Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Next Phase - Grind Your Own

A new phase - grinding your own flour

There may be some of you out there with access to a flour grinder. There is the odd Eastern Suburns health food shop who provide free grinding facilities onsite if you don't have your own.

WHY GRIND? Because flour is a grain, and grains have oils in them. So, when you grind the little wheat berry you need to use it quicksmart (within a week) or the good oils will start to go off. This is also why you store olive oil in a dark cupboard or the fridge, and why you don't keep nuts for ages unless they are roasted first - the oils in them start to lose their goodness and the Omega 3s and 6s become useless.

The relevance to flour? As a grain it has many parts - the outside husk, the endosperm (which is what semolina is), the wheatgerm (where the oil is) etc. So what the supermarkets do is sift all that good stuff off and what you're left with is..... white powder. And not the fun kind (by that I mean sugar). Just useless dust. Easily digestible dust, but dust nonetheless. Oh but what about wholemeal flour, you say? Well that is usually just white dust with some tough oiless bran sifted back in. But it's almost never the whole crushed grain of wheat... because of the spoilage reasons I've just discussed.

So let's make a superquick (for sourdough, anyway) loaf from go to whoa using your own ground flour.

Phase 1 - Grinding your flour
  • Get some wheat grain from any health food store. Grind it using their grinder or your own. Recommendation : fine ground to encourage maximum absorption when you mix it with the liquid. And easier to handle.

Phase 2 - From starter to sponge
  • I imagine here you already have a starter. If not, go to my section on how to make one. The ingredients you'll need are flour and water. Seriously. Nothing else! It is dead easy, once you get it to live....
  • Anyway, take your starter from the fridge and pour it into a bowl. Add a cup or two of lukewarm filtered water and a cup or two of the flour you have just ground. It needs to reach pancake batter consistency. Let this 'sponge' stand for 8 hours to overnight - until it starts to bubble healthily (like a sponge, hence the nickname). If it looks slow, be patient - colder areas take longer and may require a heater and some cling wrap to keep the bowl warmish. Humid areas - lucky Brisbanites - have it much easier. But here in Sydney, I always get a fabulous sourdough summer or winter: takes longer in winter but the bread rises just as high.

Phase 3 - The dough
  • Your bowl of sponge should be bubbly. If it is dormant with a film of liquid on top then wait a bit longer - add a spoon of flour and mix it up vigourously to awaken it.
  • Once it is bubbly, put half a cup of it into a clean glass jar with a hole in the lid and back in the nether regions of the fridge (or however you store your starter).
  • Take the remainder of the sponge and add a pinch or two of salt.
  • To the bowl add a cup or so of the flour you have ground and mix it around.
  • Add flour until it forms a loose dough ball that just holds together without being too sticky. But don't go to too much effort - the wetter the better I've found with sourdough over the last couple of years.
  • Grease another bowl with olive oil and place the dough ball in. Spray some oil on the top of the dough. Cover with cling film and a teatowel. Leave to rise in a warm place 2-5 hours, depending on the weather.

Phase 4 - The resting
  • When is it risen? Well usually it doubles in volume, but this is sourdough remember so that can be deceptive. Sometimes it just grows 50% in winter in the first rise, but that is no indication of the final bread. The best way to tell is to poke it with your finger. If it springs back it could do with more rising. If it doesn't, it's ready.
  • Take your ready dough and gently pat it down, Form into a loose ball and squeeze it a bit (I have this illustrated elsewhere on this blog - I have an effective squeezing method).
  • Pop it in a plastic bag and peg the bag shut. Put it in the fridge overnight. I use a plastic bag because my bread tends to grow too much in the fridge if I don't - I need to keep a lid on it so it save its final rising for the oven. Rest your bread in the fridge anywhere from 12 to 36 hours. The longer it rests, the more sour the flavour. The main reason for a long rest is that the sourdough yeasties 'pre-digest' all of the more annoying parts of the flour, like the gluten and phytic acid which are indigestible to many. So the more gluten-intolerant you are, the more you will love sourdough!

Phase 5 - The pre-baking
  • Take your dough from the fridge. Shape it into a long fat shape, like a thick baguette. You could also make it round or whatever but don't play with it too much, it's sensitive! Just gently pull it into shape.
  • Place on a baking tray, or a pizza stone. Dust with flour and cover with a teatowel. Leave to get to room temperature, which could take a couple of hours.

Phase 6 - The baking
  • Here is my secret to get your loaf to rise - we are talking maximum rising power. Slash a couple of deep cuts in the loaf with a sharp knife.
  • Turn on the oven to moderately high - 200C.
  • Place a pan of water in the bottom of the oven.
  • Place the loaf straight in - DO NOT PREHEAT THE OVEN!!!!!!!!!!
  • Why? Because as the oven slowly heats up it gives the sourdough one last chance to rise in the oven. You get a great rise, and a wonderful chewy crust on the bread.
  • Check your bread in 30-40 minutes. It is done when it's a medium-dark golden brown. Not too light - the sourdough has to reach the right internal temperature.
  • Remove from the oven. Let it rest one hour. DO NOT EAT FOR ONE HOUR. It needs this time to finish cooking - cut it too soon and it could turn rock hard.