Category Archives: 52 weeks of sourdough

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 8

Week 8 chaps! When I started this project I wasn’t sure I’d get quite this far along but already this practice (some might say habit) is taking hold.

52 weeks of sourdough wk8.2

I got home from Stratford-upon-Avon late on Friday, having been there for most of the week. (I did get to see Coriolanus, which was awesome!) but I had also spent the week eating ready-meals in my tiny Airbnb, so I was totally up for spending some time in the kitchen. I started a levain on Friday night, and then got up early on Saturday to feed it. I went back to following instructions from Small Food Bakery, and also used their recipe for guidance. This week, I added poppy- and sesame seeds and I must say, I love this combination. I added enough that the seeds add both texture and flavour to the bread.

I baked the loaf on Sunday morning, and then had a dinner of leftover beef stew with slices of bread (smeared with butter obviously) to dip in. On Tuesday, I made myself a sandwich for lunch using the loaf. I get an immense feeling of satisfaction whenever I eat my loaves as part of my meal. I guess there is a little bit of pride in my work? Who knows. And look at the holes guys! Holes! In my bread! Eeeek.

52 weeks of sourdough wk8.1

Verdict from Week 8? I am developing pride in my loaves. Who knows, maybe I will start to give them away soon!

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 7

I decided to mix things up last week and made an oat porridge loaf (well, two loaves – hello guilty person who didn’t quite read the recipe thoroughly before beginning).

52 weeks of sourdough wk7.2

I had some oats skulking in the pantry and it was high time it got used up! I found a recipe online that follows Tartine and had gone through several iterations with some wise advice so I gave that one a go.

The loaves turned out beautifully! I was very excited when my new bit of baking kit (an oval brotform from Bakery Bits) created a perfect sandwich loaf that A- could eat through the week. I really loved the flavour in this – the oats is not overly present but adds a pleasant nuttiness and stickiness to the finished product. I will be making this one again!

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Verdict from Week 7? Excellent. Proud of now being able to adapt my techniques to new recipes and beginning to understand some of the lingo behind sourdough baking.

 

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 6

52 weeks of sourdough wk6

Week 6’s bread has a gaping yawn. It looks like a fish poised to kiss someone or a whale trawling for plankton! Secretly, I am rather chuffed with this development. Yes sure, it hasn’t quite expanded in all the spaces I wanted it to, but it has expanded nicely in one place!

After being in Spain for a week, I found that I was (somewhat unexpectedly) looking forward to loaf making this weekend. On Thursday evening as our ‘last supper’ (as we called it, chuckling to ourselves), we ate at La Taberna del Chef del Mar. A- is obsessed with Angel Leon, the chef behind La Taberna and the more formal Aponiente. Angel Leon is famous for serving only fish, and La Taberna has the same agenda, although in a relaxed, informal setting. We ate glorious, unexpected, fun food (the smoked oysters, holy moly) but what was truly superb was the sourdough bread (finally!) that they make over at Aponiente. It was superb – dark crust, sour and malty taste. I used it to sop up juices from various the dishes. It made me want to come home and make bread again.

On Friday, on our flight home, I was planning when I could fit the loaf into our weekend plans. On Saturday, as I mixed the levain together, I was thinking of how my Sunday evening would be spent, folding dough. And I felt a happy feeling of anticipation. A frisson of excitement. How would this loaf turn out? What would it taste like? Would it be better or worse than others? On Sunday, I mixed the levain for the second time and left it to bubble away while we went to the allotment. (Look! Beds are set out! I’ve ordered seedlings! And I had a visitor!)

When we got home, I mixed up the dough and then folded it while catching up on last week’s Bake Off (which was, totally appropriately, bread week). Even A- got involved in the Bake Off watching!

Every time I make a loaf, I have a feeling of purpose, a sense of doing something ancient and practical. I don’t want to romanticise the whole bread-making experience. Okay I do but I will check myself. I only want to note how this everyday/every week activity is shaping how I organise my time. I am making space for bread making. And I quite like that.

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 5

It is week 5 already!

I’ll be honest, I sort of thought that by this stage in the game I’d have nailed a good-looking, good-tasting bread with a method that worked every time. Well well well. That has not been the case.

52 weeks of sourdough wk5

Every week is an adventure in learning it seems. And I haven’t yet cracked the code of consistency. C’est la vie. This is the whole reason why I chose this challenge. And A- did kindly remind me that each of the loaves has tasted distinct, different and thus interesting. We have eaten every one, and saved the ends for croutons/bread crumbs. (I’ve got a bag stashed in the freezer now.)

