Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Epic fail!

Ah, it's the first one in a while but it had to be about time for another bready disaster. It can't all go right, and this one definitely didn't go right.

I was attempting to make a sweet rye bread using a recipe from Dan Leopard's The Handmade Loaf. It starts with a rye leaven, which I produced feeding my sourdough starter with just rye flour for a few days. The next step involved making an "overnight batter" with rye flour and water at 80 degrees C. I did this but, after bunging my nose in it the following morning, I didn't notice any change. Was anything meant to have happened to this mix overnight?

Next came mixing the ingredients; rye leaven, overnight batter, more water, honey, more rye flour and some flavourings (orange zest and crushed cardamom seeds). I transferred it to a tin and prepared myself for a long sit in; the book said it would take around 5-6 hours to prove.

8 hours later, it had pretty much doubled in size... and I kinda wanted to get it in the oven because (and this loaf if clearly meant to be a lesson in patience...) it was going to take 2 and a half hours to cook. I cover the top with foil and it went in a pretty hot oven for 1 and a half hours before the foil was removed to allow the top to blacken (and yes, it is meant to blacken). When it came out 1 hour later... well, yes, the top was definately black. And it essentially looked like a brick made of rye flour... but I tried not to let this discourage me. Off to bed I finally trotted. 

I came back to my loaf in the morning. Dan Leopard's book said that it should be left for 2 days before being cut into but I couldn't resist a peak. I grabbed my sharpest knife and began to hack. I was half expecting it to be black and brick-like all the way through. No such luck. The middle was still dough! How the hell that had managed to happen after 2 and a half hours in the oven, I'm not sure. And I'm continuing to puzzle over why the whole thing went so wrong. Did it still need longer to prove? Was the oven not hot enough? Had something not happened with the overnight batter that was meant to?

Ah well, these things happen. I'm still learning and it's all part of the curve. Maybe I should start with the more basic things from Dan Leopard's book using what flour before moving on to the other recipes. Still, if anyone has an inkling as to what might have gone wrong in this case, I'd like to know!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sourdough started

The posts about my sourdough starter petered out a few days ago. Don't worry; I didn't kill it. It's been bubbling away happily as I've fed it every day over the course of the past week. Today I finally got round to using it for bread. Time to continue making my kitchen look like it's been hit by a flour bomb.

Sourdough.com gave me all the details for getting my sourdough starter off to a really strong start but there was no specific "beginners" recipe, so I decided to coble together a recipe using some of the other instructions that I'd found while researching sourdough on the internet. Here's how it went.

I started with 150g of my starter (it had been fed the night before and left at room temperature over night) and added 350g strong white bread flour,150g rye flour and 340g tepid water. I mixed this all together in a large mixing bowl, covered it with a damp tea towel and set it aside for 20 minutes. I then added 1 teaspoon salt and kneaded the dough in the bowl for 15 seconds. I set it aside for another 15 minutes, then did 15 seconds of kneading again... another 15 minutes resting, another 15 seconds kneading. And then it was time for the prove. It needed to double in size but, as with my fougasse, the house was too chilly for optimum yeasty activity and this took about 3 hours. Still, it happened eventually.

I then scraped the dough carefully out onto a very well floured surface (this is a sticky dough and I’d learnt my lesson with the fougasse). And now it was time to pretend I was making pastry. I gently pulled the dough about into a large rectangle; I folded one third onto the middle third of the bread, and then folded the other third on top of this. I turned the dough by 90 degrees and repeated the process. Time for more resting, this time 20 minutes. The folding and resting was repeated twice.

After the last fold, I started preheating my oven as hot as it would go, around 250 degrees C, with the baking tray in that I intended to cook the bread on. The bread rested for another 20 minutes but this time on a piece of baking parchment and shaped (... poorly) into a rough loaf. Oven and tray preheated, I brushed the loaf with water (use a spray if you have one... I don’t), quickly placed it in the oven on the baking tray and then covered with a roasting dish. I then cursed myself for forgetting to slash the top of the loaf, but resolved that it would just have to be an ugly loaf. It baked like this for 15 minutes before the roasting dish was removed and the temperature was turned down to 200 degrees C. I baked it for another 20 minutes until golden and hollow-sounding.

