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

Bath Road Boom

Bath Road Beers

What a result. Bath Road Beers in Cheltenham has only gone and won the Independent Beer Retailer of the Year award!

Fuelled on the joys of a local high-end beer shop opening on my doorstep back in 2018, it was only fitting to share this with the local community: https://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/seven-secret-gloucestershire-spots-you-1833420

Andrew and Will took the business from strength to strength, extending their range of outstanding beers and building the community they dreamed of; running club, home brewing society, games club, guest speakers and special events galore.

Well done guys and may you continue to serve your clientele with such heady enthusiasm.

Bath Road Beers award

Inside Bath Road Beers

Bombay & Co

Is it possible that this is the best place to eat in Cheltenham right now? For me, it’s probably the best place I’ve ever eaten in Gloucestershire. Bold words, but here’s my logic..

Bombay & Co excites me. London life bleeds my time and energy to write reviews at my former pace, but I’m simply compelled as thought it’s my civic duty to make a public service announcement. This restaurant excites me like the discovery of a lost city or a new species of butterfly – I’m desperately trying to soak up the moment and relive the details before it’s changed forever more.

Forget the menu; just ask politely to be fed and trust your host to provide you with an array of street food, carefully and thoughtfully sequenced for maximum culinary impact on your taste buds.

Gushing reviews make me nauseous, but don’t despair, there’s balance that adds to the charm. Bombay & Co would have passed me by if it weren’t for a local pal dragging me to the crappy end of the High Street. First impressions and the all-important curb-appeal? My self-confessed snobbish standards would likely have kept me from ever passing through the wonky doors between the tatty drapes. Actually, maybe it’s been there for years and I’ve simply never even noticed it.

I’d usually write lots more and wax lyrical about the dishes themselves, the flavour combinations and layout on the plate etc, but I don’t want to spoil your own personal experience. Just let them take you on a street food journey – it’s so ridiculously cheap and remarkably good value for money that you simply can’t go wrong.

Who would have thought that cheap and nasty white burger buns would marry so well with Dabeli or Pav Bhajji. They import all their spices from India and make everything from scratch; Pani Pooori, Bombay Mix, the works. They’re even opening for breakfast every Sunday folks!

The cobbled, basic setup and graffiti artwork decoration is brilliant. Even the spelling mistakes – bonus points if you can spot one. Eating is all about the experience and if anything, I’d say that it heightened the senses, making the delectable flavours even more surprising, like a ingeniously engineered juxtaposition. It’s not, but it makes me smile to think that we’re all being duped and there’s a Michelin-starred kitchen and highly-polished brigade on the other side of the swing-door. Alas the FSA hygiene rating confirms there isn’t.

It’s the balance of food, atmosphere, price and environment that makes an eating establishment truly great and stand out above the rest. Friendly, relaxed, welcoming, cheap and above all else, delicious. I beg you Bombay & Co, please don’t change a thing. It’s inevitable that they eventually will, as success and recognition lead to change, so make the most of it whilst you can; get your tiffins at the ready, the spirit of Mumbai has arrived in the Cotswolds.

pani poori at Bombay & Co Cheltenham
Dosa at Bombay & Co Cheltenham
Tandoori Pomfret at Bombay & Co Cheltenham
deliciousness

Bombay @ Co:

337 High Street, Cheltenham, GL50 3HS

dine@bombaynco.uk

01242584301

@bombaynco

Curing Egg Yolks

Sounds crazy right? Fear not, it’s remarkably simple and insanely delicious. In just 4 days you can transform an egg yolk into an umami-heavy delight with the characteristics and texture of Parmesan cheese.

The story starts as always with the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can afford. I normally use medium-size local organic free-range eggs.

Decide how many eggs you’d like to cure and select a dish or tupperware container large enough to house them comfortably without them touching each other. You’ll then need enough salt and sugar to bury them completely.

Separate your eggs and either freeze your whites (albumen) for later use, or make some meringues, omelettes or something useful.

