Sourdough update (number 5)

Sharing my sourdough starter, I went to look at the recipes posted here to share as well and realised that my method has mutated/evolved over the months: Largely due the conversations had with my brother in-law, provider of my starter, who is a very enthusiastic and scientific sourdough baker.

smaller soudough

So here is my adapted method (minimal level of work) for making sourdough in a cool kitchen, see the ‘asides’ if you have an Aga or Rayburn.

I take about 60g of the starter I keep in the fridge, add it to 150ml luke warm water (ml=g for water anyway, so I sit the bowl on the scales to “measure” the water) stir and add    150g strong white flour. Cover with a tea towel or cling film, leave at room temp at least overnight, I often leave it over 24 hours and sometimes next to the cooling wood burner overnight, it should look a bit frothy on the top.

You will need to feed the starter before you put it back in the fridge for next time – the next day or several weeks – if leaving for weeks it’s a good idea to feed a teaspoon or two of flour in between uses, if any grey liquid forms on top tip it away. How ‘wet’ you keep this mixture is up to you, but it does need to be wet enough to behave like a liquid and form a level surface. Give it about the weight you removed of flour and water, mix, you can put it straight back in the fridge or leave it at room temperature for a little while to give it a chance to wake up a bit, if you’re going to use it the next day again, leave it out, if you are baking weekly, straight back in the fridge

To the starter I left out overnight, I add another 200ml luke warm water, 5g/ 1 tsp salt and 400g of flour

Usually I use about 200g strong white, and 100g each of rye and wholemeal, all white will give you a lighter feel, the rye helps with the classic firm/rubbery feel of a sourdough.

Mix it a bit with a spoon just to get all the flour ‘wet’. Now here’s where my method alters every time! I reckon you need to mix it about 4 times in the first couple of hours, but that can stretch to 4 or shrink back to 1 hour if you’re in a bit of a rush…  Every now and then bring the edges into the middle of the bowl, you don’t need to knead it as such, the dough will start to feel smooth and will feel more elastic. I prove in a 2lb loaf tin lined with silicone baking paper and sprinkled with flour, this doesn’t stick too badly most of the time. For the final shaping I tend to make a sort of swiss roll as I’m shaping it, (I think this helps with big bubbles throughout, but I’m not sure!)

Proving, now is where the timing is important, you need enough time for it to double in size (or thereabouts) in the proving. In a cold kitchen that can take 6 hours, though any heat will decrease the time, an airing cupboard (or an oven below 40 degrees). I have been known to put the bread in the oven at 11pm because it took so long! But if you leave it overnight it may over prove, when this happens it can ‘collapse’ in the oven, so if you find you dough escaping the proving ‘basket’ then scrape it all back into a bowl ‘knock it back’ (knead it a bit) and start the prove over again, it shouldn’t take long as the yeasts are all active. (If this happens a couple of times you could end up with no more food left for the yeasts to eat and then it would not rise, but it hasn’t happened to me yet!) You can bake it before it doubles in size so it doesn’t happen again.

Heat the oven to 220-240 degrees celsius, (gas 9), put in it a large Le Creuset (or similar cast iron pan) with the lid on. Mine is oval hence using the loaf tin to prove, if yours is round use something round to prove in- maybe a small mixing bowl lined. You are going to use this as a ‘Dutch Oven’, to keep the steam in and create a better crust to the bread. Tip the dough into the pan, tricky to get in the middle of the pan and not to burn your fingers, you can’t easily shift the dough once it has hit the hot surface of the pan, use a wet sharp knife to cut some deep slits into the dough. Put the lid on and bake for 25 minutes with the lid on, and then a further 10 with the lid off and oven down to 200 degrees. Tip out onto a cooling rack, listen to the crackling of the crust, and eat!

Even more Brother in-law’s tips:

Use fine cornmeal for the dusting of the dough in the proving basket for a more ‘authentic’ look,

Mist the dough with water before putting the lid on the Le Crueset

Wrap the bread in a tea towel as soon as it comes out of the oven,

The wetter/more sloppy your dough is, the more big bubbles you will get,

Using a ‘proper’ proving basket you get those lovely spirals on the crust,

It’s not worth trying to get steam into the oven if you have a fan oven, but if not (I’m imagining for an Aga type oven), you could use a pan of water in the bottom of the oven rather than use the Dutch Oven idea,

ENJOY, and any ideas or questions please do share with me.



Well what a year…

So 2016, for me like most in the world, has been a pretty awful year for most things in Politics, work (lack of it) and in my personal life too. Hence the complete lack of interest in my blog. I haven’t spent much time sitting on the bench (last post) but it still looks lovely. I have a new set of “bugs” to add to the sour dough, that I nurture everyday and that nurture me, Kefir. I’ll post about that soon.

2017 though… Lets hope it will be a much better year!

I have lots of plans for the new year, and a new part-time teaching post, which will help with the bank account. I am determined to be positive and get things done.

Happy New Year to ALL, let’s all hope that 2017 is not as bad as it could be…

Renovating a lovely, old (ex) park bench…

When we moved to Wales nearly 13 years ago we brought a park bench that had “arrived” several years before, maybe in the 80s, at the flat TOWPCOE had bought off a friend of ours. I had lived there too, in the past, so the bench had been part of our lives for a while.

bench 10

It has sat in the garden looking lovely and being used in the dry, summer months… The surface had become covered in lichen, really beautiful and a fabulous little eco system, however the lichen made it uninviting to sit on when damp, and lets face it that was almost all of the time! (We do live in Wales after all!)

