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Why is my sourdough dense?

Has your sourdough ever come out of the oven feeling heavy?

Mine has. Just this week in fact. I was asked if I could bake a loaf for a friend two days before the loaf was needed. My starter has been lying dormant in the fridge for about three weeks. I guessed that I might not have enough time to revive it properly before it was needed and I was right. So if your sourdough has ever been dense, I hope that my experience will help.

I had one day to revive the starter before I would need to use it if the loaf was going to be baked in time to be delivered to our friend.

I fetched the starter out of the fridge, threw away half of it and gave it about the same amount of flour as the starter weight and enough water to mix it to a loose slurry.

The past few days have been cold and wet and so the kitchen hasn’t been a lovely warm refuge for the starter. I left it for about 8 hours, discarded half again and repeated the feed.

The next morning, the starter was a bit bubbly but not as active as I normally like it to be before using. I decided to risk it. I took 30g and added 100g white bread flour and 100g water and mixed it well. I left it for another 6 hours and then used it to make my loaf. The resulting loaf failed to spring much in the oven, it failed to caramelise on its crust, remaining pale, insipid and with a few overly dark spots. The loaf feels heavy and the crumb is dense with a few large holes. All in all, a disappointing loaf. I knew it would be, but I thought I would risk it. Here it is, in all of its non-glory:

Dense sourdough
Failed sourdough

What went wrong with my sourdough?

As I discussed in yesterday’s post, to make good sourdough you need a good starter. Something that has life, is bubbly and vigorous.

Sometimes I can take a starter out of the fridge after it has been in there for a month or more and give it two refreshes (as described above, discarding half and feeding with flour and water) and it bounces back into life and is ready to go. Other times, it just needs a bit of extra attention. The cold, wet weather hasn’t helped. Our kitchen door is also our front door and it remains open a lot of time, unless it is really cold. So the last few days, there has been a definite cold draft in the kitchen. We are hardy beasts so don’t mind, the starter obviously decided that it did mind.

If I had given it an extra day and a couple of extra feeds and paid a bit more attention to it, placing it in a warmer spot, it would have recovered and bounced back.

Good sourdough bread starts with a good starter and if you don’t have that then no extra dough development or leaving it to prove for longer will help. To fix it you need to get back to basics. Take a spoonful of the lethargic starter and give it 100g flour, 100g warm water, give it all a good stir and leave in a warm place for 6-8 hours. Repeat enough times as the starter requires to get back to being its happy, bubbly self. If you don’t you will end up like me and our friend, disappointed.

And if your sourdough starter refuses to be bubbly…

A final bit of advice, that I tell all of my students – sometimes a starter gives up. Maybe it just gets fed up of being put in the fridge too much or the weather has been too warm for it. Sometimes you can refresh a starter 4-5 times and it remains as flat as a pancake. If this happens, don’t worry about just start again. Make a new starter. In a week’s time you will be making lovely sourdough loaves again.

Making bread is always a learning curve, grasp the opportunity to learn and improve.

Sourdough September

Every year The Real Bread Campaign organises Sourdough September to encourage people to try sourdough, whether buying it from their local bakery or baking it themselves.

Make your own sourdough

If you have ever thought about making your own sourdough but haven’t picked up the courage to do so, I say go for it. Now, is the perfect time. Have a look at my instructions for making your own starter and how to maintain it and if you start today next week you could be making your first sourdough loaf.

sourdough loaf

What is sourdough?

Sourdough is made with just three ingredients: flour, water and salt. Add time and you get the magic ingredient that transforms your loaf. Sourdough doesn’t have to be sour, you can control your dough to be really tasty without any sourness, so don’t let the name put you off.

Sourdough doesn’t contain any commercial yeast (commercial yeast being one of the three yeasts that you can buy – easy bake/active dried/ fresh). Instead you mix together flour and water and allow it time to bubble away and concentrate the wild yeasts that are found in the flour. Beneficial bacteria also get to work in that wild yeast starter and it is these that give your starter that distinctive tang. You can choose whether you prefer your loaf to have that tang of acidity or whether to use your starter when it is lively and young before the acidity has time to develop.

