Baking in England
Hi everyone, this is my first post and I am a beginner baker...
I visited San Francisco for the new year this year and returned with a sourdough obsession...
I spend hours fiddling with starters/temperatures/different ovens/different vessels/flours etc...but my bread is still not where I want it to be although I always find a way to eat my bread as I’ve put so much love and effort into it ...my partner on the other hand would still rather buy shop bought sourdough bread...
So, I’m still doing something wrong...I usually find that my dough seems really too wet at the bench rest shaping stage and am wondering if this is where the problems lie? And am wondering if baking in England is hugely different from the States? I know our weather is a bit different, maybe our flour is different...?
Should I try adding a percentage of extra flour?
Does anyone have any insight into converting US recipes to UK?
Any UK bakers out there?
Hope to master this bread thing one day...and would hugely appreciate any insights.
Many thanks ?
I would encourage you to look into https://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/sourdough/ to get some great help on sourdough in the U. K. I know that there are differences in U. S. Flours and your local choices, and Real Bread can help you.
I would advise you to avoid volume measurements and stick to metric weights only.
You will eventually be making bread so superior to super market slop that your partner should abandon it. . . And if he/she still prefers it, look for a new partner! ?
Thank you for the link Captain, I shall continue with the quest...
I had the same problem when I started, i was reading US books that use different flours to U.K , high hydration, and generally don't do much kneeding to the dough before bulk ferment. I was getting pancake bread which I could not control !
I make sure I use good quality bread flour which I buy on line, shipton, Matthews, stoats etc. I don't go over 72% water, but add more when I'm folding. I also slap and fold for at least 10 minutes after adding levan to make sure I'm developing the gluten. I get a nice structure and crumb, I don't get massive holes(only when I've made mistakes), but I don't like my jam to fall through anyway . Keep going it's taken me over a year to get this far.
Thanks Gill I really appreciate the comments here. I think the best way to keep learning is from actual people and just practice practice, but huge relief to know about the percentages and difference in flours...has been a huge frustration and quite costly...
I will look into the flour thing too.
I quite like the holeyness...
im in Ireland but am using same flours you are - you'' find that US hydration is about 5% more than UK flour....basically their flour can absorb alot more water. Lookat your dough - only use as much water as youre comfortable with so add to mix slowly. A good autolyse helps. start at 67% and go from there and do as many S+F as necessary to get good elasticity on your dough. If your dough is wet at end of bulk shorten your bench rest and give a good tight shaping.
By the way if you have a microwave it makes for the best proofer. Just heat up a mug of water in it and then once done put in your banneton.
every dough is different. when i as starting out i kept a bread diary. i kept notes of all trials and errors as well as successes. I have books of them.
one last thing. temperature is very important. If its very warm in UK at the moment - as it is here (we're up to 30C on the south coast of ireland) in Cork) you need ot change the temperature of your water...if it gets cold increase it....all important...anyway few things to get you going....
trevor wilsons site is good place for advice @ http://www.breadwerx.com/
Brilliant info thanks mutantspace, can’t wait to try the new ratio’s...am almost afraid to step into the kitchen in case provide yet another disaster...but the comments here are very encouraging...
I do not have a microwave but I do have an old fridge in the shed and a heat mat for wine making that I could put in it to act as prover maybe...?
Will look into that link thanks.
Yes totally scorchio here too...not really the weather for having the oven on for hours : /
"About 5%". Best to start off lower and slowly increase till it feels ok. So hold back a bit more than 5% and slowly add water till the dough feels tacky. You don't want it too dry but not too wet where it comes off in your hand but tacky to the touch.
But having said all that the more experienced you become the higher the percentage hydration you'll be able to handle. So while the flour will have an optimal hydration there will be a range and to be able to handle the higher range comes with practice.
I can handle a hydration today which I couldn't do a few years ago however I'm sure I can go higher which will come with more experience. Develop the gluten well and it will be more manageable.
Another thing is the UK does have very strong bread flour available. Make sure you're using a flour suited for what you're making.
Thanks Lechem, I will go with intuitive I think for a while...looking back my best results were when I was being intuite...wish I listened more to myself sometimes...
I came through pretty much the same journey as yours, from San Fran to London via Tartine.
