Category Archives: Bakers

Yoghurt, Wheat and Spelt Bread

Yoghurt, Wheat and Spelt Bread from Zeb Bakes

I have adapted my date kefir levain bread for those of you who don’t have kefir grains and are maybe not as fond of tending small bubbling pots as I am!  This is an experiment to see if I can approximate the same loaf using  a small quantity of dried yeast and yoghurt to replace the kefir. Continue reading

German-style rolls (Brotchen)

The sun was not quite up yet when I got up this morning

and…

the gibbous moon was still riding high in the sky ( I put this photo in because I was impressed that my small camera could zoom on the moon and I like the word gibbous, learnt reading The Moon of Gomrath when I was a little girl – now you know)

Saturday 23 Nov 2013

One of the many lovely bread blogs that I read is Brot & Bread written by Karin  (Hanseata).  I sometimes think that people who think and read most about bread  (and end up baking it!) are people who have moved to another country and find to their surprise that the foods of their mother country are either non-existent or just different in some way that does not please. Bread seems to be one of those foods that starts this journey.

Brotchen with sesame seeds

I grew up with a mother who couldn’t cook but complained bitterly about how horrible English bread was, it is too wet she used to say, or it has no substance. In her last years when she was in a nursing home, my sister and I would be sent on food missions, to find European chocolates, usually one particular variety which could maybe be found at an airport shop, or for the ‘right’ bread. Often when the ‘right’ bread was found it was left out to air and dry a little until it had the right textural qualities that she wanted.  It is a far cry from most people’s obsession with ‘fresh’ bread: wet and steamy, warm and squidgy, with that sweet and unique aroma – I can see its charms, but I tend to share my mother’s preference for the ‘right’ bread. It’s strange how these things work. I would have been so pleased to be able to take the ‘right’ bread to her, baked by me.

brotchen

So when I read Karin’s post about how hard it was to find the ‘right’ sort of rolls in the US, I had great sympathy and I was curious to make her rolls and see what she meant. Like all my good intentions, there has been some delay but I finally made these rolls with a good soft 00 flour with 10 g of protein per 100g which is about the softest I could find.   I looked at a bag of plain (soft) flour from the supermarket yesterday and it had 11.4 g of protein, hardly a weak flour if that is what one goes by.

I found this discussion of what 00 flour is matches my understanding best. There are a lot of other explanations of what it is on the net, some of which I am not exactly convinced by and some are just plain wrong. I am neither miller, nor grower, nor pro baker, so if you want to discuss this, I probably know as much,or less, than you, based on what I can read on the internet and from conversation with other bakers.

Karin’s recipe and method are very detailed and I followed them exactly, adding slightly more water to the mix. You can read it here on her blog.→  Wiezenbrötchen – German Rolls  ←

When I had finished mixing and kneading the dough was very tacky, but after the four folds described it was fine.  I tucked it away in the fridge overnight and made the rolls this morning.

They could have been a tad more golden, I think I opened the oven to rotate the trays one too many times and lost heat, but they are delightful even so.

Brotchen made with 00 flour

The crumb is fine, soft and tender, without being wet or squidgy and I am very pleased to be able to add this to my white dough repertoire and to have a truly soft roll to be able to offer to people who want them.  Thank you Karin!

Brotchen crumb

Guten Appetit!

Breakfast Brotchen with cheese

Singing Crusts and Rising Bread

Zeb Bakes Apple Bread

This is going to be what I now believe is called a ‘longform’ post. i.e. more than three lines and two photos.

It has been about five years now since I picked up a bag of flour and wandered dustily down the bread road.

Other people in the same time span have started their own businesses, gone to baking school, and done all sorts of wonderful things seduced and entranced as they are by the whole baking world.  I still haven’t made croissants or doughnuts, but I like to think I can make a reasonable loaf of sourdough and great pitta bread.

