Neil Robinson

On the trail of great bread!

Sourdough Corn Bread

January 31, 2016
by Neil
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Sourdough Corn Bread

I have often baked traditional corn bread before, but never thought about combining corn meal with my normal artisan baking techniques.

Recently I had run out of coarse ground corn meal, which I use to prevent the loaves from sticking to the proofing baskets (or bannetons). I asked my wife to pick some up on the way home, but she brought fine ground corn meal instead. This isn’t corn flour or corn starch, this still is a bit gritty. In any case, I decided to try using it for some other recipes, including a bread one. I had a fast scan across the Internet and found a recipe that seemed similar to what I wanted to do, so I let myself be inspired by that. The original recipe I found is here. I tend to bake much wetter doughs nowadays, so I made a few changes and this is my take on it:

For the starter for this bread:

  • 50g of my standard starter
  • 240g water
  • 300g white bread flour

Mix up the starter and let it rise in a warm place until it is bubbly and ready. It took mine about 6 hours in the airing cupboard.

For the main dough:

  • 450g water
  • 565g (roughly) of the starter (all of it)
  • 250g fine yellow corn meal
  • 450g white bread flour
  • 19g salt (I tried this with 17g and it was just a bit under-salted to our taste)
  • 40g extra virgin olive oil

Combine the water, olive oil, and starter in a mixing bowl with a whisk until the clumps have been broken up and the starter is effectively dissolved in the water. Then add the flour, first the corn meal then the bread flour. Measure and add the salt. Using whichever technique suits you mix the ingredients together so that the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated into the wet. The result should be a fairly sticky wet dough. I used a hand mixer with dough hooks and a spatula to ensure I was getting everything into it.

I then covered the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes. I then did 4 turns of the bread, one roughly every 10-15 minutes. The dough was then allowed to rest and rise until 2 hours had passed from the initial mixing. I put that into the refrigerator overnight. In the morning I took out the dough and let it rest on the table for two hours. I then split it into loaves, and let the resulting rounds have a bench rest for 30 minutes. After that I formed the loaves and put the result into the bannetons dusted with more of the same yellow corn meal. These were covered and allowed to rest for two hours. At one hour and forty minutes I started the oven (mine takes 40 minutes to reach baking temperature).

The loaves were baked in the usual way. The resulting loaves turned out really well. My kids certainly loved them :). Here are a few shots of the finished bread loaves and the first cut loaf.

Sourdough Corn Bread

Sourdough Corn Bread

Sourdough Corn Bread, Sliced

Sourdough Corn Bread, Sliced

 

Pumpkin bread banner

December 6, 2014
by Neil
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Sourdough Pumpkin Bread

We recently harvested the pumpkins growing in our garden, in time for baking pumpkin pie, making pumpkin soup, and for a change, I decided to try making a pumpkin bread. It was quite a bit of an experiment, but it came out great.

The recipe is:

  • 600 ml water
  • 215 g starter
  • 500 g fresh pumpkin purée
  • 200 g whole wheat flour
  • 900 g white bread flour

Even reducing the water from 750 ml to 600 ml, I ended up using a total of 1100 g of flour instead of the usual 1000 g. Potentially I could reduce the water even more, but I have baked this twice now and I really like the fuller sized loaves that come from the extra flour. I had a very creamy pumpkin, rather than a watery one for this round of baking. Here you can see the dough after had risen, prior to splitting it into loaves.

Pumpkin bread risen dough

Pumpkin bread risen dough

Here is another image of the dough on the table before it was split into loaves. It has a noticeable orange-yellow cast to it.

Pumpkin bread dough before making loaves

Pumpkin bread dough before making loaves

Even after being formed into loaves prior to placement in the proofing baskets, there is a noticeable yellowish color.

Pumpkin bread dough before proofing

Pumpkin bread dough before proofing

For this batch I switched from using rice flour to using corn meal to line the proofing baskets and as a top dressing for the loaves. It results in a nice crunch when biting into the crust. Everything else was pretty much the same, except for the baking times. For this recipe I went with 23 minutes with the cover on and 26.5 minutes with the cover off. The result can be seen below.

Pumpkin bread finished loaf

Pumpkin bread finished loaf

Here in the image of the slice bread below you can see a clear color change when compared to more typical peasant loaves. The resulting crumb was also softer and the bread retained a moist texture for a longer period of time.

Pumpkin bread sliced

Pumpkin bread sliced

Eating the bread we didn’t notice any significant taste of pumpkin, but the mouth feel of the bread was vastly improved. I suspect similar results can be had with puréed carrots, butternut squash, and other vegetables.

Happy Baking!

November 11, 2014
by Neil
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Sourdough Bread on the Road

I was recently in Greece visiting my in-laws and I brought a small amount of my starter with me so that I could bake while I was there and so that my mother-in-law could also bake great bread after we left.

Upon arrival the first night I refreshed the sourdough culture I had brought with me (a small amount, around 30g in a 100ml disposable plastic bottle for carry-on baggage). The whole wheat flour she first showed me there was considerably darker and not stone ground.

The sourdough rose well though and the following day we created my standard recipe but instead of using 200g or 150g of this darker whole wheat flour, I chose to use 100g. That turned out to be a good decision. I did the usual turns in the first hour or so, and then left it to rise until 6 hours had passed. I turned it out, and then formed it into a single loaf and proofed it in a glass oven dish that had an oval shape that was not broader than the black roasting tin that I was going to bake in.

When baking time came, her electric oven came up very fast to temperature and it gets hotter than mine. We baked the bread at 250° C for 20 minutes with the lid on, and then removed the lid (the larger lower part of the roasting pan in this case), lowered the temperature to 235° C and baked it for another 25 minutes. The result was amazing!

Large oval loaf baked on the road in Greece (side view)

Large oval loaf baked on the road in Greece (side view)

Large oval loaf baked on the road in Greece (top view)

Large oval loaf baked on the road in Greece (top view)

Lowering the temperature was essential however, because a subsequent loaf where we forgot to lower the temperature (and where she had the fan on, I turned it off on the first one), meant she had to pull it out after only around 10 minutes. It was a bit charred on top but still tasted good.

Bread class banner

November 6, 2014
by Neil
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Artisan Bread Making Class

I recently had a group of people in, both adults and young adults, for a class in home artisan sourdough bread making. Teaching people how to make artisan sourdough bread is not an easy thing to do. The entire process from start to finish the way I bake takes about 22-24 hours, starting with refreshing the starter. There would be no way to show all aspects of the process easily without ending up with a lot of waste.

What I decided to do is to bake one set of loaves the night before, using my baking stone (to demonstrate one technique), and then prepare a starter to bake again the next day.

Bread class, stone-baked sourdough bread

Bread class, stone-baked sourdough bread

In the morning I then mixed a new dough, since that part is not that particularly difficult (it is just measuring ingredients and mixing them, then pulling the dough four to five times). I timed it so that the dough would be ready to split into loaves when the class began.

Bread class splitting loaves

Bread class splitting loaves

During the class I discussed how to refresh a starter, how to mix the dough, and then demonstrated how to split the dough into loaves and shape them. I showed the group the proofing baskets and discussed alternative methods for proofing. I then placed one loaf in a proofing basket and divided the other into four parts to make pizzas on the baking stone. I also had the finished loaves from the night before and a cheese platter to eat with the bread.

We ate all four of the pizzas and eventually the small group of us that were left (around three hours later), ate up all of the bread that came out of the oven.

Several people took some starter away to try baking at home.

All in all, it was a great day :).