Thursday, 9 December 2010

Number of the beast bread

I love this loaf

We do love white sourdough in our house, but there's only so much white flour stuff you can (should) eat. I like the Mill loaf but that's not sourdoughy enough for us. What I wanted was something very similar to the bread I get in Italy that's not white, not wholemeal but suitably tangy and 'paysan' as we call it.

I think this loaf is it, although the more I make it the more I've realised that it really improves from a very long proving time, it doesn't like being too cold and the dough should be fairly wet and sticky, so you need to be brave whilst kneading and use oil and not add any more flour. There can be a dramatic difference - better crumb, better flavour - between a loaf that's been proved over 'just' 12 hours and one that's had 24hrs plus. If the prove is too (relatively speaking) short, the bread becomes a bit too 'wholesome'. It's a difficult bread in that respect, to get right. 

This is what you do to make two loaves.

You take 

400g white leaven
666g cold water (number of the beast, hence the name)
500g white flour
500g wholemeal/other flour
3tsp salt (I'm experimenting with cutting this down).

You mix the leaven with the water, add the flours and salt and mix to a messy dough. 

Rest for 10 mins, then, a la Dan Lepard, knead lightly. 

Rest 10 minutes then knead lightly (I knead for twelve counts). 

Rest for 10 minutes then knead lightly. Rest for 30 minutes then knead lightly. 

Rest for 1 hour then knead lightly. 

Rest for 1 hour then knead lightly. 

Rest for 1 hour then knead lightly. 

Rest for two hours, then knead lightly and shape and place into two bannetons (I use a 1kilo round and a 600g baton). 

Rest in fridge overnight for a good twelve hours or more. I've rested it for up to 72 hours

Preheat oven to 220 with one baking tray on a high shelf, one underneath. When up to temperature turn loaf out of the banneton, slash with a bread knife and put in the oven. Whilst oven still open, turn ice cubes onto the bottom tray. Close oven and turn the temperature up to 250C and cook for 15 mins. Lower temperature to 220 for further 15 minutes.

Monday, 29 November 2010

A tale of two loaves

I've recently perfected my own little sourdough recipe. It's nothing mind blowing, but it's something I came up with all by myself. So I'm pleased. I'll post about this another time since I can't remember proportions and I've got it all written down at home in my little book.

The recipe - the one, let me make it clear, I made up myself - makes two loaves. I recently made a batch and put both loaves in the fridge to prove overnight. Except it was really late when I put it in and I got up early, so in fact the loaf that I cooked the next morning had only had about seven hours' proving at 4 degrees. Really I should have proved it at room temperature for such a short period of time.

Anyway come the morning I put it in the oven and when I took it out a whole little baby loaf had burst out of the side. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take a picture of it. Despite slashing the loaf it still burst out of the side at the bottom.

This used to happen to me a lot, but nothing as dramatic as this. I'd researched why it could happen and it seemed one of those things (an 'OOTT' to give it its official name) that can happen for a myriad of reasons but the two that kept coming up were underproving and bad shaping.

Now I'm rubbish at shaping a loaf. Or rather I'm not bad but often by the time it gets to the '10 min rest' before you shape it it's late, so I have just shaped it crudely and cast it into a proving basket. And, despite what the professionals say, honestly I've not noticed a difference. I thought the bursting could also be due to a too sharp change in temperature too quickly (i.e. putting bread straight from fridge to oven). But that doesn't seem to be consistent either. I definitely think underproving is a main cause, and I rarely underprove.

So the loaf, once I'd amputated the rogue bit off, was okay. But not great. For one the bit that I'd cut off was doughy - like you could scrunch up a bit and it would go to dough. This never happens to me with sourdough and it wasn't cos it was undercooked (it wasn't). The crumb was dense and not very exciting at all. I cooked the other loaf about two days later. It was completely different. Much larger air holes, waxy crumb, delicious. Same dough, different loaves.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Making sourdough whilst drunk

A few days ago I started making some white sourdough, in large part to take to a friend's house and also because I fancied a change from our usual largely-wholemeal sourdough. It turned into a long process. I kept taking out the starter, meaning to get the dough going, but somehow never finding the five minutes I needed to do it.

On Thursday of last week (it's Monday as I write now) I weighed out my starter, refreshed it in the bowl to make it up to the weight I wanted (400g of starter), refreshed the starter in the Kilner jar and put the latter back in the fridge. However, in between me doing this and the starter in the bowl becoming active, my partner had made a loaf of yeasted-bread (no doubt fed up at having no bread..) and used up some flour. Because I needed a lot of white flour - 1k of the stuff - there now wasn't enough.  So the dough became a mishmash of white flour, wholemeal and whatever else I could bung in. It ended up being 500g of white, about 430g of wholemeal and 70g of barley flour.

I started it off. Knead, rest, knead, rest. Somewhere along the line, that magic, nebulous hour of evening came, the one that tells you it's socially acceptable to have some wine and thus it was that I poured myself 'un dito di vino' (a finger of wine): it really doesn't take very much to make me feel merry. I started chatting to my partner, had another dito di vino, la la la la. Suddenly I remembered the bread. It had sat there for hours (it was at the '30 min rest' stage, some 30 minutes that ended up being).

I kneaded it, slung it in a bowl and put it in the fridge, thinking "fuck". Over the next few days I kept doing this - taking it out, kneading it and then putting it back in as I kept running out of time. Look, I'm a very social, busy person when I'm not being a hermit. To cut a really long story short, it wasn't til last night that I put the dough into some bannetons and put it in the fridge for what I planned to be the final rise.

I had no idea what to expect, so we'd made some 'normal' bread for eldest daughter's sandwiches this morning, just in case (I say 'we' it was of course entirely not of my doing).

What I really didn't expect was to get some bread that was - is - just delicious. It's far more aerated than a normal loaf (which usually contains 60/40 white to wholemeal; this loaf as you see above was 50/50. This is because it had a higher hydration than my usual loaf (65% instead of 55%), whilst having less starter (40% instead of 50%). I have no idea what any of those numbers really mean, but for once, making a mistake whilst cooking has led me to a happy discovery. Not only has it got far bigger holes than my usual 60/40 loaf, because I made it over four days, it has a wonderful taste to it.