I found Vanessa Kimbell most helpful and she has recently published a book that will work perfectly for the UK flours.
I went to her course in Northampton and strongly recommend it to anyone serious about sourdough. she has tons of experience and tips, plus it’s a great day out of the grind!
Thanks Robertob, yes I found the Chad Robertson book...and although very inspirational and beautiful...that’s when everything started to go a little wrong...then found Teresa greenway...no improvement so figured there just had to be a flour thing surely...
thanks for the link I shall look into it.
I'm also going to Vanessa course in September. I'm so excited, birthday and Christmas all in one.
people have given some really good advice here already....The key for me was the following:
1. Start with a lower hydration 65% and 70% and also ADD the water at different stages so that the flour can absorb the water - so for instance I add 80% of water during mixing stage...add a bit more when adding the salt and levain and you can even add another 10g or so in the bulk container....and it will be absorbed during S & Fs.
Trevor J. Wilson and Vanessa Kimbell mention this both in their books. Especially with the less strong UK flours this avoids 'flooding' the flour.
I also found that although using a method named after 'Rubaud' helps to build gluten...although Trevor says to use this for 'wet' doughs, I find that what is 'stiff dough' in US is actually 'wet' for me and use this method on even 70% hydration dough.
I experimented with UK flours and you just need to find what works for you and have a look what mills are around locally....I find that the strong white Marrriages (organic or at many shops you can find the normal one e.g. Coop) works best for me...and there are many other great mills here....I think Vanessa Kimbell has a list of UK SD bakeries on her web site and they all share what flours they use...many of course use the regional mills....I think it is fun to go on 'flour' experimentation and enjoy trying different flours.....
So, I always would hold back some water with the mix, see how the dough feels and then add.....depending how bold I feel on the day! Happy Baking! Kat
p.s. Should you try Trevor Wilson's 'pre-mix' method...again be careful as I have found that this very long amount of 'autolyse' with salt can degrade the UK flour too much....
Brilliant info thanks notacrumb, Marriages is nearby and one of my better attempts I had used their flour so will get some direct. Will also lok to experiment with your percentages.
thank you so much for taking the time to post.
I find Uk flours incredibly poor. I tried all the brands in store and I couldn't find one barely decent.
Even the supposed Canadian one is a fake.
I chatted with some famous producer that admitted clearly that they dont sell pure Manitoba.
One producer even brags that the flour is as it comes from the wheat, without corrections, practically a promise of inconsistency.
How can you bake with a flour that behaves differently every time and that has no resistance to machine kneading?
I have no issues with UK flours. In fact they're considered strong in comparison to other European flours.
At the beginning of my bread baking venture I blamed the flour. Now I'm more experienced they behave really well and make lovely loaves. Or should I say now I'm behaving.
In fact I'm edging very close to being able to hydrate a British flour exactly to a North American recipe.
Poor = poor taste
Different = different properties such as hydration it can handle
A flour that takes a different hydration isn't poorer than one that drinks up more. It's just different. A flour that drinks up more water but produces a tasteless loaf is not better - it is poor.
Know your flour and as a baker bring out it's best quality.
Things finally clicked when I stuck to one brand of flour only. Once I learned when the bulk proof was complete as well as looking after the levain I was able to increase the hydration of my dough, dramatically improving the shape and taste profile of my bread.
And like you I had to persevere until I knew what I was looking for. What was once a sticky mess of dough... when done properly, the gluten fully formed and the bulk ferment optimised the dough changes to something that holds itself together and becomes easier to handle. Yes, a higher hydration dough will never be as easy as a lower hydration dough but more manageable all the same when done right. It took me a long time but a lot of it is down to being aware of what's going on more than just going through the motions and going only by the clock.
The amount and quality of gluten present in the flour can't be appreciated when making plain bread. Bread is flour, water and salt, with nothing to hinder the development of gluten. Using a no knead technique (that i abhor) you never take the gluten to the point where it can show its real strength and eventually collapse.
Try to prepare very rich doughs with ton of fats and sugar and you will clearly distinguish a really strong flour from a poor one. First of all there's no way to develop enough gluten with a no knead: too many ingredients that prevent the development of the dough. You are forced to knead with a stand mixer and with the proper mixing technique, or you will fail. It's in this situation that you can see the difference between the flours: with a really strong flour (real manitoba/red spring wheat) the more you knead the more you develop gluten, whereas with a weak flour you will break the dough turning the mass into a puddle good for a cake (look at the dough development and peak times in the farinograph).
