Bread

Bread is my passion. I live for it and I love it. Ten years ago I quit my dayjob for it and developed several award-winning businesses around it. It’s what I’m good at, it’s what I do.

Please note this is a work in progress - I will be adding articles and links as soon as they become available!!
Frantic Scribbling 87%

Surely Bread is Bread right?

That’s like saying a car is a car, but you can have your Austin Allegro, thanks, I’d rather walk.

Real bread is a step up. It makes people go ‘Mmmmmmmm…’

You don’t even need to put anything on real bread, although if you do both things become better.

Our Bread Story

In 2007 my first son was born. I decided he wasn’t going to eat the worthless pap they call supermarket bread. Yes, even the ‘instore bakery’ loaves, the crusty artisan looking ones, are shams. I know, I worked there.

Deciding to learn how to bake was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. It’s taken me all over the world and I’ve met some fabulous people doing it. It still amazes me each day when I pull some crusty artisan bread from the oven, created from a no knead bread recipe using techniques and tips that I’ve developed over the dozen or so years that I’ve been baking.

What is Real Bread?

It’s easier to tell you what Real Bread is by telling you what it isn’t.

  • Real Bread isn’t made by the Chorleywood Process.
  • Real Bread isn’t made in a factory, frozen, wrapped in plastic, boxed and stored in a freezer for up to a year before being thawed and finished in an instore bakery oven. Seriously.
  • Real Bread cannot be wrapped in plastic and given a shelf life of two weeks.
  • Real Bread cannot be squished into a ball and thrown at pigeons.
  • Real Bread does not contain chemical oxidising agents, emulsifiers, processing aids or extra yeast
  • Real Bread is not a high input, zero time, energy intensive process
  • Real Bread is not easy. Oh, wait, yes it is, I can show you how to make bread easily.

What goes into Real Bread?

Time, Skill & Patience. That’s what makes it real, the three things that you don’t get in a factory.

And because it takes time, and skill, real bakers tend to use the best ingredients, sourced from the most trustworthy people. A traditional loaf needs only four ingredients; flour, yeast, salt and water.

But we go further than that;

@WithiesDeli our award-winning sourdough uses just three ingredients; flour, salt and water, the way it's been for thousands of years

What is Sourdough?

Sourdough Bread is made by fermenting dough with naturally occurring lactobacilli and wild yeast. It is the oldest form of breadmaking, dating to the Neolithic times 9100 years ago, although flatbreads have been discovered dating between 11-14000 years ago and in Australia and Asia they have found grindstones dating back 30,000 years. How’s that for some tangible history?

Our Sourdough Starter

Our sourdough starter is over 200-years old and came to us via a friends restaurant in Cardiff. Preserving all of this history is a big responsibility, but there’s no denying that it has great results. So much so that it won Best Sourdough in the West at the 2018 Craft Bakers Association Awards.

Below we’ll tell you how to mke a sourdough starter from scratch, how to care for your sourdough starter and the difference between a starter, a levain and a biga.

We also have articles on how different levels of starter maturity give you different flavours in your sourdough and ultimately in your bread.

How to make Sourdough Bread

Making sourdough can be as difficult as you want it to be. We make easy sourdough though. Let’s start with the starter.

What is a sourdough starter?

There’s a lot of mystique around sourdough and sourdough starters in particular. Yeasts captured from the air, cultured by pineapple juice, passed from generation to generation, must be kept airtight, must be kept cold, must be in a glass jar and away from any other living products. I’ve heard it all and it’s all pretty much rubbish as far as I’m aware.

It’s true that sourdough starter is a collection of hundreds of different types of yeast, bacteria and enzymes but most of these came from the husk of the wheat itself rather than the aura of your great=great-grandmother whose spirit still haunts the very mixing bowl that you use to make your bread today… although more on that later!

Not all sourdough starters are equal however. A proper, traditional starter should be resilient enough to be left alone for a while then refreshed and get straight back into the game, whereas cultures that you buy in little foil packets tend to be only a few types of yeast isolated from an original starter culture and selectively grown in labs. These ‘starter kits’ will become weaker with use and eventually die off as they don’t have the whole diverse system protecting and nurturing them.

