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

Sourdough 2.0

Sourdough is all about time. As time has passed since my last post about sourdough, I’ve patiently and diligently continued on my quest to make fantastic sourdough. I’ll reiterate that regular practice, keen observation and confident intuition are what truly makes great bread.

Däve is all grown up, well, fourteen months old at the time of writing, and I’m feeling far more proficient in my yeast husbandry. Interestingly, this craft feels quite like parenting in the sense of becoming more and more unconsciously competent as time goes by; I’ve almost stopped thinking about the details and just get on with it. 

Lots of great questions have been coming my way recently so I think it’s the perfect time to take stock and get my latest methodology down for posterity.  

For my best sourdough loaf, I currently do the following (based on my equipment and environment): 

  1. Make sure the starter is on top form and recently fed and watered – if it’s been chilling out in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process then give it a 50/50 organic flour and water feeding, a good mix to aerate it and at least a day at room temperature. TOP TIP: You’ll know that it’s good to go if a spoonful of the starter floats in water. 
  2. Before going to bed, mix 80g of the starter with 80g of organic white bread flour and 80g water. This is your sponge. Cover it with a cloth or a shower cap (it’s your yeast-farming duty to liberate them from hotel rooms at every opportunity). 
  3. The following morning, start the autolyse process by mixing 50g organic white rye flour and 450g organic white bread flour into your sponge with 300g tepid water. Leave it (covered with a shower cap) for an hour or so. This will allow the flour to fully absorb the water, start the fermentation process, and ultimately make it much easier to knead. 
  4. Add 15g salt dissolved in a splash of water (about 10g) and knead your dough for 10 minutes until it’s beautifully smooth and elastic. There’s some real technique to be developed in kneading and shaping your dough, especially when it’s wet, but it isn’t hard to get the hang of it and if you’re like me, you’ll eventually find it more therapeutic than stressful.
  5. We now venture into bulk fermentation. Leave your dough covered for an hour and then lovingly ‘stretch and fold’ with wet hands a few times to incorporate a touch more water and increase hydration à la ‘eau de bassinage’.  This technique will help to develop the gluten further and improve the crumb. Repeat this each hour and then after four hours, shape the dough. To help it keep its shape, you want to stretch the gluten to wrap around itself tightly. I do this by drawing the dough towards myself (google/youtube it). 
  6. Pop your dough into a well dusted banneton (wicker bread proving basket). I use rice flour for this as it’s anhydrous and prevents the dough sticking. Sprinkle some semolina over the top and cover it with your trusty shower cap. 
  7. Put your dough to bed in the top of your fridge and leave it until the following morning. This is the retarded method – it will slow the fermentation down, leading to a more digestible loaf. 
  8. Pop a large cast iron pot into your oven and turn it up as high as it will go. After 30 minutes everything should be stinking hot. 
  9. Take your dough from the fridge and carefully turn it out onto a piece of greaseproof paper. 
  10. Score your dough with a lame or a razor blade in confident, even strokes. This will not only make your bread look good, but it will also help it expand in the oven. 
  11. Being both quick and unbelievably careful in the process, remove your cast iron pot from the oven and lower your dough into it, give it a tiny spritz of water, pop the lid back on and then slip it back into the oven.  
  12. After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to about 210° and bake it for a further 50 minutes. 
  13. Remove your bread and leave it to cool on a wire rack.  

I’ve recently started doubling up on my ingredients to make two loaves at the same time – especially worthwhile given that sourdough bread keeps in perfect condition for such a long time. 

Good luck, godspeed and look out for future updates on my preferred method here and on instagram @foodfitforfelix  

perfect sourdough

#YeastFarmer

Camping Adventures

A dear old friend of mine posed an interesting and somewhat non-trivial question recently: “What do I cook on a 5-week camping road trip around Scandinavia with the (3) kids?”

My initial response was “Holy crap… you lucky bitch!”

Top tips, ideas and advice hey – this is actually quite a task as although we’ve had many, many trips of this nature, they’ve never been anything like that long, and I can completely appreciate the intrinsic motherly anxiety around appropriate nutrition for the smalls.

So here goes – the following are my thoughts on this remarkably exciting adventure into the northern wilds.