In this post I just wanted to have a little chat and a meander through my baking past such as it is,  because I sometimes think that people don’t quite believe that we all go down the same road more or less trying to figure out this bread thing, which is how to make bread that makes us and the people we share it with happy!

I have spent a bit of time trawling through old photos, many of which were taken by Brian, (the clue is that his have that fancy blurred background thing going on).  I will try and do a ‘with hindsight’ running commentary on what was going on, and what might have gone wrong, but it is hard to know exactly. If you knew me when I posted on Dan’s forum you will have seen these photos before as I puzzled over what to do to put things right the next time…

First Mill Loaves!

Here we have two of my very earliest loaves, I was very ashamed of them, but I also thought they were quite funny so I took their photo vowing that I would do better next time.

They were both made from the same dough, the flatter of the two on the right had stood for about an hour longer than the other one before being baked and was completely and utterly overproved. The very dark one had been in the oven for ages at a very hot temperature. All those hours of waiting and I wasn’t very impressed.

However my best loaf possibly ever and the one that makes me smile the most is this one:

Mouse Cathedral 1

This was an experiment in not kneading and not folding and putting dough in the fridge overnight. I thought I would be even more minimal than the most minimal of bakers and very clever. I hadn’t really understood that you have to get rid of some of the bubbles in the dough, or stretch and shape it.

Mouse Cathedral 2

As you can see it turned into a mouse cathedral, and rose in a way I have never been able to replicate since. I think there was so much air in the dough that it just didn’t know what to do. Ah me.

White LevainThis was my first attempt at a basic white sourdough made with Dan Lepard’s recipe in the Handmade Loaf. It is a simple dough but not an easy one to handle if you are starting out. I read somewhere the other day that simple is not the same as easy, and this certainly applies to bread making. I think I had used so much oil to handle the dough that the crumb took on a shine resembling my face after a day in the kitchen. Using oil to shape dough is very useful, but too much can cause problems, particularly when it comes to sealing the seams underneath with a firm dough. Use it sparingly and save yourself this grief.

At this point I spent a lot of time reading about flour and reading bread books and decided that if only I had the ‘right’ flour I would make much better bread. In fact I hummed and hawed about this a lot, bought all sorts of different flours and experimented madly, and spread myself so thinly that I never really knew what I was doing.

Sourdough overnight baguettes - 9

I made an attempt at  overnight sourdough baguettes and was appallingly pleased with myself. In fact it is just sourdough in baguette shape but no matter. As I have said before I am not a perfectionist and am easily pleased! Look at their funny little shapes and their slashes!

IMG_2989

I proved these in my old cotton teatowels, no fancy couche cloth here, not a clue really what I was doing, but I do remember eating these, baked from cold from the fridge and being extremely happy and greedy.

How many can I eat?

I carried on making breads and posting about them on Dan Lepard’s forum, I shyly chatted away to people who also posted. I made friends, I asked questions, I began to think I knew some of the answers and tried to help people who also turned up, the curse of being an ex teacher and wanting to share knowledge, partial though it was and still is.

It was a lovely forum, with a great mix of people from experts to beginners and was very gentle and friendly. I admit I bought brotforms, in those days not as easy to find as they are now,  so I ordered some from Germany. I found two french banettons with linen liners in a catering suppliers in the UK too.  My early banetton loaves had a ghostly white pallor as I had read somewhere to dust them with potato flour to stop the dough sticking. It works fine but doesn’t change colour in the oven at all. The loaves were beginning to look like loaves that made sense to me at last.

Mill Loaves again

I am not the most consistent of people and I maybe never took the baking or the blogging quite seriously enough to be a bona fide food blogger nor a baker but every so often I get a nice comment or an email from someone who has been brave enough to make something based on what I have written here and then I feel very pleased that I have helped which brings me to the highlight of my blogging week:-

Highlight of the week

JoH Bakes Beautiful Sourdough

Look at that crumb!

Look at that crumb!

