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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Making Sourdough in a Bread Machine

I was recently lucky enough to attend a sourdough baking workshop arranged by the Pinterest UK team. Sourdough has long been my favourite kind of bread, so I was delighted to get some starters and learn a few tips.

The bread was amazing and I want to eat sourdough bread all the time, every day. However, I'm also really lazy.

Until recently I've been using a bread machine to produce fresh bread for breakfast, so the machine does the hard work while I'm sleeping. Using the best of the recipes that came with the machine (and I've tried several!), the result still isn't quite as nice as hand-made bread, but it's pretty good and the convenience more than makes up for it.

The sourdough, though, got me thinking. If I could make a sourdough loaf using the bread machine, that might be the best of both worlds. All the convenience of the machine, with that distinctive sourdough taste and texture.

The consensus online seems to be to use a French bread cycle - one that's designed for a long, slow rise. That's the main thing that sourdough needs: time, and plenty of it. My first experiment was edible, but not an unqualified success. The resulting bread was quite dense, and even after a six-hour cycle, I felt like it could have done with a bit more time to rise.

Next, I tried using a dough cycle, and then set the bread to prove for a few hours before baking it in the oven. That worked out much better, but is obviously more time consuming as you end up doing more of the work by hand. And with the dough cycle, you don't have the advantage of baking the bread while you sleep, so if you want a loaf for breakfast you basically have to bake it the night before.

A few experiments later, and I've found a hybrid method that really works for me. First, I run the dough cycle, which brings everything together and kneads the dough. And then, without taking the dough out of the machine, I run the French bread cycle, which does extra rounds of kneading and rising before baking the loaf.

The timescales for a breakfast loaf end up approximately as follows:
  • take the sourdough starter out of the fridge at lunchtime, and feed it to make the preferment
  • put the dough cycle (45 minutes) on about an hour before bed
  • run the French cycle (6 hours) overnight
On the other hand, if I want bread for lunch, I make the preferment in the early evening, leave it overnight, and start the dough cycle at the crack of dawn (a 6am start means bread by 1pm).

You'll need to experiment a little to figure out what works for your particular sourdough starter (since wild yeasts will always be a bit variable), and your bread machine. Start smaller and work your way up to larger quantities, as you don't want to risk the mixture going everywhere if it rises too vigorously.

My machine is a Panasonic SD-2502, so if you happen to have the same model, I'm using dough cycle 22 followed by baking cycle 8. But I'm guessing that most machines will have a similar range of options.

Bread Machine Sourdough
Makes 1 loaf

For the preferment:
100g sourdough starter
125g warm water (about 40°C)
100g strong white bread flour
  1. Make the preferment about 15 hours before you want the bread to be ready.
  2. Mix the sourdough starter with the warm water.
  3. Gently fold in the flour, and stir until no lumps remain.
  4. Set aside for 8 hours, or until the surface is covered in small bubbles.

For the loaf:
390g strong white bread flour
150g sourdough preferment
6g salt
205g cold water
  1. Add the flour to the pan of the bread machine.
  2. Measure 150g of the preferment into the pan of the bread machine. (Note that this is about half of the amount made in the previous stage, giving you some left over for next time.)
  3. Dissolve the salt in the cold water, and pour over the top.
  4. Run the dough cycle.
  5. Without removing the dough from the machine, set the French bread cycle running.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Blackberry & Lemon Jam

Blackberry & lemon jam

Blackberry jamAre you interested in learning to make your own jam? Or just looking for more yummy recipes with jam as an ingredient? Click here for jam-making tips and a collection of related recipes.

The brambles are flowering, which made me realise with something of a start that I still had a couple of kilos of blackberries in the freezer from last year.

Also, I'd recently run out of the blackberry & vanilla jam that I made in the autumn. This happy coincidence put me back in the jam-making mood once more.

Following only one minor setback, in the form of an unexpected sugar shortage (seriously, how is it even possible to run out of sugar?), I had the preserving pan out and was ready to go.

The down-side of preserving in April is that there aren't a zillion apples just waiting on the tree to provide a bit of easy pectin. However, lemons are also a good source of pectin, and (if you use loads) add a really distinctive flavour as well. Since I happened to have a few spare lemons, I used those instead, and boiled the lemon halves in with the berries to make sure I got all the pectin out; the result was a really well-set jam, just as good as anything you'd get with apples (or commercial pectin for that matter).

Tea Time Treats
I'm submitting this jam to April's Tea Time Treats challenge, where the theme is jams and preserves. This yummy monthly challenge is hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage and Janie at The Hedgecombers.

Blackberry & Lemon Jam
Fills 5 standard (450g/1lb) jam jars

3 lemons
3tbsp water
1.1kg (2½lb) blackberries
1.1kg (2½lb) sugar
  1. Zest and juice the lemons. Remove the seeds from the juiced lemon halves.
  2. Heat the blackberries, lemon juice, lemon halves, and water in a large saucepan until the liquid boils.
  3. Add the sugar and lemon zest.
  4. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves.
  5. Fish out the lemon halves and squeeze (using a couple of metal spoons - not your fingers!) to extract any remaining juice.
  6. Increase the heat, and boil until the temperature on a sugar thermometer reads 104°C (219°F). This took about twenty minutes on my stove. Check the set by using a small plate, chilled in the freezer.
  7. Pour into heated, sterilized jam jars, and seal.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Easy Spinach Fettucini Alfredo (Secret Recipe Club)

Spinach Alfredo Pasta

Secret Recipe Club

My assignment for the Secret Recipe Club this month was to make something from Sarah's Brit American Kitchen.

I was seriously tempted by this caprese quinoa bake, but in the end I was drawn in by the simplicity of this pasta dish. That, and the fact that alfredo is an absolute classic which for some reason I've never made before.

I adapted Sarah's lemon pepper fettucini recipe to serve two, and added some extra spinach and pine nuts to add a variety of textures. Which, I realise, may be completely against the point of this kind of simple, classic dish, but I think I'm physically incapable of cooking a pasta dish without at least one vegetable. Anyway, I'm not apologising, because the end result was divine. Thank you for the inspiration, Sarah.


Easy Spinach Fettucini Alfredo
Serves 2

180g (6oz) fettucini (or other long pasta)
15g (1tbsp) butter
1 large shallot
160ml (⅔ cup) double cream
1 egg yolk
3tbsp pecorino cheese (or similar hard cheese)
2tsp lemon juice
2tsp ground black pepper
100g (4oz) fresh spinach
40g (¼ cup) pine nuts

  1. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions (assuming it's dried pasta; for fresh, you can start this stage later).
  2. While the pasta is cooking, make the alfredo sauce.
  3. Finely chop the shallot.
  4. Melt the butter in a small frying pan, and fry the shallot until softened.
  5. In a separate, dry saucepan, toast the pine nuts over a medium heat, turning occasionally.
  6. Whisk together the cream and egg yolk.
  7. Add the cream mixture to the pan with the shallot, and cook for 2-3 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken.
  8. Season with grated cheese, pepper and lemon juice.
  9. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water.
  10. Stir the spinach into the sauce to wilt, and then stir into to the pasta. Use a little of the reserved water to loosen the texture if necessary.
  11. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts before serving.

Don't miss the other Group B recipes:

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