It went onto a cooling wrack and I waited for it to cool down with baited breath... I’m not too patient and I was keen to hack it open and see what it looked like inside. I managed to hold back the urge until it had cooled down a bit and grabbed a bread knife... but the crust fought back a little too much, so my ridiculously-sharp college bread knife got broken out to finish the job. Time for the reveal; was it light and airy inside or did I have a brick of flour?

Success! My loaf may have been a bit ugly on the outside but the inside was definitely beautiful, a patchwork of big and small bubbles. It was also moist and crumpty. The crust had an appealing crackle to it when I tore into a slice and the bread as a whole had the developed, tangy flavour that you only get from a long fermentation process. The rye flour also added an extra bit of interesting colour and flavour.

I’d never tasted sourdough before making it this time for myself, but I can see why there are many people wanting this traditional method of bread making to revived. The results are flavourful, the textures are appealing, the overall process shows the development of skills and knowledge over the course of centuries and this has definitely been a key lesson in my own baking education. 

Recipe adapted from:

Sunday, 11 December 2011


Hmm, this is the first lot of bread I've done recently that didn't go completely according to plan. I mean, it didn't go horribly wrong either; I turned out some reasonable bread by the end, but it did look a little like a bomb had hit the kitchen in the meantime.

You would also have thought I could have coped with a simple white bread dough, which is what this one was made of. The name fougasse relates to the shape, which is of a leaf. The main difference this time round to the stuff I've done before was that I was trying out the "French" method for working the dough. Firstly, this involves using rather a sticky dough. Secondly, you're not to use any flour or oil on your worktop to prevent the dough from sticking. Thirdly, you don't knead; you use your spread fingers to lift up the dough and then you forcibly slap a portion of it onto the work surface and then fold the other half on top. This action serves to stretch the dough (the slapping) and to trap air (the folding). It's a lot easier on the arms that the kneading method and can actually be quicker, if you get your technique right.

Actually, that bit didn't go particularly badly. It was lucky that no one else was in the house because it was rather noisey, but the dough began to get smoother and stick to the table slightly less. Or at least, it did until I let it sit there for a few seconds, at which point it would again begin to spread. Still, I got it in a bowl and started it proving. The house was so cold that the dough did absolutely nothing for about the first hour until I snuggled it up with my wheat bag. 

So after about 2 hours of proving it had about doubled in size. I gently coaxed it out of the bowl with a scraper and onto a well-floured surface. Possibly not well-floured enough because it carried on spreading and sticking to the worktop. I then attempted to cut it into 6 pieces to form into leaf shapes. With my scraper. Gargh! The damn stuff wouldn't stop sticking together and the scraper really didn't have a sharp enough edge. I got quite shirty with it all. Flour everywhere, temper threatening to launch dough over the ceiling... but I held it together and finished 6 leaves, enough if they weren't that pretty.

The bread itself was ok... ish,  but went chewy pretty quickly. Best eaten warm, I'm say. Mixed results with this bready attempt. I'll see if the French method goes any better for me with a different shape of bread.

Simplified recipe
500g strong white bread flour
10g fresh yeast
10g salt
350g water

  1. Place the flour and the yeast into a large mixing bowl and rub the yeast into the flour with your fingertips
  2. Add the salt and the water to the bowl and combine until a coherent dough forms; around 2-3 minutes
  3. Work the dough on an un-floured until it becomes "smooth, firm-but-wobbly and responsive"
  4. Place the dough in a bowl, cover and allow to prove until doubled in size
  5. Carefully scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a well-floured surface and spread it into a rough square shape. Use a knife or scraper to cut the dough into 6 rectangular pieces. Try to be delicate with the dough
  6. Use a knife or scraper to cut large slashes into the dough to create a leaf pattern. Make the wholes quite big as they will close up when the dough begins to rise in the oven
  7. Preheat the oven at 230 degrees C. If you have a baking stone and peel, you can transfer your fougasse to the oven using a lightly-floured peel. I don't and found it much easier to place the rectangles onto baking trays before making the cuts. But I'm not a professional baker so that might be why. Bake the fougasse for 10-12 minutes or until golden
Dough, Richard Bertinet, Kyle Books, 2005

Friday, 2 December 2011

Roman-style loaf

I actually made this loaf last night but didn't have time to post. Not that the loaf took long to make. I made it will some spelt flour that I'd bought for a muffin recipe a few months ago; the muffins were rubbish but I still had flour left over. On the positive side, the flour bag had a several recipes on it so I picked one and went for it. The resulting loaf is wheaty and flavourful, with a crisp crust and a moist, airy interior that's a good butter-hugger.

