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

Cardamom Buns

As much as I’ve tried to avoid baking sweet things, I do love the reaction I get when I share these treats with friends and family. The festive season has been the ideal time to test, tweak and perfect the recipe, although it’s a frightfully early start if you want to get them on the table in time for breakfast.

Ingredients: (makes 12)

Buns:

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 200ml milk
  • 5g salt
  • 7g sachet dried yeast (Easy Bake or Quick Yeast)*
  • 250g plain flour
  • 250g strong bread flour
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 eggs

Filling:

  • 100g unsalted butter (softened)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground cardamom

Coating:

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon

Method:

  1. Start the buns by melting the butter in a pan with the milk and the salt. Allow it to cool a little.
  2. Mix the flour, yeast, cardamom and sugar in a bowl and incorporate the eggs and the melted butter and milk.
  3. Knead the dough for 5 minutes until smooth. A dough scraper will help as it will be quite wet and sticky at first.
  4. Leave the dough covered in a warm place to proof for 1 hour or until doubled in size. proving dough
  5. For the filling, mix the softened butter with the sugar, cardamom and cinnamon until combined.
  6. Roll out the dough out into a square about 35 x 35cm.
  7. Spread the filling over evenly and then roll the dough up.
  8. Slice it up into 12 pieces and place them onto a baking tray or into muffin cases. You can use a fine piece of string/cotton/wire to loop around slice the dough instead of a knife – this will prevent the dough getting squashed out of shape. Cardamom bun 2nd proof
  9. Cover and leave the dough to proof for a further 30-45 minutes.
  10. Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan or 200°C conventional) and mix together the remaining caster sugar and cinnamon.
  11. Brush with beaten egg, dust with plenty of the sugar mix and bake for 12-15 minutes.

cardamom buns

cardamom rolls

*If you’re using ‘easy bake’ or ‘quick yeast’, you can add it straight to the flour mix, otherwise, you’ll need to activate the yeast by first mixing it with a splash of warm water and a sprinkle of sugar. It will be ready to go as soon as it starts to bubble.

Baked Feta

“What’s your signature dish?” A fairly ubiquitous question which I have to admit I loath hearing as a result of routinely struggling to think of a satisfactory answer. Why? I suspect it’s because I’m far more interested in exploring new and exciting dishes than honing one in particular, but if you were to ask me which recipe I’m most proud of, this would undoubtedly be it.

Crafted from disparate concepts I’d pilfered from a couple of intriguing recipes which irritatingly I can no longer recall, the feta cheese element perfectly compliments the riot of flavours in the topping to balance everything out with surprising harmony.

Soft, warm, creamy, salty cheese, finished with a cold, sweet, spicy, sticky, aromatic, acidic, zingy dressing. Pass me a spoon.

It may not be the most elegant dish, but give it a taste and I’m sure you’ll agree that looks can be remarkably deceiving.

Ingredients:

  • 20g fresh ginger, very finely diced
  • ½ hot green chilli (10g), very finely diced
  • Handful fresh coriander, chopped
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ unwaxed lemon, zest and juice
  • 75g stoned dates, chopped (Medjool are best!)
  • Feta cheese (200g block is enough for 2 people)

Method:

Do not underestimate how long it takes to finely chop all the ingredients.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Place the feta in a heatproof dish and bake it for about 15 minutes or until it starts to brown very slightly on the edges. It wants to have a subtle sheen and a slight wobble to it like a panna cotta. 

feta cheese

Mix the rest of the ingredients together to make the topping.

Dress the hot cheese and serve with spoons.  

baked and topped feta cheese

Note that if you have any of the topping left over (this is probably enough for 2 blocks of feta – 4 people), it will keep for a few days if covered in the fridge…. You’ll just have to bake some more cheese or find another delicious use for it – please let me know if you do! 

baked feta cheese

Curried Popcorn

Inspired and tweaked from a Stéphane Reynaud recipe, this is a surprising twist on the norm. Popcorn can be a reasonably healthy snack, although the classic styles are far from it.

Popping your own corn couldn’t be simpler – just heat a little oil in a large pan until shimmering, add the corn kernels and cover with a lid. Give it a little shake and then wait for the popping sound to subside.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 50g popping corn
  • 35g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp garam masala (or any curry powder)
  • zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, finely grated
  • Pinch of salt 

Method:

Once you’ve popped the corn as described above, mix in the other ingredients whilst it’s still hot and serve. Too easy.

lemon and curry flavoured popcorn

You could use pretty much any flavoured butter you might have.

Pangrattato

Everyone should have homemade pangrattato in their store cupboard. It ticks so many culinary boxes:

  • easy to make
  • easy to store
  • virtually free
  • absolutely delicious
  • improves a plethora of dishes
  • reduces food waste
  • you can’t buy it in the shops

It’s remarkably satisfying, so why wouldn’t you!?!

What is it?

A literal translation from Italian would be ‘grated bread’ – basically, pangrattato is toasted breadcrumbs.

sourdough pangrattato

Uses?

I use it as a garnish to add a little flavoured texture and make dishes more interesting – risotto, spaghetti, baked cheeses, lasagne, creamed leeks, gratins, Mac n’ Cheese! It’s gold dust in my eyes.

I’m sold, so how do I make it?

Tear up any bread that you have leftover (that’s not mouldy obviously) and pop it into a food processor with a clove of garlic and a few fresh herbs if you have them. Give it a blitz until it resembles breadcrumbs and then drizzle in a little olive oil with the motor still running. It only needs enough oil to very lightly coat the crumbs.

Tip the crumbs into a dry frying pan and toast them over a medium heat, stirring and moving them around constantly until they become golden in colour – you’ll hear the sound change as the crumb becomes crispy. Tip it out onto a tray so that it can cool evenly and then store it in a glass jar, ready for sprinkling when the moment takes you.

You can experiment with flavours if you like – try adding different combinations of herbs such as rosemary, sage or thyme, perhaps an anchovy fillet and a little of its flavourful oil or some unwaxed lemon zest. Dried chillies will give it a deeper flavour and a bit of a kick.

Now, I appreciate that many people will discard the crusts from their sliced loaf as a matter of routine. @toastale actually make good use of this bread to make beer from packet sandwich manufacturing! If you chuck your crusts and any leftover bread into a freezer bag now and again, you’ll be able to defrost it all at the same time and cook up a big batch of pangrattato every few months.

Not an ounce of my precious sourdough goes to waste!

sourdough bread