Baking Sourdough Bread in a Bread Machine

sourdough bread in a bread machine

MY SOURDOUGH LEARNING CURVE

I’ve been making sourdough bread now for about a year now and today I think I’ve made my best loaf yet. Although I had originally been using 350ml water to 500g of flour, I’ve recently decreased the amount of water to 320ml and this seems to work better and the texture of the bread is not so gummy. The original proportions might work better in a conventional oven where there might be more evaporation, but I tend to bake the bread in a bread machine and these proportions seem to work better.

 

PREPARATION

The day before I am going to bake the bread, I take the sourdough starter out of the fridge at about 17:00 and leave it for a couple of hours to warm up.
I don’t want to have to throw any of the starter away and so I save the smallest amount possible to bake the next loaf. At the moment, I am saving back 60g.

I use rye flour (centeno) to feed the starter and add 60g flour and 60g of water to the starter. I transfer 60g to a new jar and put this back in the fridge. I then add another 10g flour and 10g water to the remaining starter and mix well. This is the starter for the next loaf and it should weigh approximately 140g. I leave this out on the worktop, wrapping it in a towel in the winter.

 

AUTOLYSING THE DOUGH

I have recently been experimenting with autolysing the flour overnight before mixing with the starter and this seems to work really well. Autolysing is basically mixing the flour and water together and leaving it for a number of hours for the gluten bonds to form. You generally leave white flour for around an hour and brown flour for about 4 hours.

At about 21:00, I weigh out 250g strong white flour, 250g brown flour, stir in 320ml water and gently knead the mix to bring in all the ingredients. I then cover the bowl with a plate and leave overnight.

 

ADDING THE STARTER

The next morning, I test the dough to see if it can make a window pane. I then sprinkle in 12g salt and 320ml water, mix well and leave for 60 minutes.
After 60 minutes, I stretch and fold the dough gently about 8 times and coil fold the dough about 4 times.
I do another 4 series of stretch and folds and coil folds every 30 minutes.
I then shape the dough into a ball, creating surface tension by pulling over and towards me a couple of times, turning the bowl as I go.

 

BAKING THE BREAD

I transfer the ball of dough into the breadmaker. I select the yoghurt cycle on the menu and time the breadmaker for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, I stop the machine and choose the bake cycle. On my machine, this takes 60 minutes.

Most efficient fridge in solar powered house.

How to use a fridge in solar house without using extra batteries

Warning:  This post contains ideas and instructions about electrical devices and wiring. I am not an electrician. You should be extremely careful when wiring electrical devices and if you are not sure, please use a qualified electrician. 

 

Introduction: We have been living off grid for many years and I think we have worked out the best way to have fridges and freezers. Before having electric fridges, we used to have a Butsir gas fridge. Gas fridges work OK for most of the time but they can suddenly develop soot problems, they turn off for no reason or they can become hard to light plus they tend to use a bottle of gas each month which is not ecological. At the moment, a bottle of gas is 15 euros so that is 180 euros per year. In this post, I am going to explain how to have an electric fridge in the cheapest way possible without having to buy extra batteries.

We have 2 fridges and a freezer.  We don’t have a massive solar array but we have enough solar power to run a 600 watt swimming pool pump for 3 hours a day between 11 am and 2 pm.  The maximum power generation we have is only about 1300 watts.  The swimming pool is only in use from June to mid September so that means that without the pool pump we have loads of power during the rest of the year.

If you don’t have a lot of solar panels, by far the best system is to use a chest freezer as a fridge, put it on maximum full power and control it using an external thermostat. The freezer tries to bring the temperature down to minus 20C but as soon as it reaches 1C, it is switched off by our external thermostat and when it reaches 2C, the thermostat switches it on again.

Additional paragraph – digression – skip if you want.
By the way, the difference between the 1C and 2C stated above is called the slewing range.  The default is normally 1C or 2C. The smaller the slewing range, the more times the fridge is switched on and off.  Some people the other day suggested that a fridge could be damaged by switching it on and off. This is just utter nonsense!!!

Why use a chest freezer? The big problem with using a normal, upright fridge is that as soon as you open the door, all the cold air falls out onto the floor. This is especially bad if you have a lot of guests. Rather than quickly opening and closing the fridge door, they will be casually telling you their life story while absent-mindedly looking for the beer and then afterwards not even shut the door properly. (The same sort of person who will  use their 2000 watt electric curling tongs and shut the house electricity down just when there is a penalty shoot out in an international football match) .

Chest freezers are spacious  and they can be filled with lots of liquid such as milk, beer, water, etc. The reason it is a good idea to have lots of liquid in the fridge-freezer is that they can be used to store the cold in thermal mass.  Thermal mass acts as a thermal battery. All the watts of power that you use to cool the liquids down when the sun is shining will be stored and will prevent the fridge or freezer heating up during the night. So you don’t have to spend lots of money on expensive batteries – you just store the energy literally in beer. This has the added advantage that you can have a cool beer any time you like. What is not to like? 

