Tag Archives: sourdough baking

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?

Life Lists and Recovery

So a few weeks back my sister asked me where the life list for 2017 was. I realised that I hadn’t written one. I did write an ‘I did that’ list for 2016 but somehow I’d never written any goals for 2017. I suspect it is because I wasn’t feeling very goal-setting-y at new year. But now, as we begin the slide into the new academic year coupled with my now being 4 weeks post-surgery, I thought I might do some goal setting. (God, that sounds so pretentious and ambitious and just weird!) Of course, this awkwardly puts my 12-month list in line with the Northern hemisphere academic year, rather than the calendar one (something I’ve always found troublesome, having grown up in the south where the calendar year matches the academic one), but never mind. Change hey? Sometimes you just have to embrace it.

SFBakeryRoses August17I’ve thought a lot over the past four weeks about what I want to do over the next year. (Being incredibly slow and being forced to time spend resting allows for such contemplation). Full recovery from ACL reconstruction, including a return to twisty sports like netball, takes between 9 and 12 months. So my surgery recovery neatly maps onto my goals to find success outside of work. This is part of my post-PhD life goal, to define myself as something other than my work. I came dangerously close to losing myself in my PhD, and it has taken a lot of hard mental work to learn that I am not my PhD, I am not my work. My work does not define my worth. (That sounds like a mantra. Sometimes I have to treat it as such).

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So I have devised a number of things that I would like to accomplish in the next 12 months. Okay, I have 13, not 12 but 13 is one of my lucky numbers. (And really, let’s not be pedantic about the parameters of a wellbeing effort). These vary in both ambition and scale, and are connected to my work, health, wellbeing, and creativity. I am sharing them with you here as a way to keep myself reminded of my goals (so that they don’t squander, lost in a journal somewhere) and also because I have one that I am going to try and write about weekly, on this site!

So here is the 2017/18 list:

Take a yoga class. Survive it. Then go back to doing yoga regularly.

Run 5km

Swim in open water. If possible, swim outside all year round. If not, just lane swim a few times a week. Book to swim the Swoosh.

Learn to make a loaf of sourdough. Do this every week. Write about it, even when unsuccessful. Call this 52 weeks of sourdough. Create a hashtag on Instagram for this part of the project. #52weeksofsourdough

Knit a cardigan. (Possibly this one).

Finish the current book and submit the manuscript. Contemplate writing another book proposal. Think about writing a cookbook.

Submit another journal article. Possibly two. Push out the boat and write a third.

Establish the allotment! Put in raised beds. Grow things.

Keep an allotment diary. Take photos of the progress and print them. Or use the instant camera.

Investigate beekeeping!

Have people over for dinner. Try and do this once a month.

Get really good at ice-cream making. Try unusual flavour combinations. Use the herbs you’re growing on the allotment to experiment.

Finally, take some courses for fun. Spend time doing things you enjoy.

So that is my list. Watch out for my first post for 52 weeks of sourdough project, coming this weekend!

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning at Small Food Bakery (Part II)

Whilst Part I discusses all the loaves we made, and the dinner we ate on my Saturday Night, Sunday Morning baking course at Small Food Bakery, I found that I wanted to also write about making croissants and danish pastries and the last post was getting quite full. So here is the other half of the two-part series on my baking experience at Small Food Bakery.

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In between all the bread making, we also made an enriched laminated dough from which we generated croissants and pastries. We ate some of these for breakfast at the bakery on Sunday and the rest are currently in my freezer, waiting to be eaten at the weekend!

Unlike the sourdough and rye dough mixtures, which we made up ourselves, the croissant dough had been made up earlier by the team at Small Food because it needs to rest a significant time (at least 2 hours, preferably 4) in the fridge before being used. The dough was thus already super cold before we started to work with it. Kim taught us ‘single fold’ lamination.

Single fold lamination is achieved by rolling the dough out into a rectangle, and placing the butter in the centre. You then fold the pastry around the butter so it is entirely encased. It is then a case of rolling another rectangle and folding the dough up in thirds – so the bottom third up into the centre and then the top third over the bottom third so that you have a parcel of sorts. You then give this a quarter turn and perform the process again, rolling and folding the dough. If the dough becomes ‘tense’ you can place it in the fridge before rolling it out and folding it for a third and final time. This creates 27 laminated layers and results in a flaky, beautiful, buttery croissant. (This is the same technique for making puff pastry but that you roll and fold six times, resulting in the thousands of layers.) Once you have performed your three turns, rest the dough in the fridge to give it a chance to relax (and to make your life easier when you come to shape the pastries).

