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Sourdough bread 2012

At the start of yet another new year, having spent a lot of the last one producing and eating fairly successful batches of sourdough bread, I’ve just looked back at the whole history of this project.

I was amazed to discover from The sourdough that never was that my first experiment began on the 8 January 2007 - a whisker over five years ago. This was an attempt to harness whatever wild yeasts and bacteria might be hovering around the kitchen to develop my own local sourdough culture. The results were not encouraging, so I bought some dried sourdough from the USA on Ebay. This arrived on the 15 January - the very day when I decided to abandon my ’home brew’.

You can follow the saga of my San Francisco sourdough in The Sourdough Project. As you’ll see from the pictures, this produced a variety of pretty convincing breads, but my experiments were violently interrupted at the end of July by a stupid accident that kept me off my feet for the best part of three months (see The Tale of the Knee if you’re interested). By the time I was back to near-normal, I had a huge backlog of other tasks waiting for me. Breadmaking - always an intermittent interest - was abandoned, and the sourdough project didn’t start again until nearly four years later. In between, I had acquired two excellent books by Richard Bertinet, Dough and Crust, which had inspired me to make some pretty good breads using dried yeast.

Then Patricia bought me a gift voucher from The School of Artisan Food for my birthday in January 2011, and I chose to spend it on a one-day Wild Yeast Baking course, which I attended in March. This turned just about everything I’d ever read about sourdough breadmaking on its head. What had seemed a complex and arcane art was reduced to the utmost simplicity.

The course and the many batches of bread I’ve baked with the sourdough cultures I brought home are recorded in Sourdough bread 2011. The older pages are probably of little more than historical interest, but the 2011 page probably contains more than enough to get you going - provided you can get hold of a good sourdough starter. I may have another try at creating one from scratch this year to see how it compares with the one from the school; if so, I’ll publish the details here.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick summary of the instructions I brought home from the School. On day 1 mix 1 tsp of flour (preferably rye, but any flour should work) and 2 tsp of water in a clean jar and leave to stand overnight. On days 2 to 5 add the same ingredients again, hoping to see some bubbles by about day 4. On day 6 mix a tablespoon of what should by now be an active culture with 150 grams each of warm water and flour, cover and leave overnight. By morning you should have enough active sourdough for a batch of bread (after you’ve stolen a teaspoon to kick off your stash).

What follows sums up where I’ve got to at the beginning of 2012.

My sourdough stash and how I manage it

At the back of my fridge live (literally) my two batches of sourdough, maintained in the little plastic containers in which I brought the original two back from the school and labelled with Post-It notes.

Having decided that I didn’t want to make any more rye bread, I decided to split my stash into two sub-batches and keep them stirctly separate. Each of these gets a refresh, normally at least once a fortnight (though in late February I inadvertently let this go for three weeks). There are two different refresh processes: the simple one just to keep things going and the more complicated one for when I’m going to make bread.

The simple one goes like this:

  • Weigh 50 (or 100) grams of warm water (40-50°C) into a pudding basin
  • Pour off any surface liquid from the sourdough in the container, stir and mix one teaspoonful into the water
  • Add an equal weight - 50 or 100 grams - of ordinary plain flour and mix it in (this seems to work just as well as strong bread flour, is cheaper and doesn’t deplete my stock of the good stuff)
  • Cover the basin with clingfilm and make a small puncture - usually done with the ballpoint I use to update the Post-It
  • Leave at room temperature overnight, by which time it should have become more fluid and very bubbly
  • Rinse the plastic container and transfer the new sourdough into it - I don’t bother cleaning it thoroughly as any residue will contain the same bugs as the new batch
  • Enter the process details and date on the Post-It (or a new one if necessary) and place the container back in the fridge

The more complicated one creates 300 grams of fresh sourdough plus 100 grams for the stash:

  • Weigh 200 grams of warm water (40-50°C) into a larger pudding basin
  • Pour off any surface liquid from the sourdough in the container, stir and mix one teaspoonful into the water
  • Add 200 grams of strong white flour and mix it in
  • Cover the basin with clingfilm and puncture
  • Leave at room temperature overnight, by which time it should have become more fluid and very bubbly
  • Rinse the plastic container and weigh 100 grams of the new sourdough into it
  • Enter the process details and date on the Post-It (or a new one if necessary) and place the container back in the fridge
  • Use the remaining 300 grams of fresh sourdough to make a batch of bread

I try to alternate the two batches (labelled ’A’ and ’B’) for bread-making so that they both get fairly regular ’fixes’ of strong flour.

The current bread recipe

This recipe, the latest development from the School’s Levain de Campagne, was used for the first time on the 29 December 2011 and the batch is fully documented in Sourdough bread 2011.

In case batches A and B might get forgotten amongst all the Christmas stuff, I had refreshed them using plain flour on the 18 December. On the 28 December - the day before baking - they were both looking healthy. Before bed, I refreshed batch A, using 200 grams each of water and Tuxford strong white flour, and the mix was very bubbly by morning.