I’ve been trying to take it a little bit easier in the garden, sitting down and enjoying it sometimes, not always rushing about, (as is my wont!) So I decided that it would be good to have a bench that was more inviting to actually sit on. I started with scraping off the lichen, feeling very guilty about it. However we do have a lot of lichen on the trees around the garden so there is still plenty of all the varieties that I scraped off.

bench 6

bench 7

I then found that the grain of the wood was looking very lovely, and felt that it would really look good with a bit of work.

bench 8

So I decided to take the bench into the polytunnel over the winter, I could then keep it dry and work on it whenever I had the time.

bench 5

I started with sandpaper, but found that I wasn’t getting into the grain enough so I went backwards in the process and used a wire “brick brush” to lift as much of the lichen and algae and whatever other wildlife was existing in the wood. I finished it off again with sandpaper. I used the brick brush on the metal, and removed most of the loose rust, although it was too tricky to get into some of the gaps between the metal. Both of these processes took quite a few hours, I’ve no idea how many!

bench 4

bench 3.5

I put one full coat, and a second in some places, of Hammerite rust busting paint on the metal, getting a bit on parts of the wood, unfortunately. Then I treated the wood with Osmo WR basecoat, which is supposed to stop blue stain and mildew, then 2 coats of Osmo UV protection oil, satin finish.

bench 2

bench 3

The colour is a little darker than I would have hoped, I have no idea what kind of wood it is, it certainly doesn’t look like oak, TOWPCOE says it might be elm… It looks ever so inviting, I had to hold myself back from sitting on it as it was still wet!

bench 1

Now we have a very posh looking bench that should be drier, or at least able to be dried, so that I can sit in the garden and enjoy the products of my labours.
Let’s hope the weather is good this year!

Sourdough revived (sourdough no. 4)

You may have read my previous sourdough posts. I have killed a previous starter, in fact twice, I got some back from my brother and killed that too!
Last time I was in London my brother in-law gave me some more, this time from a pizza restaurant, it made very nice bread. I made a few batches, have left it two weeks and it was fine. Then last weekend I forgot to start it off on the Friday night… oops, then forgot to start it off on Saturday night… oops again. I work as a supply teacher and didn’t have work booked on Monday so I set a batch off on the Sunday night.
Sods law I got a call on Monday, worked, got home and found the starter bubbling away, now I had work booked on Tuesday and Wednesday and nearly threw it away, but the fridge had room so I put it in to see what happened, I do hate throwing food away.

On Thursday (so it had been 24 hours out then 2 days in the fridge) I had a day free, so I looked at the starter, it smelt fine, (kind of sour!) I mixed 50g of flour with 100g of boiling water and then mixed that into the starter from the fridge. I wanted to get an answer as to whether I would be able to use it as quickly as possible so wanted to warm it quickly. After about half an hour in a very low oven (about 40 degrees Celsius) it was obviously alive and well so I went ahead. I took away the flour and water that I had already added from the recipe. This time I also added about 80 g seeds, a mix of sesame, poppy and sunflower, I added them with the olive oil after the one hour proving.
I also tried the bread in a loaf tin for a change, that also seems to have done well, tin oiled and floured and dough proved in the tin.
I do use the oven to prove it, as the house is pretty cold at the moment, I just leave it less than the 3-6 hours recommended in the original recipe I was given, yesterday the loaves had doubled in size in about 1 1/2 hours.

So a recap of the recipe (with experiential changes)

24 g of the starter you keep in the fridge,
add 150g of tepid water and add 150g of flour,
mix and leave covered in a warm place overnight.

To the remainder of the starter add 10-20 g of flour and up to 10 g tepid water mix well, leave out of fridge for a couple of hours to allow the yeasts to get going on some of the new flour/food then put back in the fridge. (I left it overnight once and then had very active starter that kept trying to escape from the plastic pot in the fridge).

Next day (or some time later!) to that add;
250 g tepid water and mix
add 500 g flour (1/2 white, 1/2 brown)
5 g salt and mix.

Leave for 10 minutes in a warm place then mix by dragging the edge into the middle with your hands, repeat twice.
Leave for an hour.

Add 20 g olive oil and 80 g or so of seeds if you want.
Mix as above then tip out onto a work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, divide in two, prove, either in a basket lined with a flour dusted tea towel or in a tin, oiled and floured.
Leave in a warm place until doubled in size (1 1/2 to 6 hours depending on how warm it is).
Bake in a hot oven 220 degrees Celsius, (put a roasting tin with 1/2 pint of water in the bottom of the hot oven, this gives a better bake) for 30 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

It freezes really well, lasts well and is supposedly easier to digest than “normal” bread.

I read (probably in McGee on Food and Cooking) that oil can inhibit the gluten release from the dough, hence adding it right at the end, salt on the other hand did something good, can’t remember what, so goes in at the beginning…

Chillies in Wales.

This is the first year I have grown chillies, I picked up a free packet of seed from a local garden centre, (I can’t bear things going to waste!) I started them off in a heated propagator and grew them in the poly tunnel.
cayenne peppers ripening in the poly tunnel

We had a slow supply of chillies in the late summer, I used some and froze them as they ripened, (chopped without seeds), they weren’t as hot as I thought they might be, considering they are cayenne! As the first frosts approached in early December I thought I’d better pick the last of them that hadn’t ripened on the plant, and was going to freeze them green… I put them on the side and then got waylaid doing other things, as is my wont!


There were some lovely horned fruits, couldn’t resist a picture.


They started to ripen and shrivel and after a month sitting in a warm kitchen they are looking lovely, now I’m thinking I should roughly chop them and put them in a jar, try to keep the heat, for some heartwarming winter meals…

A view from above…

Last September we eventually had the fascias and witches peaks on the house painted. Looking at old photos we can’t imagine that they have been painted since the railway closed down in 1964! It was an expensive business we hired a cherry picker and on the last day I went up in it to look down… What a view!




To compare, 2 pictures from ground level… (not taken at the same time)