Making a bread with a natural starter takes a little longer than a dried yeast loaf but to be honest, most of the extra time is” leave it alone so it can do it’s thng” time, time where you can pretty much forget about it for a few hours and get on with whatever else you’re doing……
You need to start off with a natural leaven or starter, if you’re not sure how to make one or have one lurking away in a jar at the back of your fridge then yesterday’s post explains how to wake the leaven or starter from hibernation, and also how to make a natural leaven if you don’t already have one…..
Our main gas oven which I’ve used in the past to make big family sized loaves has been on the blink so I used a small top heated oven…it’s not ideal but I was curious as to whether I could use it to make a loaf of bread…..the measurements aren’t written in stone, more often than not I tinker with my bread recipe so no two loaves are ever really the same, but this should give you an idea of the stages involved…..
First you need to make a bread sponge…I decided to make two small loaves as I thought they would bake better in our little oven…..normally I make a sponge before I go to bed and leave it overnight, then as I’m a really early riser I can give it a gentle kneed in the morning while the house is still sleeping….this way you can have a loaf ready to eat for lunch time, if not it will be a supper time loaf…..
150 g of starter
250 ml of tepid warm water
200g of strong bread flour
1 teaped spoon of honey (the size you use to eat pudding or soup with)
small handful of sesame seeds (this is optional but I think it gives the bread a lovely mellow smell and flavour)
Take the starter or leaven out from the fridge, weigh out the amount you need of your leaven in a medium sized baking bowl* (I like to use ceramic bowls) pour in the tepid warm water, mix and stir in a good dollop of honey and add about 200 g of strong bread flour…if you like you can now also add a small handful of sesame seeds……. (if I’ve got them, I’ll also add a handful of strong porridge oats…for this size loaf I’d use 125 g flour and then 75 g oats…)
Cover with a clean cloth and leave until the starter/leaven is all bubbling up lke something out of a Shakespearean witches cauldron… (this is where leaving it overnight comes in very handy…..you can leave it for a few hours if you like but I find leaving it overnight gives me the best results)
Next morning, add a little more bread flour to the sticky mix (I often use spelt flour at this stage, I never use rye flour as my boyfriend doesn’t like it but feel free to use it if you want…..) along with a glug of oil and a good pinch of salt….I use sunflower oil but if you’re making a foccacia style bread or pizza base then olive oil would be ideal, and for spiced buns I use cooled melted butter…..before adding more bread flour…..how much is going to depend in part on your bread…for these loaves I ended up using another 200g….just add it a sprinkle at a time….
You need to knead the floury mess into a dough but for just long enough for the dough to go from feeling sticky to silky and smooth, it also feels a bit cooler to the touch……this won’t take too long at all….
Now lightly oil a large baking bowl, place the dough in there and move it around so it’s lightly covered, this helps the surface from drying out as it rises…now cover and leave for a few hours until the dough has about doubled……
Top left, mix flour in to the starter/leaven…. Top right, Cover the leaven and leave to bubble up…Bottom left, knead the ingredients into a dough….Bottom right, allow the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl….
Once the dough has swelled up you want to gently knock it down, you want to be firm but not bash it…… and just very gently knead it back into a round ball again.
If you are using tins, line or oil/flour them before placing in the dough and allow the dough to prove or rise again…….more often than not I bake those Venus of Willendorf looking loaves, so I use a wooden proving bowl, I lay in a muslin cloth well sprinkled with flour and place the dough in there, then when it’s risen, I place a baking parchment lined tray overtop, and flip everything over just before slashing the top and putitng it in the oven….however as I was using our small oven I used these little panibois from Shipton Mill….allow the dough to rise again, when it’s almost doubled (generally around an hour or so) turn on the oven to a good hot temperature…just before placing the loaves in, slash the top, I used a really sharp kitchen knife but you can buy a grignette or bread lame if you want……..slashing the dough allows the loaf to expand and stretch….
Place the dough in the oven and allow to bake…… these loaves were on 230c which is about gas 8 for 35 minutes……
Top left, divide the dough into the panibois….Top right, allow the dough to rise….Bottom Left, slash the dough immediately before the dough goes into the oven…Bottom right, Remove from oven and allow to cool……
So how did the first loaves in a long time turn out….boyfriend said the bread was lovely as he ate a piece smeared over with a local honey…..it certainly smelt nice though not as rich and deep as when I’ve used the gas oven…next time I’d bake the bread in a metal tin on a metal tray so more heat is conducted underneath….before I didn’t have to worry about that as the gas flame was beneath……
I’ve always gotten really good results using Shipton Mill flour, their mail order service is excellent and along with a wonderful range of flours they also sell some nice baking equipment such as proving bowls and panibois and bread scrapers…..they don’t sell grignettes or bread lames but they aren’t hard to find on-line….if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a locally milled bread flour then try and support them, a local miller is a real wonder in this day and age.
I’m not a fancy baker or anything like that, this is just how I bake an everyday bread, one we can use for toast and sandwiches…..some loaves look a bit rum and lumpy…others I could happily cuddle….but all smell wonderful and soon seem to disappear…..
*Don’t forget, once you’ve made your sponge you’ll need to “feed” your starter…all this means is topping up with tepid water and flour in a ration of 4:5 to the amount you’ve taken out….so if you used say 225g of starter you will need to stir in 100 g of water and then 125 g of flour…re-seal and put back in the fridge…..