This is, perhaps, how people invent their own recipes. My knead/rest cycle went something like this, for those interested:

Knead, rest for ten minutes.
Knead, rest for ten minutes.
Knead, rest for ten minutes.
Knead, rest for four hours.
Knead, cover guiltily with a cloth and put in fridge for 14 hours.
Take out of fridge and ignore dough for an hour or so.
Knead, put back in fridge for a day, or so.
Take out of fridge, knead. Put back in fridge for another day.
Take out of fridge. Knead. Rest for one or two hours - who can remember. Shape, put in bannetons, cover, put in fridge for 18 hours.
Cook. Eat. Enjoy.

When I said sourdough was the most forgiving of breads, I wasn't lying.

A very good sourdough me thinks.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Making sourdough: what equipment do you need?

As has been mentioned before, I like gadgets, I like buying new kit. But there are some things that are more important than others. Making sourdough bread should be about connecting you to an easier, but also harder, time. When things were simpler, but more effort went into them. I promise you that once you start making and eating sourdough on a regular basis, your life changes in little ways.

Yeh, yeh, whateva. But until that happens: shopping.

What to keep your sourdough starter in?

You need to be a bit careful about what you keep it in. A clean glass jar will do, but it has to have room for the starter to grow. If you refresh it to capacity, there's a very real possibility that your starter could explode the jar as it ferments. I use a Kilner jar. You can use a large jam jar. You can keep your starter in plastic of course, but yuk.

My starter in its Kilner jar, aka the mothership

Okay what other bits do I need?

Disappointingly little, really. If you want a past-time that involves spending loads of money on kit, you need to take up fishing or golf. Things that I use and think are really useful are:

Large stainless steel bowls that I bought in Ikea once. Actually that's a lie, I inherited them from my boyfriend when we moved in together. But you can buy stainless steel bowls anywhere. Don't spend loads and bigger rather than smaller but not so big you could spin yourself round in them. But don't sweat it if you don't have the, any big old bowls would do.

A dough scraper: absolutely worth buying if you don't have one. When the dough is really frisky, there are times it's hard to handle and I knead it using just the dough scraper, moving the dough around as I go. Without wishing to start sounding like an ad for it, ours is from Ikea. It's stainless steel and I also inherited it when my boyfriend/partner blah de blah moved in together. See "living with a boy" as Monica from Friends once put it, has it uses. I recommend using a stiff (rather than those super flexi ones) dough scraper, insofar as I'm experienced enough to recommend anything bready. They make it easier to handle the dough and easier to scrap up bits of dough that have dried on any surface you've been working on.

Bannetons or proving baskets - covered in full here. You can make sourdough without them, but they make life so much easier and sweeter.

You also need something to cook the bread on. You'll have baking trays, so use them. I use my Mermaid baking trays which I also use for tons of other stuff: not cheap but I bake a lot and they last years. I love the older Mermaid trays, the anodised aluminum ones rather than the non stick ones. Non stick, I find a bit scary. Again, any old baking tray will do, what's important is to preheat it.

Top Gourmet chopping board with my scraper. 

Top Gourmet chopping boards - I really rate these. As chopping boards but also as surfaces to make your bread on. I have the big size one (40cm by 30cm) and I can move it around the kitchen as I work. You may not work like that and working on your regular kitchen work top may be fine for you, but remember that sourdough is hours in the making, which means it could be taking up that bit of work surface for half the day. I oil my board before each kneading and rest the bread on it (covered with an oiled bowl, so I lift the dough up, oil underneath where it was laying, then knead etc). So any chopping board will do in theory, but these are good: light and therefore easy to move around, hygenic (you can dishwasher them if you want to, bear this in mind when ordering the really big ones) and they store easily as they're so thin. These are the future of chopping boards as far as I'm concerned. Plus they're black so chic in my book.

What you really don't need when you first start out:

You really don't need a peel if you use bannetons, you just flip the bread out onto the tray (always preheat the tray).

You don't need a bread stone. But when you get one, you'll need a peel.

Special dough hand whisks: a fork will do just as well.

You don't need a grignette or lame, just use a bread knife.

You don't need a couche proving cloth until you start making baguettes.

Save all that stuff as incentives to go further into making sourdough and for present material.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Arkansas bread

I have a habit of not being able to say certain words correctly. Often I've said a word the same way for years, in the privacy of my head, but no-one knows I can't pronounce it properly.  It's rarely a problem unless I have to suddenly say that word out loud and can't get away from it and then people start pointing and laughing. And because of this, I often get words mixed up.

It started with 'calzolaio' and 'colazione'. When I was a little girl, and in Italy with my Daddie (I feel compelled to point out that my parents are still together, my mother was just back home in central London, this wasn't a 'summer with the estranged parent kinda thing), I remember seeing a sign saying 'calzolaio' (cobblers, shoe-menders). The next day I said to my father "I've found a place we can go to for breakfast (colazione)." You can guess the rest.

Like a lot of stupid people, I used to pronounce 'Arkansas' just as it looks 'Ar-Kan-sas', instead of Ar-kan-saw. In my head, I still do.  I'm not related to George Bush, I promise.

What has any of this to do with bread?

In the search for more sourdough recipes, I recently bought Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters. Loads of people, far more experienced bakers than I, rave about this book. So I in no way mean to detract from that. The fact that I didn't get on with it - I didn't - is entirely due to my own failings.

It's a big book with almost no photographs. I need pictures to help me with the words where food is concerned. Where almost anything is concerned. The way Whitley makes his sourdough is also different from the way Dan Lepard makes his. I can see how people would think sourdough is even more complicated than it is after reading Bread Matters. I just couldn't get my head round it and I almost ended up crying.

Anyway, in it was, and I'm imagining still is, a recipe for Arkatena bread. Which I immediately, and persistently read as Ar-kan-sas bread,  hence the name of this post. I fancied the look of it because it contains gram (chickpea) flour, which I had in and wanted to find a use for. But I could see instantly that I'd never be able to follow the recipe for it, so before I threw myself down and started kicking my feet into the wooden floor, I decided to bloody well vary the recipe to suit myself.

This is what I did.

I used 300g white levain starter

to this I added

50g gram flour
50g wholemeal flour
300g white bread flour
7g sea salt, ground up in a pestle and mortar
300g cold water

I mixed the starter up with the water, then added the flours and salt and then kneaded it for 10-15 seconds at a time, resting it for 10 mins. Then kneading it for 10-15 seconds and resting it for another ten minutes, then kneading it for 10-15 seconds and resting it for another ten minutes then repeating but this time resting it for 

30 mins
1 hour
1 hour
1 hour

Then I shaped it and put it in a banneton to prove overnight at 4 degrees. Then I cooked it at 220 for 20 mins or so.

