|Proving Basket (Bakery Bits)
It's been a very mild start to the year. That's both a relief after last January's relentless snow, and a reminder that, for whatever reason, our seasons aren't as predictable as they once were. The weekend was grey and gritty, with ferocious winds. It was a good excuse to make soup, and that always cries out for something crisp and home-made to go with it. I decided on sourdough bread. The name isn't very attractive, but it's delicious and very filling. Making it is an easy, although longwinded, process. I have a sourdough culture of wild yeast I've kept going since last year, which gives the bread a unique flavour. To make two big loaves, last thing at night I put about a pound of bread-making flour in a big bowl, add a ladleful of my sourdough starter and about a pint of warm water. After stirring this together I cover the bowl with cling film and leave it overnight in the kitchen to start fermenting. Next morning it will have bubbled up, ready to have another one and a quarter pounds of bread making flour added, together with a couple of teaspoons of salt. My amounts are bit vague as all flours absorb different amounts of liquid. If you've made bread yourself, you'll know it's difficult to be precise! You want quite a soft, sticky dough to begin with. Knead it well for ten minutes (this is a good point to work off all those work-in-progress frustrations). Then persuade the dough back into the bowl, cover and leave it to rise for an hour. Tip it out, and using the minimum amount of flour that will stop the dough sticking to the table, knead it for a few more minutes. Cover and leave it to rise for another hour. Repeat this brief kneading and hour-long rising cycle twice more, then gently deflate the risen dough a final time and shape it into two or more loaves. These will be too soft to support their own weight so I put them in proving baskets (Bakery Bits online shop http://bit.ly/xGE5UJ will be the ruin of me!) for two or three hours, until the loaves have doubled in size. To cook the bread, I heat a heavy metal tray in the oven at maximum heat then, as fast as possible, ease the dough out of the baskets and onto the hot baking tray, give it quick spray of water, slash the tops and bake for ten minutes. Then I have a quick look at them - if they're still pale I turn the temperature down to 200 degrees Centigrade(170 degrees fan). If brown, the heat's reduced to 180 degrees Centigrade (160 degrees fan) and they're cooked for another 30 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the base. This bread has got enough character and flavour to be enjoyed as it is, but goes perfectly with soup and is even better spread with butter. Enjoy!