Artisan baking part 2 rye sourdough

November 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

This post is the second of series describing the inspiring 4 day bread baking course I attended in last month at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire. I’ve decided to forget about describing the course contents in logical chronological order but instead to write about what inspires me at the moment. This week, that just happens to be rye bread, specifically rye sourdough.

Before the course, the inner workings of rye bread were a mystery to me: it remained an occasional eccentric supermarket purchase – cellophane-wrapped packets of pumpernickel containing dark brown strips of cardboard textured slices which seemingly last for ever had a certain masochistic expeditionary appeal.

I hadn’t appreciated that organic stone-ground rye flour was widely available and as a result I’d never have dreamed of trying to bake it myself at home. Since the course, all that has changed.

Our teacher, bread guru Emmanuel Hadjiandreou was brilliant and packed in so much information over the 4 days that it’s taken a while to sift through my photos and video clips. I’ve taken a crash course in basic video handling and editing in my latest One to One session at the Apple Store in Manchester and my very first little movie, imaginatively titled “Rye Sourdough” can be viewed by clicking on the following link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qUNKKO1ULU

Now you can see yourself Emmanuel’s deft handiwork, the exact consistency of starter and finished dough and even hear the sound of a perfectly baked loaf.

Let’s start with Emmanuel’s recipe. The ingredients and quantities are exactly as on his beautifully typed-out recipe sheets handed out on the course but I have on occasion put his methods into my own words.

Recipe for dark rye sourdough bread

Ingredients

For the ferment

150g dark rye flour
100g rye sourdough
200g water

For the bread

1 quantity ferment (see above)
200g dark rye flour
6g salt
150g very hot water

Optional flavourings

For apple rye – add 200g chopped dried apple
For apricot rye – add 200g chopped dried apricots
For sultana rye – add 200g sultanas
For prune and pepper rye – add 200g prunes and 10g pink peppercorns
For onion rye – add 200g chopped onion, lightly fried

Begin the day before you want the bread by mixing together the ferment ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover with a smaller mixing bowl and leave to ferment overnight at room temperature. In another bowl, weigh out the remaining flour and salt and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

The following morning, when you’re ready to make the bread pour the flour and salt mix over the ferment in the first mixing bowl. Then pour over the measured quantity of very hot water (from a just boiled kettle). The layer of flour will protect the hot water from scalding and killing the yeast within the ferment. Mix thoroughly and add any optional flavourings at this stage. Shape into a greased tin.

Allow to rise/prove for about 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C. Place the proved loaf into the oven at this high temperature; add a cup of water on a hot tray in the base of the oven to form steam then lower the oven temperature to 220 degrees C.
Bake for about 30 minutes. Turn out and cool on a wire rack.

And now for the raw materials.

What we have here is a bowl of ferment (noun) – a wet dough mixture made the night before and left to ferment (verb) to activate the wild yeasts and develop the characteristic background sour flavour of good rye bread. Next to it is the weighed-out rye flour and salt. And that’s it. The rye flour had a silky texture and the prettiest more-than-pastel grey-green colour which when baked is transformed into a dark chocolate-brown loaf.

Here’s fellow student Jethro inspecting the small bubbles which have formed overnight in his ferment. Being able to see what’s going on in your dough from all sides was a bonus of using the semi-translucent plastic bowls we were provided with on the course. These lightweight bowls can be upturned and used as protective covers over fermenting doughs, another useful home-baking tip potentially saving metres of clingfilm and faffing with damp teatowels.

You can also see fellow student Diana carefully weighing out dry ingredients on the “My Weigh” (geddit?) scales we were provided with on the course. These were brilliant and so quick and easy to use and of course accurate to within a gram too – essential especially for getting the right quantity of salt in a recipe. We weighed everything on the scales, the water too, as of course 1ml of water weighs 1g and it’s much more accurate not to say speedy to weigh the water rather than use a measuring jug. Since coming home I’ve bought a set of these scales (Amazon marketplace) and consigned my retro scales with their dinky brass weights to the cellar.

Here is my brandy new all-singing, all dancing set of My Weigh scales on the kitchen table at home:

It seems very odd adding near-boiling water to a bread recipe. Rye bread is unique in requiring this step and Emmanuel talked about this causing a process within the flour called gelatinisation – the dough takes on a porridge like consistency. He showed us how to protect the ferment containing the essential wild yeasts from the hot water by using the flour as an insulating blanket with the hot water being poured over the top.

The rye dough doesn’t look very inspiring when first mixed – more like a building material. I quipped to Ben, a young chef from South Africa who was sharing my workbench that the dough reminded me of childhood holidays on the beach in Wales. He looked puzzled – it seems that beaches in South Africa are of the pure white sand variety rather than the grit, shingle and mud we’re used to over here!

The wet dough mixture is shaped by being tipped into the oiled tin and patted and smeared using a dampened plastic scraper into a mounded loaf shape. Emmanuel advised being careful not to let water from the scraper run down the sides of the tin as this will cause the loaf to stick.

