I decided to embark on making my own bread, this time from scratch. So thanks to the wise words of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his River Cottage Everyday cookbook and some wise words from my Mother-in-law I gave it a go!
The first step is to make a starter which is essentially a flour and water mix that naturally ferments once you start to feed it. At first the smell would knock your socks off. Quite literally. But after some TLC, feeding and a good talking to the smell starts to mature to something of a creamy yoghurt.
Once you have an active start, you can begin to bake break. My advice for this bit is to persist, and do not be disheartened if you make a few loafs only worthy of building a house with. I certainly did.
So recipe time….
I made a rye meal starter as this gives it a lovely flavour and is really active.
Start with 100g of rye meal and add enough water to make a thick batter. Then it will need regular feeding. Keep it in a warm place. I have mine in an old plastic yoghurt pottle, originally stored in a hot water cupboard.
24 hours later, discard half of the mixture and add another 100g of flour and enough warm water to make the thick batter again. Keep repeating this process for 7-10 days. Note how the flavour starts to mature (and you can keep your socks on), it will loose its acidic edge and move onto smelling something like a fruity cider. Once it has got to this stage it is nearly time to start to bake but wait for at least one week.
Making a loaf
- Once you are ready to make a loaf, take 100ml of your active starter and mix with 250g of strong flour (I normally use white), and 275ml of warm water. Mix through with your hands and then place in a warm place to activate. I normally do this process overnight.
- The next morning, add 300g of strong flour (again I normally use white) and 1 tbspn of olive oil and 10g salt (2 tsp). Mix until it comes together and turn out onto a floured surface. This is the fun bit – kneeding. You get faster at kneeding in time. I use Hugh’s technique of holding the dough back with the heel of one hand and stretching it out with the fingers of your other hand. You then fold it back on itself and repeat, turning it every few folds. You want the dough to form a smooth glossy ball. You will also need to add extra flour to your surface as you to to prevent it sticking. Once done put the dough ball into an oiled bowl, cover with oiled glad wrap/cling film and place back in your hot water cupboard until it has doubled in size. I would normally leave this for most of the day.
- When the dough has doubled in size it is time for it to do its second rising. You first need to knock back the dough on a floured surface i.e. punch out the air with your fists. Very therapeutic. Hugh then recommend to shape it into the shape you want to bake and place it in a bowl lined with a flour tea towel. Lately I have been placing mine straight into a lightly oiled baking loaf tin.
- Time to bake. Once the dough has doubled in size again (this can take a good few hours), and I do sometimes leave this overnight again and bake in the morning. If you have opted for the floured tea towel option, you need to carefully lay the loaf out (as to not loose too much air) onto either a hot pizza stone (sprinkled with corn meal) or a baking tray lined with baking paper. Otherwise place the loaf tin in the oven. Cook at 230ºC for 15min before turning the oven down to 200ºC for a further 25-30 minutes. When it is done the bread should have a good crust and sound hollow when you tap the base. Make sure you leave the loaf to cool, preferably completely, before cutting into it. Otherwise it will be doughy and does not cut well.
Maintaining the starter
As you may not want to make a loaf everyday you can cool your starter down by placing it in either the fridge or even the freezer if you are going away. I keep mine in the fridge and do a couple of loafs on the weekend. Once in the fridge it only needs feeding once a week and use the discard for the loafs.
Tips – do not forget to feed your starter once you have taken some out to make a loaf. The starter also enjoys a bit of a chat and de-brief at the end of the week.
Variations – You can also vary the loaf by using different flours such as wholemeal or by adding in seeds, nuts and dried fruit. Just don’t add to much though. A couple of handfulls is plenty.