It was probably the most 'worthy' loaf I've ever made, in other words it was quite dense. And it smelled very 'yeasty' despite me not adding any yeast. It would be very, very good with some soup or cheese and chutney. I'm not sure I'd like it for sandwiches.

The Arkansas bread as I've named it, with a big cross slash to celebrate the forthcoming visit of the Pope.  Yeh right.

The crumb. Pretty impressive save, me thinks.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

A step by step guide to sourdough

I thought it'd be useful to do an entry with a step by step guide to sourdough.

Not, I will add quickly, because I am any sort of expert. But because I know a few people who are interested in 'getting into' sourdough and have been asking me questions about it, so I thought they might find it useful. But also there's nothing like someone who has just learned how to do something to explain it back to you. I know that I had a few questions when I first started (which was only a few months ago!) so this is really to help those that are even greener beginners than I.

Hopefully, you will have got yourself a copy of Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf, which is the book that got me on this incredibly exciting (je jeste pas) journey into artisan bread-making. You will have your starter, which is explained in great detail in his book. And you will know the basics of what you're doing. I'm not including a recipe here as this is really just to show you what to do regardless of which recipe you follow.

The equipment that I use and find useful:

A large stainless steel bowl, actually two.
A clean, baby muslin
A little whisk that I picked up from somewhere (Bakery Bits does a similar one here)
A dough scraper
A fork

You'll need

Flour - according to recipe
Cold water - according to recipe
Salt - I use Maldon sea salt ground in a mortar and pestle - according to recipe

All Dan's recipes ask for X g of starter. It took me a while to work out that if I didn't have the actual amount in my starter jar, it didn't matter. I could pour in what I had (not all of it! you always keep some starter to make more out from it), and then top it up with water and flour. But if you do this - i.e. feed the starter in a bowl to make more of it - you'll need to leave it for a few hours before it's ready.

For example. Let's say the recipe calls for 500g of starter. If you have that to spare in your jar, great. Spoon it in to a bowl. But what about if you don't really have that to spare? 

After a while you will get to know roughly how much starter you have in your starter jar in the fridge. For example, I pretty much know I always have 200g of starter to spare, but I'm pushing it to get to 250g and I would never have a spare 500g in the jar.

So I get my bowl, put it on the scales and, for white leaven I measure out 100% of flour to 80% water (for a rye starter it's more like 100% floor to 90% water). So for example, I'd put in 150g of flour to 120g water, which weighs 350g on the scales. I then top that up with 150g of  actual starter from my jar.

It sounds complicated, and sometimes the calculations do cause me to stare into space and bite my lip and ssssh my children if they try to talk to me, but you do get your head round it.

The easier way I remember it is that the ratio equates to:

100g flour to 80g water or,
125g flour to 100g water or,
150g flour to 120g of water, and I use those three formula calculationy things to muddle me along.

If you're using starter that's all straight from the starter jar, you can go straight onto 'first dough'.

If not then you you now mix up the starter with a fork or a whisk or a spoon until it's all incorporated (it will be quite thick). Leave it for a few hours until it's looser looking, more relaxed, with some bubbles. If you imagine that when you first mixed it up it was a bit uptight, top button done up, now it's slipped into a pair of velvet slippers and a smoking jacket and is having an evening smoke.

Remember to refresh your starter in the jar. I use 125g flour/100g of water or 100g flour/80g of water depending on how much space is in the  jar.

First dough

I call this first dough, just cos. It's when you add the other ingredients to the starter, which will be


according to the recipe that you're following. You add it all in and mix it around. The dough will look 'scrapy', with bits sticking out maybe.

Do not panic. Do not try to mix the dough until it's smooth. You will be there all day and start to cry. Believe that great things can happen.
This is a white sourdough dough after the very first mix. Looks pretty unruly huh?

Let the dough rest for ten minutes; all of Dan's sourdough recipes ask for rests of


then it can vary to another 1hr or 2hrs. You'll need to see the recipe but once you've gone past the first 2/3  stages it's pretty much all of a muchness with a tiny knead and then a rest of X amount of time.

So, first rest of ten minutes. I just let it rest in the bowl I mixed it up in. The bowl will have scraps of dough around it and every time EVERY TIME, my partner says "can't you scrape them up into the dough".

And the answer is: no. It doesn't work like that. So you'll have a ball of scruffy looking dough, kinda dry looking (DO NOT be tempted to add more water), in a bowl with bits all over it. See the picture above.

Cover it with a dishcloth and bite your nails nervously. Set the timer for ten minutes.

In the meantime, oil a surface. I use sunflower oil and recommend you do too. Dan recommends olive oil, too, but he's probably richer than you or I. Sunflower oil is just fine. I use a big, big chopping board so that I can move my dough around the kitchen. Remember sourdough bread takes hours to make, so unless you are sure you can remain at the same work station unmolested, or don't mind clearing up after yourself each time, use a board. I also find a dough scraper invaluable. I got mine from Ikea, it's stainless steel, it's great. I use it when I go back to the dough after each rest to pick the dough up with and move it around. I also oil the board before each knead. Oil works great and doesn't alter the integrity of the dough. If you add flour or water, I found, you can get into a big sticky mess. Use oil, be brave.

After ten minutes, turn the dough out onto the board and start to knead gently. I do 12 kneads, sort of turning the dough in on itself, and around. Amazingly, you will see the dough start to get smoother. Don't panic if you've still got some bits that don't seem to quite adhere, and it's not yet as smooth as it could be, although by this stage you should have a dough with promise.

This is the same dough as above, but after its rest of ten minutes and its first knead. Big difference isn't there?

Now: either oil a bowl and put the dough in it, covering it with a cloth (I use the baby muslins for this, but a dishcloth would do fine, obviously you don't need to have had a baby and have baby muslins to do this FFS) or put the dough on the surface you just kneaded it on and cover it with an oiled bowl.

If you have lots of large stainless steel bowls, like I do, then lucky you. You don't need to wash up just yet. Otherwise you'll need to wash up the doughy-bowl, dry it, oil it and put it to use.

Set the timer for un'altre ten minutes.

This is the same white sourdough dough, after its third lot of ten minute rises.

At each stage the dough will have relaxed a little and started to grown. At first, when you're only leaving it for 10 or 30 mins, you won't notice it so much. But when you get to the longer proving times, you'll see how it stretches out and relaxes. When you first get back to the dough you'll also feel  how it's softer and starts to stiffen up as you knead it.

Don't be tempted to knead it more than 10-15 seconds.

Et voila le dough after the first one hour rise. You can see bubbles on the surface yes? Good sign.

