Me, Nigel the Starter, and our relationship advisors

I know, it’s cutesy, but after a year and a half I’ve decided my sourdough starter (based on Dan Lepard’s recipe in The Handmade Loaf), needed a name. Nigel has a personality of its own (yes, still an it, as its yeast and bacterial cells are genderless): fragrant and sometimes a bit sluggish, but it always provides a tasty loaf, even if I stray too far from advice and slap something together experiment.

My relationship with Nigel has also been assisted expertly with the support in real time of Dan, Azelia and Joanna, among others. They’ve helped me think about flours and other ingredients, proving, shaping, and slashing, about how to swaddle the dough in warm weather so that it doesn’t lose the will to grow strongly, and how to fit bread-baking in with my life rather than let it take the reins. They’ve provided fabulous examples for me to emulate. And most of all they’ve kept me from being discouraged by the mistaken belief that I simply lack the chops to make beautiful, delicious bread. Lots of other folks, too, provide encouraging oohs, aahs, RTs and Likes when I send pics around on Twitter and Facebook, and my husband Andrew happily eats everything that comes out of the oven.

Nigel has expressed interest in travelling and its offspring have flown as far as Tilburg, The Netherlands, where they’ve set up housekeeping with future celebrity chef Luc. It’s possible it’s now travelled as far as Toronto; I’m waiting for an update from one of its guardians.

It turns out baking is not so much about chops, at least in any inherited sense; it’s about passion, persistence, luck (occasionally) and knowledge. See? I can do this! (After the pics, I’ll share my recipe.)

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This recipe combines features of two others that I love: Dan Lepard’s Crusty Potato Bread from The Handmade Loaf, and Pain de Campagne from William Alexander’s 52 Loaves (a terrific read about the quest for the perfect sourdough loaf). The key elements are, from Dan’s, honey and some grated potato, as well as Dan’s standard kneading-and-resting method, and from the other, mostly strong white flour with a bit of wholemeal and rye, and a smidge of yeast. Flour geeks: would you believe the spring these got from Hovis extra-strong *British* flour? I had no idea!

My only regret with the loaves above was that after shaping I refrigerated them on baking paper atop a baking sheet (I must’ve been thinking of bagels) and the baking paper stuck. Fortunately I was able to scrape the dough off the paper without deflating it, and dough held its shape for the rise, but with a wetter dough it would’ve been a huge mess. Next time, I’ll go back to the tried-and-true floured-cloth-in-a-bowl-or-basket method.

Sourdough Peasant Bread

200 g levain at about 90% hydration
1 1/2 tbsp honey
290 ml room-temperature water
400 g strong white flour
60 g wholemeal bread flour
30 g rye flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp yeast
small potato, scrubbed but not peeled, grated

Mix starter and honey in water. Weigh and combine flours, salt, and dry yeast. Add water-starter mix to flour and combine well, turning the mass onto a clean work surface if necessary to incorporate all the flour. Cover and set a timer for 10 min while you tidy up the kitchen or check Twitter. Knead/fold for 10-12 sec. Repeat 3 times.

Shape the (now smoother) mass into a ball and put in a lightly oiled bowl; cover with cling film. At this stage you can either leave it in a 20-25ºC kitchen until it’s grown in volume by about half, or put it in the fridge for longer.

Divide the bulk-proven dough into two halves and shape it. For this recipe my shapes approximated a batard and a slightly-off boule. Rub rye flour into a linen cloth to line a basket or bowl, and put the shaped dough in seam-side-up. Wrap loosely with cling film. Again, you can prove in the fridge overnight, or leave at room temperature for a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 200ºC, for about 45 min if you are using a bread stone of some kind. Dust with flour, then slash with a sharp, cerrated knife to about 1 cm in depth. Bake until well-browned, about 40 min.

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4 Comments

Filed under bread, recipe

4 responses to “Me, Nigel the Starter, and our relationship advisors

  1. Lovely Loaves Emily…and good slashing! x

  2. I had Avril and Bernard for a while in the back of my fridge – sadly now departed this life (and the end was not pleasant) – feeling a little broody on reading about Nigel – so nice to have a little pot of life ready for action but such demanding beings when in the peak of health.

  3. This looks absolutely gorgeous! As Azelia said – very good slashing!

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