Common mistakes

Lots of people are put off making their own sourdough because it seems so complicated and maybe because they have tried and had distasters. I can understand this, believe me. The first time I made sourdough I was tempted too early to make a loaf. I had made the starter from scratch and on day four it looked promising, all bubbly and vigorous. I made my first loaf. The dough didn’t rise in the bowl very well, it lacked strength when I was shaping it and it baked like a flat discus that tasted, well, not very good.

What I should have done:

  • The starter needed more time to develop. I should have waited one or two more days for the starter to get fully ripe.
  • I should have taken a small amount of that starter and added a lot of flour and the same amount of water (30g starter, 100g flour, 100g water) and stirred vigorously and left for a further 6-8 hours for that to get bubbly and lively and then used that as the basis for my loaf (remembering to keep 30g back for my next loaf).

If I had followed these simple steps my loaf would have been so much better.

When you first make a starter (following these instructions) the gluten in the flour becomes very weak; the acidic bacteria have spent a week attacking it. If you give a small amount of that starter plenty of new flour for it to devour it become strong with lots of wild yeast and plenty of gluten strength. This will help the dough develop lots of strength as you stretch and fold the dough and the yeast will get to work eating the sugars and expelling carbon dioxide which will stretch the gluten walls and develop the airy texture that a good sourdough needs.

The strength of your starter dictates your final loaf, get this right and you will be one (or several) steps closer to making a delicious sourdough loaf all of your own.

Now is the time to make your first sourdough loaf or give it a try again if you have tried before. Keep practising and it will repay you ten times over with the pride you feel when you can put a delicious loaf of sourdough on the table.

Bread Podcasts

I love listening to podcasts whilst I do other things and my favourite, of course, are those related to bread. I have been listening to a few these past few weeks that I think you might like to listen to as well. So if you are cleaning the house, weeding the garden or sitting in your comfiest chair then take a listen to one of these bread podcasts.

Rock and Roll Farming Podcast

Will Evans is a farmer that interviews other farmers about how the motivation behind their farming practices. Recently he interviewed Mark Lea, an organic farmer in Shifnal, Shropshire. Many of you will know already that I use Mark’s wonderful wheats in my home mill to make the most delicious freshly milled bread. This podcast dives into why Mark and his wife Liz decided to turn their backs on conventional farming and go organic. It is a lovely and moving listen especially when you hear how they were motivated by the arrival of their very special son, Edward. When he was born with Down’s syndrome their perspective on life changed and any fear that they might have had before disappeared and motivated them to live the life they really wanted to live and to make a difference. You can take a listen to the episode here https://rockandrollfarming.libsyn.com/diversity-is-everything.

Mark’s wheat in 2019

Mark’s Wheat Walk on YouTube

This one is not a podcast, (sorry to mislead you), but if that interview has whet your appetite then hop across and watch Mark talk about this year’s wheat harvest. Thankfully, he was able to get his wheats in before the awful recent weather. Wheat prices are set to rise significantly this year because the harvest has been so awful. The very hot April and May followed by the wet and windy months since has seen the worst wheat harvest in the UK for forty years, so we are in for a rocky ride as bakers this next year. However, Mark’s wheat are safely in the barn and he has some wonderful varieties this year. Take a look at the wheats when they were still standing in the field https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tms4zL8uJSo

Flour Power: Meet the Bread Heads Baking a Better Loaf

This one dates back to October last year but it is definitely worth a listen as it talks about how farmers, millers and bakers are working together to make better bread. This is even more important with this year’s harvest.

The podcast talks about the legacy of Martin Woolfe, a wheat breeder who developed a resilient wheat population called Wakelyns YQ (Mark grows this one too) and how key players are working together to build a strong local grain economy, getting away from baking with the nameless wheat in a bag to baking with a grain that you can trace back to the field. This is one of my favourite things to do and it can really make a difference to your appreciation of the loaf you have made when you can name the grain and name the farmer that grew the grain, and if you aren’t milling it yourself, then knowing who milled it too. https://www.theguardian.com/news/audio/2019/oct/28/flour-power-meet-the-bread-heads-baking-a-better-loaf

What’s the yeast doing inside my bread?

