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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.

52 weeks of sourdough wk9

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.

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 2

52 weeks of sourdough wk2.2

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?