After the second, 1hr rise. The dough is bigger, more relaxed, smoother. A bit like me after Christmas.

Here it is after its 2hr rise. Just before it's shaped and put into a banneton for its overnight sleep.

I should point out that the bread-heads always say that if it's warm (like a hot sunny day or just if your kitchen is warm) then you might be able to leave your bread for less time, say 40 minutes instead of an hour. I've never bothered with this particularly and always do what time suits me. Equally, if you leave the bread for longer than ten minutes (or 30mins or an hour or whatever rest you're on), cos the phone goes, or Corrie is on, it doesn't matter either. Obviously you can't completely take the piss, but sourdough is a bit like a very loving/drunk parent/partner: it is very forgiving.

When you've done your resting and kneading for the last time, you shape it into a ball, let it rest for ten minutes and then shape it into the final shape you want and put it to prove in a lined bowl or banneton for the last rise of whatever the recipe says (usually about 4hrs or so). I always do the final prove (prove = rise) in the fridge, cos that's what works for me. I leave it for 10-36hrs for white dough, and up to 72 hours for wholemeal/rye etc. I haven't experimented with longer than that  yet.

These are my little loaves after ten hours in the fridge. They don't look massively risen, but comparatively, they are. I wanted two smaller baton shapes. Had I put all the dough in one basket it would have been up to the top by this stage.

In the morning this is what I do: I preheat the oven to 220C. I put in two baking trays, the one I will bake the bread on goes on the top shelf. The tray I will put the ice cubes on will go on the bottom shelf. Don't use your best tray for the ice cubes.

When the oven is up to temperature, fill a glass with ice cubes and get your polenta ready. Take out the top baking tray - the one that will receive the bread - and dust it with polenta. You can't put the polenta on before this (i.e. at the time of first putting the tray in the oven) or it will burn.

Turn the bread out onto the polenta. This is where the linen lined bannetons really come into their own, because it makes the process easy.

These are the loaves, turned out onto a polenta dusted tray and slashed.

Don't be afraid to slash the loaves. Even if they look like they're collapsing a bit when you do it. They will recover in the oven. Use a bread knife: be confident and slash the dough deeply, the deeper you slash the more room the bread has to rise in the oven. Try to cut, rather than push: in other words let the knife do the work, not you pushing down. I do about four slashes for a 600g baton shape. Experiment with what works for you.

When you've slashed, put the bread into the oven, and just before shutting the door, pour the ice cubes onto the bottom tray. They will fizz and steam. That's good. That steam will keep the bread moist. If you have a water sprayer, you should also spray the top of the bread. This is important because once the crust has hardened, the bread can no longer rise, so the longer you can leave it before the crust hardens, the more chance you have of 'oven spring' - the bread making that final push upwards in the oven.

Things that really make a difference:

Slashing - your bread won't be so aerated without it.
Ice cubes -  you won't get such a good crust or so much rise.
Preheated baking tray - you won't get such a good crust or such a good rise.
Polenta - you can do without it, but it produces a really professional finish, even if it is only on the bottom.

The finished product

That's it!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

36hr prove potato bread crumb

Here it is covering a chicken salad sandwich. It was perfect.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Starting to experiment pt2: potato bread with a 36hr prove

Because we had guests coming for Sunday lunch, I decided to make a double batch of potato bread on Saturday. I had an inkling it would be good, because the dough was really frisky: I could barely contain it on the chopping board I use to knead my dough. It was so alive there was no way I could knead it and leave it on the board, covered with a large stainless steel bowl, as I normally do, because it would have pushed right out from the bowl.  So instead I had to put it back into the bowl, and cover it with a tea towel whilst it rested.

I also discovered that it's so much easier to fold dough, in the fancy way they tell you to (basically folding the dough into three, so take one third of it, fold it into the centre and then the other side, fold in on top) with so much dough. It was really easy to fold in this way, although not easy to keep in any sort of shape. I practically had to pour it into the bannetons.

I cooked one lot in a 1k round on the Sunday but the other I left in a 600g banneton (in the fridge at 4C) til this morning. It had risen hugely and spread out lots on the baking tray the moment I turned it out. I slashed it four times and it looked very collapsed, but I'm used to that with long-prove breads now and hoped it would revive in the oven. It did.

Instead of what I usually do, which is put it in the oven at the highest temperature and then turning it down, I've been experimenting with putting the bread in the oven at 220C for the first 8-10 mins, then putting it up higher to 250C, then back down. This is what I did this time.

The bread rose beautifully, had a great crust (heavier and darker than the one I did for Sunday lunch, probably cos of the shape) and OMG it tastes divine. The longer prove has definitely improved the flavour.

I'd go as far as to say it's very probably the best tasting bread I've ever made. I will try to photograph the crumb later (if there is any left), it's really good. Not overproved (as I feared), kinda waxy, very white. And so moist.


Friday, 13 August 2010

Testing testing

I've installed various things on here and this is just to see if they work. Which I'm sure they won't. If anyone understands Google Analytics and/or how to get my 'subscribe to this blog via email' thing to actually work, please tell me!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Starting to experiment pt1: white sourdough 36 hr prove

Now that I'm getting a bit more cocky confident about sourdough bread making, I'm starting to experiment a bit more. I know that the bread geeks might poo-pooh at my experiments, and how tame they are. But I'm new to all this and hoping to help other rookie bakers, not really teach anything to anyone, let alone seasoned bakers. Although if I manage that, too, then hoo-RAH.

I wrote in another post about long proving of loaves. I regularly prove our 'house bread' (Dan Lepard's Mill Loaf) for 72 hours now. But thus far I'd only proved white sourdough for about ten hours regularly, and 24 hours max.

So the other day, my partner (I'm so fed up of saying boyfyhusband, it sounds so fucking twee) was going to London and I decided to send my Italian Daddie - who lives there with my Italian Mamma - a loaf of my bread.  He's the sort of man who eats bread at every meal and he buys his baguettes from the supermarket, and I think they're a poor substitute for the sort of bread he grew up with.

He likes his bread to be white and crusty. So I made a batch of sourdough, shaped one into a round for us, and one into a baton for him, proved it overnight and got up at FIVE O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING to cook it as my partner was leaving at 6am. I kept the other loaf and cooked it yesterday morning, after a 36 hour final prove in the fridge at 4 degrees.

I am pleased to report that it was splendid. I cooked it for only 20 mins, 15 mins at 250 and 5 at 220, as I was after a slightly softer crust than the usual blackened, sour crust I go for. It was delicious, delicate and here it is, photographed in the morning sunlight.

