Dough Quandaries: Sulphurous Sourdough

A recent sourdough crisis has prompted this latest post in what is to be a series involving ‘dough quandaries‘! I decided to build a new starter around a week ago, as the Yeasty Thing has been lying dormant in the fridge for far too long and I think it may have had its day! As described in an earlier post (linked above), the Yeasty Thing was built using Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s method – a straightforward flour and water concoction which is fermented, to begin with over a week, to attract and promote the growth of wild yeasties. This starter is fairly wet and, at first, I kept it bubbling away on the work surface (in a container, obviously!) feeding it a couple of times a day. But starters which contain a high proportion of liquid often rise and fall more quickly than more dense starters and the Yeasty Thing’s feeding schedule began to get out of hand – so she was banished to the fridge to slow down a bit!

My latest foray into sourdough was on the instruction of Peter Reinhart in ‘Artisan Breads Every Day’. His ‘mother starter’ is built in two stages. The first of which requires building up the ferment in four ‘phases’ over 7 (or so) days. He suggests using pineapple juice in the first stage, the acidity of which discourages the  growth of certain bacterias (including leuconostoc), which can overrun the yeast. Bacteria is present in all starters. It is the interaction between the yeast and bacteria cells which creates a successful culture that will raise dough.

I followed Peter’s guidelines to the letter, using pineapple juice in the first stage, and my starter behaved as it should; producing all the delightful aromas he mentions all the way into the second stage, when I formed a denser, more flour-heavy ‘mother starter’. Reinhart prescribes refrigeration after the mother starter becomes active, and this is what I did. I was pleased that I potentially wouldn’t have to replenish my starter for 5 days once it was in the fridge – a boon to any busy working mum!

So it was all good – my starter was safely nestled in the fridge, sedately swelling away between the milk and the orange juice. I quickly felt a sourdough loaf coming on and raided a portion of my new born starter to get baking. Reinhart’s book is sadly lacking in the sourdough loaf department – there are only a few recipes which call for a starter, so I referred back to Old Faithful, Whittingstal’s recipe for a basic sourdough loaf in ‘River Cottage: Everyday’. It calls for the starter to be fermented overnight with some flour and water, which is then mixed with more flour, water and salt to make the dough. Everything was going well, until I lifted the lid on the pre-ferment and reeled back in disgust at the sulphurous, eggy pong emanating therefrom!

I hit the blogs and the Fresh Loaf came up trumps with multiple articles about sourdough smelling like rotten eggs – all describing a similar situation in which gases from the dough itself omit this unpleasant odour. Meanwhile, the starter itself still smelt perfectly normal – acidic, almost winy. Even having discovered that this was unusual, and potentially due to an overgrowth in bacteria, I went ahead and baked the dough. It resulted in a pretty good sourdough loaf with a great tangy flavour.

This is the loaf that resulted from my stinky starter!

This is the loaf that resulted from my stinky starter!

My curiosity was still unsatiated and I was almost certain the eggy pong would return, should I attempt another batch of dough using the starter. So I have been searching the web ever since and have found out lots more about sourdough in the process. One interesting point to make is that in some countries, bread raised by bacteria is popular. Yeast is actually inhibited to promote the growth of natural bugs, which respire producing the gas that raises the dough (see this article about ‘Salt-rising bread‘). Maybe this is what I had produced!

Sure enough, I tried another batch of dough using my new starter and, sadly, it gave off a sulphurous whiff even more pungent than the first lot. During my online research into this, I came across lots of people who swore that one Debra Wink would be able to help. I was surprised to find that the ‘solution’ she was proposing, backed by extensive research, was to replenish your stinky starter with pineapple juice! (see ‘The Pineapple Juice Solution‘) I was back where I’d started! Maybe the bacteria which developed in my dough was different to that which Debra is trying to stave off? Or maybe it is the same, but managed to take hold once I began feeding my mother starter with spring water? Who knows? Either way, something doesn’t add up! In desperation to salvage my starter, I have started feeding it again using pineapple juice rather than water. I will keep you updated on its progress over the coming weeks.

