The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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It has been quite awhile since I've baked much of anything, particularly sourdough, as since getting pregnant in March I've found the smell of the sourdough and the thought of making it completely nauseating (which is bizarre seeing as I was totally addicted to it before getting pregnant, and baking everyday.  Or maybe that is why....)  Anyway, this pregnancy has seen the nausea last an unreasonably long time, so only in the last few weeks have I felt inclined to get back to baking.  When I was baking regularly earlier in the year, I deliberated over the available options for a dutch oven, and really wanted to get one, but did the usual thing of researching myself to exhaustion then forgetting about it for awhile, and so I never got around to buying one.  I live on another continent than my mother, so when she comes to visit we make a point of getting out together without the children at some point for some rummaging through charity shops and vintage/antique stores (something I don't get to do much on my own without someone around to leave the children with and someone to go shopping with!).  We were on our morning out and I mentioned that I'd really like to buy a dutch oven, but hadn't thought about it for awhile, but if we happened to see one I would definitely want to get it.  Imagine our delight to spot a bright orange, rectangular enameled cast iron lidded dish in the window of a really great vintage shop along our wander!  For a moment I thought that the handle might be plastic, but it turned out to be metal, so we snapped up the bargain, at a paltry £10.  After bringing it home and giving it a little wash, I looked carefully at the faded name inside the lid and could just make out "Le Creuset" and "France" and the number 35.  Le Creuset!  I was pleased enough to have a genuine Le Creuset cast iron pot, but even more incredible was that it turned out, with some research to be from the original line of Coquelle pots designed by Raymond Loewy, and I found a black pot of exactly the same model listed on a website for several hundred dollars! 

So, all in all, a fantastic find!  But to the really important bit, how my first loaf came out!  Can't take a crumb picture (sorry!) because the loaf is for my father-in-law, but you can see it has lovely crusty ears and (you can't see) a lovely crackle all around after cooling down.  I am totally thrilled with my new piece of bread baking equipment!

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I've read a number of places on this fantastic site about the benefits of soaking whole grain flours before incorporating them into a dough, and I happened to give it a try yesterday while preparing today's loaf of bread, a Rosemary and Thyme Sourdough Boule.  While I was preparing the fresh herbs, I added the usual amount of (hot) water to the 1 cup of wholewheat flour I wanted to use in the dough.  That soaked while I stripped the thyme off the stalks and chopped the rosemary needles.  I threw the herbs on top of the soaking flour (and incidentally, I had also added the tablespoon of olive oil I generally add to my loaves to the water before adding the flour, don't know if that made any difference).  Anyway, being as this was the first time I had soaked the flour, and adding to that the fact that this was the first boule I've used exactly half and half of whole wheat and strong white flour, I was really, really pleased with the result!  The hydration was no different with this loaf than my other loaves, but I believe the soaking is what resulted in a gorgeously moist and light and fairly open crumb, despite the higher than usual proportion of whole wheat (and therefore lower than usual proportion of higher gluten white flour).  Anyway, I just wanted to encourage anyone who is considering increasing the amount of WW they use in their bread, but doesn't want to sacrifice lightness and moistness of the loaf (wholewheat doesn't have to be dense and dry!) to give soaking a try.  Another thing of interest to me was that usually when I use more wholewheat than usual, I find I have to add a little extra water to compensate, and sometimes I can't quite get the dough moist enough before kneading is done so the end result is on the dry side, which can be very frustrating.  However, with this loaf I used exactly the same amount of water as usual, and the resulting dough was the perfect combination of stickiness (stuck to my hands but not the counter), and even required a tiny bit of extra flour in the kneading process!  I have read that wholewheat soaks up water quickly, then releases some of it again after a period of time, so my conclusion is that it must soak up a lot of the water straight away when not soaked, and not get the time to release it again before kneading begins.  I'm no expert, and this certainly wasn't a controlled experiment, but from now on I will be soaking my wholewheat flour!

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My husband and and small boys quite like whitish sandwich bread, and although they like my sourdough boules and batards for dipping in soup, it is difficult to convince them to eat sourdough in any other form.  I have read in a few places that the long fermentation times plus the lactobacilli in sourdough improve the digestibility and lower the GI rating of bread (in comparison to bread prepared commercially with the shortest possible rises, etc).  Seeing as the family like toast and sandwiches from time to time, and I always make a instant yeasted loaf for that, I thought it couldn't hurt to try a sourdough sandwich loaf and test out the family's reaction.  So, today I am baking a sourdough sandwich loaf which is all white bread flour except half a cup of fresh ground whole wheat flour.  Of late, my starter has been less sour than it was before, so perhaps that will help, too.  Anyway, here are the pics of the crust and crumb.  While it was baking it filled the house with a delicious almost buttery smell which I find utterly irresistable!  Let's hope they like it too....

A cool loaf and two slices of toast later...

The children gobbled it up!  It is not sour, is quite light and fluffy, and very much what I was after.  Success!


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Today's baking was one basic sourdough batard and a yeasted mostly white sandwich/toast loaf.  Very pleased with the white yeasted loaf, not overly thrilled about the batard, only because my starter's sourness has dropped off of late (will have to work on that) and the crumb was fairly tight, which was unexpected.  I attribute it to the hydration being too low.  Nonetheless, a nice tasty loaf (and a more delicate sour taste seems to be more to the family's liking, I am the only one apparently, who likes it good and sour).  The white loaf is excellent, very fluffy and light, and I managed to sneak half a cup of fresh ground whole wheat into it.  Looking forward to tomorrow's loaf (rising in the kitchen now), it is a Green olive, rosemary and thyme sourdough.





