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.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

How to make a loaf - the easy way

Above: A delicious simple wheat loaf, baked in my ordinary gas oven.
Sourdough is a fun process, but it can be time consuming for the beginner. If you are familiar with sourdough and have made your own starter, these shortcuts should help.

These shortcuts help you make a loaf - super fast! The only slow part is resting it in the fridge overnight, but this is necessary - or the yeasties won't predigest the 'bad' parts of the flour properly and you'll feel very bloaty.

If you don't have a starter yet, relax - check out my 2007 blog "Lets Bake Bread" #1 to learn how to make your own little community. 

Here I have distilled down the basics so you can get a loaf happening:

1. Have your own starter. YOu can cultivate it in your own kitchen from flour, water and air. See 2007 "Let's Bake Bread #1" to see how to make your starter.

2. Follow the instructions in the January 2008 Blog - Honey corn bread. Or read here:
Put your starter in a bowl with lukewarm, filtered water and organic plain flour. Equal parts - 2 cups water, 2 cups flour. Stir and cover with a tea towel overnight. In the morning it should be bubbling beneath the surface. If not - wait another hour or two.

I love to bake my loaves to a rich, deep brown.
Funny thing about sourdough is that it is
very hard to burn,
and even a deep brown loaf tastes beautiful.

3. When bubbled, put some sponge in the fridge in a jar to make a new starter for next time (a few tablespoons, with a teaspoon of flour for it to 'feed' off when in hibernation). Take the rest of the sponge and add enough plain organic flour to it to make a very sticky dough that just holds together.

4. Let it rise for around 1-2 hours, depending on the strength of your starter - you know your own critters the best. 

5. Gently 'pound down' the risen dough and leave in fridge overnight. I like to put the dough in a plastic bag with a peg to stop the dough over-expanding and 'eating itself' too much.

6. Take it out of the fridge in the morning and lay it on a nice stone pizza slab, a cast iron pot or a bread tin. Different baking methods give different crustiness and taste.

 Bake in a pot, on a slab or in a tin

7. Leave dough in a warm place for its second rising - 1 to 2 hours. Before baking, slash a criss-cross or other pattern with a knife. This isn't just for looks - it helps the bread rise more.

8. For an extra 'rise', don't preheat the oven - throw the bread in 'cold' and turn the oven on to 200 degrees. As the oven heats up the bread gets and extra rise. Cook until quite brown and 'hollow' to the tap.

This is a quick bread with a great texture - should be chewy and 'holey': 
When made with less flour (a more 'wet' dough) and almost no 
kneading, your bread will have the holey, chewy, delicious 
traditional sourdough taste and texture

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Let's Bake Bread # 4 - To the Ovens!!

Above: Crusty Rye Loaves using the pizza stone method
To the Ovens!!

Stage 4 -: Baking the dough

There are a few methods which I use regularly: loaf tin, cast iron pot or pizza stone. All taste great, and are quite easy methods. With the pot you get a classic round loaf and deep golden colour and are ensured even cooking – great for beginners. With the stone you get a nice ‘earthy’ taste and can make shapes – baguettes or even flatbreads but you do have to check the underside to make sure it cooks properly and place a pan of water in the oven to ensure a humid environment. With the tin you get a very easy to cut loaf, great for toast or sandwiches.


  1. Unwrap the dough and set aside at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, until it reaches room temperature in the middle and is fully risen and doesn’t spring back when you press it with your finger.
  2. At the same time, pre-heat your oven to 230C for around 50 minutes to an hour.
Cast Iron Pot Method
  1. Place the cast iron pot in the oven to heat for about an hour. Wearing oven mits, invert dough into heated pot that has been dusted with flour.
  2. Sprinkle a light veil of flour over the dough. Slash the dough with a sharp knife or razor to create that classic sourdough pattern but more importantly to help the dough cook. Bake, covered, for exactly 30 minutes.
  3. Remove lid and bake for a further 10 minutes till dark golden and bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  4. Remove immediately from pot and set aside in a wooden bowl or plate to cool for AT LEAST one hour. The bread is still ‘cooking’ at this stage and should not be cut for at least an hour after being in the oven or it will become tough.
  5. When you can’t wait a moment longer after the hour is up, brew a nice pot of tea and cut off a thick slice, enjoyed with fresh cultured butter.
Pizza Stone Method
  1. Place a baking pan filled with water on the floor of the oven. This will provide the necessary humidity for the bread to colour, which you don’t need when you use a cast iron covered pot.
  2. Invert dough onto heated pizza stone that has been dusted with flour. Sprinkle a light veil of flour over the dough.
  3. Slash the dough with a sharp knife or razor to create a pattern and to help the dough cook. Bake, for exactly 20 minutes.
  4. At this stage you may need to turn bread over and bake the underside for a further 10 to 15 minutes so it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. As above, remove immediately from pot and set aside in a wooden bowl or plate to cool for at least an hour before eating half the loaf in one sitting!