I would really appreciate the input of anyone who can shed light on the mystery of my sulphurous sourdough starter! Happy experimenting everyone! 🙂

Spelt and Mature Cheddar Cheese Scones

scones

This morning I was craving a good, hearty, savoury breakfast. I had just settled my little man for his morning nap and wanted something quick and easy to fill the gaping hole in my stomach! Images of toasted English muffins, topped with poached eggs and lashings of Hollandaise flickered in and out of my mind; but baking muffins was out of the question due to time constraints and the next best thing seemed to be savoury scones! Scones are super quick and easy to make. They involve no rising or chilling time and so the dough can simply be mixed, rolled, cut and baked. I love baking with spelt flour (see my ‘Daily Spelt Loaf’), on account of its nutty flavour; plus, I wanted to add a touch of healthy wholegrain – these were for breakfast after all! I searched for a recipe online and went with the first one that cropped up. However, I changed this considerably as I didn’t have self-raising flour, which the recipe called for, and it didn’t include spelt flour either (Click here for the original BBC Food recipe).

As I eagerly measured, rubbed and rolled I was, in a hungry stupor, running through endless serving suggestions. As you can see from the picture above, I went with some crispy back bacon (and a squidge of ketchup!); but I also considered a slice of cheese with a dollop of spicy mango chutney and a handful of salad leaves (rocket would rock!); or a slice of salty salami and some of those yummy cocktail gherkins. Let me know what you go with!

So here’s my recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 190g Plain Flour
  • 35g Wholegrain Spelt Flour
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 55g Butter
  • 25g Mature Cheddar, grated (plus a little extra for topping)
  • 150ml Milk
  • 1 Egg, beaten (for glazing)

To make the Scones:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
  2. Weigh out the flours into a large bowl. Add the salt, baking powder and bicarbonate and mix thoroughly using a whisk or fork.
  3. Add the butter to the flour in small cubes. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour with a lifting and rubbing motion to help aerate the mixture. It should have the appearance of fine breadcrumbs once fully combined.
  4. Add the grated cheddar and mix through with a fork. You may need to break up any large clumps of grated strands so they are evenly incorporated.
  5. Add the milk and stir with a metal spoon, bringing the ingredients together into a soft dough. You may need to add an extra 10g or so of flour at this point if the dough is too sticky to work with.
  6. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead very briefly to produce a cohesive ball of dough.
  7. Roll out using a floured rolling pin, until roughly 3cm thick.
  8. Cut rounds using a corrugated cutter and arrange on the prepared baking sheet.
  9. Brush the tops of the scones with beaten egg (not the sides as this could inhibit their rising), and grate a little cheese over the top of each scone.
  10. Bake for 12-15 minutes. You could turn once after the first 10 minutes to ensure your scones brown evenly.

I hope you enjoy baking and eating these as much as I did – they’re SO easy and quick! The result is a light, almost fluffy scone with a great savoury taste – great for lunch boxes and snacks too. I reckon my little man will be pleased to wake up to one of these 🙂

 

On the Importance of Cooking and Baking with Children

I should preface this short essay by saying that I wrote it two years ago and have just stumbled across it again whilst browsing through my drafted posts. It is all as true now as it was then, so I’ve … Continue reading

Dark Chocolate and Macadamia Tear-and-Share Loaf

Chocolate and Macademia Tear and Share

Pulla is ubiquitous in Finland, where my partner, Jani, was born. The daily ritual of having coffee (kahvia), often together with family or friends, would not be complete without a variety of sweet buns and cakes to accompany it. Not to mention the rarity of breakfast in the absence of a ‘pitko’, or braided loaf, slathered in butter. Jani even likes to save the ends, leaving them until they are stale and dry, so he can make ‘köyhät ritarit’ or ‘poor knights’, slices of week old pulla soaked in milk and then fried in butter. Yes, the Finns are renowned for their gargantuan consumption of both butter and sugar. The excuse touted by most is that they need lots of calories to survive the punishingly cold winters. Well I need no excuse to make a big batch of pulla once in a while. The great thing about it is that it is very versatile. At its base, it is a simple sweet bread dough, the addition of crushed cardamom seeds gives it its signature taste.

