult and I love all things difficult and it requires basket/banneton proving – I didn’t even know what a banneton was at the time, so that’s sounded intriguing enough – and yes, I do love a bit of intrigue …

I am afraid to tell you this, but now 10 years on, looking at a recipe as an experienced baker, I find this recipe slightly boring. I won’t blame you if you give up reading about now, but if you a bread nerd like moi (see, French! :), then read on.

First of all, I must say that I was surprised at the number of different variations on the basic recipe – for a recipe as old as this one I would have expected the recipe to be pretty formed and established. However, I found quite a few different recipes – yeasted or sourdough, wheat flour or rye flour, butter or no butter – the only thing all the recipe seemed to have in common is the level of hydration (high) and the length of proving time (long).

The best sourdough recipes I found were “The Bread She Bakes” and “Weekend Loafer” – both excellent sources of sourdough recipes with great pictures and instructions. I decided to try out the weekend loafer version, as it seemed a bit less complex and I was running out of time to make my February loaf.

Pain de Campagne 

320 g wholemeal starter (130% hydration) 
440 g white flour 
30 g wholemeal flour 
30 g rye flour 
250 g filtered water 
10 g salt

I had quite a wet starter, around 130% I am guessing so instead of following a two phase approach – mixing a starter and mixing dough – I decided to skip build of starter step and went straight for mixing dough. In hindsight, I should have put in the effort and built up a fresh starter, and the one of lower hydration.

Again, if you are new to bakers percentages, don’t get scared – it represents amount of total water to total flour. To determine how much flour and water I have in 320g of starter which is 130% hydration : 

Flour = 320 (starter weight) / 230 (100 points flour to 130 points water) * 100 (points of flour) = 139 g 
Water = 320 (starter weight) / 230 (100 points flour to 130 points water) * 130 (points of water) = 181 g

To determine total recipe hydration, divide total water over total flour in the recipe (counting starter) : 

Flour = 139 g (starter) + 440 g + 30 g + 30 g (flours in the recipe) = 639 g 
Water = 181g (starter) + 250g = 431 g Loaf hydration = 431 / 636 = 67% - which is a pretty high hydration I must say! 

So, back to the recipe – whisk the starter into water until you see bubbles – to be perfectly honest I have no idea why you need to do that, but I have noticed that a lot of rye based recipes ask you to do that. Add flours and mix it all together until all the water has been incorporated – you will end up with something that can only be described as a grey shaggy mess – leave it for 10 minutes. Add salt to the shaggy mess and mix for 10-20 seconds until all the salt is evenly distributed, leave for further 10 minutes. By this time the mess should look less shaggy and more wet-dough like. Now its time to work the dough, and I mean work it hard - Richard Bertinet style – slap and stretch that sucker, “show the dough who is the boss” in the man’s words. The whole process should take no more than five minutes, and you should see the dough transfer before your eyes – from a sticky, messy unworkable mess into a smooth and live dough.

Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove at room temperature for 5 hours. At the end of 5 hours you should see some increase in volume, but don’t expect it to double or anything.

Oil the counter slightly (to prevent the dough from sticking), pour the dough out and shape it into a boule. This is where I started to suspect that things might have gone slightly wrong – either my initial starter was slightly too liquid or I have proved the dough for too long or both. Anyway, I wasn’t going to give up, I floured my banneton VERY heavily, shaped the dough as best as I could, covered it with clingfilm and placed it in the fridge for 12 hours. After a long rest in the fridge, take the dough out and leave at room temperature to warm up for 4 hours.

I decided to bake my loaf in a Le Creuset pot to give it a really nice crust and to help it keep the shape a bit – it was looking so wet I was worried that I was going to end up with a loaf as flat as a pancake or crêpe :) If you are planning on using a Le Creuset or any other cast iron pot, start pre-heating it (lid on) about an hour before you want to bake to get it nice and hot.

