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A review of my ‘perfecting your sourdough’ course..

I thought that I ought to write a review of the sourdough course that I did recently with Elaine Foodbod, at her home in Milton Keynes.

To put this into context I trained as a chef and have spent 40 years catering, and cooking for the military as well as various members of the Royal Family, as a Private soldier right through to Lt Colonel, but whilst that gives me a head start perhaps, as most of us know, sourdough pretty much breaks every rule I’ve ever known when it comes to yeasted products. Few other doughs are as ‘wet’ as sourdough, most other doughs require warmth for proving, none that I can think of would you cold prove, nor bake in a cold oven, put in a freezer for 45 mins before baking and most require some sort of vigorous kneading, not the gentle stretch and fold associated with sourdough.

Having said that, the day (really just 4-5 hours) was invaluable to me as a learning experience. Up to that point my home starter Herbert had made 20 or 30 loaves with each being a slight improvement on the ones before but I just couldn’t achieve the ‘open structure’ that is associated with sourdough breads. It wasn’t until I’d experienced handling a starter of Elaine’s that felt and looked so different to mine, and a dough that also handled different to mine which Elaine had prepared earlier, (which I was to make myself during the day) was I able to see where my errors were. It really did make so much difference being able to handle it all ‘in the flesh’ as it were. So, an absolute positive for me and that’s before I talk about Elaine herself, her instruction and her hospitality!

Elaine is clearly passionate about what she does, she does all in her power to make you feel at ease and comfortable and most importantly of all allows things to progress on the course at your pace, making sure that at each stage of the process you understand what you’re doing and why you are doing it! I couldn’t recommend Elaine’s course highly enough and I look forward to sometime in the future working with her again.

Andy Main

Testimonial for my introduction to sourdough course…

The sourdough workshop with Elaine is incredible!

This wasn’t just a baking class and Elaine didn’t just teach how to make great sourdough bread.  No, what I got was so much more!  I got a reminder to simplify life, to enjoy the process and not be scared when things get sticky. Elaine explained every step of the sourdough process with great flow and ease, she didn’t over complicate things and related them in a manner that was easy to understand.

The whole day was a fun and joyful experience from the minute we arrived. We went from talking about bread, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones to life, values, competitions and personal development with a beautiful home cooked healthy meal to finish it all off. I didn’t really know what to expect before attending except that I would make sourdough bread but I came away with so much more.

Thank you Elaine, let me know when the cooking workshops are available and I’ll be back.

Definitely book now if you’re on the edge, you don’t want to miss this gem of a workshop.

Nisha Kaunda

Leadership Coach and Trainer

Sourdough rolls…

These rolls were made using my master recipe, link to the left, using Shipton Mill finest bakery no.1 white bread flour, but I also think that their Canadian bread flour would work well as it creates a slightly firmer dough in my experience. I also think they’d be lovely with various mixes of flour..

This week my lovely baking friend Steve and I made sourdough rolls together; I followed my master recipe exactly as it is, then after the overnight prove I pulled the dough together gently, placed it onto a floured surface then we cut it into 16 equal portions..as modelled by my lovely helper…

These pieces were rolled gently into rounds with the sides of our hands – very gently, the dough was very light and airy, and we wanted to preserve the bubbles – and placed onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper.

We then left them to sit for 10-15 minutes whilst preheating the oven to 200C fan (220C convection)

As they sat they did spread a little, and grow a little, which is good as it shows that the starter is still active.

They were too soft to score so I snipped crossed in the tops with scissors..

We baked them for about 18 minutes, turning the tray around half way through so ensure an even colour across the top.

As they baked we watched them grow beautifully, up into lovely balls.

They came out lovely and crusty on the outside and soft and holey in the middle.

We forced ourselves to let them cool once baked whilst we made some spiced root vegetable soup (I topped my soup with my homemade homous, whilst Steve lashed piles of my homemade harissa on his) to enjoy them with…and it was worth the wait, they were so good!