The new batch started with 700 grams of water (25 grams more than previously) at 50°C and 300 grams of sourdough (the remaining 100 grams going back into the batch A container.

With the sourdough fully dispersed in the water, 500 grams of Tuxford strong white flour was sifted in and stirred to form a rough batter. This was left for ten minutes, and then 340 grams of Tuxford strong wholemeal, 170 grams of Shipton Mills dark rye flour and 15 grams of sea salt were weighed into the sieve, sifted into the batter and roughly mixed in. The mix was wet enough to mix with a spatula, and was left for 30 minutes.

A plastic scraper was used to knead the mix to a coherent - if very sticky - dough in the bowl. Then 15 messy and strenuous minutes of ’the Bertinet bash’ tamed it, allowing me to round it (see Sourdough bread 2011) with only a sprinkle of flour. It went back in the bowl, covered with a damp cloth, for an hour’s rest.

After the hour I decided a second hour wouldn’t hurt. At the end of the second hour I scraped the dough out of the bowl and, using as little flour as possible, went through the usual rounding-halving-rounding-halving routine to produce 16 roughly equal balls of dough on two heavily-floured baking sheets (pictures in Sourdough bread 2011). These were placed on top of the cooker, with the oven switched on to 230°C, under a loosely-tented and dampened tea-towel.

At the end of the first hour (below) the balls of dough were just touching. After the second hour they were firmly joined together. I decided to go for a third hour, which I think would have been fine (other factors turned the hour into two-and-a-half - I’ll be more careful next time!).

Flour note The choice between Tuxford Windmill and Shipton Mills flours in the recipe above arbitrary (depending on what’s in the cupboard!) except that I’ve decided to stick to the Tuxford strong white as it suited me better than the Shipton equivalent I tried (I might have ordered the wrong one). I’ll therefore probably be buying only Tuxford flours in future.

29 February 2012

Yesterday was the first baking day of the year. The sourdough batches had been refreshed on the 27th, early in the morning, so at bedtime I took a teaspoon of batch B to make a 400-gram starter with Tuxford strong white flour. Yesterday morning I was slightly disappointed with the level of activity, but decided to go ahead anyway.

I put 100 grams in the rinsed batch B container and dispersed the remainder in 700 grams of water at 46°C. I then stirred 500 grams of Tuxford strong white flour in to make a fairly smooth batter and left this to rest for 15 minutes.

340 grams of Tuxford wholemeal flour, 170 of Shipton dark rye flour and 15 grams of fine sea salt were then mixed in, first with a Spoonula (a wonderfully useful silicone hyprid between a spatula and a spoon from Nisbets) and then a scraper, to make a fairly coherent dough. This was rested for 45 minutes.

A full 15-minute Bertinet bash brought the dough to a workable state - quite a bit less sticky than the previous batch, I thought, although the ingredients were the same as last time.

I decided to stick at a 2-hour rest on top of the warm cooker, after which the rolls were all touching. They were formed as before and put on heavily-floured baking sheets, covered with a well-damped tea-towel and left for a further two hours. They were then dredged with white flour, given a single slash each with a razorblade (still difficult because the dough is so sticky) and baked at 230°C for 25 minutes before turning, swapping shelves and baking for another five minutes.

The results were a lot more rewarding than last time - the rolls had grown vertically rather than horizontally and the slashes had opened beautifully.

20 March 2012

My last stash of rolls was beginning to look a little small by the end of last week, so today was earmarked for a bake. I’d decided to try a plain wholemeal recipe this time, to see if the Tuxford flour would produce a reasonably light bread.

As the 200-gram stashes from the last refresh were looking really good, I made my starter with a generous teaspoon of batch A, 250 grams of Tuxford strong white and 250 of water - 300 for the bake and 200 for the new stash - at around lunchtime yesterday (to give things time to get lively in the fresh spring weather). At bedtime the starter was quite active, but I decided to leave it. overnight in our warm utility room.

This morning, the bulk had about doubled and the surface was a mass of bubbles.

The sourdough starter ready to
                be added to the water

To 700 grams of water at 50°C I added 300 of what turned out to be a lovely, smooth, glutinous sourdough, returning the rest to the rinsed batch A container.

When I mix the water and flour for a new starter, I just stir with a spoon. This leaves quite a stiff and lumpy consistency, but by the time the bugs have had a good go at it the sourdough is much more fluid and quite smooth. When I pour it into the water it flows slowly, making it easy to get just the right weight in.

I called this batch ’a plain wholemeal recipe’ above, but actually it contains a kilo of wholemeal and 150 grams of white flour from the sourdough. I think I should try creating a pure wholemeal starter...

A good stir to get the sourdough dispersed and then 500 grams of the wholemeal flour was added and mixed in with my spoonula (mentioned in the description of the last bake). At 7:35am the result - something between a batter and a slack dough - was left to rest under a dry cloth while I went for a walk, had breakfast with Patricia and enjoyed a leisurely cigar with a cup of Ringtons’ delicious Connoisseur tea.

