Sourdough Bread aka a work in progress

Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked bread?!  And, let’s be honest, nothing, nothing beats home-made bread.  Apart from the fact that it just tastes so much better, you also control what you put in it – no chemicals or preservatives.

I enjoy baking bread – I don’t have a bread-maker, I don’t have a food processor with a dough hook, I enjoy kneading the bread, that feeling when it goes from no longer being a lump of dough, to something that has the start of life in it, and, of course, kneading is so therapeutic!  I have never wanted to bake sourdough bread though, until I came across this recipe for sourdough bread  in the BBC Good Food magazine, which also involved creating your own starter. Yes!  None of this cheating nonsense for me!  I would create a starter and bake the bread.  I am woman, hear me roar…. To be honest though, I was more interested in the process than the end result.

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The idea of creating this “living thing” out of just flour and water fascinated me.  I did have a moment of panic, thinking what if this recipe is wrong and there should be some additional ingredients in the starter……and so to Aunty Google, only to find there are numerous different recipes for starters and I was more confused than ever.  I decided to stick with this recipe, and see it through.

And so began day 1.  A mix of white and wholemeal bread flours and a bit of water, and wait for the natural airborne yeasts to dive in.  That was it. The recipe called for the starter to be left open, before sealing and setting aside for 24 hours.  I kept looking at it.  You know how when you get a new washing machine you feel you have to watch the laundry tumbling around inside? Silly, isn’t it! 24 hours later I started to have doubts – there was some condensation on the inside of the jar.  This didn’t seem right to me, it would encourage the wrong stuff to grow.  I threw it away and started again.  This time I just covered the top of the jar with a cloth, I didn’t seal it.

Each day I threw half the starter into the compost heap, and replaced with the same quantity of flour and water.

A few days in on starter number 2 and a layer of clear light brown liquid had developed on the top.  Back to Aunty Google…..this liquid was hooch, and indicated that my starter was needing a feed – one recipe called for a twice a day feed, or that the feed I was adding each day to the starter was too wet.  Urgh…there was no one definitive answer.  I figured it wasn’t lack of feeding that was the problem, and decided to stick with once a day.  At “feeding time” I made sure the new mixture was drier.  A couple of days later there was a small dark patch on the top of the starter.  Was this mould?  Was it an optical illusion??? I decided to sod it, binned the starter and started once again from the beginning.

This time I was moving  house and took my starter with me to my new home.  And so the process continued.

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My starter was beginning to look really healthy, with textbook behaviour.  At last, I was on the right track!  Although I could have used it earlier, in the end I baked on day 12.  I was somewhat nervous – would this new starter really work?

I mixed the two flours, a bit of salt, some water and some of my starter and began the therapeutic knead.  Slowly, I could feel the dough becoming more pliable and elastic. The process required two 3-hour rises. I am not usually patient enough, but I’d committed myself to this and followed it through.

The second rise called for a linen cloth to be dusted well with flour and put in a proving basked or a bowl.  I had to settle for a bowl.  So far, so good….until the time to take the dough out and put it in the oven to bake.  The dough had stuck to the linen cloth (cue weeping and wailing from me). In my effort to extract the dough from the cloth and put it on the baking tray, the dough deflated, leaving me convinced I would end up with a thick pancake instead of bread.  I’m guessing I could have just given it a light knead and left it to rise again before baking.  In addition, it had a crease in it from the cloth, which meant that the “design” I had hoped to cut onto the top of the loaf wasn’t an option.  Instead I had to improvise.  Lack of experience led me to cut the dough too lightly – I know now that I can create much deeper slashes in the top of the dough to create a pattern.

Into the oven my dough went…..halfway through the cooking time I peered through the oven glass….my dough had somehow risen quite significantly – a bit puzzling but at least it wasn’t going to be a pancake.  And finally, the end result.  My loaf was a bit mis-shaped (that “home-made look”) and my slashes could have been deeper.  The true test was when it had cooled and I could cut it and taste my sourdough bread.

The bread smelled lovely, it tasted lovely, but…..you guessed it, there’s a big but….I discovered the reason for its sudden rise in the oven.

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A huge air-bubble.  It looks like Batman flew through the center of my loaf……or is that a sad face I see…..my research tells me the oven could have been too hot, I could left my dough to prove for too long, I could have just inadvertently folded a huge air-bubble into my dough…..I just don’t know.  I am very disappointed, but the bread itself is perfectly edible.  I still have the starter on the go, and so I will definitely make this bread again soon, and I have more confidence in what to expect.  I am determined to get it right!