If you want to hear about yeast and how it works in your loaf and beyond then this podcast is worth a listen. It’s fascinating, yeast is miraculous and research is showing that it can potentially save the planet. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3cszv62

Bread help

If you want bread advice then Stella Culinary can help. If you start with the Four Pillars of Bread and work from there you won’t go far wrong. Looking for a deeper dive into the science around bread? Then take a listen to Modernist Breadcrumbs.

My regular podcast listening:

I want to share the bread podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis. My favourite listen is Mark Dyck’s Rise Up podcast. Mark used to have a bakery in Canada and now interviews other bakers to understand what motivates and drives them. It’s a great listen.

In a similar vein Mike Hilburn interviews bakers for his Sourdough Podcast.


Reducing the amount of yeast

By reducing the amount of yeast that your recipe suggests you use your loaf will thank you for it. It will take longer to rise, but will be all the better for it, taste wise, as a result.

If a recipe suggests using 25g fresh yeast, use 15g instead. You could use as little as 5g fresh yeast for a dough that uses 500g flour. If your recipe calls for 15g active dried yeast use 5g instead and if it asks for 7g (or a sachet of easy bake) then use 2g of easy bake instead. Your bread will still rise, but it will take longer. If you plan for this, reducing the amount of yeast that you use can be a huge benefit because it allows you to get on with your day whilst you dough rises slowly. If I have a busy day ahead I will use less yeast and just let my dough get on with slowly rising over 3-5 hours (depending on the temperature of the kitchen).

I have a video that will help you get the best out of yeast for your loaf.

You can also reduce the amount of yeast that you use by developing 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.

Baguettes
Baguettes made with a pre- ferment


Reducing the amount of yeast by 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. 

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.

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

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.

Poolish

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.

Biga

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.

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 reduce the amount of yeast you use to make delicious bread. If you need any more bread help, I am always at the end of an email. You can also take a look at my article all about the 3 different yeasts available and how to use them in your loaf.

If you would prefer to not use commercial yeast at all then 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:
TIPS:
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.

Ludlow Food Festival Sept 7th, 8th & 9th

If you are wondering what you should do this weekend then I definitely recommend you consider getting to Ludlow for its food festival.  I went along to give a Talk and Tasting last year, and it had been a few years since I last went along and I was amazed at how much there was to see and do.  This year there is a full programme of chefs and food writers on the Wot’s Cooking Stage and the Graeme Kidd Stage. There is the Fire Kitchen Stage, the Talks and Tastings, the Aardark Festival Bookshop talks, coffee masterclasses, Slow Food Taste Workshops, chocolate tastings and so much more.

If you would like to see me, and please, do come along and say hello, I will be in the Bake In Time tent in the Outer Bailey. I will be doing my thing on the Friday (12.30-1.30pm and 3.15-4.00pm), Saturday (12.30-1.30 and 3.15-4.00) and Sunday (12.30-1.30).  I am in a tent with Howard Middleton, Sandy Docherty and  Val Stones, all from the Great British Bake Off, and then me.  I will be trying to fill Rob Swift’s boots for the  three lunch time sessions (get yourselves to his bread stall, Bread2Bake, to stock up), so do come along and give me a wave.

 

Why make your own bread?

The answer to the question ‘Why make your own bread when you can buy it at every supermarket for about 70p a loaf?’ could be answered in many ways.

I could go on about how therapeutic bread making is. It is no coincidence that many organisations helping people that are facing social exclusion or struggling with mental health issues or are  being rehabilitated during or after their prison sentence are using bread making as part (or indeed the very crux) of their strategy. You can read more about this at The Real Bread Campaign. I find the process of bread making very relaxing. It’s not only the physical kneading (which I rarely do as I prefer to stretch and fold my dough in the bowl), but it’s also the fact that it is goal based. You have to keep going back to it, checking it, folding it, shaping it, baking it and then waiting patiently for it to cool. Whatever else might be happening in your day, your bread is there, needing attention, drawing you back to it and requiring your focus, even if for just a few minutes at a time.