It was during one of our pulla-making sessions that this loaf was born. This recipe makes a very large batch, 5 or 6 medium braided loaves; or 2 or 3 loaves and a batch or 2 of ‘korva puustit’ or ‘beaten ears’ (small cinnamon buns). I had a bag of dark chocolate chips, half a large bar of dark chocolate and two-thirds of a packet of macadamia nuts left over from several recent baking exploits and these gave me all the inspiration I needed to transform this wonderful pulla recipe into something even more naughty and a just a bit special.

The recipe I am about to share with you has been passed down through Jani’s family for generations. As I have said, it yields a large batch, so feel free to halve or even quarter the quantities to suit your appetite!

To make traditional Pulla, add 3 teaspoons of crushed cardamom seeds to the mix before kneading. I have omitted them in the recipe itself, as they can overpower the taste of the chocolate (although you may prefer to leave them in).

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg Strong White Bread Flour
  • 1.5 kg Plain White Flour
  • 1350 g Caster Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 litre Milk
  • 100g Fresh Yeast
  • 3 tsp Cardamom Pods, crushed (for traditional Finnish Pulla)
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate Chips
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate
  • 100g Chocolate and Hazelnut Spread
  • 200g Chopped Macadamia Nuts

To make the Bread

  1. Whisk the sugar and eggs in a large bowl until well incorporated.
  2. Heat the milk over a low heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat and crumble in the yeast. Stir until dissolved. Too much heat here can kill the yeast so ensure that the milk is only just above hand temperature.
  3. I also melt the butter at this point, in a separate pan, and leave it to cool whilst I’m mixing the other ingredients.
  4. Add the milk and yeast mixture to the eggs and sugar and stir to combine. (Add the cardamom at this point, if required).
  5. Now, this is the part which is tricky without two people. If you are going solo, sieve the flours together into a separate bowl and then use one hand to tip the flour, little by little, into the wet ingredients, whilst kneading with the other.
  6. Since the mixture is extremely wet to begin with, I use a kind of grabbing or clenching action with my kneading hand to begin to incorporate the flour. Once all the flour is incorporated, add the melted butter and knead into the dough. I only begin to use my conventional kneading technique when the dough is firm enough to tip onto a lightly floured surface.
  7. It will take a while to develop the gluten since the amount of dough is so large, and also the recipe calls for plain flour as well as strong, which has a far lower gluten content. Hence you will be kneading for a good 20 minutes to achieve a cohesive dough with a nice sheen to it.
  8. Once kneaded, place the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl for its first rise. This will take 2-3 hours.
  9. Once the dough has doubled in size, it is time to shape it and add the filling. Fold the dough in on itself until most of the air has been knocked out and you have a rough oblong.
  10. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough (giving it a quarter turn once and again) until it is approximately 5mm thick and, again, a large roughly rectangular shape. Depending on the size of your kitchen workspace, you may need to divide the dough into two or even three pieces before rolling.
  11. Spoon large mounds of the chocolate and hazelnut spread onto the dough and spread using a knife or the back of the spoon, almost to the edges.
  12. Scatter the chopped chocolate, chocolate chips and chopped nuts evenly over the dough.
  13. You may have seen Paul Hollywood ‘tacking’ one edge of his dough, about to be rolled up, to the surface so as to make it easier to make a tight roll. You could do this, although I managed fine without this method. As tightly as you can, roll the oblong starting from the longest edge, into a long sausage.
  14. Using a scotch scraper, cut off the two ends, as these will have less filling and may be strangely shaped if the oblong was slightly uneven (you can pop these on a tray and make some small buns out of them!)
  15. Then, start by cutting the sausage in half, then these two pieces in half again, then halving these, and so on and so on…Divide the sausage into small equal sections about 6cm in length.
  16. Arrange these in generously buttered tins, placing them first around the edges, leaving about 1.5cm gap between each on all sides as the buns will rise into each other whilst proving, then place more buns in a second ring within the outer one, and then maybe a couple in the centre (see photo of finished loaf for pointers).
  17. Cover each tin with a tea towel and leave the buns to prove for around an hour until doubled in size again.
  18. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  19. Once the buns have risen. Wash the tops generously with beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with caster sugar.
  20. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is a luscious brown colour (keep a good eye on them as sometimes the sugar glaze can begin to catch) and the top feels firm but with a good spring beneath.

