Tag Archives: sourdough

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.)

20120130-103807.jpg

20120130-104037.jpg

20120130-104304.jpg

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.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under bread, recipe

Sometimes all the stars align

Yesterday afternoon, after shaping a batch of bagels in the morning, I had a good amount of revived starter left over, with a bit of rye flour thrown in for flavour and colour. After 30 hours out of the fridge it was looking even more boisterous, full of those gluten strings, and just asking to be made into a loaf of bread.

I hadn’t made anything yet from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet, and I’d noticed that Dan had included a few pages on sourdough, so I checked to see whether were any new recipes. There weren’t recipes per sé, but there was something better: encouragement to experiment. He suggested adding leaven to the Easy White Bread recipe and reducing the amount of water. I did that, tweaking a bit further with a tablespoon of honey and substituting 50 grams of spelt flour for strong white (Waitrose Canadian). After the usual knead/rest cycles, I let the ball of dough rise for a few hours, then just before bed I then shaped it into a batard per the method in The Handmade Loaf. Calling on my friend Joanna’s guidance, which she may not even remember offering, I left the shape for 10 minutes and then came back and did it over, managing to get tapered ends.

But would the shape hold up after proofing? I swaddled the dough in floured baking parchment and a tea towel, tucking it diagonally into a small roasting tin (that would fit in the fridge) with more folded tea towels in the other corners to support it, and then left it to chill overnight. In the morning, the unwrapped loaf from the fridge was still nicely proportioned and in no danger of slopping out to the sides. I whacked the oven on, putting in my trusty pastry and dough-shaping marble slab; it had never occurred to me that it would be a good baking stone after I banished my el cheapo pizza stone to the garden. I probably should’ve decided how long it needed to heat up and stuck to it, but I couldn’t wait; I think it was 25 minutes, or at least the time it took to eat cereal, read the front section of yesterday’s paper, and drink half a cup of coffee. I made two overlapping, slightly angled, 1/4″ slashes as for a baguette – again per Joanna’s guidance – with a sharp serrated knife as I can’t get lames and razor blades to work for me, sprayed the top of the loaf with water, and slid it on to the hot stone. Ten minutes in I regretted forgetting to sprinkle flour on top, but in the end I don’t think it matters.

Et voilà!

Above is the crumb. I left it a bit on the moist (but done) side, and then learned today from my friend Azelia‘s blog that in this state it can soften the crust – which it did. It’s fine, though: chewy.

Azelia also asked, today, what we like about sourdough. I like the solid, substantial texture it seems to have, and it would be ridiculous for me to speculate why that is, though I suspect one or more of my baking buddies can. And it just tastes good, though ‘sourdough’ is really, often, a misnomer. Sure, the sourdough they sell to tourists in the San Francisco airport is distinctly (to me, unpleasantly) tangy, but what I usually make from my starter, whatever the bread recipe, just tastes mouthfilling (how vague is that?) and holds up to a number of sandwich ingredients or spreads, and also toasts well.

7 Comments

Filed under baking, bread, cooking, how to, sourdough

Semolina bread with sesame seeds

Fridge-retarded, fan oven-baked second loaf.

I first had a semolina flour-based bread encrusted with sesame seeds when I lived in Chapel Hill, NC, in the early ’90s, from a store soon bought by Whole Foods called Wellspring Grocery. (The less said about my feelings about Whole Foods the better.) Fast forward to 2007, to the New York Times/Bittman/Lahey no-knead bread craze, as a result of which I realized I could make decent bread after a lifetime of thinking I merely hadn’t inherited a gene for it. Not only was my bread decent, I found I could play around with the flours and the coatings and still succeed; sesame-semolina (the link takes you to my old, inactive food blog) was my first creative triumph with this loaf. It had a crisp yet tender crust, and a moist, tasty crumb.

And now, another 4 years later, Joanna of Zeb Bakes lays her hands on some proper Italian flour with a lovely name, semola di grano duro rimacinata – finely ground durum semolina flour, grabs a levain-based semolina bread recipe from Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread, and produces the gorgeous loaf (as well as terrific ciabatta!) that you can see here.

As the kids say, I am so there. Forgive my crappy pics, and the fact that I cut into the loaf with a substandard knife, before it was completely cool. Joanna’s loaf has a nice, crusty ear to the slashes that mine didn’t, and while mine was rounded on the bottom, I wouldn’t say it had optimum spring. I think I have to blame this – again – on my thin <1 cm) pizza stone, which I swear stays at a lower temp than the rest of the oven; I get springier and more evenly cooked bread and pizza on an M&S nonstick tin. Tonight, I’m simply removing the damn thing. Anyway, the pics:

I should’ve taken a pic of the shaping and how I got the seeds on, but let’s see if I can describe it. After the bulk prove, I made a tight boule shape with the dough (half of it, putting aside the rest for another loaf). I spread out a tea towel on a baking sheet and sprinkled a generous, even layer of sesame seeds on it. Then I picked up the boule, cupping the bottom or seam side in my hand, and rolled the smooth, top side of the boule around on the seeds. I gathered up the boule and seeds in the tea towel and plopped the whole thing in a medium-sized mixing bowl, sprinkling and pressing more seeds around the seam side (still facing up). I left the whole thing in the bowl to prove, and covered the bowl with cling film.

We enjoyed half of the loaf with some spicy Moroccan vegetable stew with Merguez sausage; the bread was a nice change from couscous, which we never seem to finish.

The loaves above proved 2 hours. I have left the somewhat larger portion to prove overnight in the fridge, and I’ll bake that tomorrow morning; it’s intended for some friends we’re visiting over the weekend.

8 Comments

Filed under baking, bread, sourdough