Saturday, July 25, 2009

Soughdough Bread

So you've been feeding your sourdough bread for the past week, and are now wondering "what now?!" Well for a start, you can add some of your starter to any bread recipe, to make it more interesting. Every time you use it, make sure to replenish what you take, so you've got some for next time!

Wholemeal Loaf

But for something special, look to the classic soughdough recipes. Pane All'olio is a tasty Italian bread, with its distincitive sour characteristics combining nicely with the olive oil. The secret to a great crust on your bread is to cook it in a very hot oven, on an unglazed terracotta tile, and make sure to mist the sides of the oven with water during the first 10 minutes of cooking. If you're lucky, your local tile shop may simply give you one of their tiles. To transport your dough onto the hot tile, its useful to have a "bakers peel" - a thin flat shovel, either wooden or metal. Also a large piece of unbleached linen cloth is a useful item to get hold of, for letting the dough rest in, to give it its shape. Dough tends not to stick to linen, if its well floured. (A tea towel would also work)

Pane All'olio

Down to business! Here's how to make another Italian favourite:

¾ cups / 160ml / 6 fl oz Sourdough Starter
1 cup white flour
¾ cup water
325 g / 11½ oz / 3 cups white flour (I used "brown" for added nutriants. Probably half wholemeal/white would also work, but you may need slightly more water to compensate)
200 ml / 7 fl oz / 1 scant cup tepid water
¼ tsp active dry yeast
½ tsp sugar
30 ml / 2 tbsp soya milk
30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp salt
  1. Put the ¾ cups soughdough starter into a large bowl, making sure to replenish your remaining starter with equal amounts of white flour and water.
  2. To your bowl, add the 1 cup white flour and ¾ cup water, mix well for 10 minutes, folding the mixture using a spoon to try to capture as much air as possible.
  3. Cover your bowl and leave overnight (at least 12 hours) at room temperature.
  4. The next day, your soughdough should be healthy and bubbling a little, ready for some leavening action.
  5. Add the remainder of the flour on top of the starter, and make a well in the centre. Add tepid water to the centre, and then the yeast and sugar, stirring a little to dissolve, and leave the yeast to activate and start to bubble, (15 mins)
  6. Add the remainder of the ingrediants, and mix into a fairly wet dough. Continue to knead for 10 minutes, trying not to add too much more flour if its too sticky - the dough should be like this.
  7. Leave in a warm area for 1 hour, until trippled in size.
  8. Divide into 2 portions, and, trying not to expel too much air, tip dough onto a well floured piece of linen, and gently shape into loaves.
  9. Preheat your oven, with the baking stone/tile, to 220 degrees celsius.
  10. Leave to rise for a further 30 mins, then tip each loaf in turn onto your peel, and into the very hot oven, onto your baking stone/tile.
  11. Mist the sides of the oven with water, and again every 3 minutes for the next 10.
  12. Bake for a total of 30 minutes, then remove from oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. The underside should sound hollow when tapped.
Ciabatta loaves, waiting to be nuked
Ciabatta loaves, fresh out the oven

So, armed with a litter of freshly baked ciabatta loaves, I set off this afternoon to a friends house for a Sunday roast. My loaves were promptly cut into slices, and served up with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and didn't last long, as we waited for the main dish to be served.


Amy had done a fantastic job with the main course, and I was extremely well catered for. I had roast potatoes and parsnips, stuffed portabello mushrooms, with boiled carrots and french beans on the side, and applesauce on top. For dessert, I had a fruit salad all to myself, full of strawberries, kiwi, orange and apple. Simply delicious!

Sunday Roast, Vegan Style
Fruit For Dessert

Dinner Party!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Loafing Around

Le Pain Quotidien

Walking down the streets of London, a breath of fresh air is an unexpected pleasure, but as I wondered around, past Le Pain Quotidien, I was greeted by the most sensational aroma. Fresh sourdough bread being baked. Its just one of those things that instantly makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

For the past couple of months I've been trying to get into bread baking. I've learnt quite a few things, one being that it ain't easy. Baking bread seems to be more science than art, a long way off from my normal kitchen craft of throwing things together, and fixing the taste as you go.

To me, Sourdough bread is the cordon bleu of the breads, so I decided that if I was going to get into baking bread, I may as well aim for the best.
  • It gives bread character - plenty of aroma and flavour
  • It is essential when trying to make loaves with high percentages of rye flour, good for lower gluten recipes
  • The bread last longer, being more resistant to other molds
  • Soughdough bread is cheaper to make, as you can reduce, or even remove the amount of yeast the recipe calls for
Sourdough Bread

Making The Sourdough Starter
The goal here is to make a batter from flour and water, which is full of yeast and a strain of good bacteria, which can live happily together for years to come, as long as you keep it active.
Start off with a bowl that can hold around 4 cups.

The Chef
0.6ml / 1/8 tsp dried yeast
50g / 2 oz / ½ cup organic white/rye flour
45ml 3 tbsp dechlorinated water

Flour natually contains microorganisms that can help create a good culture in your starter. To give it all the chance it needs, organic flour is best. Rye flour is also a good way of introducting good bacteria to the starter, so substuting in small amounts of rye at the start is a good idea. Tap water contains quite a lot of chlorine which can defeat our good bacteria, allowing bad ones to take hold later on, so either boiling, or leaving water in sunlight for a few hours will help (chloramine is unaffected by these methods, so if you live in one of those areas, it might be harder creating a good starter from scratch).

To make the "Chef": Mix the yeast and flour(s) together in your bowl. Gradually add the water with a metal spoon, and mix to a stiff dough. Cover with oiled cling film, and leave in a warm place for 2 - 3 days.

Break open the crust on the Chef. The middle should be aerated and sweet smelling. Add the "1st refreshment":

The 1st Refreshment
65ml / 4½ tbsp water
115g / 4 oz / 1 cup white flour

Mix in the water and flour to form a fairly stiff dough. Replace film and leave for 2 days in a warm place.

The Levain
115ml / 4 fl oz / ½ cup water
115g / 4 oz / 1 cup white flour

Add water and flour, and knead into a "basic dough". Leave for 8 hours with a damp dish towel to cover, at room temperature. The sourdough starter is now ready to be used in a loaf. Don't use all of it, mind! Whenever you use some (between ½ and ¾ of the starter), you should replenish what you take with equal parts flour and water (by weight)

Using The Starter
When its time to make some bread, take your starter out of the fridge and leave to warm up to room temperature (if storing in the fridge, which is a good idea if you don't make bread every other day or so). Take the quantity needed for the recipe (no more than ¾ of the total), and note the weight that you've removed. Replenish this with equal quantities of water and flour (by weight), and mix into a smooth batter. Leave the starter mixture until it starts to bubble, before returning to the fridge, anywhere between 3 - 8 hours should be fine.
Well, that should keep you busy for around a week, so I've got a bit of time to perfect the best sourdough loaf recipe ever! Stay tuned...