Author Archives: Kath

The 3 types of yeast and how to use them

Sometimes it can be confusing when faced with the dilemma of which yeast to use and how best to use it. Should you use fresh yeast, and how much? What about active dried? Is that different to easy-bake? I answer your questions here:

Let me know which yeast you prefer to use and why in the comments section below.

Marmite Bread

Last week, in my post about my top three books for beginner bread makers I mentioned Marmite bread, with reference to James Morton’s book Brilliant Bread, where I got the initial idea for this recipe. (It’s a great book that should be on everyone’s shelf.) I offer Marmite bread as a choice for people to make on my full day Bread Basics course and it will be a recipe that will be included in my upcoming online course because it one of my absolute favourites.

My mentioning Marmite bread prompted Tony to get in touch and ask if I had published the recipe on here yet. It is included in my recipe book but Tony was one of the first people to attend one of my bread making courses, way back in May 2015, and as learning to make bread is a lifelong adventure I hadn’t come across James’ Marmite Bread at that point.

So this post is especially for Tony, as a thank you for his support for all of this time.

Even if you hate Marmite I urge you to try this recipe just once because I promise that it doesn’t have to taste marmitey, if you reduce the Marmite to 30g (don’t go lower or there is no point in adding it at all) all you get is a deep savoury taste to your loaf which is absolutely delicious and fantastic with soups and stews, but please try the 40-45g first as it really is lovely even for the Marmite haters amongst us (weird creatures). It also makes delicious toast which can, of course, be spread with yet more marmite for a double hit. Can you tell I am a Marmite lover?

Note of caution though – Marmite is salty so reduce the salt that you would normally add otherwise the loaf will be too salty. Also, don’t do what I did once and overdo it on the marmite front. I got cocky in a class one day and added two spoonfuls instead of my usual one spoonful and whilst everyone else’s loaves rose beautifully mine remained as flat as a pancake. The saltiness of the Marmite will kill the yeast if you go overboard. Lesson, well and truly learned.

500g strong white flour or you could replace 100g with 100g wholemeal or 50g rye & 50g wholemeal
5g easy bake/ instant yeast or 15g fresh yeast (remember that you can reduce the yeast and allow the bread to rise longer)
5g fine salt
45g Marmite
340-380g water (depending on flour choice)

Place the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl and mix together. Weigh the Marmite out in a jug and pour over 100g hot water and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool a little and then add to the flour. Add another 200g of warm or cool water (if you use cool water your dough will take longer to prove which improves the texture and flavour). Start to mix, adding splashes of water in until you get a dough that is soft and slightly sticky. Make sure that there are no dry bits in your dough. Leave to rest for at least ten minutes or up to an hour depending on how your day is going.

Knead your dough or use the stretch and fold method as I demonstrate in this video.

Cover well and leave to prove until airy, remember it will take longer for it to prove if you used less yeast or cooler water. You can also pop it in the fridge at this point for several hours or overnight if that fits better into your day.

Shape your dough. I show you how to shape for a loaf tin or as a batard/ bloomer in this video.

Cover with clingfilm or similar, remember to oil it well so it doesn’t stick to the loaf and deflate it. Allow to prove, again this can happen overnight in the fridge if it suits you.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees centigrade, gas mark 7 or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga. Steam the oven well as you put your loaf in, I like to use a plant mister to do this, spraying several times (avoiding the glass door and light). Bake for 30 minutes, check that it is baked by tapping on the bottom, it should sound hollow or insert a temperature probe and check that it reaches 90 degrees centigrade. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack and I promise you will love it even if you hate Marmite.

Best Books for Advanced Bread Makers

This is the third in the series of my favourite and most used book recommendations for anyone learning to make bread. You can read about my three favourite books for anyone just starting their bread making journey or my top three (ok, four, I squeezed an extra one in) sourdough books. This one is all about digging a bit deeper into the art of bread. So if you feel like you have cracked the basic loaf and you are ready to learn more these are the books that I recommend for the book pile next to the oven or the bed, and I can’t just choose three this time either.