We are at the beach this week, in Andalucia. It is glorious and warm and sunny. To fit a loaf into this week, I baked before we left, making a dough late last Wednesday, before shaping and baking on Thursday. I was book editing both days and getting up to turn and shape the dough was a welcome relief from being so heavily tied to my desk.

So I haven’t cracked the loaf code yet but what have I enjoyed so far?

I love watching the transformations of the dough as it goes from flour and water to shaggy mess to shape-able dough. When I use different flour, the dough feels different, and reacts differently against my hand as I pull, stretch, lengthen and then fold. I love watching the changing colours too – cream, grey, beige, ochre, eventually tinges of black on the edges of the baked loaf.

Most of all, I love making time for this process in my schedule. I know I am lucky because I have a flexible enough research job that allows me to work from home some of the time, but even making time on the weekend is satisfying. I am sure I will feel differently in a few weeks, when I am traveling again for work and weekends become a sacred and necessary time to do very little, but until then I am enjoying the routine of bread making.

This project is also making me think about bread, a lot. While I’ve been in Andalucia this week, I’ve been pondering the relationship between the people I’ve been with and bread. Bread is a key feature of each meal. If there is no bread on the table when we sit down, someone will cry pan! and leap up to retrieve the stash from the kitchen. But the bread all seems to be industrially produced – even if it comes from a small shop, it is that frozen and baked-on-site variety. It makes such a contrast to all the other carefully produced foods that we eat when we are here. I’ll have to ask more questions about this, and read some more to find out…

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 4

Sourdough babka! My goodness team. Who knew you could make something this delicious with sourdough? Okay, obviously you all knew. But I was ignorant. Totally unaware. Now I am converted. This might be dangerous.

Cross section sourdough babka

This weekend I decided to venture into the world of ‘other’ sourdough baking. Not because I feel I have mastered the sourdough loaf you understand, no no no. That is most definitely a work in progress. No, it was a desire to make a baked good. A sweet baked good. And what a bonus that you can make sweet baked goods with sourdough!

As it turns out, making sourdough babka, much like making sourdough bread, is a slow affair. Sloooowwwww. This is not something you can make in a few hours, when the craving hits. This takes time. Days, as it happens. There is a lot of down time while you wait for things to happen. You can go out and do things without risk of over-proofing, it takes that long.

I mixed the starter for the babka late on Saturday morning, at the same time as I was feeding my bread starter for the second time. The bread starter was then ready in 4 hours but the babka starter took a while longer. A long while longer. We went out, visited Small Food Bakery, bought wool at Knit Nottingham, made the bread dough and got to the bulk proofing stage before the babka starter was ready for use. But it did have fantastic webby bubbly goodness going on, so I forgave it…

Babka starter

I found the recipe on a blog online but it seemed very similar to that from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, apart from the sourdough beginnings. Anyway, mixing the dough and letting that rise happened around many episodes of Season One of Doctor Foster. Have you watched that? My god. So traumatic. So good. So unable-to-stop-watching!

As per the instructions, and guidelines for babka everywhere, the dough went into the fridge overnight to make it work-able in the morning. (I do wonder how anyone figured all this technique out, don’t you? The dough is impossible at room temperature but quite fine once cold. Who first discovered this magic?)

On Sunday, we went to yin yoga. This was my first yoga class since knee surgery. There is nothing quite like a yoga class on a weekend day to make you feel virtuous (and therefore entirely deserving of babka). Once back home, I rolled out the cold dough, smeared it with the chocolate filling (and some milk chocolate chips for good measure), braided it, and left it for another slow rise. I put all my yeasty-baked goods to rise in the boiler cupboard where it is warm and cosy.

Sunday afternoon featured more Doctor Foster, some Bordertown, and (to make us feel like the world wasn’t ending/wasn’t an entirely terrible place) some Green Wing. We slow roasted a pork shoulder and made all the trimmings. Only once we were sitting down to eat, approximately 6 hours later, was the babka ready for the oven. From start to finish, this came close to an 18 hour affair.

But it was worth the wait. Once out of the oven, I soaked the babkas in a sugar syrup and left them covered to cool overnight. Breakfast this morning? Slices of babka with coffee. An excellent start to the week I’d say.

Sourdough babka

It is sourdough September chaps! So get on with all your sourdough baking now.

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 2

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So it turns out, fitting sourdough into a working week is hard! I left for London at midday on Saturday in order to stay with my sister before catching an early flight to Copenhagen on Sunday morning. So I thought I’d make bread on Friday, while I worked from home. The only problem was, I needed to leave the house at various points. I worked backwards from when I thought I would be able to bake the loaf in order to work out the timings. Even with my careful planning – getting up at 6am to feed the starter so I could mix the bread at 10am – I still ran into trouble. Well, not trouble exactly, but just unplanned refrigeration. I had intended to time my errands with the end of the turning process and the beginning of the bulk prove – this would give me 2.5 hours before I needed to bench rest and shape the dough. Once I’d actually thought about everything that needed to be done, I realised that this was totally unrealistic a timeframe. So I decided to slow down the proofing process by refrigerating the dough after turning.

