Tag Archives: couche cloth

Sourdough rolls, or panini

Having a bread roll always seems a bit luxurious. Whereas a slice from a loaf is all about sharing, a panino (panino is the singular, panini the plural) is all about you: it’s all yours; from beginning to end.

I only started making rolls last year, when I got a couche cloth for my birthday (I felt lucky). They are so easy to make and I want to encourage you to give them a try, and here’s why:

You can keep the rolls proving in the fridge for days. A batch of dough made using 500g of flour yields about 12-16 rolls, depending, obviously, on how big you make them. This lasts us, on  average, three days. The longer they’re left, the tastier they become.

Thus, you can cook up just how much you need. This is really useful if you struggle to get through a whole loaf in one day. With the rolls, once you have a batch in the fridge, you can have freshly baked bread in less than 20 minutes (cook straight from the fridge) and you can cook up just one or two, or the whole lot depending on how many you want to feed that day/moment.

The longer-proved rolls do deflate when you slash them however, so don’t try – just nip at them deeply with a very sharp pair of scissor (you can see the effect in the pic above), they still rise beautifully in the oven, but you want to be quick and definite with the cutting so don’t faff around with a grignette.

They’re really, really tasty.

With rolls that have only been proving overnight, I do slash at them with a grignette, usually making four little slashes all the way around. This helps keep the round ‘boule’ shape. If you don’t mind about this, two or three slashes with a sharp bread knife is slightly easier, but the dough will expand to give you a more oval shaped roll.

I bake mine for anything from 14-20 minutes, divided up half at 250C and half of that time at 200C, but obviously a bit more or less depending on size of rolls or finish of crust that you want. (I still use ice cubes though.)

If you like to give bread as a present there is something really nice about giving a ‘bag ‘o’ rolls’. I mean even the phrase is great. Buy some brown bags (I get mine from the dreaded Amazon, sorry), because I do love a brown paper bag.

They are easy to shape and it’s also a really good way to practise shaping because if you get one a bit wrong, you have another 11 or so to practise on. Do shape them all up at the final prove stage, don’t be tempted to keep the dough to shape up for later. I can’t find the shaping video I watched now (it was by the people at King Arthur Flour), despite looking for it. But if you put ‘shaping bread rolls’ into You Tube you’ll get a few vids which will give you an idea.

You can bake them longer for a crustier crust, for less time to make a softer one for children/old people with no teeth. Whilst I love a deep, dark crust on a big loaf of sourdough, because the ratio of crust to middle is low, with a roll, I prefer a softer bite.

Have a go, and have fun with it. Just use your regular recipe for sourdough but shape them into rolls. This also means you can make the fabled ‘sourdough burger bun’ (basically a sourdough roll into which a burger has been put) which people queue for in London’s Hackney.

For the rolls with a lesser proving time you will need a planchette, but with the rolls that have been proved for a longer time, they are less frisky, drier, and you can, if you’re quick and confident, lift them off the couche cloth and onto a hot baking tray by hand. But given that a planchette is vital for baguette baking, treat yourself.

Couche cloth proving

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A couche cloth is a specialist piece of heavy linen cloth, made especially for the final proving of sourdough bread (couche = ‘laying down to sleep’). I’d wanted one for ages but for some reason never got myself one. Isn’t it weird how there are certain things that are perfectly affordable and yet they are regarded as luxuries and we never buy them for ourselves? The couche cloth came under this category for me, even though it only cost a tenner and I’ve easily wasted ten pounds on loads of other crap.

You can of course use a dish cloth in a bowl for proving sourdough, and lots of people do. But, for me, it’s not really the same as it’s clumsy and the dough can stick to a dishcloth, no matter how dusted with flour. I have umpteen bannetons now – hence why the couche cloth seemed like a luxury. But I sometimes wanted to make sourdough baguettes and rolls, just some different shapes occasionally, and I couldn’t do those in the bannetons, because the shape of the banneton determines the shape of the final loaf. And most bannetons are round or baton shaped. Here is a pic of my sourdough rolls, after they’d been proved in the cloth, and on the flipping board about to be flipped onto the baking tray, to go into the oven.

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Then one day, I was talking to my mother and she told me about how she and my grandmother  used to make bread when she was a girl, and she was telling me all about how they used to lay the shaped dough down in a piece of linen cloth and pinch the cloth up so that the dough held its shape. And I recognised that of course, she was talking about a couche cloth.

Well. Now I knew it was part of my heritage, I knew I had to get one. And with a couche cloth you need a flipping board or planchette. So I put both on my birthday list and I got both. They were bought from the fabulous Bakery Bits.

I got my couche cloth by the metre, going for the 60cm by 1m length, which, weirdly, ends up cheaper (£10.14) than the pre-cut cloth of the same size (£14.40).

I immediately realised that I’d got my couche cloth too big, but that’s no biggie as I cut it in half. The thing with couche cloth proving is that you then either need to keep the dough out for proving or put it in the fridge. And if you put it in the fridge you need to make sure you have a tray big enough to hold your shaped dough AND that, then, your fridge and your oven are big enough to hold the bread when you prove and then cook it. No point making a 3ft long baguette if you then can’t get it into the fridge to prove and then the oven to cook it.

Here are two great videos, that Joanna from Zeb Bakes put me onto, ostensibly to help me with shaping my baguettes (more about baguettes another time). This one shows you a couche cloth in use and this one shows you the flipping board in action.

I dust couche cloths with rice flour. I find it much better than the usually recommended rye flour – my loaves never stick – and also it gives a lovely contrast on the crust of my cooked loaves. And when I’m done, I brush the cloth with a grouting brush which I keep just for that job (being a grouting brush it has stiff bristles). Then I hang them out in the glorious sunshine to dry.