Monday, 21 May 2012

Living in my 'fridge

I do other things than make furniture.

I like to make things, I always have done.  I used to be a computer programmer. That is making things, but something most people can't see - only use.

One thing I like to make is bread.  Why?  I like to know what is in it. All I put in my bread is flour, water, salt and some kind of yeast. No bread improvers. No chemicals and additives that get 'destroyed' during the baking so they are not listed in the ingredients. Just flour, water, salt and some kind of yeast.

My yeast, or rather sourdough leaven lives in my 'fridge. It isn't that old. I only started it on 29th December 2011.  I remember its birthday. All the leaven is really is a living culture of yeast. People have these cultures that are many many years old. And I am talking 30, 40, 50 years old.

When I make sourdough, I use this leaven instead of dried yeast.  It takes a bit more work, but not that much more, but the bread does really taste good.

To start the process going, a couple of days before I want to bake (normally baking day is Saturday), I take the leaven out of the 'fridge and let it warm up for a few hours. This is what it looks like:

The leaven lives in a clip lid box in the 'fridge
Bit scary, isn't it?  Don't worry it is fine. It has a fermentation/sour/beer smell. This is normal, and is what adds flavour to the bread. I can't just use the leaven as is, it needs to be fed a couple of times to get it nice and active. It eats flour and water. So I mix up a 2:3 flour/water mix and feed it. Probably a couple of times over a 24 hour period.

Once the leaven is nice and active, I can start to make the sourdough. The first stage is to make something called a sponge. Basically it is a flour and water mix to which a ladle full of leaven is added. This sponge is then left ferment overnight, while the leaven can go back in the 'fridge till next time.

This is the sponge after an overnight ferment.

The 'sponge' after fermenting overnight

It has a very light and bubbly texture and smells very beer like. Reminds me of being a kid (probably about 12 years old) and when I got into home beer making. Now that is another story.....

Anyway. Back to the bread.  I take the sponge and then mix it with the rest of the flour and some salt. I may sometimes add a tablespoon of oil. Sometimes I don't. I then shove all this in my mixer and give it a right good ten mins of kneading. Yes, I know I could do it by hand. But I don't as I have a nice mixer, so I use that.

A KitchenAid mixer. What a gadget!

After the kneading process, I end up with a firm dough that is not wet or sticky.

The mixed dough hanging on the mixer dough hook

Now I have to play the game of letting the dough rest for an hour or so, and then shaping it into a tight ball. I will do this four or five times. During this time, the yeast will convert the flour proteins into gluten, and by making the dough into a tight ball, the gluten strands are being pulled and stretched. This has the effect of giving the dough strength and helps keep the dough in shape.

A shaped ball of dough

After this repetitive ball making process, the dough can then be shaped into the final shape for baking. It can be a stubby cylinder, a ball, turned into rolls or even a baguette. Toppings can be added, for example oats, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds or just a dusting of flour. Then once again the dough is left for an hour or so for final proving.

Then madness. It all happens so quick. Slash the top of the bread to release some of that tension built by the gluten, spray with water to help form the crust, transfer the bread onto a hot pizza stone, put in an oven set to the highest temperature possible and pour a good slosh of boiling water into a tray placed at the bottom of the oven. Close the oven door. Stand back, relax and enjoy the smell of the bread cooking.

After ten mins, the oven can be turned down a bit and the bread baked for another 30 - 40 mins, until the crust is firm, has a nice colour and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

The finished bread.
And there is the final bread. The one on the left is the sourdough, while the one on the right is made with dried yeast. Both use the same amount of wholemeal flour, same amount of water and the same amount of salt. Both went in the oven at the same time and were cooked for the same amount of time. But for some reason, the sourdough always comes out with a much darker crust.

Both taste great though.

Next time, back to woodwork!

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