White sourdough, cooked after a 36hr prove.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Flour cupboard

We re-did our kitchen last year. Where once there was carved, dark oak cabinet doors there is stainless steel. Where once there was a dark brown (yes) sink with dark brown tap (yes) there is stainless steel. Where once there was the 'smashy floor' as my eldest called it (tiled and mean) there is wood. Where once there were three rooms: kitchen, loo, my study, there is now just one great, big muthaloving kitchen.

I joke that, had I got into bread baking before the kitchen was done, I'd probably have had an entire bakery area. It's only part-joke since if I had the space, I'd surely do this. But I don't do too badly. I have an entire cupboard dedicated to flour, all labelled. People laugh when they see this except they don't seem to understand I do all this cos I'm lazy. I'm too lazy to be faffing around searching through identical-looking packets of flour, held chaste with Klip-its. I find organisation comforting, or as I often say to my boyfyhusband:

Organisation brings you freedom.

I find nothing odd in Monica from Friends behaviour. I have a labeller, too. With a labeller chaos is tamed.

Organisational beauty.

So anyway. I have these Lock and Lock Counter Top boxes which store about two bags of flour . I have four of these, for the four flours I use most and keep a stainless steel scoop inside to make life even simpler (do you have ANY idea how hard it is to find stainless steel scoops these days?). And then for the flours I use less frequently, such as rye and barley, I have the 1.8 Lock and Lock, which is incidentally, also the size I keep my sugars in. But they're all in the Sugar Cupboard, which has no place here.

If you think I'm mad, have a look at this:

These are Martha Stewart's 'Creative Containers'.

You think these scissors ever get out of control? On the right are small spice jars containing glitter. Imagine IMAGINE if someone spilled any.

If you'd like to see more of Martha's Craft Room, and believe me you do, then go here. If ever I feel like the world is too big and things are getting on top of me, I go and look at pictures of Martha Stewart's estate and it makes me feel better knowing that in a large corner of Connecticut, a staff of 127 can keep order. Don't forget to check out the 'equipment barn' whilst you're there.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Bannetons, pannetons

Whenever I get newly into something, I'm a sucker for buying all the gadgets, all the add-on bits. When I was eighteen - eighteen for Christ's sake - I got into cycling and had a racing bike hand made. It cost over £600. This was in 1984, when £600 could buy you a house. The bike had all the latest everything on it, I went completely mad.

I'd like to point out I funded its purchase myself. Entirely. From the proceeds of selling ice-cream outside my parents' shop all summer, every summer, from 1979.  Aside from the loan I extorted off my aunt in Italy. But I paid it back. But the bike wasn't enough. I had to have special cycle shorts (because of course I couldn't ride it without them). And a special cycle jersey. And hand-made in Cumbria (I didn't even know where Cumbria was at that point) cycle shoes. And I had a computer thingy on the handlebars that told me how far I'd cycled (not very far at all) and for how long.

Thankfully, I lost my virginity a few years later and stopped being quite so mad.

My friends from school, of whom I still have four (they are my top, top friends, the inner circle): Alex, Claudia, Emma and Sandra, still occasionally hint at my prior madness. They know that it's rare I get into something and don't decide it's really essential that I have that extra bit of kit.

So when I started making bread, I was determined, really determined, that I wouldn't clutter up the kitchen with any more extra 'stuff'. I proved my first loaf in a bowl, lined with a tea towel. It worked fine. Well, I say that but the teatowel stuck a bit (was it  pure linen? who knew) and well, it was a bit of a faff, turning the loaf out.

I'd read about bannetons (aka pa(n)netons in some books), proving baskets, which are made of wood fibre, or cane or wicker.  Because sourdough dough is fragile, it needs support when proving, otherwise it'd just spread out like a thick puddle. I decided I liked the wicker ones best, they seemed to make the most sense to me.

I was adamant I didn't need them. I could manage fine with a teatowel and a bowl or sieve, which is what loads of people did I was sure.

But then I bought one. And I can reliably report that they really are a purchase worth making. You put the dough in the panneton for the final proof. Then, I cover it with a teatowel (see, I still am using that teatowel!) and put it in the fridge for an overnight or longer, prove.

When I'm ready to bake, I simply tip the bread out onto the polenta lined baking tray. No fiddling about trying to transfer the dough out of the teatowel and bowl and onto the tray.

Mine were the wicker ones from Bakery Bits, my absolute favourite website for buying all things bread-baking related. Everything on there is easy to understand (lots of bread websites are commercial and not reader friendly at all), and the service is great.

I started off with a 400g round wicker one and now have two 600g batons and 1k round. I really recommend you get them lined, as the cost isn't that much more and I really don't see the point of them unlined. Although NOTE: I washed mine after several uses (you don't wash them after every use, see the BB blog for more advice on looking after them) and they split. So when you do wash yours, take extra care. I put mine on a short rinse in the machine  (which is a Miele of course, so double-good), a process I really think linen liners should be able to withstand. But one split so badly it's unusable, the other did along one seam. Only one survived completely intact. I wrote to BB about this and they are replacing them and were very courteous. Which goes to show you can't always control it when something goes wrong, but you can control how you handle it.

However, in chatting to Patrick at Bakery Bits, I learned some interesting things. Since I bought my bannetons the site now also sells Matfer wicker lined bannetons (advertised as "heavy-duty" on the site). These are about double the price of the Bakery Bits bannetons. So for example a 1k round regular one would be £10.99 (all BB prices excl of VAT), but a Matfer one would be £19.99.

However, the Rolls Royce of wicker bannetons are Vannerie ones, people on bread blogs talk about these with real reverence.  To continue the comparison, a 1k lined Vannerie basket is £34.99. I believe they are things of of beauty, and I'm sure are very robust, but that's just too much for me! But it'd be nice as a present (HINT HINT to all those people who say I'm hard to buy for).

If you're serious about bread-making - and I guess you wouldn't know that until you'd made lots - then I think the Matfer ones would be good to get, a good half-way house. I can see how the wicker is more substantial and I'd hope the lining didn't rip. I think the Vannerie ones are for people with the money. But I have a soft spot for the most basic ones, they do the job not just well, but great and considering that you can make sourdough just fine with a tea-towel and bowl, anything above that is surely a step up.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

72 hour prove

Because making your own bread seems to make other people feel guilty, one of the questions I get asked a lot, rather accusingly, is "how do you find the time to make your own bread?"