My first recommendation is Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery. This is a well researched and in-depth book and makes for a really interesting read. I definitely recommend that this one sits ready on the bedside table. David discusses the history of milling, talks in-depth about flour choices and other ingredients integral to bread making and has a really interesting chapter on the history of bread ovens and lots of recipes. It is a book that you can read and re-read. It deserves a place on everybody’s book shelf.

If you are as much as a bread geek as me then you will love to learn the science of bread and my top recommendation for this is Emily Buehler’s Bread Science, which is available as an e-book in the UK. Emily goes into the science of bread in great depth. Some of it boils my brain if I’m honest but that may be because I am not a natural scientist although the science of bread is my favourite subject and I can bore anyone with it within five minutes of meeting them. If you want to get a grip of the science of what is happening in your loaf then this is the book for you.

Another great book available to download if you want to understand the mystery of sourdough is Trevor J Wilson’s Open Crumb Mastery. It delves into the science of how to achieve the perfect open crumb (if that is what you are looking for and if I am honest I prefer a toast that can hold its butter) but the book is definitely worth reading as it can really help you to understand what is happening when you are making a loaf of sourdough.

A fantastic resource to have to hand if you are really serious about bread making is Michael Suas’s Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach. It has been designed for the professional baker so it might be a bit hardcore for anyone not completely obsessed with bread, but it is a book that I return to again and again for advice.

A book that is more suited to the enthusiastic home baker is Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. Again pitched at the professional baker but it is slightly less hardcore than Michael Suas’s offering. Hamelman’s book offers a formula for the home baker in every recipe and it is a great book to introduce you to the science of bread making so that you can understand the process in-depth which will help you correct any mistakes. The only frustration for me is that the home bakers recipes are in pounds and ounces rather than metric and my brain works best in metric these days, which means that I have to convert them. However, there is a bakers percentage given for every recipe so it isn’t difficult to convert the recipe and scale up or down.

It was difficult choosing which books should appear in this list but these are the ones that have been most helpful to me and that I return to the most, although there are lots of others that could be included here. Let me know if you have a favourite in the comments.

My Top Three Sourdough Books

Hands down, my favourite book for helping you understand sourdough is James Morton’s Super Sourdough. He writes clear explanations and delves into the science just enough so that you can understand the process and learn what you may be doing wrong and make adjustments.

Super Sourdough by James Morton

Making sourdough bread can seem complicated and scary but James Morton gives you the confidence to tackle it and I promise that once you have practiced a few times and you understand the basics you will be making the most delicious bread ever. Although, I will admit that even after years of sourdough baking and teaching other people how to do it I will have the odd failure. With sourdough it’s just something that the baker learns to accept. I used to worry that it was just me but after listening to many professional bakers on podcasts all of them will admit the same thing, sometimes the loaf isn’t as good as you hoped, or looks terrible (but will taste good). With sourdough that is part of the challenge – will this loaf be the perfect loaf? And even if you get very, very close to perfection there is always the hope that the next one will be even better.

My second recommendation is Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson.

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

This one is a classic for a reason. Sometimes professional bakers forget that you are baking at home with a domestic oven. There is a big difference between baking at home and baking in a professional bakery. In Tartine, Chad Robertson recruited home bakers to test his recipe, twiddle it and feedback the results. This means that the recipe (and there are many detailed pages for the basic recipe, 39 pages in fact) works well at home. The instructions, although lengthy, are easy to follow and allow for a consistent result. This book also popularised the use of the dutch oven for home bakers, which, if your budget can stretch to one, I highly recommend (I will be blogging about baking tools soon).

My third recommendation is for The Bread Builders, Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott.

Something clicked for me when I read this book. It was like having a lightbulb moment in my head. It doesn’t have the simplicity of James Morton’s book or the detailed instructions of the basic recipe of Chad Robertson but it does go into the science of bread making and really helps you to understand the bread making process and for the bread geek there is the added bonus of a section on masonry oven construction (one day, Kath, one day…). Alan Scott was a hugely influential figure in the Amercian artisan baker movement and Chad Robertson spent time learning his craft with Alan Scott (that’s a young Chad Robertson on the cover).

