Bread Project: Alternative Flour Mixes

So far we have looked at two loaf options, the first which is made with 100% strong flour, and the second which is a wholemeal loaf made with 300 grams of wholemeal and 200 grams of strong white player. However, within the basic limits of the main recipe we can explore further. Here are some of my favourites.


Dove Farm Malthouse Blend

Dove Farm flours are now readily available in major supermarkets and health food shops. Dove Farm’s Malthouse Blend always goes down well; it is a kind of granary mixture. Simply use 500 grams of this for one of our standard loaves.


‘Grey Breads’

You will find grey breads in Germany and across Scandinavia. These breads use a base of strong white flour but use both wholemeal and rye flours to add both taste and texture.

My favourite uses 400 grams of strong white, 50 grams of wholemeal and 50 grams of rye. Alternatively, adding 100 grams or 50 grams of rye to white flour gives an interesting depth to a white loaf.

You can make your sourdough starter with wholemeal flour (and rye) as well as just white. If you know you are making a wholemeal loaf you can top up your starter with wholemeal flour. But if you simply add the wholemeal starter to white flour will give a little extra texture and taste to a white loaf.


Rye Brads

Rye flour, you either love it or loathe it. Me, I love rye breads. But they can be very heavy. The good news is that — on the continent — most of those fantastic rye breads are traditionally made as sourdoughs.

Try mixing 300 grams of wholemeal and 200 grams of rye flour. Or reverse the combinations. If you find these a little heavy then experiment by adding a little white to the mix.

These combinations will give you something that is very similar to the Pain Ancient loaves that you find in the best French Boulangeries.


Rolls and Lemon Rolls

Your sourdough can be used to make roles. Using our standard quantity you should get 10 decent sized rolls.

At the final stage separate the dough into 10 equal parts. Build up the strength of each roll by folding into the centre (as we did with the big loaf).

Flour a tea towel and place the individual roles on top. Fold the tea towel to separate each of the rolls. Leave for an hour to prove. Place on baking tray and bake at full whack for a minimum of10 minutes (mine usually take 12).

Bread really likes lemon. Sometimes I mix the grated zest (but not pith) of a lemon or two with the dough at the stage before I leave the dough to prove. lemon rolls are wonderful.


Beyond Basic Sourdough

Sourdough will always form the backbone of my own bread making. I now the method and the quantities off by heart and the long production time fits in best into a busy day.

If you want to explore further I’d recommend the books of French baker Richard Bertinet. Here you will find recipes for olive oil based doughs and much more besides. His main book — Dough — comes with a DVD that carries films of Richard making his breads and this might be useful.

If time is tight remember that a standard dough — made with commercial yeast — will have more taste if the dough is kept in the fridge overnight before proving and baking.

Bread Project: Baking Your First Sourdough

So, by my reckoning, those of you who have been creating your own sourdough will be in a position to bake their first loaf over the next few days, or over the weekend. This post contains a basic recipe but it also aims to deal with the kind of questions (I hope) that a first timer is likely to ask. I will miss things, so please respond by adding a comment to the post and I’ll respond as soon as I can.

This is my method. I’ve experimented a lot over the years with different methods and ideas and this is by far the most consistent. It is the method championed by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

I usually start towards the end of the evening. It takes 5 minutes to mix together the ingredients. I then kneed the dough in the morning, leave to prove during the day and then bake when I come home in the evening.


We’re making either a simple white sourdough or a wholemeal version. (I’ll deal with other variations is a later post). The quantities here will make 1 large loaf or two smaller ones. Just as a guide 2 small loafs will last Kate and myself a week although I often bake a big loaf for the weekend — this stuff goes quickly).

White Loaf

  • 500 grams of strong white flour
  • 320 mils of lukewarm water
  • 2/3 tablespoons of sourdough starter
  • 10 grams of salt

Wholemeal Loaf

  • 300 grams of wholemeal flour
  • 200 grams of strong white flour
  • 320 mils of lukewarm water
  • 2/3 tablespoons of sourdough starter
  • 10 grams of salt

Note, that although there is not much difference between the two, they do handle differently

A Note on Flour

Some books suggest that it doesn’t matter about the quality of white flour. This is not really my experience. You need to stick to a strong white flour although I’m not sure that the brand really matters. I regularly use Dove Farm organic flours which are now available in many larger supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco (as well as in most health food stores). I also use Allinson strong white, Coop strong white and Sainsbury’s own brand strong white.


You’ll need a baking tray or roasting tray with shallow sides. You can buy mesh baking trays which slip into the oven. These allow air to circulate under the bread as well. They work well but I just usually use a baking tray.


Step 1: The Sponge

Just before you retire for the night!

