Sourdough Bread – A Beginner’s Guide

 My Sourdough Journey

My first attempts at re-invigorating a dried starter failed abysmally and it was clear that it was well and truly dead.

A couple of days into the process, I had added some fermenting blackberries and although there were a couple of promising bubbles, they soon popped and there was no further activity. I decided to try again, this time using fermenting grape juice.

We had picked the grapes to make wine towards the end of September and the must was about 10 days old when I used it. I followed Elly’s everyday low-waste method for making the starter and substituted the grape juice for the unsweetened pineapple juice that she used. This was the process I followed: 

Day 1 morning: In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup juice and 1/2 cup strong white flour. Cover with a plate. If the temperature drops below 20ºC, wrap the bowl in a towel.

Day 1 evening: Stir mixture thoroughly with a spatula. Cover.

Day 2 morning: Stir mixture thoroughly with a spatula. Cover.

Day 2 evening: Stir mixture thoroughly with a spatula. Cover.

Day 3 morning: Start the feeding process: In a new bowl, mix
together 3 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons water and 3 tablespoons
of the starter. Stir well and then cover with a plate.

Day 3 evening: Repeat feeding process.

Continue feeding starter twice a day until Day 14

By this time, the starter should be quite bubbly and doubling in size by feeding time. It should be ready to use by Day 12 – Day 14.

On Day 14, I attempted my first loaf of bread using Teresa Greenway‘s Sourdough Test loaf method.

As I was still feeding my starter, it wasn’t necessary to take it out of the fridge and reanimate it from hibernation.

DAY 1:
If you have starter in the fridge, then take the starter out of the fridge at 17:00 two days before you will be baking bread  and leave to warm up for 2 – 3 hours.

Feed in the evening at 20:00.

DAY 2:
Feed the starter again in the morning at 8:30
15:45 Start making bread

The ingredients for the bread are as follows:

  • 120g sourdough starter at 100% hydration (half white flour and
    half whole wheat flour)
  • 250g water
  • 400g bread flour
  • 9g sea salt

Put the water into a large, bowl and add the starter, stirring thoroughly to break up the starter.
Add the flour and the salt and mix well.

Use you hands to bring the dough together, checking that there are no pockets of flour.

Cover with a plate and leave for an hour.

The stretch and fold process: by stretching and folding the dough, you are working and stretching the gluten strands in the dough. You stretch and fold each of the sides, then turn the dough over and repeat on the other side.

17:00 stretch and fold, 8 times in total and then cover the bowl with a plate
18:00 stretch and fold, 8 times in total and then cover the bowl with a plate
19:00 stretch and fold, 8 times in total and then cover the bowl with a plate

20:00 by now, the dough is no longer sticky and so you do the
fourth and final stretch and fold.

Cover the bowl with a plate and let the dough rest for 30 minutes

Pre-shape the dough into a ball, pulling it from the bottom towards you to increase the tension on the surface.

Let the dough relax for 15-20 minutes.

Use the same technique to shape the ball of dough.

Lay a tea towel over the top of a colander and dust the surface with cornflour.

Turn the ball upside down and drop it into the colander. Dust the top with cornflour and then cover with a plastic bag. Place in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, get the dough out of the fridge and leave for 1.5 – 2 hours to come back up to room temperature.

Turn over and dust off any excess flour.

Put into the breadmaker tin.

Score the top with a sharp blade. The idea of scoring is let any gases escape and ideally the cut should be about 1/2 deep.

If you want a soft-crust loaf, spray the top with water.

Bake.

Leave to cool for 30 minutes or so and then turn out onto a baking rack.

Parsnip Fritters

We’ve got a lot of large parsnips at the moment and although I love roast parsnips, we don’t often light the wood-fired oven and cook a roast dinner. I’ve therefore been looking for new ways of cooking them. This recipe is similar to a bhaji and uses oregano instead of spices. You could substitute parsnips with butternut squash or sweet potato. This recipe with no eggs but with potatoes is very similar to a potato rosti. 

PARSNIP FRITTERS

INGREDIENTS

  • 200g coarsely grated parsnip
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • sprinkle oregano
  • 2 small eggs
  • splash extra virgin olive oil

METHOD

  1. Mix all of the ingredients well in a bowl.
  2. Heat some sunflower oil in a large frying pan.
  3. Put spoonfuls of the mix into the frying pan and fry on a medium heat for 6 minutes, covering the pan with a large saucepan lid.
  4. Turn and fry for a further 6 minutes, covering the pan.
  5. Remove the lid and fry for another minute or so until the fritters are golden and crispy.

The recipe makes about 8 fritters.

Bhindi Bhaji – Okra Curry

Okra or “ladies fingers” as it is also known is commonly used in Indian, Asian and African cooking. Although okra is typically grown in tropical or warmer climates, we are able to grow it here in the summer at 1,300 metres above sea level. By picking the pods when they are tender and not cooking it for too long, it is possible to avoid the slimy texture that many people associate with okra and find off-putting.

 

Bhindi Bhaji


INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium-sized tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 bowl of okra, cut into 5cm pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • a splash of water

METHOD

  1. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and then add the chopped tomatoes.
  2. Fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the spices and heat for another minute or so.
  4. Add the okra and coat well in the spice mixture.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cook for 10.15 minutes on a low heat, adding a splash of water as necessary to prevent the mixture drying out.

