Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: Bread (page 1 of 2)

Sourdough September – how to make the king of loaves

There is something quite magical about sourdough, this glorious loaf that miraculously rises from some water, flour and salt. When you explain to someone for the first time how it’s made they never quite believe that it’s possible or for that matter just how easy it is. Sure the process to make sourdough takes some time and some patience, but in terms of actually doing something to make it the time taken is less than 20 minutes. Once you have a starter that works and get into the cycle of feeding it and making a loaf you will soon become addicted to baking what is rightly known as the king of loaves.

Being the good social media user that I am I of course post photos of these wonderful loaves when I bake them at the weekend just to make sure folk know exactly how awesome I am. Over the past month or so this has resulted in a few people asking me for the recipe so they can have a go at baking a sourdough loaf themselves. I happily obliged and wrote up my method and recipe to share because what can be better than spreading the sourdough love? Unfortunately they are now doing their best to upstage me and make better sourdough than I do, but I shall try not to hold a grudge.

The recipe is mostly based on one from the Fabulous Baking Brothers (of Hobbs House bakery, makers of truly amazing bread) with a few tweaks I’ve learnt along the way. I thought it would be useful to share the recipe here also rather than sending it out on email each time. There are a few approaches to making sourdough but some seem a lot more complicated than this and this simple, straightforward approach seems to work well so why make things harder?

If you ever wondered about sourdough and the mystery of how to make it please do give it a go, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make something so tasty. There is definitely no better time of year to start either, as the days get noticeably shorter and colder a warm slice of sourdough with butter on is just the tonic! If you do decide to have a go please do share the results, I’d love to see them. Always happy to answer any questions you may have too.

Before moving onto the recipe I thought I’d share some photos of the loaves others have made with this recipe, if this doesn’t convince you to have a try I don’t know what will.

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Kitchen helpers

You already know that baking sourdough is at least a weekly occurrence in this house and normally I start the process once the kids are in bed. But yesterday I was working from home so had time before they went to bed to make the dough.

The second I started gathering the ingredients and a bowl a little voice piped up “what you doing daddy?”. Then moments later a chair was pushed up against the worktop and a little child appeared for a closer look. Of course as soon as Matilda was up there Henry also wanted to be and who am I to say no? I love getting them involved with food already and letting them see how their meals are created. Plus of course making bread is a lot like playing with Play-Doh which they do oh so well.

So I give you my new commis chef’s, not a bad kneading technique for a first attempt 🙂

P.S. Not the greatest photos, took them on my phone and the kids were constantly moving!

Matilda and Henry kneading bread

Matilda and Henry kneading

Sourdough magic

We have a new tradition in the Fool’s household and that is eating a whole sourdough loaf on Saturday’s (and possibly another one on Sunday’s).

And you know what? We don’t even feel guilty.

sourdough Let me explain, you know I love bread and more than that have become a little bit obsessed with baking my own. It started around this time last year with trying to make the ultimate white loaf. It took a bit of a backseat after Henry was born as spare time became non existent for a few months. But with the discovery of how to make sourdough the urge to bake bread every week has been awoken.

Sourdough is bread making wizardry, just flour and water used to make the most amazing bread. I’m still not convinced that some little pixies don’t creep in at night and sprinkle some yeast in there. But however it works I don’t think there is a loaf better than sourdough and there certainly isn’t toast better than sourdough toast.

Making sourdough is all about routine, once you get into the habit of the weekly cycle you can have a fresh loaf every Saturday morning with less than 20 mins work. Sound good? Then read on:


First you need to get your starter going and I warn you this definitely gets better with age so don’t be surprised if the first loaf you make isn’t amazing, just be patient.

  1. For your starter you’ll need a jar with a secure lid, I use a Kilner style one so it’s nice a secure.
  2. In the jar put 75g of wholemeal or dark Rye flour (I really like the Rye for flavour) and enough water to make a mixture like thick paint. Give it a good stir then pop it on your kitchen worktop.
  3. Repeat this every day for the next 4 days, you should start to see bubbles forming in the mixture as the natural yeasts work their magic.

Now you’re ready to make a loaf, if you want to eat your loaf on Saturday then make up the dough on Friday evening. It then proves overnight ready to be baked when you get up. With no yeast added it needs a nice long, slow prove.