There’s also a fair amount of controversy with Industrial Sourdough, or Sourfaux bread as it has been named. Sourdough bread in supermarkets is simply not sourdough, and we’ve been fighting to get them to stop for years

What you need to make a sourdough starter

  • Weighing Scales
  • A non-reactive container
  • Flour
  • Water
  • About 2-weeks

Sourdough vs Sourfaux

Commercial sourdough bread, especially that from commercial bakers and ‘tanning salons’ like supermarkets, has generally been baked with dried sourdough enzymes to give it that sourdough tang and commercial yeast is added in order to rush the bread through the industrial baking process. This bread is known as sourfaux and real bakers are campaigning to stop the abuse of our artisan traditions.

How to make a sourdough starter

The best way to make your sourdough is to start with 100g of whole rye flour and 50g of water. Mix them together, form them into a ball, put them in a bowl and wrap it in cling film, beeswax wrap or a tea-towel, whatever takes your fancy. Leave them on the side at room temperature for 24 hours. Now cut the ball in half, chuck one half over your shoulder and feed the other half with 100g of rye flour and 50g of filtered water. Again, leave it on the side.

When you go back to it the next night it should feel a little spongier, might even smell a little fruity. Now cut 2/3s of it off and throw that at the cat or whatever, you don’t need that bit anymore. Don’t be shy about throwing it away. Discard is discard. It’s done it’s job, if you keep it like a stray you’ll end up with loads of it, you’ll be overwhelmed, you’ll become one of those catladies that get crushed by the weight of tin cans and newspapers. Get rid of it. Once again feed what’s left with 100g of flour and 50g of water. The next night you should notice it’s puffed up a little. Fantastic, you have lifeforms, but it’s not your starter. If you tried baking with this you’d get one or two succesful-ish batches then it would mysteriously die – I refer to this as the First Rush of Life, and just like the dinosaurs it will die off. You need to keep discarding and feeding it for another week or so to encourage the lifeforms that just feed off the flour to come to the fore. Once done it should be rising and falling reliably and you can switch to feeding it unbleached white flour in the same ratios. White flour has better gluten so I always recommend once you have life you swap to using that. Now before you pop it into the bowl (always use the same bowl by the way, never wash it out), you’ll want to flatten it out into a disc then roll it up like a swiss roll. This will help the gluten form and it’s never too early to form gluten for your bread, even at the starter stage. 

Only once it’s reliably rising and falling you can start baking with it.

Where can I buy sourdough starter?

You can buy sourdough starter from us, come in and ask and we’ll happy carve you some off and send you home with it, along with lots of genuine and enthusiastic advice. I love bread, and baking, and bakers and will be happy to see you.

Oh, you live in Minnesota? Don’t worry, we can do that. I’m told it will take between 3-5 days so order it today and you could be up and baking with it this time next week!

Subscribe to our foodie fanzine for more great food ideas.

Do you have a story about your sourdough starter?

I’m collecting sourdough starters and their stories for a project. Every starter has a story, an anecdote or a funny tale. Where did you get it from? Who gave it to you? Where have you taken it? Who have you given it to? It would be really great if you could tell me your starter story…

We would like to use your starter story in future articles and projects. Please tick this box if you agree.

The difference between a Starter, Poolish, Levain and a Biga

A starter is a mix of flour, water, natural yeasts and bacteria. It does not contain any commercial yeasts or culture. It is generally fed and matured according to the bakers desired outcome.

Your starter should be kept pure ie. Do not mix fruit into it, or other flours that aren’t part of your normal baking schedule. 

For example if I baked wheat, spelt and rye breads daily I would develop and maintain a wheat dourdough starter, a spelt sourdough starter and rye sourdough starter

A levain is a pre-ferment. It is a mix of flour and water that has been mixed with a levaining agent such as a sourdough starter, however it can also contain commercial yeast.

You can mix different flours, ie. einkorn, emmer, spelt, into this, and even mix fruit or oil in to achieve a different end result. It may also undergo a different feeding schedule and have different ratios of water and flour mixed in to change it’s hydration level.

If I was only baking rye or spelt once a month, rather than maintaining a rye or spelt starter I’d probably make a levain a few days beforehand by taking a little bit of my starter and feeding it with rye or spelt flour. I would not mainain this starter in my non-baking weeks.

