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Sourdough bread 2013

7 January 2013

Another year, Christmas safely negotiated, post-Christmas fatigue dealt with and the last of the 24 6 November rolls eaten. Time to bake!

On our last visit to Bakewell I’d picked up a bag of flour from the Maud Foster Mill, near Boston in Lincolnshire. This was labelled ’strong, plain, organic, unbleached, untreated white flour’, but was almost dazzlingly white compared with Tuxford’s strong white. I decided to give this a try for a change.

I also decided to make a smaller sponge so as to give the dough a bit more starch to work on. So yesterday afternoon I took 50 grams of sourdough from batch A, which had been refreshed on the 28 December and blended this with 75 grams of warm water. I then stirred in 75 grams of the new flour to give me 200 grams of sourdough. This mixture was looking nice and bubbly, but not frothy, by 10:30pm. I blended it into 200 grams of cold water (to slow the overnight fermentation down), mixed in 200 grams of flour and left this sponge, covered with a damp cloth, on the kitchen windowsill.

Emmanuel’s white bread recipe uses 150 grams of sourdough, so I scaled it up to fit my 200 gram batch: 650 grams of flour, 400 grams of water and 11 grams of salt. I added the remaining 200 grams of water (warm) to the sponge and stirred to mix. At least, that was the plan: I actually added 252 grams because the display of the digital scale was in shadow! It was noticeable that the sourdough retained some of its texture rather than dispersing completely into the water. I weighed out the remaining 465 grams of flour and stirred in the 11 grams of salt, then stirred the mixture into the bowl in three or four batches using my trusty Spoonula and, towards the end, a Bertinet scraper.

I decided to stick to Emanuel’s low-energy kneading process as, even this long after Christmas, I didn’t feel much like doing a Bertinet bash!

So the mixed dough was rested for 15 minutes and then given three repeats of the 20-turn scraper-knead and 15 minuites rest routine, followed by a final 20 turns and an hour’s rest.

The dough was fairly firm, very elastic and pretty sticky, but I reckoned it would be manageable even with the extra 52 grams of water. It also rose very well during the hour’s rest, so I went ahead with shaping. With just enough weighing to keep the rolls fairly consistent, I rounded 12 balls and at 11:50am I set them to prove on two well-floured baking sheets. Initially I covered them with a damp cloth, but when they were inspected some had stuck to the cloth (I said the dough was sticky!). So I gave them a heavy dusting of flour and put a sheet of wide clingfilm loosely over them for the remainder of the proving, which made it much easier to keep an eye on them. After a total of one hour, I judged them to be ready for the oven.

Stepson Aidan had recently made some rolls baked at a lower temperature than I normally use, which had given them a less challenging crust. I decided to follow his lead, starting the bake at 230°C but reducing to 180°C after pouring in the steaming water and closing the door.

After 28 minutes I judged the rolls to be well baked. Shortly after they came out of the oven I had one for lunch. The crumb and crust were both very satisfactory and the flavour was excellent.

11 January 2013

Having eaten a few of the new batch of rolls, I can report that the crumb structure is perfect - a fairly close texture but with very thin walls between small bubbles. Even baked more gently than usual, the bread springs back completely when compressed. And because of the gentler bake the crust is much less challenging!

Yesterday I decided to warm some of the rolls in the oven - 3-4 minutes at 180°C - and the effect was dramatic: a really crisp but light crust and a soft, moist crumb. Despite the cost in electricity, I think this - rather than just defrosting in the microwave - will have to be my standard procedure from now on. Maybe I should swap the single-function microwave for a combi...

4 February 2013

Last week I made another double batch, using exactly the process described above but with equal parts of Tuxford strong white and wholemeal. The crumb is perfect but the crust is just a little thick. I think I?ll try missing out the hot start mext time and bake at 180°C from the beginning...