Make yourself a curing mix by combining equal quantities of salt and sugar.  You may want to add in some other flavourings to jazz it up a bit: peppercorns, seaweed, mace, chilli flakes, cloves – whatever takes your fancy.

Put at least a 1cm of the mix in the bottom of your container, use the back of a spoon to make a little indentation for each yolk to sit in, place them in and then cover them all up with the rest of your curing mix.

egg yolk ready to be cured

Pop the lid on or cover your dish with cling film before putting them to bed in your fridge for 4 days.

Carefully remove the yolks and then rinse off any excess cure that sticking to them.

cured egg yolks ready to be rinsed

Next you’ll need to dry them out completely by placing them on a wire rack in a very low oven (50°C) for an hour or two.

drying cured egg yolks in a low oven

Your cured yolks will live happily in a container in the fridge for up to a month.

cured egg yolks

How to use them? Just finely grate them in the same way that you would use Parmesan cheese on pasta, asparagus, whatever you’d like. I just love it over buttered sourdough toast.

cured egg yolk on buttered sourdough

Sourdough Bread

As promised, here’s the recipe I’m generally following to make sourdough loaves. It assumes that you have a dutch oven, but if you don’t, you can use a large cast iron cooking pot with a tight fitting lid.

The story begins with a sourdough starter. If you don’t already have your own, you can find my recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • 80g sourdough starter
  • 580g strong white organic flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 380g water
  • 15g salt
  • Rice flour for dusting
  • Semolina for dusting

Equipment that will help:

  • Digital scales
  • Measuring jug
  • Dough scraper – good for shaping and moving your dough
  • Large bowl
  • Shower cap/cling film/cloth
  • Banneton – wicker basket for proving
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Lame, razor blade or bread knife
  • Water mister/sprayer
  • Dutch oven or cast iron pot
  • Cooling rack

Method:

Sourdough is all about time. You can’t rush flavour.

  1. The night before you want to bake, combine 80g of your sourdough starter, 80g strong organic white flour and 80g water in a bowl or tupperware container, mix thoroughly, cover and leave at room temperature.  This will be your sponge.
  2. The following morning, add 300g water to your sponge and very roughly mix in 500g strong organic white flour. Cover with a shower cap and leave for an hour to allow the flour to absorb the water. This stage is called the autolyse.
  3. Mix in 15g salt and knead the dough on a clean surface for about 10 minutes. It will hold its shape and become less sticky as the gluten develops.
  4. Shape your dough into a ball, lightly dust with flour, and place it in a bowl. Cover and leave it to rest for 1 hour.
  5. Remove the dough from the bowl, knock it back and reshape it into a ball by working the outer edges into the centre. Cover and leave it to rest at room temperature for a further hour.
  6. Knock the dough back and reshape a further two times, until it has spent a total of 4 hours fermenting.
  7. Dust your banneton or bowl liberally with rice flour, shape your dough for the last time, place it inside and cover with a shower cap or cloth. Leave your dough to prove for 4 hours.
  8. Preheat your oven to full temperature with your dutch oven or cast iron pot inside. I wait around 30 minutes for everything to heat up sufficiently.
  9. Carefully turn your dough out onto a piece of greaseproof paper dusted with semolina. ready to be slashed and baked
  10. Slash the top of your dough with a lame, razor blade or sharp bread knife.
  11. Very carefully place your dough inside your dutch oven and spritz with water.
  12. Bake for 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 230 degrees centigrade and baking for a further 40 minutes.
  13. Carefully remove your bread and leave it to rest on a cooling rack.
  14. Admire and devour.

I find that a dutch oven creates a great environment for the bread to bake in the absence of a professional oven. The reality is that there are many, many variables in play when it comes to baking bread. Literally everything makes a difference, from the water, air and flour temperatures, to brand of flour and type of oven. For this reason, regular practice, keen observation and confident intuition are what truly makes great bread. The more you bake, the more you’ll learn and develop that all important feel for what’s going on with your dough.

Godspeed folks.

freshly baked sourdough bread