Bread, Baking and Recipes

Crumpets

As promised, my crumpet recipe:

  • 4 tablespoons of sour dough starter
  • 300mls warmed milk with 1 tsp of caster sugar dissolved in it
  • 200g plain flour
  • 200g strong white bread flour
  • 200 ml of warm water
  • 1/2 tsp of bicarb of soda (don’t add at this point!!)

This makes a batter, not a dough so don’t worry if it is wet. Mix it all together and leave it covered with a clean tea towel somewhere for around 5 – 6 hours. 

Heat a griddle or frying pan and oil your crumpet rings REALLY well.

Just before you’re about to put on the first crumpet, beat in  1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda and mix it really well.

Then add no more than two table spoons at a time of mixture to the ring, allow it to cook through slowly. You will notice to begin with that as it bubbles, they pop, but fill back in again. Gradually as the crumpet cooks through the bubbles will come up again but stay open. Each crumpet takes around 15 -20 mins to cook through, so don’t have your pan on too high. 

That’s it! I freeze mine in batches of family size or less. They are SO delicious straight off the griddle though with some warm butter.

Just be warned the first couple that come off with be fairly shit, they will stick to the ring and you’ll lose the will to live. I promise, the second onwards will get better. 

Christmas Loaf and leftover starter ideas.

So with my three starters, weekly refreshing, as I’ve probably said before, tends to make my kitchen look like the magic porridge pot with each pot of starter producing around three further refreshed starters, then from each refreshed starter, one goes back to the pot and two divide in half to make my leven, so I can sometimes end up with around 6 or 7 loaves on the go. There is therefore the need to find ways to use extra starter that might not always create a loaf. This week I made a couple of batches of pancakes and froze them in threes so my daughter can quickly reheat them on the griddle for breakfast. Getting a teen to eat breakfast is really tricky, so as much variety as I can have, the better. Crumpets have also been a success and this week I also put a tablespoon of leftover sour dough in the brownies I made! 

Brownies with sour dough starter, batch made and frozen as my boys come home for Christmas this weekend. They will have missed all this crazy!

I then also decided to jazz up my loaves this week and produced two cheese and marmite and two Christmas loaves, which were spiced fruit loaves.

Lover or hater, you’ll love cheese n’ marmite bread!

I’ll give you the recipe for the spiced fruit loaf, but I am still working on it. The distribution of the fruit in the one I made in a loaf pan, whilst light and easy to cut seems to be lacking fruit from the first cut, which likely means it’s somewhere else in the loaf! Give it a go and if you have improvements, let me know. Thanks

  • 100g sour dough leven
  • 200g s-r flour 
  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 200ml water
  • 100ml milk (both warmed)
  • 25g grated butter
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2tsp cinnamon 
  • 1tsp mixed all spice
  • 1tbsp caster sugar
  • Grated orange rind and the juice 
  • handfuls of mixed fruit to suit

In a bowl, whisk your leven and your liquid from the milk and water together and try to get rid of all the lumps. Add your flour, grated butter, sugar and spices and combine into a ball. It is a lot stickier than the usual sour dough, but keep with it. Cover with a warm, damp, clean cloth and allow to double in size.

When you’re satisfied it’s doubled, bring it over and I then poke small indentations in it with my finger. Add the orange peel and a couple of teaspoons of the orange juice in these little craters, then fold in one side and turn, repeat several times until you’ve turned in all the rind and juice, it will be wet, don’t worry. Leave it for 30 minutes, then repeat this process three times more.

At the third stage, add your fruit. This is where I struggled, as I folded in my fruit, each turn being harder  to stretch the dough, the fruit kept popping out again. I ‘think’ next time, I will leave it for a further 30 mins, then add the fruit in one stretch, fold and shape, before I pop it in the banneton basket to prove as it’s easier to manipulate in that first couple of folds after it’s had resting time.

Leave it to prove for several hours, keep it covered with a damp cloth, keep the cloth damp as you prove otherwise the bread gets a hardened skin on it. It’s okay, but it’s not great to look at or check for proving status.

Finally turn it out onto your preheated baking stone or cloche and bake as you would a  normal sour dough loaf. If you want a softer crust, wrap it in a clean tea towel after you bring it out, this will prevent the crust hardening. I did this particular loaf in an earthenware tin and I think the consistency of this one versus the one I did in the cloche will be different.

It is trial and error. The end result is NOT like a light pannetone or anything, but it is a nice lightly spiced fruit loaf that is great toasted (or not) with butter and jam. Yum!

Getting this proving thing right…

or not really!

So I am quickly learning that sour dough is mood dependent. Today we’re out to see friends and I wanted to get a loaf to take with us, fresh from the oven. This does make me a little anxious.  I feel that the anxiety to produce a ‘perfect’ loaf to give to a friend is absorbed by my dough…

It’s been hard to handle this week. The first loaf out is okay, but looks a bit flat.