After two hours or so, the rye loaves had increased in size dramatically. We were given the option of sprinkling the top with rye flour and you can see the effect this produces in the loaf on the left in the picture below:

I’ve not stopped making this recipe since returning home after the course. I’ve been using Bacheldre organic stoneground rye flour which gives really good results (sorry Jethro but Ocado don’t stock your stuff). It’s become a bit of a weekend routine to resuscitate the rye starter on a Thursday night ready for a Friday night ferment (sounds more exciting than it really is!) and a Saturday baking session. Here’s a pic of a couple of loaves I baked at the weekend. The resulting bread is moist, flavoursome and delicious, makes fantastic sandwiches and toast and is nothing like those cardboard pumpernickel slices….

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Kentucky Fried Camel anyone?

November 4, 2010 § 2 Comments

Here are my 2 sons George and Arthur wandering down the main drag in Naama Bay, Sharm El Sheikh, looking in vain for a real taste of Egypt. Diving in the Red Sea has been something I’ve hankered after doing since my first scuba attempts in the cold Atlantic waters off Pembroke in Wales in my early 20s. The 2 week half-term break this year meant we had the opportunity to travel a little further afield than usual so I thought why not take the boys snorkelling in the Red Sea?

Sharm El Sheikh (or just Sharm as it’s universally known in the travel industry) is a package holiday Mecca. It processes thousands of foreign tourists from the northern climes of the UK, Russia, Poland and Germany who are jetted and bussed in for a week’s guaranteed sunshine and sent back home a week later without having left the grounds of their all-inclusive resort-style hotels. Astoundingly, many of them don’t even bother to dip a toe into the truly exquisite clear warm waters of the Red Sea, preferring the hotel pools and waterparks.

The Red Sea did not disappoint and the boys took to snorkelling like the proverbial ducks:

But what of the food? Before our trip I had dreams of Bedouin-style charcoal-roasted lamb, aromatic spices and orange-flower water scented sherbets. One of my most-thumbed cookbooks is Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern Food. Claudia grew up in Egypt and I’ve long been bewitched by her evocative descriptions of the food of her childhood, the ful medames (fava beans), Sephardic Jewish dense orange and almond cakes, salads fragrant with parsley and mint.

You can imagine that the all-inclusive “international buffet” served in the ersatz surroundings of the “Andalusia” restaurant of our hotel, the Dreams Vacation, was a bit of a rude awakening. Remember the Leyton Buzzards’ 1979 hit “Saturday Night Beneath the Plastic Palm Trees”?

Sharing mealtimes with the tattooed classes was quite an experience. The sight of a middle-aged Geordie sporting nothing but a pair of Speedos tucking into his lunch washed down by as much free lager as he could drink is one that will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons.

Then there were the Russians. We’ve all laughed about Germans bagging all the best poolside spots but over here it’s practically a Russian invasion. The menfolk were securing beach sun loungers at 6.00 in the morning, bikini clad babushkas were throwing themselves into the water with wild abandon, and the imperious way they treated the local staff was nothing less than shocking at times.

The food on offer at the “international buffet” was at first sight not particularly appealing. The chef clearly knew on which side his bread was buttered and tried to please his Russian and Polish customers with his command of Communist Cuisine – a lot of indeterminate grey boiled meats and stodge.

As we became more familiar with the place we searched out some of the better things to eat which surprise surprise were local Egyptian staples. At breakfast time I developed quite a taste for the falafel served with soft fresh pitta, tahina and sour pickles – I know it sounds weird but pickles at breakfast time are appealing in a hot climate, especially after an early morning swim.

At lunchtime the cucumber and yoghurt salad was the star attraction for me, along with gloriously sticky Levantine pastries. The Egyptians clearly have a sweet tooth and can fashion a pudding out of almost any ingredient it seems.

Here’s a pic of that well-known school dinner classic cornflake pie, Egyptian style:

The chef had more up his sleeve: he’d also prepared a branflake pie, unconscious of the irony of turning such a Puritan and unappealing cardboard-like product into a calorie-laden syrupy treat:

The most confusing cross-cultural experience of the week has to be the night we ate in the hotel’s Mexican restaurant. The sensation of sitting in an Egyptian hotel eating Mexican food listening to piped German music (a Beethoven symphony!) surrounded by Russians and Poles was nothing if not bizarre.

So did we ever find a taste of the real Egypt? You’ll have to read the next post to find out…

Breakfast from Azerbaijan, Land of Jam

November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

So says the Azerbaijani tourism and information site http://www.azerbaijan24.com/, informing us that “Azerbaijanis make jam from almost anything – walnuts, watermelon and even rose petals…the most popular jams are made from plums, raspberries, mulberries, pears, peaches, melons, figs, strawberries and cherries…grapes, pumpkin and pomegranates…even eggplants can be used as base for jam…If you visit an Azerbaijani home, undoubtedly you’ll be served homemade jam along with black tea. When tea is served, you’ll discover it’s rare in the Republic to be offered sugar. Instead, they’re more likely to offer jam. Azerbaijanis put a small spoonful of jam in their mouths and sip the tea through the jam.”

