A year into baking loaves on a regular schedule, they’re still getting baked. We’re into a routine now, and the kids miss it if the bake takes a break for a week. So every week we’re baking 3 x loaves. One gets eaten on the day, the other two get sliced and put into the freezer and then eaten during the week. That way, we’ve always got fresh bread on the go, plus when you get into this routine, it’s so easy to keep making as it isn’t difficult. You just need to be organised and have some time.
Here are a couple of tools that have helped me to make better looking bread, or just make the whole process easier. One of the first things you’ll want to do when you’re making bread is to make patterns like the professionals make on the tops of your bread loaves. A quick scan through Pinterest you’ll find thousands of images of amazing looking bread, with equally amazing patterns. A ‘Lame’ is what is used to make these patterns work. The one above is fitted with a razor blade that easily creates patterns in a way that a sharp knife cannot match. You can be far more accurate and do intricate patterns like leaves, spirals, etc
Believe it or not, this whisk makes it much easier to combine all the ingredients when you’re mixing by hand. I read about this whisk on a couple of blogs, and all talked about how much easier it is to mix the flour, starter and water together, easier than a spoon, etc. Then, while looking for a new lame, I came across a bundle deal that offered both the Lame and the Danish Whisk, so I bought it on Amazon. I wouldn’t be without either. The whisk is so much easier to use to combine everything, and the lame is great because it has a wooden handle and came with about 5 razor blades. I imagine that I will be able to get many years of use from both.
The pizza stone by Hans Grill, makes all the difference. I use it with shop bought pizzas and the crust is transformed. Now we don’t have soggy pizzas anymore! The pizza stone is wide enough to have 2 x loaves side by side. I’d like to get another so I can do 2 x trays of 2 x loaves. The stone itself is high quality and has been easy to use. Make sure that you put it into a cold oven and then warm it up, if you’ve forgotten to put it in the oven, you’ll need to cool the oven off and then start over. If you put it into a hot oven, you run the risk of cracking it. This is the same advice if you were using a cast iron round, the same will apply.
Note that my pizza stone is now not as clean as it was when I first bought it, but that just adds to the character. You can’t wash them or scrub clean, the material that the pizza stone is made from will ruin if you try.
All these tools make it much easier & tastier to bake bread at home, and all the links above point to Amazon.
This is my weekly batch bake. Making three loaves takes no longer than doing just the one. Plus it means that the family get to have bread throughout the week. I just cut up two of the loaves and put them into the freezer, so they can be easily taken out and put into the toaster.
To bake the three loaves, I use a cast iron bake stone and also a pizza stone, which is big enough to have two loaves. These are cooked at 220c for 25 minutes, turned half way through. I also put a cup of boiling water into a tray at the bottom of the oven just before I put the loaves in. This creates all the steam I need to get a good even crust.
My preference would be to have two pizza stones, but at the moment I’m making use of what I’ve got in the house. At some point though, I’ll get a second. Here’s a link to the Pizza Stone I bought. I can’t rate it highly enough. We’ve cooked homemade pizzas with great success using this. It’s also perfect for cooking up shop bought pizzas and helps create an awesome crust and brings dull pizzas to life.
The loaves prove overnight in the fridge and then I bring them out, slash them with the lame and then put them straight into the oven using a pizza peel.
Using a pizza peel makes it much easier to put loaves into the oven, spin them round half way and then bring them out in the end.
Once you’ve got your starter made, keeping it going requires just a weekly feed of flour and water. I use the same flour as in my bread recipe, others say you can use a cheap flour but I’d rather use all the same as it’s still forming a significant part of the overall recipe and I don’t want an inferior taste.
