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.