Sharing and Baking

These are photos of JoH’s sourdough that she sent me this week which I am allowed to show you.  I think her bread looks just great and I am delighted that she too is jumping up and down with happiness at making a loaf that pleases her. She was working from my weekly sourdough sheets which you can find here → Weekly sourdough pdf

So here’s to all of you brave and foolhardy people who drag a bag of dry flour into the kitchen, squint at a recipe, wonder over instructions like ‘give the dough a turn’ or ‘ form a boule’, who convert cups to grams and ounces to handfuls,  burn your arms and skid on semolina, to those of you who sit by your ovens and smile as the bread rises,  feed your friends and family, share pictures and stories, advice and lore on the internet, with your salt and your leaven, your ferments and baskets, I salute you, may your bread rise and your crusts sing and crackle!

Oh and a last word of my best well-meaning advice – don’t worry about what they do on TV, follow your instincts, take it all with a pinch of salt, they don’t know it all, no one does – question everything, practise lots, study your failures, as they will tell you more than you think, and have a good time!

Andrew Auld’s 100% Spelt Bread (a formula from the Loaf in Crich)

100% Spelt Sourdough, the loaf in Crich

Spelt grain belongs to the wheat family of field crops.  It is often described as being an ancient grain or a heritage grain.  Interest in these heritage grains has increased in recent years, both on the part of consumers and amongst researchers into crop genetics with an eye to maintaining a gene reservoir for breeding programmes.  The ancient grains are credited with being more adaptable to poor soils and harsh climactic conditions as well as having attractive nutritional attributes.

Spelt contains gluten and is not suitable if you have coeliac disease. It is claimed that some people find it easier to digest than bread made from more modern wheat; this is something that I am not qualified to comment on. I personally find rye bread easier to digest than wheat bread, but maybe that is because I ate a fair bit of it when I was a child, who knows?

I remember our first encounter with spelt flour vividly; Brian bought a bag home one day and said he was going to make Roman Centurion slipper bread, this was in the days when we really hadn’t done any bread baking at all at home and this was the recipe on the side of the bag. I can’t even remember which brand it was now. We mixed the dough and produced some very flat and rather strange bread that we didn’t like very much, deciding that Roman Centurions probably used it in their boots for extra liners, and the bag of flour disappeared onto the back of the shelf.

Recently I was asked by a friend if I could make them an all spelt loaf and I had to say that I wasn’t very good at making them, so I asked Andrew at the Loaf in Crich for his formula (having seen a lovely photo on Twitter of his loaves, looking all nicely risen with good open slashes) and he kindly shared the recipe and here it is for all to try.

Like so many of the breads and cakes I make I don’t make them over and over again until I get them absolutely right before I write about them here. I am not that sort of blogger. To a certain extent for me, every loaf is a bit of an experiment, I learn (or re-visit the same mistakes!) each time I add water to flour. Even though I have been baking for a handful of years now, the number of loaves I have actually made is probably less than a professional baker would make in a few days.

So after all that preamble – here goes!

Andrew Auld’s Spelt Bread (from the Loaf in Crich)

Andrew’s formula uses a rye sourdough starter to start the whole process off,  which he calls a ‘rye sloppy’.  If you only have a wheat starter then you can convert a small proportion of this to rye over a few days by feeding it with wholegrain rye flour and water instead. I keep both a wheat starter and a rye starter going, I refresh them once a week if I am not using them for baking and keep them in the fridge unless I am planning doing a lot of baking over a period of a few days.  If you are not worried about a small proportion of wheat in your bread then just use your wheat starter.

Spelt Sourdough Biga

The day before you want to bake

1st stage

Mix a biga with

  • 24 g rye starter
  • 80 g water
  • 100 g white spelt flour
  • 100 g wholegrain (wholemeal) spelt flour

Leave in a covered bowl to ferment. The time this takes will depend on how warm it is. I left mine overnight.

