Give Us This Day

I mentioned last month that I had been getting into baking, particularly sourdough baking, with the qualification that I was pretty new to the whole game – I didn’t, then, feel qualified to offer up any kind of recipe, as all I’d been doing was following other people’s. Well, I’ve made quite a bit of bread since then, with varying degrees of success, and have hit upon a method which seems to work for me. I am in no way claiming this as ‘my’ recipe – I have strong feelings about that sort of claim – but rather a set of minor variations and techniques, suited to my own particular cirmcumstances. It is basically the (handmade, home-baking) techniques of Dan Lepard applied to the (professional standard) recipe of Justin Gellatly.

A few disclaimers – yes, you will need your own sourdough starter, and no, I am not going to tell you how to make it; it is time-consuming, but easy, and you can find a recipe online. Once you’ve done that, the bread still takes two days to make, and probably doesn’t work out much cheaper (certainly not if you value your time) than buying it. That’s not really the point, though. It is deeply satisfying, and freshly-baked sourdough is incredibly delicious. With all that in mind, I find it odd how many baking recipes insist on electric mixers, proving baskets, and so forth – the whole thing’s intimidating enough as it is. Other than the starter, this recipe requires nothing more specialist than your hands and some bowls.

I know all the resting seems like a pain in the arse, but it does make everything much easier. This is a recipe for a lazy, pottering day at home.

 

SOURDOUGH

400g strong white flour

50g strong brown flour

50g rye flour (this mix, as used by Gellatly, gives a great taste, and a satisfying, workable texture to the dough.)

200g sourdough starter

2 big, multi-fingered pinches of salt

300ml water

a little sprinkle of polenta

a splash of oil

extra flour of some kind, for sprinkling

In a bowl, mix together the flours, starter, and water, then stir in the salt until well combined. Oil your work surface; oil your hands, and with them, oil the surface of the dough, which will be quite wet. Turn it out onto the oiled surface, and knead briefly, in ten fluid movements. Oil the bowl and scrape the dough back in. Leave it to rest for ten minutes. Repeat this knead and rest twice more. It should now be fairly pliable and dry.

Now wash, dry and flour your work surface; turn the dough out onto it, lightly flour, then pat out into a rectangle. Fold the top third of this towards you, and the bottom third over that, like a letter. Do the same lengthways, left-hand third over, and right-hand third over that. Flip over, onto the fold, dust with flour, and cover. Leave for an hour. Repeat this for the next three hours.

This process, tedious as it may seem, it what starts the process of fermentation and rising in your loaf. Don’t try to rush it, don’t try and kick-start it by putting it somewhere warm. Sourdough yeast is not the same as commercial yeast, and won’t be hurried along. At the end of the three hours, take a sharp knife and make a deep slash in the unfolded side of the dough – you should see lots of little bubbles within it, like a Wispa. If not, leave for half an hour or so and try again.

When happy with the bubbles, roll your dough into a nice tight ball. Heavily flour a tea towel, then use it to line a nice deep bowl, a bit bigger than the dough. This is your proving basket. Place the ball of dough in it, fold over the rest of the tea towel, and put in the fridge overnight. Yes, overnight. I told you it won’t be rushed.

Next morning, take it out of the fridge, reshape into a ball, and put back in the bowl. Leave at room temperature until roughly doubled in size. This will take at least 3-4 hours, but at least you can get on with something else now. When you’re sure it’s ready (I can never remember how big the damn thing was in the first place; I had to start measuring it against the bowl), preheat the oven to Gas 7/220C/425F. Hot, basically. Sprinkle a tray with polenta, turn the loaf out onto it, and neatly slash the top in a circle or square. THIS IS NOT JUST FOR DECORATION. It will rise weirdly, and won’t have that distinct, chewy crust, if you forget to slash it. Use a good, sharp knife, and cut like you mean it.

Open the oven, put in the tray, and splash or spray a little water on the oven floor, closing the door immediately. This, again, is for the crust. Bake for half an hour, then take off the tray, put directly on the oven shelf, and bake for ten minutes more. Turn it down a little if it’s colouring too much. Tap the bottom of the loaf; if it sounds hollow, it’s ready. Cool at least slightly on a rack before devouring.

