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Baking Bread from Scratch in France


bethesdabakers
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There’s a persistent myth that good bread is the norm in France. It is a myth which is why I bring my starter with me when we come on holiday from Wales. I’m definitely becoming a grumpy old sod. I was so annoyed by a stupid article in The Guardian newspaper just before we came away a few days ago - http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2014/sep/03/who-will-babysit-my-sourdough-starter - that I thought, for the first time in about 15 years I’m not even going to take my starter, I’ll start from scratch and if I can’t get a starter going, it’s store-bought bread for the duration.

 

Anyway, the four days since we arrived here on Saturday have been so perfect that we are probably never going back home to Wales. So I thought I’d better have a go with the starter.

 

Monday evening I mixed two tablespoons of flour (organic T65 from the supermarket) with enough water to make a stirable paste in a little plastic pot  and covered it with a piece of kitchen towel. If you are going to try this, please note that little of the foregoing is relevant – the amount of flour, the type of flour, the fact that it’s French, the type of container, the cover. You just need to make a paste of flour and water and it will either start to ferment or it won’t. If it won’t, you start again. You only have to do this once in your life so the odd false start is not a big deal.

01 starter Mon pm small.jpg

 

This is how it looked after mixing on Monday evening – doesn’t tell you much but I thought you might feel reassured by its ordinariness.

 

Watch this space. I’m going to look pretty stupid if this doesn’t work.

Mick

 

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Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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I am so wishing you every success and I am so going to follow you! Your approach which stops making starters sound like black magic is right up my alley. Carry on! You can count on one fan for sure.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Thanks, Anna. That’s my mission in life – demystifying sourdough. If someone asks how to make a starter on a forum everyone chips in and confusion reigns. I thought if I start a new topic I have more control over the message. Pineapple is for rum punches, etc. Anyway we might need a bit of voodoo yet the way it’s looking. On with the story.

 

Wednesday morning, i.e. 36 hours later - well, all right, nearer 40 hours - we are allowed a lie-in on our holidays, aren’t we? – it looked like this:

02 wed am 001 small.jpg
 

The colour is probably a bit exaggerated in the photo. It was crusted with a very light mustardy tinge; hint of bubbles and smelling sweet.

 

At this point I whipped out the scales (I didn’t arrive totally without gear) and mixed the paste with 50g water and 50g flour – about the same weight as the original mix – switched containers to glass and the covering to cling-film (again no relevance in the materials used).

03 wed am refreshed 001 small.jpg

 

By Wednesday evening it looked like this – well bubbly but with that tell-tale immature look. Left it in peace overnight.

04 wed pm small.jpg

 

 

 

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Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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It had posted a couple of questions but that post must have ended up in cyberspace. So here we go again - where do you keep this mixture? Outside, inside, on a counter, in a fridge, in an oven with just the light on? I'm really interested in this and will be following along.

Elsie

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Hi Elsie - It's sitting in its little glass bowl, covered with clingfilm on a north-facing windowsill. That's because it's the only windowsill in this tiny studio. The weather has been pretty warm he this week ranging from about 22C-30C.

 

Cakewalk - I knew someone would pick me up on that:

starter closeup.jpg

No, we haven't had a sudden breakthrough. That's an old picture of an active starter. Obviously it's a close-up and taken for effect so don't judge your own by it. Unestablished starters tend to have individual bubbles that stand out from the rest of the mixture because there's not a lot of ferment going on.

Back to the show:

05 thurs am 002 small.jpg
 

Thursday morning, 24 hours since its last refreshment, the starter is clearly active but still looking a bit limp. We are entering that period where after the initial excitement the mixture seems to hang around deciding whether to perform or not. Refreshed it with equal weights of flour and water, decided I had too much and dumped half, then, typically, decided perhaps I should have kept more.

 

Thurday evening. We were invited for an aperitif with the owners of the studio in which we are staying and their neighbours. They have a magnificent house (where Napoleon III once stayed) with a grand white-pebble terrace immediately above the Bassin d’Arcachon – the evening was perfect, the tide was high, so we sat outside. There was more than one aperitif, the conversation flowed and there was a beautiful sunset to admire so that I nearly forgot my photographic duties. Hence the change of location to get the last available light.

06 Thurs pm small.jpg

It’s looking a bit sad and it’s cast a little lake of hooch. I poured this away and refreshed it as before – equal weights of flour and water.