A poolish is another pre-ferment, usually made up of equal partd water and flour with a small amount of commercial yeast.

It is usually fermented for 3-12 hours, the length of time determined by the amount of yeast added initially. 

Poolishes are normally used when baking baguettes and are responsible for the traditional baguettes open structure and an increase in it’s shelf-life. 

Next time you are able to buy a traditionally made baguette and a cmmercial one (supermarket). Cut them open and marvel at the difference in crumb structure and flavour!

A biga is another pre-ferment, this time from Italy. It is a stiffer dough made with commercial yeast.

It is usually fermented at room temperature for 8-15 hours and is intended to add strength and flavour to the dough while shortening the final rise time.

CIabatta is the most famous exponent of this preferment, however it can also be found in brioche and stollen.

Tips for looking after your sourdough starter

  • Keep it pure - ie only feed it with flour and water, never add salt, pineapple juice or above all else commercial yeast to your starter
  • Feed your starter with the flour that you will be using to bake with ie if you are predominately baking rye bread then feed your starter with rye flour
  • Keep your starter in the same container - do not wash your container between feedings
  • Make your baking and feeding regime fit in with your life - if you make radical changes to your life in order to feed your ddtarter and get it into tip top condition you will eventually fail when life carries on regardless of your best intentions
  • If you are not baking for more than 2 feedings place it in the fridge to slow things down, taking it out 2 feedings before you are about to bake
  • If you are going on holiday or won't be baking for an extended period of time (more than two weeks) you can freeze your starter, then thaw it out and carry on as before!
  • A runny starter (ie higher hydrtion) will favour the lactobilli bacteria, meaning your starter and hence your bread will be more acidic, and hence taste tangier!
  • A stiffer starter will have a milder flavour compard to a runny starter that has been matured for the same amount of time, however if you want your stiff starter to have that sourdough bite then mature it for longer, ie add more time between the last feeding and using it in the final dough
  • You can flatten your stiff starter out when you feed it, then roll it up and coil it like a cinnamon swirl. This will develop gluten, and it's never too early to get gluten into your bread!
  • Even if you think you've killed your starter, try feeding it a couple of times. They are far more resilient than you think they are!

Want to see some other uses for your sourdough starter or what to do with your sourdough discard?

Baking with Sourdough

It was definitely difficult to learn how to bake sourdough, but in my sourdough course I’ve distilled it down to it’s basics, making it easy for everyone to learn how to bake traditional sourdough bread.

Sourcing your ingredients

As mentioned because you want to bake the best sourdough bread you want to start with the best ingredients. There are only three of them after all, so let’s see what the sourdough ingredients are!

Flour

What flour you use and where you get it from is totally down to you and your local situation. If all you can get is Robin Hoods Phosphorescent All Purpose then go for it. Most of us will have access to a specialist loca mill however and you will notice a striking difference in your bread and baking by using flour from these gems. Some of you might even have a grinder at home and access to a reliable source of  hard red winter wheat berries in which case good for you send us some pics!!

Here’s a brief run down on some baking terms you’ll find applied to different flours;

Unbleached. Yup,  your general all purpose white flour is probably bleached, not for any other reason but to extend it’s shelf-life and make it seem purer than it’s competitor. Go for unbleached flour when you can.

Wholewheat/wholemeal.These are the same, and give me a clue as to which cntinent you’re on when you email me a question regarding it! The wheat berry straight off the stem is coated in a protective shell that we know as ‘bran’. This shell, or husk, is normally removed in the milling process, captured, ground seperately and added back into white flour to create whole wheat flour.

Wholegrain. This is flour that contains the bran and the germ. The germ? That’s the embryo of the seed – the starchy white part is the food, the bran or husk os the protective casing and the germ is the thing that grows. It contains lots of essential oils and nutrients that are good for your health but bad for the shelflife, as it’s these oils that will spoil and cause the wholegrain flour to taste bitter if it’s not fresh. This is why the industrial millers remove it.

Stoneground. The process of milling the flour – crushing it up to smaller and smaller particles – can be achieved through either steel rollers or stone ones. Steel makes it easier to remove the bran, germ etc but heats up and destroys the oils, life and flavour to an extent. Stoneground flour hasn’t been heated so is generally better for baking, plus it’s more likely to be whole grain, another bonus!

