Over on Instagram I became fascinated by the bread videos of Trevor Jay Wilson, marvelling at how gentle he is with his dough and how wonderfully that dough performs for him. His website is a treasure trove of sound, practical advice that gives far more detail than the little clips on Instagram. I decided to follow his technique for a 50% wholewheat sourdough, with a twist. He uses bread flour; that is, strong flour, with a high protein content that builds a strong gluten network to support the heavier wholewheat. Strong flour goes by the generic name Manitoba in Italy, even if it doesn’t come from Canada, but for some reason stocks have dried up. Neither of my two regular suppliers have any at the moment. So I had to use ordinary flour, and it is undeniably weaker.

You can see that in the photos.

I won’t do a proper write-up here until I have cracked it to my own satisfaction. I will note that the rise was definitely less than I had hoped for, but that was not entirely surprising given the weakness of the dough. But the crumb structure was great, as was the flavour.

I’m definitely going to keep trying this method, once I manage to score some stronger flour. And I’m going to keep watching Trevor Jay Wilson as I try to improve my dough handling skills.

One tip I’ve picked up: use a wet hand, when necessary, to avoid stickiness.

A very good carrot cake

The Main Squeeze is partial to carrot cake. I am too. So when an occasion to celebrate rolled around, I went looking for a good recipe. There are thousands of them, many with an awful lot in them besides carrots. I had two considerations in mind. First, I didn’t want too big a cake. We’d never get through a three-layered tower of delight. Secondly, not too sweet, so anything that had more sugar than flour was automatically out. In the end I found one that was scaled for a loaf pan rather than a round cake tin and that didn’t seem too sweet. Of course it was written in American, so I translated the amounts to Sensible, made a few modifications and have no hesitation in claiming it now as my own.

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One of the things beginner sourdough bakers worry about is the care and feeding of their leaven. That’s only right and proper; having received or created a culture, the last thing you want to do is neglect it. On the other hand, a good culture is a pretty resilient thing, so I always tell people at my workshops not to worry too much if they have not been able to bake for a while. Yes, the leaven may become a bit smelly. It may throw off some liquid hooch, or even be sporting spots of mould. No matter, it is probably OK and will respond to a little TLC.

I just had a chance to put my own words to the test.

Both of my leavens had been sitting quietly at the back of the fridge for around 7 or 8 weeks, and both had a bit of hooch and a bit of a pong. I tackled the 100% hydration starter first.

You can see the greyish hooch in the photo above. Oftentimes I’ll just stir it in, but this time I poured it off. Then I took a spoon of the culture — about 12 gm — into a clean jar, added 30 gm of water and 30 gm of flour, stirred them well together, put the lid on loosely and left it on the counter.

Twelve hours later, this was the result:

A classic active and lively starter. To put it to good use, I made a single loaf of Hamelman’s Whole-wheat Bread with a Multigrain Soaker, adapted to use a natural leaven instead of a preferment. ((If there’s interest, I can post my version of the recipe.)) It rose beautifully.

I baked in a cast-iron casserole, now much easier with my new method. Instead of just tipping the loaf from the banneton into the very hot casserole and hoping for the best, I now tip first onto a piece of baking parchment, score and then lower the parchment into the casserole. (You can see the fold marks on the side of the loaf.) Much easier and more controlled.

Good eating too.

The moral is, never give up on a neglected starter culture. A couple of quick builds will usually bring it back to active, bubbly life. Next up, I’ll repeat the process with my “ancient” 75% wholemeal starter.

Dark sour rye

There’s been nothing wrong with my bread lately. Far from it, all has been going swimmingly, which is why I’ve had nothing to share here. Who wants to read “another fantastic loaf” every week? But I have also been looking for a challenge, and an online recipe from a site new to me – aortafood – offered the challenge I was looking for: an almost 100% rye sourdough. ((2019-07-31: The site, alas, seems to have died. But it lives on in the Internet Archive, our own bit of heaven.))

Kasper Fogh, the editor of Aorta, says that this bread:

takes a bit of time and dedication in the beginning, but once you’re hooked, you’re most likely going to keep baking.

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