Sunday, 4 March 2012

Spicy cheese & herb sourdough

It was a wet Sunday morning and I had an essay to write and I was tired. But it was Sunday and I am baking a loaf today. Increasingly, I am finding that I want to spend less time doing things, going places, and instead just be. This sounds terribly middle-aged. Coincidently there is an article in The Observer newspaper on David Bainbridge's new book Middle Age: A Natural History. Along side it are some "funny" observations about the tell-tale signs that you are middle-aged. The following raised a smile -

  • You think it's about time you bought a nasal hair trimmer.
  • You can't sit down or stand up without making an "effort" noise.
  • You listen to Radio 1 and don't understand any of it.
  • You worry about your knees.
  • You know you haven't got a novel in you.
  • The first thing you read in the obituaries column is age of death.
But in among them there's this -
  • You start each day thinking you should live it like your last. But you don't.

Boom! I'd like to believe that whoever compiled the list slipped this in under the radar because it is of a different order than jokes about nasal hair clippers. You start each day thinking you should live it like your last. But you don't.

Baking a loaf of bread wouldn't be the worse thing I could picture on my last day, especially as today's is probably the best loaf I have ever baked (there's the joy of being a beginner!) I was inspired by a recipe in Emmanuel Hadjiandreou's beautiful book How to bake bread. I would love to do one of his four day bread courses - possibly next year if I save my pennies. I used his ingredients list for spiced cheese and herb sourdough


Strong white bread flour
chilli flakes
grated mature cheddar cheese
chopped coriander
white sourdough starter

Hadjiandreou teaches a no-knead method with plenty of folds. But I chose to stick with the method I have been using for my everyday loaves. Having taken my starter and fed it a couple of times I created a sponge on Saturday night using half the flour, all the water and all the starter. I mixed it well in a bowl and put a plastic shower cap over it. I know I'll have to take more notice of things like ambient temperatures but for now, I left it in a cold kitchen overnight.

By 7 a.m. it was bubbling merrily so I added the remaining ingredients. I think I may have put more coriander in than the recipe. Felt like two handfuls chopped up. I'll weigh it next time. I brought the mixture together and left it 15 minutes. I then kneaded it for a short period, 15 seconds or so and then left it for 10 to 15 minutes and repeated this four or five times. I may have kneaded it a little more because I can't help myself. The sticky dough became smoother and stretchier.

I shaped it into a ball and placed it into a round cane proving basket well dusted with rye flour. The instructions said leave for 3-6 hours until doubled in size. Doubled in size - what does that actually mean? Well Joanna@Zeb Bakes pointed me to this article at The Weekend Bakery which echoed some of my own suspicions but happily offers some great tips on proving.

3- 6 hours sounded a long time to me. I usually bake after 2 hours. I know you should err on the side of under proving yet I was wondering whether I have been giving my dough long enough.

So hear it is when place in the basket, and two and half hours it has risen to this -

Okay, I know the different camera perspectives distort it a little but it seemed risen enough. The oven was on high. I'm using a heavy baking tray at present so I took that out, floured it then placed the risen dough on it carefully. it felt pillowy to me. I slashed with a razor blade and placed it in the oven. A few sprays of water and a cup of boiling water in a tray at the bottom of the oven and then the door is shut and the timer set for 10 mins. At that point I check the loaf and there has been some oven spring. I take out the water tray and turn the oven down to 200 C. I give it 35 more minutes. Its done. I place it on the wire rack. I get a real buzz from this  minor alchemy. The loaf looks beautiful.

Sue and I share nearly half of it for tea with a green salad, coleslaw and a few pieces of grilled halloumi. Nice. The bread is crusty and the crumb is soft and moist. the chilli is evident though not over-powering. This is the second time I have made this bread and it is a winner. Now having this basic formula I am free to experiment for myself. I'd love to try some fresh green chilli and play around with the herbs. Can you use curry leaves in bread? Some cumin? How about wild garlic? We shall see!


  1. Yes that loaf looks beautiful!

    (So that's how you spell Hadjiandreou!)

    1. Thank you! Would definitely recommend his book. There's a blog in my blog roll up on the right hand side called "a bit of butter" which describes one person's experience of doing the full time baking course at the school that Hadjiandreou teaches... i am really envious... :)

  2. That is one gorgeous loaf and a beautiful crumb and I want to make this one now. It sounds delicious. I haven't come across this book and I am sorely tempted - I am sure I can squeeze another book on the shelf...

    And I haven't baked all week and maybe tomorrow will be my last day, so I'd better get a move on :)

  3. Thank you! Its a lovely book (i'm going to try his beetroot sourdough again this weekend which will benefit from my now having proving baskets) i'll be interested to hear how you get on if you do try this loaf.


  4. This sounds absolutely delightful, and I love the sound of the kick of chilli!

  5. My wife's a real chilli head and she would like it made with fiery fresh green peppers! I think the dried chilli works well and complements the cheese... but I am going to carry on experimenting. I see you are planning to bake through the river cottage bread book, another of my favourites. In fact, these 2 books along with the Dan Lepard book are my favourites. I have more comprehensive books but these three hit the mark for me as a beginner.

  6. I'm here late to the party, but I'll add another voice to those saying this looks delicious. I like the sound of the chilli, and I'm sure wild garlic would work nicely too; maybe even the green garlic scapes if you ever grow your own.

    1. Cheers Chris. I have only ever made tentative steps to growing my own food - we have some tomatoes and courgettes on the windowsill at present. Love garlic though :)

  7. My new book came this evening. :-) Absolutely stunning photos! i am all enthusiastc again. thanks for recommending this one Ray :)

  8. Wow bruv this blog is really inspiring! the bread looks amazing and as Shaun is a chilli fanatic Im sending off for the book too! Loved the excerpt about middle age was hilarious, I ticked them all except the dodgey knees.. have got that to look forward to!! As for starting each day as though as its my last.. hmmm still struggling with that, though making progress! :) Well done for the blog Im really so very proud of you! x Les

    1. Well you are the third person to go out and buy the book after reading this blog - I should be on commission! It is a beautiful book though. Have a look at some of the blogs I am following - there are some really inspiring people there. This blog is just a play thing but I have had some nice conversations because of it.

      Check out -