Baking

Rye Bread & Tupperware

On Monday, I made rye sourdough bread.

I seem to have developed a Monday baking pattern, which is working well. But knowing me, I’ll need to mix it up soon, or I’ll get bored! Perhaps I’ll put my starter in the fridge for a few weeks.

This time, I went for roughly half and half white bread flour and rye flour, as most recipes seem to mix two flours rather than go for 100% rye. In my case, 300g of each flour, plus the white flour in my overnight fermenting starter. And I added a couple of teaspoons of honey to get the yeast going – apparently molasses is often used in rye bread, but I didn’t have that.

Since rye apparently doesn’t rise very well at all because of its lack of gluten, I went with a wet dough, a folding technique (rather than kneading), and I let the dough rise in the heavy-bottomed, metal saucepan I’d be baking it in so that I wouldn’t accidentally knock the air out of it when I moved it.

I also sprinkled the dough with poppy seeds before its rise in the pan, and I forgot to slash it before baking. Is the slashing just to make it pretty?

It came out terrifyingly round:

After all of that effort, I discovered that I’m not really a fan of rye bread or poppy seeds. Haha! Never mind. I managed to pull off a difficult loaf, and it is edible as toast. Although, I’m not sure my gut likes it!

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Anyone want the rest of my bag of rye flour?

In other kitchen news, I finally got round to sorting out the chaos in the Tupperware drawer. So satisfying.

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Huzzah for no more rummaging. And, oh look! My toes. 😄

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Baking

Freshly baked bread

You know how they tell you that the smell of freshly baked bread makes people more likely to buy a house? Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but oh my days, the smell of my second sourdough loaf was incredible. I kept coming back and smelling it again!

This particular loaf was made in the following way:

1 tablespoon of bubbly starter in 2oz strong white flour mixed with 2oz water, left to ferment overnight in a bowl covered with clingfilm.

In the morning, mix it with another 5oz of water until it is dissolved.

Half way through, realise you might wake your housemate up because it’s only 6:30am and you’re a bit keen!

Weigh out 200g (yes, I know that’s inconsistent!) of wholemeal plain flour, and 400g (I think) of strong white flour.

Mix the water/starter mix with the flour to make a dough. Then realise you don’t have enough water, and add some more until it just comes together to make a dough!

Leave to autolyse (i.e. absorb the water) for 1.5 hours.

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Knead the dough by hand for ten minutes and then shape into a ball. (It’s worth Googling how to do this properly, you want to create surface tension.)

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Put into a big, lightly-oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave to rise for 8 – 9 hours, moving it half-way through to a sunny spot on the window sill because it doesn’t seem to be rising very well.

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Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 9. – Every time I bake bread, this sounds ridiculously hot! – And put a thick-bottomed metal casserole dish into the oven to pre-heat.

Wander round trying to find the craft knife you used to score the top of the bread last time, give up and use a knife to score it. This didn’t work. You really need a super sharp knife.

Once the oven has heated up, attempt to move ball from the bowl into the casserole dish using a metal spatula and your hands. Accidentally deflate one of the sides.

Note to self: next time, try allowing the dough to rise in the casserole dish and see whether this affects the cooking. 

Cook for 20 minutes with the lid on (so the trapped steam makes the crust crisp), and another 20 minutes with the lid off.

Take it out, tap on the bottom to see if it is cooked. It should sound hollow. Stand there knocking on it, not convinced whether it does sound hollow or not, and put it back in the oven for five minutes, just in case!

Cool on a rack, and keep coming back to smell it.

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By the time the loaf had cooled, I had eaten my dinner and didn’t have room to eat any bread. So some time later, I had a couple of slices as belated desert!

Sadly, the natural light had gone by then, so this picture isn’t great:

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As you can see, the ‘crumb’ (i.e. the texture) is different to the last loaf I made; more like conventional bread. I think that it was probably caused by a combination of using a different technique (the previous recipe was fold rather than knead); a much dryer dough this time; a lower protein percentage (plain flour has less protein than strong flour), and the use of a percentage of wholemeal flour.

The verdict?

It tasted really good! I love a wholemeal loaf, generally. But all my previous attempts (prior to sourdough) were a bit disappointing – just a bit tasteless. The sourdough really lifts the flavour – it’s like a whole different product. Delicious.

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Musings

Good Things

“I suppose the best kind of spring morning is the best weather God has to offer.” – I Capture the Castle

Hello lovely blog-friends,

I write this two you from my back garden! It is finally spring, and I am making the most of it.

Yes, it’s a bit chilly round my ankles, which are currently in the shade, and there’s a breeze making brief appearances every few minutes, but it is so worth it! Sunshine makes life so much better! I’m sure this is true for pretty much everyone, but sunshine makes me happy. 😊

In fact so much so, that spontaneously – without plan or self-coercion – I went for a run this morning! The first of 2017, as I never did buy myself any winter running clothes. And it was so flipping beautiful out there.

My route is a quiet one; it takes me round the posher part of where I live and the gardens are full of beautiful trees. And I noticed today, that in particular, there are dozens of magnolia trees! – Magnolias are a particular love of mine, with their big silly blossoms that look too big for the trees. We used to have one in our back garden when I was little, and seeing one fills me up with happy nostalgia every time.

