Monthly Archives: September 2010

Making sourdough: what equipment do you need?

As has been mentioned before, I like gadgets, I like buying new kit. But there are some things that are more important than others. Making sourdough bread should be about connecting you to an easier, but also harder, time. When things were simpler, but more effort went into them. I promise you that once you start making and eating sourdough on a regular basis, your life changes in little ways.

Yeh, yeh, whateva. But until that happens: shopping.

What to keep your sourdough starter in?

You need to be a bit careful about what you keep it in. A clean glass jar will do, but it has to have room for the starter to grow. If you refresh it to capacity, there’s a very real possibility that your starter could explode the jar as it ferments. I use a Kilner jar. You can use a large jam jar. You can keep your starter in plastic of course, but yuk.

My starter in its Kilner jar, aka the mothership

Okay what other bits do I need?

Disappointingly little, really. If you want a past-time that involves spending loads of money on kit, you need to take up fishing or golf. Things that I use and think are really useful are:

Large stainless steel bowls that I bought in Ikea once. Actually that’s a lie, I inherited them from my boyfriend when we moved in together. But you can buy stainless steel bowls anywhere. Don’t spend loads and bigger rather than smaller but not so big you could spin yourself round in them. But don’t sweat it if you don’t have the, any big old bowls would do.

A dough scraper: absolutely worth buying if you don’t have one. When the dough is really frisky, there are times it’s hard to handle and I knead it using just the dough scraper, moving the dough around as I go. Without wishing to start sounding like an ad for it, ours is from Ikea. It’s stainless steel and I also inherited it when my boyfriend/partner blah de blah moved in together. See “living with a boy” as Monica from Friends once put it, has it uses. I recommend using a stiff (rather than those super flexi ones) dough scraper, insofar as I’m experienced enough to recommend anything bready. They make it easier to handle the dough and easier to scrap up bits of dough that have dried on any surface you’ve been working on.

Bannetons or proving baskets – covered in full here. You can make sourdough without them, but they make life so much easier and sweeter.

You also need something to cook the bread on. You’ll have baking trays, so use them. I use my Mermaid baking trays which I also use for tons of other stuff: not cheap but I bake a lot and they last years. I love the older Mermaid trays, the anodised aluminum ones rather than the non stick ones. Non stick, I find a bit scary. Again, any old baking tray will do, what’s important is to preheat it.

Top Gourmet chopping board with my scraper. 

Top Gourmet chopping boards – I really rate these. As chopping boards but also as surfaces to make your bread on. I have the big size one (40cm by 30cm) and I can move it around the kitchen as I work. You may not work like that and working on your regular kitchen work top may be fine for you, but remember that sourdough is hours in the making, which means it could be taking up that bit of work surface for half the day. I oil my board before each kneading and rest the bread on it (covered with an oiled bowl, so I lift the dough up, oil underneath where it was laying, then knead etc). So any chopping board will do in theory, but these are good: light and therefore easy to move around, hygenic (you can dishwasher them if you want to, bear this in mind when ordering the really big ones) and they store easily as they’re so thin. These are the future of chopping boards as far as I’m concerned. Plus they’re black so chic in my book.

What you really don’t need when you first start out:

You really don’t need a peel if you use bannetons, you just flip the bread out onto the tray (always preheat the tray).

You don’t need a bread stone. But when you get one, you’ll need a peel.

Special dough hand whisks: a fork will do just as well.

You don’t need a grignette or lame, just use a bread knife.

You don’t need a couche proving cloth until you start making baguettes.

Save all that stuff as incentives to go further into making sourdough and for present material.

Gobbledegook stamp

I first came across this when I was writing a piece for the Guardian’s Education supplement about What to Take With You to University. Which I researched heavily because I never went. I was far too busy joining the army and learning how to strip down my personal weapon (a Sterling Sub-Machine gun, bullet capacity: 32, although only a numbskull would load it with anymore than 28) in my “noddy suit” (NBC suit – nucleur, biological, chemical suit) in a gas chamber with actual tear gas being pumped in. And interrogate people. And pick locks. And avoid assault courses.

So, to get to the point. You know how everyone is so obsessed with not getting their identity stolen theseadays? How you must shred everything that has any personal information on it whatsoever? Well, this is easy to do if you have an industrial shredder attached to a belt around your waist and have something you can do with the shredded paper (you can’t recycle it), such as keep a rabbit or a gerbil or run a mail order business (you can use if for packing, although be aware if you use a strip shredder – one which shreds paper into long strips – it is theoretically possible to piece together a document again, better to go for a cross-shredder).  But otherwise, it can mean you end up with lots of bits of paper hanging around for the mythical day when you lug the top-heavy shredder out from under the desk, plug it in, and shred everything you’ve saved up.

