Sunday, 25 March 2012
This bread is all about the quality of the flour. I made a sponge last night with 500g Malthouse flour and 650g water plus a ladle of active starter. Well, when I say active starter.. I forgot to get it out of the fridge on Friday evening so it had a feed on the Saturday morning and then went straight into the sponge that evening. It was bubbling away just fine in the morning. I added 600g more flour and then 20g salt. I've stopped adding a glug of oil though I do coat the bowls in oil and use it liberally on the work surface. I brought it all together and then left it 15 minutes. I then I did some short needs - 15 seconds every 10 to 15 minutes for the first hour and then a series of folds every hour for about 3 hours. You can feel the dough develop its elasticity. I shaped the bread - I tried to follow the method in the River Cottage Handbook for a "stubby cylinder" (page 56).
The loaves were given two hours to rise. It was a sunny day and the kitchen was warm with the oven having been on. The breads baked for about 50 minutes and turned out to have a pleasing crust.
My first attempt at making sauerkraut. One red cabbage, finely shredded. Add three tablespoons of salt. Scrunch it up in a large bowl, which helps to breakdown the cell walls releasing water. Cram into a large jar. Ensure that all the cabbage is under the brine (add mineral water if necessary). And wait...
Meanwhile two large granary loaves are proving in the sunny kitchen. A quiet Sunday. Nice.
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Monday, 19 March 2012
“Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.”Baking and cookery books more so, as you have to factor in actually doing the recipes!
Last year I read Michael Foley’s The Age of Absurdity which is subtitled Why modern life makes it hard to be happy. Its an enjoyable read, not quite the sum of its parts, but nevertheless one of those books that makes you want to seek out its source material. I thought it was particularly strong in suggesting exploring stoic philosophy as an antidote to our modern consumer-orientated lifestyles. He also made a strong case for the value of reading “difficult” literature (may be one day I will get round to tackling Proust and Joyce…) and the reference to Farid Ud-Din Attar’s The conference of birds struck a chord with me. I would put it on my wish list except… except…
Foley talks about how shopping has become an end in itself, how the pleasure of shopping has become detached from the reality and utility of the goods. Well, sure, plenty of examples of that when you walk around any big shopping mall, I suppose. Foley then confesses his own vices, purchasing CDs and books. He tells of having increasing numbers of unread books.
“A new book retains its lustre of potential for about six weeks and then changes from being a possible bearer of secret lore into a liability, a reproach, a source of embarrassment and shame” (p.36).
He also notes how we can try to justify these purchases by saying we are “collecting” – Buying is not shopping it is “building a library”.
Of course, straight after reading Foley's book I went out an ordered three books on stoic philosophy which still remain substantially unread... hmmm... perhaps I do have enough books to be going on with.
I saw this book reviewed on Carl's blog and it arrived in the post this morning. I love fermented foods but never really considered making them myself. But then 18 months ago I would never have thought I'd be baking all my own bread....
A moratorium on book-buying for the next three months... see how I go.
Sunday, 11 March 2012
I have an essay to finish on Robert Owen, the founder of the Cooperative Movement, but I have been struggling to settle down to it. Its a beautiful sunny day and I kick myself for my procrastination. But it is Sunday, so I at least get to bake today, punctuated by study. Beetroot sourdough extends the alchemy that is sourdough. Emmanuel Hadjiandreou is again the inspiration with this very attractive loaf. Using his recipe as a base I again choose to prepare a sponge the night before containing half the flour, all the water and the white flour starter. By the morning it is bubbling away nicely.
I use double quantities of the following -
white bread flour
coarsely grated raw beetroot
white sourdough starter
rye flour for dusting the proving baskets
The dough is quite wet and so I end up adding a handful or 2 more flour but with a couple of hours folding and resting the dough is nice a stretchy and luridly pink. Beetroot juice is splattered everywhere during the preparation... beware! Disposable shower caps work well when placed over the proving baskets.
Hadjiandreou reckons the bread should be left to rise 3-6 hours, but in my experience 2 - 2 1/2 hours will suffice. however, this morning the sun is streaming in and the dough "doubles" within 90 minutes. Fortunately I had been checking on them like an over-cautious parent and quickly whack the oven on to maximum temeperature. I bake the loaves consecutively and I think the second boule is slightly over-proved as it wobbles like a pink blancmange and faints onto the baking tray. It comes out fine.
Still, the coarsely grated beetroot adds colour and sweetness to the crumb.
I even make progress with the essay... slowly. :)
Saturday, 10 March 2012
I am fortunate to have a good collection of cook books. I love vegetarian food which is reflected in the titles above. There are more around the house somewhere, but these thirty books are special. Some are well used and recipe-stained as a result. Madhur Jeffrey's World Vegetarian is probably my most used book, its also a good read with her wonderful anecdotes. Rose Elliot and Cranks cook books represent the more traditional vegetarian fayre - I have the original Cranks cook book somewhere and I baked my first wholemeal bread from its recipe. truth be told it was a bit of a house brick but it was home-made and still tasted good. River Cottage Veg is currently my favourite every day cook book but the cuisine that excites me most is to be found in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty and Sally Butcher's Veggiestan. I love the Middle-Eastern flavours. An honourable mention for David Scott's Simply Vegan too (out of print alas, but at the time of writing you can pick up a second hand copy on amazon for £0.01 - bargain!). I own a few vegan cookbooks and I love vegan food too. Of course, there are many, many vegan recipes within the books above, but I have not found that many vegan cookbooks that have continued to inspire me. I have a battered copy of Rose Elliot's Vegan Feasts. Any recommendations?
Sunday, 4 March 2012
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
grated mature cheddar cheese
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!
Blogs, recipes and copyright - a real can of worms.
Dan Lepard has a house rule on his own forum about what is acceptable to post. He says -
"Do not reproduce other people's recipes on this forum. You can list the ingredients and weights used, and describe what you did, but if you exactly copy anyone else's recipe and paste it on the forum I will remove it."I think this is fair. It takes a real gift to convey in words how to bake a loaf of bread and the authorship should be respected. I've just baked a wonderful loaf and hope to type up the recipe soon. My house rule is to always acknowledge the inspiration for any of the breads I bake and to never reproduce someone else's recipe without permission. I will always link to the original post if it is in electronic form or credit the book and author. I will reproduce ingredients lists and weights used on occasion especially where I have adapted a recipe. However, I am less inclined to do this for Dan Lepard's Handmade loaf as I am hoping to try the majority of his recipes over the coming months. Buy the book, it looks excellent! Mostly, you just get my own rambling thoughts on the experience, the literary equivalent of a silly grin.
The photographs on this site are taken by me unless otherwise credited. If you want to use any of them just ask me, I'll probably be terribly flattered! This site is for fun and intended for a small readership many of whom I hope to have a dialogue with.
Saturday, 3 March 2012
I set this blog up with the main aim of participating in the Mellow Bakers challenge to bake their way through Dan Lepard's classic The handmade loaf which due to commence in April 2012. I have only been baking sourdough since January 2011, usually making a couple of simple loaves at the weekend. I'm hoping to add to my repertoire and have fun.
Baking real bread, in part, came out of a response to dealing with a stressful job in health care. I am not alone in approaching fifty and wondering whether I have made the right employment choices. With ever increasing demands in the NHS and a target driven culture I question how I can continue in health care for another 20 years without serious detriment to my own health. Baking bread, meditation, running slowly and cooking and eating vegetarian food are some of the ways I cope. But I am not coping well enough so a sub-theme to this blog will be how I choose to address this.
I am happily married with two cats.