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Sourdough bread 2011

On Sunday 13 March 2011, using a gift voucher bought for my birthday by Patricia, I spent a day on a course entitled Wild Yeast Baking at The School of Artisan Food. The school was set up about a couple of years ago on the Welbeck estate, just a few miles down the A60 Mansfield Road from Worksop. Patricia and I had gone to an open day shortly after the opening, and had been hugely impressed by the premises, the equipment and the range of courses on offer. You can judge these by looking at the schoolís website.

My breadmaking activies had been on hold since I almost wrecked my left knee in August 2008, but the interest in a more natural approach, using sourdough, hadnít gone away.) You can read about my unsuccessful first dabbling in The sourdough that never was and the slightly better results that followed in The Sourdough Project.) So, being the sort of guy who hates to leave a job half done, of all the intriguing one-day courses on offer the one that rung the loudest bells for me was Wild Yeast Baking.

The day was scheduled to start at 10am and finish at 5:30pm, during which time we were promised weíd produce and take home three different kinds of loaf - two white baguettes, a dark rye loaf and a three-flour levain de campagne. As a former trainer , I was incredibly impressed that 13 people all managed to produce these - and most, including me, left on the dot of 5:30 with our bread and small containers of two different sourdoughs! My levain loaf was beautiful to look at, of a very high technical quality - and delicious. The baguettes, unveiled for a family gathering a couple of days later, were also excellent.

If youíve been following my other antics on this site youíll know that Iím a bit obsessive about photographing everything I produce. On this occasion, I forgot to take the camera with me. Worse, when I got home I was so eager to get my loaves into the freezer that I forgot to photograph them. Worse still, I didnít even íthink cameraí when I got them out to defrost and serve to the family. Not to worry, because Iíve already, after less than a week, managed to produce some pretty good bread at home and photograph every stage of production.

The course, and what I learned

I already knew our teacher for the day would be Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, but the young(ish) South African who greeted us was somehow unexpected. He struggled a bit as he had a really bad attack of laryngitis, but somehow he managed to make himself audible to his 13 students, who were from all over the country, and his voice did improve as the day went on.

The day was chopped into carefully timed segments of tuition and activity, which worked incredibly well because of what was, to me, a totally new way of mixing and kneading dough - working in short bursts with convenitient ten-minute breaks in between. I also proved to be by far the least tiring method Iíd ever experienced.

Recalling the incredibly wasteful process of developing a sourdough starter that Iíd previously experienced (see The Sourdough Project), I found Emmanuelís quite astonishing. He had a collection of the little jam jars you get on hotel breakfast buffets, containing starters after one, two, three, four and five days. He had started with just a teaspoon each of rye flour and water which were mixed and left to stand overnight. On each of the following days he had added another teaspoon of each ingredient, and by the end of day 4 had seen bubbles forming in the mixture. After day 5, the brew was ready to produce a working sourdough. You may recall that I had no success whatever in getting the micro-flora of our warm utility room to infect a much bigger sample of wheat flour and water - see The sourdough that never was. Emmanuelís day 4 and day 5 jars were definitely bubbling, and the large buckets of white wheat and dark rye sourdoughs he showed us, developed in the same way, had a rich citric/acetic/yeasty aroma and a whole lot of bubbles.

Building the actual sourdough is very simple - simply just 15 grams of the culture from the jar with 150 grams each of flour and water and leave overnight.

I havenít tried starting from scratch like this yet, so I have to take what we saw - and smelled - on trust. However, I can vouch for the fact that the little sample of white sourdough I brought home, mixed with 300 grams each of strong white flour and water, had a very busy night. (Iíd meant only to use 150 grams of each, but had a senior moment - but a productive one as it turned out, giving me enough starter to makeg three different batches of bread in a day, as I had at Welbeck.)

Anyway, the point is that my mixture, which had less than half-filled its large pudding basin, rose not only to fill it but to lift the clingfilm (with a knife-prick to let the air out) that covered it into a dome, and when this was peeled off, removing 20 or 30 grams of the mix, it looked like this...

Sourdough after overnight fermentation

And it had just been left in the kitchen, with the central heating off - not in the cosy utility room!

But back to the course...

We worked in four groups. Each of three was assigned to weigh out the flour and salt for everyone, for one kind of bread. The fourth group weighed out the sourdough starters - a much more difficult job. We used high-quality digital scales, which were new to quite a few people, but eventually we each received a large plastic bowl containing our flour with its little pile of salt on top (which we were told to mix in), and a smaller one containing the sourdough. We were then instructed to weigh (not measure) our warm water into the bowl with the sourdough, mix it fairly thoroughly, add it to our flour and work that, first with a wooden spoon and then with our hands, until all the ingredients were combined. Not a smooth mix - just everything stuck together.

And this was where things got very different. Instead of embarking on a long, strenuous knead, we were told to cover the dough in the large bowl with the smaller bowl and leave it for ten minutes (during which we had another short demonstration from Emmanuel).

The dough covered with the smaller bowl

This is my version at home, using a small glass bowl in the huge plastic one. I need to buy some suitable plastic bowls in two sizes.

Then the instruction was to knead for just ten seconds: in practice, turn, stretch and fold the dough in the bowl, rotate it a little and repeat nine more times. Then cover with the small bowl for another ten minutes. Then repeat three more times and leave the dough to rest under the bowl for an hour. To my amazement this produced a dough that was indistinguishable from one that had been subjected to fifteen solid minutes of íThe Bertinet Bashí.

Next, we shaped our loaves and put them in a large proofing (proving?) cabinet at 50įC for an hour.

We each made two baguettes using white flour, a small tin loaf using dark rye flour, and a basket-proved Levain de Campagne using 250 grams of white flour, 100 grams of wholemeal and 50 grams of dark rye. All flours had been sourced from Shipton Mill in Gloucestershire. My last batch, the baguettes, was out of the oven just before 5:30pm. I collected two little plastic containers of sourdough, one white and one dark rye, and went home to show off the results of my dayís work.

In the middle of all this, we had time for an excellent Sunday dinner - in my case roast pork and all the trimmings followed by a choice of breads from the estateís artisan bakery and some of the marvellous Stichelton cheese, also produced on the estate, which I describe on the Getting good ingredients page.

We also had a conducted tour of the bakery, shut down for the weekend, including a good look at the two magnificent French wood-fired ovens, which I had seen when Patricia and I went to the open day. These ovens have hearths around eight feet square.

So, all in all a great day which has re-ignited my enthusiasm for breadmaking, and particularly for sourdough. It has also given me a sourdough culture that really works - though still without quite the acidic flavour Iíve always hoped for.