I normally start my fridge at 10am and switch it off at around 5pm.  At 5pm, the temperature is just above freezing and by10am the next day, the fridge has got up to maybe 10C which is an OK fridge temperature.  Most fridges and freezers use about 90 watts.

This is not just some untested bright idea I have thought up: I have been doing this for years and it works perfectly.

Instructions:  This is a very cheap and easy system to set up so even if you are a money-strapped absolute nincompoop you should have no difficulty in doing this.  Having said that, if you have never done any electrical wiring before, make sure that everything is switched off when you actually touch any wires and study the instructions that come with the thermostat.

The first thing to do is put your chest freezer in a suitable place. It could be in your kitchen. In the winter, it will work even more efficiently if you keep it covered outside in the cold.

Near the fridge, you need to have somewhere to put the digital thermostat. I have mine of a shelf above the freezer and I keep it in place with a G clamp I bought from a thrift shop for a couple of euros. You could use gaffer tape.

The only slightly difficult thing is wiring the thermostat. You need to go to a shop and buy some wire and an electrical plug to power the thermostat and also an electrical socket so that you can plug the fridge into it.

This is a plug socket. You can open it up and connect the wires to it.  The wires don’t need to be especially thick because a fridge or a freezer only uses a small number of watts.

 
This image below is the wiring diagram from the thermostat. The NTC are the wires that go to the sensor. The sensor should be put inside the freezer. This is how the above diagram translates into the actual connection.  The black cable goes to the plug socket (two images above) and the white cables go to the wall plug.
Everything should be covered in insulation tape to increase the safety so that nobody could touch any live wires.  We do not use an earth so there must be no exposed metal which could be touched and make sure that you have a good differential switch in your fusebox.  If you don’t know what you are doing, get an electrician. Don’t take any risks!!!!!!!

This is what a chest freezer converted to a fridge looks like.  The only problem with this idea is that people tend to prefer using a fridge with a forward opening door. The things that you use often are kept in the basket at the top and you would have to have good organisation of where things are kept to make it convenient.   In our case we also have a normal fridge but if you want a fridge without also getting bigger batteries then this works very well.

SHOPPING LIST
This is the type of automatic thermostat I use. They are very cheap and normally continue to work for at least a couple of years. I also use these as normal thermometers because I like to see the red numbers in my kitchen.

This is a typical chest freezer. As you can see the price is about the same as 1 year of gas for a gas fridge. I bought mine in 1996 and it is still going strong.

This is how I switch the entire system on and off at 10am and 5pm. It is a Teckin smart plug which works with WiFi. They use an app so I can switch everything on and off as long as I have my smartphone with me. They also have an inbuilt electric meter which tells you how much power they have used.  They would be worth buying just for the electric meter. If it goes cloudy, I can switch everything off from anywhere.

Of course, you also have to have a solar electric system with inverter and solar panels to supply the power which is outside the remit of this post.

Note: In this post, I have talked about converting a freezer into a fridge. You can use a similar idea with a freezer as a freezer.  Just put the freezer on maximum. It should get to -20C during the day and come up to  -5C by the following morning. If you have meat in it, you should be especially careful that is never goes higher than 0.  You could use a min max thermometer just to be sure. Using this technique your batteries never have to power the freezer.

One last tip:
If you grow your own walnuts or almonds, put them in the freezer for a week to kill any moth eggs or larva and then put them in a well-sealed container. If you have ever had your almonds contaminated by moths, you will know what I am talking about.

Using Solar hot water for a Washing Machine

Using solar hot water with a washing machine

If you are living off grid or you have solar powered hot water then you may want to take advantage of the hot water that you have in the tank.

Washing machines and dishwashers can heat up their own water but the heating element tends to be between 2000 and 3000 watts.  You would have to have a very big off grid solar system with a large  inverter to use the actual dishwasher or washing machine heating element.

The simple answer is to plumb these appliances into your hot water system and always wash your clothes on the cold setting so that it never attempts to heat the water up.

If you are in an off grid situation it is probably  best to wash your dishes by hand.  Most dishwashers have a heating element and unless you have a big lithium ion system the solar inverter will shut the system down after a short time of having a draw of 2000 watts unless the sun is actually shining at the time. If you are connected to the grid then connecting your dishwasher directly to the hot system would be a good idea. Note: The time of writing this is 2021. In a few years it will be much more common to have large capacity batteries which will be OK with a dishwasher.

On the other hand clothes washing machines are perfect for solar power. As long as you have an inverter of over 700 watts they will work fine.   Most detergents nowadays are designed for cold washes. However from time to time it is nice to be able to do a hot wash. The most important thing with clothes washing is that the water that enters the washing machine should not be too hot for the type of clothes that you are washing. For this reason you need to install a mixer tap or mixer valve.

