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Sourdough bread 2014

3 February 2014

The last batch of bread was baked on the 18th and 19th December, and I'm now ready to bake again. The batch lasted this long for the obvious reason that an awful lot of Christmas, New Year and birthday cooking was happening. I ate the last roll of the batch at lunchtime today, and I have to say that I'm happy to see the back of it.

I'm assuming that the slightly disappointing rise and distinctly disappointing flavour were both due to the use of flour from Worsborough Mill, which is a museum run by Barnsley Council. The flour is not labelled as strong, and is described as 'suitable for breadmakers and general baking'. I didn't take much notice of this when I found the flour in the Welbeck Farm Shop, apparently replacing their usual Tuxford Windmill strong white. I should have done: on reflection I think the breadmakers referred to on the bag are the mechanical ones rather than human ones like me! The story is told towards the end of Sourdough bread 2013. I have since bought some more Tuxford strong white from the Arrow Farm Shop (which fortunately doesn't seem to have jumped ship) and intend using up the last of the Maud Foster flour in a blend with this.

The first bake of the New Year

4 February I'm halfway through today's bake, waiting for the dough to prove before shaping the rolls, so here's the story so far.

Sourdough batches C and D ( the evolution from A and B is explained near the end of Sourdough bread 2013) were last refreshed on the 18 December, in the midst of the pre-Christmas pandemonium, and I must have forgotten to update the reminder on the computer. I checked on the 13 January and realised that the batches had been unattended for over three weeks - almost doublee the interval I try to stick to. So I mixed one teaspoon of each batch with 50 grams of water and 50 grams of Tuxford strong white flour. The delay had obviously done no harm as fermentation took off vigorously. Once fully active, the two batches were returned to the fridge.

On the 2 February I repeated this refresh process with batch C - a teaspoon of sourdough with 50 grams each of water and flour - and the following day mixed the resulting active culture with 150 grams each of water and flour, giving me 400 grams of fresh sourdough. 300 grams would be used for bread and the remaining 100 grams to start the new stash. This was fed with 50 grams each of water and flour this morning, between breadmaking activities, and the new stash will go in the fridge later.

So here is a blow-by-blow account of what has been done so far.

At 10:30 last night, on my way to bed, I mixed 300 grams of sourdough from batch C with 300 each of water and the flour blend I had made earlier. This turned out to consist of the remaining 655 grams of Maud Foster stron white made up to 700 grams with 45 of Tuxford strong white and 300 grams of Tuxford strong wholemeal. This was stirred to make a lumpy batter (my sponge), covered with clingfilm and left on the kitchen windowsill overnight. It was a cilly night, so with the heating off the sponge was only bubbling gently when I came downstairs.

At 8:30 this morning, after dog duty, I stirred in 300 grams each of water and the flour blend and covered the bowl again, placing it in a warmer part of the kitchen. Breakfast then intervened, and I didn't get back to the bread until 9:40. I have concluded that the timings during the preparation of the dough are very flexible - if something causes a delay resulting in extended resting time the effect may actually be beneficial, so making my sourdough bread fits pretty well into the rest of the day's jobs. I added 100 grams of flour blend, 150 ml of extra-virgin olive oil and 18 grams of salt.

The salt issue had become a bit of a problem because I had used rather a lot curing my first two attempts at cold-smoked salmon. In fact, for the second, I had needed to scavenge every scrap of ordinary cooking salt to make up my last container of Aldi sea salt to the required amount. I had found onte of those jards with the stupid mills on top and assumed that I could get today's salt from that. Wrong! I could have twisted the damed thing all day without reaching my target weight. The only thing left was a Kilner jar of sel gris de Guérande which I knew has set like a brick some years ago. I hacked at this with Patricia's Sabatier carving fork (remember when every chef on TV was using these?) and manage to chip off enough of the salt. This then went in the mortar and was attacked with the pestle. Saved in the nick of time.

When this mixture had been stirred in - quite a long job to get all that oil amalgamated - I added a further 100 grams of flour blend. At this point I had to switch from stirring with the Spoonula to kneading with a scraper (scraper-kneading is explained in the earlier sourdough pages), with which I brought in the last 200 grams of the blend. When the last traces of dry flour had disappeared, I covered the bowl and gave the dough its first 10-minute rest.

This was followed by a 20-turn scraper-knead, and the 10-minute rest and scraper-knead sequence was repeated four more times, followed by a 60-minute rest.

At midday I weighed the dough at 2022 grams and cut it first into three 674-gram pieces and each of those into three 224-gram pieces. These were finally halved to produce 18 pieces, which were rounded and placed on three pieces of baking parchment - two on wooden peels and one ready for baking on the circular enamel tray from our Panasonic combination microwave oven, which is now my oven-of-choice for bread and quite a few other things. At 12:25 the three batches were on top of the cooker and covered with clingfilm to prove for at least two hours.

