Sourdough Is For Life, Not Just For Lockdown

Like puppies at Christmas, sourdough starter deserves enduring love and care – the starter you made, bought or were gifted during the coronavirus lockdown will actually live on, in perpetuum. I fear that a significant number of those who developed a newfound love of home baking during the unprecedented Covid-19 restrictions will all too quickly revert to mass-produced pappy, low-nutrition loaves from supermarket shelves as people start returning to their hectic working lives. After all, good sourdough is all about the devotion of time and attention to detail.

There’s hope though. If you baked enough sourdough loaves during the lockdown, developed your process and timing, and savoured the unique flavour that’s only achievable to the artisan baker, you’ll be hooked. Once you’ve tasted the good stuff and appreciated the undeniable magic that is transforming flour, water and salt into open, tangy crumb, you’ll no doubt want to persist with your endeavours.

But, alas, my bet is that most of the sourdough cultures that thrived during the height of lockdown, will have now sadly perished; neglected, and simply starved to death.

So how might we be able to save these vulnerable lives? Read on, my flour dusted friends.

  1. Refrigerate – covered over to protect it from the cold, dehydrating air of the fridge, your sourdough starter will easily survive for a couple of weeks without feeding. The cold will slow down the activity of the culture, so if it’s been fed just before going into the fridge then it’ll have enough food to keep it going. It may develop a layer of hooch on the top, but you can just mix it all up and feed it over a couple of days at room temperature to get it back to peak performance. Refrigerated sourdough starter
  2. Freeze – the extreme cryogenic option. Pop some of your starter in a ziplock bag, seal it up, label it and chuck it in the freezer. I’ll admit that I’ve not yet tried to revive any of my own backup starter from the freezer yet, but in theory it’ll just need to be defrosted and then given a good feed, air and warmth (I’ll update this post in due course) Frozen Dave 
  3. Dehydrate – take a little starter and spread it out very thinly on a sheet of greaseproof paper or a silicone mat. Leave it on a wire rack in a warm, airy environment until it has dried out completely. Once it’s brittle you can pop it into a labelled glass jar and store it for ages. This is an ideal option for transporting a starter.

     

  4. Share – keep sharing cuts of your starter with friends and colleagues with instructions on how to look after it (just like the traditional Amish Herman the German friendship cake https://hermanthegermanfriendshipcake.com/). This is the ultimate in offsite backup options – especially if your friends and family keep some in their freezer. dave
  5. Perfect – I’m convinced that once you’ve mastered a routine and timing which you can literally ‘work around’, it makes it so much easier to just keep baking! It’s of course sage to retain a backup starter using one or more of the above methods. 

In an ideal world, we’ll return to a place where the deep knowledge and experience of baking at home is commonplace once again. 

As always, do get in touch if you have any questions. 

Lockdown Sourdough

The staff of life. Bread connects every human, transcending continents, countries, creeds and clans. The COVID-19 outbreak appears to have encouraged a resurgence in home baking (and a run on flour amongst other basic staples). There are many different types of bread, but I’m obsessed with classic sourdough bread – the old way of baking using a living wild yeast starter, before dried yeasts were invented and mass production led us astray.

I’ll try to summarise everything you’ll need to know about creating a starter, looking after it and baking sourdough bread – please do reach out to me via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or email if you have any questions or queries.

To start, you’ll need a starter (!)

Making your very own unique starter from scratch is really straight forward and it’s something you can be really proud of – everything you need to know is right here: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/02/21/sourdough-starter/

I’ve been handing out cuts of my sourdough starter, Däve, to anyone who’s local enough to collect him from the wall outside.

What to do if you’re gifted a live starter?

First of all, you’ll probably want to find him/her a new home (and think of a name for your new lockdown companion!).  A 600ml jar with a lid is ideal for looking after your starter as it provides enough space for it to grow if you’re keeping it around 100g.

Next you’ll want to feed/refresh it. If you’ve only been given a small amount, you might want to bulk it up in size, but generally you’ll halve the starter (discarding or baking with half) and feeding the other half with a 50/50 mix of flour and water.

Bread flour can be tricky to get hold of at the moment, and you’ll need enough to keep your starter alive, so here’s some tips for:

Reducing flour consumption

  • Refrigeration: Popping it into the fridge in a sealed container will slow down the fermentation process so you can get away with feeding it once every couple of weeks (although you’ll need to refresh it a few times to get it back up to strength before you can bake with it again)
  • Freezing: believe it or not, you can freeze a portion of your starter in a ziplock bag and keep it in suspended animation – defrosting and feeding at some point in the future.
  • Dehydration: spread a little starter out on a piece of greaseproof paper (very thinly) and leave it on a rack to try out completely – you’ll be able to store your precious culture in a jam jar and rehydrate it when you can get hold of flour again.
  • Keep your starter small!