The photo at the top of this page is the mixer tap on our washing machine. Mixer taps have 2 inlets. Hot and cold. They have 1 outlet. The water in the outlet should be limited to the maximum temperature set on the control dial. I personally would not trust the mixer tap to have an accurate temperature setting and I would use an external thermometer to make sure the temperature is correct.

Note that using this method you will end up rinsing your clothes with warm water. If this is a problem you could switch the hot inlet off after a certain amount of time.

Warning: I still don’t know how it happened but my mixer tap has  some sort of back flow issue and it resulted in cold water being mixed with my general  hot water system. I solved this by putting a tap to stop the hot water inflow but beware if this happens to you, it took me a month to work it out.

Remember that even if you run hot water into the inlet of the washing machine you should choose a cold wash setting on the machine. (you don’t want the internal water heater to start) 

One last idea: Why not use the used water from the washing machine for irrigation.  Pipe the water onto some trees or into a container to be used for watering.

This is a link to a mixing tap on Amazon.
If you go to a plumbing shop in Spain ask for “Válvula Mezclador termostático or “Válvula de mezcla caliente y fría de 3 vía”.

 

Bottled Blackberry Mousse

blackberry mousse

BOTTLED BLACKBERRY JUICE

This recipe solves the problem of what to do with the avalanche  of blackberries that we have at the end of every July. We don’t eat a lot of jam so this is perfect for us. In the 1970’s, my mother used to make a foamy mousse made out of jelly and evaporated milk.  We have now got enough bottled blackberry juice to make over 100 portions. It is packed with vitamin C and the gelatine is apparently very good for bones and reduces osteoporosis.

Blackberries are now in full flow and although I’ve been making blackberry mousse every couple of days and blackberry jam, I thought it would be a good idea to find a way of making a blackberry syrup that could store and that could be mixed with whipped evaporated milk at a later stage. That way, we could summon up summer at any time in the future.

I prefer to remove the seeds from the blackberries and so use a stick blender to blitz up the blackberries and then pass them through a mouli-légumes. I then weigh the juice and calculate the quantities of sugar and glycerine based on this.

The basic quantities are 750g blackberry juice, 15g glycerine and 50g sugar. In percentage terms this amounts to 2% glycerine and 6.7% sugar.


blackberry mousse

Blackberry Mousse

These are the quantities for 750ml of blackberry juice and 330ml evaporated milk.

INGREDIENTS

  • 750ml blackberry juice
  • 15g powdered gelatine
  • 50g sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water

METHOD

  1. Run some very hot water in the sink and thoroughly clean the jars and lids.
  2. Leave to drain on a tea-towel while you prepare the syrup.
  3. Pour the blackberry juice into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  4. Boil for 5 minutes or so.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the water, sugar and gelatine in a small saucepan.
  6. Gently heat through, stirring all the while until the gelatine has melted.
  7. Add a couple of ladlefuls of the hot juice mixture to the gelatine mixture and stir well.
  8. Pour the gelatine mix back into the juice pan and bring to the boil.
  9. Fill the jars with the juice.
  10. Close the jars firmly and place upside down for 30 minutes or so.
  11. Turn the right way up and leave to cool.

NOTES

To make up the mousse, use 330ml evaporated milk for 750ml blackberry juice. Whisk the evaporated milk until thick and you can see trace on the surface. Combine the juice and milk and mix well. Put in the fridge to set overnight.

Fried Aubergines and Tomato

fried aubergines and tomatoI invented this recipe for fried aubergines and tomato the other day and it doesn’t really have a name – it’s really just fried aubergines and tomatoes with a bit of salt – a bit like a simpler version of ratatouille but without the other ingredients. The aubergines are starting to ripen at the moment and it won’t be long before we have plenty of them so I’m trying out different ways of cooking them in preparation.

One of the problems with frying aubergines is that they absorb a lot of the oil. So, in this recipe I dry fry them for ten minutes in a frying pan or so before adding any oil, giving the aubergine pieces enough time to take on a lovely golden brown colour.

 

fried potato cake

Fried Aubergines and Tomato

This recipe is quick to prepare and is best served warm.

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 medium-sized aubergines, halved lengthways and then cut into 1cm slices
  • 2 large tomatoes, coarsely grated
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt

METHOD

  1. Heat a frying pan on a high heat.
  2. When hot, add the aubergine slices, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Turn them over and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and season with salt.
  5. Keep turning the aubergines every so often until they have got some good colour.
  6. Add the tomatoes and fry on a high heat for another couple of minutes
  7. Turn the heat down low and cook for another 5 minutes or so.
  8. Leave the lid on and leave in the pan until you need to serve them.