It’s difficult to choose just three from the array of books on the subject but if I had to, and I have had to for this post, then these would be my three top choices. I will add as a bonus Sarah Owens Sourdough, Recipes for Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savouries and More just because this book will open your eyes to the opportunities for using your sourdough starter in all of your baking including pastry, cakes and biscuits and is just a lovely book to dive into.

Sarah Owen's Sourdough book

Next time I will let you know my favourite books for the advanced baker. If you have any favourite bread books let me know in the comments.

Best Bread Making Books for Beginners

I sent out a newsletter last week asking what people struggled with when making bread. I am here to help you to understand bread making better so if people are struggling I want to be able to help with tips and answers. Jonathan got in touch with lots of great ideas for helping people understand bread making better. One of his requests was for recommendations on the best books to use when learning to make bread. This is something I have been meaning to write about for ages. So here we go with part one of a series of blog posts to help you decide which bread book you should buy or borrow from the library.

Starting with the best books for an absolute beginner and where best to start than with the book that started all of this for me. River Cottage Handbook No. 3, Bread, by Daniel Stevens.

River Cottage Handbook no. 3 Bread
My well thumbed copy

In 2009 I found myself in the position of taking a career break to look after my girls who were then aged 3 & 5. I wanted to learn new skills and have something to focus on whilst they were at nursery and school and so I set up my food blog The Ordinary Cook. It was my corner of the internet where I could share my recipes and hopefully inspire people to start to cook or bake. A couple of times a week I would try out a new recipe and if it was a success it would be posted onto the blog.

I have just looked back and you can see my first recipe for bread was on 22nd September 2009 where I finally find that I have made an edible loaf of bread. I can still remember the joy of that particular loaf, as prior to this, I had always struggled to make a good loaf of bread. My previous attempts had been heavy bricks that Richard had been very kind about. The recipe for this particular loaf came from another favourite cook book of mine and one that comes from the same source, The River Cottage Family CookBook, another firm recommendation for anyone wanting to learn to cook. It is a brilliant starting point as it sets out all the tools and the ingredients you will need and a step by step process which is aimed at children but is equally suitable for adults, even those who are already proficient at cooking. After this success, I dived into the River Cottage Bread book and practised and practised. The book is so good because every recipe works, mostly because the instructions are easy to follow and there is an in-depth guide to the bread making process at the beginning of the book.

This is my number one book that I would recommend for anyone starting out on their bread journey.

James Morton Brilliant Bread

My second recommendation is James Morton’s Brilliant Bread. Another book from which every recipe I have used has worked. He also gives you a clear explanation of the basics at the start of the book to help guide you through every subsequent recipe. I got the inspiration for the Marmite bread from this book and it is a bread that is loved in this household and, of course, either loved or hated by people who come along to the Bread Basics Full Day course. (I will also be recommending James Morton’s Sourdough book as my number one choice if you are diving into the world of sourdough when I do a full blog post on this subject soon).

My third recommendation for anyone beginning to make bread is Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How To Make Bread. Again every recipe works and he gives full instructions, with photos, of the stretch and fold method that I use for all my doughs and that you can see me demonstrating in this video. This is the book which suddenly turned on the light for me and showed me how easy making bread can be.

So there you go, my top three recommendations for anyone starting out on their bread making journey, with the number one spot going to the River Cottage Handbook No. 3, because it has a special place in my heart as it was the book which ignited my obsession about bread. You can read about my favourite sourdough books and books for the more advanced baker too.

Making Bread The Easy Way

You can now watch my first bread making video. Part One shows you how to mix and develop a dough using the stretch and fold method which is the way we make all of the doughs in my classes. Using this method makes it really easy to fit making a loaf into your daily (or twice weekly) routine. It is less messy and waits for you to be ready rather than you trying to structure your day around your loaf.

With this basic white dough you can make the loaf that I make in Part Two or you can make pizza bases, rolls or naan breads.

More videos will be added to help you with your bread making adventures soon.