The second 500 grams of flour was added and mixed in at 9:10am, first with the Spoonula and then with a scraper. The dough was obviously too stiff, so I added and mixed in 25 grams of water, and then another 25. The result seemed a little firmer than last time’s campagne, but felt manageable. Fifteen minutes of the Bertinet Bash produced a dough that was soft but not too sticky. At 9:40am this was roughly rounded and put in the lightly-floured mixing bowl under the clother (damped this time).

After two-and-a-half hours’ rest (I was delayed by a second cup of coffee!), at 12:30pm, the rolls were formed and placed on heavily floured baking sheets, which were left on top of the cooker (oven on at 230°C) under a re-damped clother for another two-and-a-half hours, by which time they were well risen. They were slashed with a razor-blade (still difficult with this sticky dough) and put in the oven, with half a litre of cold water tipped in the roasting tin on the oven floor.

After 30 minutes, the rolls looked (and sounded) perfectly cooked. Tasted, later, I found them a little less tasty than the versions with 17% of rye flour, but the crumb was less sticky and the crust - whether eaten fresh or frozen and defrosted, put a lot less strain on my denture!

The wholemeal rolls fresh from
                the oven on the 20 March 2012

27 March 2012

Having eaten about half of the batch of 100% wholemeal rolls, and then had the last one from the previous batch, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like them as much as the three-flour campagne bread. There is less flavour, but also a sourness more akin to that of stale bread than that of sourdough. Perfectly acceptable, but I’m going to go back to the campagne recipe and maybe try some tweaks on that.

19 April 2012 - out of the rut

Last week I resurrected one of last year’s campagne loaves from the depths of the garage freezer, and was amazed to find that it smelled more authentically sourdoughy (vinegary rather than stale) than any of the recent batches. This has now been eaten, and I’ve decided it’s time to leave the safety of the brown rolls and try something different.

I was particularly interested in one edition of the Hairy Bikers’ current series Bakeation (yucky title, but less silly programmes than most of their recent offerings) in which a huge batch of very soft sourdough appeared. The key point seemed to be slow fermentation.

So on the 16 April I did a 200/200-gram batch of sourdough using Tuxford strong white flour. This morning, although it seemed a bit less active than previous ’feeds’, I went ahead with a new approach to white bread.

I decanted 100 grams of the sourdough into the rinsed-out batch B storage container and mixed the remaining 300 grams with 600 grams of warm water. Emmanuel’s white bread recipe calls for a kilo of flour with 600 grams of water, but I chose to add just 600 grams of flour initially - equal quantities of flour and water, effectively making a large feed batch which should end up as something between a batter and a dough. This was left on the cool kitchen windowsill at 8:00am and by 12:30pm a few bubbles had started to rise to the surface.

By 4:30pm the dough had increased considerably in bulk and was very soft and full of bubbles. I added 400 grams of flour mixed with 16 grams of fine sea salt and did a scraper-knead until the dough, still very sticky, left the sides of the bowl. A brief ’Bertinet Bash’ - probably about three minutes - produced a firmer dough than in recent batches which recovered quickly when prodded with a finger. This was rounded, returned to the bowl and covered with a very damp doubled tea-towel before it was put in the bottom of the fridge at 4:45pm.

At 7:45am on the following day (yesterday) I checked the dough. It hadn’t risen much overnight in the fridge and, despite the doubled damp cloth, had a thin crust on top. I turned it over, covered it and put the bowl on the windowsill. Then at midday we got a call-out to a family health crisis, so the bowl went back in the fridge until this morning. At 8:00am it came out, yet again, and at 10:00am I turned it out. The dough was still heavy and quite stiff, so I decided to split the batch.

The first half was rounded into eight well-separated balls, placed on a well-floured baking tin and put, covered with a well-damped cloth, on top of the cooker with the oven turned on to 230°C. By 12:30pm, the balls were touching - partly due to a rise and partly, I suspect, due to a bit of sagging! I need to find an objective way of judging when my rolls have doubled in total bulk...

Meanwhile, at 10:45am, after a bit of arithmetic, I mixed 100 grams of flour with 150 grams of warm water to a smooth-ish batter, which I poured over the second half of the batch of dough. It took a fairly long scraper-knead to get it mixed in, and the very sticky mix was rested for 30 minutes. This was followed by two 40-turn scraper-kneads, each followed by a 30-minute rest. The result was definitely a wetter-the-better dough! I split this into two flat, flabby loaves (ciabatta, perhaps, and put each on a very well floured tin. A good sprinkle on top, and these were set on top of the cooker under a well-damped cloth. By 1:00pm the loaves were definitely looking bigger.

At 1:00pm, I floured the rolls heavily, slashed them deeply with my ham knife and put them in the oven after tipping half a litre of water into the roasting tin on the oven floor. They were baked for 30 minutes and came out looking and feeling very crusty.

The rolls fresh from the oven

As soon as they were cool enough we had one each with home-made vegetable soup, and then with Bonne Maman apricot conserve. Great flavour and a superb crust, needing a really good chew - miraculous, considering the abuse to which the dough had been subjected!

A close-up of one roll showing
                the crumb structure

The loaves didn’t bear much resemblance to ciabatta! Here they are fresh from the oven...

