The Flour Chronicles : 2

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“Sourdough is the original, truly natural bread. We are talking biblical stuff here …” Jamie Oliver, Happy Days with the Naked Chef (p256)

Perhaps Jamie isn’t aware just how right he is, but for me, a long love of good bread, an appreciation of the benefits of traditional baking methods and a growing theological appreciation for bread’s role as symbol and metaphor were enough motivations to undergo a weeklong experiment. A week and a two loaves after my last post, I thought I would fill you in on my third, almost-beginning-to-be-considered-successful attempt at baking sourdough bread.

Monday – I mixed the 500g of rye flour through some water, enough to make a soft, but still moldable, dough. The dough enjoyed a spot of afternoon sunshine outside to soak up some natural yeasts.

Tuesday – it hadn’t started to bubble (it was meant to) so rather than leave it alone (I was mean to), I added some more water to moisten the dough. Rather than the pliable texture of Monday’s dough, it more closely resembled sticky, greyish mud.

Wednesday – as I had not used organic flour (I was meant to do that too!) I began to worry I might have put the whole dough in jeopardy, but to my great surprise and delight, I discovered bubbles in my dough on Wednesday!

Thursday – now I was about a day behind, I did the Wednesday ‘step’ on Thursday, ‘better late than never!’. I fed and watered the starter, adding a couple of handfuls of wheat flour and enough water to return the dough to the consistency of it’s remedied-Tuesday-texture.

Friday – I feared that disaster had struck when I found slightly frosted, cloudy bubbles on the top of the starter. I imagined these indicated an undesirable mouldy growth. Closer examination revealed that the surface had just dried out. I mixed the ‘crust’ through and the bubbles kept forming. Due to my lack of foresight, the poor starter had to survive a trip to Brisbane in my hand luggage, sealed in a glass container with a plastic lid. It survived nicely and continued to give contended signs of life.

Saturday – my dough happily adjusted to the warm Brisbane temperatures, I went ahead with the next step of kneading in 1kg of wheat flour and enough water to ensure a smooth, elastic dough. At this point I was meant to rest the bread for 14 hours before baking. Several issues became apparent. Namely, my lack of careful reading and addition skills. 14 hours from 1pm was 3am … not an ideal time to bake. I had hastily added the flour (and the salt, meant to be added after some of the dough was removed and reserved to become the starter for the next loaf, grrr), concerned to ensure the bread would have time to rise and bake before my 6pm Sunday flight. My joint fear of airport tardiness and difficulty in slowing down to do the maths both conspired against my need for sleep. However, it was not a concern in the end because the bread rose much faster than expected. In fact, only a few hours later I decided I had better punch the dough down and make two loaves. Even so, by the time we left in the evening for dinner (4 – 4 1/2 hours later), the bread seemed to have exhausted it’s rising power. The structure had begun to collapse. Our tickets to Wicked prevented us from attempting any sort of dough resuscitation at that point and when we returned much, much later the dough had slumped down into the loaf pan. Similarly fatigued, I left it alone till morning.

Sunday – the next morning I reshaped my worn out dough into two small loaves; one in a tin and one on a tray. Although I did give them one last chance to rise again, their efforts the day before had sapped their strength and both remained quite small. After the promising start and long journey (both physical and metaphorical!), it seemed a pity not to bake-and-see. After an hour in the oven at 190oC the loaves were golden and very acceptably bread-shaped. No sooner was it out of the oven and photographed than the bread knife emerged and slices were toasted, buttered and taste tested. Dense and chewy, the sour flavour was present but not unappealing. Ideally my loaves would have been home to a few more air bubbles but this batch was my best and most edible success to date!

Final notes:
– Jamie Oliver is writing from an English context and I imagine his raising times would be based on English ambient temperatures, not northern Australian ones … an important consideration for future loaves.
– the sour dough starter returned with me from Brisbane, it still has a few bubbles, not as many as last week, but I did add that salt too early so what can you do? I’ll just keep an eye on it and see how it grows. Maybe I’ll give it another afternoon of fresh air and sunshine and see what happens!



The Flour Chronicles : 1


There is a delightful scene in the movie Stranger than Fiction where Will Ferrell’s character, Harold Crick, woos the lovely cook Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) by bringing her flowers, flours that is. Flowers, flour, baking, sharing, giving – love in brown paper packages. This my friends, is the way to a baker’s heart, or perhaps at least this hopelessly romantic baker’s heart! Asher took the cue, my gushing over this particular moment in the movie, and gave me basket of flours this year on the 14th of February. Now it appears imperative that I run a series of baking experiments to try out all the different flours! The flour kitty includes;
– besan (chickpea)
– rye
– gluten
– coconut
– barley and
– millet flour.

