So, this month has been a lot of fun: When I went out to buy some more flour I decided it was time to try something new. I still bought strong plain white flour because my husband prefers it and I don’t want to do anything too drastic as otherwise the bread won’t get eaten. However, instead of wholemeal flour, I bought a bag of rye flour. There is so much choice out there that I wasn’t really sure, but my River Cottage book recommends rye flour for coating bread as the speckled coarse grey flour adds a nice touch to the bread.
Rye/White bread – stubby cylinder
I used the usual recipe and did half rye flour and half white flour, then shaped it into a stubby cylinder and coated it in rye flour. The rye makes for a denser loaf, but adding white flour lightens it up so when we ate it, texture-wise, there was not much difference between it and a half-white-half-wholemeal loaf. However, the taste of it was far superior.
Rye/White bread – round loaf
I used the same recipe as the week before (I had my parents coming to stay and a visit from the landlady so wanted to keep things simple as I had lots of housework to do!), but for a bit of variety, shaped it into a round. Due to the denseness of the rye, I made sure I kneaded the loaf a bit more to stretch the gluten, and I left it to rise, deflated it, then rise again a couple more times than usual. I then left it to prove longer which, although leads to a slightly misshapen loaf (I love misshapen loaves: they remind me of pregnant tummies), makes it slightly airier and, in turn, lighter. My Dad also got to try my homemade bread for the first time. He has a breadmaker and is really into making bread too, so he was very interested in the processes, etc.
Sourdough rye bread
500g rye flour
I finally tried my hands at sourdough bread. I was a bit disappointed with my initial result but on tasting it completely changed my mind! I think, if anything, I was more disappointed with the recipe as I used the one of the back of the flour packet rather than looking in my river cottage book. If I had down that I would have had different expectations.
The bread was made over the course of a few days. First day I made a sourdough starter (basically, wild yeast) using one cup of flour and one cup of water, which I covered with a damp cloth and left overnight in a warm place. The next day I ‘fed’ it with another cup of flour and enough water to make it a thick paste. The third day I fed it more flour and water. By this stage it was slightly spongy and had a yeasty smell. I then used the rest of the flour and the same weight of starter, the oil and the salt to make a soft sticky dough, which I then kneaded and placed in a warm place overnight. The next day, I kneaded it again and put it in an oiled loaf tin, covered in foil, for two hours before baking (covered) at 190C for an hour, then 170C for half an hour.
The resultant bread was extremely dense and I was disappointed as I expected it to be more risen that it was. However, I enjoyed my first slice on the way to work on a cold morning and was taken immediately back to German exchanges at school – we were always in Hamburg in February and walked to school in the dark and the snow. The bread deeply reminded me of pumpernickel bread and I thoroughly enjoyed it (it has also given me a strong inclination to make pumpernickel bread, which actually takes even longer to make than this bread!). However, I could not eat much of it, and James did not like it, so unfortunately a lot went to waste. Retrospectively, I should have sliced it straightaway and frozen each slice individually. Will make again just so I can do this!
For the sponge:
650ml warm water
500g strong white bread flour
A ladleful of sourdough starter
For the dough:
600g strong white bread flour
Wow, wow, wow. This bread was amazing. The best so far, and even if I didn’t like the taste I would make it again just to knead the dough because it was the softest, silkiest pillow-like dough ever!
As I now had some sourdough starter, I thought I better make the most of it (I have been continuously feeding it – starters are very popular in artisan bakery as they add lots of flavour, some starters have also been in baking families for generations!). Before I went to bed, I made the sponge, covered it and left it overnight.
The next day, I mixed in the dough ingredients and kneaded it together, shaped it into a round and left it for an hour. I then deflated it, and left it to rise again three more times before shaping it into a round, coating it in rye flour, and leaving it to prove for 4 hours. I then had to go to work, so I entrusted my husband the task of putting it in the oven and he did me proud. When I got home, the loaf was resting on the wire rack, lovely and brown, hollow-sounding, with a crispy crust and it felt really squidgy when I pressed down gently on it. The smell around the house was also incredibly – far more flavoursome than any other loaf! We enjoyed the bread for breakfast this morning. It does not have as many air holes and is denser than it should be, but still very yummy and flavoursome!