  1. photo 3In a bowl put 460g of strong white bread flour, add 10g of salt and 300g of your starter.
  2. Now add enough warm water to make quite a wet mix that should hold together well but be a bit sticky on your hands. A wetter mixture is definitely better than a drier one.
  3. Turn out onto the worktop and knead for 10-15 minutes until you have a nice smooth and springy dough. The best way to kneed is to put one hand on the end of the dough nearest you and then use the other hand to stretch the dough out away from you. Then fold it back up and repeat.
  4. Once you’ve finished kneading place the dough in a bowl and cover it. The best thing to use to cover it is a shower cap, which sounds a bit random but it keeps the moisture in and can be reused unlike cling film. Leave it to rise like this for 3-4 hours.
  5. Now you also need to feed your starter again with 75g of wholemeal or rye flour and some water, but this time pop the starter in the fridge. This slows down the fermentation and means you don’t need to feed it again.
  6. photo 1Just before you go to bed, take the dough out of the bowl and gently shape it into a loaf. So far I’ve only used a loaf tin to cook it in so you just make the dough into a rectangle and pop into a well floured 2lb loaf tin. Cover it again with the shower cap.
  7. In the morning the loaf should have nicely risen, heat up the over to 230 degrees and pop the loaf in. After 10 minutes turn the over down to 200 degrees and cook for another 20 minutes.

Pretty simple isn’t it? Now you just need to get into the cycle of taking the starter out of the fridge on a Friday morning, giving it a feed and then making your bread on Friday evening. Feeding the starter again after you make your loaf and then popping it back in the fridge and so on.

Let me introduce you to the other woman in my life

You may have noticed things have been a bit quiet on this here blog over the last week or so. Mainly because we’ve been trying to sell our house and quite honestly the combination of that and work has been all my brain can handle. But amazingly our house sold in less than a week and we’re pretty close to buying a house also, all of which means I now have the brain power to tell you about the other woman in my life.

This, ladies and gentlemen is Susie, or to give her her full name Susie the sourdough starter. The new love of my life, a woman who makes me salivate just at the thought of her.

She is my latest obsession, a never ending mission to make the perfect sourdough loaf. It’s truly fascinating being able to make bread when no yeast at all is added, just some water, flour and magic fairy dust from the air. I think it also appeals to that little boy scientist inside making a magic potion, mixing and stirring and then watching as it bubbles away to itself in its jar.

Of course the main reason for doing this is that sourdough bread makes the greatest toast in the world, add a couple of rashers of bacon and a poached egg and you have the perfect sunday brunch.

Susie is now 2 weeks old and spends weekdays relaxing in the fridge, then on Friday morning she’s awaken from her slumber with a nice feed ready to make the dough on Friday evening and then baked in a loaf on Saturday morning. In theory if you keep this process going your starter will last forever and just gets better with age, plus if you keep the routine going you have an awesome fresh loaf of bread every weekend. What more could a man want?

Food porn photos to follow on Instagram….


French lifestyle – best in the world?

This may not be a ground breaking revelation but I think the French may have been first in the queue when God was giving out lifestyles. i have no doubt that I am not the first Englishman to come home from a holiday there and be more than a little envious that after I return home the locals are going to carry on buying their bread from THAT Boulangerie and eating amazing fresh mussels from the supermarket for only €3 a kilo and choosing whether to have fresh peaches or figs from the market today and and and. The list goes on and with it my wallet gets lighter and my stomach bigger.

There was of course the casual looking in estate agent windows and half hearted discussions of “you know it wouldn’t cost that much to get a holiday home here, we could share it”. But realistically would we ever do it? Can we really afford to buy a place here as well own a house in the UK? Probably not but who doesn’t like a holiday romance, even if the lady in question is rustic (i.e. falling down) farm house in the countryside rather than a tanned French woman?

But even if buying a holiday home isn’t realistic perhaps we can hold on to our French romance a little while longer by taking a piece of the lifestyle home with us? I’d love to take the 2 hour lunch breaks or the fresh bread being baked in every town and village but I might need a Jamie Oliver lead revolution to do that.

I can however embrace the attitude of the French, who are willing to spend money on good quality ingredients and shun sub standard food with questionable nutritious qualities. A simple comparison of an Inter-Marche to Tesco or Asda will tell you that. It may not be possible to buy that kind of food 100% from UK supermarkets but farm shops and small independent shops will offer it.

I can also embrace the simplicity of eating, expensive French food may be massively complicated and contain 100’s of ingredients but everyday French cooking isn’t like that it. It’s about a few simple ingredients prepared with care and shared with friends and a family. I would quite happily eat fresh bread, seafood, salad and wine every night outside in the evening sun until the day I die. Such pleasure from shelling prawns before devouring them with a squeeze of lemon while drinking wine and chatting with family.  Even better if the prawns have been gently warmed and smoked on the BBQ firsts.

That is pretty much how we have eaten for the whole time here, with the exception of a couple of nights where we had pasta or pizza for a change. Not that we tired of the seafood but rather felt we ought to change. We didn’t drink expensive wine, less than €6 most of the time, but carefully chosen by my wine industry working brother to maximise the value. To be honest though a €3 bottle of Muscadet was my favourite, perfect companion for the food and weather.

