Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Back to work

Seconds away, round two

Bread of Heron, the Heron Corn Mill's community bread group is back up and running in the shepherd's hut, and this season we have some new bakers. Several people who have been sitting patiently on the waiting list have now formed a new Thursday group - ladies only at the moment, as it happens. The veterans from the first season's Friday group are still meeting as before, with slightly reduced numbers, but undimmed enthusiasm. I'm hoping the people who couldn't come back after the summer break will still be reading about our doings on the blog, and hearing about us on the grapevine. If you're out there, you are very welcome to "lurk", and please feel free to comment on the blog, or stay in touch any way you like.

The new Thursday group is baking with Nell, and one baker has moved from Friday to Thursday as it's more convenient. It's quite possible that there may be a bit of movement between the two groups as everyone has commitments which make some days impossible. One thing you quickly realise when making bread is that you have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances! In my case this has meant getting used to the idea of leading a group on my own without Nell's organisational skills to keep things running smoothly. I'm not very strong on smooth, but at least there's always something new to go wrong each week! If we're not melting plastic bags on the cooker we're forgetting to turn the oven on! Still, it's all part of life's rich patisserie as they say.

Heron country bread

I'm rather embarrassed to admit that I forgot to take my camera with me to the first bake at the shepherd's hut, so the only evidence I have of what we baked is this picture which I took at home just before setting about devouring a large part of my morning's work.

I can however share the recipe with you.

Heron country bread with white sourdough sponge
We’re aiming at a moderately wet bake ­ somewhere approaching 70% hydration. That is ­
● 700 g of water per 1000 g of flour
● 350 g of water. per 500 g of flour
The night before baking:
Prepare a quarter sponge, using white flour and sourdough starter
● 80 g sourdough starter
● 125 g strong white flour (a quarter of the flour)
● 175 g water (half the water)
● No salt
When the sponge is well mixed up, take out 80 g to keep as next week’s starter.
On baking day:
Add the remaining ingredients to the sponge
● 375 g Heron wholemeal wheat
● 5­7 g salt
● 5­7 g yeast
● any seeds etc that you fancy
● 175 g lukewarm water
Knead the dough like fury or as gently as you please Put the dough in an oiled bowl Allow to rise for an hour or so
Generously dust a proving basket Turn the dough out onto a lightly dusted surface Gently shape the dough and carefully put it in the proving basket Leave to rise in the basket for an hour or so
Dust a baking tray with semolina or polenta Turn the bread onto the tray, slash it and put it into the oven at 220 Turn the oven down to 200 after about 10­12 minutes Check after 40 minutes and turn over to crisp the bottom if necessary

The key thing here is the sponge.By starting the loaf off as if it is destined to be a thoroughbred sourdough, you give it a great head start in the flavour department. Adding yeast at baking time makes life easy, and ensures a robust and trouble free rising and a practical over all timescale. The mixture of some white flour with the wholemeal also makes for a lighter loaf, so all in all it's a very practical approach. A French country loaf would probably be all white, but then why wouldn't you go the whole hog and have a princely sourdough? I think of this as a much better way of making a wholemeal loaf more approachable than steam baking an 85% batch loaf.

I got the impression that some people in the group thought this was an unsatisfactory half-way house between a yeasted loaf and a sourdough. If you do a sourdough, you are making a statement. There is no room for compromise, and there is no comparing a sourdough with anything else. The country loaf is a compromise, yes, but all its constituent parts are good and wholesome.

We did a second bread recipe as well as the country loaf, but we chose our own, and it was pretty much a free for all. We produced various different offerings, including a simple tin loaf from yours truly.

Meanwhile the new Thursday group got straight down to work at the crack of dawn by the looks of things.

And in at the deep end with the dreaded pitta breads.

No wonder there are smiles all round - look how the pittas have risen!

Oh dear you Friday people - look how tidy they are on Thursdays!

Ah but you've let the draught in and your pittas are subsiding again. I tell you, they aren't worth the hard work! The loaves look good though, and no mistake.

Crowning glories

Last time the Friday group baked, we revisited the highly popular couronne recipe, which everybody seems to agree takes some beating in the tasting department, and is undeniably impressive to look at.

It's too ambitious for me, so I opted for a lightly fruited bread that just happened to be raised in a couronne basket. Everybody else sweated and slaved over intricate enriched doughs, with lots of rolling out and twisting into shape. There was sugar and fruit all over the shop, and eggs (including one still warm from the chicken's bottom). And somehow, yet again, it all came beautifully together in the end.

 First there was all the usual weighing and pouring -

Then there was a bit of rolling, shaping and spreading -

Some went for Heinz sandwich spread -

Others for lemon curd -

But then came a bit of sleight of hand -

And a flick of the wrist, faster than the eye can see -

The couronne is not unlike a super-sized Chelsea bun, so this baker's idea of making a ring of interconnected Chelsea buns as a sort of deconstructed couronne was an inspired choice -

It was undoubtedly the most sumptuous looking thing to come out of the oven this week. The marzipan was lovely and crisp around the edges, and the flakes nuts were beautifully golden on top.

These sourdoughs came out quite nicely in the end -

The one on the right was suffering a little from wind.

 The other one tried to make a break for freedom off both ends of the stone simultaneously..

We road tested one at the shepherd's hut while it was still really crunchy.


The other main loaf was a white and spelt loaf, which we mostly baked in tins. But first of all we had a go at shaping it into a classic batard with pointy ends. Great fun, but it needs a bit of practice.

This baker had a 50% bonus and made a tiddler as well as a big 'un.

And this was mostly rye, and baked off the stone, in full batard regalia.

Move along the bus please.

This one started life as a simple raisin bread, but I finally cracked under peer pressure, and added an egg, butter and brown sugar. The result was actually rather nice, and I will be experimenting with similar enriched doughs again, for sure. It's good in the afternoon with a cuppa. 

So all in all, we had quite a regal set of crowns by lunchtime, and hopefully everyone has had fun eating them as well as making them. 

I'll leave you this week with an item spotted on the breakfast menu at a Whitby B&B -

"Toast with preservatives"