Preheat oven to 230C, gently flip the dough into a pot, slash it - not too deep- put the lid back on and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Take the lid off and turn down the heat to 200C, bake for further 10 minutes.

The loaf came out not as light or as high as I would have liked, but the texture is quite nice, and the flavour is good too. I am not wild about it, and probably won’t be making it again, but I am glad I tried making it, even if not as successful as I would have liked

Monday, 16 February 2015

Sesame Sourdough

I need to get on with researching my February project for my Bread-o-lution, but that would require a bit of digging for the right kind of a recipe. Meanwhile I was running out of bread and stumbled upon a box of sesame seeds in my kitchen – literally, it fell out of a cupboard on top of me :) I am a bit fan of sesame seeds – who can resist a golden bun with tiny amber sesame drops on top? I always imagine sesame breads to be soft and fluffy, with slightly sweet taste. I was imagining it so much, I started drooling – before long I decided to create a recipe that combines all of my memories of a perfect sesame loaf. 

Sesame Sourdough Loaf 
200g 100% white sourdough starter 
 400g white bread flour 
100g wholemeal flour 
290g mineral water 
20g honey 
20g sesame seeds 
1 heaped tsp salt 
20g unsalted butter, room temperature 
Sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional) 

 My wonderful shiny Kitchen Aid has had a bit of an accident this morning – I measured out all the ingredients into a bowl, turned the mixer on and … nothing happened. I hear the motor running but the dough hook is not rotating and its making some strange noised, creaking and moaning (pain-like!) which didn’t sound too good. 
So, instead of a quick machine kneading recipe I have ended up with a hand mixed one – never mind, it will take longer but will be just as tasty. 
Measure out flours and sesame seeds into a bowl. Add water, starter and honey. Either hand or spoon mix until you get a very shaggy looking mess, turn it out on a counter (slightly oil it first) and knead it very quickly for about 10 seconds, yes – 10 seconds! The dough will be quite wet – it is nearly 70% hydration* after all, so don’t worry if you can’t do much mixing – it WILL try to stick to your hands, just try to pat it down as much as you can. 
Sprinkle salt over it, cover with an upside-down turned bowl and leave for 10 minutes to rest. When you come back the dough should look more “shaggy”, but still resemble a flat messy ball. 
Now its time to show the dough who is the boss – this is a well known and incredibly popular method of mixing dough – Richard Bertinet high hydration mixing method. I am sure you will find a lot of videos if you google “”, but here is one that demonstrates it really well. In my household its generally known as “slapping technique” – and I can only say one thing about it – it really does WORK! I remember trying it for the first time and thinking what the hell?! Its all over my hands, no way this will come together without adding extra flour, this is just one big mess. Buuutttt ….. 5 minutes later and I had a very shiny, very flexible dough in my hands as if by magic. Seriously – Richard is a genius, you MUST try his method, you will never be the same again. 

So, back to the recipe, after 5 minutes of slapping (and calming down all the neighbours – the whole slapping makes an awful lot of noise), I was rewarded with a very smooth, very soft piece of dough. But I wasn’t done yet – I popped little dots of butter all over the dough and began mixing again – in the usual push and pull way this time. Because the slapping method makes such a good dough, mixing in of butter only took 3-4 minutes of hand kneading. 
Once all the butter is incorporated and the dough is looking and feeling elastic-y, place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm. Stretch and fold the dough 3 times over the next hour and a half, then leave to rest for 3-4 hours. 
Take the dough out of the bowl, deflate and shape. I went for a tin loaf, sandwich shape again, its such a soft and wet dough that I didn’t think it would hold together as a free-form loaf. Line a tin with baking parchment, place the shaped dough in the tin, sprinkle with some more sesame seeds and cover with clingfilm to prevent it from drying out. I placed the dough, tin and all, inside and old shopping bag to ensure complete cover. 
Place the loaf in the fridge overnight, or anywhere 10 to 18 hours, take it our and leave at room temperature (still covered) for 4to 5 hours. 