Just to clarify...

Some time after the course, I gave my stepson Alistair some starter and instructions, and I think it reflects the amount of nonsense thatís written about sourdough in various bread books that he read the instructions through twice before asking íWhen do I put in the yeast?í.

Just in case anyone is still confused, please note: the yeast (wild, not brewerís) is in the sourdough, living in an amazing symbiotic relationship with two or more ífriendly bacteriaí. The yeast, which unlike the brewerís variety has no detectable smell, provides the leavening (makes the bread rise). The bacteria may also generate some gas to produce bubbles, but - more importantly for the flavour of sourdough bread - they create acetic, lactic and who-knows-what other acids, for sourness. I suspect these have preservative properties too, because I have yet to see any of my sourdough bread go stale in the way that yeast-based breads do.

Back home...

I couldnít wait to get started on some bread at home, using the sourdoughs supplied on the course. So, a couple of days after the course I fed the white sourdough with 300 grams of strong white flour from my local source, Tuxford Windmill, and 300 grams of warm water. This was left overnight in the kitchen, with the result illustrated above.

I put my baking stone in our rather inadequate oven, set it to flat-out (230įC) and got started on white baguettes and a modified version of the Levain de Campagne - modified because I could only manage strong white flour, non-strong wholemeal and spelt instead of rye.

The baguettes were proved on my Richard Bertinet bead cloths - lovely big, stiff, linen cloths - with the fabric pulled up between the loaves to maintain the shape.

Two baguettes proving on a cloth

Miraculously, Iíd found a basket in Patriciaís collection almost identical to the one Iíd used to prove my Levain de Campagne. I moistened this to make the flour stick, sprinkled it liberally with flour, rolled the ball of dough in flour and dropped it into the basket.

Dough proving in the basket

I did my proving on top of the cooker, and everything went fine. I used my two small plywood peels to get the baguettes safely off the cloth and used a sharp pair of scissors to cut them into a very traditional French shape, the name of which Iím afraid Iíve forgotten. This involves cutting diagonally almost all the way through at intervals and turning the sections alternately left and right. I then slid them off the peel onto the stone with the necessary jerk to get them moving, threw a cup of water into a roasting tin on the floor of the oven to provide steam and shut the door quickly.

It was only when I tried to shovel the loaves out that I discovered Iíd overshot the back of the stone!

Baguettes with a bit of a droop

Otherwise, they were stunning.

An even bigger problem arose with the basket-proved dough: it would not come out of the basket in one piece. Where had I gone wrong? Dampening the basket? Not enough flour? Dough too loose (it certainly had been pretty soft)? Weíll see with the next attempt. Meanwhile, I picked the dough out and shaped it by hand, and the loaf was delicious - as confirmed by our friends from Normandy who were staying with us at the time. (Worrying news from them, though: it seems that the French, to whom bread has always seemed like a religion, are being seduced in ever-larger numbers by the bread machine!)

By this time I was so flustered I forgot to take pictures, but the resulting breads tasted great, leaving me eager to do some more.

31 March 2011

I got the chance to try the correct recipe for the Levain de Campagne today, using strong white, strong wholemeal and strong rye flours from Tuxford Windmill. I added quite a bit more flour during the development of the dough, but it seemed determined to stay wetter than I wanted. Nevertheless, I floured the basket (dry this time) and rolled the ball of dough in wholemeal flour, coating it thoroughly, before putting it in to prove. I used the slow/plate-warming oven on our silly cooker, set to 50įC using an oven thermometer, but when I took the basket out the dough was thoroughly stuck. When I finally got it out, it left the basket almost completely lined with bubbly dough.

So there was no alternative but to re-knead the dough with a little more flour and make a conventional loaf, which I proved until it looked about the right size and slashed with an oldfashioned razor blade (hard to find, but Sainsburyís do their own brand) threaded on a bamboo skewer (see picture). After just over 35 minutes at 230įC on the dial, it came out looking like this - remarkable considering the battering it had taken!

Levain de Campagne 30 March 2011 with slashing tool

Given a really good blast in the oven, this loaf had the best crust Iíve produced so far - thinner and much crisper than before. Plenty of water in the tray on the floor of the oven, which was preheated for a couple of hours, and longer cooking than I usually dare. The smell of the crust and the crumb were both delicious.

The crumb was finer than before, with less large holes, but then the dough had been meddled with a lot more. However, it was really elastic - a finger pressed in quite firmly left no lasting impression.

A peek inside the 31 March 2011 loaf.

And the flavour? Yum...

The following day we ate most of half the loaf for lunch - not quite so crunchy, but still very good bread.

16 April 2011

On the 8 April I made two batches of Levain de Campagne, making sure the dough was a little stiffer and forsaking the basket in favour of making two smaller round hand-shaped loaves from each batch. I tried pre-fermenting the sourdough with all the water and half the white flour for a couple of hours before finishing the mix. I donít really know whether this made any difference, but this was unquestionably the best bread I have ever made. It was fairly light, with a slightly more open crumb than in the bungled loaf described above and, most importantly, a crumb that sprung back completely when squashed and released. Crisped in the oven, it was delicious, and kept in a bag to stop the crust drying it stayed really nice for two or three days.

Doing a bit of background reading in Richard Bertinetís two books, Dough and Crust, I discovered that he too recommends Shipton Mill as a source of flour. I have had a look at their website and found that all their products can be bought over the Web, so when my stock of Tuxford Windmill flours runs out I intend to order some.

20 April 2011

Yesterday I made a batch of white dough and one of Levain de Campagne (but with the salt reduced from 8 grams to 6), having revived the sourdough in the fridge overnight as before. Despite having to do a lot of the work sitting at the kitchen table, thanks to the failure of my ankle replacement after five years, I got two small Campagnes and two lovely crusty baguettes for my trouble. The flavour was fine with reduced salt.

It seems that the sourdough from the School will go on very happily if revived just once a week, adding 150 grams each of flour and warm water and leaving the mix in the kitchen overnight. This contradicts all the folklore I picked up in my previous sourdough adventures, which involved creating and throwing away monstrous quantities of starter just to keep things going.

Actually, itís amazing how much folklore there is about this wonderful method of breadmaking. Richard Bertinet in Crust promotes the wasteful technique mentioned above, and Emmanuelís introduction to the course at the School was full of rather dodgy science. I think the research I did four years ago probably found the most accurate account of the biology involved, documented in The sourdough project. Basically, sourdough involves developing a mixed culture of one or more wild yeasts and one or more wild bacteria which can live in harmony and fight off infection by any competing micro-organisms. The ideal seems to be two bacteria that can ferment starch to produce lactic acid (the one in sour milk and yogurt) and acetic acid (the one in vinegar).