The new batch of rolls at the
                start of proving

The rolls set to prove under clingfilm

The kitchen is quite cool today and I don't have the benefit of a big hot stove. Not surprisingly, the rolls had not risen very well by 15:00.

Close-up of the first batch of rolls before

The first batch before baking

However I decided to go ahead with the bake and at 15:10 the first batch of rolls were heavily dusted with flour blend and baked in the combi microwave for 25 minutes at 220°C. Here they are on the way in. as can be seen, they have increased in size, spreading horizontally.

The first batch after baking and the second
                before baking

The second batch after baking and the first before baking

This picture shows clearly that the rolls have risen vertically. This is something that never seemed to happen for me in the conventional oven.

The first roll cut and eaten was very good - smaller than those from previous batches, but light, soft and open in texture. In fact it had some quite large holes, so I might have been a bit ham-fisted with my rounding! I'll be eating another one in the next half-hour, so we'll see...

There was none of the unpleasant sourness of the previous batch, so I think this must be attributed to the flour from Worsborough Mill. Which just goes to show: if you're going to produce great flour, concentrate on milling instead of entertaining museum visitors.

Recipe summary


  • 1 kilogram strong flour - white, wholemeal or a blend of the two
  • 600 ml/grams water (weighing is more accurate)
  • 300 grams fresh active sourdough
  • 18 grams salt
  • 150 ml olive oil (optional)


  1. The night before baking, add the 300 grams of sourdough to 300 grams of water, mix and then stir in 300 grams of whichever flour you are using and stire to a rough batter. This is your sponge. Cover with clingfilm or a damp tea-towel and leave to ferment overnight in a cool place.
  2. The following morning, stir 300 grams water into the sponge, followed by 300 grams of your flour. Cover and place in a warmer area until new bubbles start to appear.
  3. Stir in the salt (and olive oil if using) with 100 grams flour, mixing until all the flour (and oil) have been amalgamated to form a loose, uniform dough - quite a long job.
  4. Add further flour in 100-gram batches, stirring each in until fully combined.
  5. When stirring with a spoon (I use a Nisbets Spoonula) becomes too difficult switch to a plastic scraper. Scraper-knead by scraping down the dough furthest from you and folding it onto the part nearest to you. Turn the bowl clockwise to recreate the position before the fold and repeat until the flour is combined. I find this, with the short knead-rest cycles described in 7 and 8 below, far less tiring than traditional kneading.
  6. The quantities given here usually produce a workable dough without any further addition. The dough will remain sticky on the surface, but should be used as soon as it stands up without sagging for a few minutes.
  7. Cover and rest the dough for ten minutes.
  8. Scraper-knead for 20 turns of the bowl.
  9. Repeat stages 7 and 8 four time and rest for one hour. The dough is now ready for shaping into loaves or rolls, covering and proving somewhere fairly warm. My most recent batches have needed 2 hours to 2½ hours 30 minutes.

Shape and bake as you like in a hot oven - around 200-230°C. Cool on a wire rack. The bread will freeze and defrost in the microwave really well.

11 March 2014

I baked again, following the same procedure as last time but with a blend of Tuxford Windmill strong white and wholemeal. Interestingly, after raving about the Maud Foster flour (which was the bulk of what was used last time) the bread came out with a better flavour and a much nicer crust this time.

The starter was made on the 10 March, from Batch D this time, mixing 100 grams with 150 each of water and flour blend at 13:00. The sponge was made at bedtime, adding 300 grams each of water and flour blend to 300 of the fresh sourdough, the remaining 100 grams being saved for a new refresh.

At 06:40 on the 11 March the dough-mixing started. I needed an extra 100 grams of flour blend this time, presumably because of the different properties of the Tuxford white flour. Apart from that - and the random variations introduced by dog-walking before breakfast! - the process was the same as last time. I baked the first of the three batches at 220°C for 30 minutes and - based on observation of the result - the second and third for 26 minutes each.

My notebook records: 'Lovely crust - good crumb with lots of big holes. Best yet with this recipe.' I don't think I'll be bothering to hunt around for the Maud Foster flour after all...

22 April 2014

The flour from Worsborough Mill (see top of this page) produced a very disappointing bread, and it was a real relief to get back to the Tuxford Windmill product. The lesson? Use flour milled by a miller, not by a museum! I emailed the  Welbeck Farm Shop about this on the 7 February:


I’ve been a regular customer of yours for over seven years, and must have bought about a hundredweight of Tuxford Windmill strong bread flours in that time. So I was surprised to find, a few weeks ago, that you were no longer selling the Tuxford product and had introduced a flour from Worsborough Mill, which is actually a museum in Barnsley.

