Tag Archives: sourdough

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).

IMG_1793 IMG_1794

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:

IMG_1829

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.

Every day sourdough baking

A gratuitous picture of a loaf of sourdough, baked this morning

I get asked, a lot, if sourdough bread is hard to make. I am tempted to say “really hard” to make myself look clever but the truth is, it isn’t.

Sourdough seems uniquely complicated amongst bread baking. I don’t know if it’s purposely shrouded in mystery. I know that it took me about two years to finally get down to it, to be brave enough to try, as it seemed magical and mystical. It is, but it isn’t difficult. The hardest thing about sourdough baking is being mentally ready.

Because once you have a good starter going, sourdough baking is almost bomb proof.

I bake sourdough about three times a week. Mostly I bake this bread, which is half wholemeal and half white.

Although I only bake half of the amount in that recipe, so 500g of flour, 200g levain (starter), 333g of water and I’ve got the salt down to just one teaspoon.

I divide the dough up to prove over two baton shaped bannetons so I have bread for two bakes. The bread in the picture above was proved in one of those bannetons.

It’s easy. The hard bit with sourdough, in terms of faff, has always been the starting off of it. Once I’ve weighed it out and refreshed the starter I know I need to be relatively close for the first three kneads (ten mins apart) and not too far for the one that requires a 30 minute rest. But after that I can do the school run or go out or do whatever. If I know I’m not going to be back in time – be really ages – then I put it in the fridge, and when I get back, simply bring it back to room temperature and take up where I left off.

You could never do that with bread with commercial yeast, because the yeast would get exhausted.

I’ve had a sourdough loaf going over three days.

Various people have said to me that they want to try sourdough baking. Instead of abstemious resolutions that make you feel miserable (isn’t January miserable enough?) try a resolution that will make you feel really good. With a good loaf you always have a meal. And when everyone else is out panic buying because it might snow, you can be smug knowing that with your starter, some flour, water and salt you can turn those tins of stock-piled baked beans into something really glorious.

What to do when someone gives you some of their starter so you can start your own starter..

A present of a little of your established starter really can be the present that keeps on giving

My starter came from my friend Emily; about three years ago now. Her starter was already going on for 18 months old itself, if I recall correctly.

Since I got that fantastic, promising present, my own starter has gone on to spawn many other sourdough starters, not least that of John-Paul Flintoff.

Anyway. I’ve been meaning to, for ages, write up here about What To Do when someone gives you some starter, so here I go.

You could of course give someone a full jar of starter ready to go since, if you have some levain on the go, it wouldn’t take long at all for you to build it up to a whole other working jar size. But this isn’t madly practical unless you can actually hand it over in person. And, also people like to build it up themselves. So what I do when I’m sharing starter is send it on the dry side, so it’s less frisky and likely to tire itself out. I either send it in a small plastic lidded box or double bag it in those sealable sandwich bags.

Hopefully, before you are sent a starter of starter, you will have ready:

A large jar
Some white, strong bread flour.
Weigh the jar when it’s empty and make a note of it.

What you do when you get it is this:

Put the starter in your jar. Add 50g white strong bread flour, and 40g of out of the tap water. Mix it up well and put the jar aside. In the fridge or a cool place in your kitchen.

You don’t need to remove any starter, you do that when your starter is big and to keep refreshing it would mean you’d end up with unfathomable amounts of the stuff.

The next day, if you want to, take out a tablespoon of starter and discard it. There is no reason for this, it just kinda feels authentic. Add another 50g white strong bread flour and 40g of water.

What you want to do is build up so that you have about 300g of starter in your jar (because for most breads you use about 200g of starter). So you keep repeating this until your jar is about 3/4 full when it’s just refreshed.

Never fill it up to the top as if you do, as the starter grows (because it will go up and down during the day until it settles) the jar can explode. Don’t worry if you look at your starter during the day and it regularly goes up to near the top, that’s normal. What it mustn’t ever be is that full when it’s just been refreshed.

When you’ve got about 320-350g of starter going (this is why you weigh the jar empty) you’re ready to go. Every time you bake – presuming you use 200g of starter, refresh your jar with 120g of white bread flour and 100g of water. Or, if it’s looking a bit full already, 100g of flour and 80g of water.

