Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Bread Sourdough Experiments

I have recently rekindled my enthusiasm for rustic breads, after getting a bit bored with the predictabilityof the  bread machine. This currently represents my proudest achievement:

*Sourdough success

The impetus for this has been the purchase of a baking stone (a ceramic tile heated up in the oven onto which the risen dough is deposited).  Strangely a breadmaker mixed dough removed from the machine and then baked  on a stone for baking tastes completely different to the standard machine loaf. If, in addition, you save a small amount of your dough from one day to the next you can reduce the dried yeast to a minimum and the taste and texture is transormed to another level.

But on the way adjustments (and some experimentation) are required.

Firstly rising times may need to be varied. A slow rise can be adventagous as you can leave the dough to its own divices until you have time to fit it into your daily schedule.  Secondly you have to rise your dough on something else while the baking stone heats up and then transfer the fragile risen loaf onto the stone. Sounds simple but this is the area I have needed to experiment most with. Due to my tendency to raise the loaf above the oven (while the stone is heating) the dough can get a bit too warm and spongey and so hard to move, without losing those precious bubbles that make the bread light and airy. The third area of experimentation is, or should be, the fun bit - slashing the loaf to allow for controlled bursting of the crust. In fact there is an art to this as the picture below shows.  This is the same dough divided and treated in two different ways. The one on the left was round but got a bit squashed as it was slid onto the stone. Because it was baked with the same side up as during the raising the skin on the dough persisted and was dissapointing.  The second bageutte shaped loaf stuck to the baking sheet it was being raised on and had to be reshaped and given an extra rise on a now heavily floured backing sheet. Then it was rolled off the sheet onto the stone so that the soft underside was exposed and given a quick multiple slashing with the scalpel I reserve for this purpose. The results have convinced me of the need to (gently) turn risen dough over rather than slide it from the baking sheet to the stone.

Mixed results
Below is a risen dough, resting on greaseproof paper on a baking sheet. There's a generous amount of rice flour sprinkled around it to stop it sticking! By sliding your hand under the paper the risen dough can be rolled off onto the stone with minimal deflation.

Raised dough at the ready

Here's  an underside view of a baked loaf that demonstrates what happens when you try to slide an overproved round loaf which is partially stuck to the baking tray onto the stone. It's a bit like a crash. On the positive side this does however demonstrate what a beautiful bottom crust the stone gives you!!  

Bottom examination
Hope you enjoyed my little excursion into the home breadmaking domain!

*Strictly speaking I should call it a "sourdough hybrid"


  1. Mal, this bread is FABULOUS! I can't believe how talented you are, it looks just wonderful. I still don't really understand sourdough, I am hoping to get a few friends interested and we all have a go at making it together.

    Was it wonderful?

  2. Thanks Ali! In all my excitement I forgot to mention it tastes and smells wonderful, has a terrific texture - and that especially includes the crust! Also you can adapt it to suit your own and your family's taste. I'm still concentrating on improving my basic wholemeal and a white loaves, but the variations are limitless.

  3. Mal, your life would probably be a lot easier if you used a baker's peel to transfer the risen dough into and out of the oven, like the "big boys" do.

  4. Hey your bread looks great..i used to make a lot of bread when the kids were younger but haven't done for quite a while now. I have never owned a bread making machine or stones though...just used the traditional method and oven...i always stuck to fresh yeast too. Maybe i will have another bash at it this winter....just don't have the time during the summer months!"!

  5. It's a while since my breadmaker has seen any action. I usually make my dough in the breadmaker and then bake rolls in the oven from it. Your bread looks terrific, especially the baguette, extremely professional looking, and I bet your house smells very welcoming while it's all baking. I've never had a go at sourdough.

  6. Oh dear - you may just set Martyn off!

  7. That just looks too good not to have a go at. I think I've just been set off!

  8. Helen, You're right of course, and I would love one of those!!!

    As I don't have a traditional village baker's oven (yet), I pull out the rack on my domestic oven and just gently plonk (or roll) the dough straight onto the hot stone I don't need the extra step of loading loaves onto a peel only risk ruining them again by offloading them straight away.

    Another piece of kit I would love but cannot justify is a banneton: the traditional grooved baskets used for proving dough. (I hope Santa is reading this!)

    Tany and Jo, Can you resist that smell of home baked bread? And if you think sourdough sounds just too much, then I recommend just holding back a piece of dough (in the fridge) from each bake and then adding it to your next (yeasted) dough. This goes a long way to delivering sourdough taste and texture without being an ascetic. If it works for you can you can bump up the dough saved and reduce the dried yeast.

    S&M You've probably done all this before, but there is a River Cottage bread prog which includes sourdough somewhere on the net (iPlayer?) just in case I'm wrong about that.

  9. No we haven'y done it before and didn't I tell you that you would start him off - it doesn't take much! Just wait 'til you hear about some gardening plans for next year!!

  10. Sue - Plans for next year? With all that rain you've had recently, is it an ark?