Left: My Country-style white loaf cooked on the pizza stone, flavoured with salt and blackstrap molasses for extra colour and nutrition.

Loaf Tin Method
  1. Proceed as for pizza stone method, above, ensuring oven has a water bath in it.
  2. Make sure loaf has proofed IN THE TIN after it has come out of the fridge. When the loaf has come to room temperature and had its final rise in the loaf tin, slash and sprinkle with flour and bake as per pizza stone method.
Note: No more dry, floury-tasting bread! When friends and family taste this bread, you may have to start making two loaves at a time, like I do. Or even more……once you’ve had real bread, there’s no going back.
Next week: Let's make a plaited Brioche.

Let's Bake Bread # 3 - The D'oh!

We are getting ever closer to putting our loaf in the oven. Onto the next stage.

Stage 2 -: Making the dough
-Your ‘sponge’ mixture (which will be foamy by this stage)
-3 to 5 cups of organic rye bread mix (or half white flour, half rye flour) -½ cup gluten flour (particularly important if your flour is not ‘strong’. Don’t worry about the gluten – the sourdough process itself , known as ‘pre-digestion’ will digest all of the gluten so your bread will be yeast- and gluten-free but without the gluten it may not rise enough)
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses, or golden syrup or brown sugar (optional, but particularly tasty in rye bread)
-2T olive oil (optional)


  1. Take your bowl of ‘sponge’. It should be at its foamiest stage for maximum bread-rising power. What you are about to do is ‘feed’ your starter by adding more flour, but you are making it into a dough, so it will be solid, not runny like when you normally ‘feed’ your starter. What will happen next is that your starter will spend the next few hours ‘eating’ the flour in the dough. It will eat the phytic acid surrounding the grain and the gluten in the flour. It will leave little holes in the bread where it has eaten the flour (this is why bread has that ‘holey’ look ) and will give off carbon dioxide (that yeasty smell).
  2. To your bowl of starter add the salt, oil and molasses. Stir
  3. Add 1 cup of rye/wheat flour and the gluten flour. Mix.
  4. Keep adding flour in half cupfuls and stir. When it’s too stiff to stir, turn out onto floured board and pull together as a dough, adding more flour as needed.
  5. Keep kneading the dough for about 10 minutes, making sure to add more flour whenever the dough becomes sticky. You will probably be adding more and more flour right up to the end of the kneading time. Unlike regular bread, sourdough bread is very wet and ‘thirsty’. Just when you think you’ve added enough flour and it’s dry and pliable, it suddenly becomes all wet again and you find you need to add more flour to knead it! DON’T WORRY – just keep on adding flour as long as it’s thirsty. Sourdough yeasts, unlike commercial yeasts, are alive and need their food!
  6. After 10 to 15 minutes of hand kneading, you may be tired but you’ll have a smooth, not sticky ball of dough.
  7. Place in a greased bowl, cover LOOSELY with cling film (this speeds up the rising process by keeping warmth in as long as you leave air gaps), and cover with a tea towel. Leave in a warm place to rise for 2 to 5 hours, until it has doubled – or tripled if it’s a warm day – in volume.
Stage 3 -: Proofing the dough
Proofing is the most important stage: This allows the ‘pre-digestion’ process to take place and for the healthful yeasts to digest all the bad parts of the flour. Very important stage! The longer it ages, the more the slight sour flavour is accentuated. You need around 15 hours ageing to deactivate the phytic acid.
  1. You can tell the dough has not fully risen if you poke it gently and it springs back. When it has risen all it can, there will be a small indent left behind when you poke it with your finger.
  2. When the dough has fully risen, punch the dough down gently. Flatten down into a big circle and let it rest 5 minutes.
  3. The only tricky part – fold the edges of the dough into the centre and press with your fingertips to seal into a ball. Do not overwork dough. Shape by cupping our palms over the top of the ball and apply firm but gentle downward pressure. Stretch the surface of the dough down under to form a neat ball. Keep pulling and stretching downwards like this around 6 to 8 times, being careful not to tear the surface of the dough.
  4. Turn dough over and pinch the seam to form a very tight seal.
  5. Place in bowl and cover with several layers of plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to age fro 8 to 24 hours, even up to 36 hours.
Next..... Putting the loaf in the oven!