Returning home to autumn in the UK means the stomach begins to yearn for stews and casseroles to keep warm in the dark evenings. Not quite the same but if you apply the principles of French food it means buying a good quality piece of meat (not the same as prime cuts though) and accompanying it with a few simple but fresh ingredients and of course a nice hunk of bread on the side.

I’m also resolved to try to make a pain rustique just like the Boulangerie down the road, a great new challenge for this wannabe baker. The lady of the manor has valiantly volunteered to be chief taster, can’t think why.

P.S. If anyones interested in a chipping in for a holiday home let me know, maybe we could do a crowd sourced purchase via Twitter?

Almost a master baker…

Yes you guessed it my obsession with baking bread has continued, in fact I reckon I’m starting to get pretty good at it. Since my last bread based post here I have changed recipes and am now using one from the new Fabulous Baker Brothers cook book. As these guys are one of my biggest food heroes and make amazing bread I figured it was worth a try.

YeastThe recipe is really nice and produces an amazingly elastic dough. I’ve also learned 2 very
important tips from this book. Firstly don’t use quick action yeast, no need to use fresh yeast but make sure to buy normal dried yeast. I’m using one from Allinson which seems to be very good and gives a tastier bread that what I used previously. The slower action of this yeast gives more time for the flavour to you see. Secondly when you put the bread in the oven put a small cup of water into a hot metal baking tray in the bottom of the oven. The steam from this makes a real difference to the crust that develops on the bread.

Here’s this weekends effort, starting to look like something you’d buy in a bakers I reckon. But still a few things I want to play with; at the moment I’m just using bog standard flour from the supermarket so plan to try out some more artisan flours. I also need to find a knife to cut the top with, it needs to be really bloody sharp and my knives just aren’t doing it. The last thing is the recipe uses oil in the recipe, I’ve used extra virgin olive oil so far but want to try out some different types and rapeseed in particular to see how it changes the flavour.

A quite fascinating process all in all and a quite enjoyable way to spend some time while Matilda naps at the weekend.


Proving a point

Baking bread has become my obsession for 2012, every weekend so far has seen me kneading flour until my arms hurt with mixed results.

I love the magical process where this strange brown coloured stuff called yeast somehow makes flour rise and stretch
I love the anticipation during the first and second prove of whether it will turn out as you hope
I love the smell of fresh bread baking and watching through the oven door as the crust forms
But most of all I love EATING bread

However as I mentioned here I had a new recipe to try last weekend that hopefully was going to solve all my issues. I’ve used a few so far, including one from the Great British Bake Off that just didn’t work for me. They didn’t rise properly or the lacked flavour or they simply didn’t look very good. So I asked on Twitter and the fabulous Bye Bye Birdie shared with me her fail self technique. (Do take a look at her site, beautiful photos and she makes some fabulous baby clothes).

IMAG0407-001I won’t reproduce the recipe but it’s a Jamie Oliver one that can be found here. I think the best tip Bye Bye Birdie gave me was to mix the yeast and sugar with the warm water and leave for a few minutes before mixing into the flour. It really kick starts the yeast and made a massive difference to how much the loaf rose. By the time I tipped the yeasty water into the flour it had begun to bubble away nicely.

I made one batch of this and it provided 2 pretty large loaves as you can see, if you wanted to make them just in a loaf tin it would easily stretch to 3 if not 4 loaves. They won’t keep for long as there are no preservatives added like in shop bought bread, so best to freeze what you won’t eat in a couple of days.

DSC_0074-001Feeling inspired by this baking and the Fabulous Baker Brothers earlier last week (who I would like to point out were one of my food heroes back in June 2011, you might almost say I discovered them J) I then made pizza on Sunday. I love proper thin and crispy pizzas from Northern Italy but have never been able to get anywhere close at home.

I love in their recipe that you blind bake the pizza bases first before adding the topping.  Such a clever idea and perfect for getting a nice

crispy base. The recipe made 8 base’s so we ate 3 and froze the rest. Now all we have to do is grab one out of the freezer and add some topping. It takes less than 5 minutes to cook the topping so is amazing fast food and full of fresh healthy ingredients. Sure it takes a bit of love and time to get the base’s made but really the activity is in 10 minute bursts with a few hours proving in between.


We had parma ham, mushroom and mozzarella this time with a few small pieces of chorizo added for extra flavour. But my favourite all time topping is a Margherita base with shaved parmesan, parma ham and rocket on top. Yum!

So there you have it some fabulous baking and now that I have a good bread recipe the experimentation can start with different flours, seeds etc. I also have ‘wood fired pizza oven’ on the requirements list for our next house purchase.

P.S I’m linking up with Reluctant House Dad’s recipe shed with this post, to see more fabulous recipes check out his page here.

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