The one bit I am still struggling with is ‘when is the bread ready to bake?’ So Vanessa says that if you press with your finger and it springs back up, it’s not ready. If you press with your finger and it deflates or doesn’t spring back up , it’s not ready. What I’m looking for is a gentle return of the dough to original, pre-poked state.

This is last week’s loaf. I ‘thought’ I had had the perfect prove and the bread was ready for the oven. It came out looking amazing, crackling well and it maintained its shape…until we cut into it.

So what caused this air pocket? 

It looks like a flippin’ hedgehog house! To the right of the cave the bread looks quite dense. It’s as frustrating as anything. The same batch also produced this one: 

which, although the holes are small, they are evenly spread around the bread. 

I would LOVE for anyone who makes sour dough regularly to help me out here. Hints and tips gratefully received.

December 9th: I just had to add to this that the batch I made where I forced the prove as we were in a hurry turned out to be the best loaves I’ve made so far. Air pockets were regular and the bread was light, we all (8 of us!) ate a whole loaf for breakfast! 

Crackles, crusts and clearing up.

I suppose I ought to show you some of my equipment and how I clean it. As usual, my level of expertise comes from the school of ‘learn from your mistakes’. 

As I said previously, I tend to do my bread in a cloche as it seems to be a pretty fail safe way of getting the right humidity to ensure that all important crackling crust.  However, I have used ceramic bread plates before and also Le Creuset casseroles with the lid on. The latter works perfectly fine in terms of humidity but you will likely get a much more upright looking loaf, rather than a humped version, but who cares!

I do all the work in mason bowls, I have three and love them so much, they’re big and spacious. I then prove in bannetons. Now, you’ll read many conflicting opinions about bannetons, the make, the material, whether they’re even necessary. Honestly, I don’t know or care, I just know that they work for me. I have one that’s wicker with a linen liner and several various sized wood type ones.

I cover these with pieces of muslin or clean tea towels, nothing fancy. The only other bit of equipment that I would really insist you get is a lame. Basically it’s a cut throat razor that scares the shit out of me, but it slashes those cuts into my loaves like you wouldn’t believe. Don’t even think a knife will do the same. The thing, in my opinion about slashing is like any good horror movie, fast and sudden, if you’re sawing back and forth with a half blunt knife your bread will be sad and sinking. I get most of my stuff from either amazon, ebay, our local cook shop in town (how lucky am I?!!) or bakerybits which is a UK online retailer but beware, your credit card may melt, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

So onto that cryptic statement about learning the hard way: Well that’s down to the cleaning part. A few months ago, when I wasn’t thinking straight, I took my bread off my ceramic plate and then put the plate directly in a bowl of hot soapy water! Bear in mind my oven was just at 200c…well you can guess the rest. So, now I no longer wash them at all. Not scuzzy, but sensible really. I coat it with a thin sprinkling of rice flour before I back on it to ensure nothing sticks (yup, been there too in my early days!) and then once it’s cool, I brush off the excess flour and put it in my storage cupboard. I figure I use it so frequently and the temperature of the oven will kill any nasties. Maybe I’m wrong and y’all yell at me now. I’m equally lazy when it comes to the bannetons. Again there is normally a layer of flour inside and, as the humidity builds up when it is proving under a damp cloth, the flour is a little damp itself. In my beginning days I washed them, then I put them away and the water started to form mould. So again, now I put them on the radiator for 20 mins or so to completely dry out the flour and the basket and dry brush them with a little vegetable scrubbing brush that gets in the cracks. I’m sure this isn’t perfect and in time I may have to replace them, but it’s better than creating a perfect environment for a new form of penicillin!

Finally, that crust. I wish I could upload the video to here, but I’m too much of a tight arse to pay for a business account so you can hear the crackle of the crust. Just trust me on this one!

Oh yes!!

Refreshing Sour Dough Starter

So I keep my sour dough in the fridge as I can’t commit to using it every day. I tend to make 1 – 2 loaves a week, so mine comes out on a Friday evening, sits on the counter over night to get to an ambient temperature and then I refresh first thing on Saturday morning. Generally what I tend to do is get my two favourite jars refreshed, and use some of the leftover to make a leven for the loaves. However, if your maths is still with me, I refresh half, then of the half left over, I need 25g for a leven, generally what I pull out as half is around 100g, so 4 X the amount. 

If you’re keeping up at the back, you’d have also noticed that I said ‘my two favourite starters’ which would indicate (correctly) that I have more than two on the go…I know, what’s the point, but actually, they do make different types of loaves. I have a mild one (well two of those) that my daughter likes best and a much sourer one that I quite like.