Let's Bake Bread # 2 - The Sponge (No, not the Seinfeld Episode)

Now the moment you've all been waiting for, baking our first Sourdough loaf. This is beyond exciting, and can I say 'good on ya mate' to everyone who's stuck with me so far. You've done a beaut' job to get this far.

Aussie jingoisms aside, thanks for coming on this ride and here's to the success of your first loaf. Let's get started!

Part B
Baking Bread

This is such a satisfying process: you won’t believe what you can do with your own two hands!

Stage 1 -: Making the ‘sponge”
What on earth is a sponge? It’s basically a great big bowl of foamy starter and it’s the basis of a good loaf. It’s the first step in baking:

-Your jar of starter from the fridge
-1 cup filtered warm water
-1 cup plain white organic flour
- Clean bowl (sterilise with boiling water at this early stage) and wooden spoon.

Above: Look closely, this fully active starter is really foamy and ready to bake bread!


  1. Remove your starter from the fridge and pour into clean bowl.
  2. Add water and stir with wooden spoon till dissolved.
  3. Add flour and mix. You want the consistency of very thick pancake batter. Add more flour or water to reach this consistency.
  4. Cover LOOSELY with plastic wrap, leaving a bit of space on the sides for air and cover with a tea towel. I use the plastic wrap because in winter or cooler climates you want to keep the heat in and this really speeds up the process.
  5. Leave in a warm place (sunroom, windowsill) for between 4 and 12 hours. It will begin to get a few bubbles in the first two hours, then more and more bubbles will form until it’s foamy. At this point it’s ready for the next stage…..
Note: sometimes I’ll age my sponge by leaving it out overnight, especially if it’s slow to bubble, like in winter. By morning it may have a layer of hooch so I’ll mix in half a cup of flour and leave it for another 3 or so hours till it bubbles a second time. This makes a stronger sponge, but it’s not really necessary unless your sponge is having trouble getting going.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Let's Bake Bread # 1 - The Starter (or Leaven)

Traditional Sourdough baking

Now, let's get into this process.

Wherever you live in the world, you can make sourdough. If you live in a humid climate such as Brisbane or Florida, great - those yeasties grow mighty quick in sweaty weather. But if you live in a cool, dry clime, don't worry, it will work for you too!

Summer is over in Bondi and the month of May sees the cool setting in. My bread is not tripling in volume any more and I need to wrap it in plastic wrap and a tea towel and put it near a warmer or heater to get a double rise, but it still looks and tastes fantastic.

That's the thing about sourdough - no two loaves are ever the same, as natural processes are the ones who do the work, and they decide how they're feeling on any given day!

Some people tend to overcomplicate the whole process: 26 steps over 24 hours and so forth. While there are a lot of steps, they are simple steps which require minimal effort (except the kneading). I’ve discovered a few tricks to make the process go quicker and smoother (plastic wrap is so helpful on cooler days!) – a little trial and error of your own will perfect the process!

What kind to make is an endless choice, I generally make half rye-half white sourdough, as rye has the most dietary fibre but lately I've been making wholemeal, but I always use organic flour. I've also made brioche with white flour and even blinis and pocket bread. My favourite thing to make is sourdough pizza, truly unbeatable - you will want to eat every bit of the crust! I will post some pizza photos when next I make some - which is quite regularly in our house! In fact, if it has yeast, then you can use sourdough starter to make it!