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C for 30 minutes. Once baked, take it out of the tin, remove baking parchment and leave to cool on a cooling rack for 2 to 3 hours or best overnight. 

I must say that I was surprised how such a small amount of sesame seeds give such a strong flavour – its has a nutty, sweet taste and toasts extremely well. 

* Hydration is calculated as weight of all liquid ingredients over all dry ingredients : 
100g water (from starter) + 290g mineral water + 20g liquid honey + 20g butter (using soft butter, but it will melt when cook, so counting it as part of liquids) = 430g 
100g water (from starter) + 400g whole + 100g wholemeal flours + 30g sesame seeds = 630g 
430/620 = 69.3% 

Baking schedule : 
5:00 pm – 5:30 pm = mix the dough 
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm = stretch & fold 
7:00 pm – 11:00 pm = 1st prove 
 10:30 pm = shape 
10:30 pm – 11L30pm = 2nd prove 
11:30 pm – fridge overnight 
Next day 
3:00 pm – take out of fridge 
7:00 pm bake

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Bread-o-lution - January Cottage Loaf

January here we come – this is the first month of my Bread-o-lution project as committed in December last year.

I decided to start with something nice and simple – and what could be simpler that a good English loaf. Mind you, it’s a fancy shape one, but at the end of the day its just a plain white loaf. Being a sourdough freak I wanted to see if I can make a sourdough version of Cottage Loaf, and was surprised to find virtually so sourdough versions of this recipe.

I did find some very useful advice on a number of sites – “Fig Jam and Lime Cordial” (cool name by the way) has a lot of good tips on hydration and shaping. “Signor Biscotti” is full of wonderful pictures and a commercial yeast recipe. “Carmella Cooks” and “The Nourishing Gourmet” are the only recipes I could find that use sourdough instead of commercial yeast. I researched for the last three days and discarded any recipes that used any type of sweetener - sugar or honey, and any recipes that gave directions to apply an egg glaze – I believe that only sweet enriches dough should have a glaze – but that’s just me.

Read on to see how I got on

Sourdough Cottage Loaf
200g 100% white sourdough starter 

400g white bread flour 
100g wholemeal flour 
242g mineral water 
1 heaped tsp salt 
30g unsalted butter, melted 

Everything that I read about Cottage Loaf has convinced me that I should be looking to make a lower hydration dough than what I am used to. Ideally it should be 57-60% hydration.

Don’t get scared away by bakers hydration terms – it literally means expressing weight of all the different ingredients as a percentage of recipe total flour weight. Similarly, hydration of sourdough starter indicates weight of water over flour in the starter. 100% starter means you have equal amount of flour and water, 50% hydration means you have half the amount of water to flour – the lower hydration the firmer the starter is, the higher hydration, the more liquid it is.

So, lets work out bakers percentage for the recipe above : Lets find out total flour amount, beginning with the starter. My starter is 100% hydration, which means its 100g water and 100g flour. Add to that the rest of flours and total flour weight is 600g – 100g from starter, 400g white and 100g wholemeal. I want the dough to be 57% hydration, so how much water should I add? Multiplying 600 by 57% I get 342g. My starter already accounts for 100g water, meaning that I need to add 242g water to get to the desired hydration. Salt should account for 1-2% of flour weight, and a heaped tsp is about 7-8g – perfect. I want the dough to have a slight creamy taste without brioche-like feel, so I butter is only 2% of flour – anything over 5% and it becomes an enriched dough, which is not what I am after. See, easy as – you are now a pro at understanding baking percentage! For comparison purposes, a typical French bread is 55-60% hydration, everyday sourdough is 60-70% hydration, and something like ciabatta is 80-90% hydration. The higher hydration, the more large irregular holes you get, the lower the hydration, the more regular crumb.

Another tip I picked up from my research is how to handle lower hydration dough – preferably mixing by hand and resting a lot. Its been ages since I mixed my bread by hand – I love my KitchenAid and use it pretty much for all my dough mixing. This time I decided to mix it by hand and use Dan Lepard’s bread mixing technique, which you could read more on here.