To start with I thought I would use the rye flour to resume my long neglected attempts at making sourdough. About a year ago Asher and I visited a very out of the way second-hand bookshop with a surprisingly extensive cookbook range. I found and bought Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef particularly for its bread recipes. The sourdough recipe looked straightforward enough and I was keen to graduate from yeasted breads. In the end, after baking a loaf that could have substituted for a doorstop and throwing away the rest of the mouldy starter, I gave up and returned to the Basic Bread Recipe a few pages earlier. Simple and more predictable than sourdough, I baked nearly all our toast-and-sandwich-bread for the rest of the year with this recipe as my guide. The consistent warmth that had upset the finely tuned balance of sourdough starter microorganisms made proving the yeasted dough a dream. It seemed our hot little shed in Geraldton was just not the place to raise a sourdough starter. Now we are living somewhere cooler and more effectively insulated I thought I would try again!

Yesterday was Monday and so, following Jamie’s Sourdough Bread recipe (p256), I began my week long experiment by mixing 500g of rye flour with enough water to make a soft dough. You then let it sit outside for about an hour – presumably to pick up some interesting yeast spores – before coving it with cling wrap and bringing it back inside.

So far, so good. Stay tuned; maybe this time we’ll be lucky!

A plaited loaf



This is my new favourite bread recipe. It’s from Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef cookbook slightly adjusted. You get two loaves for your efforts – which is always a treat and the texture and flavour are both lovely. I particularly like plating the loaf and then tearing apart to share and eat. The lower one was shared in communion with my mum-and-dad-in law, sparkling grape juice and all, whereas the top one was shared among a crowd over the Easter weekend as we celebrated another broken in our place. I love that bread is simple and complex, physical and spiritual all rolled up together.

500g white flour (ideally ‘strong’ bread flour)
430g spelt flour (the top photo has wholemeal spelt, the lower one had white spelt)
70g gluten flour
625mL water
30g dried yeast
2 tablespoons of water
2 tsp salt

1. Place all dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mix master (if you don’t have one, a big mixing bowl is fine, you’ll just need to get ready to do some hand mixing and kneading).
2. Start adding the water and combining the dough, the dough hook for the mix master is a great help here, otherwise a wooden spoon gets you going if you are doing a ‘hands-on’ version of the recipe. Continue to add the water till a smooth dough forms – let the mix master start the kneading process for you. If you are doing without the mix master, once the dough starts to come together you may need to knead it by hand to make it smooth (either in the bowl if its big or on the bench adding flour if its sticky).
3. Knead for 4-5 minutes adjusting flour and water to ensure you have a smooth uniform dough.
4. Allow the dough to prove in the bowl, sprinkle some flour on top to stop it from sticking to the clingfilm as it grows. It will take about 30 minutes to double in size.
5. Punch the air out of the dough and divide into two. Plat each loaf and then set the loaves aside to rise again. It will need at least another 30 minutes resting and growing.
6. Bake at 180oC for about 30 minutes, it should sound hollow when tapped and will be golden and gorgeous!
7. Bless, break and eat.

“Our Lord left us a command to remember and receive him in the act of eating bread and drinking wine. Things matter. The physical is holy.”
Eugene Peterson, Answering God, p72.

(Very) Sourdough

A few weeks ago I made my first attempt at sour dough. I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe. It looked nice and easy to follow. A day-by-day step-by-step account. I followed it pretty well. It was however, a week of 30-40 degree days and I think the little yeasts in our bread may have kind of had it by the time it came to cook the bread. It was dense. To say the least. It made okay crutons but even they were pretty chunky (see Caesar Salad recipe to follow!). I think Jamie’s recipe is probably best for English conditions. I might try again in April!





Mushroom Soup

Engagement party

My poor convalescing love enjoys mushroom soup much more than I do. I made this version for him a few months ago (to prove that mushroom soup could be yummy and also healthy … without the need for cream). I saw that some people use cauliflower in their vegan soups to thicken and make soups ‘creamier’ and I might try adding it sometime, I did not have any on hand, so I used a few potatoes to thicken the soup and a little evaporated milk. A sore mouth this weekend meant it was especially happily received. It was based on a recipe from Lesley J who shared it on the Jamie Oliver website – thanks for a great mushroom soup base!

approximately 900g mushrooms
about 4 tbsp olive oil (or your favourite cooking oil)
2 large onions
2 cloves garlic
4 heaped tbsp plain flour
2 litres chicken stock (I used cubes and it was fine!)
2 bay leaves
Handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 potatoes
200mL evaporated skim milk*
salt and pepper

1. Dice onions and crush garlic with a knife, roughly chop the mushrooms and chop the parsley (relatively finely … it is going to be blended up later though).
2. Cook the potatoes before hand and set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and garlic, cook for a few minutes until clear and soft.
4. Turn up the heat and add the mushrooms. Cook till they start to go dark and reduce in volume (about 5 minutes).
5. Sprinkle the flour over so and mix through the mushrooms and onion.
6. Pour in the water and stock cubes, potatoes, bay leaves and parsley. Bring to the boil, allow to simmer (just bubbling) for about 15 minutes. Check and stir it every now and then.
7. When its done, remove the bay leaves and use a stick blender to create a thick soup. Add the evaporated milk and stir through.
8. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a dollop of cream cheese (and perhaps some homemade bread!).

*This could be left out for a dairy-free alternative or substituted for non-dairy milk.