I bought a bag for my next batch of sourdough bread, which I’ve been making every couple of weeks since doing the Wild Yeast Baking course at the School of Artisan Food in March 2011. I have to say that the resulting bread was deeply disappointing. It didn’t rise anywhere near as well as bread made with Tuxford flour and had a most unpleasant sour taste – sour as in stale rather than what I expect from sourdough.

I have just made another batch, using a blend of strong white flours from Tuxford and the Maud Foster Windmill in Boston. No sour taste, better rise and altogether a better bread. So the problem has to be down to the Worsborough Mill product.

Please reinstate the Tuxford range or, if you’ve fallen out with them, become a retailer for the Maud Foster Windmill’s strong white organic untreated flour, which is the only flour I’ve found that makes bread even better than I get with Tuxford flour. Even better, sell both.

I was disappointed not to get a reply.

However, last Saturday I had a chat with the owner of Tuxford Windmill at Retford Farmer's Market, who told me that his orders from Welbeck had tailed off but that he would be having a meeting with them soon. I hope this gets sorted out. I wanted to send him a copy of the email tabove, but the contact link on the Tuxford website wasn't working!

29 April. Quick-acting yeast? Mass-market flours?

However (again!)... I needed some bread for the Easter weekend and in desperation I bought some Allinson's Very Strong White Bread Flour, and for speed I used a sachet of Aldi quick-acting yeast from a packet left behind by stepson Aidan. I made Bertinet's olive dough - plain white with a good slug of extra virgin olive oil kneaded in using Emmanuel's superb scraper-kneading process.

The result was a smooth, highly elastic dough with a great rise, from which I made eight 30-gram doughballs for the grandsons and - with the addition of lots more oil and a sprinkle of coarse Cornish sea salt - a very passable focaccia.

I'm going to try this flour for my next batch of standard sourdough rolls, so I've just bought two bags of white and one of sourdough from the Co-op. Maybe my love affair with artisan mills is over!

Meanwhile yet again, I made another focaccia last Sunday and Patricia and I were equally impressed with the result. The technique needs some refining, but the bread is very good. The loaf was cut into portions and frozen, and we'll be having some for lunch today.

I'll try the same bread but using sourdough next time...

2 May 2014

Checking back, my current sourdough recipe uses 1kg of flour blend with 300g of sourdough (contributing a further 150g of flour) with 150ml of olive oil. That's 130ml of oil per kilo of flour. Bertinet's olive dough uses only 100g of oil per kilo, and without weighing some oil I'd guess that that's not much different from my 130ml. So my sourdough recipe has a similar oil content to his olive dough, if not higher.

I refreshed my two batches of sourdough this morning, so as soon as I have an active starter I'll try a focaccia...


Yesterday I started my first sourdough focaccia. Before bed I mixed 300 grams each of fresh sourdough, water and Allinson's Very Strong White Bread Flour to form a sponge.

By 07:00 today the sponge was highly active. Rather misguidedly, I added 200ml of extra virgin olive oil and stirred it in. Misguided because it took an awful lot of stirring to mix it in! Next time I'll mix oil and flour together before adding to the sponge.

When the mixture was fully combined, I added 300 grams each of water and flour plus 18 grams of fine sea salt. I left this to rest while I walked the dog and fed him and us.

At 09:20 I added and stirred in three successive lots of 100 grams of flour, bringing the total to 900 grams. At this point I switched from spoonula to scraper, adding and kneading in three lots of 50 grams of flour, bringing the total to 1050 grams and producing a softish, rather sticky but very elastic dough This was rounded and rested for 10 minutes, followed by a 20-turn knead.

This cycle was repeated three times more, followed by a final rest of 60 minutes. (Actually I cheated slightly, because I discovered a packet containing not very much semolina in the cupboard. I tipped this in after the fourth 10-minute rest, and it took an extra 20 turns of kneading to get it dispersed in the dough.)

The final weight of dough was 2186 grams, which was split into three equal pieces of roughly 730 grams each. These were shaped, using plenty of oil, into rectangular focaccias on lipped baking sheets. They were covered lightly with clingfilm and left to prove on top of thje cooker with the oven set at 230°C. After two hours, the well-risen loaves were brushed with more oil - very gently because they were quite fragile - and dimpled with my fingers, pressing right down to the metal. They were sprinkled with coarse Cornish sea salt and baked for 25 minutes.

The cut focaccias had a lovely open texture with lots of big bubbles and a lovely creamy colour from the oil. I'd cut the previous one into fingers for freezing, but this time I cut the focaccias into oblongs that would fit in the toaster. Good move - they came out very crisp but moist inside. Cut through horizontally with the bread knife, the slices made perfect lunch portions.

Patricia announced that this was the first sourdough bread I'd made that didn't taste sour! She ate her share with real relish.

 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.

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