Every week I make a batch of 3 x loaves, which requires 500g of starter. I bring out the starter to get ot to room temperature on a Thursday morning, then add 125g of water and another 125g of white flour, 250g in total. I repeat this Friday morning. Then Friday evening I’m ready to start mixing. The 500g I’ve added to my starter will be thoroughly mixed and by Friday evening it will be bubbling visibly. This tells me that it’s fresh and ok to use. If it’s flat and there’s not much activity, then I’d do a 3rd feed Friday night and push the bread making to Saturday morning. But, by doing this weekly and because I’m keeping the same routine, I can be confident that the starter will work. The only time I’d know i need to give it longer is if we’ve been away, but even a 2 week gap the starter gets going quite quickly following a feed. Keep the starter in the fridge when you’re not feeding it, otherwise it’s going to spoil.
How to make a starter from scratch
This should take about a week from start to a live starter. Begin by getting a large pickling jar or something similar in size and add 100g of both water and flour. Add a spoon of live yoghurt, for example a Greek natural yoghurt. Don’t be putting anything like fat free, you want it as natural as possible. Leave it 24 hours.
Greek yoghurt tends to naturally have the following live bacteria within:
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii
- Lactobacillus johnsonii
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Streptococcus thermophilus
These will naturally occur in sourdough starters, and is good for the gut. In fact fermented food is important to have in our diets. More on that in a later post.
Day 2. Feed 2. Add 50g of flour and water, equal measures as before. Do nothing. Leave this on the counter in the kitchen but out of the sun, otherwise you could kill the bacteria you’re trying to nurture by over heating in sunlight. You might start to see some bubbles, don’t worry if not.
Day 3 feed x 3, feed 50g water and flour. Stir with spoon to make sure it’s all mixed in. Leave again. Throughout the week you should be using the same flour all the time as the bacteria differs from strong white, spelt or wholemeal or rye. Keep everything the same. If the recipe you’re making is rye bread, then you’ll probably be making a rye starter using rye flour.
Day 4, 5 and 6, repeat as before. Now I would draw off some of this a make a single loaf of 500g using about 150g of starter. Your starter should be quite active now. Once it’s going you can put it back into the fridge. I find it useful to get into a baking routine but if not, then you need to plan ahead and bring it out of the fridge the day before you want to bake. I always prove my loaves overnight in the fridge to enhance the flavours. So based on this I need to be preparing 48 hours in advance.
As making sourdough is as old as mankind itself I like to think of cavemen having few of our home comforts, including tight fitting jars or cling film and they must have made something edible for us to all get where we are today. So, we that thought in mind, this shouldn’t be feared, just go for it. Probably the main mistake people make is not giving it enough time.
I’ve prepared some photos to show a brand new starter from day 1 to day 8. Then if you follow the same steps as I outlined above, then you should get the same results. That’s the theory!
So, it all begins with a starter, flour and water, a mix that is now about 24 months old. I keep it in the fridge during the week, and on Thursday mornings I bring it out, let it get to room temperature and feed it Thursday night, again Friday morning, ready to turn into bread Friday night. The bread, once mixed and stretched and partly proved, goes into the fridge also overnight prepared to be baked off Saturday morning. All this effort is well worth it though because the mix makes up 3 x medium-sized loaves that keep the family fed during the weekend and most of the week.
One of the loaves gets sliced up and put into the freezer. Fresh bread though, on a Saturday morning with a fresh pot of coffee is heaven-sent. The house smells so amazing, and the kids love this breakfast so much that it has become a firm favourite in our home. It’s tempting to dive straight into a hot loaf from the oven, but it’s best left for at least an hour or so, to let the crust form. Usually, I leave the utility door open ajar and let the outside cold air take some of the heat off.
Making sourdough bread like this has been about four years in the making and only really in the last two years with any degree of success. It takes time to perfect, though I did take a sourdough course two years ago, that helped refine my workflow and method and give me the confidence to keep going. Buying some tools, like a decent ‘lame’, basically a sharp knife, though the one I have has a razor blade on the end, cuts through the dough and leaves nice clean lines. There are pages and pages of images on Pinterest if you’re looking for tips and ideas of different ways to score your bread. Basically, in the past, the olden days, families would bake bread in a communal oven, and the various ways of scoring bread were used to identify whose bread was whose.