27 April 2013

My third batch since the last report has produced probably the nicest rolls I’ve made yet. At 9:30am on the 18 April I refreshed batch B with 100 grams of sourdough to 150 grams each of water and the Maud Foster Mill’s organic, untreated, unbleached strong white flour which I mentioned in the entry for the 7 January. This was very active by 10:45pm, though it was a much stiffer batter than that produced with Tuxford Windmill white, so the Foster flour obviously soaks up a lot more water. I took out 100 grams of the fresh sourdough to make another refresh batch for the fridge.

Then I mixed the 420 grams of Tuxford wholemeal I happened to have left with 580 grams of the Foster flour to make 1kg and mixed a sponge using the remaining 300 grams of the fresh sourdough and 300 grams each of water and the flour blend. By 7:25 the next morning the sponge was very active, so I added 300 grams of water, stirring to blend the mix thoroughly. Then I mixed 16 grams of fine sea salt into the flour blend and began adding it to the diluted sponge a little at a time. When I’d mixed in 600 grams I decided that the sticky dough was firm enough, so I had 100 grams of flour left over compared with previous Tuxford-based doughs.

I’ve decided that Emmanuel’s scraper-kneading process, done in the bowl, makes excellent dough with far less work that either conventional kneading or the Bertinet bash. So I gave the new dough 20 turns in the bowl followed by 10 minutes rest, repeating this four times. After the fifth and final 20 turns, I rested the dough for an hour.

Miraculously, the dough weighed almost exactly 1800 grams, which was very handy because I’d decided to make 18 rolls rather than 24! I cut and weighed 18, all accurate to a couple of grams, rounded them into balls and put six on each of three heavily floured baking sheets. These were placed on top of the stove with the oven turned right up to 230°C. The rolls were dredged quite heavily with some of the leftover flour blend (using my trusty nylon tea-strainer as a dredger) and covered loosely with clingfilm. I checked them several times after the first hour, and at two hours exactly decided they were ready for the oven.

The first two went into the very hot oven, with half a litlre of water poured into the tray on the oven floor. The over was turned down to 190°C and the timer set to 25 minutes, after which the rolls were perfectly cooked. I marked the rolls on the remaining tray with a light slash and put them in (with more water) without pre-heating back to maximum. Again, 25 minutes was fine.

All the rolls came out looking and smelling great, with a very attractive crust due to the heavy dredging and steam.

A roll from the 18 April 2013

When I had cooled them enough to cut one I found the crumb to be perfect: light and moist, very springy and fairly open-textured.

The first roll cut to show the
                crumb structure

I ate one of the first batch with my dinner, at which point I decided that I’d hit the jackpot. When I tried one of the slashed rolls the following day, I concluded that the ones from the first two trays were marginally lighter and more open, so it looks as if the high-temperature start is the way to go.

As I’ve run out of wholemeal flour, I’m going to make a batch of white rolls using exactly the same method next time.

18 May 2013

As planned, I made a whire batch today, using the Maud Foster Mill flour and batch A, which had been left un-refrshed for a month before the last ’feed’ but showed no signs of ill-effects. So much for all the folklore about having to take your sourdough on holiday with you!

At 1pm yesterday I did a normal refresh (100g sourdough to 150g each of water and flour). At 10:20pm, with this bubbling merrily, I mixed 300g each of the resulting sourdough, water and flour to make a sponge, saving the remining 100g for a refresh using ordinary plain flour.

At 10am today I stirred 300g of water into the sponge, followed by three lots of 200g of flour. By the end of the third I needed to switch from the Spoonula to a scraper, and once the dough was formed decided another 50g of flour was needed. When this was fully incorporated I had a firm but sticky dough.

Four repetitions of 20 turns of scraper kneading in the bowl followed by ten minutes’ rest were followed by a final 20 turns and a one-hour rest. Because of other domestic pressures, the dough got a further 30 minutes and was well risen by the end. It weighed 1840g, so I cut and rounded 18 portions of just over 100g each, rounded them and placed them on heavily floured baking sheets, dusting them heavily with flour before placing them on top of the stove, with the oven already at 230°C.