Reducing the amount of yeast you use for your loaf

In these strange COVID19 times many of us are wanting to make our own bread but are finding it hard to get flour and yeast easily. If you have yeast and are worried that you may run out soon, remember that your bread will still rise if you use only one-third of a sachet of easy bake for every loaf. It will take longer to rise, but will be all the better for it, taste wise, as a result. You can also develop a pre-ferment using a tiny bit of yeast, which will, over a few hours, multiply the yeast cells to raise a delicious, chewy loaf that will last longer than your usual loaf. All bonuses. The following text is taken from my booklet on Advanced Doughs, so if you have been on my Ciabattas and Baguettes course you will already have this knowledge at your fingertips. But I hope this will serve as a timely reminder or if you haven’t been on an advanced course this will help you to learn new skills during lockdown.

Using Pre-ferments
You can improve the flavour of your bread by using a pre-ferment. Your loaf will not only have a more developed flavour but also a chewier and glossier crumb and better keeping qualities. 

A pre-ferment is simply preparing part of your dough several hours before you make your final loaf. There is a lot of conflicting and complicated information about pre-ferments and many names for it out there on the internet so I aim to keep it simple.  

A pre-ferment differs from a sourdough culture because the pre-ferment uses commercial yeast rather than wild yeast from the air.  A pre-ferment cannot be endlessly revitalised like a sourdough culture. When it’s ready to use, it’s ready to use. An over-fermented pre-ferment will have collapsed and the yeast will have weakened the dough, stripping its gluten and this will make a weaker and flatter dough that will fail to rise.

The pre-ferment will improve your everyday bread, is essential to a ciabatta and makes a proper baguette.  It will also help to improve the flavour of a sweet dough, helping the dough to rise through the fats and the sugars. It can be used in any of your bread recipes to improve the flavour. 

There are three main types of pre-ferment – the poolish, the big-a and the pate fermentee. 

Pate fermentee means ‘old dough’. It is often used by traditional bakers to improve the flavour of their loaf.  It is as simple as retaining a piece of dough after the first rise and before shaping and popping it into the fridge to use the next day in the next loaf. Pate fermentee has salt in it, something to consider when you add salt to your final dough. So, if you are baking regularly at the moment, consider taking 50-100g of the dough and wrapping it well and placing in the fridge. You can then add more flour and water (and a reduced amount of salt, say 6g to every 500g flour as a maximum) to this ‘old’ dough and use this to rise your loaf instead of using yeast. This ‘old’ dough will be good to use for a maximum of three days.

The poolish is often used in French bakeries. It is a wet pre-ferment, 100% flour, 100% (or more) water and a little bit of yeast. It is left to develop between 8 and 16 hours. The amount of yeast that you add depends on several factors. If you want to use the poolish in 8 hours time you need a little more yeast than one you want to use in 16 hours. If it is summer and the kitchen is warm then you will need less yeast than on a cold winter’s day when the kitchen is cold.  You don’t add salt to a poolish until you make the final dough.  As a guide, I use one-eighth of a teaspoon, or a pinch, of easy bake (aka instant) yeast to 100g flour and 100g water and leave it to get very bubbly on the surface and then add 400g flour, 200g -250g water (adding the extra 50g as and when it is needed according to the flour) and 5-10g salt and make bread in the usual manner.

The biga is Italian and very similar to a poolish, except that it is a much drier mix. You use 100% flour to 50-55% water and a little yeast.  Because it is a drier dough it takes longer for it to reach full fermentation. This means that it can be made up to 18 hours (kept in the fridge) ahead of making up your final dough. It is less likely to lose its gluten strength than a poolish and because of the longer fermentation time it means that it potentially has time to develop extra flavour with the acetic and lactic acids having more time to get to work. So, I will use one-eighth teaspoon (or a pinch) of easy bake yeast to 100g flour and 50-55g water and mix to a smooth dough. Leave to ferment until doubled in size (several hours in a warm kitchen or 18 hours in a fridge) and then add 400g flour, 275-300g water and 5-10g salt and proceed as usual.

