A review of my superStar…

When making sourdough bread, a good sourdough starter is essential to get your bread to rise as it should, regardless of the flour combination or recipe you’re using. I tried for a long time, unsuccessfully, to get my own starter nice and robust but it just wouldn’t cooperate. Finally I decided to buy some of Elaine’s starter, Star, and what a difference it made!

She dehydrates her Star at the peak of its strength. Star comes from a long line of Elaine’s starters that have been performing consistently well for many years, and that was evident from the very first loaf I baked.

When I received my packet of dried starter all I needed to do was to rehydrate it and it was ready to bake with. Elaine provides simple and clear instructions, and in a little over a day I had a fully active starter I could either bake with then or store in the fridge to use later.

I just can’t say enough about how much more fun baking has become for me now!

Katie

Minneapolis, USA

Creating sourdough with Mrs Middletons beautiful flour…

Mrs Middleton is actually a lovely lady called Whizz, and Whizz’s farm is very very close to where I live. For several years Whizz has sold a lovely light rapeseed oil made from her own crops, and recently she also started to sell flour from wheat grown on her land and milled at a local historical mill. This flour therefore is grown and milled very close to where I live and therefore sits it firmly in my heart.

Whizz produces just two flours as shown above, and I love the plain natural white stoneground flour; but do not be fooled, this is not what you would think of as ‘plain flour’. This flour is 13% protein and therefore perfect for bread making. It also has a slight pink tint to the flour which bakes to a light brown, and it’s not just the colour that behaves like a wholemeal/whole wheat; this flour takes up a lot of water, which you have to take into account, and bakes to a gloriously flavoured textured loaf.

If used solely, the loaf will be quite dense and heavy unless you add extra water, which is what I did for the first 2 photos of this post; or, I lift it with some white spelt flour and it works perfectly, as these last 2 photos show. These loaves and the one below are made using my master recipe with 250g Mrs Middletons plain white flour & 250g white spelt flour, otherwise all the same quantities,

And this is definitely my most favourite flour mix to date, the dough is generated is so smooth, it’s beautiful to handle, and when turned out it’s always wonderfully firm and a joy to score…

I’ve also use this flour for making sourdough buttermilk biscuits/scones…

I can happily recommend trying Whizz’s beautiful flour, and I even had the honour of meeting her and teaching her how to make sourdough, which was lovely.

Trying new flours is so much fun, and this one has definitely been a successful experiment for me.

You can find Whizz’s lovely flour and oil here.

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

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!

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 🙂

Sourdough breadsticks…

Following on from the sourdough crackers, this time I bring you the sourdough breadsticks..

These also worked really nicely, and even 3 days on from baking, still retained their snap!

As you can see, my shaping isn’t great, or even, but they taste good, so who cares?!

I made some of them unadulterated, as above, and got creative with the others, below, and added some toasted pumpkin, sunflower and linseeds. These were therefore thicker, and less crisp, but my son preferred them for the flavour the toasted seeds added..

NOTE: The dough for these can be prepared then rested in the fridge for a few days until you’re ready to bake them, or used immediately.

Ingredients

250g strong white bread flour

100g water

60g active bubbly starter

1tbsp olive oil

1/2tsp salt

Ground semolina (I used coarse semolina) to sprinkle on the counter

Seeds or other additions of your choice

Method

Mix the water, starter and olive oil together well, then add the flour and salt.

Bring it together as well as you can, it will be very stiff.

Cover with a shower cap or plastic bag, and leave for half an hour.

After the half an hour, perform a set of pulls and folds in the bowl, cover again and leave for another half an hour.

Repeat this another 2 times.

You can now either cover and refrigerate your dough for later use; or cover it again and allow it to rise for 1.5-2 hours.

*if you choose to refrigerate and use later, allow the dough to come up to room temperature for a good hour or more before using it

To make the breadsticks, cover your work surface with some flour, decant the dough onto the surface and spread it to a rectangle with your fingers. It will constantly want to pull back.