And you’re ready for a life time of baking.

Unless you bake every day, keep your starter in the fridge. I bake bread about 2/3 times a week and never need to discard starter to refresh it, I just use it straight from the jar.

I hope this makes sense, do ask any Qs if you need to (on here please so others can benefit).

What to do with your starter when you go away

This piece in the Guardian today is getting quite a lot of attention on Twitter. I think some people have taken it a tad too seriously…(it’s about checking your sourdough start into a hotel).

But it does bring me onto something pertinent, which is that people who I’ve got into sourdough (I’m a sourdough pusher) and have shared my starter with, have gone into a panic about going away.

It’s really no big deal. If you go away on holiday:

Make sure your starter is in a big enough jar to cope with any expansion.
If you’re worried about your start erupting (I never do, but I know some people do) then refresh it about 24hrs before you go away, not just as you leave. So you can keep an eye on it.
Keep the starter drier than usual so it’s less frisky.
Put your starter in the fridge.

I have to say, I don’t do anything different as I know my jar is big enough and I know how my starter behaves, but just to be extra cautious.

It’ll be fine. When you come back, refresh it as normal once or twice before you bake.

That’s all. Happy hols!

Le Couronne, or the loaf with the hole

I got really excited when Patrick from Bakery Bits, tweeted to say he had a new banneton in stock in a couronne, or ring shape. It was in cane, which I’ve never used before (all my bannetons are wicker and lined in linen).

I’ve a healthy collection of bannetons that I’ve built up over the last year, but in baton and round shapes. I really fancied a couronne shaped one. (I’ve been obsessed with round bread with a hole in it since my purchase of a Tortana from Flour City.)

So I bought one, and also took the opportunity to replenish my Aroma Panettone, which immediately transports me back to my childhood (you seen that scene in Ratatouille where whathisface the restaurant critic, goes back in time to his mother’s kitchen? That’s what this does to me).

Anyway, I was EXCITED about it. Made a batch of my every day bread, put it into the fridge for a retarded proof and got up in the morning.

First thing: the dough stuck to the banneton (the middle bit is wood). Not a good start. I slashed and cooked it and the hole completely closed up so that I ended up with a round loaf with a tiny dimple.

Not good.

I emailed Patrick. He recommended rice flour to aid non-stick (I had used rye). That remedied the sticking situation, but I just couldn’t get the hole to keep. (Sadly no pictures of bread proved in this banneton as I just never had a camera handy.)

When you cook bread, you want it to rise, but you can’t choose where it rises, so any hole you make (like in bagels) has to be bigger than you want it to end up with. But I just couldn’t get the hole to stay.

I knew the fabulous (and far more experienced baker than I) Joanna from Zeb Bakes had also bought one, so I asked her what she thought. She was also struggling with it. We both thought the middle bit should be thicker.

Patrick was v.helpful and kept going back to the manufacturers who said it should work. But it didn’t. Patrick got another banneton in, this time in linen lined wicker. He sent it to me free of charge. This banneton just looked much better, the middle bit was thicker and the whole shape was more promising.

It worked much better, too. Here is the loaf I made that first time. I did however, enlarge the hole once it was on the baking tray, which isn’t for the nervous. I haven’t fully got the hang of slashing the dough however (any thoughts anyone?) as I find it quite hard to make slashes on such a small ring of dough, such as it is before it puffs up.

First loaf using linen-lined wicker couronne banneton. V.nice.
Second loaf in the couronne, this was a white dough

Second time I made a white loaf but was more gung-ho didn’t enlarge the hole on the tray. This is what happened:

Hmm.

The third time I tried sticking a muffin ring in the middle. This did indeed hold the middle open, but a) the middle didn’t crust up properly and b) the ring sort of got swallowed into the bread. It was fine, and a really great loaf. I’m going to carry on experimenting with a tin in the middle and maybe even – gasp – put ice cubes in there. Just till the bread has developed a crust and then remove the tin.

In the meantime, if you’re careful you can get a really nice ring shape, but you need to play around with the dough on the tray. I do love the couronne bread shape however as you get maximum crust, not great for children who are fussy about these things, but good for me, who does.

Any more experienced bakers out there with any tips, I’d welcome them. Grazie!