A good loaf

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A marvellous, plump loaf of sourdough from last week. Since I’ve been keeping two sourdough starters, I’ve been experimenting with using both, adding progressively more starter to the dough over the past couple of months. My proving basket is now too small so I used a ceramic bowl for this loaf, lined with double layer of muslin – I’ve used the muslin before so it’s nicely floured. It expanded beautifully in the oven – as you can see from the slashes. Next time I make bread, I’ll try to remember to measure how much of each starter I’ve used so I can post up a recipe – I’m still keeping to 500g flour (mix of white and wholemeal) and 58-60% hydration because with this quantity of starters, 65% hydration makes the dough too wet to handle. The final loaf was quite big – I cut it into thirds and froze two pieces. Going to have the last of it today I think.

Back with Seville orange marmalade

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I haven’t posted anything in nearly two months! Not very good at all but I’m back now with a veritable party of marmalade jars, all freshly made this morning. Unlike last year, my first making any sort of preserve, I got better organised in advance, freeing up jars and using a mandolin to cut the peel (and a finger) as last year’s was quite thick cut. This year’s is very fine cut. Very pleased with the result even though I had to free up a few more jars last minute because there’s quite a lot of it – perhaps not all that much better organised… Ended up with 11 and a half jars (total marmalade party) of various sizes out of 1.6kg Seville oranges at a total cost of £10. If that’s not a good enough reason to make marmalade at home, I don’t know what is.

While I haven’t done much baking over the past couple of months, I’ve continued making sourdough bread using a mix of white and rye starters. Didn’t think I’d really keep two starters going but I’ve gotten used to it and I like the end product. White starter gives the loaf a good rise while the rye gives texture. I’ve been experimenting with hydration and am now happy with around 60% – I think sourdough purists would raise an eyebrow (usual amount is around 65%) but with the amount of starters I add, any more water just makes a flatbread not a loaf. I still end up with a good amount of air, here’s this weekend’s loaf – one note to self though, must sharpen knives…

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This week’s bread

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I accidentally ended up with a huge loaf of sourdough bread yesterday! Have recently been overtaken by a madness of keeping two sourdough starters, the rye, which I’ve had for a year and a half and the white, which I made from the rye a few weeks ago so that I could make some of the artisan breads in Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf. The two behave completely differently (fascinating!) and I used both in the loaf above to the ratio of 200g white to 100g rye. I followed Dan’s method but used my own quantities (400g strong white flour, 100g strong wholemeal, 325ml water and 1teaspoon salt). The dough bloomed beautifully due to the amount of starter I used but I had a major mishap with the water spray (it wouldn’t work) as I was about to put it in the oven and the dough flopped on the hot stone, spilling over. I had to cut a bit off the loaf in order to take it out of the oven! Still, it rose quite well, it has a great crust and the crumb is pretty good too.

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We had some for breakfast with marmalade and it’s quite clear from this photo that I can’t cut straight… I do think this particular combination of starters and flours is very good and this could be my new basic sourdough loaf. Just need to see what happens if I give it a long second prove overnight so it can be ready for breakfast.

White leaven bread

Tears of joy and oh so proud – it is ridiculous quite how happy a good loaf of bread can make me! I still find it somewhat unbelievable that three very simple ingredients: flour, water and salt can, with a little bit of care and work create something so marvellous as this loaf – here cut in half, look at that air!

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This is my first loaf made solely with white sourdough starter and white bread flour. It took most of yesterday but I had a lot of study so didn’t mind spending the day at home.  I used Dan Lepard’s method from The Handmade Loaf and changed the quantities of ingredients in order to get one decent sized loaf instead of 2 smallish ones. Can honestly say, having sampled a whole load of sourdough bread over the years from places like St. John, Elliott’s, Balthazar (the London outpost, which I did not like other than the bread), local bakeries and all sorts of good restaurants – this loaf is up there. So proud. Even though I didn’t slash it enough (slashed around circumference but my knife was not sharp enough).

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It rose in the oven beautifully and unlike River Cottage method, Dan recommends a lower oven temperature (200C fan instead of 250C or as high as it will go – River Cottage) and spraying the top of the loaf with water before it goes in. Next time I’ll just slash across the top. I’ll also have to figure out the timing a bit better so that it can have a longer and slower second prove overnight and I can have it ready for breakfast. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem in cold weather.

I’m still going to keep my rye ‘mother’ too, it’s been fascinating watching the white and the rye behave completely differently. The rye is just happy slowly bubbling, bubbles throughout the jar and quite a sour smell. The white, on the other hand, tends to have bubbles on the surface and I must be super careful when opening the jar to refresh – it’s almost exploded a couple of times. It also rises more over a 24 hour period. Totally fascinating.

Sour 100% rye loaf

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Not bad for a first attempt! I recently got The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard and basically, all my sourdough bread baking over the past year and a half has been a child’s play compared to Dan’s recipes. Am clearly so not in Kansas anymore… I’ve read up a little on baker’s percentages before and know the basic flour/ salt/ water ratios but now there’s temperatures and all sorts of other things like white leaven to consider. This particular loaf, for example, my first from the book, was started on Thursday morning and is only ready to eat 2 days later. It’s quite close in texture but I don’t mind – I know my ingredients and the kitchen itself were colder than they should have been so I should have probably given the dough a longer prove. It tastes good (intense sour rye) and I’m particularly impressed with the crust, which has a surprising sweetness to it. And, of course, the shape of the loaf. Dan’s guide to tapering into a baton is the best one I’ve seen so far although I do need to practice this some more.