Cover it with cling film and leave for 5-10 minutes to settle then spread it out again. Try and even out the thickness across all of the dough to about 5mm.

(This is not particularly easy, my dough was very uneven!)

Prepare a baking sheet (you may need 2 large trays) by laying a piece of baking parchment paper across it.

Sprinkle some semolina on your work surface alongside your dough/tray.

Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to słice the dough into 1cm strips.

Roll them in the semolina then place on the lined baking tray.

Because my dough was too thin in the middle and thick at the edges I made twists with some of mine.

Artist licence!!

At this point you can try wrapping some seeds or spices or whatever you fancy into a few.

Once they’re all rolled or twisted and laid on the tray, cover the tray with a clean plastic bag or cling film and leave them to rise for half an hour whilst you heat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 230C fan.

Boil some water, pour it into a pan or oven proof bowl, and add it to the bottom of the oven to create steam.

After half an hour, turn the oven down to 190C fan.

Bake the breadsticks for 15 minutes, remove and cook on a tray.

*my oven has a hot spot so I turned the tray round half way through the bake.

*if the breadsticks are already looking dark at 13 or 14 minutes, use your judgement and remove the tray from the oven

Enjoy!!!

To store, keep them in an airtight container, I prefer a tin lined with baking paper rather than a plastic box

Seeded sourdough crackers…

This weekend I have been baking crackers and breadsticks with sourdough starter; this post will be dedicated to the crackers, and I’ll share the breadsticks during the week..

To make these, I revisited a recipe from several years ago. It worked well then and worked well now 🙂

If you have any spare or discard sourdough starter this is a great way to use it up, or, if like me, you manage your starter so that you never have any discard, just feed your starter especially to make these crackers.

I included toasted sesame seeds and sunflowers seeds in these crackers because that’s what I had in the cupboard, but you could also mix it up with pumpkins seeds, linseeds, poppy seeds, whatever you fancy. You could also consider adding some spices and experimenting with flavours you like.

You can easily double up this recipe, I kept it small to ensure that I wasn’t overloaded with crackers. Plus you can mix up the flour, I think some spelt it kamut would taste good..I used just strong white flour for these.

Ingredients

100g bubbly active starter

50g rolled oats

25g water

40g mixed seeds

30ml olive oil

1/2 tbsp honey

50g strong white flour

1/2 tsp salt

Method

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the oats, starter and water into an oaty sludge (technical term!), cover the bowl and leave it to one side for 2-3 hours.

After this time, you’ll see some little bubbles in the mix where the starter has been doing her stuff. Now stir in all of the other ingredients, mixing it all together really well.

Bring it together into a sticky dough, cover again and leave to rest for at least half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 180C fan.

Dust your counter with flour, turn the dough onto the surface, and roll out to about 2mm thick. You’ll need flour on the rolling pin too, and to keep moving your dough round as your roll it out so that it doesn’t stick to the table.

Line your baking tray with baking parchment paper. Cut out your crackers with cookie/biscuit cutters, I used small sizes to make these snack bites, and place onto the tray.

They can be quite close as they don’t spread. You may need to use 2 baking trays.

Prick each cracker with a fork to stop them ballooning.

Bake for 7 mins, then remove the tray, turn the crackers over, return to the oven, and bake for another 7 mins.

Cool on a rack, they will crisp up even more as they cool.

Eat!!!

If you haven’t eaten them all immediately, they will keep in a tin for a few days.

Check out the rest of this blog for other sourdough ideas or visit my shop to buy my dried starter.

Have a great week!

My idea of alchemy…

The magic of sourdough amazes me every time; what my starter achieves over and over again never ceases to amaze me and make me smile…I know, I’m easily pleased!

But look at it, don’t you agree it’s pure magic?