Pre-ferments can make up to 50% of the final dough. The more you use the less time is needed for the first and second rise of your bread. The less you use, the longer the fermentation time, but the better the flavour development of your final loaf.

You can choose whether you give your final dough an extra boost with a little more yeast. If you add more yeast then you reduce the time the dough needs for its first and second rise.  If you do add more yeast then reduce the final amount by at least half. So, if you normally use 5g of easy bake in a 500g loaf then you will only need 2g of total easy-bake yeast in a dough using a preferment. This might be 0.5g in the pre-ferment and then 1.5g to use as a boost in the final dough. 

I hope this helps you to use less yeast to make delicious bread. If you need any more bread help, I am always at the end of an email.
If you have very limited access to commercial yeast this may be the time to think about starting your sourdough journey. I have a post about making a sourdough starter here.

Making and looking after a sourdough starter

Making sourdough bread can be incredibly rewarding and the bread can be incredibly delicious. When a loaf goes right you will always want just one more piece of bread for your dinner or one more piece of toast for your breakfast and you will have to force yourself to walk a suitable distance away from the bread board.

Sourdough can also be frustrating. Although, do not let that statement put you off. Part of the pleasure of sourdough is that it presents a challenge. Relax about it, don’t worry if the loaf you have made isn’t perfect, next time it will be better and the next time after that.

There are a number of factors that affect the fermentation of the dough, including the weather – it will react differently on a warm day to a cold day. The biggest factor though will always be the health of your starter and if you can get that right then your loaf will always be good and sometimes it will be great. Again, my advice is to relax about it. It really is very easy, if you have been given a starter then you can keep it in the fridge form the get-go. If you are starting from scratch then it will need your attention for a few minutes twice a day for the first five to ten days, after that it too can live quite happily in the fridge only needing your attention the day before you want to bake.

Three sourdough starters
Three vigorous starters. White at the bottom, wholemeal in the middle and rye at the top.

Starting a sourdough starter:
Use organic flour to get your starter off to the best start. Organic flour will have more yeasts and good bacteria in it than a flour that has been treated with pesticides and fungicides.
Tap water is fine to use, unless you live in an area that has highly chlorinated water. In the UK, our tap water is acceptable to use. If you really want to, you can use spring water, but I have always used tap water.
The yeasts work best when oxygen is freely available to them so stir your starter regularly to give the yeasts an oxygen boost.
You can choose which flour you use in your starter but I would recommend that you start with wholemeal rye flour as this will be the most vigorous. In the photo above I have three different starters, this is only for the purposes of my sourdough courses. You only need to maintain one and you can change it from one flour to another by giving it a refresh. If you wanted to change a rye starter to a white starter then take 1 tablespoon of rye starter and add 100g white flour and 100g water and stir briskly and leave to rise for 6-8 hours. You can then use it or repeat to build up a stronger white starter.
Day 1
In a small pot mix together 25g organic flour (your choice of white, wholemeal or rye) and 25g water. Give it a brisk stir. Cover lightly and keep in a warm place. Not too warm, anything over 55℃ will kill the yeasts, so don’t keep it on the back of a warm oven. Leave it for at least 8 hours or for 24-48 hours, stirring every so often. It may develop a few bubbles, this is unlikely to be the yeasts yet, so don’t worry if these bubbles disappear the next day.

Day 2
Add 25g flour and 25g water and give a brisk stir. Cover lightly and leave again for at least 8 hours and for as long as 48 hours. Stir it a couple of times during this period.

Day 3
Add 25g flour and 25g water and stir. By the end of the day you should have some bubbles appearing. Don’t worry if you haven’t keep persevering. Your starter won’t be ready for use yet and will have an unpleasant smell. 

Day 4 
If your starter is now becoming too large you can discard half of it. Add another 25g flour and 25g water. Stir briskly to incorporate air.  

