Slow down and enjoy the dough…

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As I am sure most bloggers do, every week I spend a large proportion of my spare time browsing social media and visiting others people’s blogs. I have learnt over the last six months that the blogging community is a friendly and welcoming place and have found that this browsing habit brings with it both inspiration and affirmation in equal measure.

One such affirmation this week has been the overwhelming need to slow down and enjoy life. In a recent post the lovely Lucy Heath at Capture by Lucy reflected on the idea of ‘slow living’ and a new pace of life which has offered moments of calmness in a busy schedule and lots of extra happiness. Alongside this some random Facebook browsing unearthed a HuffPost article by Rachel Macy Stafford entitled ‘The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’. This retold the moment the author was inspired by her thoughtful, observant child to slow down so that she could enjoy life more.   These pieces mirrored a feeling that has also developed in me over the last few years, where life events have taught me that I need to slow down, live life more positively and appreciate the everyday moments which bring me happiness.

After a busy couple of weeks and the feeling I might be coming down with a cold, a few days living life in the slow lane were exactly what was needed this weekend and so some sourdough bread making was on the cards.  Baking sourdough is most definitely a bread experience which requires patience but is certainly worth the wait, as the loaf produced has a flavour of its very own which, with every bite, makes you feel like you are eating the ‘real’ thing and makes you realise the lack of any flavour found in commercially produced loaves.

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How inviting does this loaf look?

My love affair with this distinctively flavoured delight came about as a result of Mr B’s weekend routine of rushing to our local supermarket to get one of their few loaves and often returning disappointed.  I therefore decided that for his last birthday I would give him a sourdough starter (purchased from Hobbs House Bakery online). This to most would probably seem like a fairly odd gift to give to their husbands but not for Mr B, he was delighted to receive it and couldn’t wait for the first loaf to be produced. It has been almost a year since then and during this time I have made a loaf most months and through this routine have learnt a lot about this artisan form of bread making.

Sourdough ingredients

 

The magic of a sourdough loaf is that it is produced with only four simple ingredients – a starter, flour, water and salt.  It is the starter which is the star ingredient, the simple addition of warmth to a flour and water mixture encourages the production of natural yeasts (which give the loaf its rise) and bacteria (which give the loaf its distinctive flavour).  The dough rises slowly when using a starter as opposed to the ‘fast acting’ dried yeast used in most loaves, however it is worth the wait.  In total the production of a loaf, from feeding the starter to taking the first bite of a freshly baked loaf, is around 24 hours.  This may sound like an arduous amount of time, however the involvement of the baker in this time period is less than an hour as their only task is to produce the dough. Prior to this the starter has been fed with some additional flour and water to reinvigorate it after its incubation in the fridge (where it lives between loaves) and then it rises slowly for up to twelve hours before being baked.

Tweaking the recipe

 

 

It has been my mission over the last year to produce a perfect loaf and finally this weekend I think I may have finally achieved this (or certainly got the closest I ever have). Over the months I have been making sourdough bread I have tweaked the original recipe and adapted the technique through trial and error (as well as some well-founded research).  This seems to have all paid off as the loaf which emerged from the oven on Saturday evening could only be described as ‘stupendous’, a golden delight whose crust was a crispy coat surrounding the precious flavoursome loaf inside. Spread with butter whilst still slightly warm it was heaven on a plate and soon between Mr B and I almost half the loaf had disappeared.

Steps to success with sourdough

I’d recommend to anyone who has not tasted sourdough to give it a try, at first it’s tangy flavour is a little overwhelming but once the taste buds have adjusted it is such a delightful loaf which leaves others in its wake.  If you’re interested in attempting to bake your own, I’d definitely encourage you and to give you a helping hand I would love to share with you what I have learnt in my journey to a perfect loaf.