Put half of your flour ingredients into a bowl (so, 250 grams of white flour, or 100 grams white & 150 grams wholemeal).

Add two to three tablespoons of sourdough starter.

Add the 320 mils of lukewarm water (I tend to weigh this on my digital scales = 320 grams).

Mix together with a spoon. You will have a sloppy semi liquid. Cover with cling-film or clean table cloth.

This will take no more than 10 minutes.


Step 2: Kneeding the Dough

Measure out the salt.

Next morning add the remaining flour to the bowl and mix.

I try and use just one hand to mix the ingredients. You can, of course, use a food processor or a mixer but I find hand mixing is easier, quicker and involves less washing up!

When you start mixing the dough will feel very spongey in character — hence the term ‘Sponge’!

As the mix comes together add salt — I tend to fold this into the mixture in two or three goes.

If you have some flour at the bottom of your bowl that has not incorporated into the mix just add a touch of lukewarm water to help it along. This additional water (be very careful with amounts) is often called ‘the bathe’

You should now  have a gloopy but solid piece of dough.

Put the dough on a work surface. Work it with the palm of a hand, stretching out the dough from the centre. Repeat a few times and the dough will noticeably come together more effectively. Sprinkle the work surface with a little flour.

Now kneed. There are many ways of doing this. I usually pound the dough with my knuckles and as it comes together more I then tend to drop it onto the work surface from a height. This is therapeutic! But, do not over-kneed just for the sake of it. As the bread kneeds it sticks to itself rather than the work surface.

What is happening here is that we are developing the glutens in the flour and these (as they develop) give the flour an elastic feel. I reckon I usually spend about 10 minutes on this part of the process.

Shape into a ball and put back in your bowl. Cover with tea towel or clingfilm.


Step 3: Proving the Dough

When you get home from work it is time to do a little more work.

Your dough will have risen a bit. You might see signs of fermentation in it, little bubbles on the surface of the dough or a little secreted liquid at the side of the bowl.

Lightly flour your work surface and remove the dough from your bowl. Kneed a little more.

Take a shallow sided baking tray and apply a little vegetable/olive oil to the base.

Now to shape the dough. If you are making two loaves use your digital scales to get two equal-sized lumps.

Flatten out the dough. Then place the finger (or two fingers) of your free hand onto the middle of the dough. Taking one edge of the dough pull this up and over your fingers (and then obviously pull out the fingers). Move the dough around a bit in a circular direction and repeat, pulling in dough from the edge again.

This process doesn’t take too long but what it does is strengthen the structure of the dough — you’ll see what I mean as you go.

Shape into a ball (or two balls).

Place on your baking tray/sheet. Cover with a clean tea towel. If you have two loaves you might want to ensure that the towel (or cling film) is arranged so that the two separate loaves don’t touch each other.

Leave to stand — ‘prove’ — for an hour or two. The dough will expand. Books often say leave until it doubles in size but I rarely leave it for more than an hour and a half.


Stage 4: Baking

When you get home, pre heat your oven to top whack. I arrange the shelves of my oven so the bread sits just above half way.

I place a small dish of water on the floor of the oven. This creates a slightly damp atmosphere and it is this that gives the bread a nice, crispy, crust.

White Loaves

Wholemeal loaves keep their structure and the ball shape that you rolled out. White loaves can ‘sink’, i.e. they spread out to a flat disc. If this happens simply take out and repeat the shaping process (the bit that gives the structure) so that you have a proper 3D ball again.

Now we need to ‘slash’ the top of the loaf so that the rising hot air in the loaf can escape. Baking books often talk about doing this with a razor blade! I find kitchen scissors work well and sometimes I use a sharp, serrated, bread knife.

When you buy artisan breads you’ll see the slash pattern in the top of the bread. Three cuts or incisions should suffice. But, traditionally, each baker has their individual slash pattern and so you might want to design your own — for a while I used to make the mark of Zoro but nobody every noticed!

Place the bread/tray into the oven.


This all depends on your own oven. But:

  • Do not open at all during the first 15 minutes or so (or else everything will deflate);
  • Check at 30 minutes.

In my oven 30 minutes is enough. Check the loaf. It should be crisping up. If the top is beginning to darken (or if patches of burning are there) it is ready. If the bread still looks a little anaemic or undercooked you can given it another 5 to 10 minutes. Just check at five minute intervals. You won’t ruin the bread.

You know the bread is ready when you can tap the underside and it feels hollow. You should automatically be at this stage.

Turn out the loaf/loaves onto a metal grid — the one from your grill pan will do — and leave to cool.

I know eating bread fresh from the oven is brilliant but try and let it cool down a fair amount, even if you are eating it a little warm. Cut into it too early and you’ll often find a very hole-y bread next day.


