Category Archives: Sourdough

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 13

I know you guys totally thought I was flagging on this project. You did, didn’t you? Basically, November became an overwhelming month, one I spent mostly not at home, on trains, on buses, traversing the country for work. Whenever I was home, I was asleep. There was no bread baking. Things got so desperate we ran out of our emergency bread stash in the freezer. Dire people. (Fortunately the kids at Small Food Bakery sorted us out. Thank goodness for local sourdough bakeries).

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But this weekend I finally had enough energy to bake some bread. And obviously I made far more than we actually needed, see above about emergency bread. When A- came home from work he exclaimed, ‘you are making bread for an army!’ I have a total inability to cook in small portions so I suppose it was inevitable that this would spread to my bread making too. I assured him it would be fine. I made one plain loaf, for regular toast and then I flavoured the second half with rosemary, thyme, walnuts, and a really sharp stinky cheese A- brought back from his last trip to Spain. It is glorious bread. The interior is sort of purple in colour. We’ve been slathering it in butter and dipping it into soup for dinner.

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The plain loaf developed this extravagant whole through it’s crumb. The flavoured bread was much more even, bubbles-wise. I’ve now sliced the loaves and placed some in the freezer. Bread in the freezer is so reassuring. Like a guarantee of dinner even when there is nothing else in the house.

Verdict for week 13? I’m back baby. Going to experiment with Christmas themed bakes in the next few weeks.

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 12

I realised last weekend that I was failing my bread making project. Not failing in the making bread sense, I was still managing to do that, but failing in the being present, and paying attention sense. Bread making had evolved into this beast, this large black shape bearing down on me as the weekend approached. I was still trying to accomplish the task  but I wasn’t allocating it anytime, or working out how to fit it into my day. Which is obviously how I found myself wrestling with a far too hydrated and possibly over proofed dough on a Sunday afternoon. Needless to say it did not end so well.

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So I watched this video to get inspired again. I was really interested when Kim talked about the choice of bread making as a form of meditation. One of the reasons I chose bread making as part of a wider project I have going on (all about recovery and finding purpose outside of work), was because I thought working and creating with my hands would be a good thing. I haven’t reflected on that a lot in these posts yet but I think it is true. ‘Making stuff is really really important. Using your hands is really really important’, Kim says in the video.

She also tells her audience to ‘slow the fuck down’, which I enjoyed. I live quite a lot of my life rushing from one task to another, or trying to clean the house and listen to a book and bake bread and make dinner all at once. It is sometimes exhausting. So this weekend I slowed it all down again. There were many things I probably should’ve done this weekend but I let most of them go. I went to yoga, because I’ve found yoga on the weekend is a game changer (and it is also the one consistent class I can make, as I travel so much during the week). I finished some knitting projects I had going on. I finished the work I had to do for Monday. And then I focused on making bread.

Everything about it was so much better. I was making one of the loaves as a gift for A-‘s family in Spain (yes, we are people who travel with bread) and I wanted it to be good. So I took my time about it. I wasn’t rushing. I didn’t organise anything on Saturday afternoon so I could be at home to do the bulk prove. I sorted the levain out before I went to yoga in the morning and came back in time to mix up the dough. Everything about the experience was so much more pleasurable than it has been the past few weeks.   And the breads turned out lovely. I had some to dip into bolognese I heated up for my solo dinner on Sunday. A- took a loaf to Spain and I brought half a loaf for my sister, and froze the other half for emergency bread rations.

There is a new report out on the benefits of bread baking for mental health too.

Verdict for week 12? I need to learn to take time, if I want to pursue creativity properly. It is weird it took several weeks of failed bread making for me to learn this.

 

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 11

This week I made a spelt and honey loaf. I have been mulling over this combination for days and days, weeks possibly, since seeing some photos on instagram. The combination just sounded delicious.

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This particular loaf (from a recipe I found online) did not use the turning and folding method of my previous loaves. Rather, you are supposed to mix everything together, knead it and then leave it to prove for 9 hours. I gave mine an hour for autolayse before adding in the salt, but then the dough did feel as though it did not need turning and folding so I kneaded it and put it back into the bowl. It was of significantly less hydration that previous loaves.

Of course I then totally forgot about the dough on the boiler and went out. When I returned home it was too late to bake bread so I put the dough in the fridge (in a proving basket) and hoped for the best! As you can probably tell by the photograph it may have been on the edge of over-proving by the time I turned it out in the morning to bake. It might have been wise to knock it back and let it prove again at this stage but I did not have the foresight to do that. Into the oven it went.