I could mention how satisfying it is to feed your family with bread that you have made. I love putting a good loaf on the table and watching people tuck in.  I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to have my children (now in their teen and pre-teen years) eat my bread. For many years they have resented the home made bread and wished that I would buy them a sliced white loaf. Now, finally, they will eat and enjoy my bread, even my sourdough (as long as I tell them that it is white bread), they look at me suspiciously knowing that I am stretching the truth (it’s normally sourdough made with mostly white flour but with wholemeal added in for good measure) but they do, mostly, eat it.

But what I really want to mention is that homemade bread is made up of the ingredients that you choose to use. It has three (sourdough bread) or four (yeasted bread) basic ingredients – flour, water, salt and yeast. Then you can choose to add olive oil, butter, eggs, milk, sugar, dried fruit, olives, walnuts, tomatoes, onions, etc, etc.  You can choose the flour.  You can choose flour from your local mill, or a mill that stone grinds it flour, or flour made from a heritage wheat, or organic flour, or wholemeal flour, or seeded flour, or granary flour. You can choose which yeast to use, fresh (100% chemical free), active dried (with emulsifier) or easy bake/instant (with emulsifier and ascorbic acid).

If you do buy a loaf then buy it from a bakery that cares. Ask your baker how long the bread is fermented for? Whether they use pre-ferments? Whether they use natural sourdough starters, fresh yeast or easy bake?  If they can answer your questions, and you like the answers, then buy your bread from there. If they can’t give you an answer then they have probably bought the bread from one of the big factories frozen and ready to bake by them.

If you buy from a supermarket have a look at the label. If it is baked in-store then it might only have the essential allergens noted, as that all labelling law requires. If that’s the case then take a look at their online store. That  can give you a lot more information, depending on the supermarket.  I did that this morning. I looked at one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets’ online grocery store and found their unsliced Crusty White Farmhouse Bread, which they describe as ‘scored and with a light flour dusting for a rustic finish’. This is the bread that you buy from the Bakery shelf and it is baked in-house in their larger stores (that might mean from scratch baking or baked from frozen, depending on the supermarket and the size of the store). Here is the list of ingredients for that particular loaf:

Wheat flour, Water, Yeast, Processing Aid – (Calcium Sulphate, Rapeseed Oil, Water, Soya Oil, Calcium Silicate, Enzymes, Thermally Oxidised Soya Bean Oil interacted with Mono- and Di- glycerides of Fatty Acids, Silicon Dioxide) Salt, Rapeseed Oil, Spirit Vinegar, Emulsifiers (Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids, Mono- and Di-Acetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids), Sugar, Wheat Gluten, Soya Flour, Flavouring, Palm Oil, Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic Acid).  

I am not a food scientist (or any kind of scientist) so I don’t understand what most of these more scientific sounding ingredients are, which is rather my point*. If I can eat bread that doesn’t contain unnamed enzymes and Mono- and Di- Acetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono-and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids, then I think I will continue to make and eat that bread rather than subject my stomach to this cocktail of scientifically produced food.  *(I have googled some of these ingredients and the details of what I found are at the bottom of this post if you are interested to find out more).

The bread available from the large industrial bakeries is made with efficiency and economics in mind rather than any health or, indeed, taste benefits. It’s made with speed. This means that you don’t benefit from the long fermentation that homemade bread or bread from a good bakery can offer. Proper fermentation increases the digestibility of bread.  Industrially and speedily made bread is harder to digest. They have to add all of these processing aids, enzymes, chemicals and extra gluten to get that soft, well risen loaf because they don’t have the time for that to happen naturally with a good, long fermentation.  Manufactured bread has very little to do with proper bread making and a lot to do with producing a cheap food stuff that has little nutritional value and is difficult to digest. There is an interesting short podcast about industrial bread and the history of the Chorleywood Bread Process on the Eat This Podcast site.