To the actual mixing. Measure out starter, water, flours, salt and butter in a large bowl. Mix everything roughly together with one hand. I had to keep one hand clean for taking photos :) Don’t worry about proper mixing it just yet, just get all the ingredients into a messy lump. 

Tip the dough out on a workbench – you don’t need to flour or oil the bench, it’s a reasonably dry dough so it won’t stick to anything. Start kneading your dough – you only need to do it for 10 seconds, yes, I said 10 seconds – trust me on this. Cover the dough – I just put the dough bowl over it to stop it from drying out – and leave for 10 minutes. Uncover the dough, knead it for 10 seconds and leave for further 10 minutes. Repeat once more – 3 kneads over 30 minutes. Each time you come back to the dough you should see it becoming smoother and more “relaxed”.

Place the dough into a large bowl, cover wit clingfilm to prevent it from drying out and leave for 5 hours at room temperature

Once the dough has proven long enough – mine hasn’t quite doubled but was close enough, split the dough into two pieces, 1/3 and 2/3 of the weight.

Roll each piece into a ball and press down on the dough balls to flatten them a bit. 

Place the smaller ball on top of the larger one. Flour your index and middle finger and put them through the middle of the two balls, almost piercing them together. You’d have to press down quite hard, and might need to do it a couple of times to make sure that the balls have properly fused together. That’s where floured fingers help – the dough won’t stick to your fingers and tear as you sticking the balls together (this whole paragraph feels very rude for some reason :) Some of the blogs I’ve read advise you to prove the balls before sticking them together. I decided against it, as didn’t think I would manage to arrange the loaf without deflating individual balls too much.

It makes it easier if you start the whole loaf arrangement on a baking sheet, as moving this ball construction might be a bit tricky. Slash the loaf using either a lame or a very sharp bread knife – break knife works better than a regular knife as it doesn’t tear dough as much when is slices through it. Some people don’t slash cottage loaves, leave them as they are, but I wanted to try out my lame slashing. I did the slashing from bottom up in a straight line, trying to keep the slashes at about same distance. 

Cover the loaf with a large bowl – turned upside down – to prevent it from drying out. And leave for further 1 – 1 ½ to prove some more.

Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated oven at 200C fan oven. Cool on a rack before slicing.

As you can see the loaf has gone a bit wonky during the second proving, but I kind of like it – makes it look rustic :) The loaf if not as big as I thought it might be, but its nicely baked, and it’s a fun shape. The flavour developed really well after 24 hours – it has a nice soft crumb with a slight sourdough tang. It toasts well, and goes well with butter and jam. My kids love dipping it into soups – the texture stands up to soup really well – doesn’t go too soggy.

Would I make it again? Probably not as an every day bread, but perhaps for a party.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Easy Honey Oat Loaf

While I am putting finishing touched to my first BREAD-o-lution project, here is something to feast your eyes on - a quick one-day sourdough I’ve made yesterday. 

We’ve been eating quite a lot of porridge lately – according to my 3 year old, “porridge is the best!”. We’ve been trialing a lot of different oats, and jumbo porridge oats weren’t such a hit in a porridge form, so I’ve decided to turn them into a bread. And to be honest, my kitchen was getting overran with different bags of porridge – there is only that much of oat you need in your life :) 

This is a very easy loaf – I’ve mixed it up around 11am and baked it around 11pm, so 12 hours in total, but the actual involvement is very minimal. 

One-Day Honey Oat Loaf
150g 100% wholemeal starter 
150ml water 
150ml milk 
30g runny honey 
450g white bread flour 
80g jumbo porridge oats (but I am pretty sure you can use any other oats you have) 
1 heaped tsp salt
 50g butter, room temperature 

Place starter, milk and water, honey, flour and oats in a free-standing mixer. Mix on the slowest speed for 6 minutes – I have a KitchenAid mixer, and I use speed 1, but I am sure you can mix it by hand as well – mix the dough for about 10 minutes if doing it by hand. 