You start off with this….(my dormant starter straight from the fridge)

You feed it (30g strong white flour + 30g water) and it becomes this…

You use it to put your dough together, perform the lifts and folds, cover it, then leave it overnight to prove…and by the next morning it’s become this bowl of bubbly wonder…

And after nurturing and scoring and baking it…it gives you this…

Now if that isn’t magic, what is??? don’t you agree?

(I bought a new toy this week, a turntable! I used to score this loaf, but I can’t get the video to load on here. I’ve put it on my Instagram feed though if you’d like to have a look – I predict great turntable fun in my future!!)

Semolina sourdough…

This recipe is inspired by a lovely lady and amazing sourdough baker called Anita (sourdough_mania) that I follow on Instagram; the dough is lovely, beautifully smooth and wonderfully springy, and the baked outcome is really tasty. If semolina is just something you remember being offered with school lunches in the UK, this will totally blow those memories away!

So I’m sharing my experience and recipe; I added some oil to the original recipe to tighten up the crumb for my purposes, but you don’t need to include it…

EDIT: a note about the semolina…

I use coarse ground semolina. This can be found in most supermarkets and any Asian food shop. It is also sometimes referred to as semolina flour which tends to be a finer texture, and which will also work in this recipe, but even the supposedly ‘coarse’ one is still pretty fine!

NOTE: this recipe is four days in the making, although not labour intensive during that time, and I do think it’s worth it. I tried making a shorter overnight version and the outcome wasn’t as good as the full four day version, although I will be experimenting with that further. All of the love and care does create a lovely, bouncy dough.

It is a VERY soft dough though and it does need to be cooked straight from the fridge. If you leave it out of the fridge for a while before cooking, my experience is that it will lose its form and spread as you bake it.

Recipe

Preparing your starter:

Feed your starter. I know that if I feed Star with 40g of strong white bread flour & 40g of water, she will yield the necessary 70g of bubbly starter. Once your starter is lovely and bubbly, begin..

Day one: mix together..

70g bubbly starter

70g ground semolina

70g water

…and leave out overnight.

In a separate bowl mix together…

310g ground semolina

180g water

1tbsp oil (optional)

…and leave in fridge overnight.

Day two: remove the semolina/water/oil mixture from the fridge to soften up and make it easier to mix with the starter.

Your starter should be lovely and bubbly and alive now. Add 1tsp salt to it, then mix it into the semolina/water/oil mixture. You’ll need to get your hands in to mix it really well.

Keep it out of the fridge like this for 2-3 hours and during that time, perform a series of 5 stretches and folds on the dough, each set only needs to be a few pulls and folds to pull the dough together. Then cover the bowl and return it to the fridge.

Day three: remove the bowl from the fridge and leave at room temperature and allow the dough to increase by about 60% (by eye).

Then shape the dough. I stretch and fold the dough into a ball and place it into a floured banneton.

Cover and put back into the fridge.

Day four: Preheat oven to 275C.

Prepare your choice of bakeware – I bake mine in an enamel roaster on a round of parchment paper. Take the dough from the fridge and place directly into the roaster/on baking sheet, slash and put into the oven.

Reduce the oven to 245C (I use 220C fan), bake with the lid in the roaster for 25 mins, remove the lid and bake for a further 15 mins

EDIT: 12th September 2018

Having made this again twice recently, I found that my loaf started to brown very quickly when I removed the lid, so I ended up putting it back on. Can I suggest baking the loaf with the lid on for the entire 40 mins? If you want to brown it slightly, take the lid off for the last 5 minutes only.

Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool before slicing

Since making this first loaf, I went on to make 3 more in quick succession. For one of them I merely doubled everything and created a monster loaf (above)! It was a beauty though… I’ve also calculated up the quantities to make a 500g (semolina) loaf which is my typical size, and it worked well too.

The quantities were:

112g starter/semolina/water

500g semolina

288g water

1tbsp oil

1tsp salt

Baked for 25 mins covered, 20 mins uncovered

I highly recommend giving it a go!

Happy baking!