The loaves fresh from the oven

...and here is one cut in half to show the crumb, which is much more open than those of recent brown breads. However, I suspect that these loaves would have baked better at a lower temperature, but that’s for another batch.

One of the loaves cut in half

Thoughts for the future...

After our exhausting family crisis yesterday, I woke at around 4:30am and was finding it difficult to go back to sleep. So I spent some time pondering various obscure physics issues (not very productively, since I was probably not at my best!). Then I switched to what I should do with this much-mistreated sourdough batch.

I’ve been innoculating each new refreshed or baking batch with just a teaspoon of the previous one, following Emmanuel’s guidance. Now I was wondering whether slightly bigger batches might do better. So here’s my new idea...

How about making a 400-gram batch each time, still using plain flour for refreshes and strong flour for baking batches, as I’ve been doing recently? Each refresh would then require the discarding of 300 grams, leaving 100 behind to be fed with 150 grams each of water and flour. Each baking batch would yield 300 grams for baking and 100 for refreshing. So there would be a heck of a lot more ’old’ sourdough - and therefore maybe more flavour - going into the refresh batches. Then the preparation for baking would effectively be a monster refresh, using all the water for whatever bread I’m making and the same weight of flour (a mixture of white, wholemeal and rye, or whatever the recipe demands) but no salt, as I did for the 19 April bread. I would rise this overnight and not add the remaining flour and salt until it was really bubbly. I think it would be best to make a fresh baking batch the day before starting bread preparation. Hmmmmm...

24 April 2012

A check two days ago showed that both starters were about ready for refreshing, so in the afternoon I added 100 grams of each to 150 grams of warm water in a one-pint pudding basin and stirred 150 grams of Tuxford strong white flour into each, forming a lumpy, wet dough. The bowls were covered with clingfilm pierced in a few places for ventilation.

By bedtime both batches were very bubbly and had reached the clingfilm, so unsurprisingly a larger dose of ’old’ sourdough obviously kicks things off more quickly than a mere teaspoonful. I transferred the by-now bubbly but smooth, fluid and very glutinous sourdoughs into two two-pint basins, and by this morning, both batches were frothy and had subsided a little.

At lunchtime yesterday I tried a new formula for stash A: 50 grams of sourdough mixed into 75 grams of water and 75 grams of strong white flour stirred in - a 200-gram stash. As soon as the first bubbles began to appear - a couple of hours later - this was put in the fridge. The 400-gram stash B was left out of the fridge. The plan was to use 300 grams of this to start the big sponge outlined above under Thoughts for the future, with the remaining 100 grams going back in the fridge.

The second half of the 19 April batch had ended up, after the adjustment with the batter, at 600 grams of flour and 450 grams of water, so this double batch, using 300 grams of starter, would use 900 grams of water for the sponge, with 300 grams of flour to be added to make the actual dough.

At 6:30pm yesterday I made the sponge - effectively a mammoth stash as it added equal quantities of flour and water to the starter. This was covered loosely with clingfilm and left on the kitchen windowsill overnight - our heating goes off at 11pm, so it would stay pretty cool until morning. By 10:45pm it was very bubbly, and around 8am today it was even more so.

I’ve mentioned a few times on this page that something wonderful seems to happen to a fairly lumpy batter once the sourdough cultures get to work. Without conventional kneading, the mixture becomes smooth and glutinous. In fact, I suspect that as the starch is consumed by the ’bugs’ the mixture becomes wetter, because the quantity of additional flour I’d calculated I’d need to convert the sponge into a workable dough proved to be wildly optimistic.

I mixed the 300 grams of flour with 19 of fine sea salt (calculated from the previous recipes) and spread it over the surface of the sponge. It mixed in with the Spoonula very easily, forming what was obviously going to be more of a batter than a dough - it never got as far as needing the change from Spoonula to scraper.

One by one, I added three doses of 50 grams of flour before I could do a scraper knead, noting after this that the dough was still ’v. sticky and runny’. I rested the mix for 30 minutes, by the end of which big bubbles were already coming to the surface. I added two more 50-gram doses of flour and did another scraper knead. My next note said ’soft but may be workable’. After another 30-minute rest I did what turned out to be the most strenuous 10-minute Bertinet bash ever - I was literally panting and ’sweating cobs’, as they say in our part of England.

At this point I decided that both the dough and I would benefit from a solid hour’s rest.

Finally - time to make bread!

First, a focaccia...

I thoroughly oiled a baking sheet and separated about a third of the the dough, rounding it roughly (because it was still very sticky) before rubbing it over with olive oil and stretching it to fill the sheet - well, almost: it would insist on springing back from the corners. This was put to prove on top of the cooker, with the oven on at 200°C because I didn’t want to over-bake the focaccia I was aiming for. As before, bubbles were showing very soon after shaping.

I went on the make 16 rolls - no mean feat with the incredibly soft, elastic dough. These were floured and left on top of the stover under a loose sheet of clingfilm, which managed to stick to a few flour-free zones despite my best efforts. The dough was amazingly sticky!

