Category Archives: Sourdough

Hot oven? Cold oven?

Most mornings I preheat my oven to put the day’s bread in. My oven has a handy timer which means I can come down, the oven is up to temperature (I put the baking tray in the night before) and then I can bake the bread. That’s the usual advice isn’t it? Bread goes into a hot oven.

But one day I hadn’t pre-heated the oven and I only had a certain amount of time to put the bread in so I just put the bread onto a cold baking tray, dusted with polenta, into a cold oven, with my regulation one ice cube on a tray underneath. Then I put the oven on to 250C fan and cooked it for 40 mins (as that’s all the time I had available).

The bread needs a bit longer cooking time – probably 50 mins for a decent crust. But guess what? Absolutely no difference. Here’s the loaf I made today which went into a totally cold oven..

 

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All about the crust

I make bread almost every day. I put it in for final fridge-proving overnight and get up early (with the oven on a timer so it is up to temperature by the time I get up and a baking tray in the oven so that the raw dough goes onto a hot tray) to bake it.

I know. How lucky is everyone in my house.

There are many great things about baking your own bread but you can also custom-bake the crust so it suits you/what you’re going to use the bread for.

I usually bake sourdough bread at 220C for thirty minutes. This is how I’ve been doing it for years and it affords time for the bread to bake, and cool, in time for making sandwiches for packed lunches. And the first packed lunch leaves the house at 7.30am so you can perhaps work backwards and work out how early I get up.

(No-one makes me. I like to get up early and as the bread bakes I tidy up and get ready for the day.)

The crust on a 30 min loaf is quite thin, golden brown, it wouldn’t stop the room at a party but it’s good for anyone who can’t, or doesn’t like, very crusty bread.

But lately I’ve been craving really thick, dark, chewy crusts. To do this you need to bake for about 45 mins minimum but the longer you go the thicker the crust.

Of course if your oven is too hot it will also be too burned so you need to play with the temperature. However, what works for me is this:

250C ten minutes

220C twenty minutes

down to 200C for another ten if it’s looking too burnt, if not keep it at 220 for another ten minutes.

Yes I know this is 40 mins but timings are really tight in the morning which is why I blast it with a 250C heat to begin with.

My shelf is on middle and my oven is on normal oven (not fan) setting

The crust is amazing. I love it with butter and apricot jam.

I also stick an ice cube on a tray under the bread to allow for maximum oven spring (rising). Nothing beats the bread when it’s first baked – but cooled as I hate hot bread – and I will fight anyone for the crust-end, or ‘il culo’ (the bottom) as we say in Italian.

Back to retarded proving with sourdough

Like so much of my sourdough bread making, this reminder of how delicious a long prove can be, came about by accident. I’d started that day’s bread and had to go out for the day so I had to stick it in the fridge and pick up where I’d left off the day after.

Although the resulting bread was over-proved (see pic) the taste was sensational. You can tell when the bread is over proved because it has that ‘false ceiling’ look (I don’t know if that’s an accurate description but it is what I call it..), where the bread has risen up and can’t sustain its own, early, promise.

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Super delicious but over proved sourdough

I’ve been baking sourdough for over a decade now and, as Dan Lepard so brilliantly put to me one day, sometimes we let success hinder progress. I know my shaping could do with (more) work, but I’ve grown lazy. And because I can make bread, now, I haven’t experimented much. And whilst my sourdough tastes good, a longer prove really improves the flavour.

I don’t do it very scientifically. Sometimes I start the bread with starter/water/flour/salt and leave it, unmixed, for a few hours. Sometimes I’ll take it to the first one hour rise phase and then put it in the fridge overnight and carry on the next day. Sometimes I start it, mix it up roughly and leave it til the next morning (in the fridge) – but if you rest if for a long time and the dough isn’t totally smooth, make sure it’s well covered, otherwise, as per point 2 below, you can get hard bits.

There are no hard and fast rules, but a few things to remember:

  1. You need a good starter to do prolonged proving, so one that’s been refreshed in the last twelve hours.
  2. Don’t leave it at the first (unmixed) stage for too long as hard lumps will form that will be hard to eliminate. Ask me how I know.

But other than that, just experiment. What can go wrong? Put it in and out of the fridge over a couple of days, see what happens. When I’ve finally shaped it, I leave it at room temperature for a few hours before putting it (back) in the fridge for its final rest. I tend to try to always cook it from fridge cold as it’s easier to handle and slash.

The mixture I’ve used recently has been 425g white bread flour with 75g rye. I had previously shied away from prolonged proving with white flour but it seems to be okay. If you need more information about sourdough do a search for sourdough in the search bar or select it in the drop down category menu on the right hand side of this page. If you’re new to it here is a step by step guide I did some years ago.

And if you’re totally new to it and fancy a try, do what I did many years ago: buy Dan Lepard’s excellent The Handmade Loaf. In terms of bread-making it changed my life.

Fresh sourdough, from frozen

Making sourdough, once you know what you’re doing, isn’t laborious. Sure, I hate the beginning part: all that measuring out and refreshing (I am so lazy) – and have to gear myself up for it. But once the dough is formed, it’s just a matter of revisiting it for a little fumble every now and again. Until you need to shape and put it to bed in the couche cloth or banneton, for the final prove.

That said, there are some days when you just don’t have the time to do it. And often it is the days when you are the most busy, that you need to be eating good, home made food – but you don’t have time to make it.

I’ve long thought of experimenting with sourdough, to see if you can freeze it after final shaping. And you can.

