Last week I was chatting to one of the lovely chaps at Norwich Providore (they have a stall on Norwich Market where they sell award winning bread and the lightest, meltiest croissants and pastries)….he was telling me how their bakers work through the night and I was saying how I get up early on a Sunday to make bread for my boyfriend but it’s only really ready in the evening (due to the natural starters taking longer to rise) and he suggested making the sponge for the bread before I went to bed, that way the natural starter will have been able to do it’s thing in the way it likes best…slowly……then when I get up I can add the other ingredients, knead the dough and then let it prove and hopefully it’ll be ready around lunch time.
It seemed such a simple and clever idea that I felt a bit daft I’d not thought to do it like that before now…….anyway, Saturday evening I weighed out the ingredients for a bread sponge while waiting for the kettle to boil for a bedtime drink, these are only ever approximate measures as I didn’t write them down and each time I make it my bread always comes out a litle bit differently….the joys of being a home baker.
200 g bread flour (I always use flour from Shipton Mill)
100 g of oats
a good dollop of honey
300-350 ml of warm water
200 g of natural starter
Everything goes into a bowl together and is gently mixed together, then is covered with a large cloth and left overnight.
Sunday morning was lovely, glorious Winter sunshine filled the kitchen and we had the windows and the back door open so I could let in the fresh air and hear those long tailed tits I wrote about yesterday…..
I lifted up the cloth and checked the sponge, there was a good old bubble going on, also the sponge smelt stronger than usual, it’s that lovely warm bready aroma that bread always seemd to have when I was a little girl……
To the sponge I added some more flour, just a handful or two at this stage, a glug of oil (we had some rapeseed from Cornwall and that worked fine), a generous pinch of Maldon sea salt rubbed together between my fingertips and a handful of sesame and sunflower seeds……then it’s a case of slowly mixing everything together…adding a bit more flour until the dough is ready to be kneaded which is probably the most relaxing part of making bread….every so often I add a little more flour until the dough feels cool and silky. I always add a splash of oil to my proving bowl and smear it around the inside before popping in the dough and covering the bowl with the cloth again……..I left the dough in a sunny spot on the table for a couple of hours then lifted it out, gently knocked the dough back, re-shaped it and then placed it in a floured muslin cloth which sits in a big wooden proving basket.
bread flour a few good handfuls…how much exactly depend s on the flour, your dough, even the weather…..
pinch of Maldon salt
glug of oil
handful of seeds
Then I sprinkled a bit of flour over the dough, lightly covered it with the muslin cloth edge and left it for about 40/45 minutes…turned the oven on to get good and hot which in my oven takes about 15 minutes…..then I just turned the dough out onto a lined baking sheet and scored the top with a sharp knife….gently placed it into the oven on gas 7 for about 15 minutes, then turned it down to gas 6 for another 30/35 minutes before allowing to cool on a rack where plenty of air is able to move about underneath.
The crumb of the bread seemed a little lighter than normal, and even with a cold and a snuffly old nose I could really smell that lovely warm wheaty aroma….and as with all things edible, proof of the pudding being in the eating of …..the toast taster said it was really good.