Enjoy this loaf still warm from the oven or the next morning with a big milky cup of coffee! Let me know how it goes 🙂 x

BunzBakes is now on Instagram!

Sourdough Loaf

Hello Everyone!

Don’t forget to follow me on Instragram @bunzbakes for lots more delicious home-baked snaps! I can post pics faster than I can write posts, so there will be many a pictorial delight to be had there!

I have a personal account which I constantly fill with my baking photographs and I’m worried my friends think that is all I do! So @bunzbakes will now be the home of all my #freshlybaked #picsoftheday!

Happy snapping!

Dough Quandaries: Too much Water?

I have decided to begin a series of posts called ‘Dough Quandaries’ as I often find myself in them, not knowing what on earth to do and worse, not knowing what has gone wrong! Although I’m sure it would amuse some to know the frequency and severity of my dough disasters, that is not what I have planned for this particular series of posts. Sometimes I have an epiphany moment (OK, epiphany might be a little hyperbolic), when a whole series of experiments seems to pay off and it feels like I have cracked some long and torturous crime mystery. Again, this analogy may sound over the top, but don’t underestimate the frustration, the disappointment, the anguish of much cared for dough ending up in the bin; a waste of ingredients, time and effort, I’m sure you’d agree! So, ‘Dough Quandaries’ aims to address some of the culprits that cause these dough debacles and discuss the reasons behind them so we can all make better bread!

So, here goes:

Many books about bread contain the mantra ‘wetter is better’ when it comes to dough. Indeed, in an earlier post I too embraced the notion that pros make wetter dough; and that adding too much flour to your dough will lead to a dense, brick-like loaf. Of course, by wet I didn’t mean swimming in it; when you add water to the point where it will no longer incorporate into the dough it was probably time to stop about 100 ml ago! No, I firmly believed, mainly on account of what I had read and heard from the mouths of the experts, that, within the confines of a recipe (which often state a minimum and maximum volume of water), more water rather than less was preferable. I knew that this led to a more sticky dough to begin with, that stands to reason, but, again as many professionals would reassure us, with a thorough knead this sticky, unmanageable dough will become ‘smooth and silky’.

Au contraire! On numerous occasions recently, as I have been growing more confident with my kneading technique, I have become somewhat gung ho with the amount of water I have been adding (obviously only to the point that the dough has been slightly wetter than usual) and I have only just discovered that this has been the culprit for several failed attempts at potentially delicious loaves.

To make these posts more useable for all you bakers out there, I have separated my unscrupulous pre-babble (above) from what follows:

The symptoms of adding too much water:

  1. An early sign is that, at mixing stage, the dough no longer has a ‘shaggy’ consistency; but has begun to come together into a more cohesive ball. My most successful loaves have been turned out for kneading not resembling a ball at all, so although you should continue adding water until flour begins to come away from the sides of the bowl, don’t be tempted to keep going until everything comes together into one mass of dough.
  2. With a dough that is too wet, you may be surprised by how little kneading it takes to seemingly produce a cohesive, shiny-looking dough. I was! On a number of occasions, I put this down to my brilliant kneading, but I now think this was because I had added just a tad too much liquid.
  3. Once the dough reaches the shiny stage, it will still be very sticky. It will seem much more elastic and will want to stretch in one long piece, although when you try the gluten window test you will notice that the dough is easily torn and that the consistency feels weak and stringy rather than strong and firm. It may also feel cool and damp to the touch.
  4. More kneading will produce a bubble-gum like mass, which will stick to your hands and stretch into lots of long tendrils. When prodded with a finger, dough with the correct texture should put up some resistance, dough which is too wet will just stick to the end of your finger.
  5. At this stage you may think it is ready for proving, as you may have been kneading vigorously for half an hour or more and think the elasticity is a sign that the dough has been kneaded sufficiently. However, upon first proving the dough, although it may rise very well, will fall back very quickly (one of my failed attempts rose to double its size and then fell back within the space of half an hour). Dough which has risen and then begun to fall back will have lots of little dimples on its surface and look deflated (which it is!) A well risen dough will spring back quickly when touched with a fingertip; not so with over-wet dough. A gentle prod will either cause the dough to deflate or will leave a dimple on its surface.
  6. The natural reaction to over-proofed dough is to re-knead and prove again. Although, you will find with dough that is too wet that no matter how many times you knead it, it will never relinquish its stickiness. Its structure does not contain a high enough ratio of flour to water, therefore its structure will never be strong enough to rise and produce a satisfactory texture for a loaf.