 This is quite a wet dough, roughly about 70% hydration (read more here on how to calculate hydration). I am dividing total weight of all the liquids (75g from half of the weight of starter, 300g milk and water and 50g butter) over total weight of all the flour (75g from half of the weight of starter, 450g flour, plus adding oat weight as its super absorbent) = 425/607 = 70%. 

Cover the bowl and leave for 20 minutes to rest. 
Add salt and turn your mixer to a slightly higher speed – I use speed 2 on my KA, and slowly add butter, adding a little bit at the time. Mix for 4 minutes in total. Again, it is possible to do this by hand, just a bit trickier and messier – mix for 12 minutes if doing it my hand. The dough should me reasonably wet, but not sticking to your hands, nice and glossy texture. 
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm. Do stretch and fold 3 times at 30 mins intervals. Leave to prove at room temperature for 5 hours. It won’t quite double in volume, but it will look bigger and softer. 
The dough looked quite soft, so I decided not to risk it and bake it in a loaf tin. Normally I bake free shape loaves, and I wanted a nice toast loaf, and with the dough being so soft I didn’t want it spreading out all of the place. 
Line a loaf tin (I think line is 2lb) with baking parchment – to be honest you probably don’t need to do this as its been enriched with the butter. 
Deflate the dough and shape it into an oblong shape – oil your workbench and your hands slightly – this will stop the dough from sticking to everything. The dough was very wet, so any kind of shaping will do. Don’t be afraid to over-handle it, its very forgiving, plus you have another prove ahead. 
Cover the loaf loosely with clingfilm and leave to rest at room temperature for 3 hours. It won’t have doubled in size, but it should look very marshmallow-like, soft and wobbly. Spray top of the loaf with water and sprinkle with some rolled oats – this is purely for decoration, you can leave that bit out. 
Bake in a preheated oven – 200C fan – for 30 minutes. Take out of the loaf tin, remove backing paper and leave to cool for at least two hours or best overnight. 
I really enjoyed the flavour of this bread, soft crumb, with quite rustic taste – that would be the oats. It started getting a bit crumbly after day 3 – I guess that’s oats drying out, so best eat it in a couple of days.

Monday, 15 December 2014

My New Year BREAD-o-lution

Its that time of the year when we start making up plans for the future and write down New Year resolutions. I am pretty bad with sticking to any resolutions, and in fact I’ve given up even making any for a number of years.

This year I’ve decided to share my New Year resolution with all you lovely people, so if I start straying from the path you can yank me back on the straight and narrow.

So, the plan is to bake a new bread every month – something traditional – from as many countries as possible, something familiar and a bit unusual at the same time, something I haven’t baked before.<

Here is the plan, but I reserve the right to change it as I please :)

Please, join me in my baking – I would love to see your photos

January - English Cottage Bread. This is a good old traditional recipe, and I really like the fun shape of it. A nice and easy recipe to start the year.

February - Pain de Campagne. Again, a very traditional French bread – I’ve read a recipe for that pain de champagne in so many bread books but never actually managed to get around to baking it.

March - German pumpernickel. I have tried making pumpernickel bread before, but never found a recipe I liked, so its time to give it another go.

April - Colomba Pasquale – Italian Easter Dove cake, similar to panettone. I’ve made Panettone plenty of times before but have always admired the dove version, so that’s going on the list.

May - Russian Borodinski bread. I remember eating it as a child, so I am going to try and re-create my childhood.

June - Picnic Bread – I am thinking some sort of Italian or Frensh bread stuffed with roast peppers and cheers – something you can grab and head out for a picnic (being a bit optimistic – expecting summer picnic weather in June).

July - Sweet Braid of some description – a lot of Eastern European recipes with cottage cheese and cherries inside – yumm!

August - Tear and Share loaf. I’ve always admired the idea and all the different shapes you can make it in, but never actually made one.