Day 5
Add 25g flour and 25g water. By the end of this day your starter should now be bubbly and vigorous. It should no longer smell unpleasant, but have a hint of sweetness and a smell like apple cider vinegar. If it is like this you can use it to make your first loaf. If it hasn’t developed the fruity smell and still seems a bit lacklustre with few bubbles then keep giving it a daily dose of 25g flour and 25g water and stirring vigorously a couple of times a day. (My first starter wasn’t ready until day nine). It will take longer if your kitchen is cool, for example.

Once it has developed that pleasant fruity apple cider vinegar smell you need to give it a good boost.  It has spent the last five to ten days being weakened by acidity and enzyme activity so now, to get it ready for making a loaf, add at least three times its weight of flour and water at a hydration rate of 67%. So discard all but 50g of the starter and add 150g of flour and 100g of water. Give it a brisk stir. 

Once it has rested at room temperature for at least six hours it will be ready to use.

How to maintain your starter:
Now you have a mother starter. You can now keep this perpetually.
I keep my starter in a plastic jug with a piece of clingfilm draped over the top. The clingfilm keeps any dust out of the starter. Every couple of weeks I decant the starter into a clean jug so that I avoid having crusty bits of starter up the sides as this is where bad bacteria will be given a helping hand to breed. By using a jug I can better see how well it is rising after each feed. Do not keep in an airtight container. It will build up pressure when fermenting and the pressure will have no way of escaping and the container may explode.

Unless you are using your starter three or four times a week to bake then my advice is to keep it in the fridge most of the time. Once you have an established starter it will happily slow its fermentation down in the fridge and then you can give it a boost to wake it back up the day before you want to bake again. This method reduces waste and minimises the amount of time you have to spend to maintain your starter. If you leave your starter at room temperature you will have to feed it daily to keep it healthy and then you will have to discard half each time you feed it. Discarding so much flour can become frustrating and expensive.

Once you have a healthy, active starter and it has got all vigorous and bubbly then pop it in the fridge. Remember to label it or a family member might throw it away mistaking it for something else. This does not lead to happy family relations!

The day before you want to bake your next loaf bring the starter out of the fridge. My starters have sat happily in the fridge for three weeks or more, so don’t worry if you have been away on holiday or not had time to bake, your starter will wait for you. Have a look at the starter. If there is a black mould sitting on top, this is bad news. You will need to throw it away and start again. If there is a liquid hooch sitting on top (a bit grey and smelling very vinegary) that’s fine, strain it off and discard. Most likely, the starter will have grown a crust or skin. Take a clean spoon and lift this off the top and discard. Underneath you will have a soupy mixture which was the same colour that the starter was when you first put it the fridge. Discard all but a couple of tablespoons. Add 100g flour and 100g water and give it a really brisk stir. Leave at room temperature for 6-8 hours and it should have become bubbly and vigorous. If it still seems lethargic, repeat by discarding all but a couple of tablespoons and adding 100g flour and 100g water. It should double in size. It is then ready to use in a recipe and pop the unused portion (always remember to keep back at least 1 tablespoon) back into the fridge for next time.

I hope this helps demystify the process of starting and maintaining a sourdough starter. If you have any questions please feel free to get in touch.

Using Freshly Milled Flour

Komo flour mill

The photo shows my Komo flour mill in action. Using freshly milled flour makes a huge difference to the taste of your bread, cakes, scones and biscuits. When you mill fresh flour the flour smells of wheat. That may sound obvious but I am yet to open a bag of flour and smell the wheat in the same way that you smell it when it is freshly ground. Using freshly milled flour in your baking will lead to your bread and cakes etc tasting and smelling sweet and delicious. Freshly ground wholemeal flour is as nutritious as flour can get. As flour ages it loses its nutritional value. If you are grinding the flour minutes before using it, you get the full nutritional benefit.

Using freshly milled flour in bread making is not without its challenges however. As flour ages the gluten stabilises. It takes two weeks for gluten to stabilise fully. This is why flour from large mills tends to be aged artificially by oxidising the flour before being sent out to retail. Most flour that you buy has been sitting in warehouses and on the shop shelf for longer than two weeks since milling. Using freshly milled flour means that you are working with weaker gluten. The flour is stickier to work with, it takes a while to absorb the water as you add it and it can seem to be able to take a lot more water than normal but then will leach the water back out after allowing the dough to rest. It takes some getting used to when working with freshly milled flour for bread, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. The taste and fragrance more than compensates for the slightly denser loaf.