So, with their predilection for jam, Azerbaijanis are the Billy Bunters of the steppes (greedy fictional schoolboy Bunter liked nothing better than to raid his friends’ tuck parcels and devour jam straight from the jar).

I decided to make jam the centrepiece of the Azerbaijani breakfast (the latest in our A-Z series of international breakfasts). This was a cheaper and easier option than trying to get hold of my first idea which was caviar. After all, Azerbaijan, nestling between Russia, Iran, Armenia and Georgia has a border on the West side of the Caspian sea, home to the sturgeon which produce the coveted caviar.

Muslim Azerbaijan (in contrast with its largely Christian neighbour Armenia) was under Soviet control until it declared independence in 1991 under the Gorbachev glasnost era. Oil is a major earner for the country with activity centred around the capital city of Baku. You may recall that the 1990s Bond Film “The World is Not Enough” with its convoluted oil industry plot featured scenes set and filmed in Azerbaijan.

Enough of background and onto breakfast. This was the prepared table:

On the menu was of course my prize jam collection (including a weird watermelon rind jam which was my only homemade contribution), also Azeri flatbread, sheeps-milk cheese, fresh fruit (including of course the flesh of the watermelon the rind of which went into the jam).

All this was washed down with small glasses of black tea drunk Azeri style with yet more jam.

Here is my completed jar of watermelon rind jam looking distinctly pondlike:

Was the jam worth the effort? No. The resulting jam is dense, sticky and with a taste a bit like cooked marrow – ie vegetal, ever so slightly bitter and not particularly pronounced. The recipe came from the improbably specific website www.watermelonrind.com. There is an alternative recipe on the Azerbaijan 24 site I referenced earlier but that recipe makes use of a rather scary sodium hydroxide solution to crisp up the rind before cooking. Not only is this stuff hard to obtain but it’s also toxic so I thought I’d give it a miss.

Much more to my safe Western taste is the following recipe for Azeri flatbread from the comprehensive and appealing site www.azcookbook.com. My bread, pictured below, is a little more rustic than the photo on the AZ Cookbook site but in my book rustic is good and the toasted sesame seeds tasted delicious:

Recipe for Azeri flatbread

With thanks to http://www.azKitchen.com.

Ingredients

1 package (1/4 oz / 7g) dry yeast
1 ½ cups (12 fl oz/375 ml) warm water
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour, plus extra for kneading
1 beaten egg for brushing (or just the yolk for a really golden colour)
1 teaspoon poppy or sesame seeds

1. In a small bowl, mix yeast with water until the yeast is dissolved.
2. Sift flour into a large bowl. Add salt and mix well. Gradually add the yeast-water mixture and stir in using your hand until a rough ball forms.
3. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Press any loose dough pieces into the ball and knead the dough, punching it down with your fists, folding it over and turning. Knead for about 8-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
4. Shape the dough into a ball and put it back into the large bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or a plastic wrap.
5. Leave the dough to rise in a warm spot for about 1 ½ hours, or until doubled in bulk. The dough should look puffy and be soft when poked with a finger.
6. Punch down the dough, then transfer it onto a lightly floured surface.
7. Shape the dough into a ball, and with your hands flatten slightly and stretch it lengthwise. Using a rolling pin, start rolling the dough beginning at one end until you obtain a long flat bread about ½ inch thick (1.27cm), 14 inches long (35cm) and 8 inches (20cm) wide.
8. Carefully transfer the bread onto a non-stick baking sheet, fixing the shape as necessary. Leave the dough to rest on the sheet for another 15 minutes before baking.
9. Preheat the oven to 400?F (200?C).
10. Using a knife, make shallow crosshatching slashes on the bread, 4 from right to left and 4 the opposite way, each at a slight angle. Brush the bread evenly with the egg/egg yolk and sprinkle with seeds.
11. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake the bread for 20-25 minutes, or until it is golden on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Recipe for watermelon rind jam

Ingredients

Recipe taken from the very specific website http://www.watermelonrind.com. I can’t say I recommend the finished article but here’s the recipe to satisfy your curiosity.

1lb watermelon rind cut into 1cm cubes
water to cover
3 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups white granulated or preserving sugar
1 strip lemon peel

Place the watermelon rind in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for half an hour until the rind is tender and translucent. Drain, reserving 1 and a half cups of cooking liquid. Add the cooked rind, reserved cooking liquid, lemon peel and sugar to your preserving pan. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, cover and leave overnight.

The next day, add the cardamom pods bring the mixture back to the boil. Cook for approximately 15 minutes until a thick syrup has formed. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and pot in the usual way.

I’m going to conclude my post Azeri style by wishing you NUSH OLSUN

…and the good news is we’re through all the countries beginning with the letter A so next stop, the Bahamas!

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