Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Crust and Crumb: An introduction to sourdough and yeasted bread making with Vicky North

Making bread is one of the most basic pleasures of baking for me. It can also be one of the most frustrating, especially when I decide to 'just knock up a batch' in the morning, before the school run, only to find that I've got a 'wet dough' on my hands, and I end up dashing out of the door, sticky, quick drying dough all over my hands, up my arms, the end of my nose to get the kids to the bus on time... Fortunately, there was no such stress or bother, no deadlines to meet, no school buses to catch last Sunday when I arrived at Manor Deifi, tucked away up a winding lane above the village of Llechrydd, not far from Cardigan.

Over coffee and the most utterly delicious biscotti I think I have ever tasted (made by Vicky), those of us attending the course introduced ourselves and Vicky asked us to share our bread experiences. Despite the course title, none of us were complete bread novices: Tara, the youngest participant had made bread rolls at school, Kate mainly baked soda bread, Jason had perfected a low knead pizza dough which gives awesome results everytime (I'm going to try it!), Marianne bakes bread for the cafe/deli she owns. However, as with any skill, there is always more to learn, a different approach to absorb and we were all keen to get going.

'Super' seeded soda bread
The day is an introduction to sourdough and yeasted breads, and Vicky also incorporates soda bread which works well to show a speedy alternative to the more time-intensive loaves. We started off with a yeasted wholemeal loaf, weighing all ingredients (including the water) and using fresh yeast which is something I've never worked with before. Crumbling it in to the mixing bowl, it feels a little like plasticine, but not unpleasantly so. During the kneading process, Vicky introduced a new technique, as favoured by Bertinet, which involves slapping the dough down onto the worktop, folding it and slapping it down again. Very therapeutic - we were all keen to try it out! We moved on to soda bread, using buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda, and adding seeds to the dough, mixed up and kneaded a white bread dough, shaped the wholemeal loaf for proving and baking, experimented with the white bread dough making sesame-coated breadsticks and a fabulous tear and share cheesy garlic bread, and finally created a sourdough loaf all ready to take home, prove in the fridge, and bake the following day. All that plus a break for coffee and a delicious lunch, and yet at no point did the day feel rushed.

Vicky is hugely knowledgeable about the bread making process, and shares generously, answering questions and volunteering information - including a top tip for greasing tins using spray oil. The day was well organised and impeccably timed. Not only did we achieve everything the course promised, we had great fun into the bargain. On top of that, the bread we baked was truly fabulous - the mouthwatering smell of it wafted over us from Vicky's magnificent beast of a bread oven from the moment the soda bread went in until it was time to go home - and I can honestly say that I don't think I've baked better bread. As the Husband was going away, I froze the soda bread and the wholemeal loaf, when I got home, but the kids devoured the bread sticks and half of the garlic topped tear and share bread for their tea.The sourdough loaf went into the fridge to prove over night, and I fed my sourdough starter that Vicky sent us all home with.

The following day, as instructed, I baked my sourdough loaf. A little lopsided (still haven't fully got the hang of the oven I'm baking with), but gorgeous. Crusty on the outside, soft on the inside. Delicious with strawberry jam, tasty with tomato soup.

With my starter now happily in the fridge, and renewed confidence from the course, I am eager to get back in the sourdough groove, but I also think my use of more 'conventional' yeast will change - there will always be some sachets of quick yeast in the cupboard, but I will use more fresh yeast too. And finally, what I have learned is that a good loaf takes a little time. Not impossibly so, but I have been perhaps a little too slapdash in my approach to kneading - the benefits of a longer knead were much in evidence in the loaves I produced with Vicky. And as all these things are about sharing, I'm also keen to experiment with the low knead technique that Jason, one of the other participants, described, for pizza dough.

It's a brilliant day, and I think would have suited a novice just as well as someone with a little more experience. Perhaps you think it's a long way to come? Well, this is a beautiful holiday area, so it's perfectly possible to make a weekend or even a week of it. And if you were coming on holiday to the area anyway, this would be a perfect day to fit in. Vicky also runs courses for kids - and as it does tend to rain here, this would be a great thing to have up your sleeve. 

Garlic, parmesan & herb tear & share loaf

To get a flavour (a delicious, garlicky cheesey flavour at that) of Vicky's baking, she has kindly agreed to let me pass on her recipe for the 'tear and share' bread. This was baked in a Bundt tin - something I have never got my head around for cakes on the basis that I'd be scared the batter would stick, but I will definitely be getting one because of the awesome results. By baking the bread in a high sided tin, it keeps the resulting bread beautifully soft. And I know sometimes you want crust, but sometimes, you want delicious, soft bread. 

For 1 quantity of white bread dough (roughly a loaf's worth)

435g strong white flour
7g sea salt
7g fresh yeast, crumbled
230g tepid water
14g olive oil

For the Garlic Butter with Parmesan and Italian Herb topping:
100g butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
25g Parmesan cheese, grated finely
2 cloves garlic, grated

1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried Italian herb

Bundt tin
Spray oil for greasing the tin (a personal favourite!)

Mix and knead one quantity of dough: 
  • Weigh all the ingredients into a bowl and work together with a bread scraper initially (if you have one).
  • Splash the work top with a little water (not flour!), and tip the rough dough out onto the work surface and start kneading.
  • Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes by hand until you have a beautiful smooth and stretchy dough.
  • Scrape out the mixing bowl then return the ball of dough to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place to prove for one hour.

Meanwhile prepare the topping - in a small bowl, mix the melted butter, egg, Parmesan, garlic, salt and dried herbs altogether and set aside.

When the dough has doubled in size, roughly after an hour, tip out onto your work surface and divide into 12 equal boules.
Dip each one into the garlicky butter, cover well and pop into the bundt tin.
Drizzle any remaining butter over the nestling boules and then place the tin into a large plastic bag. Seal and place in a warm spot, ready to prove for a good forty minutes, until the dough is voluminous and noticeably increased in size.

Bake at 190C for 30-40 minutes until risen and golden brown. Allow to cool for five minutes before tipping out and placing on a wire rack. You will have a deliciously tender crumb to your bread as the dough has steamed as it's baked, thanks to the high sides of the bundt tin which traps the moisture in as your bread bakes.

You can find out more by visiting Vic North Bakes . If you're local to Cardigan, you can also take the opportunity to eat Vicky's delicious bread on a regular basis by joining her bread club.

I was delighted to accept an invitation from Vicky North to attend 'Crust & Crumb - an introduction to baking'.I was not required to write a blog post, and the opinions expressed are my own.

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