Artisan baking part 3 white sourdough
December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
Pictured above are the beautiful baguettes à l’ancienne that I and my fellow novice bakers managed to conjure up after just a couple of hours tuition by master baker, bread enthusiast and all round great teacher Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. This post is the 3rd in a series describing the 4 day baking course I attended recently at the School of Artisan food on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire. Emmanuel is pictured in many of my photos and in my thrilling “white sourdough” video footage which you can find here:
Emmanuel’s white sourdough bread recipe is given at the end of this post. What the basic recipe can’t tell you is the wealth of knowhow needed to bake the perfect artisan loaf. This can only come from time spent handling dough and actually baking. All of the bread we amateurs produced on the course was outstanding. Back home, I have to say that my results with this most apparently simple of recipes have been a little more variable. I’ll try and point out the key things we learned on the course as I describe in more detail how we made this bread.
First of all, the raw ingredients. There are so few in the recipe that they have to be good. We worked exclusively with Shipton Mill organic flour in man-sized 25kg bags:
Then there’s the all-important sourdough, this time in a classroom-sized batch, bubbling away with its distinctive acetone scent:
Here’s my ingredients weighed out and ready to go. If only real life back home turned out to be clean, tidy, prepared, all weighed out…
You can see the dissolving of the sourdough in water and Emmanuel’s trademark “10 second knead” in the video clip referred to above. I like the idea that there’s very little work involved in preparing this dough – the wild yeasts quietly get to work and all you have to do is be patient and create the right conditions for this living organism to thrive. Time and a degree of patience are the things needed here.
Once the dough is prepared, it’s time for the fun bit, the shaping into loaves, baguettes or whatever. Artisan loaves obtain their distinctive appearance from the patterns left by natural cane or wicker proving baskets – also known as bannetons in French or Brotförme in German. Here’s a stack of them photographed at the commercially run Welbeck Bakehouse adjacent to the School:
The baskets need to be liberally dusted with flour before you pop the bread in – we used a mix of white flour and semolina for this purpose which gives a bit of crunch to the baked crust. The cane or wicker baskets can be used just as they are, no need for the washable liners you see advertised sometimes – this way you cut down on washing and get the beautiful cane spiral marks on your bread which mark it out as being the real deal.
There’s no need to invest in a stack of pricey proving baskets before you start making bread – I’ve been managing at home lately with a couple of ordinary small wicker baskets lined with (freshly laundered) waffle teatowels. I have a notion that the plastic basket from my salad spinner would also be fit for purpose. That said, I’m now hooked on breadmaking and have just ordered myself an early Christmas present online – 6 cane baskets from specialist artisan baking supplies website
You can see Emmanuel demonstrating how to shape a loaf before popping it in a proving basket in the video clip above. It may look nonchalant but the folding and tightening of the dough at this stage is key to a well risen and shapely baked final result. As Emmanuel says “don’t be shy to use a little bit of force”.
If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try shaping your own baguettes? It’s not as daunting as it looks and you don’t need any special equipment or tins as it’s only industrial bakers that shape their baguettes in tins. Real bakers look in scorn at the telltale spot marks on the base of an industrially baked baguette which come from the tins used to shape and bake them.
What you need to do is divide you dough into 4 equal pieces (scales are needed to do this accurately). As the video clip shows, each piece of dough is rolled into a tight sausage shape and is placed seam side down on pleated calico liberally dusted with the flour/semolina mix to prevent sticking. Back home, I’ve found that a pleated linen or waffle cotton teatowel works well here though I had to shorten the length of my baguettes to fit the size of my domestic linen. Here’s a photo of Emmanuel’s baguettes nestling in their floured calico:
Once the loaves have proved and are doubled in size and the oven is hot, there’s one more key procedure – slashing. This is not merely decorative but also vital to make the loaf rise evenly and to promote what those in the know call “oven spring”. You’re looking for a plump, pert loaf rather than something too flat and pancakey.
For slashing, a medium sized really sharp blade and a deft swift and not too light touch are needed. You don’t want to just scratch the surface as you need to make a proper incision I would say at least a centimetre deep. A really sharp blade will mean you cut the dough cleanly rather than drag and stretch it which in turn will cause your beautifully risen dough to deflate demoralisingly.
In the video clip you can see us delivering the 5 traditional diagonal slashes to a baguette. Here’s me attempting the alternative scissor and twist technique for shaping the show-off épi baguette pictured at the beginning of this post.
Getting the bread into the oven is a little tricky, especially for baguettes. At the School, we baked this first batch of sourdough loaves in the professional Tom Chandley deck oven which has several stacked ovens which delivers a really good all over crust because of the direct heat at the base.
The proved loaves were turned out onto peels – thin wooden trays – thence straight onto the base of the oven with a deft in and out sliding motion. Think of the trick of whisking away a tablecloth but leaving all the china and cutlery on it intact. Back home I’ve not gone to the trouble (yet…) of investing in a small domestic peel and baking stone but instead have preheated metal baking sheets and have tipped out my proved loaves directly into these and popped them straight back into the hot oven.
One further point on technique – the steam referred to in the recipe is absolutely essential as it delays the formation of a thick skin on the loaf which will turn into an unpleasantly thick crust.
You can see the baked baguettes at the beginning of this post. This is what the baked artisan loaves should like, each decorated with its own individual slash mark:
And finally, what do you see when you cut into your freshly baked loaf? This is the perfect uneven, open crumb and elastic texture.
All that’s needed now is a wedge of your favourite cheese and glass of red wine…
Recipe for white sourdough bread
500g strong white flour
150g white sourdough
+/- 300g water
Mix the flour and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a larger mixing bowl, dissolve the sourdough in the water. Add the flour mixture to the water and mix until it forms a dough. Cover the dough with the small mixing bowl and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
Knead the dough, still in the bowl, for 10 seconds. Shape into a ball, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Cover and leave for 10 minutes. Repeat these two steps until the dough has been kneaded four times. Cover and rest the dough for an hour.
Remove the dough from the bowl and portion into the required sizes. This quantity of dough will make a single rustic loaf or 4 baguettes. Shape the loaf/loaves into proving baskets or into pleated calico for baguettes or into a greased tin.
Allow to prove for 3-6 hours or until approximately doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C with a deep tray in the base of the oven. Once the bread is ready for baking, slash with a very sharp knife. Place the loaf in the oven at 250 degrees C, put a cup of water in the hot tray to form steam then lower the oven temperature to 210 degrees C.
Bake for +/- 35 minutes until golden brown. Turn out of its tin (if you have used one) and cool on a wire rack.