Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Bread. The Saga Continues...

I've spent the better part of the last year and a small fortune on flour trying to achieve a really good loaf of sourdough bread. I'd made starter after starter, following a few slightly different methods, finally to end up with Algernon, my starter who has been living in my fridge for about four months now. Like leading men and Iberico ham, Algernon is improving with age, giving me a slightly more complex flavour and more active rise every time I use him. So it seems that while yes, it can take a while (days) to make a really good loaf of sourdough, it is worth investing some serious time in your pet starter, as over time you'll be rewarded a better and better loaf.

Last week, I bought a bag of Malted Blend organic wheat flour produced by Bacheldre Mill, a 16th century traditional watermill in Wales. Being still fairly new to bread baking, I'd never used malted flour before. I even had to Google 'malted wheat' because I wasn't quite sure what it even was.
Apparently, they let the grain germinate, thus releasing some of the sugar from the kernel, giving the bread a sweeter, nuttier flavour. This blend is a mixture of malted wheat and rolled malted wheat flakes.
I made the bread the same way that I made my last loaf of white sourdough, but replaced all of the flour with the malted blend. I made it to serve with a pasta dish I was making for dinner (tasty but not worth posting) for my hubby, stepson and stepson's friend. (In case you had not noticed, ours is a carb-friendly house.)

My stepson has an almost pathological aversion to wholemeal bread and the crusts in particular. It's not bad enough that I pack it in his lunch every day, but now I'm serving it with dinner??! I had put a large plate of the still-warm bread on the table, from which he and his friend took the smallest pieces.
Three pieces and a return trip to the kitchen to get more later, I said to Christian "I thought you didn't like wholemeal or crusty bread!" to which he said, wide-eyed "I KNOW, but this is SO GOOD!" His friend nodded enthusiastically with his mouth full.

That was yesterday. There is no more bread left now. as it got polished off with breakfast and at lunch today but I'm going to make another loaf tomorrow. I also bought a bag of Bacheldre's wholemeal rye flour, so I'll report back and let you all know how that turns out.

Malted Wheat Sourdough Bread
For the sponge:
250g (8.8oz) organic malted blend wheat flour
300ml (10.14oz) warm water
100ml (3.38oz) sourdough starter -Here is one of a few good resources for starter recipes/methods.

For the finished loaf:
285g (10oz) more flour
10g (.4oz) fine sea salt
 tbsp cornmeal or polenta for dusting

At least 24 hours before serving, start the sponge. Mix together the warm water, starter and flour well until you have a wet, stretchy batter. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place overnight.

After 12 hours, you should have a bubbly, frothy mixture that smells all sour and beery. If only a little foamy, leave it for several hours more and see if it doesn't get the light, loose spongy appearance you're after. One thing I definitely learned is that you can't rush a sourdough and that at the beginning, a starter might need a little longer to work its magic.

Add the remaining flour and the salt to the dough (you can use the dough hook on your stand mixer for this part) and then knead well by hand for a good 8-10 minutes, until you have a very smooth, elastic dough that is a little on the wet side.
Spread a little olive oil all over the inside of a large bowl, form your dough into a ball and put in the bowl, covered with cling film in a warm place until at least doubled in size. This may take 4 or 5 hours, it may take ten, it just depends on your starter.

Punch the dough down and give it one final little knead, then shape it into whichever shape loaf you'd like and place on a board scattered with polenta or cornmeal to prevent sticking.

I cover my dough with the large clear plastic bowl from my salad spinner, but you could use a tea towel. Leave it to rise for a final time, probably around 2 hours, then turn your oven to 200C (400F) and put a baking sheet or (even better) a baking stone in to get nice and hot.
When the oven is hot, remove the baking sheet, (or stone) slash the top of the loaf quickly with a sharp knife and carefully slide your risen loaf onto the baking sheet.

Put a small bowl of water on the floor of the oven to help form a crust and set the timer for 40 minutes.

Check the loaf after 40 minutes by turning it over and tapping on the bottom. It should be dry and firm and there should be a hollow sound when you hit it.

After baking a few loaves of sourdough, as is true for many foods, you'll be able to smell when it's done. It's like a little nose alarm goes of like an oven timer and even if you're engrossed in a book (or 30 Rock...) your head will snap up and you'll just know. The first time I was aware of this phenomenon was when I was roasting chicken as a young thing.