Sarah’s sourdough tips

  • Starter – although it is fairly simple and very economical to produce your own sourdough starter (see instructions here), I chose to buy an established starter from a baker. My reasons for this were that it would be more active and resilient, guaranteeing a reliable and flavoursome loaf from the outset.
  • Balancing the flour and starter ratios – I have tweaked the ratio between these two ingredients in order to create a loaf with the amount of tanginess which both Mr B and I enjoy. For the scientists in you this can also be influenced by the temperature at which the starter is fed as well as the liquid/flour balance of the original starter so I’d encourage you to give these a little tweak too and see what happens.
  • Time the loaf is left to rise – my recipe states that the dough should be left to rise for twelve hours, however after several loaves and a little research I soon realised this was too long as it was over-proving and each time the loaf came out of the oven a large gap would be present between the crust and the inner crumb at the top. I have since left the loaves for around eight hours or until they have approximately doubled in size. The length of this time can vary depending on the temperature in the room but please don’t be tempted to put it in the airing cupboard as the slow rise is also key in developing the distinctive flavour.
  • Using a proving basket and baking stone – the benefits of using these two items is that the loaves have a wonderful shape which they take on in the proving stage whilst sitting in the basket and a wonderful crisp golden crust which comes from the brick oven type effect the heated stone gives.
  • Temperature change in the oven – a recent discovery has been the need to reduce the temperature by 20-30C after the first ten minutes of baking. This emulates the effect of a brick oven which naturally drops in temperature during the baking time and produces the distinctive crisp crust without ending up with a over-baked loaf (as the initial temperature is usually the highest your oven will go).
  • Steam in the oven – another secret to producing a great crust is the addition of steam at the beginning of the baking time – I achieve this by adding some boiling water to a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven just before I put the unbaked loaf on the baking stone.

Good luck with your sourdough adventures, I’d love to hear about your successes and any tips you have for creating your perfect loaf as I am sure there is still more for me to learn.

Happy baking!!

An autumnal weekend bake – Apple & Cinnamon Crumble Cake

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble Cake

As I sit writing this you could be mistaken for thinking that summer is here to stay as the sunshine is streaming through the window and there are glimpses of blue sky peeking through the clouds. However this week has certainly had more of an autumnal feel – jumpers have been on, pregrudgingly the heating was put on a couple of evenings ago and the duvet is back on the bed (this I love though as it is so cosy).

Bedford CollageThe last of the Summer? Enjoying blue sky’s over Bedford this weekend

I love autumn – the changing colours, the crispness in the air and an excuse to put on cosy clothes are perfect reasons to love the season.  I find the autumn to be a more predictable season, British summers are more often than not slightly disappointing but at least once it reaches September and autumn approaches we know what to expect and are rarely disappointed, occasionally we are even surprised by a late ‘Indian summer’.

With an autumnal feel in the air this week and a few days at home with the hubby I decided a bit of baking was in order this weekend.  Mr B was treating me to a delicious dinner and I though the least I could do was treat him to his choice of pudding in return.  His favourite type of pud usually involves something that includes apples and as I did not have the inclination to make pastry I decided to go for an Autumnal Apple & Cinnamon Crumble Cake.

After a bit of searching online, I found a recipe on the BBC Good Food website for an Apple Crumble Loaf. However, being a bit of a baking maverick, I did not stick religiously to the recipe and made some adaptations of my own. With online recipes I always think it is sensible to take note of what other people think of the recipe and any advice they can offer. As Frances over at Frances Bakes discussed on her blog last week some recipes online are not reliable and, unless you have experience on your side as a baker, you can be left disheartened and disappointed when poor instructions lead to a poor outcome.   I therefore always check the ratings a recipe has been given and take a glance at the comments from other people who have used the recipe.

The main advice from multiple comments was to cook it for longer and to increase the spice level.  I do consider myself to be a fairly experienced home baker and will generally make a few little tweaks to a recipe if I feel it is necessary, so when I had glanced at the ingredients list I had already decided that 2 teaspoons of spice in a 2lb cake would definitely not be enough. Also the cake only asked for mixed spice but, as many of the other bakers had also noted, cinnamon is a much better partner for apple so with this in mind I doubled the amount of mixed spice and added the same amount of cinnamon to the recipe. I am also not really a fan of adding milk to a recipe unless absolutely needed and so decided to add an extra apple and a banana (for sweetness) to the mix. Finally, for the crumble topping I substituted the suggested chopped hazelnuts for some rolled oats to make a crumble that resembled my Mum’s homemade classic.

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The classic crumble topping mix 

The recipe came together fairly easily in two easy steps,  combining dry ingredients and then adding the wet. With the addition of the extra apple and mashed banana the consistency of the cake was perfect but I could definitely see why it would need the extra 20 mins cooking time as it is a fairly dense but moist mixture.   When making the crumble mixture I made the decision to double to amounts as it did not seem enough to cover the cake, however when it came to it an increase by only a half again would have been fine and this is what I will do next time for sure.

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble collage

Somehow with every recipe designed for a 2lb loaf tin I always seem to be left with a bit over (I think my tins are not quite 2lb perhaps) which suits Mr B perfectly as he always likes to have a taster as soon as possible.  This recipe left me with enough to make an additional three muffin sized cakes, however finding I did not have any muffin cases (they seemed to have been eaten by my kitchen cupboard!), I quickly made some make shift cases out of greaseproof. I was unsure of how the cakes would fair in these cases but they actually came out pretty well and unless it’s for a special occasion I might not bother with cases all the time from now on.

IMG_20150905_145608Home made cake cases – worked a treat

The fact that our tasters only took half the time to cook, due to their smaller size, suited Mr B perfectly and we soon enjoyed tucking into them with a cup of freshly brewed tea.  The finished cake was really delicious, it had a good rise and the fruit was well distributed (Paul and Mary would be pleased!). The apple and cinnamon combination made it a perfect autumnal bake and the more traditional crumble topping gave it a satisfying feeling of part cake/part pudding which means I think it would be perfect served with custard or ice cream if having it as a pud but just as good with a cup of tea like we did.  It’s lightness from the rise and the moistness from the fruit made it really moreish and the only reason there was some left on the day of baking was because Mr B’s delicious dinner filled us up.

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A tasty morsel of this yummy autumnal cake – it didn’t last long!

Apple and Cinnamon Crumble Cake

(makes 2lb loaf tin sized cake)

Ingredients

For the cake: 

140g butter, cut into small pieces

250g self-raising flour

1 rounded tbsp mixed spice

1 rounded tbsp ground cinnamon

140g light muscovado sugar

100g raisins

3 large eggs, beaten

3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped (1cm cubes)

1 banana

For the crumble topping:

1.5 rounded tbsp plain flour

40g butter

40 light muscovado sugar

1.5 rounded tbsp rolled oats

Method

For the cake: 

Heat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 3.

Butter and line the bast of a 2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Put the flour and spices into a food processor and add the butter – whizz to fine breadcrumbs and then add the sugar (if you do not have a food processor use your fingers to make a fine crumble).

Add the raisins, beaten eggs, apple and banana to the dry ingredients and mix well until everything is evenly combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top.

For the crumble:

Rub the flour, butter and sugar through your fingers to make a rough crumble, then stir in the rolled oats.

Sprinkle evenly over the cake mixture.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 mins, until firm to the touch and a fine skewer in the centre comes out clean.

Cool in the tin for 15 mins, then turn out and cool on a wire rack.

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This will definitely be a recipe I return to and it met Mr B’s approval for an apple based bake so that’s a winner for me! I am looking forward to more adventures in the kitchen during the Autumn months, I think blackberries might be next on the agenda.

Have you been inspired by the changing seasons and made an Autumnal bake this weekend or do you fancy having a try at this recipe next weekend? Whatever you are baking I’d love to hear about it x