2nd stage

  • 640 g white spelt flour
  • 160 g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 80 g orange juice
  • 12 g honey
  • 12 g salt ( I upped this to 15g as I felt it was a bit low for my taste, I wonder if the low salt contributes to the faster proving times, that is something to bear in mind and salt is very much a personal preference)
  • 440 g water
  • 300 g biga (as from the first stage)

Mix all the above together well and leave for three hours to prove, folding the dough twice during that period.

Shape the dough as you like, I proved these in bannetons.  I made three smallish loaves of around 550 g each, then leave for a shortish final prove. I baked these after 45 mins proving in front of a radiator –  a much shorter time than I would usually leave a sourdough loaf on its final prove – and I think that has been my mistake in the past, leaving spelt too long on the final prove, Andrew’s note to me indicated that might be a good way to go.

When experimenting with a dough that is unfamiliar, do make notes, I would try and remember if it was hot or cold, if possible have a little temperature gadget in your kitchen. I have one from the Science Museum in London that is very useful. Note the ambient temperature and the times the dough has sat in prove (be honest here, if you forgot it, then write it down regardless!) and if possible take photos to jog your memory. Keep making the same dough and either shorten or lengthen the proof times and you will get a result you like in the end.

Spelt sourdough loaf on a cold day

I baked these smallish loaves at 220 ºC for about 20 minutes and then reduced the temperature to 200 ºC for another 20 minutes and that seemed about right. I tend to bake my bread longer than many people do. I see commercially that bread seems to be baked for shorter periods of time, maybe a commercial oven is different but I prefer a ‘well-baked loaf’ nearly always.

My small thoughts :  handle this dough gently, don’t knock the air out of it when you fold it, and be kind to the dough when you come to shape it;  try and preserve the air that is in the dough from the first fermentation stage. The folding process stretches the bubbles that are forming and traps them in the dough, and they help to give the dough some structure.

Spelt Sourdough Crumb Shot

Don’t spend a long time staring at the dough once you have turned it out prior to baking it. Slash it simply with one long angled cut, slightly off the centre line as if you are slitting an envelope –  the more cuts you make on the top, the more the dough will lose surface tension and flatten out. Decide what you are going to do before you turn it out and be quick and decisive and get it into the oven nice and speedily. An old slashing post of mine here might give you some ideas here.

Spelt flour is also lovely in biscuits and cakes, so you can always use it that way too.

I guess I should be thinking about festive baking… I have been reading lots of lovely blogs full of exciting projects, but I haven’t lifted a festive finger yet, no shopping, no crafting, nothing has happened here.  This is not to say there won’t be any but don’t hold your breath!

If any other spelt fans want to share their tips and thoughts on baking with spelt I am all ‘ears’ !

A Home Loaf and Britain’s Best Bakery on TV

sourdough with braided top, Zeb Bakes, What I made today, (except of course I started yesterday)

The Day Before Baking

Mix together well

  •  50 g of once refreshed starter
  • 200 g  breadflour
  • 250 g water

Leave for 12-16 hours in a cold kitchen;  6-10 hours in a warm one

The following day

Mix a dough with :

  • 450 g of the above
  • 400 g water (approx, may vary depending on how much strong flour you use)
  • 350 g very strong bread flour
  • 300 g regular bread flour
  • 150 g dark rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon of dark malt dissolved in water
  • 5g dry yeast
  • 20 g fine sea salt
  1. Mix well and knead or not as you prefer.
  2. First prove 3 hours with two folds at hourly intervals.
  3. Shape and Second prove of about 2 hours
  4. Turn out onto peel
  5. Bake in a preheated oven  with steam at 220 °C for 25 mins and then reduce heat to 200 °C for a further 20 – 25 mins.
  6. Cool on a rack.

Baking notes:

Despite the extra bit of yeast, this dough took about three hours to do its first prove. My kitchen was around 18 C most of the day so after an hour or so I put the dough inside my top oven with the door held slightly ajar with a teatowel in the door so the oven light would stay on.  The light was enough to bring the internal temperature of the oven up to around 24 C. I needed to rotate the bowl occasionally as one side got warmer than the other but it works very well and isn’t as expensive as putting the heating on just for the dough!