After two hours’ proving, the rolls had risen to more than double their initial size. They were placed in the oven, which was immediated turned down to 190°C. 500ml of water was poured into the roasting tin in the bottom of the oven and rolls were and baked for 25 minutes.

A white roll made on the 18 May

The same roll split to show the
                crumb structure

They came out looking good, and the first one cut was perfect: a thin, crisp crust and a light, moist, open, springy crumb

20 October 2013

After a long break in recording my baking, here I am back with the new version of the website and quite a lot to report.

Batches of rolls using various flour blends but the same basic recipe were baked on the 13 June, the 7 July, the 6 August, the 30 August and the 27 September. The last bag of rolls in the freezer is about to run  out, so it's time to bake again.

The favourite flour blend is now 70:30 white to wholemeal, using Maud Foster Mill flours (though I'm not sure I didn't prefer the mix I did using Tuxford wholemeal with Maud Foster white).

After eating a roll from the last batch unbuttered with soup, I was rather concerned about the flavour of the bread, and started wondering whether my standard refresh process was leaving too many old, dead organisms in the dough. So this week I decided to create a fresh culture.

On the 17 October I mixed just a teaspoonful from each of batches A and B together (hoping to trap the best bugs from both) and then with 50 grams of water and 50 of Maud Foster strong white flour. After three days the mix was fairly active and smelled nice and fresh, so I have just mixed it with 150 grams each of water and the same flour. Once it is fully active, this should contain plenty of newborn bugs and far fewer old, dead ones. We'll see...

The current recipe

Here is an account of the 26 September batch...

700 grams of strong white and 300 grams of wholemeal (both Maud Foster) were mixed to give a kilo of flour blend.

Batch A was used to produce a sponge: 300 grams sourdough, 300 grams water and 300 grams flour blend. The remaining 100 grams of sourdough was refreshed normally for return to the fridge The sponge was left overnight.

In the morning I added 300 grams each of flour blend and water to the sponge, then small additions of flour blend: 200 grams, 100 grams and 100 grams with 16 grams of fine sea salt and 100ml of olive oil.

The mix was scraper-kneaded with three further small additions of flour: 50, 25 and 25 grams, which used the whole kilo.

When the dough was fully mixed it was rested for ten minutes. Then the cycle of a 20-turn scraper knead and a ten-minute rest was repeated six times, with a final 20 turns and a 60-minute rest at the end.

The dough weighed in at 2024 grams, which was divided into three equal rounds by weight, each of which was further divided into three which were finally halved by eye to produce 18 rolls.

The rolls were arranged in sixes on heavily floured baking sheets, dusted heavily with flour, covered loosely with clingfilm and  proved on top of the stove with the oven on for two hours. They were then put in the oven set at 230°C with 500ml of water added to the tray underneath for steam. The thermostat setting was reduced to 200°C as soon as the door was closed. After a 27-minute bake the rolls were cooled on wire racks and frozen, with one kept out for dinner!

21 October 2013

This morning the sourdough mixture described above was looking - and smelling - really good. There was no murky liquid on top, the colour was creamy and the smell was fresh, clean and sour. I took out two teaspoons and mixed this with 150 grams each of water and flour to make a 300-gram starter for the next batch of bread. The remainder was put in a container and put in the fridge as batch C. I suspect this will get split into two to replace batches A and B, which I think have suffered from carrying over too much dead matter.

Tonight, if the starter is ready, I will make a sponge as in 'The current recipe' above.

At 10:45pm I checked the starter and was pleasantly surprised to find that it had remained quite stiff and had roughly doubled in size (usually at this stage my refreshes were quite liquid). It smelled really fresh and clean, with hints of cream cheese and yogurt. It looked as if re-starting from very small quantities of old sourdough was a good idea! I'll go down to one teaspoon next time...

I made up a kilo of 70:30 flour blend and then created a sponge by stirring the starter into 300 grams of cold water and then roughly mixing in 300 grams of the flour blend.

22 October 2013

At 7:45 this morning I found a very active sponge. I stirred in 300 grams of water and then 300 grams of flour blend, pouring over 100ml of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkling on 16 grams of fine sea salt. This was stirred together and left for 15 minutes. Then 200 grams of flour blend were stirred in, followed by 100 grams and finally the remainder of the kilo in the bowl.