This process sounds complex, but take it a step at a time, and it is really quite simple. You’ll be doing it with your eyes closed before you know it!

Part A
Making your ‘starter’

You’ll need:
- 1 big bowl (ceramic, metal etc)
-1 cup Filtered water or a boiled water, warmish (just above lukewarm, around 50 degreesC) (Chlorinated tap water doesn’t work)
-1 cup organic plain white flour
-Wooden spoon
-Sterile glass jar of about 600-800g capacity
-Muslin cloth or paper towel (or plastic wrap if the weather is quite cool)
-Boiling water for sterilising (after the first week or two, you won’t need to sterilise your implements as the lactic acid kills everything foreign that enters its environment, but you will need to keep things pr etty sterile at the beginning as it matures).

Above: Starter in its early bubbling stages
  1. Rinse bowl and wooden spoon with boiling water to sterilise.
  2. Mix in bowl 1 cup flour, 1 cup water
  3. Place into sterilised glass jar
  4. Cover loosely with clean muslin or paper towel
  5. Leave somewhere warm and airy, around fruit and veg and away from toxic chemicals such as cleaning products. The windowsill is a good place.
  6. Check daily for ‘foaming action’. My first starter went crazy within 24 hours. Or it could take 5 days. What you are looking for is for the mixture to begin to bubble, a few at first and then lots of bubbles, which will look like (and smell like!) beer foam.
Feeding & Caring for your starter

  1. When it starts to foam an d basically double in size, then you have life! But you have to keep it alive, especially in the initial stages. When your starter is hungry, it will be still and flat, with possibly a layer of greyish or amber coloured liquid on the top that will smell funny – like beer – but not ‘off’. This is called hooch, and it’s the by-product of the yeasties when they feed on the flour. It is actually alcohol!
  2. The idea is to feed the starter before you see this ‘hooch’. The best time to feed it is once a day in the beginning stages. The time to feed is when it has stopped foaming and is just starting to recede in the jar and lose its bubbles.
  3. Feed it by pouring HALF the contents of the jar into a clean, sterile bowl and mix in equal proportions of flour and water. Put this new paste back into an empty jar. The reason you remove half the starter before feeding is because the starter grows and doubles its weight – if you did n’t remove half of it the starter would overflow and keep growing until it covered your whole kitchen……!!!!
  4. Discard the leftover (in a few days or weeks you’ll be using your leftover starter as yummy pancake batter but it’s probably not strong enough yet).
  5. Continue feeding the starter in this way daily for around two weeks and it should be strong enough to b ake your first loaf. It’s a wait, but it’s worth it!
  6. By this time it will be quite strong and you will not need to sterilise your implements any more, just keep using wooden spoons and make sure your bowls are nice and clean.
  7. Keep your starter in a jar in the fridge – once it’s matured after a couple of weeks. It doesn’t need to fill the jar, half a jar or less will be enough to keep the generations going. There it will lie ‘dormant’ and you need only feed it once a week with a couple of tablespoons of flour and water.
Note: My first starter foamed and bubbled in 24 hours then decided to go out of action and I couldn’t revive it. Sometimes they begin quickly and run out of puff. Other times they start bubbling really slowly but if you keep feeding them they spring to life. You are dealing with living creatures here, and they set their own pace. It’s really trial and error to get a strong starter, but it’s not difficult. My third ever attempt is the starter I still use today. It’s about 12 months old. If you’re starter is starting to ‘limp’ (i.e you feed it and instead of bubbling a few hours later it is still and hooch-covered) there are things you can do to jump start it. The easiest method is to discard all but one or two tablespoons of starter and in a clean, sterile bowl, rapidly whisk the small amount of starter with a cup of warm filtered water to get the oxygen in, then mix in a cup of flour, pour into a clean jar and wait….)

Extra note: Clean any active starter off your benches, cutlery and dishes while it’s still wet – it turns to cement when it dries. You could tile your bathroom with it! In fact, in the pioneering days settlers plastered the walls of their homesteads with it!

Next Blog: Time to Bake!