Tag Archives: sourdough

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!

Number of the beast bread

I love this loaf

We do love white sourdough in our house, but there’s only so much white flour stuff you can (should) eat. I like the Mill loaf but that’s not sourdoughy enough for us. What I wanted was something very similar to the bread I get in Italy that’s not white, not wholemeal but suitably tangy and ‘paysan’ as we call it.


I think this loaf is it, although the more I make it the more I’ve realised that it really improves from a very long proving time, it doesn’t like being too cold and the dough should be fairly wet and sticky, so you need to be brave whilst kneading and use oil and not add any more flour. There can be a dramatic difference – better crumb, better flavour – between a loaf that’s been proved over ‘just’ 12 hours and one that’s had 24hrs plus. If the prove is too (relatively speaking) short, the bread becomes a bit too ‘wholesome’. It’s a difficult bread in that respect, to get right. 


This is what you do to make two loaves.


You take 


400g white leaven
666g cold water (number of the beast, hence the name)
500g white flour
500g wholemeal/other flour
3tsp salt (I’m experimenting with cutting this down).

 
You mix the leaven with the water, add the flours and salt and mix to a messy dough. 
 
Rest for 10 mins, then, a la Dan Lepard, knead lightly. 
 
Rest 10 minutes then knead lightly (I knead for twelve counts). 
 
Rest for 10 minutes then knead lightly. Rest for 30 minutes then knead lightly. 
 
Rest for 1 hour then knead lightly. 
 
Rest for 1 hour then knead lightly. 
 
Rest for 1 hour then knead lightly. 
 
Rest for two hours, then knead lightly and shape and place into two bannetons (I use a 1kilo round and a 600g baton). 
 
Rest in fridge overnight for a good twelve hours or more. I’ve rested it for up to 72 hours
 
Preheat oven to 220 with one baking tray on a high shelf, one underneath. When up to temperature turn loaf out of the banneton, slash with a bread knife and put in the oven. Whilst oven still open, turn ice cubes onto the bottom tray. Close oven and turn the temperature up to 250C and cook for 15 mins. Lower temperature to 220 for further 15 minutes.
 


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.




Starting to experiment pt2: potato bread with a 36hr prove

Because we had guests coming for Sunday lunch, I decided to make a double batch of potato bread on Saturday. I had an inkling it would be good, because the dough was really frisky: I could barely contain it on the chopping board I use to knead my dough. It was so alive there was no way I could knead it and leave it on the board, covered with a large stainless steel bowl, as I normally do, because it would have pushed right out from the bowl.  So instead I had to put it back into the bowl, and cover it with a tea towel whilst it rested.

I also discovered that it’s so much easier to fold dough, in the fancy way they tell you to (basically folding the dough into three, so take one third of it, fold it into the centre and then the other side, fold in on top) with so much dough. It was really easy to fold in this way, although not easy to keep in any sort of shape. I practically had to pour it into the bannetons.

I cooked one lot in a 1k round on the Sunday but the other I left in a 600g banneton (in the fridge at 4C) til this morning. It had risen hugely and spread out lots on the baking tray the moment I turned it out. I slashed it four times and it looked very collapsed, but I’m used to that with long-prove breads now and hoped it would revive in the oven. It did.

Instead of what I usually do, which is put it in the oven at the highest temperature and then turning it down, I’ve been experimenting with putting the bread in the oven at 220C for the first 8-10 mins, then putting it up higher to 250C, then back down. This is what I did this time.

The bread rose beautifully, had a great crust (heavier and darker than the one I did for Sunday lunch, probably cos of the shape) and OMG it tastes divine. The longer prove has definitely improved the flavour.

I’d go as far as to say it’s very probably the best tasting bread I’ve ever made. I will try to photograph the crumb later (if there is any left), it’s really good. Not overproved (as I feared), kinda waxy, very white. And so moist.

Swoon.

Starting to experiment pt1: white sourdough 36 hr prove

Now that I’m getting a bit more cocky confident about sourdough bread making, I’m starting to experiment a bit more. I know that the bread geeks might poo-pooh at my experiments, and how tame they are. But I’m new to all this and hoping to help other rookie bakers, not really teach anything to anyone, let alone seasoned bakers. Although if I manage that, too, then hoo-RAH.

I wrote in another post about long proving of loaves. I regularly prove our ‘house bread’ (Dan Lepard’s Mill Loaf) for 72 hours now. But thus far I’d only proved white sourdough for about ten hours regularly, and 24 hours max.

So the other day, my partner (I’m so fed up of saying boyfyhusband, it sounds so fucking twee) was going to London and I decided to send my Italian Daddie – who lives there with my Italian Mamma – a loaf of my bread.  He’s the sort of man who eats bread at every meal and he buys his baguettes from the supermarket, and I think they’re a poor substitute for the sort of bread he grew up with.

He likes his bread to be white and crusty. So I made a batch of sourdough, shaped one into a round for us, and one into a baton for him, proved it overnight and got up at FIVE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING to cook it as my partner was leaving at 6am. I kept the other loaf and cooked it yesterday morning, after a 36 hour final prove in the fridge at 4 degrees.

I am pleased to report that it was splendid. I cooked it for only 20 mins, 15 mins at 250 and 5 at 220, as I was after a slightly softer crust than the usual blackened, sour crust I go for. It was delicious, delicate and here it is, photographed in the morning sunlight.

White sourdough, cooked after a 36hr prove.