An example of a rich dough:
40% egg yolk
Yes, it's quite extreme, but not so atypical for season sweet breads. With a really strong flour it's perfectly feasible, with a poor flour it's impossible to achieve. This is a real indicator of the strength of a flour.
And yes, I did it countless times. Unfortunately I didn't find ANY bread flour for sale in UK stores that could even remotely hold those ingredients. I had to resort to cakes all the times!
It doesn't help that the tools to measure the strength of a flour are not used in the UK: alveograph, extensograph, farinograph ... the mills don't even know what they are! How can they guarantee the quality of a flour (especially over time) if they don't even measure the strength? They give you the protein content (that is absolutely useless) and get content with that.
Was done as a "do nothing bread". As hands off as you can get...
Mix the dough and leave for 12-14 hours with one set of stretch and folds about 5 hours after mixing. By that time the gluten formation was well underway with me doing zilch. Come time to shape and it became very easy to handle and held itself tall. Oven spring was great.
That recipe you have given will make came out of anything. A lot of enriched breads are practically cake.
Just re-read that recipe you have given. I'm sorry to say but it doesn't sound like a nice recipe at all. Where are you getting it from?
it's very far from being a cake, and it's made with those percentages. Sweet doesn't necessarily mean cake. Brioches are another example of what i have in mind. I doubt that you would call them "cake".
I've tasted a true Italian pannetone. It ain't bread!
It's not bread and it's not cake. Americans call it sweet bread but it's an understatement. It's really something of its own that requires very strong flours.
Many different British flours fall under this category. I understand perhaps your attempt didn't work out but perhaps there were other factors at play rather than just the ingredients.
and let me know the results I'll try again.
I tried all bread/strong/very strong for sale at Tesco, Sainsbury, Lidl, Waitrose, Asda. At Aldi i never found a bread flour.
Is not something I make nor is it something I'll choose to eat. All I'm saying is in my experience the flour is strong and I don't have any issues. I'm having a look at recipes here which even use plain flour and that is flour made for cake type recipes as it's weaker gluten. Even more so the strong bread flours available.
It's my understanding that even with strong flour the recipe can be tricky. My advice is to speak to someone here who has experience with making panettone. I'm sure Michael Wilson has done so.
Michael even explains he used a soft flour (weaker gluten) for his panettone.
A very successful panettone with a low protein flour. And at 11.7% protein (note: bread flour in the UK regularly is 12.7% protein and higher with the one I'm using at the moment being 14%) not all of that is gluten either. The actual recipe calls for an even lower 10.7% protein flour. Looks like the protein, high or low, isn't the be all or end all for a successful panettone. In fact it seems that lower protein is preferred!
Here is the link.
Michael was using italian flours. I don't know if he has switched flours since then.
If I'm not mistaken Yippee is not in the UK, either.
Unfortunately the protein content doesn't say anything useful. The dry gluten content would be useful, but no one writes it.
You were talking about "strong or weak" gluten. The flour in the UK is strong gluten (of varying degrees, of very high quality, even more so than other European counterparts.
I don't have issues when baking. Produces wonderful bread. so I'm not sure what you're on about.
Yippee I believe is down under (I think) and they don't have what you'd call great flour.
What other unknown properties are you talking about? Perhaps you should be looking more towards skill.
Strong flours have a stability of 20 minutes or more.
Unfortunately I've never seen results like the above published by a mill in the UK.
Or a published paper?
Learn how to make panettone instead of looking for papers. Seeing results come from baking and I've seen excellent results.
or before writing you would have read what I wrote, made some research and found out that I made literally hundreds of panettone, colomba, brioche and other doughs of that kind. I even posted the results in TFL, several times.
I know how to make them, thanks very much. A lot of years of experience teach a lot! I just need the right flour, like one of the technical flours that I had in Italy and that unfortunately here seem to be unavailable.
If you had read what I wrote since I started my replies you would have realised that 1) I know what I need 2) I know how to do it 3) I just miss the right flour because none of the UK flours that I tried was up to the job, but judging from the lack of context and by the speed of your replies you are not interested in understanding.
