I made my first Sourdough loaf in late July this year after Celia sent me some of her starter. I have made yeasted breads for many years and was familiar with Italian style biga starters, but had never made sourdough until that fortuitous gift arrived. Now I make it at least twice a week, with a yeasted pizza special on Friday nights.
Generally I make a Finnish sourdough, based on a recipe given to me by a gifted baker who is now in Newcastle, New South Wales. If you are in that area, visit Craig at the Baked Uprising Cafe. Check this review here or web site here. Craig studied sourdough baking in San Francisco and worked there for many years before coming back to Australia and then to the mud brick, wood fired oven bakery in St Andrews, Victoria. Then he left! The void in my bread eating life has been partly filled by one of his fab recipes so now I can get on with things.
Some days I go back to basics and re-acquaint myself with Celia’s baking blog. When I am doing a Celia style loaf, this is the mix we favour. Mr T prefers this loaf.
15og bubbly sourdough starter
270g water (filtered or tank)
25g EV olive oil
350g white bakers flour ( I use Wallaby flour by Laucke Mills)
150g wholemeal spelt
Proceed with Celia’s instructions here. This is based on Celia’s white sourdough recipe. I have added spelt because I like a bit of nuttiness and have added a bit more water to compensate for this. I often now make the dough in the evening, place the covered bowl in the fridge for a very slow overnight rise, then bring it back to room temperature in the morning and proceed to shape, do the second rise, then bake. This bread is surprisingly easy and well-behaved, and never lasts long in our house.
My sourdough starter, who is also called Celia, has given birth to Frankie who is now in the hands of my niece Louise. Can’t wait to see what Frankie and Louise bake together.
Flattery will get you everywhere, or is that nowhere? Flattery is often associated with obsequiousness or false praise. But for the hard-working cook, a little flattery, a little praise, or just a heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes a very long way.
I remember those who dine at my table, the ones who say ‘thank you, I enjoyed that, it was really tasty’. I don’t care if they are telling the truth, although I sense that they are. I also remember those who either say nothing at all, or proceed to tell me how they, their wife or the restaurant up the road, makes a delectable version, remaining oblivious to the presence of the food on their plate and in their mouth. I distinctly recall laboriously making a rich, buttery pastry for a summer Charlotte, filling it with spiced plums and apples, and ‘taking the plate’ to a friend’s house to share with him and the assembled others, who had arrived plate- free, for lunch. As the host ate, he recalled the quince tart made by a mutual friend, whose pastry was so much shorter and how delectable it was. This story was related at length with a big spoonful of my **tart in his big ** mouth. I tried to disguise my annoyance, but I have never forgotten that incident. Another chap, enjoying a three course meal with us, spent the time breathlessly talking about his wife’s superb cooking and the wonderful things she makes. No praise for the meal, and only a meagre parting thanks. Don’t you hate that?
Then there is my lovely niece, Louise, who came to stay recently, and commented on every dish she ate – the yoghurt and stone fruit breakfasts, the home-made but stale bread, the soup, the Flamisch, the pasta, the broadbeans. She made proper Maeve O’Mara noises – Mmm, Ahhhh, followed by lovely text messages the next day. “Can you text me a slice of your sourdough,” was her latest amusing message. She is an excellent cook herself and certainly doesn’t need any guidance from me, but she requested my recipe for pizza dough. Since she is such an appreciative guest as is her hungry nine month old bambina, I am finally posting it. Warning, the recipe is short, but the post is long.
Pizza dough from Carol Field’s Italian Baker, with a few variations.
Ingredients for Two Large Pizze
This dough is made in a stand mixer, and lists by cups then in grams. I prefer to weigh. You can make it by hand or in a food processor. Use cold water if using a processor. If using a bread making machine, use the dough setting and cold water, adding the water first.
1 3/4 teaspoons/5 g active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1 1/3 cups warm water/320 g
1/4 cup/ 55 g olive oil
3 3/4 cup/5oo g unbleached all-purpose flour*
1 1/2 teaspoons /7.5 g sea salt.
Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 3 minutes. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.
Rising and Baking.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with the oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until not quite fully doubled. Depending on the weather, and the room temperature, this may take up to two hours.
Shaping and second rise. Shape the dough with a rolling pin or by hand. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two ( this amount will make two large pizze). Roll each piece into a ball on a floured surface then flatten to a thick disk. The easiest way to shape the dough is with a rolling pin*. Roll out thinly, leaving a cornicione, a thicker edge along the rim to keep the sauce in. ( The Cornicione is a favourite of babies, gastronomes and dogs named Bill).
Place the dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta and let them rise another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress the pizze with your favourite topping. Turn oven to full ( 250c), and wait until the oven reaches that heat which may take 30 minutes. Cook for around 20 minutes. You can usually smell when the pizza is ready. It is done when the crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush the crust edge with a little olive oil.
Either place the dough on trays dusted with semolina or polenta, OR, roll the dough out on non stick paper and let them rise on the paper. This allows the trays to be heated in the oven, then you lift the dressed pizza onto the super hot trays.
If using a pizza stone, you need to work out a way of transporting your wobbly pizza base to the stone. The simplest way is to make it on the paper, carry onto the stone, then slide out the paper at the 15 minute point when the pizza has firmed up. As I tend to cook two pizzas at once, the pizza stones seem like hard work to me. I simply use the ‘cooking paper method’ on pre heated trays.
* Flour. So much has been written before about flour. I am not a fan of Farina ’00’ flour for Pizza, although I think it has a place for making fresh pasta and tarts. I’m adding an extract by Carol Field here, who discusses flour types as used in Italy:
Flour in Italy commonly comes from the species Triticum Aestivum, which is divided into two major varieties, soft wheat and hard wheat, (grano tenero) – and from which all bread is made.
Durum hard grain ( grano duro), or Triticum Durum, a different species, is the hardest wheat grown and is usually milled into semolina. It is a golden grain that has a higher protein and gluten content and is used almost exclusively for pasta production.
The Italian baker has five grades of grano tenero to choose from, although they are classified not by strength and protein content like ours but by how much of the husk and whole grain have been sifted away. The whitest flour has the least fibre. The lower the number, the more refined and whiter the flour, so that of the five categories, “00” is the whitest and silkiest flour, “0” is a bit darker and less fine, since it contains about 70% of the grain, and “1” is even darker. Darker and courser is “2”.
For all the talk of the prevalence of whole grain in the healthy Mediterranean diet, only a fairly small percentage of Italian breads are made with whole wheat (Pane Integrale)…Millers simply take refined white flour, stir in a quantity of bran, and pronounce it whole wheat.
The Italian Baker, Revised. Carol Field. P 18
It is good to know a little about flours when we bake. I always use a local flour by Laucke mills ( South Australia) for Pizza baking. Wallaby Flour is described as a Bakers Flour due to the high 12% protein content. I check the date and make sure it has been recently milled. Laucke mills also produce an Australian ’00’ flour, a stone ground, organic wholemeal flour and Atta flour, the latter being great for Indian bread. A range of bulk wholemeal flours may be found at NSM in Brunswick, Victoria and a range of spelt and unusual flours at Bas foods, Brunswick, Victoria. I like the idea of eating local products: the wheat grown and processed in Australia means it is fresher and, as Italians are not averse to chemical use, purer. ’00’ type flour is too refined for Pizza but my dear friend Rachael uses it successfully by adding semolina to the mix, which would give it more strength via the higher gluten content. Sometimes I add 20% spelt flour to the mix for variation but I am mindful that a little extra water may be needed. Playing with different flours is always interesting and all recipes evolve over time. But, like Olive Oil, buy the local product.
Thank you and a little praise goes a long way. Mr T receives praise for all his hard work, grass cutting and maintenance in the gardens and paddocks. He praises me for the food he eats. We take nothing for granted.
Kitchens, more than any other room in the house, have stories to tell. My kitchen isn’t very old: it was built in the early 1990s by my good friend Ian, a teacher with whom I worked for 10 years. I don’t know how he did it: he had no previous construction experience and managed to build this house, its kitchen and all the fittings, on weekends, holidays and after work.
We acquired the house in November 5 years ago, after living in temporary accommodation, sheds and house sits for around 10 months. I bought this house because I knew how well it was built: home builders often over build. Being made of mud brick, it reminded me of my old ‘muddy’ house where I lived for 30 years. The stars were aligned. He was selling, I was homeless. A perfect match.
In My Kitchen, which was Ian’s kitchen, the benches are generous and too high for me. He is over 6 feet tall and did much of the cooking: I am ‘vertically challenged’ at 5′ 2, and as a dear friend just reminded me, shrinking! Lower the benches, raise the floor or wear high heeled sneakers in my kitchen? Despite these benches , I love the kitchen and don’t plan to renovate: it is such a costly business.
Some of the pine board walls may need whitening and I did replace the stove with a new Ilve. I love the Pizza function and the extraordinary heat for making bread. Most of the other functions are untried as I tend to always use the fan forced setting.
In my kitchen I make pizza once a week. This one is topped with onion confit, white anchovies, olives and fresh oregano.
In my kitchen I make bread, thanks to the mentoring of Celia, host of this monthly event at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. I have finally found the perfect bread for us. It’s an offspring of a few different recipes that came my way. We call this bread ‘son of Craig’. It contains a mixture of white flour, wholemeal flour, rye flour and linseed meal and remains moist and fresh for days. Some days it is perfect: other days, it over proves when I get distracted.
In my kitchen, the meals are simple. Pasta and soups are made with garden produce and a few pantry staples. Lentils, chick peas, borlotti beans and pasta are sometimes garnished with a smoked trout or fetta, oil and Parmigiano.
My Kitchen isn’t ‘House and Garden’: it is often messy and cluttered. It’s warm in winter and cool in summer. And now, after five years, it feels like hearth and home. It works hard for me and I am grateful and satisfied with its flaws and its assets, and I thank the builder and his wife.
Recently I found a Romertopf baking dish at an op shop (thrift store) for the princely sum of $4.00. These turn up frequently in second-hand stores. They have become obsolete in many households due to the popularity of electric slow cookers. But not for the bread maker. Snap them up!
Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, inspired me to purchase one. The Romertopf baker enables a high rise, moist loaf, to be made with a fairly hydrated sourdough mix. Don’t ask me about the level of hydration here- I am not that technical, yet.
Starter, 300g , bubbly and ripe, (read Celia’s starter notes)
bakers white flour 500g
wholemeal flour 200g
rye flour 100g
water 610 g
Total flour weight 800g
Place the starter in a large mixing bowl, add the other dry ingredients, then add the water bit by bit, mixing by hand until there is a sticky dough and all the dry has been incorporated into the wet. You could also use a wooden spoon.
Let this sticky dough rest in a large bowl for 30 minutes or so.
Attempt to lift, stretch and fold the dough in the bowl. As it was fairly wet and this was a bit tricky, I tipped the lot into a stand mixer and gave it a slow knead with the dough hook for 3 minutes. The dough was wet but silky.
It then proved in a large oiled bowl, initially for 4 hours ( winter evening). As it wasn’t ready for late evening baking, I put it in the fridge overnight to slowly prove (7 more hours).
The dough was ready at 6 Am. I then shaped the loaf on a floured board for a final prove, around 1 hour.
As it was growing sideways, and looking ridiculous, I tipped the lot into a Romertopf earthenware baking dish. This had been pre- soaked in warm water, then lined with baking paper. The top was slashed, the lid went on.
The loaf started in a cold oven turned to 220c , for 25 minutes, then 20 minutes with the lid off, then 10 minutes at 175c. The fan was on throughout.
Result. One huge family style loaf, good for sandwiches and general purpose eating. Everyone loves it- it’s disappearing quickly. The Romertopf method gives the crust a golden glow.
very moist loaf, open crumb, golden crust, not as sour as I would like it, though sour notes improved on second day. Will do this again, and increase the rye, or introduce spelt.
A great family loaf, huge in size and a good keeper. Next time, I won’t use the mixer. In summer, I might attempt the whole rise in the fridge over a longer period.
In a discussion with a gifted baker, Craig, I seem to recall his comments about slow proving and that modern bread may be causing digestion problems due to over yeasting and fast proving. I must explore slow proving further.
Grazie Mille to Celia for introducing me to the Romertopf method.
Bread has played a central role in the history of La Cucina Italiana and everyday life.: this is reflected in the endless array of expressions concerning Pane (bread). Consider just a few of these,
Senza il pane tutto diventa orfano– without bread, everyone becomes an orphan.
Uscire di pane duro– to leave behind hard bread or to have a change for the better.
Essere pan e cacio- to be like bread and cheese, ie thick as thieves.
churigo come il pane, medico come il vino. Look for a surgeon who is like bread ( ie young) and a doctor like wine ( ie old).
E’ buono come un pezzo di pane. He’ s like bread, He’s a good person.
L’ho comprato per un tozzo di pane. I bought it for a piece of bread, (a bargain)
pane al pane e vino al vino , to call a spade a spade.
But wait there’s more. I’ll spare you the rest.
My most recent loaf, a wholesome, nutty Pane Integrale con Miele ( wholemeal with honey) reminds me of a crusty loaf I bought years ago in a small Umbrian hill town. The crust is crunchy and dark, but not too much so, and the open textured bread is easy to digest, which is surprising for a loaf made of 100% wholemeal flour. I’ll admit that when it first emerged from the oven, I was a little concerned. Nothing worse than pane duro, hard bread.
The secret is the long slow rising ‘biga’ or starter, made especially for this loaf, and the addition of honey. The recipe comes from my favourite cookbook, The Italian Baker, by Carol Field, and I offer this bread recipe to Leah, of the Cookbook Guru as further proof of this book’s worth.
Pane Integrale con Miele– Wholemeal Bread with honey. ( Ingredients are listed in grams, ounces, cups )
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
160g/5.6 oz/2/3 cup warm water
200 g/7 oz/1 1/2 cups minus 1 Tb unbleached white flour
Stir the yeast into the water in a mixing bowl and leave for 10 minutes. Stir in the flour with 100 strokes of a wooden spoon. Let rise, covered, for 6 to 24 hours. Measure 1.4 cup of this starter and throw away the rest. ( NB. I used the rest in another recipe!)
Stir the yeast and honey into the water in a mixer bow: let stand for about 10 minutes. Break up the starter and add to the bowl. Stir with the paddle until the stater is in shreds. Add the flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Change to a dough hook and knead for 2 minutes at low speed and 2 minutes at medium speed. The dough should be fairly smooth and have lost most of its stickiness. Finish kneading by hand on a floured board.
First Rise. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise for about 2 hours or until doubled.
Shaping and second rise. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and shape into a round loaf without punching the dough down. Place the loaf on a slightly oiled baking sheet or a peel sprinkled with cornmeal . Cover with waxed paper or a towel and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, around 45 minutes to one hour.
Baking. Preheat oven to 230 c/450 F. Bake for 10 minutes, spraying the oven three times with water. Reduce the temperature to 200c/400F and bake 25 minutes longer. Cool completely on rack.
My notes. My dough spread quite widely and looked like a cartwheel loaf one buys in Italy. I slashed the top of mine in a tic-tac-toe pattern, causing some deflation before it entered the oven: next time, no slashing to see what happens. I used course semolina on the trays. No need to waste the left over biga – use it in another loaf while the oven is hot. The book also gives instructions for making the loaf by hand or with a food processor. I have listed the method by kitchen stand mixer only.
There is one cookbook that keeps finding its way back to the kitchen bench, the big table, and the couch. Sometimes it likes to come to bed too. The Italian Baker by Carol Field is definitely my favourite cookbook, or perhaps I should say, book! It is a bible and just a joy to read. I am suggesting to Leah that this inspirational book should become her Book of the Month for the Cookbook Guru.
Why do I love this book so much? Let me recount the ways.
It is well researched. Field spent more than two years travelling throughout Italy to capture regional and local specialties.
The opening chapters discuss bread making in Italy, ingredients, equipment and techniques. The discussion on flour is very informative.
The recipes include traditional breads, festive breads, torte and dolci ( biscuits and cakes) as well as chapters on modern varieties.
Instructions are clear and easy to follow. Measurements are given in metric, imperial and cups. Separate instructions are noted for mixing by hand, mixer and processor.
I love that she employs traditional ‘biga’ starters. Less yeast and slower to make means easier to digest!
The photos are few; there is no celebrity chef talk.
The Italian proverbs and sayings regarding bread would appeal to any Italophile.
Before each recipe is a wonderful short prologue.
Here is a shortened excerpt from the prologue for Pane Toscano.
“Tuscans have been making this saltless bread for many centuries. Dante even referred to it in the Divine Comedy. Anticipating the difficulties of his exile from Florence, he speaks of them figuratively, “you shall learn how salty is the taste of another’s bread’. P 84.
All rather wonderful. Time to read Dante’s Inferno. In the meantime, I plan to cook every recipe from this book, a rather ambitious idea, given that I don’t eat many sweets and only a little bread each day. In the meantime, I propose this book to the cookbook club, and to all readers in search of an inspirational baking book.
These photos show a few things that I have made in the last few weeks. I plan to post a ‘new’ recipe from this book before the month is over.
Over the last year, the St Andrews Bakery was blessed with a gifted baker. His Finnish flaxseed rye sourdough loaf was ‘to die for’. I would buy a few loaves to freeze each week and was surprised how moist they remained once sliced open. He had studied bread making at the San Francisco Baking Institute and worked in that fine town for 12 years, before returning to Melbourne, and then to the famous authentic wood fired bakery of St Andrews. He left around last March, to pursue other fields or bakeries, and now I am left with a gaping need for his flaxseed sourdough bread. Come back here young man!
Enter Celia to the rescue with her excellent tutorials on sourdough bread making. After reading various articles about flaxseed ( linseed) I decided to incorporate it into a basic sourdough loaf with 30% wholemeal and 70% baker’s white flours.
On the morning of baking, add the following to a large bowl:
150g ripe starter
25 g olive oil
170 g wholemeal flour
330 g baker’s white flour
10 g salt
Mix roughly to combine, then add the soaked ingredients and mix again with your hands.
Proceed with Celia’s instructions re short kneading, proving, shaping, second proving and baking.
Notes. If the dough is a little moist at the first kneading stage, add a bit more flour to the mix. Only your hands can tell.
Verdict. Very tasty, my favourite to date. Still eating well two days after. Next time, the same recipe but with rye flour and more flax seeds. Or maybe I’ll try ground flax seed as well.
A little quote regarding the soaking of flaxseeds – “By soaking, enzyme inhibitors are neutralized, the beneficial enzymes are activated and the vitamin content increases. Soaking makes seeds, nuts and legumes easier to digest and the nutrients more easily absorbed.”
It’s 6 degrees outside and Kevin Bacon springs to mind! An odd thought to start the day, I know. Any plans to garden or gather plants have been shelved in favour of baking. I am experiencing separation anxiety from my lonely sourdough starter waiting for me at the back of the fridge. Time to light the fires and get ‘Celia’ into action.
Last week I made three different loaves using the basic foolproof tutorial provided by FigJam and Lime Cordial. My first loaf was white and gorgeous. Loaf number two was more appealing, made with half baker’s white flour and half wholemeal flour. The third started as pizza dough, but as time ran out in the evening and the dough wasn’t fully risen, it became the next day’s spelt and white sourdough loaf. The latter contained a mixture of 20% spelt flour to 80% white baker’s flour. I am keen to increase the spelt content on this one. The young visiting lads enjoyed the spelt loaf, eating all the crust, a good sign, and asking for more. This is the best compliment a bread can have. It is now two days old and while a little firm, is excellent grilled for bruschetta.
Now I am in search of some decent large packets of rye flour in Melbourne. I found a large bag of Rye flour at Bas foods, Brunswick, but it contained added salt, sugar and oil and appeared to be a bread mix. The health food shops tend to pack things in tiny quantities and charge an arm and a leg. Any hints anyone?
Celia is the name of my sourdough starter. She is the daughter of Priscilla, the sourdough starter sent to me by Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. Some readers may already know the real Celia, baker extraordinaire and all round generous and inspiring woman. Her online tutorials are easy to follow, thorough and are well supported with photos at every stage of the process. In fact there are around 367 bread making related posts on her site, as well as further information on bread making supplies and equipment. This, I believe, is a far better guide than any bread making book and a wonderful thing.
The following post is a test case diary of my first sourdough loaf. If you wish to make sourdough bread too, just head straight to Celia’s instructive post here.
Celia , my starter, behaved as expected, just as her mother would have predicted. I began rehydrating her at 7.00 AM and, as instructed, added doses of flour and water at various times throughout the first day and evening. On the second morning, she was alive, thick and bubbly. Hooray. After incorporating the remaining bread ingredients and a pause of half an hour, the dough was very easy to knead. Then off she went to happily sit in a winter sunny spot on my ‘proving’ high chair.
The dough proved for around four hours (winter in a warm room) and then looked ready to rock and roll. The second proving was a little harder to judge.
The loaf was slashed, spritzed and baked as instructed. It came out looking great and once cool, we hoovered a few slices with plain butter. It smelt and tasted very good.
I may have erred somewhere as it sounded quite drum like when first removed, but the base sounded a little softer on cooling, yet it didn’t really affect the flavour or texture.
Cost per loaf, around $ 1.20 (500 g flour = 50cents/ salt and olive oil/ 20cents/ oven running cost of fan forced 90 cm wide oven at full heat, then reduced, per hour- around 50 cents)
Cost for a quality sourdough loaf retail – around $7.00. The cost would reduce to 95 cents per loaf, if two were made at once, as well as saving power. Next time I will make two and freeze the spare.
Thanks to Celia, the mentor who inspired this post. Just click on Bread at the top of her home page to find out more.