We cut the dough into 16 pieces and made smaller rolls; if you want to make bigger versions, you may need to bake them for a bit longer.

Happy baking!

An update: I made rolls again (below) and these were much bigger, I split the dough into 8 this time and I baked them for about 20 mins until slightly browned on the top…

So good!!!

Another update: I baked these rolls from cold; I put the tray in the fridge for 1-2 hours after shaping them, then baked them from a cold start…

Once I put the tray into the oven, I turned the oven on and up to 200C fan assisted, and left them for 25 mins total. Perfectly baked!

Cold oven baking…

Every loaf shown in this post has been baked in an oven that started cold.

Everything we read and are told is that the dough should go into a preheated oven, but these loaves belie that fact…it was news to me too!

It started with this loaf baked in a clay pot…

I knew that to use the pot I either needed to soak it before use, or put it cold into a cold oven to reduce the risk of it cracking. And so I did. And I held my breath, and it worked! The loaf above proves it.

So if it worked with a clay pot, surely it would work with my enamel roasters, that was my next test. And I’m here to tell you that it does, it works perfectly, as the loaf below shows too…the crust is crisp, the crumb is even, and the cost is less!

If your question is ‘surely I need to preheat the oven to get maximum oven spring?’ Then hopefully my loaves are showing that you don’t. The oven spring comes from a strong starter, good flour and good dough.

If you’re thinking ‘won’t the dough spread whilst the oven is heating up?’ Just make sure that you prove it in the fridge for a few hours to firm up the dough. And yes, it may spread initially, but then it will rise as it bakes, as my photos show.

If you’re thinking ‘that won’t work in my cast iron Dutch oven’, I can tell you that it will. I don’t have a DO but many of the people in my Facebook group and on Instagram do and they’ve tried it, and it works.

A slice from a cold baked loaf

So, this is the process I’ve been using: I’ve followed my master recipe, link to the left, done the final prove in the fridge for several hours, then:

put the dough into the cold baking vessel and score;

put the pot with the dough in into the cold oven;

turn the oven on, turn the heat up to 240C fan (255-260C convection) & the timer on for 30 mins;

after 30 mins, turn it down to 220C fan (235-240C convection) for 25-30 mins.

Lid on the entire time.

Total time 55-60 mins.

For me that saves 20 mins of time for the oven to heat up, for others it may be longer.

So, who’s up for the cold baking challenge?

My sourdough buttermilk scones/biscuits…

I devised this recipe especially for my courses, it’s a great way to use sourdough starter in a different way, it’s fast and it tasty!!!!

These are based on American ‘biscuits’, which in the UK we would call savoury scones. In my recipe there is no butter; the butter is replaced with bubbly sourdough starter, this gives them a great sourdough flavour as well as a chewier texture than usual.

They’re great plain, and even better with added cheese, or like those above, a concoction such as cheese and za’atar…the possibilities are endless!!!

Ingredients

350g plain/cake flour (I have also made them with Mrs Middletons plain natural white stoneground flour which is absolutely beautiful!)

85g bubbly active starter (my starter is 100% hydration i.e. I feed it with equal weights of flour and water; for more details about my starter management, visit the relevant pages on the site, links to the left)

284ml tub of buttermilk or 300g in weight

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of salt

Optional additions: cheese, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds…

Method

Loosely mix all of the main ingredients together, minus any optional extras. This mixture does not benefit from being overworked so resist the temptation to handle it too much. It does not need to be kneaded, just brought together like you would with pastry.

You can now either use this immediately or leave it to sit for up to 3 hours before moving onto the next stage. It works either way.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C fan.

Turn the mix out onto a floured surface, add any extra ingredients – if I add cheese I tend to add a couple of handfuls of grated strong cheddar – and gently fold them into the dough.

Spread and push the dough to flatten it out to a 2cm thick layer.

Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.

