June 10, 2017 — Bake
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Wholewheat strong organic bread flour
White wheat strong organic bread flour
A plastic scraper
2 x 1lb loaf tins
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Alas, we do not live in San Fransisco. We live in Surbiton. So the sourdough bread we make will taste like Surbiton sourdough, not San Francisco sourdough. Sourdough is formed from the natural and wild yeasts and bacteria present in flour and in the air of the local environment. On reflection, I’m much happier that my bread tastes of Surbiton than San Fransisco.
There are good reasons to make sourdough. It restores our faith in the natural way of the world. Flour and water is all you need (and salt). It tastes good, it keeps well, it’s easy on the digestion and nutritionally beneficial. Harold McGee explains the science behind some of these characteristics in his book, On Food and Cooking, ‘…the bacteria somehow delay starch retrogradation and staling, and the acids they produce make the bread resistant to spoilage microbes; so the sourdough breads are especially flavourful and keep well.’
We also know that sourdough is easier to digest and that it has many health benefits, though McGee is silent on the science of these attributes. What he does state, is that sourdough is difficult. It makes sense to assume that though the process may be wonderfully natural, it can also be unpredictable and unstable. It’s all to do with the way the yeasts and bacteria develop and behave during leavening and baking. First, the bacterial will outnumber the yeasts and can diminish the yeast ability to produce gas. Secondly, the acid conditions and bacteria can weaken the gluten in the dough, making it dense. He recommends managing acid levels by keeping the starter less liquid, keeping it cool, aerating it and refreshing it often. Limiting the bacterial protein-digesting enzymes can be achieved by adding a full amounts of salt during the dough making process.
So, if we find that making our own sourdough is not as easy as some might have us believe, we can feel reassured by McGee that there is probably a good scientific reason to our travails. My advice, when it come to baking anything is that you need practice – only by baking something again and again can you get a feel for what is happening and have any chance to make an informed judgement to improve the bake. This reality is at its most evident when making bread. I don’t believe anybody will be fully aware and in control of what they are doing unless they have made at least 10-15 loaves. Until then, don’t even think of being critical of your results. You’re still learning…
Although, I have made many loaves of bread, I have not made enough sourdough to develop my own recipe. The following is based on Andrew Whitley’s book: Do sourdough. Slow bread for busy lives.
Whitley’s processes are long and slow, he uses a lot of wholewheat flour and his dough is quite wet – all can be off putting – but persevere. The longer proving times develops flavour and the wetter dough provides greater expansion for wholewheat flours – and quite rightly wholewheat bread is healthier. Wholewheat flours make more efficient sourdough starters.
Important notes: Water is from a bottle of still mineral water, it should be warm (35C – about blood temperature, i.e. it should feel neither hot nor cold when you dip your finger into it). Flour is always strong organic bread flour. Do not leave traces of detergent when cleaning equipment or hands. Leaving somewhere warm for proving starter and dough requires temperatures of 25C – 30C. These are temperatures of a very hot summer day. During hot weather leave in warm room, in winter use the airing cupboard. If the temperatures cannot be attained it may take longer for the starter/dough to develop. Makes one large (2lb) or two small (1lb each) loaves. I find smaller loves are more practical – we keep one in the freezer, so the loaves are always fresh.
A perfect winter warmer – Cassoulet!
Try Dad’s loaded low-fat salsa quesadillas with The Laughing Cow Lightest x8 cheese.
An excellent way to turn a popular Italian slow food standard into an easy and quicker family classic.
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