Flour and grain

One of the reasons I went out was to attend a bread tasting at Small Food Bakery. This is something I would probably normally have skipped, but with this new sourdough project I decided to tag along. (I am really chuffed that this kind of thing is already happening in Week 2.)

The tasting was an opportunity for Small Food Bakery to show us their new breads, explain their processes, and to talk about different wheats and wheat farming in the UK. We tasted four different breads: the Radford Wild, the Heritage Wild, the YQ, and the Ey Up. Kim explained that this year, the bakery has focused on converting to using flours from farmers that they know – that is, they know where the flour they are using is grown, who it is milled by, and the farmers and millers who support their process. The different breads use flours from different places – so the Radford Wild uses Shipton Mill flour, whereas the Heritage Wild uses Gilchesters flour. (This is also what I used in my loaf this week!) Gilchester’s flour is milled on the farm and is from a wheat that is allowed to crossbreed in the field. Kim explained that it is a 75% extraction flour (that is, 75% of the wheat grain going into the milling process is extracted at the end) and is stoneground. This results in an oiler, darker flour that develops into a nuttier, browner-bread flavour than the Radford Wild.

 

The YQ is a fascinating wheat, and bread. The bread is 100% wholegrain with an unpredictable flavour. It starts off sweet and malty, but ends with a sharp sour note. The wheat was developed by Prof Martin Wolfe and you can hear Kim talking about the wheat, as well as more info on the wheat breeding process on this podcast.

The Ey Up is a bread so called because the grains in it – spelt and rye – are grown locally to Nottingham,  on a farm in Sutton Bonnington. The flours are milled at Green’s Windmill in Sneinton. The loaf is lighter than the YQ and the flour has a purple colour!

Kim explained that all her breads use sourdough starters. Using the wild yeasts present in sourdough starters allows bakers to ‘go slow’, and to approach baking differently than if you were using regular yeast. The slower ferment also makes for a more digestible loaf.

Kim also explained that you can feed your starter with the same flour that you intend to use in your baking. You can have a rye-based starter and a white flour-based starter in your fridge. This gives your initial dough a ‘boost’ as the yeasts feed off flour they’ve already adjusted to eating. This week was week two of using the Gilchesters flour, and I’d also fed the starter with it last week. Perhaps that plus the longer, slower ferment allowed for a better loaf? We shall see!

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52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week One

For a while now I have been playing with the idea of making bread on a weekly basis. Then I stopped to compose the 2017/18 Life List and realised that one of the sub-projects of my life list could be to actually make bread every week for one year. So this is the beginning of that project. Here is my first loaf!

52 weeks of sourdough - wk1

This is not actually my first ever sourdough loaf. But it is the first loaf for this project. My interest in sourdough has been long-lasting, and at various points in my life (pretty much since cooking school in 2005!) I have kept a sourdough starter in the fridge, nursing and caring for it. I have taken a few courses on sourdough baking, at Small Food Bakery and also at The Sourdough School. Both were wonderful but when I got home, I found I couldn’t recreate the loaves like my teachers had and so even though I baked sourdough occasionally, I didn’t do so enough to develop my technique or skill. I also only really know how to bake bread with sourdough, but I am aware that there are many cake/pastry things that you can make and I want to explore these too. However, the main  purpose of this project is a quest for the perfect loaf.

Another purpose is to provide us with fresh bread every weekend (or whenever in the week it is possible to make it, if the weekend is unlikely). My life with the Spaniard includes adjusting to an expectation of bread at every meal, something my carb-fearing-young-self would balk at. Whilst A- does have a penchant for what I would call ‘trashy’ bread (food snob, yes I am very aware), I am slowly, slowly converting him to sourdough.

The third purpose of this project is to learn and understand the cultures of bread. One of the reasons this project came about is through discovering The Grain Gathering – a once yearly conference held by the Washing State University Bread Lab. I only know about this because Kim, from Small Food Bakery, has now been twice and I stalk her Instagram during this period. The researcher in me is totally fascinated and compelled by the people who gather for this conference -academics, activists, bakers – and the cultures they bring with them (both real sourdough cultures and imagined ideas about bread culture).

The final, fourth purpose of this project is to provide a type of structure to my week. Like crafting a space for writing each day, I want to craft a space for bread baking each week.

So! That is it. Let me see how I get on. The first week is always the easiest no?