Blackberry Mousse

blackberry mousse

The year 2020 was THE year for blackberries. We cut the buses back at the beginning of the year and once they started producing, they didn’t stop. The challenge now was what to do with them so we started experimenting with everything from dried blackberries for the muesli, to blackberry jam and blackberry cordial to mix with gaseosa (the Spanish version of a slightly sweetened soda water or not-so-sweet lemonade) as a non-alcoholic summer drink, but possibly my favourite was blackberry mousse. John told me about the mousse his mum used to make with jelly and evaporated milk so by trial and error I worked out the quantities for this delicious mousse recipe.

I prefer to make the mousse by blitzing the berries first with a stick blender and then passing the liquid through a Moulinex food mill to remove the pips but it is entirely up to you whether you blitz or not. At the moment, I am experimenting with heating the fruit liquid before making the mousse to see if there is any difference.

The quantities of gelatine and sugar will vary according to the amount of juice you get from the berries. The quantities shown below are based on 500g blackberry juice (without the pips).

 

BLACKBERRY MOUSSEblackberry mousse

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium bowl of blackberries
  • 10g powdered gelatine
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 225ml evaporated milk

 

METHOD

  1. Blitz the blackberries with a stick blender and then put through the food mill to remove the pips.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the water, gelatine and sugar.
  3. Heat gently until the mixture has dissolved and remove from the heat.
  4. Leave to cool for 5 minutes and then pour into the berry juice, stirring all the time.
  5. Whisk the evaporated milk until soft peaks are formed.
  6.  Spoon some of the berry juice into the evaporated milk and continue to whisk.
  7. Gently incorporate the rest of the berry juice and continue to whisk until the mousse is thoroughly mixed.
  8. Leave to cool in the fridge overnight.

Baking Bread in a Wood Oven

Pizza Oven Being Lit

We have another page about making cakes in a wood-fired oven here.

Here is a description of how I make bread in a bread oven.

The Heat:

Cooking in a wood fired oven is complicated because unlike an electric or gas oven, you can’t set an exact temperature which will remain constant.The temperature is more like a curve on a graph. The main idea of a wood oven is that the initial fire will cause the walls of the oven to heat up and that heat will be given back into the oven over a period of time. It is also possible to keep a small fire going at the back of the oven to maintain the temperature over a long period of time. This technique would be used for example for a pizza restaurant who have to serve pizzas over several hours. In our case, we just heat the oven up at the start and let it cool down slowly.

If possible, it is best to use the heat for as many things as possible. For example, the oven can be heated up to 450C to make some pizzas at 2pm. At 3.30pm the temperature is just right to make cakes, bread, or roast some butternut squashes for later use. Later on, we can roast some almonds, then use the heat to sterilize some glass jars for tomatoes and when the temperature gets down to 50C, we can even use it to dry some figs overnight. The oven can also be used for smoking fish. It is always best to try to make the best use of the energy that we have used. 

We use a thermometer which came with the oven which has a metal probe and a dial (as you can see in the photo above). It is probably not that accurate because it only measures the temperature at one place in the oven but after a few uses, the thermometer will give you a good, rough indication of the temperature. If you want to know the correct temperature in any part of the oven so that you could follow a recipe, it is best to use a hand-held digital thermometer.

There is an air cut off in the chimney and the door of the oven. Generally speaking, we leave the air vents open in the burning phase and close off the air for cooking. 

There is no substitute for trial and error when using a wood oven. You learn how much wood to use and more or less how the temperature curve will behave by getting a feel for it over time.

Making Bread:

Bread made in a bread oven

Obviously the most important ingredient is the flour. In our case, we buy ready mixed bread flour from Lidl supermarket which has all the necessary ingredients such as dried yeast and nutrients already added. This flour is actually intended for use in bread makers. I mix the dough in a Kenwood mixer with a dough hook for 4 minutes. I have it wetter than they recommend in the instructions on the packet. If you want to knead the dough by hand, then you would have to have a drier mixture. 

I let it rise in the mixer bowl until it has risen quite a lot (1 hour). I then put it in tins and let it rise again for another hour. Make sure you put some oil in the tins to stop it sticking. I always cut up an onion and add it to the dough and I also add some nuts such as walnuts or almonds. It doesn’t make it taste oniony but it seems to make it go stale slower.

Cook for about 45 minutes at 180ºC. People say that homemade bread is heavy but the secret is letting it rise enough. If it does not rise, you have either got bad flour with not enough gluten or bad yeast. In a wood-fired bread oven, all these time periods change every single time. If you don’t have any bread tins, roll the dough into balls (the size of a squash ball), put them on a flat baking tray and put them in the oven when they are the size of a cricket ball. It’s not a problem if they stick together as they will pull apart after cooking. When you take the bread out of the oven, knock it out of the tins or it will go soggy. If you can’t easily shake the bread out of the tin, it probably is not ready yet. After taking the bread out of the tin, leave it on a rack with air circulating around until it cools. If there is too much for one day, cut it into slices and put it in the freezer.

We have another page about making cakes in a wood fired oven here.