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I’m off to the nearest shop that sells kilner jars shortly so that I can get a white leaven going. So far I’ve only been doing rye leaven and I’m going to use that to start the white as well. Not sure whether having two starters is one of my best ideas but I’d like to try some more recipes from Dan so may as well have the right starter, at least for a while. I then also have to get a proper thermometer at some point. Love it how I’ve managed to accumulate a whole load of baking paraphernalia but am, at the same time, constantly complaining about the tiny size of the kitchen, telling self that I cannot possibly buy more things that are to live in the kitchen. This never actually stops me from getting more stuff. This weekend, for example, I also need to make a pudding for an early Christmas get together, a pudding that needs to be stored in a cool and dark place – only all cool and dark storage places are already taken up by vast quantities of jam I’ve made this year… Oh well, am sure a storage solution will present itself.

New cookbooks and a lovely loaf

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A most welcome and generous gift from a goodie bag (work-related). I do like the Vietnamese eateries in Shoreditch but have never actually cooked Vietnamese food. This book makes it all sound very simple so I’m off to shop for ingredients shortly. It’s also most welcome as my weekend cooking (weekend cooking = more time consuming and ‘elaborate’ recipes) has been very much Jerusalem inspired in recent months with an occasional Hugh FW, St. John, Moro and Nigel Slater thrown in. And, considering that I have most of Nigel’s books since Real Fast Food, it’s a bit odd that the two Tender books completely passed me by. This one centres on fruit and has some wonderful recipes for sweet and savoury dishes. Expect lots of apples, pears and quince posts coming up, I do love a quince. And medlar, if the greengrocer happens to have them. Contemplating making medlar jelly although not entirely sure what it would go in (the perennial problem of Not Enough Jars). There are also chestnuts, hazelnuts and walnuts although I am a little disappointed at the lack of a really good chestnut and chocolate cake recipe. I am always on the search for the cake that would be equal to the memory of the one great aunt V used to make at this time of the year.

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This week’s loaf, I am pretty pleased with it. It’s a white and spelt sourdough, good bouncy texture inside and a better crust than last week – I blasted this one in a hot oven first. After 3 weeks of experimentation with Paul Hollywood’s method, I think I’ve now worked out what to keep from it and what to change well enough to post a recipe. This should be started at lunchtime on the day before if you want to have it ready for breakfast.

Ingredients: 400g bread flour – this can be all white or a mix of white with other flours (strong wholemeal, rye, spelt, malted). Just ensure that strong white flour dominates as the others have less gluten and don’t rise as well. So, this particular loaf was 250g strong white and 150g spelt flour. 250g sourdough starter, 250ml water and 1tsp salt. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl to form a dough then knead by hand for 10 or so minutes until elastic or 6 minutes in a mixer with a dough hook attachment. Shape into a ball and leave to prove, in an oiled bowl, covered with a cloth for 5 hours. Take out the dough and deflate, on a lightly floured work surface, roll it up tightly, flatten then blanket fold and shape into an oval, coat with flour (preferably rye or spelt) and leave to prove for a second time – on a well floured board or in a proving basket placed inside a plastic bag, for another 12-13 hours. The slow second prove will give the loaf a bit of a skin, which helps the final crust. Place a hot stone or a baking sheet in the oven an preheat to 250C (fan or, equivalent high setting). Slash the loaf then bake for 10 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 180C fan and bake for a further 30 minutes.

Sourdough new method

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Not a bad loaf! Second attempt at using Paul Hollywood’s method of making the dough, leaving it for five hours, then shaping and leaving to prove for a further 12-13 hours. This time though, I just used his timings and sourdough starter quantity and stuck to my own flour/ water/ salt ratio after last week’s mishap with adding too much water without thinking. Much better result despite the loaf leaning to one side a bit – I should have kept the proving basket level but never mind. I used 400g flour – mix of strong white, strong wholemeal and rye, 250ml water, teaspoon of salt and approximately 250g sourdough starter, possibly a little more. A good rise on the second prove and this time, the dough had a much better structure so didn’t deflate much when slashed. The slower prove allows for a ‘skin’ to develop too – it cracked a little when I slashed it, guess I should think about getting one of those ‘slashy’ baking implements. I also think the colder weather helps with a slower second prove. Not sure this method would work as well in high summer, the dough would just balloon. Here is the loaf, halved

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Looks good and smells good, haven’t tried it yet. It was baked on a hot stone in a 190C fan oven for 40 minutes as per recipe but I think I prefer blasting it at 250C first for ten minutes, then lowering the temperature to 180C. Will try that next week and also try steaming the oven to see if that improves the crust – I think the crust could be better.

While there are ways I could improve on this method, what I really like about it is that the bread was done at around 8am and not in the middle of the afternoon as with other methods I’ve been using. I’ve still got Justin Gellately’s method from St. John book to try (at least I hope it’s his method in the book!) and Dan Lepard’s from The Handmade Loaf, which I finally got the other week. I’m also thinking about doing a second starter with white flour to see if that can be used for more ‘delicate’ baking although not really sure where to keep it and whether I really want to have two starters to feed and mind.