The ironic thing is that since I've been making my own sourdough I have:

Lost weight
Saved money
Spent less time shopping

This is because sourdough is low GI, it's so delicious it's almost (I said ALMOST) like eating cake but without the sugar lurch. So I snack in more satisfying fashion. Because a loaf of bread and some scraps make a meal, I spend less time shopping, ergo I save money. (Because although I do go shopping with a list, I always go off-list, too, so I go in for a tin of tomatoes and come out having spent £23.)

But also, sourdough, as my friend Lucy told me, is forgiving and easy to fit into a busy schedule. Aside from the beginning bit, the rest you squeeze in in amongst the laundry folding etc. The only thing it doesn't work with is when I am actually away from the house, because sourdough requires lots of little bits of time spread out throughout the day. It suits me perfectly.

What I've also discovered is that you can make a double batch, prove it in the fridge, bake one lot and then keep the rest in the fridge. So far I've done this for 12 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours, 48 get the picture. This means that you can  have fresh bread without having to have actually made it the day before.

This was a genius discovery for the likes of me.

A pure white sourdough doesn't seem to like proving over about 24 hours (although more experimentation is needed). Any longer than this and it overproves. It's still delicious, but you'll get big air bubbles at the top of the bread and the crust starts to come away. But with darker flours it works better. I made a three flour loaf (white, rye, wholemeal) the other day, proved one over 12 hours at 4 degrees then cooked it. But kept the second loaf for 72 hours at 4 degrees.

The 72 hour loaf looked like it would be my first failure. As I slashed it, it collapsed alarmingly. I checked it after 15 mins at 250 degreees and it still looked collapsed and I prepared myself for failure. But after it's second 15 mins at 220 degrees it looked completely normal. It had risen, it looked great.


It tasted absolutely delicious. The longer the prove the longer the taste has to develop, see.

My three flour loaf, baked 72 hours after it was made. It was delicious.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The best crumb yet

So. I'm starting to crack the making of sourdough in this extreme heat. The optimum heat for making and proving seems to be in the 18-21 degrees range (for me, at least) but even though my kitchen is pretty cool, me living in the country 'n' all, it has reached temps of 25.

This has made proving tricky, so I've cut down proving times in a most scientific way. Er, by roughly 20%.  And then not always cos if I'm feeding the baby/trying to get her to sleep/doing almost anything, I forget, get distracted and then my giant timer tells me that I've run over by 38 minutes or something.

It's not been so bad when the sourdough has included low-gluten flours like barley or rye, but when it's pure white, it's sometimes been a struggle to keep the dough on the table top as it spreads out. I've heard tales of ciabatta dough being so frisky, bakers have had to chase it round the kitchen.

The heat has also made me sometimes panic whilst handling the dough. And one knows one must never show fear in baking.

Absolutely essential has been oiling the surface you're working on. I use a large Top Gourmet chopping board. This means that, in my busy kitchen, I can move the bread around easily if surfaces are needed for something else (because let's face it, making sourdough takes all day so you do need to do other stuff). I can sometimes get away with not oiling the surface, especially when making breads containing what I call 'healthy flours' (i.e. anything but white). But it really can make the difference when working with white flour, in the heat.

The other day I made a giant potato bread loaf which I hardly handled at all (it was really hot and the dough turned to glue the moment I touched it), I used just a dough scraper.  The bread was fantastic, but I do think it suffered from the lack of loving.

Anyway, yesterday I could tell straight off the dough was going to be good. I put it to prove at 4 degrees (i.e. in the bottom shelf of the fridge) for six hours, then took it out and put it at 20 degrees for three hours.

Then I did something which has no rhyme or reason but seems to make a huge difference. I pre-heated the trays, as per. I used ice cubes as per, but I heated the oven up to 220 and then when the bread went in, I put it up to 250. I did this the very first time I made sourdough and sort of forgot about it, because usually what I do is always crank it up straight away to 250 (because you'd think the hotter the oven is to start, the better, no?). But something about turning the temperature up as the bread goes in makes for a much better crust. I cooked it for 15 minutes at 250 then down to 220 for another 20 or so.

It is a fucking marvellous loaf. Here it is. Tell me I'm not a total genius.

It tastes wonderful, really sour, tasty crust.I love it so much I've thrust it under the nose of almost everyone whose come through the door this morning. My dad has had to say "fantastico" at least seven times.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Slashing - do you need special tools?

The subject of slashing is big in the bread world. Before I started baking bread, I had no idea that those slashes were there for anything other than decoration.

Oh how simple my world must have been.

If I've understood it correctly, and it's entirely probable I haven't, you slash your bread so that it can rise to maximum height without exploding. This is because the heat of the oven causes something caused "oven spring"-  that final push upwards. Because the bread has a certain surface tension, you want the bread to rise as much as possible before the crust bakes hard and doesn't allow any further growth. So in this respect slashing helps, (but so does causing a moist environment in the oven - steam. More on this another time).

If you slash, you control where the bread expands. If you didn't and it needed to expand, it might burst in an uncontrollable fashion. So slashing can be decorative and serves a purpose. Btw, you only really need to slash with certain types of bread. Some bread that don't rise much, such as a pure rye, don't need slashes.

But how to slash?

People are nervous of slashing the dough, with good reason. You've spent the best part of a day making your sourdough baby and when you tip it out on a (preferably pre-heated) tray or stone you don't want to muck about with it anymore than you have to. Slashing takes a bit of confidence and good slashing also depends on the proving. If you've overproved, slashing is more likely to make your bread deflate, for instance.

When I first started slashing I used a really sharp knife. I found this dragged and it made me panic, because the bread seemed to deflate (although it seemed to recover fine in the oven).

I never need a reason to buy a new gadget or a specialist tool so I looked up what you could use.

  • A razor blade - no good for me as I have young children and I wasn't going to risk a naked blade escaping from the drawer.
  • A grignette or lame - a posh Stanley knife.

Naturally, I decided, I needed one of the latter.

You can get ones with rotating blades (so you can use both sides, although there's nothing to stop you swopping hands and doing it but I guess that requires some dexterity), ceramic blades, steel blades, replaceable blades. They are used "by the professionals".

I got this one:

Mure and Peynot Panette Professional Grignette, £9.99, close up of curved blade

Same, seen side on and full length and with safety cover.

It has a replaceable blade and a safety cover as seen above. 

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in his lovely little book on bread suggests you can use a bread knife. If you've ever tried to slice a tomato with a regular (even really sharp) knife and a serrated bread knife, you'll know the latter makes the job so much easier. 

Surely a bread knife couldn't be as good as, or better, than a special tool?