Interestingly, Bertinet does suggest drying and powdering some sourdough for long-term storage - an alternative to mollycoddling your starter and even taking it on holiday with you! I may try this - after all, my San Francisco starter was supplied in dried form...

3 May 2011

My doughs, particularly the Levain, made exactly as the School recipes say, has been a bit on the wet side, so this time I reduced the water from 300 grams to 275, and even then I ended up putting 25 grams more white flour in during mixing. I also used one smaller bowl and a wet cloth rather than the large and small bowls, and gave the dough a more thorough knead before resting. I think the dough could still have been a bit stiffer, but in every other way the bread was excellent - again!

12 May 2011

In preparation for handing over a supply of sourdough with instructions to my stepson Alistair (a bread machine user!), I checked over the instructions and decided Iíd better do - and tell him to do - exactly what it says on the sheet. I had originally started by using the whole container of sourdough I brought back from the schoo, quantity unknown, instead of the 15 grams specified by the School, and have kept going like this ever since, using whatís left over from each batch to prime the next. As the starter is a lot wetter than working dough, this has effetively meant adding quite a lot of extra water.

So this morning I went by the book, weighing out just 15 grams of sourdough (no mean feat with such a glutinous ingredient!), mixing it in 150 grams of warm water and then stirring in 150 grams of strong white flour. I made two batches like this.

Sadly, by the time I had taken 300 grams from the bag of flour I realised that I hadnít got enough left for a batch of bread! I could have done something with a couple of hundred grams of white, plus a choice of wholemeal, spelt and light rye, but as I was trying a precision experiment I thought this would defeat the object.

So - should I go and get some more Tuxford Windmill Flour or stick to my long-term plan and order some flours from Shipton Mill, who supply the School? I decided to go for the Shipton option. Iíll let the two batches of sourdough get started and then put them in the fridge until the flour arrives. The worst that can happen is that Iíll need to feed them again, but I hope not...

13 May 2011

My Shipton Mill order was acknowledged at 10:10am yesterday and arrived at 8:00am today - impressive! The two sourdough batches in the fridge, which is very cold, look as if they have started fermenting very slowly. Iíll take one out before bed tonight and hope to get some bread made tomorrow...

I tried the last of my loaves from my day at the School yesterday - the Dark Rye Sourdough. It was very heavy (750 grams for a small loaf!) and, when defrosted, very soft and doughy inside - not very nice at all. Under-baked, or what? I decided to bin it.

16 May 2011

Yesterday I made a single batch of Campagne de Levain using the new flours from Shipton Mill. I followed the recipe from the School more-or-less as printed - 250g strong white, 100g wholemeal and 50g rye (but light, not dark), 6g (not 7g) salt and 300g water. This produced an even wetter dough than with the Tuxford Mill flours, so Iím wondering if I bought the wrong white flour from Shipton. I had to add three lots of 25g of white before the dough was manageable - though still on the moist side.

This was followed by 10 minutesí rest and 10 turns of kneading repeated four times, followed by a further rest and a more thorough knead, each time adding a little more flour. By the end of this, I had a reasonably firm dough, which I rested for a further hour before dividing, íroundingí and laying on a good bed of white flour in a baking tray.

After three hours the loaves had spread and risen, so I springkled them with plenty of flour and gavce each three slashes.

I donít think Iíve mentioned that with long, slow proving (rather than an hour in the Schoolís proving cabinet, which I think may have humidity control) Iíve found it very difficult to slash my loaves using the lame (an old-fashioned razorblade threaded onto a bamboo skewer). This is partly because a tough skin has formed and partly because the dough is much softer than what Iíve been used to. And it doesnít seem to make any difference whether the loaves have been risen under a damp cloth or a dry one. So this time I honed my Dadís lovely old ham knife to a razor edge - and even that had trouble getting through the skin.

But, as you see from the pictures, it managed eventually!

14 May 2011 loaves straight from the oven

14 May 2011 loaves separated

This morning I tried one of the loaves for breakfast - and was actually rather disappointed. The colour was much paler than before (possibly because Iíd used light rye flour; the crumb was less open, though still light and elastic; and, worst, the flavour was rather bland - perfectly pleasant with marmalade or honey, but definiely not as rich and nutty as recent efforts with the Tuxford flours. (Iíve checked: the Tuxford is just marked íRyeí, so is probably wholemeal, but the Shipton is marked íLight ryeí.)

This is really disappointing, as I now have about 10kg of Shipton flours!

23 May 2011

Last night I made a batch of sourdough using just 15 grams of starter, as with tha last batch, and decided on a little experiment. I had to use the Shipton Mills white flour as Iíd used the last of my stock of Tuxford Windmill white, but I used the Tuxford wholemeal and rye flours for a batch of Levain de Campagne. I also made a batch of white using the Shipton flour, producing two round floury batches rather than messing with baguettes.

I used just 275 grams of water in each batch instead of the recipeís 300 grams, and while the white dough was just about right the brown was still pretty soft and wet, so I added a good sprinkle of white, wholemeal and rye to this at the first knead. The white only needed enough flour to stop it sticking to my fingers and the worktop. I obviously need to reduce the water even more for the brown next time - maybe to 250 grams.

I succeeded in getting three really deep slashes into each loaf with my Dadís old ham knife, freshly honed, and the white ones went in the oven for half an hour at 230įC. I left the Campagne to prove for a little longer, and it got 35 minutes at the same temperature.

White loaves 23 May 2011
The white loaves straight from the oven

Campagne loaves 23 May 2011
The Campagne loaves straight from the oven

Despite being baked first, the white loaves had risen more than the Campagne. I put this down to the brown dough being flabbier. From what can be seen in the slashes, though, the textures of both breads look promising. The lesson here seems to be that my Campagne dough needs to be drier and firmer. The answer might be to prepare more of the dry mix of the three flours than is called for by the recipe and keep adding at the mixing stag until the dough reaches a better consistency.

I cut a small slice off the end of a white loaf and a brown one before bagging them for the freezer. The texture of both was nice and open, with some quite big bubbles, and the crumb was soft, moist and springy. The flavour of both was excellent. Phew!

As for the previous batch, I ate one loaf and froze the other. The first was disappointing, but just about worth eating. I defrosted the second at the end of the week and gave it seven minutes in a 230įC oven. I was still quite unhappy, and today I cut three slices off and diced them for the birds. However, odd as it was, the freshly exposed break still smelled quite good, so Iíve just eaten some for lunch, strangely better than the unfrozen one. The crumb is very firm and quite dry, but the flavour is acceptable.