 

We are holding our nerve!

 

 

 

 

Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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Repost - I hope

 

Hi Elsie - It's sitting in its little glass bowl, covered with clingfilm on a north-facing windowsill. That's because it's the only windowsill in this tiny studio. The weather has been pretty warm he this week ranging from about 22C-30C.

 

Cakewalk - I knew someone would pick me up on that:

starter closeup.jpg

No, we haven't had a sudden breakthrough. That's an old picture of an active starter. Obviously it's a close-up and taken for effect so don't judge your own by it. Unestablished starters tend to have individual bubbles that stand out from the rest of the mixture because there's not a lot of ferment going on.

Back to the show:

05 thurs am 002 small.jpg
 

Thursday morning, 24 hours since its last refreshment, the starter is clearly active but still looking a bit limp. We are entering that period where after the initial excitement the mixture seems to hang around deciding whether to perform or not. Refreshed it with equal weights of flour and water, decided I had too much and dumped half, then, typically, decided perhaps I should have kept more.

 

Thurday evening. We were invited for an aperitif with the owners of the studio in which we are staying and their neighbours. They have a magnificent house (where Napoleon III once stayed) with a grand white-pebble terrace immediately above the Bassin d’Arcachon – the evening was perfect, the tide was high, so we sat outside. There was more than one aperitif, the conversation flowed and there was a beautiful sunset to admire so that I nearly forgot my photographic duties. Hence the change of location to get the last available light.

06 Thurs pm small.jpg

It’s looking a bit sad and it’s cast a little lake of hooch. I poured this away and refreshed it as before – equal weights of flour and water.
 

We are holding our nerve!

 

Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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I'm having more than just internet problems. My starter won't go beyond a certain stage of development but on the other hand it's not dying and smells sweet.

 

Took drastic action on Saturday.  Bought wholemeal and rye flours and split the starter in three:

092 sun am small.jpg

They are still just limping along so I shan't post again until there's a little more drama. In the mean time we have to put up with loaves like this:

semi complet small.jpg

a semi-complet from Marc Brion of Biganos

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Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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I'd put up with "a loaf like that"!

 

(Looks a little like my starter when I get lazy and forget to feed it. They can be greedy little things!)

 

What kind of water are you using? If tap water, do you let it sit out overnight so the chlorine dissipates? Do you think this makes a difference?

 

Waiting for more drama ...

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You're right. Having to cope with bread like that is pretty hard. We're just going to round off the day with cheese on his wholemeal:

brion complet 001 small.jpg

I'm just using water straight from the tap because I just want to experiment with the basic ingredients.

 

I'm not saying anything but the rye starter is looking just a little perky - probably just a starter joke.

Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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""  probably just a starter joke.  ""

 

Ha Ha

 

and thank you for not mentioning the type of cheese nor posting a pic .

 

:biggrin:

 

Im confident it was not a really runny Brie nor a similar Camembert  

 

nor a Bleu de Bresse.

 

"The Good Stuff "

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Might have been a little pourable camenbert, a bleu de chevre and an aged compte but I wouldn't want to upset you.

 

And if you like the starter joke wait till you see the oven if the starter takes off. The starter has taken off:

rye tue pm 002 small.jpg

This is the rye "looking a little perky" last night. The size of the bubbles are not big but you can see the whole mixture is in ferment - bubbles all the way through.

 

This morning I woke up half an hour after the alarm should have gone off and we had a train to catch to Bordeaux. So (another little starter joke) both the rye and the wheat starters decided this was the time to go berzerk. Just had time to refresh them and grab a shot of a thicker mixture I had in a glass so I could see what was going on:

glass thurs am small.jpg

Same when we came back this afternoon. The starter in the glass had turned into a cocktail:

glass thurs pm.jpg 007 small.jpg

 

Looks like we are going to have to try a loaf tomorrow.

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Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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Truth Day. Mixed the dough last night. Let It sit for a couple of hours with a couple of folds. Put it in the fridge overnight.

 

Shaped this morning. Proved for four hours in a tea towel lined colander.

 

The oven is a supermarket combination oven - i.e. it's basically a microwave that can do convection if you can understand the instruction book. Claims to be able to do 230C and claims to manage this in about 5 minutes. Baked the bread for 60 minutes at 230C (at home this would be 50 minutes at 210C.