Roman-style loaf
500g wholegrain spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fast-action yeast or 3 teaspoons fresh yeast
1 tablespoon honey
400ml warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil


  1. Grab a large mixing bowl and add the flour, salt and yeast (don't put the salt and the yeast next to each other straight away. If using fresh yeast, rub this into the flour)
  2. Dissolve the honey into the warm water
  3. Add the water to the flour and mix it in roughly
  4. "While the dough is still craggy add the oil and mix well"
  5. Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead it lightly. You want to create an even dough but you're not actually trying to develop gluten so you don't need to knead it for very long
  6. Place in an oiled loaf tin, cover loosely and leave to prove in a warm place for 25 minutes. Mine doubled in size in this time
  7. Preheat your oven at 200 degrees C (400 degrees F, gas mark 6)
  8. Once the loaf has proved, bake in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes. The usual test for bread holds true; it's done when it gives off a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom
Recipe from:
The bag of Doves Farm Organic Stoneground Wholegrain Spelt Flour

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Sourdough starter day 6

Being 1 day behind on this starter has slightly put me out of kilter, but I'm just about remembering where I'm up to. Today I managed to follow the instructions right; discard most of the starter again, leaving about a tablespoon, and add to this 70g strong white bread flour, 30g rye flour and 100g water. I won't bother adding a picture because there isn't much to see. It's still a little bubbly, fairly stringy and smells like yoghurt. The feeding continues

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Sourdough starter day 5

All that talk of not messing up my sourdough starter and I find out I'm actually off track. I fed it yesterday as I'd fed it the day before but I've checked my instructions again today and I was actually meant to do it differently. Whoops! So I'm a day behind, but I'm hoping it won't have affected it too much.

So, what was I meant to do yesterday and have actually done today? Well, I was meant to throw away most of the starter... it felt a bit weird throwing it out but I followed the instructions through. To this, I added 70g strong white bread flour, 30g rye flour and 100g water. I stirred, covered and put it back in its spot.

I'll keep a better eye on what I'm meant to be doing in future.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Sourdough starter day 4

Yep, I'm now fairly sure that we have life. Not only are the bubbles sticking around but it's starting to smell a bit like yoghurt and has a sort of stringiness about it when you lift the spoon out; it doesn't just flow but has a certain viscosity to it. We have a sourdough starter! But I'm going to continue to follow the instructions I've got. No point messing it up at this early stage.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Rosemary and seasalt focaccia

After getting back from work and eating my tea today, it was time for some baking! No sitting around while my sourdough starter gets going; I have fresh yeast in the fridge and, apparently, people who want bread!

I made rosemary and seasalt focaccia for the first time the other day and it went pretty damn well. Mum took some into work and it proved so popular, I've had a request for some more. Here's how I made it, following a recipe by Paul Hollywood


500g strong white bread flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
32g fresh yeast (or 14g fast action dry yeast)
2 tablespoons olive oil
400ml cold water (I saw this instruction and was worried by the "cold", but fear not; the yeast still gets going)
2 sprigs rosemary, stripped and finely chopped
Olive oil, sea salt and rosemary fronds, to finish


  1. Put the flour, salt and yeast in a large mixing bowl (put the salt on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other; direct contact in concentrated amounts may make the salt kill the yeast). If using fresh yeast, rub this into the flour
  2. Add the 2 tbsp olive oil and 300ml of water and stir gently to combine into a dough
  3. Knead for 5 minutes in the bowl, gradually incorporating the rest of the water. The dough will become very sticky, but this is meant to happen. I found kneading at this stage easiest by using and circular motion around the edge of the bowl, followed by a cutting motion through the middle of the dough to stretch it. I then turned the bowl slightly and repeated
  4. For the next 5 minutes (still in the bowl), pull a side portion of the dough and push it into the middle. Work round the side until you get back to where you started, then turn the bowl and repeat
  5. Turn the dough out onto an oiled work surface and knead for a further 5 minutes. Only use olive oil to prevent it from sticking. As to kneading, you'll probably find it easiest to pull the dough to stretch it
  6. Place in a bowl, cover loosely with cling film or a cloth and prove until doubled in size
  7. Once proved, turn out onto a baking tray (it may need lining with baking parchment if you don't have a non-stick tray) and push to the edges of the tray (if it keeps springing back, let it rest for a minute or 2 before pushing it out again). Leave to prove for a second time, again until doubled in size
  8. In the meantime, preheat your oven at 220 degrees C (425 degrees F, gas mark 7)
  9. Once proved for a second time, push you fingers into the dough to create dimples. Drizzle with olive oil, dot with rosemary fronds and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Bake for 20 minutes until golden on top and it gives a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom
  10. Enjoy pieces dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar!
Recipe adapted from:

Sourdough starter day 3

The "thing" has been fed again, and again with 35g strong white bread flour, 15g rye flour and 50g water. It was still bubbly this morning and had a slightly fruity smell, so we may have signs of life!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Sourdough starter day 2

It's been a long day at work and I arrived home about 2 hours ago having completely forgotten about my sourdough starter. Getting my scales out of the cupboard for something else luckily jolted my memory and the "thing" has been fed. I'm following the recipe from sourdough.com and the instructions for day 2 were pretty damn similar to day 1; to the bowl of mix you already have, add 35g strong white flour, 15g rye flour and 50g water. Stir and put somewhere away from any direct heat sources.

My starter essentially looks the same as it did yesterday. It's got a few bubbles coming to the surface, which could be a sign of life in the mix, but it could also be a sign that I stirred it a little bit vigorously, so I'll reserve judgement. It also doesn't smell of anything at the moment; when the bacteria starts to work, it should give off what I'll refer to as "fermenty" smells. 

But these are early days so I wasn't expecting much to have happened. Still, it's a good job that I remembered to feed the starter... the experiment may have ended almost straight after it began. 

Friday, 25 November 2011

Starting a sourdough starter

I've done a few types of bread before, but they've mostly been basic and made use of yeast. But there's a type of bread that doesn't use yeast and that's being talked about in many bakery circles. That's sourdough bread. Instead of using yeast, you make something known as a "starter" using flour and water. You "feed" this starter with more flour and water over the course of several days and, eventually, life will come to your starter in the form of bacteria. This bacteria is what was originally used by our ancestors to create leavened breads. The method became less popular when yeast started to be produced through industrial methods but is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. 

So, what with all the bakery buzz about this method of bread production, I thought I'd give it a go. I've found a step-by-step guide to making a starter at sourdough.com and today is day one. 

I started with a clear bowl (so I can see what's going on) and a spoon, both of which I'd sterilised in hot water (to kill any of the nasty bacteria that I don't want getting into my starter). To this I added 15g rye flour (took a bit of finding but eventually got some in trusty Waitrose), 35g strong white bread flour and 50g water. I stirred, covered it loosely with cling and left it on a shelf, away from sources of heat. And that's it for the moment. It's tempting to lean in and look at it every now and again but there's no point as it's mostly just a substance a little like glue. But give it a few days and a bit of feeding and we might see some signs of life. 

I'll keep you posted.

The Beginning of the Dough Diaries

These are the Dough Diaries, and this is the first entry in a blog that follows the diary writer, i.e. me, in her quest to learn about and make lots and lots of bread.

I’m not a complete novice when it comes to bread making. I’m currently training to be a pastry chef and said training involves a unit on breads and doughs, so I’ve had a little practice there and a few bits of expert advice. And before that, I’d experimented a little bit myself... with varying levels of success, I’ll admit, but I still gave it a go.

But it’s more recently that I’ve become hooked on bread making. I find there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in taking the time to mix and knead bread, watch it as it proves and grows, and eventually in shaping it. And there are so many types of bread from cultures around the world that I’ve no idea how to make... but I want to know how! So what better excuse for yet another blog on food.

This blog will follow my bready adventures, whatever they be and however well they go. Let the baking begin!