When using freshly milled flour in cakes, biscuits or scones the less stable gluten can work in your favour adding a tenderness and lightness to the finished bake that you can’t get when working with an aged wholemeal flour. Using freshly milled wholemeal flour in a Victoria sponge results in an incredibly light and tasty cake. The biscuits and scones will taste better than any you have ever tasted before.

If you would like to learn more about using freshly milled flour in your baking you can join me for a full day class where we will use freshly milled flour to make bread, biscuits and scones. I will also be talking about the benefits of freshly milled flour at this year’s Ludlow Food Festival. This year’s festival promises to be better than ever as they celebrate 25 years. I am doing a Talk and Tasting at 11am on Friday 13th September all about freshly milled flour and you can also catch me later the same day at 3.15pm in the Bake in Time tent talking about bread making.

The Veg Patch Loaf Instalment 8

The wheat just before harvest in August 2018.


Sorting the wheat from the chaff

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

Well, I am ashamed to tell you that it’s 5th December and I have just spent two hours threshing and winnowing the wheat. It has taken me this long to get around to it. This is partly due to being busy and partly down to procrastination.  I just didn’t know how to go about it. I intended to thresh and winnow on a dry but breezy day in the garden but every time a day like this came along something else was happening and I just didn’t have the time to get out a sheet and stamp all over the wheat and then throw it up up the air so that the breeze could blow away the chaff and the wheat grain would drop into a bucket.

Instead of getting on with the job, the wheat ears have been sitting in a bowl on the dining room table since they were harvested in August.

Today is a cold and rainy day and I knew that if I wanted to get it done this side of Christmas this was my only window of opportunity, so I set myself up in front of the telly. I put newspaper and an old sheet on the floor and spread the wheat ears on the sheet. I folded it over and stamped all over the wheat ears. Then I squeezed them between my hands to get the last few grains free.  April Bearded Wheat has long, sharp beards that pierce through your jumper and get stuck in your arms and hands.

Then I placed handfuls of the chaff and grain in a colander over a sieve  and gave it a shake, then swapped so that I was shaking over the colander. Then I blew away the chaff. It made a mess and I breathed in a lot of dust.

From the 40g of original grain I have harvested 200g.  Not exactly a raging success but then I am  not a very conscientious harvester either, so probably lost a fair amount of grain to the local mouse family.  In between cutting down the straw and chopping off the heads of grain the wheat stood in a (sort of) bushel in the greenhouse. The cats found it made an attractive bed and scratched it about and I have no doubt that some of it was also eaten by one of the chickens before I caught her in the act.  All in all I would make a terrible farmer.

200g is not enough grain to make half a loaf of bread.  I am in two minds as to whether I grind it up and combine it with another flour to make a loaf or keep the seed and plant it again in the spring in a larger patch and see what yield I can get in 2019. I am favouring the latter. If I combine it with another flour I won’t be able to test how the April Bearded really performs as a flour. But if I plant it again, I could potentially lose the whole crop. I think, if we have learned anything from this experiment it is that I will not be winning any Farmer of the Year awards any time soon.

Answers and opinions on the above dilemma are very welcome.

200g of cleaned grain

Although 200g is a meagre amount of grain to have harvested I have really enjoyed the process and it has certainly made me appreciate the effort needed to grow wheat. For me, it has been a game. It didn’t matter if the crop failed or if I managed to yield 200g.  But by doing it I have learned so much more about the grains I use to make my bread.  It has spurred me to read more  about wheat varieties and populations, landraces and heritage wheats and to understand how complicated wheat growing is for the farmer, with soil nutrition and managing the threats of weather, pests and disease and so much more. Growing my small patch of wheat has strengthened my resolve to support the farmers that are making the effort to grow the more unusual grains organically or with care for the biodiversity of their farms and the wider environment and I will never take a bag of grain or flour for granted again.