Obviously, you should shred bank statements (and wow, what’s that like, to not keep bank statements??) and just about anything if you’re Andy Coulson. But lots of things just need you to obliterate your name and address.

This is where the Gobbledegook Stamp (be aware this is the name I have given it) comes in. When I first featured it, Lakeland had just started stocking it (some of the reviews for it on the Lakeland site are not promising, saying you have to ‘stamp over the address a few times’, well der, yes, big deal?). They weren’t sure they’d carry on stocking it and I had to grapple with them slightly to let them let me feature it: it’s now a best seller. You just happily stamp over your personal details and then put the letter in the recycling as per. You can get replacement ink pads for it at any stationers although I’ve not had to replace mine yet.

And with just over 100 days til Christmas, it’d make a very unglamorous little gift for someone paranoid in your life.

Arkansas bread

I have a habit of not being able to say certain words correctly. Often I’ve said a word the same way for years, in the privacy of my head, but no-one knows I can’t pronounce it properly.  It’s rarely a problem unless I have to suddenly say that word out loud and can’t get away from it and then people start pointing and laughing. And because of this, I often get words mixed up.

It started with ‘calzolaio’ and ‘colazione’. When I was a little girl, and in Italy with my Daddie (I feel compelled to point out that my parents are still together, my mother was just back home in central London, this wasn’t a ‘summer with the estranged parent kinda thing), I remember seeing a sign saying ‘calzolaio’ (cobblers, shoe-menders). The next day I said to my father “I’ve found a place we can go to for breakfast (colazione).” You can guess the rest.

Like a lot of stupid people, I used to pronounce ‘Arkansas’ just as it looks ‘Ar-Kan-sas’, instead of Ar-kan-saw. In my head, I still do.  I’m not related to George Bush, I promise.

What has any of this to do with bread?

In the search for more sourdough recipes, I recently bought Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters. Loads of people, far more experienced bakers than I, rave about this book. So I in no way mean to detract from that. The fact that I didn’t get on with it – I didn’t – is entirely due to my own failings.

It’s a big book with almost no photographs. I need pictures to help me with the words where food is concerned. Where almost anything is concerned. The way Whitley makes his sourdough is also different from the way Dan Lepard makes his. I can see how people would think sourdough is even more complicated than it is after reading Bread Matters. I just couldn’t get my head round it and I almost ended up crying.

Anyway, in it was, and I’m imagining still is, a recipe for Arkatena bread. Which I immediately, and persistently read as Ar-kan-sas bread,  hence the name of this post. I fancied the look of it because it contains gram (chickpea) flour, which I had in and wanted to find a use for. But I could see instantly that I’d never be able to follow the recipe for it, so before I threw myself down and started kicking my feet into the wooden floor, I decided to bloody well vary the recipe to suit myself.

This is what I did.

I used 300g white levain starter

to this I added

50g gram flour
50g wholemeal flour
300g white bread flour
7g sea salt, ground up in a pestle and mortar
300g cold water

I mixed the starter up with the water, then added the flours and salt and then kneaded it for 10-15 seconds at a time, resting it for 10 mins. Then kneading it for 10-15 seconds and resting it for another ten minutes, then kneading it for 10-15 seconds and resting it for another ten minutes then repeating but this time resting it for

30 mins
1 hour
1 hour
1 hour


Then I shaped it and put it in a banneton to prove overnight at 4 degrees. Then I cooked it at 220 for 20 mins or so.

It was probably the most ‘worthy’ loaf I’ve ever made, in other words it was quite dense. And it smelled very ‘yeasty’ despite me not adding any yeast. It would be very, very good with some soup or cheese and chutney. I’m not sure I’d like it for sandwiches.

The Arkansas bread as I’ve named it, with a big cross slash to celebrate the forthcoming visit of the Pope.  Yeh right.
The crumb. Pretty impressive save, me thinks.




Chocolate Ganache Hot Chocolate

I was going to write about Fruit Leathers aka Fruit Roll ups. But I just can’t be bothered. It’s too cold (at least where I am, which is in Suffolk) to write about blackberries and fruit stuff.

Instead I want to write about hot chocolate.

I’ve never been satisfied with commercially available hot chocolate mixes. My dad, in his coffee shop that he used to have, used to make the most exquisite hot chocolate – made with Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate syrup which you couldn’t buy it in the shops.  Cadbury’s has stopped making it now anyway. My dad would make me a cup of half hot milk with the syrup and half ‘schiuma’ – what you English call ‘foam’. It was the best ever hot chocolate and has never, really, been beaten. I’m guessing that if I tasted it now I’d think it was really sweet. But memories, and all that..

For a long time, in the absence of Mr Cadbury’s syrup, the way I’d make hot chocolate was by heating up some milk with some 70% cocoa content chocolate in it, then whisking it all up. It would be dark, rich and not too sweet.