The bake

My preferred process for baking sourdough can be found here: https://foodfitforfelix.com/2018/12/18/sourdough-2-0/ although I’ve more recently been baking my loaves for a total of 50 minutes rather than an hour, and I no longer use semolina as it becomes a little hard after baking. I’ve also decided that I prefer the flavour from wholegrain or malted flour rather than white rye; the choice of flour is yours (as long as it’s strong flour) – you’ll no doubt want to start experimenting with different kinds of flour once you’ve perfected your baking process.

Don’t overlook freezing – just slice your freshly baked bread, wrap it up and freeze it. You can toast slices directly from the freezer.

Leftover bread?

Unlike wine, this does actually happen in our house. Sourdough bread lasts much longer than processed bread. If you have some leftover which has started to go stale (but not mouldy) then you can make a panzanella salad (google it), croutons for soup or perhaps the gold dust that is pangrattato – https://foodfitforfelix.com/2019/01/13/pangrattato/

If you can (and ensuring social distancing rules are respected), share! Starters, flours, fresh bread, tips, ideas, bannetons, recipes, hope and joy.

sourdough bread

Childhood Obesity Strategy: Chapter 2

The tumultuous wranglings of the British political system paired with recent high-profile events has had me on pause, but I’m hopeful that some form of normality will return soon. The big news is that Her Majesty’s Government has released chapter 2 of the Childhood Obesity Strategy. The Prime Minister opens with the sad truth:

“The health and well-being of our children critically determines their opportunities in life. Today, nothing threatens that more than childhood obesity.”

The last strategy paper was a huge disappointment. I wrote about it almost exactly two years ago here. It simply didn’t go far enough and it lacked true accountability.

Jamie Oliver has given his views of Chapter 2 and we’re all feeling a lot more optimistic this time:

“I feel it’s really important to credit this much more holistic, multi-pronged, clearer and more convincing childhood obesity strategy. It’s not perfect, but it is underpinned by a big bold target to halve childhood obesity by 2030, and I fully support this in every way. It’s a vast improvement from the first and fills me with a sense of hope.”

You can read the rest of his statement here.

So what does Chapter 2 say?

The headline is a new national ambition to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030. It’s a big statement that’s going to require the aligning of many many ducks in order to see fruition. It’s more than possible if we get our S.H.1.t together as a modern society.

It’s heartening to read that there’s recognition of how ambitious we really need to be given the current circumstances. How big is the problem? Well, the estimate from the Government is that obesity-related conditions are currently costing the NHS £6.1 billion each year…

The specific points are summarised here:

1. Sugar reduction – The sugar tax (Soft Drinks Industry Levy) has had a great impact so far, with many big companies reformulating their products. There’s a commitment to review additional products such as milk drinks if insufficient progress is made. There will also be consultation on the intention to introduce legislation ending the sale of energy drinks to children. #NotForChildren

2. Calorie reduction – Overall, children are consuming too many calories, so a calorie reduction programme has been introduced to challenge companies to hit a 20% reduction across the board. This has a significant focus on labelling.

3. Advertising and promotions – To reduce the impact of marketing products that are high in fat, sugar and salt, consultation will begin on the introduction of a 9pm watershed on junk food TV advertising. Work is also underway to review price promotions on unhealthy products. #AdEnough

4. Local areas – There are plans to develop a new programme with local authority partners to show what can be achieved within existing powers and understand “what works” in different communities.

5. Schools – A significant update to the School Food Standards to reduce sugar consumption, including detailed guidance to caterers and schools to prepare them for the changes. Additionally, consultation is underway to review the nutrition standards in the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services.

The full document from the UK Government can be read here.

What’s next?

As you can imagine, there’s now going to be a (long) consultation processes to look into all the details – this can be read as a big risk to the strategy and its momentum, or an opportunity for industry to show their customers what they can do for the greater good.

I’m just hoping that we don’t have another backtrack due to changes at the top..

One thing is for certain: we’re not taking our foot off the pedal – we’ve never been so serious or determined, and it’s time to ramp up the campaigning to get us over the line. Anything is possible and it’s our responsibility to make a difference – not only for the wellbeing of our future generations, but also our precious NHS and ultimately the example we can set for the rest of mankind around the world.

Hummus

This Levantine staple fascinates me as children just can’t seem get enough of it. I’ve met very few younglings that would reject a tub of hummus and crudités – but where does that desire stem from? 

Without doubt it’s most certainly delicious and comforting, but would you expect the same reaction from “hey kids, fancy some chickpea purée?”