Bake Against The Dying Of The Light

10402798_10152785373432559_2727655711948833627_nI meant to write a post about autumn. Something about the wonderful, crackling transience of it, about the brief period of crisp, bright days, and, of course, about the food, fungi and wet nuts, the first of the year’s game, the last of the summer in hedgerow berries, orchard and stone fruits – the way it seems to be the most British of seasons, not having to borrow from other cuisines the way we do in summer, but able to fully express our ingredients and our heritage. Well, I missed autumn. It seems to have lasted about a week between Indian summer and early-onset winter.

The thing about our autumn is that it is really itself. We don’t really have an idealised autumn to hold it up against, the way we do with summer (Cornwall, the south of France, wherever) and winter (Christmas stories, the Alps). Is it dry and clear? Beautiful. Is it rainy? Good! All the better for splashing in the mud. Winter, on the other hand, rarely matches up to our desires. It’s never really that cold, and even decent snowfall soon turns into filthy slush. We want to sit huddled up with hot cocoa, scarves and mittens, and various arrangements of potato, meat and cheese, but that hardly seems justified when it’s 10 above freezing and drizzling.

As such, we don’t really have winter food as a distinct entity. We have the late autumn repetoire of soups and stews, and then we have the month-long tyranny of Christmas, which infects every meal in December. Even a quick supermarket sandwich becomes an opportunity to eat turkey, stuffing, and some cranberry-related concoction. There are two things wrong with this. Firstly, turkey and cranberry are vile, unless prepared very carefully indeed; secondly, Christmas is supposed to be a celebration, a feast. No wonder people complain about Christmas Day, about the endless tedium of the family meal – they’ve already experienced the most important part of it, watered down and adulterated, about 20 times, at drunken office parties, in petrol stations, pubs, Pret a Manger. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate at Christmas, but do we have to do it for so long?

What we need is a new winter festival, one that hasn’t been corrupted by Americanism, commercialism, and Pret a Manger, a new way to rage against the dying of the light and bring back the setting sun. For much of European peasant history, the big event of the winter has been the pig-killing festival, the whole village coming together to slaughter and to create, curing and salting and hanging meat to see them through the dark days. I appreciate that most people don’t have a pig to slaughter; still, perhaps we could nod to the toils of our ancestors, and make black pudding. Besides being delicious, it is ridiculously cheap, although you’ll need a couple of specialist ingredients. This recipe is adapted from the excellent Nose To Tail iteration, and makes a flat, Yorkshire-style loaf.

BLACK PUDDING

Buy dried blood off the internet (here is good); you’ll have to ask a butcher for back fat. I got mine free, but we’re good pals. It shouldn’t be expensive, anyway. I guess you could use fat snipped off back bacon? Mr Henderson suggests salted lardo if you can’t find raw fat.

Serves 8-10

1 spanish onion, finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

A chunk of lard

A small bunch of sage, finely chopped

Half a nutmeg, grated

1 tsp allspice

150g dried pig blood

150g fine polenta

250g back fat, chopped into little cubes

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3, and line a loaf tin with clingfilm.

Melt the lard in a big pan, then sweat the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Meanwhile, whisk the dried blood into a litre of blood-temperature water. When the onion is done, tip in the sage and spices, cook out for a minute, then add the polenta and blood. Turn the heat right down, and cook, stirring, until it starts to congeal and thicken. Blood is very like eggs, so imagine a custard. You don’t want it to set yet. Taste (this is gross, more because of the raw polenta than the semi-cooked blood), and season appropriately. It wants a surprising amount of salt, and a free hand with the pepper.

Take off the heat and stir in the back fat – you want it evenly spread through the bloody porridge. Pour into your loaf tin, which you cover with foil and place, on a folded tea towel, in a good deep oven tray. Pour boiling water to just under the lip of the tin, then carefully slide into the oven. Back for about 1 and a half to 2 hours, until a knife comes out cleanish, then leave to set overnight.

To eat, slice appropriately, and fry or bake until hot and crispy. Serve, perhaps, with black badger peas and black kale, on the shortest day of the year.