On the way back round, I quickly stopped to snap this:

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I’m intentionally trying to fill my life with more spontaneity of late, because I’ve found that spontaneity = happy. So Note to Self: I mustn’t make the mistake thinking tomorrow, ‘a run made me happy yesterday, it will again today.’ … ‘That’s a good plan,‘ often isn’t a great place to start for me. At least not all the time. My little brain need more adventure than that.

Spontaneous cooking is obviously a big part of that for me!

And talking of which, I just ate a little homemade pikelet with jam, which was most definitely a happy thing. I made it earlier today when I fed my (still nameless) sourdough starter and couldn’t bear the thought of throwing away yet more left over ‘discard’ starter. Using things up is also always a joyful thing for me.

They were my first ever pikelets, I might tweak them if I try them again. But they were still pretty awesome.

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I’m also very much looking forward to using up the left-over mashed potato and peas in the fridge for lunch. I’m thinking some kind of bubble and squeak type thing. I’m fairly certain I’ve got an end of a cabbage sitting at the back of the fridge, if not, I definitely have a leek.

I’ve never actually made bubble and squeak before either, but my gut says it’s going to be delicious. Ooooh perhaps I might add cheese.

Meanwhile, there is also my second sourdough loaf on the go – this one is part wholemeal and part white flour, as that’s what I had to use up in the cupboard. I’ve gone for a less wet dough, based on a recipe sent to me by a friend. It’ll be interesting to see how differently it behaves.

Currently, the dough is currently sitting in its bowl undergoing its first rise, so I’ve got a way to go yet! And I think I might have been wrong to shape it into a ball on the first rise. But we shall see. – I like to think that all my bread-mistakes make me a better baker!

I’m totally not going to try the floured tea towels of last week to line the bowl for the second rise. An oiled bowl is much more foolproof!

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Birdsong, sunshine, washing on the line – how idyllic. I don’t want it to end! I should probably go and put some sun cream on though. I can feel one side of my face burning.

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Odds & Ends

Stuff you come across

One of the joys of heading into the internet-baking-advice rabbit warren is all the wonderful things you come across along the way.

How about a fabulous cats vs. sourdough starter Venn diagram by Molly McCahan? 😄

Or a video from the British Museum, in which chef Giorgio Locatelli attempts to bake the kind of loaf they found preserved in Pompeii:

I also came across this wonderful song by Stephen Foster (written in 1854, but performed in 2008 by Mavis Staple), via a reflectful post by an American blogger; musing on bread, life’s struggles and politics amongst other things. The song is called ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’ and it makes my heart ache:

Amongst these random discoveries, I also found lots of really useful stuff actually about baking bread, like experiments in autolysis and interesting discussions about salt in bread.

I also made a new friend in The Winsome Baker! If she didn’t live all the way over in New Zealand, I’d probably be asking if I could pop over for a cup of tea and one of her amazing brown sugar and pecan biscotti. You should totally check out her website and maybe the little review that I wrote because I liked her website so much.

Thank you, internet, for all the help and distractions over the past week! I appreciate your existence. 😄

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Baking

Rivers Know This

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” – Winnie the Pooh

Making sourdough is a wonderful all-day, slow-journey of a bake.

But to cut to the end of the journey, the result was ‘go-back-for-a-second-slice-even-though-you’ve-just-had-dinner’ good.

Yes, the loaves were ugly – they stuck to the tea towels in my makeshift proving baskets and undid all my careful shaping. And I pretty much burned them – normally our oven is slow, so I don’t know what happened there. But wow! Does the bread taste good!

And the cross-section doesn’t look too bad either, even under electric light against the backdrop of the fridge. 😄

I’ve made various loaves in the past, using conventional yeast, but these are the first loaves I’ve made where I’ve actually really enjoyed the result and not just the process. One – nil to sourdough.

I’ll definitely need to rethink the proving basket scenario – maybe a less wet dough, but you don’t want it to be perfect the first time. Where’s the challenge in that?

Here’s some photos –

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I used the bubblier stuff on the right, the rest went back into the cupboard.

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There’s something beautiful about flour in the morning sunlight, even when it’s just ordinary Tesco bread flour.

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The best light is right next to the window, even if it does mean balancing your mixing bowl between the drainer and the window sill. 

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The dough really was wet!

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Beautiful loaves before their second rise, sitting happily on their starry flour galaxy. 

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I can feel the dough sticking to the tea towel in this photo. Past me had no idea.

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At this point, I thought the loaves were going to be inedible, but I was still feeling positive. 

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So flipping tasty. I think I might even have another slice before bed.

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Baking

Sourdough: Quick Update

For days, nothing much seemed to be happening with my sourdough starter, but this morning… so many bubbles!! And twice the size. Huzzah!

I am hoping all will be fine whilst I’m away for one night and unable to feed him on Sunday morning. #parentalworries 🤓

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Right, off to work! I just had to share the excitement before I disappeared for the weekend.