 

Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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Looks pretty good except for the pale crust.  How'd it taste.  Was this the rye starter? 

 

And I'm fascinated by the use of "hooch" for the alcoholic liquid thrown off by a hungry starter.  Dictionary says "hooch" is from a Tlingit (west coast No. America) word and was first recorded in 1897.  But no one says how it came to be used for the starter liquid -- did the Alaska gold rush folks call their starter liquid and their booze by the same name?  Anyone know?

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Very nice, that cross section. Crumb is a bit finer than I would have expected, but I'd be very happy to turn out such a loaf. (And to eat it, of course.) I'm aiming for some baking this weekend, hoping to bring my starters back to life. Love those photos of your starter gone wild!

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Looks pretty good except for the pale crust.  How'd it taste.  Was this the rye starter? 

 

And I'm fascinated by the use of "hooch" for the alcoholic liquid thrown off by a hungry starter.  Dictionary says "hooch" is from a Tlingit (west coast No. America) word and was first recorded in 1897.  But no one says how it came to be used for the starter liquid -- did the Alaska gold rush folks call their starter liquid and their booze by the same name?  Anyone know?

I think the word became popular during prohibition. My guess is that, by extension, it's used to refer to any kind of alcohol that isn't "legit." (I actually never heard it used for the starter liquid before, but if the shoe fits ...)

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I'd love to hear your opinion on the flavor of the bread made from the starter in Paris versus those made from your standard starter. I'd assume that the natural yeasts that are colonizing your starter would be slightly different in each location, and would thus result in different flavors.

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I'd love to hear your opinion on the flavor of the bread made from the starter in Paris versus those made from your standard starter. I'd assume that the natural yeasts that are colonizing your starter would be slightly different in each location, and would thus result in different flavors.

The followup question to that would be whether your Parisian starter, if it tastes different due to different yeasts, will continue to taste different if you take it back home with you. I've heard that starters change over the years, but I don't know to what extent.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Let me finish my summary of what I've done and the I'll try and answer your questions.

 

Please note I'm nowhere near Paris - I'm in Arcachon which is on the Atlantic coast South of Bordeaux.

 

I've been making sourdough since about 1995, succesfully since 2000. Many of my sources have been American and the word "hooch" has always been around in that context - the Alaskan prospectors supposedly had their starters strapped to theirs waists to stop them freezing and drank the hooch as ...hooch. Where did I get that from?

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Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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The purpose of this little adventure has been to show that you can make a sourdough starter using just flour and water - small amounts of flour at that – and go on to make bread with minimal equipment even in an unfamiliar (and foreign) kitchen.

 

I think too often people are put off making sourdough by overcomplicated, inaccurate and incomplete instructions.

 

There isn’t a method as such – all you do is mix a little flour and water, wait for it to start fermenting and then feed it more of the same until it becomes fully active. As with all natural processes there is some uncertainty as to when the fermentation process will begin and how to encourage it along. It might not begin at all in which case you have to start all over again but at the end of the day you will have a starter which, with a little care, will produce the greatest bread in the world for the rest of your life. You refine your techniques, before you know it you have started a home-based microbakery with the surplus, transformed your finances and freed yourself from the chains of wage-slavery. Nothing to it really.

 

So a couple of Mondays back I mixed  two tablespoons of T65 white flour with enough tap water to make a thick paste, covered it loosely and left it on a shelf to stand.

 

Two days later there were clear signs of activity in the form of surface bubbles. I “refreshed” the mixture by stirring in 50g water and 50g flour.

 

For the next few days I refreshed the mixture sometimes after 12 sometimes after 24 hours. This was just guesswork trying to encourage the fermentation process. To keep the mixture down to a manageable size I took 50g and stirred in 50g water and 50g flour. Once (again guesswork) I mixed a portion with double its weight of water and flour. Throughout I had surface bubbles but couldn’t get beyond this point.

 

This is a really stupid way of looking at it – we are just waiting for nature to take its course. But after a few days you start getting jumpy and five days on I went out and bought wholemeal wheat (T110) and wholemeal rye (T130) flours and split the mixture into three.

 

I probably should have kept my nerve and let the white flour starter run its course. By Tuesday evening the rye was clearly active. By the following morning so were the other two but I dumped the rye because it was just a fail-safe and the white because the wholemeal looked the more active.