The papers were an attempt to let you understand the technical principles underlying the characteristics of a flour, but apparently you are not interested.
As far as I'm concerned this argument can end here.
You're funny. Hope you find what you're searching for.
What I don't understand is out of all European types of flour British flour is ta the high end of the scale for strong flour. I've never had issues so I don't know where you are going wrong.
I can only comment on what I've experienced. I experience strong good quality flour.
Best of luck.
What flour are you using Lechem?
I assume you are in the UK and using UK flour?
Thanks for your input am going to print off the whole thread and keep it close : )
I think you should print off the thread and then delete it. Became a bit heated. So for your eyes only!
Well it all depends on what I can pick up at the time. So it's convenience as well.
At the moment I'm using Allinsons Very Strong Bread Flour
But their strong bread flour is also fine.
Sometimes I pick up a bag of Sainsbury's strong bread flour. Or Dove's Farm Strong bread flour.
I live in London.
I would say it's not all plain sailing with UK flour, but that probably applies wherever in the world you are!
So a lot of bread flours can have quirks, most of which you can live with, once you know them. The old adage of finding one you like and sticking with it makes a lot of sense.
One area where I would agree with nicodvb is flour specifications. British millers probably do all the tests like falling number, but they are extremely reluctant to publish full specs for their flours. No doubt if you are buying 1000 tons a year they will give them to you but not to the home baker. Italian millers do seem more open in their release of information.
Interesting about the Waitrose bread flour...which is what I normally use...
...actually scrub that as usually only use organic so that probably doesn’t apply...but thanks so much for your comment, it will all go in the new log...
Huge thank you to you wonderful forum members!
Am so grateful for all your excellent advice, I will try and post pics.
A truly remarkable turn around in my bread making has happened, I am stunned...
I’ve followed your generous advice and all the links.
So here is what I did in case anyone stumbles across this post...
Firstly I revisited Vanessa Kimbell’s sourdough recipe again, this was the very first one I encountered before moving on to the American recipes, but it still didn’t really provide the wow I wanted...so...I printed off some of the English recipes in the links below her sourdough recipe.
Ordered a selection of beautiful organic flours from Shipton Mill.
Printed off a few more customer recipes from the Shipton Mill website that I thought looked good.
Collated all the information, studied it, boldly made up my own recipe...to my own schedule...
Using the correct ratios was a completely different experience, the dough practically shaped itself, held its shape, behaved exactly as it should...I think working with all the really wet dough previously may have possibly helped in the handling in some way...?
So, I have actually made real bread lovelier than shop bought...hooray!
Am pleased to say that it has also passed the partner taste test challenge too...now I have quite a lot of bread to make to keep up with demands!
I’m so glad I found this forum and the wealth of experience that you have all so generously shared with me.
Can you write a post with the details about your process and recipe? I would love to learn from your success!
Specifically, I am hoping to know the following:
Hi texasbakerdad, so it may have been a complete fluke but I’ll jot down here what I did...I’m trying again today to make sure that it wasn’t a one off...
Day 1 Late afternoon evening
Mix together by hand, cover and put in the fridge to Autolyse
Day 2 Early morning
Remove dough from fridge at least an hour before you want to use.
Pour onto dough and ‘dimple’ in.
Pour into a glass bowl and bulk ferment all day in a dark cool pantry.
Day 2 Evening
Knock back gently
Stretch and fold
Bench rest 30 minutes
Fold and Shape - incredibly no flour needed at this stage and the dough seemed to roll itself up.
Place in floured (rice flour) banneton cover and place in fridge overnight.
Removed from fridge 2 hours before bake.
My oven is a little broken...so I took my dough to work to cook in my bosses Aga (20 minutes at 70mph...)
Preheated cast iron Dutch Oven for 1 hour
Turned dough on to floured baking parchment and scored
Placed in hot Dutch Oven with lid on for 30 minutes
Removed lid and continued to bake for a further 30minutes
Cooled on end
That sir, is a work of art. Don't eat it! Hang it on your wall! Nice job!
Thank you : ) am incredibly happy with the result and totally surprised...
So pleased with your result and amazing bake! You've got that fermentation right...........Kat
Thanks Kat...am so pleased but now worried that it was an utter fluke...am trying to pull it off again today...