So halving and quartering aside, if I deal with just one sour dough to freshen and bake with, I’m still left with a minimum 50g of sour dough each week that, if I really can’t make any more loaves, needs to be disposed of.

I can’t throw it away. I have given it to my chickens on occasions, they do like it and I feel the fermentation is good for their guts, but I still just can’t bin it. I have made crumpets and occasionally I make pancakes, but there is still way too much.

So, this week I found a great blog that demonstrated very clearly how to rehydrate dried sour dough starter. So I dried some, powdered it and have stored it in little packs and can send out to you if you’d like to try some to get your own off the ground. I guess, as she says in the blog, it’s a bit of an insurance policy too in case you have a yeast accident at some point. I’m selling it at £5 including the postage but only within the UK I’m afraid. I highly recommend you pop along to ‘Old Dough’ blog and follow her instructions for rehydration.

Cinder Toffee

Hands up who loves a crunchie! Ok, so that was a bit of a mean question. Just give a sneaky head bob if you like a crunchie, I won’t out you over your chocolate habits!!

I love a crunchie. I don’t think my teeth do and I don’t think I’ve eaten one for a loooooooong time. But I do love that honeycomb filling with the chocolate around the outside.

So I’ve learned how easy they are to make, which actually is probably a bad thing!

If you fancy hiding out in a cupboard somewhere with a secret stash of this delicious chocolate coated cinder toffee then read on and you can thank me later…

Ingredients: 

Grease parchment with butter or oil and lay it on a raised edge baking tray.

500g caster sugar, 225g golden syrup, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (you don’t have to put this in, you could exchange it for some cinnamon mixed into the water), 90mls water, 1tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda. You would also benefit from a sugar thermometer.

Add the sugar, golden syrup, vanilla and water to a heavy bottomed pan.

Bring the mixture to the boil but don’t stir it. Then boil it hard until the temperature reaches 149 – 154 c. My thermometer says ‘hard crack’ at that point.

Remove from heat and quickly whisk in your bicarbonate. It will froth and rise up quickly so take care not to burn yourself as the toffee mixture is hot. Then pour it immediately onto your tray and leave it to cool. 
It will take around an hour to cool.  When it’s cool break it into pieces and peel it away from the parchment. Store it in an air tight jar.

Chocolate:   To make the chocolate, just melt some good quality chocolate (I tend to use green and blacks or a really high content cocoa chocolate rather than a baking chocolate, but that’s because I still remember eating baking chocolate as a child and the taste lingered for SO long, not in a nice way) in which ever way you prefer, bain marie or microwave, then dip your pieces of toffee into the chocolate and leave on the parchment to cool.

They make some really lovely Christmas gifts too, just sayin’ !!

Crumpets

The perfect crust:

As many of you may know, I am on a mission: I want to perfect the art of sour dough bread making and that includes a perfect crust.

The crust, for me, needs to crackle after it is taken out of the oven, it needs to nearly break your knife as you cut into it and it needs to look GOOOOOOD!

The above photos are some early on photos I took this year (ignore the bagels, that’s a post for another time). They are crap guys! The one to the right is really close knit and dull looking, bar the cheesy filling that has escaped.

What I do want to bring you though (when my phone is mended!) is the NEW CRUST ME!!!

There are four things I follow:

  1. Prove properly (I will talk about this later on)
  2. Use a Dutch oven (or cloche, depending on where you’re from, it gives the right humidity)
  3. Give the bread (especially sour dough) enough time in the oven.
  4. Score with lame, NOT a kitchen knife which will not be sharp enough I promise.

I’m pretty sure these are the winning steps to a successful crust. If you go to my insta page, I have updated with some current crusts…see what you think.

Over proved?

Not to worry! If your dough is over proved, it is likely to deflate completely when you press it with a clean fingertip. There are several reasons for this: not a good enough starter, leaving it too long so that the yeast has gone too long past optimum (it should have used up all the microbes or whatever the science is, so leaving it means you’ve left it too long past this) or you can artificially do this by being too keen and over eager with your kneading. However, don’t worry, learning when it’s optimum is a skill I have not mastered yet, however, I did read in Vanessa’s book that you can turn it into a foccaccia.

I added some rosemary, garlic and oil, then put it into the Dutch oven for 10 mins and took the lid off for the remaining 20. I cannot WAIT to try it tonight for dinner. BTW…I don’t actually think I had over proved, I had just run out of space in the freezer for any more loaves and R will probably kill me if I suggest we need a bread freezer!!

OMG! Have you SEEN this?

This is a supplement that came with the Christmas Good Housekeeping. There are so many pages folded over with things I want to try. I was awake until gone 11 last night folding them all over! Hurry up Christmas holidays….

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