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Baking, Odds & Ends, Science Corner

Science Corner: Sourdough

I’m in the process of making sourdough bread for the first time, which is very exciting. Exceedingly slow, but exciting!

If you’re unfamiliar with sourdough, it is simply a form of bread-making that makes the most of naturally occuring yeasts found in flour. The only two ingredients you absolutely have to use to make sourdough bread are flour and water. The rest is biology magic.

To start the process, the baker in question just needs a sourdough starter made of a flour and water paste, which is then ‘fed’ with top-ups of flour and water on a daily basis until the mixture becomes frothy. This frothy starter can then be used as the key ingredient in any sourdough recipe. Easy peasy! Well, sort of. I believe it can be a bit of an art… I haven’t got to the actual baking bit yet.

Leaving the art aside, the scientist in me couldn’t resist doing some research! So I’ve just spent a happy few hours reading scientific papers about sourdough.

Here’s what I found out:

First of all, sourdough baking has been around for a long time! Murals show Ancient Egyptians making sourdough bread, but it may well pre-date even them, they were just great recorders of daily life.

I don’t have access to a free image of Ancient Egyptians making the bread, but here are some women carrying some bread (probably):

Ancient Egyptian women carrying food

This drawing of an Egyptian artwork, which comes from a guidebook from 1885 called ‘Egypt: A Handbook for Travellers’ by Karl Baedeker.

I love the idea of sourdough being a tradition that goes back millennia. Now that I’m attempting my own, I feel connected to all those (probably) women baking bread for their families, going back century after century. Its long history also shows that, despite all the complex microbiology going on behind the scenes, sourdough bread can’t really be that difficult to achieve. Can it?

… Yes, there may be times when your sourdough starter dies or is contaminated, but just make another or steal one from your friend. That’s what they would have done centuries ago.

I’m taking hope from that!

So back to the science… Although we generally think of bread-making as being achieved by yeast – the yeast make the high volumes of carbon dioxide we need for the bubbles – what we actually have in a sourdough starter is a little ecosystem of both yeast and bacteria. In fact the ratio of bacteria to yeast is about 100:1. Although, of course the bacteria are tiny in comparison to the yeast cells.

This is where I have to admit that I didn’t make a note of my references. I’m out of practice! If you’re interested in where I found specific information, just ask in the comments, and I will find it and send you the link. 

To date, scientists have isolated more than 50 species of bacteria and over 25 species of yeast from sourdough starters around the world. However, a few are far more common than others, like the wonderfully named Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. (It’s named after San Francisco, which is famed for its sourdough, and it’s in San Francisco that the bacteria was first discovered).

The bacteria are called Lactic Acid Bacteria (or LAB or lactobacillus for short) because they make lactic acid, and they come from a small group of bacterial families. These LABs are hardy types, they can cope with changes in water availability and even starvation, and may be rod-like or spherical. You will have come across them before – they are generally called ‘friendly bacteria’ in yoghurt adverts.

As an aside, I’m not a massive fan of the ‘friendly bacteria’ language. When I was a child, I believed vegetarians shouldn’t eat bacteria because they were a kind of animal! But a bacteria is about a gazillion* times less complicated than a plant, and nobody has a problem eating them!

* Super scientifcally accurate. 

Hurray for the lactobacillus

It’s good to know that you’ll have LABs in your sourdough starter for a whole number of reasons. Not least, because they make a whole range of molecules which kill other bacteria and fungi that would spoil your bread. (They are still finding brand new bacteria- and fungi-killing molecules produced by these bacteria!) In fact, sourdough bread often has a better shelf-life than bread made with the kind of yeast you’d find in a packet in the supermarket.

The LABs do other interesting things too, like increase the solubility of magnesium in the bread, making it easier for us to absorb it, and increasing the folate availability. Scientists are still exploring all the affects that bacteria have on bread.

A happy family?

In many stable sourdough starters, a happy mutual ‘symbiotic’ relationship develops. The bacteria ‘eat’ the maltose sugar found in the flour (produced by naturally occurring enzymes in the flour which break down the starch into sugars). And because there is so much maltose, and because the bacteria are under stress, they just aren’t very efficient at making the most of it. So the environment begins to fill up with glucose as a waste product. Some yeasts can’t ‘eat’ maltose but can process glucose just fine, so they live off the glucose without competing with the bacteria.

That’s not to say that the yeast and bacterial strains are never in competition. It can be a bit of a melee in there. What allows the fight to continue is the fact that the baker is adding new flour and water every day, so there is enough food to go round. However, if you come back to the starter in a couple of years of daily tending, the composition of the starter may well be radically different. It may potentially look much more like a balanced symbiosis.

Bread

A stock photo of (possibly) sourdough bread… it certainly looks rustic. The wheat field is also a stock photo. Thank you wonderful pexels.com.

Why is my bread different to your bread?

Because every bacterial/yeast strain (and every interaction between strains) is different, a whole range of properties of your bread will be affected – acidity, viscosity, mineral availability, amino acid content, flavour/aroma molecule composition, carbon dioxide volume, and so on. The best thing to do is embrace the variety! Your strains will be the ones best suited to your flour, the temperature of your house, how often you feed them, and so on. Who said food had to be uniform?

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