Well actually yes it can. I'm sure if you're a proper artisan baker who makes all sorts of fancy patterns on their bread, then I'm sure that a grignette, in your hands does amazing things. But I can't get the slashes to go deep enough.

The bread knife does a far better job.

Slash made with grignette on potato bread. Nice, but see how shallow it is? Although you'll see the bread knife is already starting to muscle in.

This morning's bread, white sourdough, slashed with a simple bread knife. Better, no?

Yesterday's bread: three flour mill loaf, with bread knife slashes. 

Conclusion: it may not be a wallet-busting exercise, buying a professional grignette, but I think a bread-knife does the job better. With the money you save you'd be better off buying a banneton, which is worth the money. But, more on this another time.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Pane e amore

I'm really pleased with the loaves I've made so far. Whilst they may not all look as presentable as those I've bought in (proper, artisan, baker) shops, they're really delicious. So delicious I have difficulty believing I've made them myself.

But the more I learn about sourdough, the more I realise it's a bit like hi-fi's (or whatever they're called theseadays). You can get to the point where you finesse, finesse, finesse so much that you're still going long past the point anyone else stopped caring.

I remember standing in a hi-fi shop with a hi-fi geek friend of mine, who was trying to show me the difference between one system (and we're not talking those vertically racked systems, please, we're talking individually bought and unmatching components) that cost £5K and one that cost £7K. "Can you hear the difference?" she asked.

No, I couldn't. This is where I feigned an epileptic fit and asked to leave the shop.

There are a couple of questions I have at the moment about sourdough. I'll have so many more, but at the moment a few are really bugging me. What I want is a really technical, but hand-holdy book (and if you know of one, please let me know) that will explain the science in a bit more detail than The Handmade Loaf.

And as I try to find these out on the web, I get more drawn into super-geek bread sites (trust me they make this look like Grazia) that make me feel like a miserable failure.

Even though, I have to remind myself, I think my bread is great and it does everything a good loaf should. It rises, it looks lovely and it tastes wonderful. What more could I want? At which point does it get good enough and people stop wondering if the addition of one extra ice cube will make for that super-perfect crust, or if they'd just turned the dough another 180 degrees during their crumb improvement proof, it would have had elongated holes to rival a natural sea-sponge.

Does it matter? I'm beginning to suspect it does. But I also want to scream at some of these sites and say:

"Are you shagging enough?" because surely you can't be. I can't believe anyone who is having enough sex can get that into bread.

And I include myself in this. But look. I have an excuse.

Must go now, have a loaf in the oven.

A completely gratuitous picture of Sofia Loren NOT baking bread.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Rye and Wholemeal bread

Rye and wholemeal, supposed to be Barley and Rye bread, cept I got distracted.
Proved in two whicker 600g baton bannetons for ten hours at 4 degrees. Cooked on preheated tray at 250 for ten minutes then 220 for ten minutes. Slashed with a professional Mure and Peynot grignette with a curved blade. One worked more successfully than the other. Not sure why.

Today's bread was supposed to be Barley and Rye bread from Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf. I've rather overdosed on white flour bread and even though sourdough is low GI, and I use stoneground, organic white flour, I really started to feel I needed to make a loaf that wasn't just white flour.

The majority of sourdough bread has a tendency towards white flour use. White flour does the work in keeping the bubbles of sourdough up in a way that other flours can't. This recipe called for a rye leaven, 300g white flour and then 100g each of rye and barley. I'd just had a chat with another budding baker friend about wanting to use more wholemeal so that's what was in my head and that's what I reached for instead of the barley flour. Anyway, it's no bad thing. As you'll see it still uses mostly white flour. *sucks teeth*

I'd made this loaf (using the correct ingredients) before and it's delicious. A really subtly delicious loaf and great for sandwiches (what I also love about sourdough, because have I mentioned that I love it, is its keeping qualities).

Rye and wholemeal crumb, second slice, it will only get better as I get further into the loaf.

 Barley and rye bread made with proper ingredients and an 11hr rise at about 12 degrees. Dan Lepard described this loaf as having a "bold beauty".


Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Mr Potato Bread

 Potato bread. 
Proved in a 400g round whicker banneton with linen lining for 13hrs at 4 degrees.
Cooked on a preheated baking tray at 250C for ten minutes then at 220 for a further ten minutes.

A couple of years ago, at the excellent Whitecross Street market, I bought a Tortano bread from The Power Station. This was a large ring shape and it had potato in it. The potato wasn't obvious, but the flavour of the bread was exceptional.

I've dreamed of it ever since, buying it when I can, but that hasn't been often. When I saw Dan Lepard had a recipe for potato bread in his book The Handmade Loaf, I decided to try it.

The recipe calls for honey and grated potato. This was my first long rise (prove) at such a low temperature (I usually prove my bread for about eight hours at about 15 degrees), and I was dubious it would work. My suspicions were deepened when I got the dough and it didn't seem to have risen as much as my bread usually does. It had spring to it, and I tipped it out onto a preheated, polenta dusted tray (I always use Mermaid trays) and it still deflated slightly. I had two shapes on the go, one in a 400g round (which you can see above) and one in a 600g baton (which you can see in a minute). The slashes on the round one didn't really have much effect and the loaf sort of burst out of one end. The recipe had called for a central fold, rather than slashes, but I hadn't done this (tut, see what happens when you go off piste).

The baton shape I'd slashed on the top but also along one length.

Both breads rose beautifully, with a fabulous (I think anyway) crumb. The baton ended up being more successful in terms of loaf-look because of the beautiful fanning open of the long cut I'd made. I must warn you that this bread is just superb tasting. I had some for lunch with griddled peppers and a tomato salad. You can taste the sweetness of the honey, but not in an off putting way at all - even if you didn't like honey I reckon you'd still love this. My boyfyhusband is currently eating his way through the second loaf whilst I remind him that it's fodder for our daughter's lunch box. I can't even begin to think how delicious this bread would be if used for a bacon sandwich, with some chilli jam. Be warned.

The potato bread baton slash. Bootiful.

First fumblings with sourdough.

When I first started my other blog I didn't know what to call it, so the sharp-eyed amongst you will see it has two names: the URL is paneamoreechachacha and the name of the actual blog is Apropos of Nothing. [I've since changed this to be uniform and the blog and URL are PAeCCC.}

I first chose Pane, Amore e Cha Cha Cha because this is what my parents say a lot. It means, bread, love and the cha cha cha is 'everything else'. It seemed like a fitting name for just about anything I might write about. But I also like Apropos of Nothing as I say this all the time and what I write about is apropos of nothing really: the every day little things in life you may come across that aren't big or important, but might make a difference.  There are lots of blogs out there that herald the new and I love reading about such things. But I wanted to write a blog about things I knew about, things I'd tried. Things I consumed...