When I was out and I could get it (and you can’t here in Suffolk, please could you open up a branch Antonio), I’d drink Carluccio’s Cioccolata Fiorentina, which is served in espresso cups and is dark and custard-thick. It’s delicious – I urge you to try it if you are ever in a Carluccio’s. You can buy the powder to recreate this drink at home, but it’s hard to replicate what they do in the shop and to have any hope of success you need to make it in large quantities. Also, don’t look at the ingredients as it will put you off.

But the idea of a small cup of something that really hits the spot appeals. I’ve never been a fan of large, mediocre drinks: small and potent is what I’m after.

Last year my youngest daughter was baptised. For the cake part of the party, I made lots of chocolate cupcakes using Nigella Lawson’s recipe (Nigella Domestic Goddess p.168). The icing was chocolate ganache – chocolate melted with cream (I don’t really do sugar or buttercream icing, I mean, it’s nice, for the first mouthful but then it leaves you in a diabetic coma). Nigella’s recipe always makes more ganache icing than you could possibly ever pour onto the cupcakes (as it is, the  icing is a good centimetre thick), but I always make the amount she recommends because I live in fear of my cupcakes one day going naked cos I skimped. On this occasion I had plenty left over, so I kept the rest in the fridge.

(For those interested, I topped the cupcakes with an orange wafer rose from Jane Asher. The effect – orange on a glossy dark brown cupcake in brown paper holders – was smart and sleek which is just what I wanted).

As the party wore on, some die-hards remained. It was October and the evening air was fairly fresh and I fancied hot chocolate. I looked at my now set-solid chocolate ganache in the fridge. I wondered what would happen if I melted it again, added some hot milk and whizzed it up with my Aerolatte frother wand-thing.

It made hot chocolate that was so superb that everyone commented on it, even though by that stage they were fairly tipsy and deep in conversation. Everyone said it was the best hot chocolate they’d ever tasted, even those I didn’t get in an arm lock.

I served it in little ceramic cups so you got just a few mouthfuls, which is all you’d want as it’s imaginably rich…

Chocolate Ganache Hot Chocolate

I’ve adapted this from Nigella’s original recipe as otherwise you’d be drinking it for a week…

90g 70% cocoa chocolate (I use Waitrose Continental – which comes in a black, rather unassuming wrapper – it’s very good)
40g milk chocolate (I use Green and Black’s as it’s a higher percentage cocoa than most milk chocolates, but I don’t use its plain chocolate as I don’t like it as much as Waitrose’s)
100ml double cream
a few drops of vanilla extract (about quarter of a teaspoon).
Milk to suit

Melt the milk and dark chocolate with the cream. You can do it straight in a pan but you may feel safer doing it in a bowl, above a pan of boiling water. Stir until melted.

You should have a very thick mixture. Warm up some milk separately, then carefully and slowly add it to the chocolate/cream mixture. What you’re aiming to do is loosen up the ganache, but you don’t want to add so much milk that you change it into a really runny mixture. You want to end up with something that’s thick: so thick you could eat it off a spoon, but is still drinkable.

Look, no-one said this was going to be easy. If you want a normal, easy to make hot chocolate drink, get any old shit from the supermarket. This is proper stuff that will warm your body and your soul because it requires a bit of care in the making.

It will be worth it.

If you need to homogenise the mixture, you can whisk it up. I use my Aerolatte whizzer thing.

Serve in small espresso cups. If you don’t want to use all the mixture, just refrigerate it before you add the milk; and if you don’t end up eating it straight out of the fridge with a spoon, just melt it down and add warm  milk and whisk it up like that. This way you can actually make just one cup at a time.

Enjoy it. It’s good.

How to change the rings on your iPhone so that it doesn’t go to voicemail really fast and then you run up a bill made up largely of just ringing in to your answering service..

…and other stories.

In the old days, before God had made light, I used to have Nokia phone. You could change how many times it rang before it went to the answering service really easily.

You went into Phone Settings and there it was.

Not so the iPhone. It comes pre-programmed to go to voicemail pretty fast. I mean, not so fast that you can’t get to it if you’re just sitting there staring at your iPhone, which I know some people do. But if you are a busy person, like what I am, and have children and a job and a life, then you often don’t get to it just in time.

I think this is a conspiracy between Apple and phone companies, so you have to ring in to your voicemail more than you’d like, which (unless you are lucky enough to have an older plan where it’s part of the package) means you make calls outside of your call plan and pay more etc etc.

Anyway, for those that don’t know*, here is how to change it so that your iPhone rings for as long or as little as you want.

It doesn’t appear as if you can make it go for longer than 30 seconds before it goes to voice mail. Such a conspiracy!

*and if you knew, why didn’t you share?
** this worked great for me on my 3GS/T-mobile. If you’re going to do this then do it at your own risk!