Salt

You wouldn’t think there’s much to say on salt, it being a chemical compaund called sodium chloride, NaCl, however there’s many different ways of producing it, each giving the salt a different flavour.

As a rule seasalt is about 15% stronger than mined salt, or rock salt, so you need to adjust your recipes to use 15% less if you’re using seasalt in your baking. 

If possible you should avoid iodized salt, which was developed to get a source of iodine into the population but leaves a metallic taste on the palate. 

You’ll see some salts called sel de gris, sel de fleur, maldon sea salt etc. These are all named after the regions that they are produced in and all have different flavour profiles. Of course there’s Himalayan salt and good old rock salt too. Whichever one you choose is of a personal preference but for neutrality I like to use Pure Dried Vacuum salt, which we also use for curing meats in the deli.

You’ll see a lot of US recipes refer to Kosher salt – this is simply salt without any addictives (like Iodine) and in baking I’d happily interchange it with PDV salt.

Water

Water is water isn’t it? A bit of H2O? 

Well, kinda. Except tap water has chlorines, chloramines and flourines added to it (depending on where you live), some has a higher mineral content (again depending on where you live), some have high amounts of calcium and some even have copper, iron, lead, cadmium and arsenic in it. Yum.

I do use tap water to make my sourdough, and even to feed my sourdough starter, but if I am fermenting kombucha or kefir or putting together a sourdough starter from scrtch then I’ll use filtered water, filtered through my handy Britas filter (other brands are available, in fact mine isn’t even Britas, but that’s what we all know it as over here in the UK).

In Canada we were on a shallow well, and sometimes the water would be quote clayey, literally running orange. At those times I’d make the trip out to the mountainside spring and fill up with springwater. I can’t say if it made the bread better or worse but as I was baking it I didn’t worry too much – any life in it would be killed soon anyway. 

What you use is up to you, just think about what you’re trying to do and be aware of what might be in your water.

The other variable that is easily controlled, aside from hydration (the quantity of water in your dough) is the temperature of your dough. If I want a speedy rise I’ll set the water to be tepid –  if I placed my hand in the water I wouldn’t notice any temperature change, or slightly warmer. Be careful though, too hot and you’ll kill your yeast!

Most of the time I’ll use cold water, as my sourdough takes 72 hours to do it’s thing and the longer I can stretch the process the more flavour I can get out of it.

An excerpt from our downloadable sourdough instructions

A quick summary on how to make Sourdough Bread

  • Mix flour & water and autolyse the dough
  • Add starter and salt, mix thoroughly
  • Knead the dough, I use the stretch and fold method, you can use whichever suits you best
  • Bulk rest your dough
  • Scale your dough
  • Bench rest
  • Shape
  • Prove
  • Retard or...
  • Score and Bake!

Autolysing - the secret to softer bread

This is the process of mixing the flour and the water together, allowing the starch in the flour to absorb the water without the presence of salt, which would inhibit it’s absorption to a certain extent. 

You don’t have to do it, I didn’t for years and still had very good bread, butdoing so should give you bread that is softer and lasts a day or too longer to boot. 

No knead sourdough using the Stretch and Fold method

This is how you knead your bread without actually kneading it. I know, there’s plenty of opportunities to slip a pun in here but look how seriously I take it, not one pun. There’s no need you see.

Bulk rest, or ferment your dough

This is when the yeasts are replicating, conquering new territory and expanding throughout their ‘world’.

Simply place the dough in a draft free place or cover with a damp tea towell for 4 – 12 hours. Sometimes it’s called the Bulk Rest, sometimes bakers refer to it as fermenting the dough, with is a much more sourdoughy term but essentially the same thing. 

Scaling, or measuring your dough

This is when you divide it into its individual loaves, or scale it as bakers say. Why? Because what you should be doing is weighing each piece of dough so they are all exactly the same weight. This will give you consistent size in loaves which all bake at the same rate and are all finished at the same time.

I’ll be adding an aritcle on how to scale your dough, including a formula on what weight to scale it to for the right sized loaf here.