When the rolls were well risen - much more quickly than with previous batches started from just a teaspoon of sourdough - I snipped the top of each twice with some sharp scissors, which was a lot easier than trying to slash them.

The focaccia took 20 minutes at 200°C.

Here’s the normal view...

The focaccia - I hope!

...and here’s the underside, showing the sizes of the bubbles...

The underside of the focaccia,
                showing the large bubbles

...which suggest that this method has produced a much more open, bubbly dough.

The rolls got 30 minutes at 230°C. From what I could see of the crumb, where two joined rolls have pulled apart, the crumb looked lighter than that of the previous batch.

The new rolls

When the focaccia was cool, I cut it into four quarters - three for freezing and one for eating straight away. The crumb was far lighter and more open than that of any bread I’ve made before, firm yet moist to the touch. I cut a slice and ate it straight away - very good, though next time I’ll put some olive oil in the dough, and some herbs...

The focaccia cut up for the

Here’s a close-up to show the crumb structure...

Close-up of the focaccia crumb

I couldn’t wait for the first roll to fit into my eating plan - I just had to know if the texture was as good as that of the focaccia...

A roll halved

It was, and here’s a close-up to prove it!

Close-up of the roll crumb

I think I can say - yet again - that this is the best bread I’ve ever made. The sponge technique seems to work superbly with the sourdough, and the use of just a teaspoonful of starter for each refresh has turned out to be a blind alley. Ah well, we live and learn!

26 April 2012: looking closely at crumb structures

Because I’ve kept the original camera files of all the shots I’ve taken (my ageing Canon EOS 300D ’only’ manages six megapixels, but the quality is superb), I’ve been able to look back at pictures of the breads I made last year, comparing them with the close-ups of the two most recent batches, and there is no doubt that the crumb structures of the ’wetter-the-better’ batches are far lighter and more open. The earlier breads look like solid dough with holes in, while the newer ones show a complex mix of differently-sized bubbles separated by a much thinner membrane of dough - like ’proper bread’! The 19 April batch was good, but the 24 April one, with cool overnight fermentation of the biggest possible quantity of sponge, is even better. Mind you, the first batch did get pretty badly treated thanks to our family propblems, and still made very good bread!

There are some implications for the kinds of loaves that can be made, because the most recent dough was too soft to stand up. The rolls sank during proving until they were touching, but once in the oven they rose really well. The dough was also pretty difficult to handle after kneading - but I think the end product makes up for that!


So for the immediate future the plan is to keep 200-gram stashes and to refresh with 50-gram doses of ’old’ sourdough rather than just a teaspoonful. For each batch of bread, a 400-gram refresh will be made using 100 grams from the previous stash. This will be given twelve hours at room temperature before 300 grams is mixed with all the water called for by the recipe. The same quantity of flour as water will be mixed in, and the resulting sponge will be given at least 12 hours in a fairly cool place. Only when the sponge looks really active will be rest of the flour from the recipe be added, along with the salt.

27 April 2012

It’s become clear from the most recent bakes that a lot of changes happen while the stashes and sponges are working. The mixtures become smoother, more liquid and more glutinous, so some of the flour’s ability to stiffen the dough is lost. This means that more flour is needed to get the dough to a workable (-ish!) consistency.

In search of enlightenment, I re-read the chapter on bread in Harold McGee’s wonderful On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen yesterday. (My copy is the 1991 edition (the most recent was 2004), so maybe it’s about time I got a new one! Meanwhile, I have just discovered Harold’s website, modestly called The Curious Cook.)

The most important piece of information I picked up is that the by-products of the fermentation of starch in yeast-leavened doughs are carbon dioxide (the bubbles) and water. That seems to explain the marked change in the consistency of my stashes and sponges: long fermentation reduces the starch while leaving the protein unchanged. The first probably accounts for the lumps disappearing, since these are more likely to be of starch than of protein. The increased water content obviously makes the mixture more liquid.

According to Harold, ’straight hard’ flour (I assume this is the US equivalent of our strong white) with a moisture content of 12% contains 11.8% protein and 74.5% carbohydrate (starch). There is surprisingly little difference between these figures and those for ’all-purpose’ (10.6/76.1), ’straight soft’ (9.7/76.9) and ’cake’ (7.5/79.4). The Be-Ro plain flour in our kitchen cupboard has 10.4% protein and 74.1% carbohydrate.

It seems that it is the hardness of the grain that makes the real difference between bread and other flours. ’Hard wheat grains break up into large chunks of protein with relatively little free starch and form a strong gluten when the flour is mixed with water...’, says Harold. I think ’relatively’ is the key word here, as my stashes and sponges obviously lose quite a lot of starch and gain quite a lot of water!

I haven’t noted this before, but the changes in the consistency of both stashes and sponges are very visible. The mix starts quite lumpy. Then black spots appears on the surface: the tops of the first bubbles just starting to break the surface. Then the bubbles burst, leaving little craters in the still-viscous surface. Eventually the surface is covered with burst and about-to-burset bubbles. Later, the bubbles look more like those in soapy water, holding until they’re quite large - presumably because the less-viscous mix has more elasticity. This seems to tie in with the fact that fermentation increases the water content.