If you really don’t want to make your own bread, or think you don’t have the time, then there is some good bread available out there at local bakeries or that can be purchased online from some of the bigger artisan bakeries and if you do buy supermarket bread then make sure you do some research first. Have a look at their online store and check the list of ingredients.  There are a few offerings out there that don’t have added enzymes, emulsifiers and chemicals.  Whilst I was checking the ingredients of that first loaf described above I checked the other loaves available at the same supermarket and you can buy an Ancient Grain Bloomer that has only natural ingredients listed. It’s more than twice the price of the first loaf, but you get what you pay for.  Beware of their sourdough though, a sourdough loaf should be long fermented and contain only flour, water and salt. Theirs contains Ascorbic Acid and a Non-Declarable Processing Aid (Enzymes). Although some credit must go to them for declaring the non-declarable processing aid, as many others don’t. In fact, in comparison with other supermarkets this one is much more open with their labelling than some of the others. Other online grocery stores do not declare the full list of their ingredients of their freshly baked range, listing only the allergens.

If you choose to buy bread rather than make it at home, then please buy wisely. Do your research, ask what is in it and how it was made. Your stomach will thank you for it.  But my advice is get your hands stuck in and make your own, your stomach and your general well being will thank you for it.

* I googled some of the ingredients and if I am honest it gave me a headache trying to understand what some of these are and how they are produced, but from my very limited layman’s interpretation I have set out what some of them are:

Mono and di-gycerides of fatty acids, also known as E471 are extracted from mostly vegetable oil but sometimes from animal fats hence The Vegan Society warns that vegan and vegetarian consumers should be careful when this is listed in the ingredients. It may also be made from pork fat, so is a consideration for those who for religious or cultural reasons do not eat pork. The oil or fat (normally hydrogenated soybean oil) is heated with glycerol and the mono and di-glycerides are synthesised.  Their purpose in the loaf is to act as an emulsifier and anti-staling. Their addition improves loaf volume and texture. (In a home-made loaf both volume and texture can be obtained with proper gluten development and fermentation and staling is delayed with proper fermentation).

Calcium Sulphate is mined from limestones and added as an anti-caking agent (reducing lumps in the dough when liquid is added), dough strengthener and stablizer.  (Good mixing will get rid of any lumps and proper gluten development and fermentation will strengthen the dough in a home made loaf.)

Calcium Silicate is produced from lime, hydrochloric acid and sodium silicate and is used as an anti-caking agent.

Ascorbic Acid is vitamin C by another name. It improves the loaf volume and texture and reduces the rising time of the loaf.  The vitamin C will not have any nutritional value as it is too small an amount to make a difference to your daily requirement; it is in a less complex form than that found naturally in foods and is mostly baked out.  Ascorbic acid is an ingredient in easy bake/ instant yeast so if you are using this yeast you will also be adding this into your homemade loaf.  If you want to ferment your loaves for a longer time then having ascorbic acid in the mix can cause the loaves to over ferment and the gluten to become too weak. To avoid this use dried active yeast (follow the instructions to hydrate in water before use) or preferably, fresh yeast.

You can find out more about additives in industrially produced bread at The Real Bread Campaign.

The Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 7

Well, the wheat ears are ripening. We have had the driest summer since the 1960’s (or so they tell us on the telly) and the parched grass is certainly evidence of that. We watered the wheat sparingly at the beginning of its growth and it hasn’t had a water for a few weeks now. We have been lucky to have had a few rainstorms during a few nights in the last couple of weeks which has just about kept the garden ticking over.

Wheat ears ripening

I am wondering if we will ever get to harvest the wheat though. This dry weather has meant there is very little food for the deer that roam locally and the other night they found our borlotti beans and stripped them off to as far as they could reach.  As soon as I discovered this I reinstated the collie disruption mechanism , now renamed the deer disruption mechanism. I seriously doubt that it will really stop a hungry, marauding deer, but it makes me feel a little more reassured that I might yet harvest enough for a loaf. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Wheat in garden

The wheat on 24th July 2018

Veg Patch Loaf Instalment 5 – the first ear!

Well, exciting news. Richard was checking over the tomatoes this morning and spotted the first ear to emerge. If you look very closely you might spot that the one next to it is about to do the same (this will only work if you squint at it a lot as it is mostly covered by a leaf).

The first ear emerges.

The first ear of wheat emerges, 22 June 2018