At this point I had to switch from the Spoonula to a scraper, stopping as soon as the last visible traces of dry flour had disappeared. The dough was left to rest for 15 minutes.

It was pretty sticky, so I mixed 100 grams of flour blend for dusting and maybe a final 25 gram addition to the dough as with the previous batch. However, at the end of the rest, although the dough was still sticky enough to make scraper-kneading a bit laborious, so I decided to stick with the 'wetter the better' philosophy - a slight variation from the last batch.

Five repeats of a 20-turn scaper knead and a 10-minute rest were followed by a final 20-turn knead and a 1-hour rest. At the end of this, the dough was rounded on a bed of flour and cut into thirds, which were then cut into thirds again. Finally the pieces were halved and shaped to give 18 rolls. 12 were arranged on rectangular baking sheets for the oven and the remaining six were arranged on the metal tray from our new Panasonic combination microwave oven, all heavily floured. The three trays of rolls were then thickly dusted with flour and proved under loose clingfilm on top of the cooker as the oven pre-heated.

After 90 minutes, they were ready to bake - which suggests that the new 'fresher' sourdough was working more actively than the other batches - and were given 30 minutes cooking with the oven set to its maximum of 230°C and the combi to its top temperature of 220°C.

Oven-baked rolls 22 October
The oven batch

The combi-microwave baked rolls
                22 October 2013
The combi batch.

As can be seen, the combi batch were more 'toasted', a consequence of Panasonic's 'convection' program using a combination of fan oven and grill.

We ate two of the combi-baked rolls for lunch, and agreed that this was by far the best-tasting bread I had produced since doing the course at Welbeck. There was still a definite sourness, but more delicate and subtle.

I think batches A and B may be destined for the plughole...

20 November 2013

...and yesterday that's exactly where they went! But first, news of the latest batch of rolls.

On the 12 November, I added two teaspoons of batch C to 50 grams of water, mixed thoroughly and then added 50 grams of Maud Foster Mill strong white flour. Two days later I added another 50 grams each of water and flour. 24 hours later, after a slow start, the mix was bubbling nicely, so it was stashed in the fridge.

At 11:45 on the 18 November I mixed 100 grams of the new batch C into 150 grams of water and added 150 of flour. By 18:30 this was bubbly and well risen. I mixed a working blend of 700 grams of Maud Foster strong white and 300 of Tuxford strong wholemeal. At 20:15 I mixed 300 grams each of the sourdough, water and the flour blend to form a sponge for the following day's bake. The remaining sourdough was added to the batch C stash in the fridge.

At 07:15 on the following day I added 300 grams each of water and flour blend to the sponge, which was very bubbly and glutinous, stirring the mixture roughly and covering with clingfilm. At 08:20 I added 100 grams of flour blend, 125ml of olive oil (25% more than last time) and 16 grams of fine sea salt, stirring thoroughly. At 09:25 I stirred in another 100 grams of flour. The dough was very sticky but was beginning to stand without running. Three more 50-gram additions of flour blend used up the whole blend - and produced a soft, sticky but - I decided - workable dough. When this was fully combined it was rested for 30 minutes.

Note these rather haphazard timings. I've come to the conclusion that this process is incredibly flexible, so the intervals above largely depended on the timings of my morning walk, my second cup of tea and breakfast. In other words, the bread has to fit round the rest of life.

Except for the next bit. I think it is important to stick to Emmanuel's plan of kneading and resting.

So after the rest, the dough got 20 turns of scraper-kneading and 10 minutes rest repeated five times, then a final 20 turns and a one-hour rest. With a soft dough, this routine isn't particularly taxing, but the result was a fairly firm but highly elastic dough which came away from the sides of the bowl beautifully - the extra 25ml of oil at work, I decided.

The finished dough weighed 2020 grams, yielding 18 rolls each weighing 112 grams.