When you are ready to roll it out, remove the dough from the fridge and roll it into a square. We then divided the dough into four rectangles that would make shapes for four croissants and 5 pastries – cutting two rectangles into triangles, one rectangle in half and one rectangle into thirds. The triangles we rolled up into croissants (they look like little Eiffel towers before you roll them), whilst the halves became pain au chocolats and the thirds became danishes of various kinds. These were then egg-washed and placed in a clingfilmed tray to proof overnight. Kim told us that for pastries, the temperature and atmosphere are hugely important because they are so delicate. This is one of the reasons they are so difficult to recreate at home.

In the morning, our pastries had transformed themselves into poofy puffy clouds of light fluffiness. We egg-washed them again before decorating with fruits, seeds and chocolate.

These formed part of our breakfast on Sunday morning. One of the other participants (Adee) had brought some raw heather honey from his bees (I have the rest of the jar in my pantry now – Adee said he doesn’t sell the heather honey so this is a total treasure) and I took some of this years marmalade to share. I also brought my latest granola which I’ve been making with heather honey (recipe coming soon) and which I wanted to share with everyone. We thus ate a breakfast of kings with butter, honey, marmalade and croissants (is there a childhood story here about this breakfast? There might be I think.) There was also sourdough slices and these rather magical buns:

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These buns are made from stuffing the croissant dough into a muffin tray. They are made from the half rectangle shape that makes a pain au chocolat but we filled them with date syrup (and I put some chocolate slices in mine) and then placed them in the muffin trays to proof. In the morning Kim baked them off (they don’t need egg washing or anything) and then as soon as they came out of the oven tipped them out (because the syrup causes the buns to stick to the tray as they cool) and covered them in cardamom sugar whilst still hot. The result is a fragrant sticky flaky bun that is the stuff of dreams.

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Kim dousing the buns in cardamom sugar

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Some filled with raisins, others plain, one with chocolate

I intend to make more of the magical buns this coming weekend, which is a bank holiday weekend and for which all I have planned is writing, writing and more writing so these will see me through I think.

This was a truly wonderful birthday present. And I heartily recommend the course for anyone even remotely thinking about making bread with sourdough…

Small Food Bakery

Primary, 33 Seely Road Nottingham

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning workshop costs £190. Places are available for July and September workshops. 

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning at Small Food Bakery (Part I)

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For my birthday this year I requested a cooking class. When my family asked what they should purchase, this was the best thing I could think of for a gift – a chance to do something fun and learn some new skills. I had a look around (online) at the very many different options available, but in the end chose the Saturday Night, Sunday Morning class at my local bakery – Small Food. The class lasts over 2 days. You spend Saturday afternoon and evening in the bakery and then return on Sunday morning. During this time, you learn loads about sourdough, fermentation, lamination, flour, yeast and sourdough starters. It was a fantastic way to spend (most of) a weekend. Because we learnt so much (and I took so many photos, most of which I want to share), I’ve written two different posts: this one is all about making bread and Part II is all about laminated dough (croissants and pastries).

Saturday afternoon began with the participants (six of us) sitting down with Kim (the owner) over coffee to talk about the plan for the weekend, and sourdough starters – the starting point for any sourdough baking. Kim had sent instructions for preparing a starter and everyone had a version of one with them. My starter actually comes from Small Food, as I had no luck trying to start my own last year and I have been caring for it for a number of months. As such, the flavour and smell is very developed – it smells very fruity, mostly of apples and has a wonderful cider-y (ferment-y), apple-y taste. Did you know you can taste your starter? I had no idea until this weekend when we shared our starters around the table, tasting and comparing them. Some were young, creamy and yoghurty; others, like mine, were more sour, with fruit notes. There is no ‘right’ taste to a starter, it all depends on the flours you’ve used, the water and the yeasts in the local air.