Shape and Appearance

Sourdough is really ‘interesting’ bread with ‘interesting’ knobbly bits and ‘interesting holes’!

The texture will be tighter than commercial breads and you’ll often find a few holes in it as you cut through. But this just adds to character. Most importantly it will taste sublime!


Minimum Times

Sometimes you have more time on your hands and can do things during the day. Always try and stick the first stage over-night. The next stage requires about 5 hours (minimum) of proving.


A loaf will last me three days or so. The bread freezes well and I tend to automatically freeze a loaf if I make two. If you really want that freshly baked taste you can take the bread out of the oven at about 15 to 20 mins and then freeze. To use simply put in an oven and give it another 15 mins (minimum) although I never bother with this — straight freezing works so well.


Back to the Sourdough Starter

You will obviously need to top this up. I normally start to ‘feed it’ again two or three days before I’m going to be using it.


The quantities easily scale up — 1 kilogram of flour will produce 2 large loaves or 4 small ones.

Next I’ll look at some variations on the theme.

But get baking. And let me know how you get on.



Bread: Making a Sourdough Starter

Sourdough is the most traditional of breads, slow rising and powered by the natural yeast of the atmosphere. Sourdough’s have great taste, texture and structure. This is just more interesting bread with it’s odd knobbly shape and (as Nigel Slater says) interesting holes!

People love the taste of sourdough bread, even if they don’t know what it is. You’ll find it in posh/good restaurants — you know those places where the bread just tastes great. Visitors love it, indeed, they probably will eat you out of house and home. And most of those artisan pain ancient and Germanic breads are sourdoughs.

Apparently, modern baking techniques — with their yeast enhancements and the rest — don’t need much time to raise at all. You do wonder what these additives do. Some research has shown that people with gluten intolerances find slow rising bread much easier to digest and I’m really not surprised.

The good news is that sourdoughs are easy to make. But you do need to prepare your culture which will take a little time, basically a week. But it will be worth it. Start this weekend and you can be baking next weekend.

So, let’s go.


You will need a mixing bowl and a jar with the kind of seal that you will see on the picture in the post below. Oh, and a stirring spoon I guess. Digital scales are useful — you’ll need some kind of weighing device.


There are all kinds of methods for making sourdough. I have adapted my starter from Fergus Henderson’s Beyond Nose to Tail Eating and the More book. But my bread making recipes — when we get there — lean more on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.


200 grams of flour. (This can be white or 100 grams white, 50 grams wholemeal and 50 grams rye). Some people say that white spelt works very well. But basically, you just need a good strong flour. Dove Farm flour is good as are most supermarket strong white flours.

210 ml of water (Get into the habit of weighing water on your digital scales — this is far more accurate than a jug. 1 ml = 1 gram

2 tablespoons of live yoghurt

1 stick of rhubarb or some organic grapes or some organic raisins (a handful will do).

The yoghurt adds live culture to your mix. This must be live or probiotic. The fruits all are known for their yeasty-skins — this is why organic is specified, you don’t want the bacteria to have been killed. In winter (in the UK) raisins are more easy to find but you can find organic grapes throughout the year now. I use rhubarb which — I feel — is more British. But then I do have rhubarb in my garden!


Day 1

Chop the rhubarb into slices. Mix with the water and the yoghurt. Add flour and stir until you have a wet, lumpy, kind of a mixture. Place in a bowl or container, cover with clingfilm and sprinkle the top with a little more flour and leave somewhere not too cold.

Day 2

Transfer to you storage jar. Give the mixture a stir. Sprinkle a little flour on the top. See, easy …

Day 3

Stir again. You will probably see now little signs of fermentation as the natural yeasts (from the yoghurt, fruit or atmosphere) begin to get going. (You may even see this on Day 2 i things are flying and the weather is warm — if so just go straight to this stage).

Add about another 4 or 5 tablespoons of fresh flour and about the same volume of fresh water. Stir well. Sprinkle with flour.

Day 4

Throw away about one third of the starter mix. Replace with a  fresh quantity flour, yoghurt and water. (You don’t need the fruit) Don’t worry too much about quantities but aim for the same consistency as before. the main thing is that the mixture is not too solid.

Day 5

The same as Day 4.

Day 6

The starter will be ready for use. It will be bubbly and it will smell! You will know that it is a live culture.


We’ll use this for making bread next weekend. But just a few notes about storage and useage.

Normally, I start adding more flour and water a couple of days before I start making bread but there’s nothing too technical about this. You can tell how active the mix is by smelling it.

If I am away for week or two I sometime put the sourdough in the fridge. When you return give it a few days of treatment to get it going again.