Use a 5 or 6cm cookie cutter to cut out the scones. Push the cutter directly downwards and remove directly upwards, do not twist it to cut the dough otherwise you will lose the edging and the rise.

Place them evenly on the baking tray. They can be close together as they don’t spread outwards very much.

Let them sit for 10 minutes.

Bake for 16-18 minutes until nicely browned.

Remove and place the scones on a rack to cool – resist eating immediately and burning your mouth!

A course review…

My personal introduction to baking Sourdough bread – Knowledgeable, Enthusiastic and Great Fun.

I’ve been a lover of sourdough bread for a while now but the demise of local bakers restricted me to supermarkets. I’ve tried them all with Waitrose being by far the best. But is it real sourdough? I cook a lot at home and bake bread from tv recipes. But none of them really seem to deliver real sourdough bread. So what’s the answer? A sourdough baking course, of course. Hmmmmm.

Encouraged by my wife who had spotted Elaine on social media, I decided to take the plunge so I booked and went along to Elaine’s course feeling, strange for a retired man, very nervous. Possibly remembering many of the interminably boring management courses I have been forced to attend over the years.

The course was a good half day’s introduction to baking sourdough bread. The great thing is that it was hands on or should that be hands in! Elaine turned out to be a great enthusiastic and patient teacher, putting me at my ease and explaining at a level of detail that was just right for me.  The constant supply of tea and sourdough goodies all adds to the experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching, the baking and the chat. Informality was the key to the day and I went home with some superb self cooked sourdough bread and cheese scones plus course notes to help at home. Boring it was not.

Elaine clearly explains the methods and the equipment you will need to be a successful home baker. Watching and learning and doing it yourself and learning is key. Since the course, I’ve made my own starter and two loaves and things are looking good. I’ve encountered one or two problems or should that be memory lapses since the course but Elaine has been superb with her help, guidance and sympathy.

If you love sourdough and want to cook your own, I couldn’t recommend Elaine’s course more highly. Get motivated and try something refreshingly different.

Brian.

Seeded sourdough…

Welcome to my seeded sourdough 🙂

This loaf is full of seeds as well as being coated with seeds, and it tastes as good as it looks!

I followed my master recipe on my main site (link in the left hand side menu) and folded toasted pumpkin, sunflower and linseeds into the dough in the second set of pulls and folds. You can find videos of the process on my YouTube channel.

Shots from my video

The bowl below was the dough after its overnight prove, you can all of the bubbles in the dough plus the seeds…

I filled the dough with toasted seeds, but coated the outside with raw seeds so that they toasted as the loaf baked.

The dough ready in the banneton

It was a beautiful loaf to look at, and to eat!!

Have fun and add seeds if your choice 🙂

Spelt and white loaf…

Anyone who knows me from Instagram or my foodbod blog will know that I love grains. I literally love quinoa, spelt, kamut, bulgur wheat, any grain, on its own by the spoonful, or with endless accompaniments…

A recent dish including quinoa

Some of these grains also translate into lovely flours; I’m not a fan of quinoa flour, I find it bitter, but spelt flour and kamut flour are both lovely. They have a lovely nutty flavour to them. They do not translate into strong flours however, they need to be handled with care to bake bread with them.

You can bake 100% spelt flour loaves but my experience has been that they need to be baked in a tin to give them structure.

This loaf therefore is 50% strong white bread flour, 50% spelt flour to give the loaf strength from the bread flour. The spelt flour is very soft and light and the resulting dough is very soft, but still bubbles up beautifully. I used my master recipe in exactly the same way just with the 50:50 mix.

I shared a video on Instagram and Facebook today to show just how light and bubbling the dough was, below is a screenshot of the dough after its overnight proof, it was very light and needed gentle handling. The final proof in the fridge firmed it up sufficiently to be able to score the loaf and it rose beautifully as it baked.

Form this, above…to this, below…

Happy Baking!