Tag Archives: sourdough

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.

Adding kefir and oats to sourdough

Last year I was given some kefir from my friend Becky. Don’t ask me too much about kefir, cos I’m still learning about it. It’s basically something that looks like a small, glutinous brain, which you put in milk (I have milk kefir you can also get water kefir) and it does something to the milk after a day or so which you can then drink or put in smoothies and it has magical qualities.

Something like that.

Every day, however, I fear I am going to poison everyone with sour milk, which is what it tastes like. This isn’t helped by my partner saying “What IS this stuff? Are you sure it’s safe?”

It doesn’t really taste great on its own. I originally started it because my eldest has eczema and it’s a battle to keep her probiotics/prebiotic level high (this is another, long story). But we channel Gwynnie whilst we imbibe it.

The thing with kefir is that you get lots of it to use up. We can only use so much in smoothies so I started thinking what else could I do with it? And then I decided to put it into my sourdough. Not loads, but about 60g (that’s all I get per yield) of it which I used as part of the ‘water’ element (I add 335g of liquid to 500g of flour so my kefir takes up some of the 335g, make sense?) And it works really well. It gives the loaf a lovely rise and you get a wonderfully moist crumb – less air holes I find (see photo below, the main photo shows the crumb after the first slice when there are more air bubbles), but a really nice sourdough for making sandwiches. And it’s tasty. Really tasty.

(I’m not pretending that any of the nutritional qualities of kefir are kept during the baking process.)

The other thing I’ve been adding is oats. I grind them up in my Nutribullet to make oat flour, and I don’t add more than 10% of the total flour content – so no more than 50g of the 500g of flour. (Oats don’t naturally contain gluten, but if you are coeliac do read this.)

Again this adds a lovely dimension to the bread. I made some the other day with oats and my children said the bread was “particularly delicious”.

I’ve also used kefir in place of buttermilk in my prune and almond loaf to great success.

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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.

Over proving

Can you hear the quiet?

This is the special bit between handing in a big piece and waiting to hear if you have to make huge changes with less than three hours until it has to go to press.  Or, if the whole thing will pass smoothly by, slipping into production with just a few waves of tweaking by me.

And as such, there is very little I can do right now but wait, and listen to the birdsong in my garden and wonder when the sun will appear from behind the thick kapok of cloud.

This part of writing is like the period between O and A’levels, such as they were in my day. I’d done my O’levels, I was waiting for my results, but my A’levels hadn’t started yet so there wasn’t anything else I should be doing but lie, tummy down, on the big window sill at home and stare up the road dreaming of what my future would look like.

So I’m going to do a gentle post today, whilst I sit and wait. And it’s about over proving.

Here are two pictures of the same loaf. I left it out of the fridge, by accident, so it had a 14hr prove at about 20degrees. I note in Paul Hollywood’s book How to Bake, he tells you to leave the sourdough out for what sounds like too long – something like 22hrs – at a warm room temperature, with the dough wrapped in plastic. But his method is all different to the Dan Lepard one I use anyway (has anyone used the Hollywood method for making sourdough? Be keen to hear how it went, I just can’t fathom how the bread wouldn’t over prove, being out for so long).

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The first picture was the first slice. I feared the loaf had been over proved, but it looked okay at first. Great even (the taste was good), and I thought I’d caught it all in time. But look further into the loaf, at the second picture and you’ll see that great cave of air at the top, which is a sign of a sourdough that has been over proved.

Because I had divided up the loaf into two loaves, I had put the other one in the fridge. Four days at 4C, later I cooked it and this is what it looked like:

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See the difference? It had good airholes, but nothing like the ones in the first picture.

I’ve discovered the really perfect way, for me, to make sourdough is to put it in the fridge for a period of time, so the flavour can develop without the dough exhausting itself, and then taking it out for a good few hours so the crumb can develop large air holes. But it takes planning and time.

ps: I didn’t need to make any changes at all. 🙂

Industrial sourdough. A guest post by Ben McPherson.

Here’s the thing: I’m lazy, and wanted an easy way to achieve perfect results.

Annalisa sent me sourdough starter two months ago. She also sent me instructions about what to do with it. I fed it and watered it and it grew.

Starter - day one

On the day I made my first bread I followed Annalisa’s instructions to the letter: knead after ten minutes, ten minutes, ten minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 60 minutes and finally 120 minutes.