Anyway, back to the bread. That's pretty much it. Take it out of the oven when it sounds right and you're happy with the colour. Try not to cut into it while it's really hot because you'll squish the inside into a doughy wad.

This was so good, I ate more bread in the past 24 hours than I usually do in a week. I then made pizza for supper, so I'm in a gluten stupor and I'm getting muscles in my upper arms from all the kneading. I'll look like Madonna with a potbelly in no time!

I wont pretend to be any kind of authority on the vagaries of sourdough, this is just the method I've been following recently. If you have helpful hints or critiques, please leave them in the comments section. xoxo

Malt Bread on FoodistaMalt Bread


  1. I love artisan bread, this one looks so good.

  2. !! Algernon... That's so clever. I named mine Vern just because it was the first name to pop up in my head. o.O He died in November, though, after almost half a year of care, when I got the swine flu and stopped feeding him... I've been too lazy to start another one. :(
    I don't think I've ever had malted wheat flour. The company I buy my flours from uses malted barley flour as an addition to their flours; I knew why a while ago but I forgot. Probably something to do with flavor.
    Hahaha your stepson sounds like my sister. She's SUPER picky and I have to bake according to her tastes for her to eat any bread. But, she once said that store-bought bread is better than homemade because it has preservatives so it lasts a really long time, so I don't really trust her opinion on bread, anyway. ;)

    You seem to have got the sourdough thing down pat. I usually added the salt on the final knead, so that there were no restrictions whatsoever on the wild yeast. But I was probably being too cautious anyhow because obviously your method worked out for you. :P Also, if you have two baking sheets that stack on top of each other, I'd use the stack instead of the single baking sheet as a replacement for the stone. It conducts more heat (not as much as a stone, but still). Oh, and a better way to steam the breads is to heat a heat-proof dish in the oven while it's preheating, then when the dough goes in you pour a little hot water in (carefully) and it creates an immediate blast of steam and a really nice crust. :) I kind of crammed my head with bread-baking tips when I taught myself how to make bread last year. ;)

    The bread looks gorgeous! I think in the summer I'll get around to making another starter.

  3. Thanks girls!
    Mo, thanks for the ideas! I'm still totally playing with various methods, tweaking a little here and there. I left my baking stone in the States when I moved back here and have replaced it with a large unglazed porcelain tile that I had cut to fit my oven. It works like a CHARM and was cost about £3!!
    I love the idea of throwing water into a hot baking dish! I will try that next time. Sometimes I'll use a spray bottle filled with water, but that requires remembering to go out into the greenhouse first:-)
    Let us know on your blog how your starter goes!

  4. I love making bread at home and love the smell it spreads when cooking. Yours look great with that brown color.

  5. I love your blog. I love the name of the scary starter that lives in your fridge. How perfect. Cheers to you for making such a glorious bread!

  6. Zerrin, you're right, there's nothing like making bread at home. The smell of the dough when it's risen, that nuttiness that wafts through the house when it's aaalllmost ready...
    I love to time it for when one of the guys is coming home.

    Redmenace, coming from you, that is high praise indeed. Really. I spent a LONG time reading your blog and must admit to more than a few twinges of blog envy!

  7. Hey Emily, this bread sounds wonderful. I don't make sourdough a lot, so no hints coming from this arena. You probably would be who I'd have to get them from if I ever attempt this.
    By the way, I love the way your sandwich looks all southern (American) with those fresh cukes!

  8. awesome blog! I lived in San Francisco for several years (*sob* I miss it so) and got REALLY spoiled by the sour dough bread there...I am too lazy to make my own, just order it from San Francisco! but I am in awe of you for making your own!

  9. Stella, I didn't know that they use cucumbers in Southern sandwiches too. I always wanted to visit Georgia and other parts of the South so that I can experience proper Southern cooking.
    I did go to New Orleans a few years ago and LOVED the food there, especially the po' boys!

    Monica, Thanks so much. I love yours too!
    San Fran is my favourite part of the States. In fact, if we ever move back it will be to that area.
    I would like to be able to make a pale, golden loaf of sourdough the way they do in SF. I do like the browner, crustier European version but it would be nice to do it a little softer.