I then split the dough into two and thought I would have a go at making a loaf with a braid on the top.

I took three balls of 60 g of dough each and rolled them into long even strands and made a three stranded plait which I put in the bottom of the banneton. Then I added a boule of dough on top of that, so that when I turned it out the plait would be on the top.

sourdough with braided top

If I do this again I will make longer strands and a fatter plait, maybe 90 g per strand.  The dough that forms the main part of the loaf weighed 850 g. I made the remaining dough into a smaller loaf.

Why the braid? I have been watching Britain’s Best Bakery on ITV1 for the last couple of weeks, cheering on all the wonderful bakers, patissiers and cake makers who have been brave enough to let a TV crew into their workplaces and film them.

I was very taken with the wonderful showpiece sourdough loaf made by the Metfield Bakery  in Suffolk which had a plait on the top. The judges thought their sourdough was amazing and I had never tried putting a plait on the top of a loaf so I thought I would try for a bit of fun and a sort of homage.   Predictably mine has come out looking nothing like the one I saw on TV, mine looks a bit like a drunken Roman Emperor, whose laurel wreath has tipped over the side of his head after imbibing a bit too much wine…. (Edit: Stuart from Metfield Bakery has left some helpful tips in a comment below, thank you Stuart!)

sourdough, homage to Metfield Bakery

Watching the shows I was struck by how passionate the bakers are, how much they care about their craft.  The show has a competitive element, but in some ways that is the least important part of the show for me. I just like to watch the teamwork involved, the dough being shaped, admire the different ovens, the mixers, the hustle and bustle, and the icing on the cakes.

The judges have a delightful manner and accentuate the positives they find in each and every one of the bakers they talk to; the challenges they set the bakeries are quite fun, but a bit random and not necessarily equal in skill difficulty.   The section where they visit the bakeries and have a look round and a quick chat and a few words from enthusiastic customers is for me the best part of the show. They showcase the bakeries and their warm, inviting interiors and beautiful displays of cakes and breads, their cafés and delighted customers really well.  I found myself making mental notes about where they all were and hoping that one day I would get to pop in and sample their baked goodies for myself.

I really enjoyed seeing my friends at the Loaf in Crich who were on this week, the judges were very complimentary about their big green olive sourdough and it was lovely to see the shop and café humming with life and happy customers. I have almost got the 100% spelt sourdough (my personal nightmare) right now, thanks to expert advice from Andrew at the loaf.

100% spelt sourdough

Here it is looking decidedly more airy than my usual bricks. One of the most rewarding things about dabbling in breadmaking has been all the wonderful people I have come across while doing it. Andrew is one of those people who has always been kind hearted and encouraging. We all need encouragement.

It is well worth having a look at, recording or using Catch up TV options to whizz through the adverts and share in the delight and see places that you might want to visit if you were in that part of the UK. The series is in the second of four weeks, so plenty of time to catch some of the shows as they travel around the UK.

By the way….

In Bristol we have the brand new East Bristol Bakery in St Mark’s Road, Easton and Laura Hart is opening her new bakery this Saturday 8th December, both highly recommended!

I get so excited when I walk past a bakery and I always have to go in and buy something, even if I have a breadbin full at home I can’t resist.

I have a dear friend who reads my blog who thought she’d have another try at making sourdough this week.  Building up to this she has been out and looked for a banneton substitute and enterprisingly found a basket in a local charity shop. She then went and got some linen like material with which to line it. However, having set up her new basket ready for baking, she came back to the kitchen to find…

….. Sunny Silverstar – chocolate burmese torte in residence (aka the Baker’s Cat)

I love the way her tail just doesn’t quite fit in there!

Pic shown by permission of Sunny’s Mum. 

