So, this year, apart from odd days away at Conference or in Scotland, I’ve made almost all of our bread, keeping alive a sourdough starter made following S John Ross’s starter page and from various other sources since. My first steps are here.
Since the diet began, I’ve had to cut back on bread quite significantly. You know, it’s been one of my biggest learning points, just how many calories are in bread, pasta and rice. I’ve been pooh-poohing for years any dieters who talk about cutting back on carbs, assuming them to have been misunderstanding how Atkins and other high protein diets work. In fact, it seems you barely have to blink at a packet of rice to have 300 calories on your plate before you even start adding the nice stuff.
But I am still eating some bread, and so I am still making bread.
My parents, who have made all their own bread since time immemorial, use a Kenwood Chef to batch make 48 rolls, which are then baked and frozen and defrosted as necessary. I haven’t been doing this because a) my tiny freezer is full b) no Kenwood chef, and without it, that’s an awful lot of dough and c) I’d get bored of rolls!
What I have been doing is making a huge variety of loaves. With just a few bags of different flour, and a few store cupboard ingredients and a few interesting baking tins, you can have an almost infinite variety of different loaves and rolls.
The early version of the recipe made an awful lot of washing up, so I’ve made some simple changes, and changed my tools a bit.
I no longer wake the starter up by pouring it into a bowl. It’s plenty enough just to bring it back to room temperature in the jar it lives in, and top up the same jar.
When I’m ready, I pour 2 cups of starter/sponge, 3 cups of flour, some sugar, salt and EVOO into the breadmaker I pretty much forgot about when starting down the sourdough route. The breadmaker makes a dough and lets it rise for an hour, then beeps. Halfway through the initial knead you have to check the dough – if it looks like crumbs, it wasn’t wet enough, so you stop the machine, add more water, and start it again. When it’s ready, I give the dough another knead and shape it for the final loaf – in the banneton for a round loaf, knocked square and rolled for a ciabatta type loaf, or divided into two, stretched and rolled for baguettes, or divided into 12 for rolls. Allow to rise for as long as necessary – and this time has shortened as the sourdough mix has got stronger. Now it can fully raise a loaf overnight – even if you leave it in the fridge for a cool, retarded rise.
Bake for 30-40 minutes at 200 degrees. I think I get a better rise out of the mix when the fan in the fan oven is off, and when the oven has definitely properly preheated. I almost think a cooler oven is better.
In terms of variety – there are all the exciting different sorts of shapes, from challa to fougasse. Most supermarkets have a variety of flours, and we’ve had wholemeal, granary, malthouse flours, always mixed with strong white flour. Then there are different grains, like spelt and rye. Then there’s additives: spices, herbs, sundried tomatoes, other fruit and veg, yoghurt, tomato purée, butter and egg yolks for brioche, whole eggs and spices for hot cross buns. Then there’s coatings – eggwash, large grain salt, flour, oats, more herbs and spices.
As I said before, it is possible to make bread without shopping, but I have bought the following things to make breadmaking easier and more fun:
- A banneton – you prove the bread in this, but take it out to cook.
- Baguette proving tray – like the banneton, this doesn’t need to be washed; unlike the banneton, it goes in the oven
- A pizza stone (this was on offer – Amazon might be a better bet. Mine hasn’t arrived yet)
- American measuring cups
- Bread Matters – have to confess I haven’t read all of this weighty tome
- Bread: baking by hand – mostly for the lovely pictures!
And some things I might be buying soon
- A grignette – a very sharp razor blade for slashing the top of the loaf before baking – sharp knives are no comparison
- A dough scraper – well, I don’t really need that, but it would be a cheap thing to add to the basket if I bought a grignette
- An oval banneton
- A baker’s peel – erk, where would this live!?
- A stand mixer – aargh! No, Amazon, no!
These are very unusual sourdoughs, they’re like French bread