I’ve just looked at a few manufacturers’ websites. Allinsons White Strong Bread Flour has protein/carbohydrate figures of 12.1/68.6, and their Premium Very Strong White Bread Flour has 13.9/67.1.

Okay. That’s my curiosity satisfied - but I’m not sure any of this will help me to refine my technique!

Batch B was looking less than lively this morning, so at 12:00 I mixed 50 grams with 150 each of plain flour and water to refresh the stash.

7 May 2012

A couple of days ago both stashes were looking a bit sorry for themselves: no visible bubbles and a layer of clear but slightly viscous liquid on top. After stirring, I took 100 grams of each and stirred them with 150 grams each of warm water and strong white flour. The resulting mix was a bit more liquid than usual (the result of leaving the liquid in), but they both took off vigorously and 200 grams of each were transferred to the rinsed storage containers and put in the fridge.

2 July 2012

It seems that my discipline has been slipping: I didn’t record my most recent batch of bread on this page. This could be because I wasn’t awfully thrilled with it. It was started on the 20 May, just over six weeks ago, and I still haven’t finished eating it. Instead, I’ve been digging out long-frozen half-loaves from previous batches and eating the bread mainly as toast, with both cheese and an ancient jar of my Seville orange marmalade, which is still delicious. I’ve just finished that jar, which had been in the cupboard for a year or more after opening, and started one from the 2008 batch. The jar hadn’t formed a vacuum on sealing, but the marmalade hs survived perfectly in the garden shed for four years!

My hand-written notes are still in the book, but it also seems that I didn’t take any photographs of this batch.

But I digress. After the superb 24 April batch of white bread I was convinced that the two changes - using quite a lot of old sourdough for refreshes and baking batches, and making a sponge using all the water in the recipe and the same weight of flour - were both for the better.

I wanted to try it out with the campagne recipe, so early on the 20 May I mixed a batch of the three flours: 500 grams of Tuxford strong white flour, 300 grams of the same mill’s strong wholemeal and 170 grams of Shipton Mills dark rye. Then I did a refresh with batch A: 100 grams of the sourdough and 150 each of the campagne flour blend and warm water.

By the evening this was very active, so I mixed the sponge: 300 grams of the refresh (the remaining 100 grams going back in the fridge), 700 grams of campagne blend and 700 grams of warm water.

On the following morning this was positively volvcanic. I’d calculated from the original recipe that I’d need 230 grams of flour, but to be cautious I started with 150 at 7:20am. The result was more of a batter than a dough, so at 8:30am I added 50 grams, followed by another 50 at 8:45am, another 50 at 10:15am and then, in desperation, 150 grams at 10:45am.

At this point I must have decided I had a disaster on my hands: I didn’t make any more notes! But rather than waste all this effort (and flour!) I obviously ploughed on, because I ended up with rollos in the oven.

I seem to remember a spectacularly messy Bertinet bash (we were finding little dollops of dried dough around the kitchen for days afterwards!), but somehow I managed to convert this huge batch into 16 soggy rolls which ended up baked and frozen - and now, thankfully, almost all eaten. Not that the bread is bad - it just isn’t the best I’ve achieved. I had one of the last three rolls for lunch today and took thise belated picture:

The 21 May 2012 campagne batch

As this shows, the top crust separated from the crumb, and when I cut this roll it came off in small pieces. Still tasted okay, though.

Only two rolls left in the freezer, so it’s time to think about the next batch. I’m tempted to go back and try repeating the highly successful 24 April white batch. I noted that the dough was still very difficult to manage, but I can always work in a little more flour. On the other hand, it was such a brilliant batch that maybe I should try to reproduce it exactly...

4 July 2012

Being sourdough, and being made by me, of course it didn’t come out the same at all!

I refreshed stash B, 100 grams to 150 each of Tuxford strong white flour and water at 12:15pm. By bedtime, the result was very active so I made a sponge with 600 grams of warm water, 300 of the refreshed stash and 600 of the same flour.

5 July 2012

At 6:45am I added 400 grams of flour with 16 of salt stirred in and gave the mix a good stir. At 7:45am, when stirred, the sponge had a good open and bubbly texture but was very wet. At 8:05am I mixed 2 grams of salt into 100 of flour and stirred this in, giving a total of 1100 grams of flour and 18 of salt, after which I was able to do a very sticky scraper knead. I gave the dough a half-hour rest and then weighed it: 2020 grams.

I split off 930 grams to make focaccia and added 50 grams of extra virgin olive oil. It took a lot of very slippery scraper kneading to get this incorposated into the sough but eventually it began to stick to the bowl. I turned it out onto a heavily floured worksop (because the sdough was still very soft) and gave it the Bertinet bash with several extra sprinkling of flour until it was just manageable.

The bowl and my hands were then oiled with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the dough was lifted in (it was that difficult to manage!). My handwritten notes don’t record any proving time at this point.