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I decided to try making a savory olive bread using my usual sourdough recipe, and just adding herbs and chopped Queen olives.  I would occasionally buy an olive baguette from our nearest supermarket, until they stopped making them.  It was a good thing I only bought them occasionally, they were delicious and somewhat addictive.  Anyway, having enjoyed getting the hang of basic sourdough bread, I decided this would be the perfect base for an olive bread.  Because I have lots of fresh Rosemary growing in the garden, that seemed like an obvious and delicious addition, and who can eat Olives and Rosemary without a little Oregano?  Anyway, I mixed it all up yesterday morning, let it triple over about 4 hours, shaped and popped it in the fridge.  I re-shaped just before bed, and baked this morning.  All I can say is YUM!!!  I don't know whether this loaf will make it past today...



Recipe and Method:

1 Cup of high hydration starter directly from fridge

1 Cup of freshly ground whole wheat flour

1.5 Cups of strong White Bread Flour

1 scant  tsp salt

Handful of pitted sliced Queen Olives

Handful of finely chopped Rosemary

Pinch of Oregano

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

A few splashes of warm water


I mixed everything up in a bowl with a stiff plastic spatula, then turned it out and kneaded for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.  Placed back in oiled bowl and covered with clingflim, and left in a slightly warmed oven for 4-5 hours.  By then it had nearly tripled so I shaped into a boule, placed on parchment paper on a baking tray and put in the fridge.  Reshaped at 10pm and put back in the fridge.  Took out of the fridge and turned on the oven with roasting pan and stone inside at 8am.  Baked in preheated oven under the roasting pan for 20 minutes at 250C, then reduced temperature to 190C, removed roasting pan and baked another 15 minutes.  I let it cool on the counter and cut when just barely warm.  Yum yum yum!  Will try REALLY hard to wait until lunch to eat another slice......


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Well, here it is!  My first ever blog post.  I have been thinking of starting a blog for awhile, if only to keep a catalog of the progress I've made in my bread making over the last year or so.  It is difficult to quantify progress without something down on paper, as it were, so I hope this will be useful for myself and others, being able to look back through recipes and pictures for future reference.  Anyway, I should give some background on my interest in bread baking.  I am an American living in Britain, and was visiting home for a family wedding over a year ago.  My mother had been experimenting in bread making, as she was trying to re-create my parents' favourite loaf from the local bakery.  My mother has baked bread on and off for years, and I dimly recall some relatively dense and fairly dry bread-maker bread from my childhood (her hand baking is much better!).  Anyway, she had recently gotten into the habit of making all the bread they ate (except for the occasional bakery purchase), and my husband I were really impressed with her bread.  One morning we were there, she asked me to put the loaf in the oven for her after it had finished rising, and then because of my interest, she wrote down the recipe she used for her everyday bread.  As soon as I got home, I got some baker's yeast, strong white and wholemeal flour, and I was busy baking.  It took a number of attempts to get the rise right, figure out how to remove the clingfilm without deflating the loaf, etc, etc, but all in all every loaf I made tasted delicious.  Over time, I really got the daily bread down pat, and started braiding loaves for fun, and adjusting different ingredients to get different textures. 

(Sesame, Pumpkin and sunflower seed braided loaf)


Then, in the fall of last year, I came across info about creating your own starter at home, and eliminating the need for commercial yeast.  Ever in search of the healthiest nutrition for my family, I decided to have a go at making sourdough.  Although it seemed impossibly easy, I stirred up equal amounts of white and wholewheat flour and water, covered loosely, and left overnight.  The next day, I discarded half and fed it again, re-covered and waited another day.  By the third discard and feed, there was clear activity, and I was excited!  I baked my first loaf from my brand new starter in a loaf tin, with great anticipation.  I was thrilled to produce a nicely risen loaf with a few big bubbles on top and lots of lovely little bubbles on the crust!


Now, although this bread was delicious and a real triumph, I felt the need to make a yeasted bread for my husband who is less adventurous, and only likes icky cotton wool white bread for toast.  *Sigh* It really does discourage one after all the effort put in.  Nonetheless, our favourite winter lunch is soup and bread, so I was confident that a round loaf for soup dipping would be a hit, and a good way to slip in some wholesome nutrition.  =)  After much research, I started baking round loaves in a covered glass casserole dish and here was my first result:


Not the most amazing loaf, I know, but not bad considering it was a first attempt, and I had no clue about scoring, overnight retarding, stretching and folding, etc.  With each loaf (despite the lop-sidedness due to dumping the proofed loaf into the hot bowl) I saw improvements...


I was even brave enough to attempt a freeform boule, and was very pleased with the result!


Next I tried a sourdough baguette and tin loaf, which were both excellent:



With the discovery of stretching and folding, overnight retarding and a firmer (lower hydration) dough, I managed my best loaf yet, a freeform poppyseed (can't remember the name of the shape):


Everything about this last loaf was an utter triumph for me.  The fantastic opening of the slash, the shiny crackly crust, the soft and moist crumb, and the deliciously smooth and subtle sour taste.  I cannot describe my joy in being able to create such a beautiful and delectable loaf, from nothing more than the usual baking drawer ingredients.  What a joy and a privilege!  Here's to many more loaves to come, and thank you to everyone on the Fresh Loaf from whom I've gotten tons of information which is helping me to continually improve and hone my baking skills!

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