The innovation this time was to bake all the rolls in the combi microwave. Six fit very nicely on the oven's metal tray, as the last photograph above shows. The problem would be to get the second and third batches of fully-proved rolls onto the tray without damaging them.

The solution was quite simple. I cut three circles of baking parchment to fit the tray. The first batch was proved on its paper circle on the tray, and the other two on my two plywood peels. It proved surprisingly easy to slide the circles off the peels onto the tray.

I cooked the first batch at 220°C for 30 minutes and the other two for 25 minutes each. It only took a couple of minutes to re-heat the oven between batches.

The effect of the different proving times was quite visible in the size of the rolls, uncooked and cooked.

I kept one roll from the first batch and ate it with my dinner. I was impressed with the crust, which had a sort of powdery crispness - I can't think how else to describe it. All my previous sourdoughs have had fairly leathery crusts once any initial crispness has been lost, but this was quite different - and far less of a threat to my false teeth! The crumb texture was fairly open, with some quite big bubbles, and very light and soft. The toasty flavour - thanks to the infra-red grill which works hand-in-hand with the fan oven - was excellent.

Today I defrosted a roll from batch 3. It was bigger and lighter than yesterday's, and even more delicious.

I keep saying that I've got the bread as good as it's going to get, but it does keep getting better.

Batch D

Yesterday at 13:45 I took a teaspoonful each from batches A and B, as I did on the 20 October, and mixed the sourdough into 50 grams of water. I then stirred in 50 grams of Maud Foster flour and covered the bowl with punctured clingfilm. By evening there were plenty of bubbles, so - reassured that I had two new active batches, I washed the remains of batches A and B down the plughole and cleaned the containers ready for re-use.

This was a significant moment, as I'd kept this sourdough going since I brought it home from the School of Artisan Food on the 13 March 2011 - two years and eight months ago. But I haven't really broken the chain, because batches C and D are descendants of A and B - just a little cleaned-up.

Batch D got an additional 100 grams each of water and flour today and will go in the fridge tomorrow.

26 November 2013: a new flour

I've mentioned the superb white flour from the Maud Foster windmill in Boston, lincolnshire, which I found in a Bakewell farm shop in January, but I didn'r record the visit we made to the mill at the end of June. I bought a 6kg bag of the flour, and have been using it for sourdough refreshes and baking ever since. Maybe I should have used something else for the refreshes, because I've just noticed that I have only enough for one more bake!

It's a monster drive to Boston and back from home, and the mill's list of retail outlets is a bit eccentric. I know I can get the flour in Bakewell, which is just a short detour from our normal route to visit the grandkids, but the only other sensible possibility is Ashover, between Chesterfield and Matlock.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I decided that I'd try a bake using the Tuxford windmill flour again. The recipe has evolved considerably since I use this last, so it'll be interesting to see how it compares with the Foster Mill product in a direct comparison.

We had to go to the Welbeck Farm Shop last week, but when I looked at the flours the Welbeck product had been replaced by flours from Worsborough Mill, which is a museum run by Barnsley Council. Although the website mentions buying flour in the gift shop it doesn't give any other useful information for bakers - it's all about the museum's collections and activities. Odd...

Anyway, I bought a bag of the stoneground organic white flour, which doesn't claim to the 'strong' - it just says 'suitable for breadmakers and conventional baking' on the bag. Is that breadmakers like me or the mechanical kind?

I'll try it in the next batch of bread. Watch this space...

Meanwhile, I'm still enjoying the latest batch enormously - definitely my best yet!

And, interestingly, the longest-proved batch is the best of the three, with a lovely light texture and some quite big bubbles. My notebook records that this was proved for 2 hours 50 minutes - longer than I normally go, but conditions were cooler because the oven wasn't on (I normally prove on top of the stove with a fully-heated oven). There's no sign of the dough even beginning to collapse, in spite of being slid unceremoniously onto the tray for baking! I'll probably start the first batch after 2 hours 30 minutes next time, which will mean batch 3 will have about 3 hours 30 minutes proving...

 Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.