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...


Hannah said...

Oh my, all of those loaves look so perfect! I love Pain Quotidien; there's a number of them scattered throughout NYC, and it's always tempting to poke in when I'm passing by one.

George/Abi said...

Russ do you have the attention span of a loaf of bread? i was happly following your Barcelona tales then you change the subject.
Good work on the bread though. we're planning a morrocan night soon, you fancy it?

russ said...

Yeah my attention span is pretty low! But I will get back to my holiday soon as I put the kettle on, and finish my scarf in time for winter.
Morrocan night sounds great! Which reminds me, I had a post about hummus brewing!!

Ricki said...

Your bread looks great. I'm still yeast-shy (forget about sourdough!) and must get over it!

Thanks for the lupini info on my blog. I think next time I'll go for the already-prepared ones! ;)

vegetablej said...

Beautiful bread! And sourdough adds mellow flavour that's incomparable.

I just bet the guests devoured the loaves. What a treat these days...homemade bread!