I used one tablespoon of oil to stew five thinly-sliced cloves of garlic and a good handful of rosemary leaves and another tablespoon to lubricate my baking sheet. The dough and oil were tipped onto the sheet (which had a small raised edge) and the dough was pressed out to the edges and corners - quite a long process as, soft was it was, it tended to spring back. The garlic, rosemary and their oil were scattered over the surface and pressed in with my fingers.

The focaccia was set on top of the warming stove to rise at 9:55am, and when adequately risen (I didn’t record the time) it was sprinkled generously with sea salt and baked for about 20 minutes at 180°C until well risen, nicely browned and with all the oil absorbed into the bread. A knock on the underside confirmed that it was cooked, so it was transferred to a rack for cooling.

The remaining dough, meanwhile, had been Bertinet-bashed in the same way, with plenty of flour, until just manageable. It was then rounded into eight lareger-than-usual rolls which were put on a heavily-floured sheet. They were dusted with flour, draped loosely with clingfilm and placed on top of the stove at 10:20am. At midday I used scissors to open the tops and cooked the rolls for just 25min at 230°C.

I think the dough must have been over-proved because they didn’t rise and the scissor-cuts didn’t open in the oven, so externally they looked pretty tatty, but the crumb turned out to be very similar to that of the last batch of white rolls. The softer crust resulting from the heavy dusting and shorter baking made them much easier to eat, so there are some clues here for future batches.

Resolution for the day: get back to more precise note-taking - even if my hands are oily!

The focaccia wasn’t oily like the ones we buy from the Welbeck Farm Shop, and the shortening effect of the oil - all of which had been absorbed into the dough - had made the crumb more cakey than that of the rolls. Still - quite nice. The garlic and rosemary on the surface had become scorched and dry in thebaking. More work needed here...

20 July 2012: an accidental experiment

This morning I realised that it was time to refresh both batches of sourdough - with plain flour, because the last batch of bread used rather a lot of my stock of Tuxford strong white.

When I looked at the PostIt labels on the containers (Chinese takeaway ones now, because the flimsier ones I brought back from Welbeck about 16 months ago were getting a little the worse for wear), I saw that the batch B stash was from the last batch of bread (15 July - 15 days ago), but the batch A label was last updated on the 26 June (24 days ago). Both had lost all their bubbles and had a layer of liquid on top, but batch A had more and it was quite dark grey.

Could I have goofed, refreshing both before the last bake but forgetting to log the fact for batch B? The appearance suggested that I had actually forgotten all about batch A on the 4th.

So at about 9:00am I went ahead with the refreshes, tipping the liquid layers off both batches first, and within a couple of hours both were showing bubbles. However, there were significantly more bubbles on batch B, suggesting that more ’bugs’ had survived since the last refresh. After six hours both batches were looking very acceptable, but B was still well ahead on the bubble front. It will be interesting to see whether one batch has more of a sourdough smell than the other.

30 October 2012

I baked a batch of white rolls a week or so after the ’experiment’. I refreshed Batch A with Tuxford strong white flour at 4:00pm and made a sponge with 600 grams each of warm water and white flour and 300 grams of the fresh sourdough at 11:00pm. The remaining 100 grams of sourdough went into another refresh for storage.

At 8:40am the following morning I added 400 grams of flour and 20 grams of fine sea salt to the sponge, which by then was very active, and stirred thoroughly. At 8:45am I added another 100 grams of flour and did the first scraper knead. The result was still too wet so I added a further 50 grams for another scraper knead. At 9:00am the dough was covered to rest.

Family pressures meant that I had to leave the dough for several hours, so at 9:45am I added yet another 50 grams of flour and did anbother scraper knead. The resulting dough was quite firm. It was covered and put in the fridge while I attended to other business.

At 2:15pm, judging the dough to be too firm I scraper-kneaded 25 grams of water in and did the Bertinet bash. The result was a little too flabby for easy rounding, but I managed to form 16 rolls and get them onto two floured sheets. After proving for an hour and three quarters they went into the oven at 230°C for 25 minutes. They were slightly underdone so I turned the oven down to 200°C and gave them five more minutes.

The rolls were fine-crumbed but light, moist but recovering instantly from a firmly prodding finger.

The sourdough batches were refreshed regularly over the next couple of months and soon settled down, looking identical in spite of the ’experiment’. I say regularly, but due to an oversight they were left for three weeks rather than two. I adopted a slightly different approach on the 1 October, making one refresh from batch A and two from batch B - one for storage and one for baking - in the early afternoon. By 10:30pm all three were bubbling merrily. I transferred one A and one B to the storage containers and put them in the fridge, and then made my sponge.

While the sponge technique was working well, I wondered if using all the water for the bread batch, with the corresponding amount of flour, was sensible. So this time I decided to use 400 grams each of flour, water and sourdough (it seemed wasteful to dump the odd 100 grams when it wasn’t needed for storage!). I used a mix of two parts white flour to one part wholemeal (both from Tuxford Windmill) for a change.

The sponge was covered with a damp cloth and left on the cool windowsill ovetnight.

At 7:20 the following morning I added 200 grams each of water and flour mix, followed by another 100 of flour and then yet another. ’Nearly dough’, I noted, and left the mixture to rest.

