Baking, Blog

Coronavirus: The Bread Challenge

How are you weathering this awful crisis? I’m a loner by nature and thought I’d be able to cope well with being in isolation. After all, I’ve worked from home with no near neighbours for years, but it isn’t quite working out as I’d hoped.

There’s a big difference between not needing to leave the house, and not being allowed to leave it. Even if we weren’t restricted to one walk for necessary exercise each day, there’s nowhere to go.

Comfort eating is my big problem. I’ve wrenched my knee so running on my treadmill is off my agenda for a while. Instead of doing between 12-15k steps per day I’m down to about 7k. That means I dare not make any cake, so it’s healthy food only!

I love cooking, but while we’re in lock-down and with no more supermarket deliveries, I’ve got to make the best of what we’ve got in the house. Apparently Jamie Oliver was on TV telling people they didn’t need to panic about not being able to buy bread. He supplied a recipe which needed only three ingredient: yeast, flour and water.

That’s fine in theory, but most people are finding that two of his three ingredients are impossible to get. The supermarkets around here haven’t been able to supply either yeast or bread-making flour for weeks.

Find my recipe for home-made tomato and lentil soup here

I’ve made bread for years, both by hand and machine, so I always have a good supply of ingredients. Unfortunately, as I refused to panic-buy at the start of this crisis, my stocks are getting low. At a pinch, ordinary flour can be used to make bread but you’ll still need yeast. That’s why I’m creating a new batch of sourdough starter today, so that when I’ve used the last of our dried yeast I can still make bread.

Sourdough starter begins as a mixture of flour and water. Wild yeasts naturally present in the atmosphere colonise this, and turn it into a culture. Once this mixture has been fed and nurtured for a few days, a ladleful of it can be used in place of commercial dried yeast.

Loaves made using sourdough starter have the distinctive appearance and tangy taste of those expensive artisan breads on sale in bakeries, but they are really easy to make. All you need is patience, as it takes a few days for the wild yeasts to multiply enough to provide sufficient raising agent. You can buy sachets of sourdough starter, but to be honest what starts off as “San Francisco’s Finest” (or whatever) is soon colonised by your own local yeasts and becomes unique to your kitchen.

Here’s my recipe for a sourdough starter. You’ll need:

• A jug of boiled water, left to stand (covered) overnight at room temperature in order to get rid of the chlorine.
• Strong (breadmaking) wholemeal flour, preferably organic)

Weigh 40g of flour into a food-grade plastic container (I use a 2.6litre, square-bottomed Lock and Lock box). Add 40 ml of water, and beat as hard as you can to incorporate plenty of air. I use the whisk on the right, which I got from Bakery Bits. Then cover with a lid, or a piece of beeswax wrap, and leave in a warm place for 24 hours. Mine sits on the kitchen counter.

When that time’s up, add a further 40g of flour and another 40ml of water to your original mixture. Beat again, then cover and store as before.

Day Three: Your starter may already be bubbling. Alternatively, it may have some greyish liquid on top. Don’t worry—either way, add a further 40g of wholemeal flour but this time only 20ml of the de-chlorinated, room-temperature water, so your mixture doesn’t get too sloppy. Whisk again, cover, and keep the mixture warm.

The next day, you have a choice. If you want to make genuine wholemeal starter, add a further 120g wholemeal flour. If you want a lighter starter (which I use for my bread), add 120g strong white (bread-making) flour instead of wholemeal. Either way, add 100ml water as before, and repeat the whisking.

Here’s some sourdough starter I made by adding white flour

After a further twenty-four hours in a warm place, your sourdough should be bubbly and smell pleasantly fruity. From now on, the aim is to maintain the starter by feeding it each morning.

Here’s one I made earlier…

Feed your sourdough by adding 100g of strong white bread flour (or 75g white and 25g wholemeal) and 100ml of room-temperature water that has been dechlorinated overnight. Obviously, your mixture will grow, so to avoid being overwhelmed you periodically “discard” a ladleful of your starter by either making bread with it, adding it to pancake or waffle mixture to make them fluffy, donating some starter to a friend, or freezing it in case you lose your original starter. It saves you having to start the process all over again.

Making a sourdough starter is quite a long-drawn out process, but it only takes a few minutes each day. It’s worth giving it a try, and once you’ve tasted good home-made sourdough bread, you’ll be hooked!

Baking, Blog, Cakes

Let Them Eat Cake…

…and it’s all in a very good cause! Mandy is a lovely, generous person whose small business is an important part of Ross-on-Wye life. There’s some fantastic local baking talent around here, so why not join in this local charity baking competition? I know not everyone can cook, but we can all turn up and cheer (or act as tasters).

This Charlotte Royale pic is from the BBC Food website, by the way, although I have made it in real life. Covered in a thin layer of white fondant icing, it makes a great Christmas cake for DD the archaeologist—”Silbury Hill in Winter”!

macmillan_bake_off_2018