Posts Tagged ‘sourdough’

Our weekly bread | Truly easy seeded sourdough loaf

5 July 2021

I’ve been avoiding and postponing writing about sourdough for a long time, because it seemed so tricky and mined by details and intricacies and the space already inhabited by so many others. But I have shared this recipe privately so many times now that it makes sense to write it down here, once and for all, for those friends — and any others who might be interested — to have.

The first time I created a sourdough mother (starter) was in May 2014. It was easy and worked immediately but my dedication to bread making was patchy at best, in the end I spent more time making pancakes to use up the starter discard than actually baking loaves. After some months the experiment was waylaid.

In early March of last year, in a scramble to devise self-sustaining food sources in light of the impending lockdowns, again I created a starter (closely followed by salt beef, duck confit, pickles, etc etc). Of course, the irony became that everyone had the same idea at the same time and, while freshly baked bread remained readily available throughout, getting flour in London required constant adaptive creativity including ordering directly from mills, which — even they — soon rationed availability to one kilo of flour per order.

In any case, I created a mother, again, and started baking, this time at an all-consuming rhythm. Within weeks I experimented with different methods of sourdough breads (knead and no-knead), made bagels and baguettes, pizzas and enriched doughs. It was great fun and a steep learning curve. I traveled with the mother, continued baking in Brittany with different flours, different ovens, a not-so-different climate…

When we came home, life returned (briefly) to its more normal, hectic rhythm — bread making needed to be slotted in. And I had a number of stray bags of flour to use up (in particular einkorn, which is a low gluten flour that requires some creativity in bread baking). So I started experimenting with tin loaves, using a basic recipe from the E5 Bakehouse‘s Breadmaking Manual (they have since published a book).

In the Manual, the Seeded Rye is the first recipe, the easiest introduction to baking with sourdough. Taking it as a baseline, I used different flours, different seeds and nuts, adapting the water quantity slightly. It became not only the easiest bread to make, but also the most popular in the house. When, occasionally, I summoned up the effort to make a boule, folded meticulously over many hours, it ended up neglected, languishing in the bread box. Because the other top quality of the seeded loaf, in addition to its simplicity, is that it stays moist and delicious for at least 5 days, and probably up to week.

I usually make two loaves weekly, hand in hand with the rhythm of the starter, about which I will write in more detail soon (including how to revive one neglected in the fridge for a month!). The method today presumes the use of an active, recently ‘fed’ sourdough mother, often called ‘levain.’

Truly easy seeded sourdough loaf

Makes one 25cm x 12.5cm (10in x 5in) loaf

200g ‘levain’ or active, fed sourdough mother/starter
400g warm water (warm, not hot, to the touch, about body temperature)
100g dark rye flour
100g white rye flour
270g white spelt flour
160g of a mix of seeds and nuts: pumpkin, sunflower, flax, sesame seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, …
12g salt
Olive oil for the tin

In a medium to large bowl, mix together the starter with the warm water.

Add all the other ingredients (the flours, seeds and nuts, and the salt) and mix well to obtain a homogenous, wet dough, with no more traces of flour. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes to firm up slightly.

Meanwhile, oil the bread tin with a little olive oil (if using a cake tin that is not non-stick, line it with parchment paper and oil the parchment).

To transfer the dough into the tin: scrape the dough off the sides of the bowl, wet your hands with lukewarm water and, with wet hands, roughly shape/spin the dough into a long-ish oval (somewhat resembling a giant slug), and place it into the tin. Leave at room temperature, covered with a tea towel, for one hour.

Sprinkle the loaf with seeds, and slide the tin, ideally, in a ziplock bag large enough so it can close with the tin inside (otherwise cover with clingfilm or a barely damp tea towel) and place in the fridge overnight (anywhere from about 8 to 15 hours, as convenient).

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 230C (450F) and place a small dish with 2cm water on the lower shelf rack (the steam helps improves the consistency of the crust).

When the oven has reached its temperature, take the bread tin out of the refrigerator, score the top with a sharp knife, and place it in the oven. Bake at this high temperature for 25 minutes.

After 25 minutes, remove the tray with water, lower the temperature to 200C (400F), and bake for a further 15 minutes.

Once out of the oven, remove the bread from the tin immediately. The bread should sound hollow when tapped. If it doesn’t seem completely ready, return to oven (out of the tin) for a little while longer.

Let the bread cool completely on a wire rack. If possible, wait for a few hours before cutting!

Sourdough biscotti

20 October 2020

This idea sprouted a few months ago as an attempt to use up some of the ‘discard’ from my sourdough starter — in my experience the biggest challenge of a novice sourdough baker. (The ‘discard’ is the part of the sourdough mother that is not used for baking but needs to be cast aside so that fresh flour and water can ‘feed’ the mother.)

It’s now become a joke that everyone started baking sourdough during ‘lockdown.’ I am guilty as charged, and, like everyone else, faced the existential stress, for my fledgeling sourdough mother, of finding flour in April (when, naggingly, every shop was laden with the most beautiful breads) — I even had bags shipped directly from a mill, until that source dried up too. Having (re)embarked on this adventure I was quite resolved to follow through, unlike an attempt from six years ago which miserably petered out.

I am happy to report that my starter has survived, and thrived, since March. It crossed the channel and hung out in Brittany with us for a month, it came back with us, it has even had babies who, as far as I know (and hope!), are still alive and kicking in the neighbourhood. I will write more about my experiences with sourdough, but today I am baking these biscotti. It’s not exactly starting backwards, since the trickiest aspect of sourdough has been to find the rhythm of the starter, the bread, and especially the discard, without ever having to throw any away. It is safest to embark on a sourdough adventure with a few of these ‘discard’ recipes under one’s hat.

After some attempts and fine-tuning, these biscotti have just the right texture — the ideal balance of a hard crisp outside but ever so slightly yielding inside.

Sourdough biscotti
NOTE: This recipe should be used as a template, with many possible variations in the combination of nuts, fruits, and spices.
I particularly like walnuts/dried figs/fennel seeds and also almonds/anise, and I’m sure pistachio/apricot would also be great.

40g olive oil or melted butter
3 eggs
120g sugar
Zest from one lemon
50g sourdough discard
350g white spelt flour
Generous pinch of salt
This part of the recipe is the variable:
75g nuts (coarsely chopped almonds or walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, …)
50g dried fruit if using (dried figs, apricots, …)
1 Tbsp fennel or anise seeds

In a smallish bowl, whisk together the olive oil (or cooled melted butter) with the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest. Stir in the sourdough discard.

In another, larger bowl, mix the flour with the nuts and fruit, spices, and salt. Create a well and pour in the liquid ingredients. With a wooden spoon, using circular movements, mix to combine thoroughly. Finish by hand, knead a few times, and shape into a flat ball. => If the dough is so sticky that it seems impossible to gather into a ball, add a little flour.

Cover with a tea towel and let the dough rest at room temperature for at least 2 hours, until it feels risen and puffy (it doesn’t need to have noticeably increased in size).

Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Shape the dough into two flat oblong logs and leave them to rest, covered, for another 30 min or so, until slightly puffy.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Bake the logs for 25 minutes at 200°C, then lower the temperature to 175°C and bake for another 15 minutes. The logs should be slightly coloured.

Remove from the oven, let cool enough to be able to handle, slice the logs, and return the slices to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes on one side depending on how thin you’ve cut them. Turn the biscotti over and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes => watch and check and bake to the desired colour.

The biscotti keep well in a sealed jar for a week.

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