September - Decorative Bread – I am thinking massive elaborately decorated loaf, with flowers and animals and who knows what.

October - Pumpkin and Cheese bread, I’ve made pumpkin bread and I’ve made cheese bread before, but not together. It sounds fun, and its seasonal after all.

November - Crusty Greek Bread (Horiatiko Psomi). I don’t think I’ve ever baked anything Greek, and its durum flour bread, so I am gonna give that a go.

December - Christmas Stollen. I am not a big fan of marzipan so have never thought of making a stolen before, well its time to change that.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Trade Secrets of Messy Baker

I took a few months break from sourdough as its been quite busy with new job and lots of house work. But this weekend I decided that I’ve had enough of shop-bough break and went to wake up my starter to make some decent bread.
The bread I ended up making is a simple Miller Loaf, but as I was making it I realized that I’ve learned a few bread tricks in the last few years and wanted to share them with you lovely folks. Grab a cup of tea and make yourself comfortable, knowing me, it will go on for a while :

-          Keep just one or two starters
When I first started making sourdough I had about four or five different starters in the fridge, every possible flour combinations. They all had their own names and their own tempers – at the end it was a full time job just to keep them all fed and watered, so inevitably I ended up killing most of them :)
Right now I only keep one starter in the fridge – my mother starter – it’s a 100% hydration (1:1 water to flour ratio in grams) white flour, and I convert it to any other flour type and hydration I require for a recipe when I start feeding it

-          “Wash” starters every 6 months
As I mentioned, I keep my mother starter in the fridge and only take a teaspoon or so out when I want to bake. The rest of it sits in the fridge, snoozing away. But as anything, starters get tired and lazy – meaning it takes longer to activate them. To keep your mother starter nice and happy, you need to “wash” every few months, I think the longest I went between washes is nearly a year.
What is a wash? Take a teaspoon of your mother starter, activate it, as described below, and throw the rest of mother starter out. Wash the jar thoroughly and air dry it. Once you have a reasonable amount of fresh live starter, put it in the jar and pop it in the fridge – that’s your new mother starter.
I keep my starter in a small jar – about 300-400ml, and its not even half full.

-          Feed me
When I am “feeding” my starter, I take 1 tsp/Tbsp of mother starter out of the fridge and add equal amount of flour and water – in grams. I normally add 30g of flour and 30ml of water for each feed – once in the morning and once in the evening. I find that, depending on how fresh my mother starter is (see above), it takes about 2-3 days for a starter to wake up, which gives me 200-300g of starter – plenty to make a loaf of bread.
When I do make bread, I normally keep back a tablespoon of starter and carry on feeding it, so I have enough starter to make another loaf in a couple of days time.
I normally bake every 3 days, meaning that I don’t need to dip into my mother starter after the first loaf – I just carry on feeding and baking every 3 days, until I get too busy or get too lazy J

-          Use filtered water
Its only recently I’ve discovered that water does make a difference. I noticed that my starter is activating much faster if I use filtered water rather than tap water. I am sure there is some of scientific explanation for it, but I just know it works :)
I love experimenting with liquids when making sourdough – add following to your liquids to get different flavours :
milk (replace 1/3 of water) with sweet or enriched dough
whey (instead of water) with sweet dough
orange juice (replace 1/3 of water) with rye breads
apple juice or cider (replace 1/3 of water) with wholemeal breads

-          Use good bread flour
I am a big fan of Italian flour – I used to buy massive 25kg bags of it from Shipton Mill. Use it for any softer, sweeter breads, focaccia and ciabatta, panettone and sweet buns, or any breads with fillings
French flour is great for rustic breads, works really well with a bit of rye flour. I like to use French flour when I bake straight breads – just flour, water and salt – no other extras – you can really feel the flavor and the texture of the flour
I buy Canadian Extra Strong flour for bagels, you really need to have the extra strong element to achieve that chewy texture
Spelt flour is a reasonably new discovery for me – replace 10% of your flour with spelt flour and you get a richer, tangier flavor. That’s a tip I got from Mr Ranty Senior and I now always keep a bag of spelt flour in my flour draws.