Bench Rest

This is anothers bakers term referring to the period when the dough is shaped into a ball and allowed to rest on the bench for five minutes, during which time the gluten relaxes, allowing you to shape your dough into it’s final form.

How to shape your loaf for the best oven spring

We shape the loaf using the Pinch & Ridge method, basically getting structure into your dough, setting it up for some lovely oven spring.

Once shaped you can either pop it on a sheetpan or pop it into a banneton, which we’d always recommend as it holds the dough in the shape that you want it.

Here I’ll be adding instructions on how to shape your dough for the best oven spring.

Prove your bread

I let the bread rise at room temperature, covered with a cloth or parchment paper to prevent a skin forming, for at least an hour, sometimes 4-6 hours, judging when it’s risen enough by giving it a little squeeze or a prod. I don’t believe in the ‘poke it and see if it comes back’ thing, it’s just a feel that you develop after baking a few thousand loaves.

Try it yourself and you’ll get a feel for it before too long.

Retardation, or how to get that sourdough flavour

And now the real secret to good flavoursome sourdough with a wonderful oven spring: put it in the fridge.

I’ll be adding an article on how to retard your loaf for, what internal temperature you should be shooting at and how to develop sourdough flavour here.

How to score your bread before baking

Traditionally scoring the loaf was to tell your bread apart from the other loaves in the village oven, as every family would do their own then bake it in a communal oven, but we still do it to tell the loaf where to expand.

I’ll tell you what tools you need to do it right, what else you can use if you don’t have them and how to score your bread to get that beautiful ear that makes bakers weep with pride.

Different ways to bake sourdough bread

In the near future I’ll also tell you what temperature you should bake your bread at, why you should do test loaves and what different baking terms such as a falling oven mean.

You too can have amazing sourdough bread

Sourdough Recipes

  • Crusty White Sourdough Loaf -coming soon-
  • Rye Sourdough Recipe -coming soon-
  • Convert any recipe to sourdough -coming soon-
  • How to use up starter discard -coming soon-

What to do with old bread?

Bread is a living thing. It needs to breath, if air doesn’t flow freely around it then it will go mouldy and you’ll need to throw it in the compost bin. That;s why you should never store bread in a plastic bag, plastic wrap or the refrigerator. I keep mine on the cutting board but you’re more than welcome to keep yours in a Bread Bin. This means that it will ‘go stale’, but you can read here why that isn’t a bad thing and what to do with stale bread. 

Also here are my go to recipes to use up old bread:

  • Garlic Bread Recipe -coming soon-
  • Bread and Butter Pudding Recipe -coming soon-

Sourdough Nutrition - why is sourdough bread good for you?

Us human beings have been eating sourdough bread since the invention of agriculture. This means that our gut bacteria have evolved alongisde the development of sourdough bread.

Then we got all clever with the industrial revolution where we learned how to extend the shelf life of flours and foods by manipulating the way we treat it, or simply dousing it in chemicals that do not appear on the ingredients list as they are ‘processing aids’. To the industrialist Time is Money and Skill Costs so industrial bakeries have done all they can to reduce both time and skill. This lead to the dumbing down of the bakers craft so now commercial bakers simply pour ingredients into a vat, press a button, then run to the other end of the machine to bag it up and load it onto trucks. A similar process happens in your supermarket ‘bakery’ or ‘tanning salon’ if they are dealing with frozen breads that just need a bit of colour.

Obviously our gut bacteria haven’t evolved at such breakneck speeds so when you eat your commercvial bread they have the hard job of breaking down those long strands of ghluten and large starch molecules to ge it into a simple form that they can then digest and use as fuel for your body.

Using traditional sourdough methods these long strands of gltuen and complex starch molecules are broken down as they have ben for millenia, meaning you have a happy gut as well as happy taste buds.

What equipment do you need to bake sourdough bread?

flour for baking
  • A bowl
  • Weighing scales
  • An oven
  • Bannetons
  • Couche/ Bakers Linen
  • Lame
  • Dough Blade
  • A terracota starter pot
  • A bookshelf groaning with baking books

Where can I learn to bake Sourdough?

We are currently putting together an online baking course, but we’d love to see you at the deli if you’d rather book onto one of a bread making course in real life!

Sourdough / Baking resources

List of websites, suppliers and resources to go here

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