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:

http://www.youtube.com/user/Apiciusblog#p/a/u/0/Xh5CWwIOCLs

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

www.bakerybits.com

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

Ingredients

500g strong white flour
150g white sourdough
+/- 300g water
8g salt

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.

Four blissful days of artisan baking – part 1, the basics

October 19, 2010 § 4 Comments

I’m freshly returned from four days spent at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire baking bread under the watchful eyes of Master Baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. Emmanuel, originally from South Africa despite his Greek name has an immaculate baking pedigree having worked for the catchily named Flour Power City bakery in London, Gordon Ramsay, Daylesford Organic in Oxford and Judges Bakery in Hastings. Judges is, by the way no ordinary bakery as it’s owned by Green & Black’s chocolate founders Craig Sams and Josephine Fairley.

Here’s Emmanuel in teaching mode in the School kitchens on Day 1 of the “Artisan Baking Session”.

Emmanuel is clearly passionate about all things bread, incredibly skilful, a natural teacher, full of boundless energy and an all round nice guy. Four days spent just baking bread may sound excessive but the days passed too quickly in the idyllic rather other-wordly setting of the School of Artisan Food, a place where the sun always shines, the high-spec kitchens are always spotless, the right utensils and ingredients are always to hand and everything comes out of the oven looking and tasting pretty damn good (though I say so myself)

The School of Artisan Food is a brave new venture established on the Welbeck Estate, the rather grand rural retreat of the Duke of Portland and home to various branches of the Cavendish-Bentinck-Parente families (sorry have rather lost track of the complex family tree). The family seat itself, Welbeck Abbey, is not open to the public. The people behind the School are owners Alison & William Parente (son Joe runs the farm shop and bakery too), managing director Gareth Kennedy and an incredible stable of artisan food gurus – Randolph Hodgson founder of Neal’s Yard Dairy for cheese, Andrew Whitley author of Bread Matter for baking to name but two. It’s a not for profit organisation (a company limited by guarantee) with funding provided in part by the East Midlands Development Agency.

Coming up the drive in my taxi on day 1 of the course, I assumed this was the family seat:

but this is merely a set of almshouses known as “The Winnings” as the cost of building was funded by a former Duke’s racing habit.

Horses appear often in the family history and the estate is home to a splendid stone-built indoor riding school which in its heyday was second only in size to the famous Vienna Riding School.

The School itself is housed in the Estate’s former fire station and is approached across a handsome cobbled courtyard:

By 10 o’clock on Monday morning, the first day of the course, I and my fellow students, 15 of us in total, had settled into our workstations in the School teaching kitchen.

What sort of person goes on a 4 day artisan breadbaking course? Well, all sorts. We were approximately 50:50 men and women and ages ranged from I think late teens to early 60s. Generally a friendly and cooperative group of people with a shared interest and thankfully no hint of rivalry or competitiveness, in fact a great willingness to share ideas, knowledge and experiences.

There were a couple of chefs in the group wanting to expand their repertoire but this is not a course aimed at turning out master bakers after just 4 days. The techniques and recipe quantities were firmly aimed at the domestic rather than a commercial setting. I would say the majority of people on the course were enthusiastic amateurs – one of whom was so enthusiastic in fact that he’d built his own wood-fired bread oven with a capacity of 30 loaves in his back garden in Aberdeenshire!

Day 1 focused on the basics, the raw ingredients of breadmaking, and 3 basic recipes for white, wholemeal and malthouse loaves raised with nicely domesticated commercial yeast and shaped and baked in tins.

The basic ingredients of breadmaking are of course very simple – flour, yeast, water and salt – yet a lot of myths are propounded about them. We used Shipton Mill organic flour throughout the 4 days of the course as this was a range Emmanuel was already familiar with from his previous baking career. Quite a few myths were debunked when going through this list of basic ingredients:

1) You don’t need to use expensive crushed Maldon salt – regular table salt is just fine (excuse the pun…)

2) Either fresh or dried yeast (as long as the dried yeast hasn’t been messed about with) is equally good as long as you dissolve it in water first.

3) Neither bottled mineral water nor water warmed to blood heat are necessary to make good bread – just use room temperature water out of your tap, even when making up a sourdough starter.

4) There’s no need to add fat or sugar to your bread dough – all that you need is in the flour itself.

5) Finally, and most radically, making a sourdough starter is dead, dead simple. Simply mix together a teaspoon of rye flour and a teaspoon of water in a small container, cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours then repeat the process and you’re away. After 4 days you’ll have a lively starter ready to be bulked up with either white or rye flour and you’re ready to bake your very own sourdough loaf.

It really was that simple. I’ve been put off sourdough baking before because of the complex recipes involving grapes, raisins, molasses, orange juice, apple juice plus other more esoteric ingredients. Then there were the tales of exploding starters, icky smells, dead starters, yellow mould, pathogens and worse. Emmanuel in his charming and direct style showed us how simple it was.Here’s the rye sourdough Emmanuel passed round on day 1, ready to be prodded and poked:

And for the sake of completeness, here’s one of Emmanuel’s white sourdough starters. Like a conjuror he breathed frothing bubbly life back into a piece of frozen sourdough, a rather pasty piece of dry sourdough and a more liquid version and all three performed fantastically.

I’m going to conclude this post with a slightly obsessive time series set of pics of my very own rye starter, conceived at Welbeck and now resident in my kitchen in Altrincham:

Here’s the flour and water freshly mixed on day 1 (iPhoto tells me it’s 11 Oct at 13.26 precisely)

and already the next day there are signs of wild yeasty fermenting life in my baby! This photo is dated 12 October at 14.27.

Fermentation is clearly well-established by the following morning 13 October at 09.26

And by the end of day 4 I was ready to take home by lovely bouncing starter ready for baking!

I’m pleased to report that it’s producing great bread – a wonderfully moist and light rye loaf most recently. In fact, must go and give it a feed now…

More bread stuff to follow on my return from holiday to Egypt – let’s hope Tim can keep the starters going in my absence.

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