21 March, 2015

Sourdough everyday

It's been over a year since I posted on this blog. A year of sourdough baking. My leaven is still alive and bubbling and producing lovely loaves. I have gone from novice obsessive through frustration to baking, every couple of days, loaves which are quite beautiful and tasty. I'm not quite sure where I went from the obsessive to the relaxed taking it all for granted stage, and every now and again I think I ought to go back and check I'm "doing it right" and then I remind myself there isn't really a right way. There's just good or bad bread and that's the test.

The first step on the journey - starting the leaven - was handled by Dan Lepard and The Handmade Loaf. The next step - understanding the process of making sourdough and baking a beautiful loaf was in the hands of Chad Robertson and Tartine Bread. I bought the book last spring and read the first section on making a good loaf - 27 pages for one recipe! I read it and read it and read it (this was the novice obsessive phase obviously). And started following it to the letter. And bought extra equipment. And slowly adapted the technique to work for me. Some things have stuck - float that starter to see if it's lively enough - and others have somewhat disappeared - folding every half an hour for how ever many hours sometimes just doesn't happen. I'm not sure I could say when I changed things. And no day of baking is exactly the same - schedules, temperatures, flour mixes, all change.

My beloved Dutch Oven by Lodge
One thing I do consistently is use a Dutch Oven to bake my loaves. The one I have has a shallow lid/skillet which is easy to flip loaves onto, and then the deep casserole goes on top. If you've never tried baking a loaf in a casserole you won't believe the difference. For half the baking time the loaf is sealed in, in a moist atmosphere, allowing the loaf to spring beautifully upward before the crust sets. And then half way through the lid comes off and you end with a crunchy shiny crust on the outside.

I may blog more about other changes and techniques another day. But here is a loaf I baked today.

Cherry and fennel bread - makes two loaves
(based on a recipe from The Handmade Loaf but using proportions and techniques from Tartine Bread.)

200g leaven
700g warm water

mixed together and to which I added

200g unsweetened dried cherries

300g swiss dark flour from Shipton Mill
700g organic strong white flour also from Shipton Mill
1tbsp fennel seeds
20g salt

Below is a picture of the dough just mixed together.

And this is the dough after half an hour, and then stretched and folded and popped into its box. I started using a box because it keeps in the moisture better, and I can see what is going on easily. It's not glamourous but it works.

After several stretch and folds, and a good few hours of abandonment it looked like this.

Shaped into a boule. It's amazing how doing this every couple of days has improved my technique. Well not really, but I am still amazed.

And the final baked loaf!

14 January, 2014

Experiments in bread

My leaven is alive and well. I used it for the first time on day 5 of the process of stimulating fermentation and at that stage I also used dried yeast. A week of so later and I'm baking using only the leaven. The first loaf for this is pictured below. Lovely, isn't it?

Unfortunately once I cut into it I discovered a hole large enough for potholing. The flavour and texture were good but it wasn't very good for sandwiches...

The latest attempt is below and I think may still suffer from the cave effect though not quite as badly. I've googled the problem and come up with all sorts of explanations - poor loaf shaping, over proofed bread, uneven yeast distribution, baking on a hot tray. Nothing definitive of course and there seem to be as many people asking how to get bigger holes in their bread (though perhaps not Wookey Hole sized holes) as there are looking into how to get a more even texture.

I shall try different things and see what happens. One thing I am trying is leaving the bread to rise over night. Last night I left the dough out to rise in our cold kitchen and shaped and baked this morning. Today I'm leaving the dough to rise first time around in the afternoon and then I shall shape and put in the fridge over night to bake tomorrow morning. It's partly an experiment to work out what works for the bread and partly to work out what works for my timetable.

So far what I have noticed is that the texture of the dough is much more silky when using the leaven. Also the oven spring is good (i.e. the amount the bread rises during baking) but the texture is a little uneven. Oh and the bread doesn't taste particularly "sour" which I think may be because I am refreshing/feeding my leaven daily. Meanwhile my leaven is bubbling away nicely and being fed daily on flour and water.

05 January, 2014

Disciplined or perhaps not

Well I missed yesterday's intended post. And I found myself getting up after going to bed to feed my leaven.

This year I was trying to get a touch more disciplined. I'm aiming to blog more, make bread more regularly and better (hence the leaven), plan meals a week ahead so we eat well, I have to shop less frequently and I miss that "oh crap it's 6pm and I don't know what's for supper" moment. It isn't that I've got any big ideas for projects of 2014. But in case anything does crop up it would be good to feel I have the time. And I do have a lot of small ideas for projects so perhaps they add up to something.

One of those small ideas being this:

One square a day. So far this is doing better than blog posts. I had planned one a week but then I realised that would be a pretty small blanket by the end of the year. So it's one a day. Another thing to remember. Or forget.

03 January, 2014

Cooked: a review

I do not read non fiction easily or comfortably. It takes time with no plot to draw me on. Michael Pollan's writing though proves the exception and so The Omnivore's Dilemma was an excellent read and Cooked even more so.

Divided into four sections - fire, water, air and earth - it traces Pollan's exploration of each "element" of cooking and human development of and by that same cooking technique or style. I found the sections on air/bread and earth/fermentation particularly enthralling. I am currently tempted by a home grain mill (bonkers I know!) and was ecstatic to get The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz for Christmas (sauerkraut here we come!). I am a complete novice in all things microbiological so am filled with wonder at the microcosmos that lives within and around us. Fortunately I am utterly crap at housework and have never been one for antibacterial washes so I wasn't dismayed but rather reinforced by learning just how many good bugs are around to help us stay healthy.

I came away from the book with a renewed sense that cooking is a fundamental life skill, one which gives us a daily opportunity to maintain, develop and improve our creativity, health, and social relationships. And I continue to be amazed by human creativity in the field of food - not the Heston Blumenthal style of creativity though that is pretty amazing too - but rather how on earth did humans develop a multitude of wonderful cheeses, breads, beers, wines etc. way before they actually understood what was really going on inside those foods. And how have those foods evolved with us, and helped us evolve. It's a fascinating but also easy and entertaining read.

Now I must just go and feed my Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis...