A PJ taste Love Affair - Part 2

The tale of PJ taste sourdough (continued).

So where were we?  That’s right lets cut to the chase – its recipe time.  Our new chef Ian and PJ taste Partner Mat have enthusiastically taken on the role of chief bread making gurus so the pictures and some of the comments are attributed to them.

The PJ taste sourdough recipe (as we currently make it)

1Kg Carr House Farm Organic Spelt Flour
400g of Sourdough starter
1.2Lt warm water
1.2Kg Carr House Farm Organic White Flour
1 dessert spoon of Sea Salt

PJ taste spelt sourdough

In commercial terms we are making relatively small quantities each day, (to a serious baker probably laughably small quantities) but in a home environment this would probably be too much.  You could divide each ingredient by say 4 to produce approximately 1kg of finished bread.

The ingredients are simple – flour salt and water – but the process needs to take place over two days.  Sounds a bit of a bind but the first stage can be done last thing at night and only takes a few minutes.  The magic can then take place secretly over night whilst the house sleeps.

But before any of this a sourdough starter needs to be made.  The starter is a live organism taking the place of yeast.  It’s a living, breathing bubbling pot of goodness which lends its distinct taste to the finished bread.   Making the starter is possibly a once in a lifetime exercise as when established, as long as it is fed appropriately, the starter lives a life of its own.  With our sourdough experience stretching back to February this year the PJ taste starter is now 7 months old.  A mere baby against many people’s starters which can be handed down the generations.  For example, Boudin Bakery established in 1849 in San Francisco still claims to use its starter dating back to the Californian gold rush!

The starter works because natural strains of yeast and lactic acid bacteria (lactobacilli) are present in flour.  The yeasts, which belong to the fungi family, feed on the sugars released from the flour’s carbohydrates the sugars being released by naturally occurring enzymes also present in the flour.  One of the wild yeasts is from the genus Candida, being Candida milleri.  The related Candida albicans is used in much commercial baking and has attracted attention with the species causing irritation of the gut in up to 50% of people.

In the sourdough starter everything works in perfect harmony with the various parts working symbiotically rather than competing – the lactobacilli even produce antibiotic compounds that neutralise harmful bacteria.  And of course the lactic acid bacteria produce lactic and acetic acids which give the characteristic flavours.  One other interesting Lactic bacterium is Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis which was named for its discovery in San Francisco sourdough starters, but appears to be introduced through baker’s hands!

How we made the PJ taste Spelt Sourdough Starter

There’s lots of black art type talk about how to gestate the “killer” starter.  We kept it simple and used the fabulous organic spelt flour from Carr House Farm.

Carr House Farm Gold taste Award Flour

On day one we mixed 25g of flour with 50g of warm water in a plastic pot, covering with its lid and leaving it out in the kitchen. Every day for 5 days thereafter we added a further 50ml of warm water and 25g of flour.  With interest we noticed over this week that it was starting to bubble and produce a pleasant beery, fruity and gassy smell.  It was getting ready for us to use it for the first bake.

Back to the Recipe

Its important to say that this method is how we have adapted this particular mix of spelt and white flour to our current purpose, which is to make large square loaves for slicing and using for our range of Yorkshire goody filled toasties.  (Available hereand here).  We are very much learners in this field with our next goal to try Rye sourdough and look at the original French style sourdough which I believe is the real French bread not unlike those new fangled baguette things!  Your comments please.

Day One


1Kg Carr House Farm Organic Spelt Flour
400g of Sourdough starter
1.2Lt warm water
(Remember you could reduce these quantities by 4 to produce a final 1Kg of bread).

Simply mix the three ingredients together, cover and leave overnight in the kitchen.  This is called the sponge and the long fermentation overnight allows the flavours to develop and natural enzymes to breakdown the carbohydrates in the flour for the yeast to feed on.

The Sourdough Sponge after a night in the kitchen

Next day….

Add 1.2Kg white bread flour

Plus 1 dessert spoon salt

Knead for 8 minutes in a food mixer with dough hook – we mix for 5 minutes on number 2 speed in our trusty Hobart mixer.  It can of course be kneaded by hand and I guess one could write a full blog on just this process.

Final Shaping

Now leave for 4 hours in a warm place – 28 degrees Celsius is good.  We place for rising in a slightly warm oven to make sure we get the desired 28 degrees Celsius – but our kitchen is quite cool so you may have a warm spot in your own kitchen.  The dough should now increase in size by two to three times.  At this stage you are ready to shape by hand after knocking gently back.  You can make traditional round loaves or put into tins or into the special bread proving baskets that are called bannetons.

Shaping into banneton for final proving

Leave for approximately another 2 hours in your warm place until the loaves have risen again, this time up to double the size after shaping.

Turning out the banneton prior to baking

Now its time to bake.  This is a question of cranking your oven to its maximum temperature of 220 degrees Celsius.  The high temperature used just for the first 10 minutes of baking gives an initial blast which encourages a final rise and then helps form the lovely thick protective crust.  The heat also causes the caramelisation on the crust giving great flavour.  This final rise can be encouraged by pouring cold water into a previously positioned tin at the bottom of the oven added just as you put the bread into the oven.

To the oven!

After 10 minutes reduce the oven temperature to 180 degrees Celsius and bake on for 40 minutes or longer depending on the size of your loaves.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool turning out from the tins as soon as you can handle then onto a wire cooling rack.  Then look forward to enjoying the best bread, and marvel at its keeping qualities if you can resist long enough.

Our square loaf for the ultimate PJ taste toasties

So that’s it.  Having written this down it sounds a bit long winded but once your starter is ready and with a bit of planning the various stages can fitted around a day’s activity quite easily.  Admittedly this is simpler within our working days in the kitchen as it is planned around the general work load.   I am conscious that there are many more sources of much more learned knowledge available and I can recommend Bread Matters by Andrew Whitleyand Bread: River Cottage handbook 3 by Daniel Stevens

A final thought about Bread and Nutrition

The 1960′s introduced a new era in bread making when in 1961 the British Baking Research Association in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, devised a bread making method which used lower protein wheat a range of additives and  fast mixing and proving.  This method became known as the Chorleywood Bread Process and is now used for the vast majority of bread consumed in this country.  In a his brilliant book “Bread Matters” Andrew Whitley looks at how this process has reduced the nutritional content of bread and potentially caused a number of serious health conditions, not mention produced a product with very little gastronomic merit.  As he says “from the clammy sides of your chilled wedge sandwich to the flabby roll astride every franchised burger, the stuff is there, with a soft squishy texture that lasts for many days until the preservatives can hold back the mould no longer.  If the bread forms a ball that sticks to the roof of your mouth as you chew, thank the Chorleywood Bread process – but don’t dwell on what it will shortly be doing to your guts.”

I find this apparent relationship between the industrialisation of the farming and manufacturing of food and its impact on health very interesting.  This trend I think goes hand in hand with the concentration of food retailers and food service providers into fewer, bigger players and through their marketing messages influences buying habits not always towards the best nutritionally sound foods.  Look out for future blogs on this theme which I hope will help us find ways of producing better food and getting more people to buy into and enjoy it.  And as always your thoughts on this would be most welcome.