38% Wholemeal Kefir Levain Bread

Sesame Crust Date Kefir Bread

Sesame Crust Date Kefir Bread – this one gets better every time!

For those of you looking for kefir bread formulae, here is what I have been up to. I mostly make the loaf you see above as we both just love it!

I hesitate to call what follows an experiment because home baking is really not very scientific or rigorous as my friend Sally at the Bewitching Kitchen would probably be the first to tell you!

I have no microscope or lab to tell me what is really going on in there, just a basic idea that the kefir is a mixture of yeast and lactobacteria and probably a whole bunch of other things that I don’t know are in there !

I do know from using it and from observation that it is different in many respects from a traditional water and flour fed sourdough culture. The kefir cultures milk primarily, though it can be adapted to use other foodsources,  and is generally slower to do so than an active sourdough unless it is really quite warm. Why use it? Because:

  • I like its tangy taste which is rich and satisfying without being overly sour.
  • It gives me a softer crumb than regular sourdough
  • and it gives me extra calcium for my bones and possibly other nutrients, I like fermented products generally and I don’t like drinking milk very much
  • it is also fairly easy to maintain, tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and suits my baking schedules such as they are

If you culture the milk at a warmer temperature than my ambient temperature which varies from around 14 – 22 C for most of the year then it does go faster, gets very active and produces quite a lot of alcohol smells. I don’t particularly want the alcohol part so I keep the kefir cool and slow.

Most of the recipes for kefir bread that I have seen use some sort of sugar  product to give the kefir easy food.  No recipe for bread really needs sugar for yeast or levain to work, it is a choice you make because you want sweetness in the final product. Sugar in the dough promotes a deep rich colour in the crust and adds a caramel-toned sweetness to it. A sweetness that we don’t maybe register consciously but it is there. Really great bakers can get all that taste by careful selection of flours, manipulating the dough and the bake without adding sugar.

I came to kefir baking via Cecilia  @  thekitchensgarden.com who uses home raised honey in hers, I have been using date syrup in the preferment and this provides the kefir with a reliable and easy form of sugar food and this (as the loaf in the first picture above) produces my favourite of all the kefir breads I have made to date.

I have several friends though who don’t want any sugar in their breads over and above what is in the flour already for dietary and health reasons and so I thought I would work on making the dough without any added sugars.

My first attempts using my usual white stoneground flour just didn’t work well. I made a complete pig’s ear of one dough when I mixed it with all milk, thinking erroneously that this would give the preferment extra sugar.

Bad bread made with too much milk

It didn’t make a nice bread, it had a dense close crumb, and the bottom crust split all round and it had that texture of cooked but spongy heaviness that I dislike in a sourdough.

Just to show you what I mean by a poor crumb...

Just to show you what I mean by a poor crumb…

I have met this problem before making milk sourdough breads, so tend only to use milk as the main liquid in breads leavened with commercial yeast.  If you leave a sourdough mixed with fresh milk for long enough to develop properly you get this really unpleasant sour taste,  I have done that before and that is why I was pleased to find that the milk kefir can be used where fresh milk is not very suitable. It might be different with raw milk that hasn’t been pasteurized but I don’t have easy access to that here.

There is such a wide range of taste when it comes to bread, I am sure some of you happily make sourdough with loads of fresh milk, but I find it unpalatable.

A surprise flower in the stormy weather !

A surprise flower in the stormy weather !

I then tried three variations of preparing a preferment and kept some basic notes as to what I saw and thought.  Each of the three was made with the same quantity of active fermented kefir, and with different flour or treatment.  I hypothesised that as hot water releases sugar in flour, maybe if I mixed some flour with very hot water first and then introduced the kefir to it it would find the sugar more easily and work faster.  I am not sure that it made a significant difference in the end. After 24 hours it did look as if it had more bubbles, but I wasn’t really convinced.

For some reason when I mix kefir with water and straight white flour the resultant preferment always ends up with that acetone/paint stripper smell that I don’t like and this proved the case this time too, so I didn’t make bread from those two as I had tried before with the acetone scented sort and didn’t like the bread it made then. This was more of a check to see if it happened again which it did.

Neat trick to keep track of what is in a bowl seen on the internet

Neat way to keep track of what is going on in what bowl and a memory jogger!

However, the kefir mixed with stoneground wholemeal and water produced a beery/fruity smell which Brian thought was acceptable so I built a test dough with it and baked it off.

It was acceptable to us, tangy but not sour, lean and clean, without any of the butter or syrup that I usually add to our soft kefir loaves. Brian claims that he couldn’t taste much difference, but I thought the crumb was slightly less sweet and the crust was definitely not as gorgeous as when made with the date syrup.

I think the kefir organisms consume most of the date syrup used in the preferment leaving very little sugar in the final dough, but one would have to have a lab to test the bread to know the truth of that, and we are all so inured to hidden sugar tastes in our food that maybe my palate just doesn’t register it as sugar.

So here is a little formula to be going on with… Misky @ The Chalk Hills Kitchen pointed me towards this shortcode for recipes that WordPress now offers. Fiddly or what? What do you reckon to my first attempt at coding? Does it make it easier to read and print? It took me ages and many edits to bodge my way through this. Practice, practice….

38% Wholemeal Milk Kefir Levain Bread

  • Servings: finished loaf weight 400g approx
  • Time: 3 days / hands-on-time maybe 20 minutes
  • Print

38% Wholemeal Kefir Levain

38% Wholemeal Kefir Levain

To make the preferment:-

Day 1

7.30 pm

  • 25g fermented and lively fizzing/bubbling milk kefir
  • 35g room temp water
  • 60g stoneground wholemeal flour with reasonable protein levels i.e. not pastry flour

Mix and leave  in a covered bowl at room temperature for  36- 48 hours   (15°- 19 C)

Check for fermentation during this period (if the preferment is full of good bubbles then use earlier!)

Day 3

3.30 pm

Mix dough with

  • 50g of  above ferment
  • 172g room temp water
  • 80g stoneground wholemeal bread flour (Stanway Mill)
  • 80g white organic bread flour (Stanway Mill)
  • 90g very strong (manitoba type) bread flour (Waitrose/Marriages)
  • Short autolyse ( of about half an hour)  before adding salt
  • 4g salt

Once mixed leave in a covered bowl while the dough is proving, the time this takes will vary according to temperature.

Two short folds at intervals of approx 1 hr rather than intensive kneading are adequate to give the dough shape and structure. Susan Tenney demonstrates dough folding here for anyone who doesn’t know what this means.

7.30 pm

Shape dough and place in banetton, covered on a tray, whatever you prefer.

Leave to prove for another 3 hours. Think about preheating your oven at some point.  Do not expect the dough to puff up like a yeasted dough does when proving. Do a finger test to see if it is ready to bake. If your gentle prod leaves a dent that doesn’t come back after five/ten minutes then bake the bread in your preheated oven.

Prepare dough for oven, slash top etc

Bake at 10 30 pm on a pre-heated tray at 210° C for 38 minutes with steam.

Crumb of 'sugar free' Kefir Levain

Leave to cool on a rack. Cut when the sun shines in the early morning!

Recipe Credit : zebbakes.com 

PS

For kefir grains there are sources on the internet or if you live near someone who has some just ask them nicely if they would mind sharing when they have some spare or trade something you have made or grown. It seems to be getting more popular again so they shouldn’t be that hard to source. If you have serious difficulty let me know by contacting me on Twitter, (Zeb underline Bakes) comments on posts close after a while as old posts collect spam so badly.

Garden Birds – Jackdaws and Feeders

Chimney Breast through Silver Birch

This chimney breast with its nice little triangular entrances is a perfect home for any bird that likes to live up at roof level and raise its young.  It’s dry and defendable and has a great outlook. I can see the back of this house from my house, it is in an adjoining road. I guess they don’t use their chimney.

We used to see swifts return in May and swoop into this chimney breast to raise a brood over summer, they would eat the flies, never came down to the ground at all and we enjoyed them careering around the sky through the summer months before they left for Africa in the autumn. One year however,  they came back to find that a family of jackdaws had moved in and they had lost their summer home.  We were sad, not a particularly rational sadness because that is the nature of things but sad nonetheless.

I think I can see something not good happening down there in that garden...

I think I can see something not good happening down there in that garden…

The jackdaws are quite polite birds, from a human perspective, they don’t bully the other birds that much, they don’t make that much of a mess, but they are very very keen on hoovering out the contents of the seed feeder that we put up and I am concerned that if they have such a large and ever available supply of food on their doorstep they will lay more eggs, raise bigger broods and before we know it we will just have twice as many as now.

I think she's been reading blogposts about bird feeders, oh crikey!

I think she’s been reading blogposts about bird feeders, oh crikey!

The whole feeding wild life in the garden issue is fraught with potential issues.

I will list some of them here:

  • you create an artificial food source and the population swells, you stop feeding for some reason, the creatures starve as they can’t find other food:
  • you don’t clean and disinfect the feeders which become intensively visited and therefore parasites and disease pass easily from one bird to the next;
  • you feed the wrong types of food and they get ill: you feed whole peanuts which get fed to fledglings which then choke; you get all sorts of strange things growing under the feeders which have rooted and maybe are not what you want growing in your garden;
  • you get guano where the birds sit and wait for their turn on the feeders;
  • you get mice and rats visiting if there is lots of food being dropped on the ground;
  • you get birds that, for your own ‘human’ reasons you don’t like, or just too many of one sort and you start to think of Hitchcock and The Birds,  you get crows and feral pigeons, or starlings in large numbers whilst lamenting the photogenic goldfinch or the endangered tree sparrow;
  • you have a small dog who eats any fat the birds chuck about and gets very ill indeed;
  • you get cats and sparrowhawks lying in wait for the birds and predating them and then you get to see nature red in tooth and claw and to a tender-hearted soul this is not a pretty sight;
  • you get blackbirds ‘stealing’ your precious homegrown fruit, (Zeb guards the one little blueberry bush from the blackbird and gets very cross with it).
I am going to check this out right away...

I am going to check this out right away…

In short, the catalogues that bounce through our letter box with pretty bird feeders gleaming in the sunlight festooned with little birds being fed by our bountiful kindness doesn’t paint the whole story; many people give up feeding the birds when they come across these issues and I can’t say I blame them at all.

I've brought you some bread dear, but I am afraid it is bad news...

I’ve brought you some bread dear, but I am afraid it is bad news…

Stubbornly though we like to feed the birds and have them in the garden, we like to hear their songs and see them fly about, they are a key component of what makes a garden a garden for us but we have cut back on what and how we feed.

We have one small feeder with niger seed for the goldfinches and a taller one for the smaller birds and a ground feeder with a cage over it for those who prefer to hop in.  We don’t feed fat pellets any more, but mainly a mix of seeds, corn and dried mealworms.

I am not very impressed with that bread dear, is it sourdough?

I am not very impressed with that bread dear, is it sourdough?

Yesterday while watching the jackdaws doing their hoovering trick once more I looked on the internet and found At Last a Pigeon Proof Bird-Feeder by Ianvisits with its delightful illustrations.

I do love you anyway, even if the fast food bar is closed!

I do love you anyway, even if the fast food bar is closed!

We purchased a pair of hanging baskets, fixed them together with cable ties and have attempted to put sticks in at angles in the style of Ian’s post. It has temporarily baffled the jackdaws and the smaller birds are delighted. The jackdaws are smart birds though and I am not counting on them not finding a way to get the seed out.

There is a dunnock in here if you look closely!

There is a dunnock in here if you look closely!

In the meantime dunnock, robin, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits and goldfinches and all the smallies are having a great time!

Cheese and Leek Toasties

Leeks and Cheese on Kefir Toast3

Inspired by Heidi’s comment about grilled cheese sandwiches  on the cheese and pickle post, I rifled through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Vegetable book and found a lovely  simple recipe for cheese and leeks on toast which I have customized slightly to use up half a red pepper as well as my leeks. It is the sort of book that if you are an experienced cook and a vegetarian you probably know most of the methods and techniques in it already,  but I like it for its simple layout and clear straightforward recipes. I think, going by this article I just found, HFW is very fond of cheese on toast. Lots more of his ideas here of things to put on toast : - Posh cheese on toast recipes.

Leeks and Cheese on Kefir Toast2

As I was making vegetable soup anyway and sweating leeks, I borrowed a couple of spoonfuls of the leeks from the early stages of the soup to make this treat. I am going to make it again today as we have lots of leeks in our vegetable box this week.

Leeks and Cheese on Kefir Toast4

Pepper and Leek Cheese on Toast for Two

  • 1 medium leek
  • Half a red pepper (capiscum)
  • 50g of favourite cheese
  • 3 spoonfuls of half fat creme fraiche
  • salt and pepper
  • Thyme or favourite herbs
  • Two chunky slices of favourite bread – here I used my kefir date bread with sesame seed crust

Leeks and Cheese on Kefir Toast1

  1. Sweat the sliced leeks and pepper in a little butter or stock on a low heat
  2. Grate cheese and put to one side
  3. Once leeks and peppers are soft and glistening lower the heat
  4. Slice some bread and toast lightly and put the grill on
  5. Add the creme fraiche and mix in
  6. Add about three quarters of the grated cheese and stir well
  7. Season to taste, add thyme
  8. Pile onto warmed bread and divide the remaining cheese between the two slices
  9. Pop under hot grill and cook till bubbly and browning
  10. Eat!
Graves Memorial St David's Park

John Woodcock Graves and The Hobart Connection

The Cockermouth Poets

The New Bookshop, Main Street Cockermouth

My blogging style has become like that of the proverbial London bus. You wait for hours, days, weeks and then two come along together. Why is that? I have no answers as usual.

This is another looking back and ‘here and now’ post, this time about Dad’s anthology of the Cockermouth Poets, design and typesetting by Karen Sawrey. I don’t know if you remember if you have been reading this blog for a while but there were terrible floods back in November 2009., as now across Somerset, which hit the small market town of Cockermouth where Michael lives. I was reminded by seeing Prince Charles on the news that he too visited Cockermouth at that dreadful time.

The town of Cockermouth has a new flood risk management scheme in place which has been operational since 2013. This is a video of the new scheme from the perspective of David Duck at the Environment Agency. It has some interesting shots of the rivers Derwent and Cocker and a good description of the new scheme and you get to hear the distinctive tones of the Cumbrian accent and brings home how each situation is unique and needs a bespoke solution to its particular landscape.

Michael’s response when Cockermouth was getting back on its feet was to organize a poetry trail to brighten up the shop windows of Main Street which had been under so much water. 

The trail was a great success and many people asked if he could produce a book with the poems from the trail which he duly did with the help of Joan Petherington his co-editor and muggins here the typist and sub-sub-sub editor. The Guardian’s Northern correspondent Martin Wainright helped give the book some publicity and took it on holiday with him and wrote about it here, where it sat on a sandy beach many miles from home. The book has been reprinted now, the first run sold out and has done very well indeed for a poetry anthology, raising funds for the charities, Mountain Rescue and Save the Children.  Edit: Michael says to date they have raised £1500!

The Poets in Sydney by Celia of FigjamandlimeCordial

The Poets in Sydney courtesy of Celia @ FigjamandlimeCordial

The Cockermouth Poets visit Faaborg, Denmark, courtesy of Misky @ The Chalk Hills Journals

The Cockermouth Poets visit Faaborg, Denmark, courtesy of Misky @ The Chalk Hills Journals

Copies went to Sydney and to East Sussex and thence to Denmark and I was sent these sweet photos by Celia and Misky respectively which pleased the mighty editorix greatly.  

Michael however (never satisfied) hankered longingly after a photo of the book in Hobart, Tasmania.  Why?  Because one of the most famous poems in the book “D’ye Ken John Peel’ was written by one John Woodcock Graves,  who emigrated there and made a new life for himself as a sheep farmer. “It would be so nice” he said, with a far-off look in his eyes, ” if the book were there one day…”

And now we jump forward to the present day and across the world to a park in Hobart where we find Fran! 

Photo by Fran at Serendipity Farm, Tasmania

Photo by Fran at Serendipity Farm, Tasmania

There is a monument in St David’s Park to John Woodcock Graves and when I read that the glorious Fran of Serendipity Farm  had been to Hobart with her daughters and was planning a return journey in 2014,  I emailed her cheekily and asked her if she would maybe take the book to the park and take its photo at the monument. Fran embraced the project with her usual amazing enthusiasm and has sent me masses of photos. I wish I could have perched at the other end of the monument and basked in that hot Tassie sunshine for an hour!

This is my favourite of Fran's photos taken by her daughter Madeline

This is my favourite of Fran’s photos taken by her daughter Madeline

 I am going to surprise Michael with these photos later today.  

The Cockermouth Poets on John Graves Monument in St David's Park, Hobart

And a close up!

Thank you so much Fran and thank you Celia and Misky for playing ‘Pose the book’ ! You are all stars and treasures  and deeply kind people.

D’ye ken John Peel

D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so grey,

D’ye ken John Peel at the break of day,

D’ye ken John Peel when he’s far away,

With his hounds and his horn in the morning.

For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed

And the cry of his hounds which he oft times led,

Peel’s ‘view hullo’ would awaken the dead

Or the fox from his lair in the morning.

Yes I ken John Peel and Ruby too

Ranter and Ringwood and Bellman and True,

From a find to a check, from a check to a view

From a view to a death in the morning

Then here’s to John Peel with my heart and soul

Let’s drink to his health, let’s finish the bowl,

We’ll follow John Peel through fair and through foul

If we want a good hunt in the morning….

John Woodcock Graves (1795-1886)

I do not support hunting, but I am very fond of this song as Michael would sing it to us as small children along with ‘Molly Malone’ and ‘I went to the Animal Fair’ as part of a going to sleep settling down the children ritual. I can hear his deep almost mournful voice softly singing away in the dark as we snuggled down under the covers right now as I write. I have a feeling we all joined in with Peel’s ‘View halloo’ which was the dramatic climax of the song.

Funny the things you remember as you write a blog post. Here is a lovely recording of it being sung by Peter Dawson, not as good as Michael’s of course!

Did your parents sing to you when you were little and do you sing to your children and grandchildren if you have them? 

Joanna  - February 2014.

 

For the curious ….

John Peel the Huntsman celebrated in the song was a real person who was buried in Caldbeck, Cumbria:-

Ham Wall, Somerset Levels

Ham Wall

Here is a post that has sat in my drafts folder for several years. I am not quite sure why it has sat there, maybe I couldn’t decide on the photos, maybe it felt too personal, I really can’t remember. At a time when the Levels are experiencing their worst floods in years I thought it might be a good moment to share one part of them that I know and love as they have been and hopefully will be again one day.  All these photos date from May 2011.

Walkway

Before I baked there were birds to take me out of myself and make my heart leap with joy and long after my last loaf has crumbled to dust there will be birds.  And before I baked and before I had dogs, we used to go out all the time to see them.  Now our visits are rarer but we still go down to the Levels when we can.

Clouds on the Levels Continue reading

Banana Bread Bristol Fashion

Bananaloaf

Banana Bread Bristol Fashion adapted from Brixton Banana Bread by North/South Food

The back story is that Brian eats a lot of bananas and I don’t. So if for some reason he hasn’t eaten them they sit there going browner and browner.  There are always bananas lurking in various stages of decay and I try and ignore them for the most part.

Then I read Brixton Banana Bread by the wonderful North/South Food and was inspired by her freezing her excess bananas for a later date.  Writing this post today, I realise it has taken me almost a year to get round to making this cake but I am glad that I finally did! So many thanks to North/South food for inspiring me to use my brown bananas and for her recipe.  Continue reading

Left and Right Socks

Conviction, Uncertainty  and Falke Sensitive Trek Socks

P1070188

I read a piece about this yesterday and various points hit home and sometimes I wonder how we all survive the battleground of human communication and relationships, at times so complicated and yet I suspect it could all be much simpler if we all stopped taking our thoughts quite so seriously and just got on with the task at hand and then the next task and the next. I think it would all be easier if we focussed on being interested, compassionate, loving and trusting. Those seem to be the core healthy emotions to nurture. Continue reading