 

So, Wednesday evening (14 days after starting) I mixed the dough using the wholemeal (T110) starter at 100% hydration (equal weights of starter, water, flour).

 

The formula I would have used in UK here substituting 50% T110 & 50% T65 wheat flours and withholding 50g water because French flours absorb less:

Strong Bread Flour  252g  50%

Wholemeal Wheat Flour  252g  50%

Water  315g  62.5%

Starter  141g  28%

Salt  8g  1.6%

 

Dough had three short kneads over about 15 minutes. Stretched and folded after one and two hours then fermented overnight in the fridge.

 

Shaped into a boule in the morning, proved in a tea towel lined colander for four hours. Baked at (an imaginary) 230C for 60 minutes.

 

My verdict: I’m happy. For a first loaf made from a totally immature starter, using unfamiliar flours, baked in an oven which hasn’t the heat to bake good bread – it’s brilliant.

 

Back in 2007, just before I set up my microbakery at home in Wales, we were over here for two months when I was writing my first bread book. I spent a few weeks messing round with other bakers’ starter methods just for fun. You can read about them here if you are interested.

 

Mick

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Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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thank you for this wonderful experiment and analysis.

 

the point Im taking away is that you wait for a 'very active' starter before you make bread for :

 

1 ) the volume of yeast in that active starter is much much higher than after the first day or so, which means

 

you then have no knead to add other yeast  ( active dry ) to the final bread mixture to get the Rise you anticipate

 

2 ) the longer the starter is out, even though you toss some each time you add, has a 'stronger tasty-ness'

 

which adds to the final loaf.

 

the exact sub sub sub species is not then so relevant.

 

SF sourdough vs Alaska sourdough vs Boston sourdough might not be a very important question, esp. in the long run.

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      1/2 red bell pepper.
      1/4 cup, pickling salt (coarse kosher salt)
      2 quarts, cracked ice
      water to cover
      2 tablespoons, mustard seed.
      1 heaping teaspoon, celery seed
      FOR THE SYRUP:
      1 1/2 cups, vinegar
      *NOTE: Use cider or distilled white vinegar, do not use wine vinegar.
      1 1/2 cups, sugar
      2 heaping teaspoons, pickling spice mix.
      PREPARE THE PICKLES:
      Carefully wash the cucumbers and bell pepper. Slice all vegetables very thin, using a food processor with a narrow slicing blade, or by hand, or using a V-slicer or mandoline. Toss the sliced vegetables together in a glass or crockery bowl large enough to hold twice the volume of the vegetables. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables, add the cracked ice, toss again to blend all ingredients and add water to just barely cover the vegetables. Place a heavy plate on top of the vegetables to keep them below the top of the liquid.
      *Set aside for 4 hours.
      PREPARE THE SYRUP:
      Place the vinegar, sugar and pickling spices in a 4-quart Pyrex or other microwavable container (the large Pyrex measure works very well)
      Microwave on high for 15 to 20 minutes. [if a microwave is not available, simmer the syrup in a narrow saucepan on the stovetop, over low heat, for the same length of time.] Allow the syrup to cool. Strain the syrup and discard the spices.
      ASSEMBLE THE PICKLES:
      Place one wide-mouth quart canning jar (or two wide-mouth pint jars) with their lids in a pot of water to cover, place over medium heat and bring the water to a simmer (180 degrees). Remove the pot from the heat and allow jar(s) and lid(s) to remain in the hot water until needed.
      *After the 4 hours are up (crisping the vegetables as described above) pour the vegetables into a large colander and rinse well. The cucumber slices should taste only slightly salty. Return the rinsed vegetables to the bowl, add the mustard seeds and celery seeds and toss well until evenly distributed. Set aside.
      Return the syrup to the microwave, microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes [or heat the syrup on the stovetop] until an instant read thermometer shows the temperature of the syrup is 190 to 200 degrees.
      Place the vegetables into one wide-mouth quart jar, or in 2 wide-mouth pint
      jars that have been scalded as described above. Pour the syrup over the vegetables, place the lids on the jar or jars, tighten well and place in the refrigerator overnight.
      The following day, turn the jar upside down - then continue to turn every day for 2 weeks. (This is to insure that the pickles are evenly flavored)
      After 2 weeks open the jar and taste. The pickles should be ready to eat.
      Pickles will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 months.
      ( RG2154 )
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