Does the foreign sounding name (from the Arabic word for chickpeas) make it more accessible to young minds? Perhaps their former years of puréed baby food developed an unconscious affinity for its texture and appearance? I’ve not come to any conclusions yet, but, in some ways, who cares! Is this the perfect vehicle for delivering nutritious goodness and raw vegetables or what?!?  Hummus is packed with fibre, protein and vitamins. It’s also vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free and vegan. Clever little legume. 

It’s ubiquitous in the supermarkets here in the UK, but also remarkably quick, cheap and simple to make at home. You can literally knock hummus up from store cupboard ingredients in a matter of minutes. Beat that.  

Here’s a classic, simple and foolproof recipe for plain hummus.  

Ingredients:

  • 1 tin chickpeas (400g), rinsed & drained
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • ½ garlic clove
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • juice of ½ lemon

Method: 

  1. Reserve a few chickpeas for garnish.
  2. Pop the rest of the chickpeas in a food processor with the tahini, garlic, olive oil, salt and lemon juice.
  3. Blitz the mixture and add a splash of water if it’s too thick.
  4. Give it a taste and carefully adjust with lemon juice and salt until you’re happy with the balance of flavours.

Of course, you can flavour hummus with all sorts of lovely ingredients: beetroot, roasted onion, paprika, edamame and wasabi, roasted red peppers – the list goes on and on. Given the current season, I’ve recently foraged some wild garlic (Ramsons) from here in the Cotswolds to give it a subtle twist. 

Here’s a link to my Harissa Hummus recipe:  https://foodfitforfelix.com/2016/06/22/harissa-houmous/

.. and there are more ideas over on Jamie’s page thanks to our lovely ambassadors: 

https://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/10-twists-simple-houmous/ 

What about dried chickpeas? Is it worth the effort? It must be right? 

garbanzo beans

Dried chickpeas require a little time and love as you can’t eat them raw – they must be soaked overnight in cold water and then simmered for about an hour until tender. The benefit is that they’re even cheaper than the canned variety and you can control the texture by cooking them yourself. Note that they will triple in size once they’re rehydrated.  

To serve, I like to sprinkle over a little spice (paprika, cumin or sumac) and drizzle with a good quality olive oil. Delicious with flatbreads, toasted pitta or breadsticks, freshly cut vegetables such as peppers, cucumber, radish, celery – the choice is yours.

houmous

Hummus will keep for a good few days covered in the fridge.

#AdEnough

Our children are bombarded with junk food advertising from every angle. Fact. On TV, public transport, at street level and online. It’s big business because it works, and it’s fuelling the childhood obesity crisis. We have to speak up and call for change, and Jamie Oliver is doing exactly that with the launch of the #AdEnough campaign.

The Food Revolution is rallying support from followers around the globe to make as much noise as possible in the hope that the government will take meaningful action to safeguard our future generations.

The more I’ve looked into it, the more frightening the bigger picture is. We’re talking about the marketing of food and drink products that are high in unhealthy fats, salt and sugar, to our impressionable younglings. The impact on their health is clear to see, and I’m not ok with that. I for one have #AdEnough

HMG’s Childhood Obesity Strategy aims to make a real difference through an array of interventions and recommendations, but junk food advertising is undermining all of the great work which is being done in schools, homes and communities. It’s time to make a stand. Let’s make one thing clear though, this campaign isn’t aimed at stopping big brands from marketing and advertising their products, it’s about safeguarding children so that they’re not being directly targeted with unhealthy products. It’s about controlling the time and place.

“If kids are constantly being targeted with cheap, easily accessible, unhealthy junk food, just think how hard it must be to make better, healthier choices. We have to make it easier for children to make good decisions.”

And what about the parents? Many people have asked “Isn’t it down to parents to look after their kids, not brands?” – the answer is a resounding yes, but as a parent, I know first hand how difficult it is to maintain the balance and avoid being the bad-guy, repeatedly trying to explain why it’s not a good idea to consume empty calories and unhealthy food, regardless of how tempting and enticing they may look in all their  technicolour falsity. Give us a break! We just want an easy life; there’s more than enough natural risks to worry about in life without the man-made ones conspiring against our precious offspring.

come on guys, give it a rest

Given that the ONLY way our children can avoid this onslaught of obesity-laced advertising it to literally cover their eyes, we’re calling on everyone to post selfies across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram doing just that. Get involved and use the #AdEnough hashtag to show your support for the safeguarding of our children.

We’re reaching out across the globe for this campaign as social media brings with it international influence and the opportunities for other countries to see what a difference the people can make, and follow suit.

I for one have #adenough

#adenough campaign

For further information please head over to Jamie Oliver’s page: https://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/weve-adenough-of-junk-food-marketing/