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.