But when I first chose the PA e CCC title, I thought the 'bread' part would cover my forays into food things. I never really thought it'd cover bread. And I certainly never thought I'd be starting a whole new blog about Sourdough Bread. But, yet, here it is. The reason for separating them out is that sourdough talk is fairly geeky and I didn't want to clutter up the Apropo/Cha Cha Cha blog with fairly intricate talk about prove times and bannetons.

The reason sourdough, or natural leaven bread means so much to me, the reason I go on about it so, is that bread is the final frontier in cooking that I'd never been able to master. I've baked since I was seven (I used to make the cakes for my parents shop on the Bayswater Road in west London, probably illegally but there you go). But I'd never been able to make bread. I never worked out why. When I was a child I couldn't wear a watch, they'd stop when I put them on. And if I ever tried to make anything with yeast in it, it'd die.  My bread was awful. I tried things like Danish pastries, thinking that maybe cos they were a cakey thing, I might have more luck. But no. It was actually hard to take failure, over and over again and I felt like you do when computers give you problems. Like it's personal.

Some years ago, I went diving and fishing with a Michelin starred chef. I told him about me and bread. He laughed. "Anyone can make bread" he said, sounding like the chef in Ratatouille. "I can't" I answered mournfully. "Come to my kitchen," he offered. So I went.

He made the dough for the day and put it in this huge mixer. Then he asked me to shape it or something. I can't remember now, but anyway, I touched it. We were making the bread for the entire evening's covers. To cut a long story short, cos you must surely know what's coming,  the bread I'd touched failed. The fact that I'd told him this didn't appease his temper. He looked at me like I was a witch and not long after I found myself on the pavement outside, crushed.

Eventually bread makers came onto the market and I even failed with those, but I realised that's because we had a shit bread maker. Our downstairs neighbour, the lovely Sarah, used to produce these huge loaves for her and her husband Ben. Her bread machine was a Panasonic (still the only make of bread maker I'd recommend) and eventually we bought one and what do you know, as long as I stayed away from the mixture with my hands - very easy to do with a machine - we were okay. As time went on, I got confident again. I really don't know if bread senses fear but maybe it does. Because as I got more confident, I started making bagels and pizza, using the machine to make the dough and then shaping it myself. Success was mine. I don't know, perhaps having children changed whatever freaky wiring I had going on that was such an efficient killer of bread dough. Perhaps the hands that had always been so cold, but made great pastry, were starting to warm up. The point is, I was able to make bread.

But my eye was always on the big prize:  sourdough. Proper Italian bread is sourdough bread: made without yeast but by using a starter of, basically, flour and water which uses wild yeasts that are present in the air and on the flour. In Italy we call this leaven a 'biga'. Some bakers call it 'La Mamma or La Madre' - the mother. Fitting because the starter you, yes, start with, you make all your subsequent bread from. You use a bit of your starter every day to make your bread (or discard it if you're not making bread) and then feed (or refresh) it with more flour and water. Some starters date back many years. It's said that the starter that makes the famous Poilan bread dates back to 1932. Certainly the longer a starter has been going, the better it is and the more flavoursome the bread.

Sourdough bread is big, holey bread which you can't squash into putty. It is deeply flavoursome, has a low GI (thus very satisfying) and can make a meal out of the most humble of ingredients. Add a squash of Brie and a few roasted peppers in olive oil and I'm happy. If you live in a big City - certainly London - you can buy sourdough bread pretty easily. But here, in Suffolk it's not so easy.

Every weekly trip to London saw me coming back with something from Flour Station or Paul's and I'd text my boyfhusband on the way home and say "we have good bread, we have a meal." But I wanted to be able to make this bread myself.

I'd bought Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf some years previously. I'd started a starter from his instructions which had looked promising, but then I got pregnant and other things occupied my mind. My friend Lucy gave me a bit of her starter but I'd let it go off in the back of the fridge. Then finally my friend Emily offered to send me some of hers. This seemed such an act of friendship and I liked the fact that Emily - whom I'd only ever got to know on line (I also co-run a parenting forum called I Want My Mum), could send her starter across the country, in the post, and I could make bread from it.

It came. I tipped it into a Kilner jar, fed it for two days and opened the first recipe in Dan's book, which was for white leaven bread. Dan's recipes are deeply prescriptive: 8am, do this, 8.10am do that. They had put me off at first because it seemed you had to spend all day making bread. Maybe this was why sourdough loaves cost so much. But in fact it wasn't so. It suited me perfectly. I found the bit that took the most time was the beginning, and refreshing the starter. Otherwise you hardly kneaded it at all - 10/15 seconds at a time. Leaving it to rest for 10 mins, 30 mins, an meant I could do it in between feeds/reading to my children/preparing dinner etc.

The first loaf I made I started just after school pick up, which is still the best time for me to make bread. I had already decided to be Master of the sourdough in terms of this: the final rise called for a time of 4-5 hours. I knew I could never stay up that long, so I decided to just leave it to rise overnight in a bowl lined with a teacloth on the concrete floor of the laundry room. At a temperature of about 15 degrees. I decided that the bread either had to cope with this, or it had no place in my life.

The next morning I got up and very clumsily took the bread off the teatowel, which it had stuck to, and wobbled it onto a cold baking tray (my technique finessed incredibly fast, fear not). Dan said an oven temperature of 220 for 50-70 minutes. After 30 minutes my loaf was frazzled.

I was upset, of course, but as I cut into the loaf I realised that there inside was proper sourdough. What's more, as it cooled, I realised the crust had this wonderful taste. I was so excited that I sent a picture of it to Dan (whom I don't know, but I figured he'd not be too freaked out as we work for the same newspaper) and he replied saying he thought it looked great and it looked better than his first sourdough. He probably says this to everyone, but I chose to believe him.

We - boyfyhusband and I, not me and Mr Lepard - ate it with a poached egg (Burford Browns) topped with herbs from our garden. I almost died of happiness that morning. I told everyone, all day, all week, that I had made bread. With my hands. I think I sent a picture of my sourdough bread to everyone with an email address. Finally.

First ever sourdough. Look at that crumb! This was proved in a bowl lined with a teatowel for nine hours at 15 degrees. I didn't slash it, I cooked it for 30 minutes at 220.
And it worked.