Floured board - don't do this

The flour on the board was a rookie mistake: I should have used oil. Annalisa put me right on that, sternly but kindly.

Not beautiful, but delicious

Still, the bread worked. Yes, I undercooked it, and yes, the shape was all wrong, but although it wasn’t beautiful it tasted delicious.

Seven kneads, though? Seven? Far too much work, I decided.

Easy loaf in tin

I tried a friend’s easy sourdough recipe, which calls for no kneading. You take your starter, mix in 700ml water and 500g flour, along with a little salt, and let it stand in a bowl in the fridge over night.

Then you add another 500g flour, mix it all up, and spoon the runny dough into two bread tins. You return the tins to the fridge for a few hours. No kneading. Simple.

Easy loaf in oven

The result wasn’t bad. The bread rose well in the tin and the taste was actually pretty good, but the bubbles were small, and the sides of the tin had prevented the crust from darkening properly.

Poor crust on sides

Worse, though: it just wasn’t sour enough, which was the point as far as I was concerned. I’d have been happy if I’d bought it from a shop, but not if I’d bought it as sourdough bread.

I wanted an artisan bread, but with less work kneading than Annalisa insisted on. I had a kitchen machine. So, could I industrialise the process?

The short answer is: sort of. It took a lot of trial-and-error, but it did work.

K-beater

You put the starter into the bowl in the mixer. You put on the whisk attachment and start the machine running slowly. Then you add the water, and then spoon in the flour very slowly until the whole thing forms a smooth dough. If you’re me, you forget the salt. You switch off the machine and wait ten minutes.

Now you change the attachment to the K-beater. You do your three first kneads on maximum power for ten seconds each time. By now you have something that looks like a proper bread dough. After each knead, you scrape excess dough off the K-beater with a knife.

Then, and only then, do you change to the dough hook. After thirty minutes you run the machine on maximum power for ten seconds, and you do the same for the next three kneads, after an hour, and hour, and two hours. Each time you have to scrape the dough off the hook.

Then you put the dough into your banneton, and from that point on the process is identical to the hand-knead process. It makes a good sourdough, which improves the longer you extend the final prove.

Good industrial bread

There’s only one problem. My industrial method is far harder work than the hand-kneading. It’s messy; it covers everything in a hard sheet of sourdough which is very difficult to clean, and you have to use three attachments. It’s a complete waste of time.

In fact, once you’ve got used to making sourdough by hand it’s easy. You get a sense of how the dough should feel in your hand, and when you need to add a little more water, or a little more flour. You knead for ten seconds a time. That’s it. Suddenly it slots into your life, becomes a pleasure not a chore.

Slices

But laziness has taught me some useful lessons. The best is this: if you mistreat your starter, which I often do, by not feeding it every day, it produces a more acidic taste, which I really like.

And salt – I know they say you need it to get a decent prove, and a decent crust, but you really don’t. After completely forgetting to add salt a couple of times, I can’t detect any difference in texture between unsalted and “properly” salted sourdough. I now add a  fraction of what you’re supposed to use, and the bread is excellent.

I cheat on ice – I just throw a small glass of water into the oven to produce the necessary steam – and I don’t own a proper banetton so I improvise with a cloth, a wire fruit bowl and lots of flour.

But I slash. Always.

Slash

Ben McPherson is a TV producer and writer.

The spawning of the sourdough

Photo ©Ben McPherson

 

I have now shared my sourdough amongst at least four people. Possibly more but I forget. The latest recipients were my friend Ben McPherson and his wife Charlotte, who live in Norway and are keen to get started on sourdough making.

This is the furthest my sourdough starter has ever travelled and I told Ben that part of the deal, now that we were sharing wild yeast spores, was that he had to keep me in touch with how his starter was doing.

You can probably tell that Ben is a writer, producer and director by this photo of his starter, which he has put in an ENORMOUS jar and obviously crouched down to take this photograph from as dramatic an angle as possible. I said that it – the starter – looked like it needed its own TV show.

Anyway, I sent it heat sealed in a very strong plastic bag and that bag was in a plastic security sealed envelope. And yet the starter burst out of the heat sealed bag (which is made to withstand sous vide cooking) and only the plastic envelope stopped it escaping further. This just shows the power of the sourdough starter.

Ben has refreshed it and will hopefully start baking at the weekend. I hope to convince him to do a guest-post soon. Maybe with sub titles.