The Solution:

If you notice more than one of the first 5 symptoms, your dough is likely to be too wet. But never fear! Your dough is entirely saveable and won’t have been harmed in the process, as some will lead you to believe (‘re-kneading will lead to a reduction in final loaf size of up to 20%’).

So, what to do? Well, if you have proven your dough and it has fallen back, re-knead adding enough flour to relieve the dough of its bubble-gum like qualities – you will see as you knead in the extra flour that the dough begins to stretch firmly, rolling out in more of a lump than stretching out into a stringy sausage. Its tackiness will lessen and with a full and thorough knead it will pass its sticky stage and become that soft, silky ball you were originally hoping for!

If you are lucky enough to spot this issue during your original knead, simply add some extra flour to the dough until it obtains the right consistency. Although do beware of adding too much as, (I’m sure most of you are aware!) this will have dire consequences for your dough which are far harder to remedy!

Please get involved and add your experiments and epiphanies as comments below 🙂

**I will be adding a photograph to this post – watch this space!**

Sweet Oat Bran Flatbreads with Currants

Sweet Oat Bran Crisp breads

These light, crisp flatbreads are very quick and easy to make and are a healthy accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee, or as a mid-morning snack. They are glazed with sugar, which you roll them out with, which gives them a nice sheen when they’re baked.

Ingredients:

  • 400g Plain Wholemeal Flour
  • 50g Oat Bran
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Mixed Spice
  • 2 tbsp Rapeseed Oil
  • 140 g Currants
  • 200-225 g Milk
  • 150 g Caster Sugar

To make the flatbreads:

  1. Put the flour, oat bran, salt, mixed spice and currants into a large bowl and mix roughly with one hand.
  2. Gradually add the milk to the dry ingredients, bringing everything together with your hand. Only add enough milk to combine the ingredients – stop as soon as they start to resemble dough. Too much milk can make the mixture too sticky to work with.
  3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so until the ingredients are well incorporated and it is smooth and even.
  4. Divide into four pieces (I used a Scottish scraper for this), and flatten each one into a disc, roughly 10cm in diameter.
  5. Wrap each disc in cling film and place in the fridge to chill for around 45 minutes. If you are in a rush, you could put them in the freezer for 15-20 minutes instead.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and line two baking trays with parchment (these will be baked in two batches).
  7. Once chilled, take a piece of greaseproof paper from one of the trays. In the centre, place a small mound of around a quarter of the sugar and place your disc of dough on top. Roll out evenly, turning a quarter turn after each roll, until the dough is about 2mm thick (the thinner you roll your flatbreads, the more crisp they will be!).
  8. Pierce the dough with a fork at roughly centimetre intervals all over. This prevents areas of the dough bubbling up, which can lead to an uneven bake.
  9. Once you have rolled out two discs (the other two can remain in the fridge/freezer until needed), carefully lift the greaseproof paper containing the prepared dough back onto the trays and bake for 8-9 minutes, swapping the two trays around mid-way through baking.
  10. Cut into slices whilst still warm and then cool the pieces on a wire-rack.
  11. If the flatbreads are slightly pale in colour, or if they aren’t as crisp as you would like, you can place them (once cooled) back into the oven on their racks at 130 degrees for a further 15-20 minutes. This way they will be super crisp!

Enjoy! Don’t forget to let me know how you go making these!