Straight after final proving, flour it well, and freeze it. Your exact method may need some tweaking. I tend to make baguettes, so I shape, put on a tray, flour well, open freeze for a couple of hours then transfer into a plastic bag. If you have a boule shape you can freeze it in the banneton (well floured) but do set a timer to take it out and put it in a plastic bag – your bannetons probably won’t like being frozen.

The night before you need your bread – or a few hours before – take the shaped dough out of the plastic bag and transfer either back into a well floured banneton or a well floured couche cloth. Just as if it were ‘fresh’. I put it in the fridge to defrost til morning and have it’s final, final prove. You can leave it at room temperature if you are in more of a rush.

Remember that frozen and defrosted dough is far stretchier, so handle it as little as possible (hence all the flouring). You then do everything as per normal – heat up the oven with a tray in it, transfer the dough when it’s time to cook, slash, ice cubes, bake. This is where my flipping board, or planchette, comes in really handy for transferring it to the baking tray as the dough is harder to handle than fresh dough.

The one you see here suffered all sorts of indignities – I didn’t flour it, it was so stretchy I had to peel it off the planchette, it went into the oven full of injury and I didn’t hold out much hope for it. But sourdough is a miraculous thing and as forgiving as the best mother can be: 10 mins at 250C, 10mins at 220C and out it came: a perfectly wonderful loaf of bread, with an excellent crumb and a great taste.

Lovely leek and broccoli fish pie

This is, hands down, the tastiest fish pie I’ve ever had. It is more of a work-day dinner than a dinner-party piece, but it is just tasty-gorgeous. It is from the Donna Hay magazine which is worth every penny of the £5.20 an issue I pay for it.

Ingredients

200g fresh sourdough crumbs (I keep a bag of left-over sourdough pre-grated in the freezer then you can use it when you want)

Half a bunch of tarragon (so about 12-15g)

150g unsalted butter, melted

salt and pepper

2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

300g broccoli florets, cut into smaller florets

800g of thereabouts of firm fish (fresh not frozen as in it can’t be cooked from frozen!). I have used all cod, or a combo of cod and salmon and smoked haddock. See what you like. Cut it into 3cm pieces – this is important as it gets only 10 mins in the oven.

1 tablespoon of plain flour

250g sour cream

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

125ml water

Method

Oven to 200C. Place the breadcrumbs, half the tarragon, half the butter, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix to combine. Then place on a large oven tray and cook for ten minutes – until golden.

While the breadcrumbs are toasting, heat the rest of the butter in a large ovenproof pan over a high heat – the pan will eventually go in the oven with the whole fish pie in it. Add the leek, garlic and broccoli to this pan and cook, uncovered, for about five minutes or until the veg is softened.

In a separate bowl, place the fish, flour and more salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add this fish mixture, the remaining tarragon, the sour cream, mustard and water to the pan and stir to combine. Top with the breadcrumbs and cook in the oven for another ten minutes in the oven until golden brown and the fish is cooked through.

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I serve this with peas. It is so much tastier than you think it’s going to be.

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I want to say “my children lap this up.” But they pretty much hate it. But I still make it.

(Don’t forget how good leeks and garlic are for gut bacteria!)

 

 

 

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Sliced sourdough from Waitrose. The best sliced white ever.

I have been making sourdough bread for about seven years now (shout out to Emily for the starter). Thanks to following Dan Lepard’s recipes from his bread book, and a bit of occasional hand holding from him via the medium of technology, I feel I can bake a really quite good loaf of sourdough. Shaped as baguettes, rolls or one big boulder loaf of bread.

But sometimes I don’t want to. I’m just too lazy. And sometimes I crave uniform slices of bread, toasted.

Commercially available bread usually doesn’t interest me. (I have no chi-chi artisan bakers near me, which is why I started baking my own bread in the first place.)  I find the long list of ingredients terrifying. And yet, sometimes, I want a white bread sandwich or toast, all neat slices and not made from ‘home made bread’. I search in vein on the shelves for something that isn’t full of things I’ve never heard of and if I do ever give in and buy white sliced, it’s like eating nothing – completely unsatisfying.

A few months ago,  I read that Waitrose was going to introduce sliced sourdough which contained nothing but flour, water and salt. And lo, it did.

Bertinet sliced sourdough comes in white or wholemeal (not tried the latter as it’s always sold out). The white is glorious. I’ve only ever had it toasted so far but it makes the best toast. I would go as far as to say it is the best sliced white bread I’ve ever tasted. It’s quite sour – I like that – and it’s really satisfying. I can never, quite, eat two slices. With normal sliced-white I could keep eating it and just get hungrier (sourdough is supremely satisfying bread, with a lower G.I than commercially yeasted bread).

It’s no substitute for when you want a hunk of delicious home made bread dipped in olive oil or soup. And it’s not cheap compared to many white sliced loaves: but then, good bread shouldn’t be. It costs £3.50 a loaf. But you can stick it in the freezer and toast it when you fancy ‘hospital toast’ without the trip to hospital, but also want something more substantial than the usual pitiful offerings of white sliced.

(I know the photo I took isn’t up to, ahem, my usual standard, but I just wanted to show the packaging and it was 6am..)

Sourdough after a 156hr prove

Ever wondered how long you can push sourdough for? I baked these rolls  after a 156hr prove at 2C. They were very dry when they came out of the fridge and I slashed them with a bread knife, not expecting much. Cooked them for 8mins at 250C (fan) then 8mins at 220C (normal).

So you can go away on holiday for a few days and leave some sourdough rolls proving for a good few days. I think if anything, they rose up more than normal…