The wonder of homemade sourdough bread

For the last few weeks I’ve been very busy, diligently feeding my new friend. He’s a little jar of flour, water, yeast and gas, and he’s been growing bigger and stronger every day with each feed. He’s a natural sourdough starter – and he’s my very own, unique to me and my kitchen (and my kitchen’s wild yeasts). He eats a mix of rye and wheat flour (though he really prefers just rye, if he’s allowed it), and he drinks filtered room-temperature water. I guess you could call him rather particular in his tastes, but I indulge him anyway.

Last week I took out a little piece of my new friend and I carefully feed and grew that piece into a foamy, sweet smelling sponge. No doubt about it, making sourdough from scratch is a labour of love. It’s not particularly labour intensive, but there are little tasks that need to be completed as part of a strict schedule over a period of days, and it takes a looooooooong time (roughly three days from start to finish for proving, shaping and baking a loaf, and the starter itself takes around 7-10 days to reach ‘bakeability’ – that’s a word, right??!) but you just have to be patient. You can’t rush it. Believe me – I tried to rush it, and the flat, pancake of a loaf I ended up with made me realise it wasn’t worth hurrying the process.

Luckily, if you don’t rush it, the results can be quite astounding, and more than worth the effort.

Sourdour bread

 

I followed the very visual and detailed instructions on the amazing FoodTravelThought blog – I highly recommend this blog for some light reading if you’re thinking about having a go yourself, the pictures will have you salivating. I also watched a few YouTube videos to try and master the very strange stretching technique employed with Sourdough to strengthen the gluten in the dough – as opposed to more traditional kneading. I also watched a few videos on how to shape the dough into the traditional ‘boule’ shape… which I have by no means mastered yet!!

The cooking of Sourdough is a bit different from regular bread too, it’s very hot and quite long, but that’s how you get those extra crunchy little burnt bits on the top. I had to ignore all my instincts telling me that the bread was burning, in order to leave it in the oven for the full cooking time. But the loaf I made where I actually followed the instructions and timings to the letter was so much better than my first attempt were I fudged, changed and tried to speed things up, that I am now a convert to following the detailed process carefully – those instructions are there for a REASON. Even harder than the long cooking time, was the long waiting to cool time – ONE HOUR! It’s almost a form of torture to see that gorgeous loaf lying there on the bench, the smell wafting gently through the house, and knowing you have another 35 minutes to wait till eating time… believe me, I’ve been there.

And just to really get your mouth watering… I’ve just had a thick slice of my wonderful sourdough bread with lashings of smoked aubergine hummus (homemade of course!) and it was truly a revelation. This is eating! I’m not sure I could ever eat store made ‘sour dough’ again after having the real thing.

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Mini banana cinnamon bread

I’m always on the look out for delicious ways to use up the bananas that turn brown and manky in my fruit bowl. They sit on the bench in my kitchen just begging to be made into something, rather than being given to our chickens (or stuck in the freezer to be given to our chickens much, much later on!).

I came across a rather nice looking banana bread recipe in Donna Hay’s ‘Modern Classics 2′ book, which I’ve had for a very long time. It’s full of pretty reliable and easy recipes, so I thought I’d give it a go – but since I’m also always thinking about ways to fill up my girls’ lunchboxes, I decided to go mini.

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Mini banana breads ready for baking

Donna Hay’s Banana Cinnamon Bread (minified)

140g softened butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cup plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup ground nut meal (I used almond, Donna uses hazelnut)
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp cinnamon (I love lots, so I doubled her rather measly amount)
1 large banana or 2 small, sliced
Sugar for sprinkling (I used muscavado, Donna uses demerara)

Preheat oven to 180c. Beat butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add egg and beat well. Add the flour, baking powder, nut meal, buttermilk and cinnamon, and fold through until smooth. (Here I added mashed banana – Donna doesn’t, but I wanted my bread to be extra banana-y – and I had multiple bananas to use up!)

Grease a loaf tin, or use a 12-cup muffin tray if you want the mini versions. Brush the top with butter, arrange your sliced banana so it looks aesthetically pleasing to you, and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 35 mins (for the big version) or 15 mins (for the mini versions) and remove from the oven when golden and lightly springy. When I took mine out they weren’t quite as golden as I wanted (although the cake was cooked) so I stuck them under the grill for a couple of minutes… just to get that slightly burnt, caramelised sugar look!

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A golden brown, caramelised top – thanks to a minute or two under the grill!

I’m happy to say they turned out nicely. The sugary banana on top was particularly good, but the nuts and banana in the ‘bread’ were good too… I would just mention however, that calling them ‘bread’ is a little misleading – to me they were more cake-like than bready. I put a few remaining ones in the freezer, and they did go a bit soggy and weird on defrosting, so maybe this is an ‘eat when fresh’ kind of recipe.

Baked chickpea puree (or Hummus) with lemon and pine nuts

This recipe uses a pretty bog standard Hummus and takes it to another level by BAKING it! Yes, baking it… Sounds a little weird, but trust me, it’s delicious 😉

This is courtesy of one of my favourite cookbooks –  ‘The Complete Book of Turkish Cooking”. It’s the kind of book where pretty much EVERY recipe has you salivating and wishing you could eat whatever it is right there and then.

225gm chickpeas (soaked in cold water overnight) or substitute with tinned chickpeas
50ml olive oil
Juice of two lemons
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
2-3 tbsp tahini
3-4 tbsp plain yoghurt
2-3 tbsp pine nuts
40gm butter
1-2 tsp Turkish red pepper or paprika

Drain chickpeas and cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then simmer for one hour or until soft and easy to mash. Rinse chickpeas under running water and remove any loose skins. Heat oven to 200c or gas mark 6. Pound chickpeas (or blitz in a food processor) with a large mortar and pestle with the oil, lemon, garlic and cumin. Beat in the tahini and yoghurt until the puree is light and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the puree to an ovenproof dish and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Dry roast the pine nuts in a heavy based fry pan over a medium heat until the nuts are golden brown. Lower the heat and add the butter to melt it, then stir in the red pepper or paprika. Pour the mixture over the hummus and bake for about 25 minutes until it has risen slightly and the butter has been absorbed. Serve straight from the oven with plenty of hot flat bread for dipping – try Natalie’s recipe for quick roti here.

Caramelised garlic, feta and olive rolls

Dough ready to roll up and cut

I made some delicious rolls today for lunch. It was a basic dough recipe, with a caramelised garlic, feta and olive filling. I think the bread dough would have risen more if the weather had been warmer, but it’s the middle of winter here in New Zealand at the moment!

Rolling up the dough trying to keep the filling in place was a little difficult but the rolls are supposed to be ‘rustic’, and indeed they were. The filling could easily be changed to incorporate whatever is lying around – or growing in the garden in abundance – and the recipe I used called for ‘oven dried’ tomatoes, but I substituted those with the olives, as winter tomatoes are so watery and tasteless that it’s just not worth bothering with them really.

Ready to eat!!

This was my first attempt at this recipe, I would possibly make a few changes next time I make them – but all in all, I’m very happy with the finished product. I’ll add this to my list of ‘Out of My Comfort Zone Cooking‘ successes!