31 May 2011

I have just finished the first white loaf from the 23 May batch. Despite the stunning appearance and a good blast in a hot oven after defrosting, the bread was really rather disappointing. Iím wondering whether I should have got the other strong white flour from Shiptons - the creamy-coloured one...

15 June 2011

Iím currently eating the second Campagne from the last batch - much more appetising than the white, but not a patch on what I produced using the Tuxford flours. This is really disappointing: it looks as if the Shipton Mills white flour (of which I still have about 3Ĺ kilos!) just isnít up to the mark, and I wasnít that impressed with their wholemeal.

Campagne 23 May 2011 cut

16 June 2011

Today (Thursday) decided, after finishing both the white and the Campagne from the last batch, that Iím not going to waste any more time on the Shipton Mill flours. Both breads have been deeply disappointing. I donít know whether I got a poor batch of flour, or what, but I do know how good the Tuxford Windmill flours are!

I also realised today that Iíd left the sourdough neglected in the fridge for two weeks again, so I refreshed it before going to bed.

18 June 2011

Yesterday (Friday), despite being deeply involved in decorating, I managed to snatch a couple of hours off for shopping, including a visit to the Welbeck Farm Shop where - among other irresistible goodies - I picked up three kilos of Tuxford Windmill strong white flour. In the evening I refreshed the sourdough again, adding a couple of tablespoons of the frothy mass to 150 grams each of white flour and warm water.

This morning (Saturday and a day off from both the painting and the morning walk) I got up early. The sourdough was frothing madly and giving off a really powerful aroma, so the double-refreshing trick had obviously had a highly invigorating effect.

Long before breakfast, I started a double batch of Campagne (rather than two separate batches - the first time Iíve deviated from Emmanuelís instructions!). On the basis of recent experience, I decided to try reducing the water again, from 275 to 250 grams per batch.

So into the large bowl went 500 grams straight from the hot tap, followed by 150 grams of the fresh sourdough. This was stirred to mix thoroughly and left while I sifted 500 grams of white flour, 200 grams of wholemeal and 100 grams of rye, with 14 grams of salt, and mixed them thoroughly. This was then added in several batches to the liquid, stirring each time to get a smooth batter and, eventually, a rough - and still quite wet - dough.

Then I switched from the spoon to one of the plastic scrapers Patricia bought me from Richard Bertinet, and was able to fold-and-turn-and-squash the double batch of dough twenty times without getting my hand all gooey.

As before, the new dough had ten minutesí rest, but under a damp tea-towel rather than a second bowl. This was followed by what I noted as a í20-turn scraper kneadí. Then 20 more turns and 10 minutesí rest. And again. Four knead-and-rest cycles in all.

Boldly breaking away from Emmanuelís formula again, I turned the dough out onto the bench and, with sprinklings of white flour as necessary, gave it about five minutes of conventional kneading (it was a bit firm for the Bertinet method), and ended up still slightly sticky but fairly firm.

Back in the bowl then for an hourís rest.

I decided I might as well use some of the Shipton wholemeal for forming and dusting my loaves (waste not - want not). I íroundedí the ball of dough. This is the technique of pulling, folding and turning the ball ten or more times and then plonking it down on the folded side, then turning it on the bench as the fingers tuck the bottom edge in - easier done than explained! This is not just for show - it structures the dough, giving it more elasticity.

I used the scraper to cut the ball in half, rounded each one, halved them again and rounded all four quarters. Two were placed on each of two heavily dusted baking sheets, dusted generously with flour, covered with a single layer of damp tea towel (which was carefully ítentedí to keep the weight off the bread) and left to prove at room temperature for two hours.

After that time (at 1:20pm) the oven was turned on and set to 230įC. The loaves had grown considerably, but I decided to give them a bit longer.

After another hour it looked as if they had stopped rising, so they were dusted quite heavily with some more redundant Shipton wholemeal and each given three diagonal slashes.

If you look at the pictures of the the previous batches of Campagne and white bread, you can see that the slashes on the white loaves worked well but those on the Campagne didnít. That, Iíd deduced, was because the dough was both softer and stickier. This time, with a firmer dough - and with Dadís ham knife smeared with a little butter - I was able to slash more deeply, and the slashes didnít close as much. The question was: would they open in the oven, allowing the loaves to rise more freely?

The two tins were put in the oven, a mug of water was thrown into the roasting tin on the bottom, the door was quickly closed and the timer was set to 35 minutes. I then retired to the conservatory and managed to resist the temptation to go back for a peek.

Here are the results...

The 18 June 2011 Campagne loaves on the cooling rack
Straight from the oven to the cooling rack

The loaves  separated to show a glimpse of the crumb structure
Cooled, dusted off and separated
to give a glimpse of the crumb structure

The slashes had opened almost as wide as those on the last batch of white bread and the loaves were standing up proudly rather than looking as if they had sagged.

All the loaves were frozen, but when I defrosted one and crisped it in a hot oven I was delighted with the crumb and the flavour. Some of my recent Campagne loaves have been a bit close-textured, but these were more holey and rustic-looking.

7 July 2011

Two nights ago, I íwoke upí the sourdough in the fridge with 150 grams each of warm water and Tuxford Windmill strong white flour. This produced, as usual, a pretty volcanic result. Last night I stirred the brew and fed a couple of tablespoons as before, and this morning the volcano had erupted again, with a strong sourdough smell.

Based on the results of the previous batch, I reduced the water from 500 to 475 grams for a double batch, adding 300 grams of the active sourdough to the water, stirring throughly, and then added most of the previously sifted-together flours-and-salt mixture. I had something else to attend to, so I left the thick batter for around 20 minutes before adding the rest of the dry ingredients and finishing the mixing with the Bertinet scraper. The resulting dough was noticeably stiffer than before, but still quite sticky. After a ten-minute rest, I gave the dough its first scraper-knead, rested for ten minutes, scraper-kneaded, rested, kneaded, rested, kneaded and rested. Then I covered the bowl with a damp Bertinet bakerís cloth and left it for about half an hour while I had breakfast (home-mixed muesli, home-made yogurt and home-cooked French jumbo prunes from Holland and Barrett, plus freshly squeezed orange juice, followed by tea and a cigar).

Note that Iím getting a bit more relaxed about timings. The extra unplanned rests donít seem to be doing any harm - in fact, I think they improve things.

Well fortified, I tried Richard Bertinetís stick-stretch-slap kneading method, but the dough was a bit too stiff. So I gave it five minutes of íproperí kneading before a one-hour rest, after which there was more evidence of rising than before - the extra resting. I assume.