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Ovens to covet at Small Food Bakery

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Then it was straight into work! We began by making a large sourdough mixture, enough to generate four different loaves (for taking home) and two small(ish) pizza bases that we were to eat on Saturday evening. One of the reasons I love making sourdough is getting my hands into the dough, incorporating the flour, water and starter, squidging the mixture between my fingers, feeling and hearing the dough change shape, watching as it absorbs the water and changes into something malleable and usable.

Once we had our bulk dough made – you basically work the mixture until it forms a shaggy dough and has absorbed all the water – we put them into clear tubs and placed them in a proofer (of sorts) to relax. This is called the autolyse stage and allows the dough to absorb water and also lets the gluten relax. Then we mixed up a 100% rye dough from which we made rye loaves and crisp breads. The rye loaf doesn’t require any kneading. You just mix the dough and scoop it into the tin (scooping being the operative word here as the dough is very wet). Then you proof it very slowly at room temperature before retarding the rise in the fridge overnight.

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All this physical work was broken by much coffee and cake. Sarah is the cake queen at the bakery and she had whipped up banana and macadamia loaf cake with cream cheese icing, orange and poppyseed cookies, and chocolate chip and lemon shortbreads. (She also screenprinted the fabulous aprons we got to use over the weekend and have now taken home.) After our tea break, it was time to prepare dinner and flavour our loaves.

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Once autolyse stage is finished, you add in more water and salt, squidging this into the dough until all the water is absorbed and you can no longer feel the salt. We then rested the dough again before starting to perform the ‘turns’ which add structure to sourdough and ensure it doesn’t just collapse and seep all over the counter when you’re trying to shape it. These turns are completed at half hour intervals, so in-between we had time to think about flavourings for our breads. We all made a Radford Wild and a beetroot sourdough. I then made an olive, chilli and seed bread, and a chocolate, fig and pistachio one. When all the doughs were flavoured and resting once more, we turned our attention to dinner.

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Bubbles forming in the sourdough

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Turning the dough on top of itself

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Flavouring the dough

Dinner was sourdough pizza. Each pizza was formed of 250g of dough weight. Nathan provided instructions on how to thin out the dough into something that resembled pizza and then we were given free range to create pizza toppings. They were all baked in the large ovens before being sliced and shared amongst all of us.

I made a potato pizza with creme fraiche and a butternut, onion, mozzarella and chilli pizza that was super thin and crispy. (Potato pizza looks beautiful once baked as the edges of the potatoes crisp up and brown, making the whole thing look a little like fish scales.) There was green salad and wine (and beer), and lots of conversation about food and drink. It was rather hard to muster the energy to stand up again to do more shaping but the loaves were in need of attention!

After dinner we focused on preparing our sourdough loaves. The flavoured doughs had been proofing whilst we ate and were ready to be turned out, bench rested and then folded to provide structure and strength in the baking process. These are then tipped into sourdough baskets (lined with cornmeal) and left overnight in the fridge.

The next morning, we returned to the bakery to bake off all the bread loaves. Kim illustrated how to score the loaf – this has to be done so the loaf can expand whilst it cooks. If you don’t score it, the loaf will simply expand where it wants. By scoring it, the baker is guiding the expansion in a particular way. Scoring a loaf takes confidence. If you are too hesitant you will damage the structure and affect the aesthetic appearance too.

Once the loaf is scored, it goes into the oven where it bakes until a dark golden brown. The bread bakes directly on the base of the oven which is stone and therefore incredibly hot.

Whilst our sourdough loaves were baking, we made stencils for our rye loaves. Stencils are a fun way to decorate loaf-style breads and everyone got to create their own ‘logo’ of sorts for their rye bread.

The last activity with the rest of the rye dough was to make crispbreads. Kim says she came up with these by accident, after over-fermenting a dough but they remind me a lot of lavash and I suspect are fantastic with hummus. The rye dough is formed into sausage-like logs, using water on your hands and on the work surface (so quite messy to recreate at home). The logs are sliced into 2cm long pieces and these are massaged out onto baking paper until incredibly thin and delicate. You can flavour them pretty much any way you see fit – salt, herbs, seeds and the like. They are baked directly onto the base of the oven until crisps – about 7 minutes.

I had an epic weekend. There is nothing I love more than spending time with other food people, talking about food, eating, making food. Superb birthday present (thanks to Mom and the Princess!)

Small Food Bakery

Primary, 33 Seely Road, Nottingham

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning workshop costs £190. There are places available on the July and September workshops.