This is supposed to be a quick follow up post in the whole 'making bread using a sourdough starter' that I kicked off last week, but first, I absolutely must share this photo with you:
And yes. I took this today. This afternoon. It made my heart sing so much to see the sun come creeping tentatively out from behind the grey clouds that I closed down my laptop and took the dog for a bonus walk. It's still muddy underfoot, and I'll have to work this evening, but who cares? The dog was delighted, the sun was shining, I felt its warmth on my back and on my face for the first time since - well, actually, I got a sunny walk on New Year's Day morning but that was 8 days ago and before that, well, I honestly can't remember when. What's more, the daffodils are coming up in the garden, and although I'm not stupid enough to think that winter's over, I feel that I got a brief glimpse of spring.
It's the kind of day to think positive thoughts, and to feel resolved, even if, like me, you're the kind of person who doesn't do well with specific resolutions. A good day, then to think about the sourdough, and to look forward to baking a loaf.
So how are the starters going? Bubbling? Smelling a little bit fermented? A bit beery? Hopefully you're getting into the rhythm of adding to them every day and giving them a good stir. Not long now before they will be good to bake with. If you didn't catch my first post about this and you are interested in having a go, the link is here. On the basis that the starters are up and running, I'm going to have a bit of a run through of what you might or might not need for baking your bread. This is based on making a yeasted loaf (which is what I'm going to do first off) using the sourdough starter for depth of flavour and texture in the loaf, rather than as the only raising agent.
The worst thing is getting all prepared and then realising that you don't have some essential ingredient or piece of kit. And actually, the following applies for any bread, sourdough or not.
In terms of ingredients, you'll need your flour - I muttered a bit about this in the post about the starter. Organic is probably best, and you may want to get your confidence up using strong white. I know it seems to go against the grain, but organic white bread flour is milled in a way that the wheatgerm remains in the flour making it less evil. You can use rye, spelt or wholemeal, and I quite often do half and half, mixing together white and more wholesome flours. The thing is that using white flour does make for a lighter loaf, and you might just want to go with that initially.
As well as flour you will need dried yeast. The stuff that comes in sachets. You can use fresh yeast too if you want but I have yet to handle that beast - as and when I do, I will let you know. Finally, salt. And that's it. I know there are lots of recipes that include oil or other fat, and sugar, but since my personal bread epiphany, I have been making bread without these extras and it's been really great. You'll need water too, but assuming you all have taps, that shouldn't be a problem.
Of course, there are loads of different things you can add to the dough to make delicious loaves, but seeing as how I'm only sharing my experience, I'll try and walk before I can run, and share what I am confident about. I'll be adding nuts and seeds etc later on though, for sure.
Finally, fine semolina. This is really, really good for covering the baking trays before turning out the dough and baking, It stops the dough (and then the bread) sticking, and helps with a nice crust. No soggy bottoms here!
In terms of equipment, well, there are loads of specialist websites selling baking bits and pieces. After I went on the bread course, I bought myself an early Christmas present of a dough scraper and 2 dough baskets which are used for shaping the dough in after the first rise and before baking - you then tip the dough out of the basket, and onto a baking stone or baking tray to bake. You don't need any of this though (although don't let me stop you spending pennies on extra bits for the kitchen cupboards). When I made sourdough bread before, I found that the proving baskets could be emulated using an ordinary bowl lined with a tea towel. The dough scraper might be more useful, especially if you are going to knead directly onto a work surface as you use it to scrape the dough back - and it caan be quite sticky - but you can probably manage fine with a spatula or something similar.
You can of course knead your bread in a Kenwood/Kitchen Aid type affair with a dough hook. I used to do it all the time, and I sometimes still do, but I read somewhere once that you can over-knead bread, so that the gluten starts to break down again. If this happens, it's unrecoverable. While this will never happen (or is very unlikely to happen) hand kneading, there is a real danger with a mixer. And I really enjoyed hand kneading on the course, so that's how I'm going to do it for now.
Tea towels are good to have around to cover the dough while it's rising, and you will need baking trays of some description - baking stones are great, or you can use a paving slab if available (really! you can! in fact Aidan Chapman who ran the River Cottage Bread Course I went on recommended it!). I don't have either, so I just use my normal old baking trays, and they seem to do the job fine.
You'll need a sharp knife to slice into the dough just before it goes into the oven. By making cuts in the uncooked dough, it allows it to 'jump' and expand during the baking process.
A water sprayer, the kind you might mist plants or (so I hear tell) the ironing with, is very useful. Misting the oven as the loaves go in really helps the crust. To my shame - or is that to my irritation - I still haven't sorted this out, despite my intentions, so I alternate between flicking water in from a bowl using my fingers and a bowl, liberally sprinkling the floor in front of the oven and making a big mess, or by having a roasting tin ready to go in the bottom shelf of the oven to be filled with boiling water as the bread goes in to bake.
Finally, a cooling rack, and if like me you are completely prone to burning yourself, oven gloves.
So there you have it, I think that's everything. Get ready to bake!