I then íroundedí the dough, halved and rounded again, halved and rounded once more. Two of the quarters were shaped into my usual style of loaf and put on a well-floured baking sheet to prove under the damp cloth - not dusted with flour this time so I could see the difference with an unprotected crust.

This time Iíd decided to try some rolls. I quite like to keep bags of rolls in the freezer so I can just pop one or two out for a quick microwave defrost. If the oven is on, Iíll then crisp them up, but they are usually pretty good íwaved just enough to leave them slightly warm. However, smaller pieces of dough tend not to rise as much as big loaves. We would see.

I rounded, halved, rounded, halved, rounded, halved and shaped to produce eight rolls and put them on another well-floured sheet under the cloth.

After three hours at kitchen temperature all were well risen, so I preheated the oven the 230įC, giving it plenty of time for all the ironmongery to heat through. Then I slashed the loaves, put them in the oven, threw a 250ml mug of cold water into the roasting tin on the oven floor and shut them in. After fifteen minutes I did the same with the rolls - a bit concerned about giving the loaves a second steaming, but I am an experimental cook, after all. After another twenty minutes, everything was done and the second steaming had done no harm.

By afternoon tea time, the rolls were almost cool, so we had one each with butter and Bon Maman strawberry jam. The texture of the bread was excellent, though slightly sticky to the touch. Iím wondering if itís the rye flour: think Iíll try leaving it out and putting in more wholemeal next time - it might make slashing the dough a bit easier.

As you can see, the rolls are a bit paler than the loaves, so Iíll probably give them a bit longer next time...

Two loaves and eight rolls - 7 July 2011
The 7 July loaves and rolls cooling

16 July 2011

As I still have three loaves in the freezer, I decided to íwake upí the sourdough in the fridge and split the 300-gram batch into two while it was still highly active. The two 150-gram batches are back in the fridge - hopefully in time to stop them blowing their lids off!

I finished the last of the eight rolls for breakfast this morning, defrosted naturally and crisped under the grill: great texture and moisture content, and the stickiness had disappeared. I havenít tried the last batch of loaves yet - probably tomorrow.

22 July 2011

The two batches of sourdough in the fridge continued to íriseí, then stabilised, and now can be seen to have ísunkí in their clear plastic containers, though with a very bubbly appearance on top. This suggests that they went on fermenting more slowly at low temperature. I have established that refrigerated sourdough can be revived after two weeks in the fridge, so Iíll wake one up at two weeks and leave the other for a third week.

Interestingly, the texture of the rolls from the last batch was better than that of the loaves, so maybe those needed longer proving. Thatís good news, though, because rolls suit my bread consumption better than even small loaves. Maybe Iíll produce 16 rolls instead of four loaves when I make the next batch...

15 August 2011

This morning I opened the 16 July stash of sourdough Iíd stored at the back of the fridge - thatís a full month without attention! I poured off the small amout of liquid that had accumulated and stirred the thick, creamy and now completely bubble-free mixture. I took out a flat tablespoonful and mixed it into 75 grams of warm water. Then the same weight of Shipton Mill strong white flour was stirred in. As usual, the bowl was covered with clingfilm and a small hole was punched in the centre. That was at 9am.

By 12:30pm the first few bubbles had started to appear - and somehow three fruit flies had managed to get under the clingfilm. Even more surprisingly, they were able to walk across the sticky surface of the dough and up the sides of the bowl when I lifted the film!

After 24 hours the sourdough was very bubbly, but I suspect that it would benefit from a second overnight revival before using to make bread.

So the culture will live for a month in the fridge but may benefit from a little more TLC to bring it back to full vigour. Two weeks, though, seems fine - which is good as it means Iíll never have to follow the ípuristsí and take my brew on holiday!

6 September 2011: after a holiday...

We returned from a two-week visit to Normandy two days ago and yesterday I retrieved my two 150-gram sourdough starters from the back of the fridge. One had been revived on the 15 August (22 days ago) and the other on the 20 August (17 days ago). I revived both with 75 grams each of water and Shipton Mill white flour. They were slow to get going, but after about 20 hours both were fully active. This morning I repeated the process, but with 150 grams each of water and flour to make two working starters. This exhausted the bag of Shipton flour, so the second batch was topped up with my favoured Tuxford Windmill ingredient. After an hour, both were showing signs of activity, so three weeks seems to be a reliable interval between ífeedingsí.

7 September 2011

This morning I decided I was sufficiently recovered from our holiday to make some bread.

With one of my 300-gram starters, now frothing furiously, I made a white dough with 500 grams of Tuxford white flour, 8 grams of fine sea salt and 250 grams of warm water. With the other I used 250 grams each of Tuxfordís white and wholemeal flours, 8 grams of the same salt and, initially, 250 grams of warm water. The second batch was too still so I worked in another 25 grams of water.

When both doughs were fully mixed I went into the usual routine, but with 20 fold-squash-turns using only the scraper: 10 minutesí rest, knead, 10 minutesí rest, knead, 10 minutesí rest, knead, 10 minutesí rest, knead, 60 minutesí rest. Both doughs felt good after this, but the half-brown one was quite a lot stiffer despite the extra water.

I then íroundedí each batch and used the scraper to halve and round three times to produce eight fairly uniform balls from each. These were put on well-floured baking sheets to prove under a damp linen tea towel on top of the cooker, with the oven set to 230įC. After two-and-a-half hours the balls had spread to touch one another without sagging. I used scissors to make two cuts in the top of each roll and baked them for 25 minutes. They looked good, but I decided to turn them and give them another five minutes, so they had only five minutes less than the loaves. The crusts were nice and dark, the points raised by the scissors almost black.

As soon as they had almost cooled on the racks I bagged them and put them in the freezer.

8 September At lunchtime today I defrosted one roll from each batch in the microwave, cooled them and cut each in half to share with Patricia. The white one had a good, open, íholeyí texture. The brown had a more even texture but was still light. Both tasted really good - even Patricia, who isnít as keen on brown bread as I am, commented on how good the 50/50 half was! I will repeat this next time, but adding a little more water to make the brown dough as easy to work as the white.

12 September 2011

On the 20 August I froze 150 grams of sourdough. To be honest, this was more to do something potentially useful with some leftovers than is any real hope of finding a means of storing starters for the long term. I defrosted the specimen at room temperature on the 10 September - which happened surprisingly quickly - and added 75 grams each of warm water and Tuxford white flour. Bubbles started appearing more quickly than they do when I kick off a starter from the fridge.

I was amazed because I was pretty sure that freezing would burst the cell membranes of the sourdough organisms. Obviously something had survived the process, but today - after 48 hours and plenty of frothing - the smell was quite different from the usual one: sort of paint-like, and without a hint of that lovely fresh yogurty acidity.

