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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 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.

 

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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