  1. Principles
    • The biggest considerations are space and refrigeration. Even with a larger than average vehicle, space is at a premium when camping due to all the other paraphernalia you’ll have stowed. Think through how you can minimise – there’s always prepping options such as decanting into resealable bags (think salt – do you really need that full glass grinder?).
    • Refrigeration limitations will restrict what you have available and what you can store safely. To overcome this, maximise your store cupboard repertoire, but balance this by combining freshly bought fruit, veg and meat whenever you have the opportunity to do so.
    • KISS. The classic design principle of Keep It Simple Stupid; plan for simple dishes and then jazz them up with delicious little flourishes like herbs, cheeses, spices, flavoured oils and vinegars.
  2. Store-Cupboard
    • When I was very small, we’d drive to the south of France in an Austin Allegro and stop at the side of the road on the way – my inimitable mother would bust out a gas burner (the type that screw onto the top of a little gas bottle) and combine the following tin cans in a pot: baked beans, pre-boiled new potatoes, hacked-up corned beef. The classic ‘corned beef hash’. After it had warmed through sufficiently we’d eat it in bowls with brown sauce, and although this sounds truly awful and desperately unappetising to a well-developed palate of the modern day, I still have remarkably clear and fond memories of it (the taste; not how it looked!). I’ve actually recreated this dish at home using the best ingredients I can find and putting much love, care and attention into every individual element. It tastes incredible, but still doesn’t look any better..
    • Your store cupboard will treat you well. Stock it with due care and attention to ensure that there’s always options available to satisfy your families’ appetites should circumstances not pan out as you expected – I can guarantee that this will happen at least once during your trip through the wilderness – probably at the most irritatingly unhelpful time.
    • What kind of things would you want to maintain in your store cupboard as an absolute minimum?
      • Salt & pepper (good stuff – you may as well)
      • Balsamic glaze – transformative in bringing sweetness and depth as a dressing or during cooking.
      • Olive oil – a staple of life in my eyes. Flavoured oils can transform dishes.
      • Seasonings – spices and dried herbs that can lift even a boiled potato and transform it into something sublime.
      • A splash of vinegar: red wine, white wine, cider – pack a little bottle of your favourite for balancing dishes and making salad dressings.
      • Cans/tins – olives, corn, tomatoes, fish, olives, pate, whatever floats your boat. They’re safe, easy to stow and economical. There’s a whole gourmet market out there that’s so worth exploring. I have a thing for cooked mackerel in tomato sauce, but that’s a whole other post.
  3. Stuff
    • Aka equipment. I’m a bit of a purist and love improvising and re-purposing things to save space and weight, but there are a few things that will be terribly handy:
      • Tongs – size really does matter if you’re cooking with fire.
      • Foil – so handy as a makeshift lid or for wrapping and storing.
      • Colander – useful but not essential for washing and rinsing as much as draining.
      • Speed peeler – I don’t leave home without one.
      • Grater – microplane are my go-to.
      • Serious oven-glove. No explanation required.
      • Board – nothing like a nice hunk of wood but plastics are lighter.
      • Quality sharp knife (small and large but ultimately whatever you’re comfortable with). With younglings around it can be preferable to pack one with a sheath.
      • Wet-wipes – the saviour of all parents and essential ‘washing up’ kit in the middle of nowhere.
      • Frying pan – big enough to get everything in together, but small enough to fit on your camping stove!
      • Decent pot or perhaps a dutch oven if you have one – they’re amazing if you’re cooking with fire at all and it’s remarkable what you can achieve (even bread!).
  4. Classic dishes
    • Anything is possible if you have the key basic equipment to hand and a little imagination. I love the challenge of thinking through how to juggle everything in order to get the desired meal onto a plate but don’t constrain yourself by conforming to comfortable home standards – the bonnet is a table, a spoon is a knife, your oven-glove is a cushion and a pot stand. I could go on.
    • We always kick-off our trip with a slow-cooked chilli or stew of some
      description – if you’ve got a long journey to your first stop you can make this ahead and then freeze it so that it defrosts as you go. Bring it back up to temperature in a pot and you have a hearty ‘home-cooked’ meal to set you up.
    • Pasta will serve you well in your store-cupboard. A good quality pesto, grated  Parmesan cheese, a few wild rocket leaves and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Heavenly. Work with what you have to hand though though – all of these elements can be switched out with alternatives based on what’s available.
    • Greek salad (or any salad for that point) combines some great simple ingredients into a delicious balanced meal. Think about gorgeous salad dressings (mix 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil with some salt and pepper and shake it up in whatever bottle you have to hand).
    • Looking for something a bit different? try combining watermelon with Feta cheese (or anything salty and crumbly), fresh coriander, basil or mint leaves and some hot chilli peppers for mum and dad.
    • Beans or various types will provide you with wonderful nutrition. Easy to jazz up too.
    • Jacket potatoes are a quality camping companion – just wrap them in foil and pop them in the embers of a fire. Note that you can wrap lots of things in foil and chuck them in a fire… (stuffed aubergines anyone?!).
    • Rustic soups are an easy way of filling you up with 100% goodness from a plethora of different ingredients that you might have to hand.
    • Ever thought of making pancakes outdoors? It’s just a simple combo of eggs, milk and flour – you can even mix it in a bottle again!
    • French Toast (pain perdu / eggy bread) – sweet or savoury – a great use of stale or even fresh bread. A few eggs and a touch of butter or oil in the frying pan and you’re away.
    • Corned beef hash (as per above) with fried eggs if you’ve got a second pan :o)
    • Finally our family tradition: our less than obvious favourite is Spanish Padron Peppers blistered in a hot pan with olive oil for a few seconds and scattered with flaky sea salt. We simply don’t go camping without them.Cooking over fire
  5. Don’t ..
    • Risk it.. You’re camping – there’s nothing worse than food poisoning… oh yes there is, food poisoning when you’re camping. Err on the side of caution if you’re dealing with food that requires refrigeration and/or ever in doubt. Respect your ingredients, but as much as I’m one for championing the food wastage campaigns, you are on holiday after all.
    • Beat yourself up.. You’re camping – take the rough with the smooth and remember that everything is an adventure. Sure, you’ll have some crappy meals, but you’ll also have some phenomenal ones, and I would put money on them being the most simple, basic and unexpected ones that your children will remember.
    • Apologise.. You’re camping – it’s a team sport and you’ve all gotta play.

I’m sure I’ve missed things but you have to draw the line somewhere. I’ll update this post from time to time as I think of other things and I’d welcome anyone’s thoughts, stories, experiences and recipes.

Bon Voyage, or more appropriately, lycklig resa!

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.