I decided not to pursue this experiment any further. However, Richard Bertinet does tell us how to dry sourdough, so I might try that next...

27 September 2011

A few days ago I revived both the current batches, last fed on the 6 September, and was disappointed to find that, while fermentation was very vigorous, the sourness seemed to be fading. Since then Iíve been feeding a batch daily, but still without recovering the pleasant yogurty acidity.

I wondered if I was using too much of the previous batch to innoculate the new one, which would mean that a lot of exhausted or dead yeast cells and bacteria were left. So yesterday, based on my experience with home-made yogurt, I tried kicking off a 100-gram batch (50 each of water and flour) with just a teaspoon of the previous one. That was started at 10:10am and by this morning it was quite active, though still without much sourness to the nose.

At 11:00am I started a new 100-gram batch using a teaspoon of yesterdayís. As weíre going to be away for a couple of days, I will put this in the top of the fridge as soon as it is showing signs of serious activity.

5 October 2011

We got back from three days in the baking sunshine on the North Yorkshire coast on the 30 September, and the sourdough batch in the fridge looked fine - plenty of bubbles, so it had obviously fermented slowly in the cold. Unless Iím kidding myself, the sourness seems to be coming back, too. On the 1 October at 12:30pm I used one teaspoon of this batch to start a 200-gram mix, which I left in the warm (about 24įC!). This activated nicely, so I repeated the process on the 2 October and on the next day I split this into two equal batches and left them at room temperature. Again, they woke up nicely overnight and were put in the fridge.

14 October 2011

Realising that it was a week since Iíd fed either of my beasties, I revived a teaspoon from one on the 12th with 100 grams each of Tuxford white flour and water. It was only yesterday, when I decided to make a double (1kg) batch of bread, that I realised that I hadnít got 300 grams of sourdough. I decided to go ahead with the 200 grams.

I wanted to try a 50/50 white/wholemeal bread. Iíd run out of Tuxford wholemeal flour but had an unopened bag from Shipton Mill. Hoping this would be better than their white, I went ahead, dispersing the 200 grams of sourdough in 550 grams of warm water and adding 500 grams of white flour to make a nice thick batter. Then I weighed in 500 grams of the wholemeal and added 15 grams of fine sea salt.

Doing the scraper mix and knead in the bowl was pretty heavy going with a double batch, but I persevered, adding first one and then another extra 25-gram dose of water when I could judge the consistency. When the dough was thoroughly mixed, I covered the bowl with a damp tea-towel and left it to rest for ten minutes. Two 20-turn scraper kneads (still pretty hard work!) were each followed by a 10-minute rest, and the third by a one-hour rest. I was otherwise engaged when the timer went off, so the dough got another 50 minutes before I turned it out.

It was sticky to the touch but quite manageable without extra flour, so I rounded it and halved it with a sharp knife (the scraper wasnít big enough for such a hefty lump). The halves were rounded and halved again, and the first two were rounded to near-spheres and put on a heavily-floured baking sheet. The second two were halved and rounded twice more to make eight rolls, which were also put on a sheet as near-spheres. Plenty of bubbles were visible on the cut surfaces.

The sheets were left on top of the cooker with the oven turned on to 230įC, covered with a double thickness of well-damped tea-towel, and left for most of the afternoon.

All the dough was well risen in spite of the lower dose of sourdough.

Then each loaf was slashed three times, quite deeply, with my Dadís old ham knife - still quite a sticky job, even without rye flour in the mix - and slid into the oven with a 250ml mug of water chucked into the roasting tin on the bottom. After 35 minutes the loaves were dark-coloured and well risen, the slashes having opened wide.

The same procedure was followed for the rolls, each being given a single deep slash, but with the timer set to 25 minutes. They were a bit pale, so I gave them another three or four minutes.

As soon as they were cool, the loaves and rolls were bagged and put in the freezer.

Another experiment As I now had very little strong white flour left, I decided to try feeding my sourdough with plain flour. I reasoned that, with more starch and less protein, this should give the bugs a richer diet, and by bedtime there were plenty of bubbles. This morning, I put most of the resulting froth in the fridge. Iíll use strong flour for the final mix when I bake again, innoculating with just a teaspoon of the plain-flour brew.

17 October 2011

The first defrosted roll was excellent - a good open texture for a brown bread, and a more manageable crust. There was a hint of crispness after defrosting in the micorwave.

29 October2011

I have designated my two separate containers (the ones I brought back from the school way back on the 13 March) A and B. On the 3 October I fed one teaspoon of the existing white sourdough with 100 grams each of water and strong flour. This was then divided equally between the two containers. On the 12 October I did the first experiment with ordinary plain flour noted above (75 grams each of water and flour), keeping a batch of the more standard version just in case my íricher dietí theory was mistaken. As it clearly worked well, on the 17 October I fed a teaspoon of the íinsuranceí batch with 100 grams each of water and plain flour. The two batches were left until the 25 October, when teaspoons from both were fed with 100 grams each of water and plain flour. Batch A had been left for 13 days and batch B for eight. Today they look more-or-less identical, still with plenty of bubbles after four days, but I think batch A smells a little more acidic, though more vinegary than lactic.

The A and B batches will be kept completely separate.

I re-read the sourdough chapter in Richard Bertinetís second bread book, Crust, the other day. He seems to favour making a really huge batch of sourdough (kilos rather than grams!)if it is to be fridged for a holiday absence. However, I am pretty confident now that a 200-gram batch of my Welbeck-derived cultures will keep in the fridge for well over a fortnight.

I anticipation of a bad winter, I now have a good reserve stock of Tuxford flours tucked away...

3 November 2011

We ate the last two brown rolls for lunch yesterday with home-made leek and potato soup. They were light and moist, with some quite large bubbles in the crumb. Time to bake again!

We both prefer the 50/50 brown/white bread to the white, so I decided to make a double batch of that. At around 5pm I made a sourdough with a generous teaspoon of Batch B and 200 grams each of Tuxford strong white flour and warm water (300 grams for todayís bread and 100 grams to keep). By bedtime there were quite a few bubbles, and early this morning the mix had about doubled in bulk and was bubbling well.

I wanted to try a slightly wetter dough this time, in the hope of getting a more risen bread with larger air-bubbles.

I stirred 300 grams of the fresh sourdough into 600 grams of water warmed to about 38įC and mixed in 500 grams of white flour to give a rough batter. When I added the Shipton Mills wholemeal the bag only delivered 460 grams, and in pursuit of my íwetter the betterí target I decided to leave it at that.