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The loaf turned out totally delicious. It may not have as wide a crumb as it could have, but it has made excellent toast all week and I love the flavour.

Verdict for week 10? I am really starting to love this process. And I am working out my own ratios now so I feel superbly accomplished.

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 10

It has rained nearly all week. After the strange red Sahara-sand sun of last week, and a brief respite yesterday, the sky has grown heavy. Dark grey cloud has peppered the windows, bringing the sky closer to the earth. The wind is shaking leaves from the trees. Underfoot are reds, browns, oranges, yellows, and the last few green leaves. Rain has come in large sloshing streams, in the faint drizzle that is almost mist, and in heavy torrents that beat against the windows and overflow the gutters. Autumn is here.

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All week it has felt dark when I’ve awoken. I’ve started to use my sunlight lamp, to induce my body into thinking it is time to get up. In this last week before the clocks change, my body goes into hibernation mode and wants to sleep at least until noon, and then possibly again from about 3pm. I’ve brought out the fairy lights and the candles, adding a glow to our evenings, trying to celebrate the dark. This year I am mitigating the onset of winter by going home for a week in early December. We cannot travel at Christmas because A- works through the holidays, but I am dashing home to spend time with my parents and cousins before returning here for the darkest and then the coldest days of the year.

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As time has worn on, I find I am learning to embrace this changing of the seasons, and the darkness. At home, we have even quantities of light throughout the year, so it makes 4pm darkness and 8am light very hard to get used to. Having a garden space now (allotment) helps. There it is easy to see the change in the seasons, although the damn bindweed seems to be immune to the dropping temperatures and is happily sprouting up through the new beds. Fuck off bindweed! But other things are edging down, preparing for the winter months. The robins are still about, appearing when I move dried grasses to eat the bugs.

To embrace this changing season, this coming weekend I will make plum and damson jam. Ages and ages ago I bought a supply from Hockley Homegrown and then stashed them in my freezer, unsure. Then I went on a Do Preserves course at e5 bakery in London. During the day, Anja and Jen showed how to make many many things for the store cupboard but my favourite was the oven plum jam. You basically stone the plums, slice them in halves or quarters, and then add in sugar. You cook this in a low oven until everything is jammy (totally technical term), and you scoop, dollop and drop it into sterilised jars.

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I will also make some more bread. I really want to make a spelt and honey loaf because I seem to have acquired a lot of honey in recent months. (Buying honey is one of my flaws. I am a sucker for honey stories and well looked-after bees. I will happily part with oodles of cash for good honey). All of my recipe books are in boxes though – we’ve had our windows replaced and are awaiting repainting before unpacking again – so I will need to scour the inter webs, unless anyone has a recipe for me?

This past week I made my regular loaf although I winged the hydration and was on the edge of having one of those doughs that slowly slides off your counter to the floor. I managed to avoid it by the skin of my teeth but the resulting loaf has a very sticky interior that I think is a result of this… I must pay more attention to percentages this week. Still, it has made excellent toast (with butter, under boiled eggs). Due to time management issues I actually ended up baking the loaf on Monday morning, in amongst a lot of transcribing (which has shaped my week). There was something particularly pleasant about working with dough first thing on a Monday. Plus my house smelt amazing.

Week 10 verdict? I love baking while the light is still making it’s way over the houses, brightening my kitchen as the oven warms the space, and the smell of bread is in the air. God, I am be a bread making convert.

 

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 9

I feel like this week was some sort of hump-week. I spent the weekend exhausted, wandering vaguely around the house, not really wanting to do anything but also not succeeding in doing nothing. I hit a slump I guess. On Saturday evening A- asked me about making bread. Wasn’t I supposed to be making some today, for this project? Yes, I sighed, but I can’t really bring myself to do it. Lifting my arms feels too hard today. Moving is hard. A- just smiled and encouraged me to try again on Sunday.

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So on Saturday evening I mixed together a starter and set it on top of our boiler overnight, just in case I could manage some mixing and folding come the morning. Then I remembered that I wanted to take my sister a loaf on Monday. And that was enough motivation to get me out of bed and folding dough. That and the yoga class I’ve found on Sunday mornings in the city, which is magical. Even better, I tried out my own proportions of flour, levain, water, and salt. This was based on what I’ve learnt in the last few weeks. Brilliantly, it worked! My own proportions!

So week 9 verdict: hooray! I am starting to understand something about the proportions of sourdough breads.

 

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.