Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Sourdough Science - Calibrating Your Starter

Here are my experimental results after six hour:

Results After 6 Hours

I've been using sourdough starters for a few years now, but still lack the confidence to rely on them exclusively as the leven for my bread.  The reason for that lack of confidence is that sourdough starters are an unknown quantity.  Their performance varies greatly depending on how old they are, how warm it is in your kitchen and which grain you are using. Strict adherence to a recipe is quite likely to end in disappointment because of all these variables. They also take a lot more time to produce a rise than commercial yeast.  That's not a problem if you can devote all your waking hours to breadmaking but if you work 9 to 5 and like breadmaking too then scheduling your sourdough production is going to be a problem. You run the risk of wasting good ingredients and your investment in time if you lose track of your timing. Given the above I have tended to fall back on dried yeast. (One of my favourites is a 50/50 Rye Sour/Yeasted Wheat  loaf.  The rye sour can develop over a day while the rest of the ingredients, including commercial yeast can be added in the evening to produce a loaf before bedtime.)

But now I'm ready to take the next step: to get to know my sourdough starter by discovering its profile in my current kitchen conditions.


  • One jam jar per starter 
  • Marker pen
  • Watch or clock 
  • muslin or paper towel
  • Sourdough starter


  • Fill a jam jar to 1/3 it's capacity with newly refreshed starter, carefully avoiding the walls.
  • Mark height on the outside of the jar with the marker pen
  • Cover jar with a muslin or paper towel
  • Wait two hours
  • Mark height on the outside of the jar with the marker pen
  • Wait two hours
  • Mark height on the outside of the jar with the marker pen
  • Repeat until the sourghdough starter has fallen back from its highest point.
  • My results are all captured in the picture above taken six hours after the experiment began. 
  • On the left is a white wheat starter on the right a wholegrain rye starter
  • The lowest line marks the starting point, each subsequent line a two hour interval
  • The wheat starter grew rapidly for 4 hours but by 6 hours it had peaked and fallen back.
  • The rye starter was slow to get going hardly rising in two hours but then steadily rose for 4 more hours. An hour later it hadn't risen any more but hadn't fallen back either 
  • My wheat starter (and dough made from it) needs a 4 hour rise, but should not be left beyond 5 hours
  • My rye starter needs at least 5 hours to peak but will hold up for 7 hours
  • These timings only apply to my starters, although similar conditions should produce similar times.
  • Timings will accelerate in the summer. These results were obtained in an unheated Edinburgh kitchen in March

After 4 hours

Top View: Collapsed Wheat Starter

Top View: Rye Starter After 7 Hours

Monday, 17 March 2014

Brioche - A Bit Over the Top

After splashing out on a fluted tin I had no excuse for not trying Brioche for the first time.  I turned out spectacularly:

Here's the top view:

You pile in three dough balls and then pop one on top.  Then after rising and washing with egg,  make a couple of scissor snips before baking. With the leftover dough I tried to shape some smaller ones but they ended up like leaning Towers of Pisa. They still tasted good and were easier to slice through than the big loaf (which did fall apart a bit on slicing).

All the same I think I've justified my £6 spend!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Another Bread Wheel?

After my last post you might think I would be avoiding circular breads for a while, but I decided to go for overkill with this 'wheels within wheels' bread instead

Risen and Ready for the Oven 
 It's a Scandinavian Classic, A Boston Cake - 7 Cinnamon Rolls in one.

A Boston Cake
 First you make a Swiss roll with a sweet dough and a cinnamon butter filling.  Then cut it into slices and arrange as below:
The Starting Point
 After proving and baking you can tear the rolls off one by one: The original 'Tear and Share'.  But there is an advantage in that the closely packed rolls in a circular tin force the rise to go up rather than out. Also the close packing means that the rolls don't unwind when they bake. The offset is that you get less crust.
The Crumb Shot
 So here's what they turn out like if you bake them on their own:

(You can see the tendency to unwind)

By the way these are different from the buns I made previously (Pain Aux Raisins ala Joe Ortiz) as they are made to a traditional Norwegian recipe (Signe Johansen's) with a cardamon flavoured sweet bread dough and no dried fruit. The only adaptation I made was to add a sugar glaze - which was a bit of a liberty as there was already a sprinkling of demerara sugar on them.

Had a bit of a bread kick this weekend (breadsticks, ciabatta and wholemeal multiseed bread), but also did battle with the weeds at the allotment for a couple of hours in the intermittent rain).   What else are weekends for?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Recumbent Stones

This is the recumbent stone at the East  Aquhorthies Stone Circle near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire

...and this is the stone circle in my kitchen:

... my latest effort at a 100% Rye loaf.

 It can't compete with a setting like this:

but it turned out as hard as stone

Maybe in a few centuries I could master the 100% Rye.