I added 14 grams of fine sea salt and used the scraper to mix the dough, which was quite moist and sticky.

After a ten-minute rest I did a 20-turn scraper knead. Partway through the next ten-minute rest I decided to add 25 grams of extra water, and it took 40 slippery turns to get this all incorporated. Ten more minutesí rest and 20 more turns had the dough, though soft and sticky, leaving the sides of the bowl clean, so I set the timer for an hour.

At the end of this time the dough had expanded considerably and was very soft. I managed to handle it without adding any flour, and used the usual rounding-halving-rounding-halving technique using a Bertinet scraper until I had 16 fairly equal and spherical pieces. These were assembled on two well floured baking sheets and left to prove under a folded and damped tea towel. After a couple of hours, they had risen to join together and, although very soft, had gained in height as well as girth.

I tried slashing a couple with an oiled and freshly-sharpened ham knife, but it was impossible to get clean cuts. So I left the rest as plain baps, tipped half a litre of cold water into the roasting tin in the bottom of the oven and baked them for half an hour at 230įC.

The results looked really good...

One of the rolls made on the 3 November 2011

...with a nice open texture showing where the rolls had been separated. We shared one at tea-time - split, buttered and spread with Bon Maman strawberry jam - and agreed that they were very good indeed. There was a good range of bubble-sizes and the crumb was light, moist and springy.

I donít think itís my imagination: Iím quite sure that my sourdough is becoming more and more aggressive, as well as producing bread with a more distinctive smell and taste. So my management of the starters is obviously working really well eight months after I brought the mix home from the School. And it contradicts the widely-held opinion (even the illustrious Richard Bertinetís) that you have to maintain large quantities of sourdough: one teaspoonful is quite enough to kick off a new batch! So Iím sticking to my theory, for both sourdough and yogurt, that small starters put less dead and dying organisms into each new batch than large ones.

Have I mentioned my main criterion for a well-made and fully cooked bread? Cut a slice and press a finger into it until it wonít go any further. Then check whether the slice recovers fully. If it does, it passes the test. Try that with a slice of any commercial bread!

Summary: 500 grams white flour, 460 grams wholemeal flour, 625 grams water and 14 grams salt. Four 20-turn kneads with ten-minute rests and then one more knead before a one-hour rest.

9 November 2011

Batch B was fed with 100 grams each of strong flour after the baking on the 3 November. The refrigerated result is still showing bubbles today.

Batch A was checked on the 7 November and was free of bubbles with a layer of clear liquid on top, so this was fed with 100 grams each of plain flour and water, and is still looking bubbly after two days.

15 November 2011

I made a brief return to ítameí yeast baking today, after a request for some focaccia from Patricia - we had run out of the lovely loaves from the artisan bakery on the Welbeck estate, home of the School of Artisan Food where I learned my current sourdough skills. I followed the recipe in Richard Bertinetís excellent Dough, but using 5 grams of Allinsonsí dried yeast instead of 15 grams of fresh.

The can of the dried product has lived in the freezer for a very long time (it is mentioned on my Home-made bread page, which was last updated in February 2007 and I suspect itís been around a lot longer than that!) but it took off perfectly when added to water at 43įC.

(After writing that I had a look at the tin. Best before...wait for it...09/2002! So itís no less than nine years past its best-before and it still works perfectly. Might be time to buy a new tin, though...)

Bertinetís slap-fold-turn-slap kneading technique made a refreshing - if messy - change from the scraper-in-the-bowl routine Iíve been using with my sourdough breads.

The focaccia turned out quite nicely - well risen, though still lacking the huge bubbles I find in breads from Welbeck. Mind you, I havenít got fifty grandís worth of French wood-fired oven...

Iíve had it in mind for some time to try developing a sourdough focaccia. We will see...

16 November 2011

On the 14 November I revived batch B, which contained the leftover sourdough from the 3 November batch of bread. I used just 50 grams each of plain flour and water with a teaspoon of batch B, and after 24 hours it was fermenting - but rather gently. I decided I would kill two birds with one stone: revive the mix again and make a new batch of bread today, so I made a working sourdough with a teaspoon of the previous dayís mix and 250 grams each of water and Tuxford strong white flour. By this morning this had about doubled and was very bubbly, so I went ahead with an experimental pain de campagne.

After making the focaccia I had come to the conclusion that the stickiness of my sourdough mixes was due to the sourdough itself rather than the rye flour used in the original campagne, so I decided to replace some of the wholemeal with Tuxford dark rye in the brown part of the blend. We liked the 50/50 brown/white bread, so I stuck to these proportions. It worked out to 500 grams of Tuxford strong white, 340 grams of Shipton wholemeal and 170 grams of Tuxford dark rye.

The usual 300 grams of working sourdough was stirred into 600 grams of water at 38įC and the white flour was then mixed in to make a batter. The wholemeal, rye and 15 grams of salt were then added and mixed in. The result was very stiff, so I added three separate 25-gram helpings of warm water, working each one in before adding the next. At the end of this the dough felt about right for the Bertinet slap-fold-turn-slap kneading technique Iíd used with the focaccia.

I havenít explained this alternative kneading technique on this page, so here goes...

You take the rather slack and sticky just-mixed dough from the bowl and, without flouring the work surface, pull it up from where it has stuck by one end. You then swing the dough up and slap it down on the worktop, which should result in some stretching. If it has stretched enough, you then fold it in half, taking the end you are holding to the one further away. If it isnít long enough, you peel the further end off and repeat the swing-and-slap before folding. You then pick the dough up with one hand on the near side and one on the far side, which has the effect of rotating it through 90 degrees. This is repeated until the dough feels írightí. In the case of a white yeast bread, this means that the gloopy mass has somehow been transformed into a smooth, elastic dough that no longer sticks to the worktop.

My sourdough campagne dough didnít get to this point - it remained sticky, but was much more elastic and much easier to peel off the surface. It was then lightly dusted with rye flour and put in the bowl under a damp cloth.

After an hour it was rounded, halved...etc to produce 16 nicely spherical balls. These were placed on two oiled baking sheets and left on top of the cooker to rise under a damp tea-towel. When I felt that they had at least doubled in size, they were generously dusted with strong white flour. This time I tried slashing them with a new razor blade held in my fingers - giving a new meaning to the term ísafety razorí! Perhaps helped by the flour, this worked fairly well, and after half and hour in the oven at 230įC they came out looking like this:

The 16 November batch, fresh from the oven

Once they had cooled, I cut one in half and took the following picture:

Two rolls from the 16 November batch

It seems that the wetter-the-better dough is the answer to creating a more open crumb with some nice big bubbles - I might try another 25 grams of water next time...

