Tag Archives: bread

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 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.

 

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week 6

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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.

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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 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!

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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?

Milk Loaf

If I tell you I was going to write about pull-apart cinnamon bread this week, will you turn away from a relatively boring (in comparison) post about milk loaf? At the beginning of the month, when I was organising the recipes I would make, I wanted to make cinnamon bread. I really did. But this week, the last thing I wanted to eat was cinnamon bread. I know right? Who does not want to eat cinnamon bread all the time? Well that was me this week. And, because this space is really about my life and the food I eat, I didn’t want to make something just because I said I would. Who would eat it? So there’s no cinnamon bread here today. Instead there is milk loaf.

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I actually didn’t think there would be a recipe here this week at all. When it got to Wednesday I was still busy rewriting Chapter Two of my thesis. I had set a deadline for Wednesday to get it done and I was determined, no matter the hour, to finish it then. I did, finally, at around 11.30pm. So there was no opportunity to make anything or to blog on Wednesday. The rest of the week was spent recipe testing for Florentine, a new book by Emiko Davies, a food writer. Ages ago, via Instagram, I offered to test some of the recipes and this week I finally got round to doing so. But as a result, I wasn’t really in the mood to do any of my own recipe development for here. I figured I’d write about how fun recipe testing had turned out to be. How challenging it was to have to focus on actually following the recipe, rather than automatically looking at what could be adapted or changed. Actually measuring one teaspoon of vanilla, rather than pouring it in by sight; paying attention to baking times, rather than waiting to smell when something is done; the sequence of steps and the equipment needed (you mean I can’t simply put this cake batter into a round tin? It has to be rectangular? Really?). It was great. But I can’t share the recipes I made on here so I figured it’d be a non-recipe post. But then today I made a batch of marmalade (Seville’s are back in season! Yay!) and I figured it might be good to have fresh bread for toast in the morning. So I made this milk loaf.

I’m slightly obsessed with this loaf at the moment. I think I go through stages of loving different breads. For ages it was sourdough. Now it’s this milk loaf. It’s easy to make. Dense and chewy in texture. Toasts well. Lasts the week. The recipe comes from Delicious magazine. I subscribe to their newsletter (as well as the print magazine) and this loaf was featured in one newsletter recently. I love making my own bread so I decided to give it a whirl last Sunday. I’ve been eating slices for breakfast all week and now that there is marmalade again, I suspect I’ll be eating this combination for a while. I changed the method slightly (as well as using more milk), only because I am a lazy baker and prefer for things to be as easy as possible. Thus, instead of rubbing the butter into the flour, I simply melt it whilst heating the milk. It cuts out a step and opens, I think, the possibility of turning this into a brown butter loaf…. Mmm. Now there’s an idea. I also added in a second proof. The original recipe only proofs the dough once but I’m always skeptical of such things, having been taught that breads should be proofed twice. So I proof it twice. Just in case. (And because you get the satisfaction of punching down the dough.)

Milk Loaf
Adapted from Delicious Magazine
750g strong white flour
7g instant yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
75g unsalted butter
350ml milk

Place the flour in a large bowl. Add in the yeast on one side and the sugar and salt on another side. You don’t want the yeast to come into contact with the salt and sugar until you’re ready to add in your liquids as you risk the sugar/salt killing the yeast. (Which, let’s face it, would be a tragedy*!)

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Place the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat over a medium heat until the milk is warm. Switch off the heat and leave it for a few minutes so that the butter melts. Give it a stir. Test the temperature with your finger. You don’t want it to be hot – body temperature is good. Stir the flour, salt, sugar and yeast together. Add in the milk. Using either a wooden spoon or your hands, bring everything together to form a dough. If there isn’t enough liquid to do so, add in some warm water.

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Form the dough into a ball. Knead lightly for five to ten minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place into the bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave in a warm place to proof until double in size – about an hour. (I put the bowl into my oven, with the oven light on and a tray of hot water on the floor of the oven. This creates a warm, moist atmosphere that makes the dough extraordinarily happy.)

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and shape it into a log. Grease a loaf tin with some oil and place the log into it. Cover loosely with a tea towel and proof again for half an hour – the dough should rise up beyond the tin level.

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Preheat the oven to 200C. Cook the loaf for half an hour – until dark golden brown on top and hollow-sounding when tapped.

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Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before eating.

*If you are of the same era as me, perhaps the word tragedy! (with the exclamation mark after it) reminds you of that song by Steps. I remember once doing the coordinated dance moves on a stage at some formal dance I went to in my final year of school. In case you have forgotten, here’s a link to the music video… (Also, this video be cray-cray.)