Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Firecracker Sourdough for Guy Fawkes Night

Guy Fawkes! Bonfire night! Fireworks, freezing your nose off while eating a sausage on a bun covered in brown sauce and fried onions (the sausage, that is; not you) standing in the park, jostled by lots of people and waiting for the fireworks!

Didn't do that this year, but hey - it's still fun.

I thought that the spirit of the night required a bit of heat, a few surprises and some spice. As it happens, this bread isn't as hot as I thought, but I like it. If you want more fire, use at least twice as much pepper, or a hotter variety. Or both. Since the heat seems to be absorbed and buffered by the bread, you might even want to roll the diced chilli into the bread when you're forming it into loaves. I haven't tried that, but it should work.


- 350 grams Bread flour, white
- 200 grams Starter, 100%
- 150 grams Cornmeal
- 300 grams Pumpkin, baked and mashed
- 50 grams Treacle
- 1 tbsp chilli pepper, fresh and finely chopped
- 1 tsp Ginger, fresh and grated
- 15 grams salt


1. Prep -  Preheat the oven to 180C. Halve the pumpkin(s) and remove the seeds. Put the pumpkin on one baking tray and the seeds on another, and lightly salt the seeds. Bake the pumpkin for an hour, or until soft, and the seeds for half an hour.

The seeds are for snacking.

When the pumpkin is soft, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool. Scrape the flesh into a container and squeeze as much juice as you can from the skins, then discard the skin. Mash the flesh, or put it in a blender.

2. Hydration -  Combine all the ingredients except the salt and allow to hydrate for half an hour.

3. Knead - Knead until smooth and add the salt. Knead the salt into the dough. Once it is smooth and bouncy, put it in a lightly oiled bowl to rise.

4. The pumpkin makes the dough much slower to prove. After about an hour, I took it out of the bowl and gave it a short knead, pushing any bubbles down. Then I formed it into a ball and returned it to the bowl.

5. Form into loaves -  After about three hours (really!) I felt the dough had risen enough. I turned it out and started to form it into loaves.

For the large bake, I actually made two kinds of loaves. All my breads for the larger bakes use loaf sizes of 450 grams. Half the loaves were freeform.

The basic shaping for all my bread goes like this:
Press the portion of dough into a rectangle. Roll it from the top down, stretching just a bit to get some tension into the dough. When you have a sort of jellyroll shape, turn it 90 degrees, flatten it out and roll it up again. The second flattening will be more difficult - don't force it too much. You'll end up with a thick roll, nearly a ball. Complete this by forming it into a round ball, with the seams on the bottom. One way of creating this round shape is to make your hand into a cup shape. With the dough cupped in that hand, roll it around the counter a few times. It will tighten the surface and move the open seams to the bottom of the ball.

Press those together and then roll it back and forth a both so you have an elongated shape. (Next time I do this, I'll try to take photos.) Now you can either out that onto an oiled and floured tray, or a floured non-stick baking sheet or a floured peel. You can also put them into oiled and floured loaf tins.

Cover with a dusting of flour and a tea towel. I have some plastic wrap I use over and over, or you can use a plastic bag. You want to prevent the surface from drying out.

6. Preheat the oven to 240C, with a baking stone in it. If you don't have a baking stone (I don't; they all broke) put a heavy tray in.

Allow the loaves to rise again, until they are nearly doubled. This took almost an hour and a half for me.

7. Bake - Score the loaves. I tried to make firework shapes.

Put the loaves in the oven and use a mister to spray them. Turn the heat down to 220C and set the timer for 35 minutes.

Spray three times in the first ten minutes, then leave them.

Test after 35 minutes to see if they are done. They should feel lighter and when you tap the bottom of the loaf it should sound hollow, like a drum. If they are done, take them out and cool on a rack. If not, give them another 5 minutes and try again.

Toasting brings out some of the heat of the chilli. This bread goes very well with ginger marmalade.


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Pumpkin Sourdough

Hello, anyone who might still be out there! It's been a long time since last I updated this blog. I need to rebuild the discipline, and post all the recipes I've been trying out.

I now deliver 6 loaves of bread each Saturday morning to Bakehouse St Albans, a cafe in town. It's something of an ego boost, but the need (on my part) to have an interesting set of loaves each week has made me push my creativity. If I keep this blog properly, I will post the recipes. They may not be seasonal now, but I'll intersperse the older ones with new ones.

Let's see if I can keep that promise. Sometimes laziness and diffidence win out over chattiness.

First, my Jack O'Lantern Pumpkin Sourdough.

On display at Bakehouse St Albans

I wanted to make a Halloween bread, so of course there had to be pumpkin involved. It couldn't be a quick bread, since sweet bakes are the province of the Bakehouse, and besides, what I do these days is sourdough. Hurrah for signatures.

Pumpkins are not as prevalent in England as in the US, and usually are only sold for carving or display. There's no way to tell what variety you're getting, for instance. My first try used only pumpkin, and the flavour was a bit bland. I knew that I didn't want to steam or boil the pumpkin, so I baked it hoping to caramelise the sugars and reduce the liquid content a bit.

Only white flour was used: no competition for the pumpkin flavour.

Well, it seemed unable even to compete with the flour. So, think hard. Also, consult with someone with lots more experience: my Mom! She suggested adding another type of squash, perhaps butternut. Ah-hah! Loads of that on sale.

I also wondered what the actual taste is of pumpkin? Really, when we think of it, we're thinking of pies and quick breads and so forth. All the recipes I found for those use spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. I decided against cloves (don't know why, just did) and added the first two, plus a bit of honey. You could use treacle (molasses, in the States) but I wanted to save that for another day. It can overwhelm the other ingredients.

This is what I ended up with:

Pumpkin Sourdough Bread


- 200 grams Starter, 100% hydration
- 500 grams Flour, white bread
- 200 grams Pumpkin puree (part pumpkin, part other squash, to taste)
- 100 grams Cider
- 15 grams Salt
- 25 grams Honey
- 1 tsp Cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp Nutmeg


1. Halve, deseed and bake two small pumpkins and butternut squashes at 180C for 45 minutes, or until soft. Allow to cool and scrape the flesh and any liquid into a bowl. Although I didn't, you may want to blend this into a puree. Also, spread the seeds out on a tray, salt lightly and put the tray in the oven with the squash for 30 minutes.

2. Autolyse  -  Combine all ingredients except the salt and allow to sit, covered, for 30 minutes.

3. Knead   -  Knead the dough, adding the salt once it starts to come together. This is a nice, smooth dough, and will feel very responsive. Knead for ten or fifteen minutes, and put in an oiled bowl to prove.

Remove from the bowl every 50 minutes and stretch and fold the dough.

It's hard to say how long to prove the dough. My experience is that the rise is very slow, so it might take several hours.

4. After the dough has doubled in size, take it from the bowl. I formed two round loaves. Put the loaves in bannetons or rest them on an oiled and floured piece of parchment paper to rise. Flour the tops generously and cover with plastic. Again, allow to prove fully. Pressing a finger into the dough will eventually make a dimple that doesn't spring back. It may take longer than you think, and will depend on the vigour of your starter.

5. Preheat the oven to 240C. If the loaves are in bannetons, turn them out.

Slash the tops. I tried to create Jack O'Lantern faces.

Bake in the 240C oven for 5 minutes, spraying with water three times, then turn the heat down to 220C and bake for 35 more minutes, or until done.

I think I may not have allowed these to rise long enough. The pumpkin makes them very moist. I pressed a pumpkin seed into each "eye" before baking. Still, I was pleased with the results.

We had a coffee at the Bakehouse after delivering the breads. This was my wife's cappuccino: