Tag Archives: Mick Hartley

Mick’s 5-Seed and Spelt Sourdough

5 Seed Spelt Sourdough Mick Hartley Bethesdabakers

It’s been too long…

It’s been too long since I made a seedy loaf and anxious to remedy that I grabbed Monsieur Hartley’s Bethesdabasics and gave his Sourdough Spelt and 5-seed bread a workout yesterday evening. Luckily I had some white starter waiting patiently for an outing so it was meant to be.

I’ve never put poppy seeds in a dough before, usually sprinkling them on the top and in the bottom of the oven, on the floor and so on. I like the adrenalin rush of skidding in my socks on the fine layer of baking debris on the floor, especially carrying a hot tray or a kettle of boiling water; all part of the home baking process.  Sometimes I have to vacuum my feet; the dogs mysteriously vanish as I open the cupboard under the stairs as the vacuum cleaner is one of their sworn enemies.

I confess that I didn’t soak the seeds overnight, only for a mere hour, but the mix of linseed, poppy and other  bird seed (sorry Jackdaw) absorbed nearly all the water in that time so I figured I would get away with it. Linseed has an interesting glutinous quality once soaked which makes the dough a little sticky when you work with it, but also gives the dough a lovely moistness and makes it easy to shape and score.

Mick's 5 Seed with Spelt Sourdough Bethesdabakers

I mixed the dough up at about 5 pm and baked it just after midnight, leaving it to cool while the foxes roamed the garden, calling to each other and the robin sang away in the dark. Did I mention I live in a city?  It’s full of animals out there and they take full advantage of the night.

5 Seed Spelt Sourdough Bethesdabakers

This morning the sun is bright and the temperature has risen to a balmy 6 º C, so I’ve celebrated by dragging the Hartley loaf outside for its photocall and then hastily back indoors as it’s not that warm really.  You can’t beat a breakfast of fresh bread and butter, just delicious!

This is a moist and well fermented bread full of nutty seedy goodness, yet with no sense of crunching on tiny seeds as the soaking has softened them all right down – Brian won’t eat seedy bread, but that’s all right because he has endless loaves of white toast stuffed in the freezer. To each their own!

Not long now till the Bethesda shindig in July when you can meet Mick, marvel at his eyebrows and bake with him and anyone else who chooses to come. It’s not a workshop, but a gathering, a get together, a bake-in, it’s what the participants want it to be and it will be fun! If you fancy stepping off the internet and into a floury environment for a day or a weekend find out more here.

The Partisan Baker’s Sourdough Primer

My friend Mick Hartley bakes bread at home, but unlike me he works really hard at it and for several days and nights a week transforms his home into a microbakery, taking orders and selling wonderful loaves to his customers. Somewhere along the way he has found the time to work on his books and I’ve just bought a copy of the first of these, which is called Bethesdabasics.  Illustrated beautifully by Wendy Shea and written in a clear and succinct manner this book deals with the business of making sourdough in a way that strips away much of the anxiety and worries that the aspiring sourdough baker is prone to.

Cheers Mick!

Next time I offer to show a friend how to get started with the sourdough, this will be an excellent book to have on hand. I am well aware that there are many fine baking books around and more seem to come out all the time, but there is much to treasure in this book and I like the way Mick’s calm and unfussy approach comes through in the writing. You are in safe hands with the Partisan Baker.


When I first started baking Mick used to post on Dan Lepard’s forum and he gave me loads of advice which has stood me and many others in good stead. Most memorably when I was dithering around and getting obsessed with different types of flour and trying to make baguettes, he told me not to worry and just make the bread with what I had on the shelf. I think the hardest thing when you start out is figuring out what you need to worry about and what you don’t and I reckon if you follow along with Mick’s lessons here you will have just the right amount of information to get on track to great bread and you will get the recipe for some ‘totally awesome’ flatbreads amongst many others.

Rant, rave, rant

Skip this post if you don’t want to read a grumbly rant….or just check the pictures and move on…..

Too hot for Zeb

One of the biggest challenges for home bakers in this ‘connected age’  is trying to figure out whether the recipe they read on a website on the other side of the world will actually work out translated to their own kitchen. I know some of you out there are brilliant at adapting recipes, but it is not my strong point I will freely admit.

Translating technique and methods are relatively easy, but types of flour, sugars, flavourings, not to mention cuts of rye grain, salts, butters and other fats, vary so much that it gives rise to a lot of discussion. All the forums are full of posts on this subject.  Hunting around on the internet for someone who supplies einkorn is a harmless way to spend an evening and I suppose it is educational to try and work out  just what is the difference between farro and spelt and pondering the mysteries of OO flour.  Is it soft, is it hard, are there different sorts. I suspect there are….

And then a lovely visit to one of these restored mills where you buy a bag of their flour, get it home and realise there is no info at all on the bag to give you a clue about its composition, does this strike a familiar chord?

So I salute  home bakers everywhere, who struggle to overcome these obstacles and I offer my heart felt encouragement to those who are just starting out. It does get easier, and most people manage to make a damn good loaf by their second or third go.  Keep the faith. Like learning to dance, everyone gets better with practice, and bread is no different.

In breadmaking it seems as if each country has not only different names for their flours, but also different ways of describing them, ash content in Germany, protein levels in England, W and P in Italy (no idea at all what that refers to) and for the most part, the aspiring home baker has to make their best guess, scour the internet for advice, and then close their eyes and just jump in.

Bread though is relatively forgiving; unlike cake. This brings me to my rant:

I’ve just been testing some cake recipes for an American baking book, and realise that I am far from being a professional tester and that I don’t really like doing it. Hmmm.

I have managed to produce, with one exception, rather horrible looking, oversweet and dense cakes,  some of which I have turned into crumbs;  the rest sliced up and shoved in the freezer, vaguely thinking that I can use them for trifle or something, one day in the future.   I could blame the recipe writer but that’s a bit too easy.

One reason for my failure is I don’t have cake flour, special American bleached low protein stuff.

And before you comment that it is possible to make cake flour in the microwave, or substitute cornflour for part of the flour, I have read all that too, and, Dear Reader, I don’t want to play.

I realise  what I really  want is recipes written for me, here where I live, using ingredients that are easily available and preferably already in my cupboard.   I might go across town to get some seasonal mangoes, or to a specialist butcher for marsh-raised lamb, but I am not spending hours with flour exploding in my oven, nor do I want to feel deflated when cakes emerge from the oven and look as if an invisible imp has sat on them ten minutes later.  There, got that off my chest!

I also have to learn to look at a recipe more critically before I even start and say, 130% sugar to flour – no way is that going to make me happy. My teeth are furring up just at the memory of that particular cake.

Roll on Dan Lepard’s British Baking book, I hope it’s full of wonderful,  overlooked and neglected British breads, cakes and buns. And Mick Hartley‘s first book too! I can’t wait to read the recipes for his awesome flatbreads and other extraordinary creations.  Breads with a hint of spice,  redolent with fruits, studded with chocolate, a twisted shape here, a glistening crust there, a splodge of jam, savoury, oats, barley, and rye,   full of beer, I don’t care  – bring them on – I’m waiting!

In the meantime here, with many thanks to Suelle and all the other kind people who made suggestions,  is my alternative Battenburg.  The chocolate part sank a little and the pistachio part is a bit crumbly and I guess the recipe needs some fine tuning way beyond my capabilities, as I am not going to make the same cake over and over.

I could have souped up the green colour but this is how it came out!

But I have tried and now I am going back to bread, where I belong.  See you in the sourdough corner soon!