At 8:25am I added yet another 100 grams of flour mix, making a total of 900 grams, still only stirring. ’Rough mix nearly stands up,’ I recorded. I made up some more flour mix as I had now run out and then did a full scraper knead. at 8:45am I noted ’Bubbly and almost stands’. I did a scraper knead, adding yet another 50 grams of flour mix and 16 grams of salt in mid-knead. At 9:15am I did another scraper knead, noting ’coming together’, and at 9:50am added another 50 gram of flour (making a total of 1kg) and scraper-kneaded again.

I decided that with all this flour I’d better make 24 rolls rather than 16. I weighed the dough - a total of 1988 grams) and split it fairly accurately into three balls. Each of these was rounded, halved, rounded...etc to make eight rolls. These were provied under a damp clother on the hot stove until 11:30, when I thought they had about doubled in size, and for another half hour just for luck. They were baked at 230°C for 25 minutes in two batches.

Again, the crumb was quite fine but the rolls were light and had a very nice slightly malty smell. As before, the crumb was moist and spring-back was excellent.

I’m still eating the last of this batch, each defrosted in the microwave, and they are probably the most enjoyable I’ve made yet.

At Retford farmers’ market a couple of weeks ago I spotted a flour labelled ’85%’ on the Tuxford stall. The miller explained that this had been taken out before the final sieving. I bought a bag and will be using it, without wholemeal, for the next batch of bread.

I refreshed A and B today and they are safely in the fridge.

Bad news! The digital kitchen scale I bought in February 2007 suffered a terminal injury last week. I tried to weigh a huge pumpkin before carving it into a lantern for Hallowe’en, and it turned out to weigh far more than the scale’s 7-kilo limit. Why this should blow the electronics, I don’t know, but since then the display has gone completely haywire, losing so many segments on some of its digits that a zero shows as a seven! I tried changing batteries, but to no avail. This morning, with nothing to lose, I took the scale to bits but found no obvious damage. So it’s now in the bin. I suppose a five-year life for something that’s had so much use isn’t bad. Anyway, I had already ordered a new scale from Nisbets, but the one I wanted, which looked like good vale at £16.99, was out of stock. I got the other things I’d ordered with it yesterday, and the confirmation email showed an arrival date of 14 November for the scale. So the next batch of bread will have to wait. Luckily, I still have about ten of the last batch of rolls in the freezer!

6 November 2012

On the 3 NovemberI took 100 grams of sourdough from batch A and added it to 150 grams each of water and Tuxford strong white flour for stepson Aidan, who has been making bread using yukky yeast for a while now. This is presumably residing in his fridge in Nottingham, and I am eagerly awaiting his first report.

Yesterday my new digital scale arrived from Nisbets far earlier than expected, so I did the same refresh as two days before with 100 grams of what was left and consigned this to the fridge, and yesterday evening I made a sponge with the remainder. This should have started with 300 grams of sourdough, but thanks to the lack of a digital scale it had ended up nearer 200. It was pretty thick - you try doing precision work like this withg a lovely old Salter balance scale and a box of weights! - so I topped it up to 300 grams with water. The result was added to 400 grams more water and 400 of the new Tuxford 85% flour to make a sponge. This was coeverd with a damp cloth and left on a cold windowsill - colder this time as there was a frost last night, but it was still frothing happily by this morning.

Good news! The new scale is much more sensitive than the old one, reacting to one gram added to or removed from 400 grams very consistently. It’s prettier than the old one, too.

At 7:30am I stirred 200 grams of water and 400 grams of flour into the sponge, followed by another 100 20 minutes later, this time kneaded in with the scraper. Halfway through this knead I added 16 grams of fine sea salt. The dough was firming up but still very sticky, so I kneaded in another 50 grams of flour. After a 15 minute rest I decided to give the mix another 25 grams of flour, kneaded again and rested for 15 minutes. I repeated this sequence four more times, ending with a 60-mintes rest. This was extended by another 25 minutes to avoid disrupting my coffee break.

I calculated the total weight at 1875 grams, then weighed the dough at 1881 grams. This was not far off the weight of the previous batch so I split it into three and embarked on the usual roud...halve...round...halve routine, ending up with 24 quite small balls.

The rolls immediately after

I’ve always meant to use photographs to judge the prove-until-doubled bit, so I took another picture after an hour...

The rolls one hour after

and then after a second hour.

The rolls two hours after

The rolls were baked at the usual 230°C for 25 minutes. I tried using half as much water in the tray as usual - 250ml - and using it freshly boiled. Frankly, I haven’t a clue if it made any difference! However, the resulting rolls had shrunk a bit but looked and smelled great.

Two trays after baking

Now all but one of the rolls are in the freezer. The remaining one is split on a plate for a picture - and about to be devoured with delicious home-made jam with my afternoon cuppa.

A roll split to show the crumb

Verdict? Perfectly decent bread, but I prefer the nuttier taste of the previous batch, made with a 2:1 mix of white and wholemeal flours.

The story continues in Sourdough bread 2013...