Most mornings I am woken before 6am by a very cute baby babbling in her cot or one of two tornadoes that tear through my room, destroying everything in their path. It’s never easy dragging yourself out of bed at this time… except that is, when there is bread to be baked. Now that I know my loaves are going to turn out as they should, I wait for the baby to start stirring or the tornado to touch down and then I happily jump out of bed to crank the oven up. Does this mean I love bread more than my children? It’s unlikely, but after a string of disappointments on the sourdough bread journey, I’m finally able to enjoy the consistent satisfaction of freshly baked bread. It’s a good feeling.
I thought i’d share a few of the things that (I believe) have contributed to the success of my bread to help any home bakers out there who may be struggling in the kitchen. I am in no way producing artisan bakery level bread… but i’m on my way…
Pay attention to temperature
I now have a thermometer in one corner of my kitchen where I leave the bread to ferment. I use this to calculate the temperature that the water should be for making the leaven and mixing the dough. Tivoli Road Bakery have a good formula that I follow. Let’s say your kitchen is 20 degrees celcius:
Ideal temperature for bread making is 26 degrees
26 degrees x 2 = 52
52 – 20 degrees (current kitchen temperature)
= 32 degrees (the temperature the water should be to make your leaven and mix your dough)
I used to add temperate water by feel but I now know that the water would have been much too warm for the conditions in my kitchen, producing a wet, hard to handle dough (and consequently a flat loaf). By controlling the temperature of the water I find that the dough isn’t as billowy after bulk fermentation but it’s much easier to handle and shape.
Turn your dough during bulk fermentation
In the early days I read somewhere that completing all the turns during bulk fermentation was not necessary. Considering you need to be around to turn the bread every half hour, I was happy to to take on this piece of advice as it meant that I wasn’t housebound. In hindsight, this was probably not the best move and the source of the information is questionable. Turning the dough every 30 – 45 mins throughout bulk fermentation builds structure in the dough which is important to the robustness of your final loaf. So now I plan to make bread on a day where I am happy to be home in the afternoon – turning, turning, turning.
Use filtered water
I always filter the water that I use for mixing the leaven and the dough. As mentioned in my last post, the chlorine in tap water can kill a starter. I do know bakers who don’t filter the water and get good results but I am too afraid to turn back!
Try using a rye starter
I made my own rye starter from scratch. It’s more robust than a plain/wholemeal flour and to date has given consistently good results. It’s also nice to know that the sourdough bread is 100% mine from the start of the process to the end.
Each time I bake now I make two 70% plain/30% wholemeal loaves and then I make an experimental loaf such as the olive bread you see here. I freeze one loaf so we always have bread on hand.
Before I started making bread, I was spending $8 or more on a loaf of artisan bread at the market, often buying 4 loaves a week (spanish blood…). While I don’t make my own bread to save money, it does feel good to know that you’re producing similar quality bread for less than half the price. After all, it’s only flour, salt and water…