And here’s someone else who is not supposed to be in a basket… tsk tsk…

Forums and Bake-Alongs

The Mellow Bakers project of baking through Jeffrey Hamelman’s great collection of recipes in Bread, A Baker’s Book of Recipes and Techniques,  has come to an end.

This is a sort of thinking aloud post, so I’d be interested to hear any thoughts particularly with regard to using wordpress for group baking. You may of course think there are plenty of places already to do that, but I think it is always worth experimenting with different formats, as different things suit different people.

 I was just having a quick read on the Mellow Bakers forum to see what they are up to and it looks as if there will be a brand new group of bakers starting working their way through Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman this year,  so if you wanted to join in last time but felt it was too late to do so, have a look on that forum and see what’s going on.

jeffrey hamelman five grain bread

The principles are very simple.  It’s a free to join, no strings, come and go as you please internet space, run and moderated by Paul.  You can write about your baking there, you can post photos, links to your blog, ask for help, chat. Bake some, all, or none of the recipes.

I began Zeb Bakes because I wanted a home for my bread posts while I was baking along with Paul, Abby, Andrea, Jacqueline, Ulrike, Melanie, Geraint, Doc Fugawe, Natashya, Steve to name but a few of the many fantastic people who dropped in and baked and chatted there. Some people only popped in once or twice, some people baked everything they possibly could. It has been a fairly relaxed affair and I have learnt so much while I was doing it. Thank you all of you!


I really enjoyed baking along with some great people who dropped in and out over the course of the Hamelman project. I take my hat off to the amazing bakers who baked every single one of the recipes.  I managed forty five (I think!) different bread recipes out of all the ones we could have made. You can see the ones I made by clicking on these two pages in my menu bar, here and here.

There are of course other forums to join up to if you want to talk bread, there’s the Real Bread Campaign in the UK, which you have to pay to join. I was a member for one year but it seems more aimed at would be professionals than at people like me so I have let my membership lapse.

There’s also the Fresh Loaf in the US, which has members from all over the world and is a very fast moving and big forum. If you speak German or Spanish these are links to two forums in those languages.

Terry, who I met at Joe’s and Martin’s baking weekend in Yorkshire, runs a wood & pizza oven forum where they talk bread and pizza in particular and is well worth visiting too if you have questions about oven building.


And then there are the one off Twitter bake alongs where people teach you how to make a starter, or how to make rolls like Luc Martin did recently. I made brioche one happy Sunday following the @halfdrunkduck’s great instructions.

Zeb checks the mise en place for Dan Lepard's Dundee Cake

It reminded me of Dan Lepard’s Dundee Cake bake off which was one of the funniest things I have ever done on my own, Sally BR and Gill the Painter were in on that one and we have been great friends ever since –  I wish we could do another one day, though I know they take a lot of organizing.

Thinking along those lines, maybe we could do one using the P2 group theme on WordPress which allows for realtime updates?  If anyone is interested in giving it a go, maybe one Sunday later this year,  do let me know.

For those of you unfamiliar with how WordPress.com (not wordpress.org which is the self hosted side of the business)  works, you sign up as a user (free) and then you have a wordpress name and password and you can be added to a group blog where you can upload text and photos without having to have a blog if you don’t want one.

Of course if you do want a blog, you just opt for that. WordPress don’t charge you for the basic blogs, but they do have fees if you want to keep your blog advert free, like this one, or to register your own name, and various other things, all explained on their site.

I could set one up and see if we could make it work for one-off bake-alongs if there is interest.

If you want me to add a link to any non commercial bread forums or upcoming low cost bread events that I have missed out, please put something in a comment below and I will edit this post.

Happy Baking Everyone!

NB I’ve edited this post a bit since I first wrote it to make the bit about wordpress clearer.

22nd Feb 2012

I have taken out all references to group baking of Dan Lepard’s books as this seems to be causing problems lately. For more on this see Paul’s recent post on Mellow Bakers and if you wish join in the discussion there.

I have left people’s comments on this post as they are.

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