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you a peaceful weekend 🙂

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Apricot & Walnut Soda Bread

 

One of life’s great joys is the aroma of freshly baked bread, not to mention, that first lovely fresh slice of bread you’ve baked yourself.  I love baking my own bread, from the raw basic ingredients to the end product, it is easy, and so satisfying!  I don’t own a breadmaker – I am the breadmaker!!  I find baking generally relaxing and therapeutic, and you can’t get much more inbuilt therapy than kneading dough and feeling it transform from a lump to something magically “alive”.  To be honest, the kneading is the best part of baking bread.  Well, for me it is!  The only down side is the time it takes, because you can’t hurry a good loaf of bread.

I have wanted to bake walnut bread for ages – lovely fresh walnut bread with cheese…..heaven! But I couldn’t find the recipe I had kept and so I searched….when suddenly this one caught my eye.  Apricot & Walnut Soda Bread.  I haven’t baked soda bread before, mainly because it is best on the day of baking, and I prefer my bread to last just a bit longer than a day.  But…this one had to be tried, it would be quicker because it is not a yeasted bread, and so I persuaded myself.

Chopped dried apricots, chopped walnuts and the addition of oats to the mixture, made it a nice wholesome bread.  The dry ingredients were mixed with the fruit and nuts.

and then a mixture of milk and yoghurt was added and everything mixed gently together.  The dough seemed a bit damp to me, but I was hesitant to add more flour in case it toughened the bread, and not having made soda bread before, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The mixed dough was turned out on to the baking tray, it was a bit too damp to shape neatly, never mind to make a nice neat cut across the top.  But sometimes if you just grit your teeth and pretend it’s not all going wrong, it can still work out, and so into the oven it went.

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This is the end result – I prefer to call it “rustic”……………..and the proof is always in the tasting…………

And yes, reader, it worked!  Appearances are not always everything.  It tasted good, I got the vote of approval from my Kitchen Taster, and now I have a new bread recipe to add to my repertoire.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I wish you a peaceful weekend 🙂

Stuffed Focaccia

This is a recipe I always feel smug about.  It is so simple and easy, but the end result makes me feel as if a whole lot more skill and effort are required to achieve it.

It is, put simply, focaccia dough, filled with grilled vegetables, Parma ham and Taleggio and then baked. The filling however is very flexible, you can change the ingredients to taste.   I think Taleggio is the perfect cheese for this, but again, there are many cheeses which would also work with the ingredients. When I first saw this recipe, it called for a packet of  focaccia bread mix.  But honestly, there is no difference in effort required when making the bread from scratch or making it from a packet.  I choose to make it from scratch because I know exactly what is going in to it, and there will be no preservatives or additives.

The first task is to grill your chosen vegetables.  I have used courgettes, red onions and mixed peppers.

Aren’t the colours just beautiful?

I have also chosen to add mushrooms and tomatoes to the mix.  I bought a bottle of mixed mushrooms with herbs in oil.  This is because I have never mastered the art of cooking mushrooms so that they don’t end up oozing water. The tomatoes I have used are a pack of sun-dried tomatoes in herbs and oil.  I always find the flavour of these is a bit more concentrated, and therefore ideal for this kind of recipe.

Then start on the focaccia dough and leave it to do its first rise for around two hours.. Once it has doubled in size, knock it down and divide into two pieces, one piece just slightly larger than the other.  Roll out the smaller piece of dough and place on a baking tray.

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Yes, I know this looks a bit rough and ready, I ended up with a few holes I had to patch up!

Then spread a thin layer of sun-dried tomato paste over this, leaving a clear centimetre around all the edges. Now you can begin by layering your ingredients.  First a layer of Parma ham, and then the courgettes, peppers, Taleggio, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and a final layer of Parma ham.  Roll out the last piece of dough and carefully place it over the vegetables, pressing down the edges to meet the base layer of dough.  You want to seal the edges so that the filling does not leak during cooking. Bake at 200°C (180°C fan) for 30 to 40 minutes.

This is a dish that can be eaten hot or cold, but is at its best when just warm.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing I hope you  have a peaceful day 🙂

Rosemary, Olive and Garlic Focaccia

Baking bread is therapeutic. All that kneading. Not to mention the aroma of freshly baked bread….

A recipe tweaked my interest – no-knead focaccia.  What??? WHAT??? No kneading? Oh, go on, I’ll give it a try.

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I don’t have a breadmaker. In fact, I am the breadmaker! I enjoy it as much for the process as for the end result. I have read about slow rise breads, where the dough is refrigerated overnight for a slower rise and here was the recipe to try.

My dough was initially very dry, which I felt was wrong, and so I upped the olive oil and water quantities and nervously put it in the fridge overnight. It did rise, but looked alarmingly wet.

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Still, I persevered, ever hopeful.

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The dough really was too wet, I found it difficult to shape out on the baking tray. But, live and learn, huh!

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And so, the end result. I really need to tweak this, although it worked, and the texture is good, I think it could be better, and maybe a little less liquid, a different baking dish. I don’t know. I’ll think about it.  In the meantime, freshly baked focaccia tastes fantastic 🙂