I cut a thin slice and tested it by pressing a finger as far into the crumb as it would go: it sprang back without leaving a mark. And reverting to the white/wholemeal/rye blend had produced a really good flavour.

The remainder of the sourdough is now safely back in the fridge.

21 November 2011

Batch A, last refreshed two weeks ago on the 7 November, had gone dormant and developed a layer of liquid when checked this morning. A teaspoonful was added to 100 grams each of warm water and ordinary plain flour, and by evening it was pretty active. The bulk of this was poured back into the storage container and put in the fridge.

29 November 2011

Batch B had reached the same stage by today, and was treated exactly as above. From now on this will be the regular routine: refresh each batch with plain flour once every two weeks, alternating A and B, and making a 400-gram batch of sourdough (300 for the bread and 100 for the fridge) with strong flour on the following day whenever I want to bake. Innoculating the refresh batch with just a teaspoon of ítiredí sourdough has worked well, so Iíll stick to that - the less dead bugs the better!

The last batch used 675 grams of water with 300 grams of active sourdough, 500 grams of Tuxford strong white flour, 340 grams of Shipton wholemeal, 170 grams of Tuxford dark rye and 15 grams of fine sea salt. This will be repeated next time, but with 700 grams of water, which should make for a lovely messy Bertinet session!

Flouring the top of the bread seems to have made slashing easier, so Iíll stick with that.

15 December 2011

Both batches of sourdough are still looking íaliveí, so no need to refresh yet.

I treat the rolls as miniature loaves, cutting them vertically into four small but thick slices. Today half were eaten with Stichelton, Kirhamís Lancashire and Brie de Meaux, a superb selection of cheeses bought from the Welbeck Farm Shop last week (where, fortuitously, I had to go for our Christmas sausage meat!). The other two slices were eaten with my French honey. A simple but splendid light lunch.

29 December 2011

Worried that my two sourdough cultures might get forgotten amongst all the Christmas stuff, I refreshed both of them using plain flour on the 18 December. Yesterday they were both looking healthy - bubbly with no free liquid on top. I decided it was time to make my next batch of pain de campagne. Last night I refreshed batch A, using 200 grams each of water and Tuxford strong white flour, and left the bowl in the kitchen overnight. Despite the admittedly-mild winter temperatures, the mix was very bubbly by this morning.

Time to try yet another step in the íwetter-is-betterí progression.

Todayís batch started with 700 grams of water (25 grams more than last time) at 50įC and 300 grams of last nightís sourdough. The remaining 100 grams of sourdough went back into the rinsed-out batch A container - I donít see the need to clean it thoroughly, and there may even be some benefit in leaving traces of the older sourdough in with the new stuff.

When the sourdough was fully dispersed in the water, 500 grams of Tuxford strong white flour was stirred in to form a rough batter.

This was left for ten minutes while I had breakfast, 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 then left for 30 minutes while I had a much-needed cup of tea.

At this point I decided that it would be a good idea to document each step in pictures, so you can see everything as it happened.

The plastic scraper was used to knead the mix to a coherent - if very sticky - dough. The íBertinet bashí that followed was extremely messy, but at the end of 15 strenuous minutes the dough was sufficiently ítamedí for me to round it with only a sprinkle of flour and consign it to the bowl, covered with a damp cloth, for an hourís rest. By the time I had scraped and washed the worktop clean, I was ready for the hourís rest too! Time for coffee...

I had a peep after the hour and decided a second hour wouldnít hurt. Iíve come to the conclusion that Emmanuelís rigid timetable probably had more to do with his amazing feat of getting everybodyís bread baked within the working day than with precision baking. If it suits my routine to stretch the various proving and rising times of a batch of bread, thatís what I do. It may change the result somewhat, but so far none of the changes have been for the worse.

The dough in the bowl after proving

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.

The dough halved for the first time using the scraper

The dough halved and rounded into four pieces

The dough halved and rounded into eight pieces

The eighth piece ready for halving and rounding

Iíve just looked back over this page and realised that Iíve never explained the rounding process, despite mentioning it repeatedly. So here goes...

I take the ball of dough, pull out one point on the edge and fold it into the middle. I then rotate the ball a few degrees, pull and fold again, repeating the sequence until Iíve done at least one full revolution, with each folded-in bit overlapping the previous one. This stretches the outer layer of the dough, helping to give the loaf or roll a good structure. I then turn the dough over and cup my hands on either side, rotating it and using my fingertips to tuck the edges under. If Iím dividing the dough into smaller pieces - which I do four times to get 16 rolls from the batch - I use my plastic scraper to cut the round into two pieces as equal as possible. These are then rounded again, starting with the stickier cut side upwards. With sticky dough like this batch itís not easy to handle the dough!

The final balls for my rolls are finished by cupping my right hand loosely over each with finger and thumb tips on the worktop, making a loose ícageí areound the ball, and movinge the hand repeatedly in small circles, which miraculously produces something close to a sphere.

So, back to the story...

My rolls are baked on two small baking sheets with raised edges. These are thickly sprinkled with flour, using an old plastic tea-strainer as a dredger, and the balls are placed in two rows of four on each, keeping them fairly close together and reasonably far away from the edges of the sheet. If the dough rises well the rolls will join together and - I hope - wonít get stuck to the edges.

The sixteen balls on the floured baking sheets

With the embryo rolls safely tucked into their beds of flour, the baking sheets were placed on top of the cooker under a loosely-tented and dampened tea-towel.

The damped and tented tea-towel in place

At the end of the first hour (below) the balls of dough were just touching.

After the first hourís rising

After the second hour they were firmly joined together. I decided to go for a third hour.

After the second hourís rising

Unfortunately I was interrupted by an unexpected visitor and the third period extended to around two hours! By then the rolls were over-risen, the cloth had dried in the heat from the cooker and the dough had formed a thin dry crust which checked the rising. Thrown out of my rhythm, I floured them before taking the picture below...

Adter two more hours, dusted and ready for slashing

...and forgot to take a picture after slashing!

Half an hourís baking produced rolls which, although they hadnít risen much in the oven so the slashes hadnít opened, were very crusty and had a more open crumb structure than before.

The rolls fresh from the oven

One roll cut to show the open crumb structure

They tasted pretty good in spite of my lapse of concentration, but next time Iíll disconnect the doorbell or get a louder timer!

30 December 2011

Itís a good thing that the year is coming to an end, because this page is becoming unwieldy - it takes far too long to load into my editor.

I hope youíve found the saga of my first really successful sourdough breads interesting and useful, and that it has gelped you to get on the right road.

Any new developments will be recorded on next yearís page: Sourdough bread 2012-13.

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.