-          Flour can “go off”
I used to buy great bags of all sorts of flours, wanting to experiment with all the different flavours. At the end I just picked a handful of flours that I liked to work with and stuck with those. I go through quite a bit of white bread flour, and its very forgiving, it will keep for a while. Pay more attention to wholemeal and rye flour – they do tend to “go off” – its not like they are going to go moldy or start to smell or anything, but you will notice that the texture of breads won’t be the same. Try to use it within 2-3 months of opening a bag of wholemeal or rye flour. Some people recommend keeping them in the fridge or even freezer to keep the flours fresh for longer.

-          How much starter?
I get asked this on a regular basis, but there isn’t a straight answer to that – you can use as little as 1 Tbsp if you are making a very slow New York style sourdough or as much as 60-80% (compared to total flour amount) if you are after a faster loaf.
The ratio I normally use :
200g starter
290g water
500g flours
Total water = 390g = 290g + 100g (from starter which is 50:50 flour to water)
Total flour = 600g = 500g + 100g (from starter which is 50:50 flour to water)
So that makes following percentages (everything measures over total flour amount) :
Starter (200g over 600g = 33%)
Water (390 over 600 = 65%)
Flours (100%)

-          Use enough salt
For a while I was so afraid to under-salt the bread that I cut down the salt to just under a teaspoon. In reality salt has to be about 2% (of total flour), so I was under-salting my breads. If a bread hasn’t got enough salt, it won’t bake properly and will have very gummy texture. Over-salt the bread and it won’t rise properly, so you have to be very careful there. I now use 1 ½ tsp of salt (see above calculations) and it works out about the right amount.
Its much easier to under-salt rather than over-salt - over the last 10 years I probably oversalted only 2 or 3 breads

-          Stretching is important
By this I mean doing stretch and fold every half hour for the first two hours of first prove. I used to be religious about it when I first started baking, but over the years got a bit lazier and started skipping this step. And I really noticed that my breads are not as light and not as springy unless I invest the time in doing stretch and fold. Its also interesting to see how a piece of lumpy dough turns into a smooth shiny ball of dough with each stretch.

-          Prove is in the bread
You cannot rush sourdough – that’s a fact! You can slow it down by putting it in the fridge for a few hours – it gives you more flexibility as well as develops richer flavor, but you should never ever try to prove sourdough in a warm place – room temperature or even cooler.
In the first prove you want the dough to double in volume – knock it down, shape it and prove again – anywhere from 2/3 to double the volume again
This is a tricky stage – under-prove your bread and it will rip when it bakes, and you will get thick gummy line at the bottom of the loaf. Over-prove it, and it will go flat as a pancakes and heavy as a piece of brick

-          How Hot?
Again, this will largely depend on the type of the bread you are baking and most importantly your oven. My oven is shiny and new and it super strong – if I am baking from a recipe, I adjust both the temperature and the banking time down, otherwise its gonna burn.
Most of my breads bake at 200C (fan) for 30 minutes. Rich breads go in for 20 mins at 180C (fan). But you know your oven better than I do, just keep checking on the bread (try not to open the door if you can help it), and do the all important tap test – if the bottom of the bread sounds hollow when tapped – its done!

-          And…..rest
As with any bread, make sure that you leave your sourdough to rest for at least a couple of hours before you slice it. I know its very tempting to try a slice of that still warm, crunchy crust beauty of a loaf, but IT WILL RUIN THE FLAVOUR!
As sourdough cools, it develops that unique creamy chewy crump with thick rustic crust – you need to give it time to do its magic, before you can really appreciate true sourdough flavour.
I try to bake late at night, leave it to cool overnight to have a slice of sourdough toast for breakfast. A sign of really good sourdough if it tastes better 1-2 days later, that’s if it lasts that long :)

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, as always – feel free to ask any questions