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.1 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.

  1. If there’s interest, I can post my version of the recipe. 

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.1

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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  1. 2019-07-31: The site, alas, seems to have died. But it lives on in the Internet Archive, our own bit of heaven. 

I bake often enough that a 1kg bag of flour creates too many trips to the supermarket. Oddly, though, it is very hard to find anything larger in the shops here. Even the hippy-dippy coop’s 5kg bags are not straight flour but things like pizza mix with built-in yeast. So I buy flour online in bulk, usually 20kg at a time; 10 strong, 5 weaker and 5 wholemeal. And although things tend to balance out, sometimes I’m stuck with a surfeit of one or the other. At the moment, it’s the weaker white flour, so I was looking through some recipes in search of inspiration. I decided to try linseed bread from Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf.

Last night – without knowing precisely what I planned to bake – I built my 100% starter, so this morning I had 160gm of nice, ripe, bubbly leaven to begin with. I did the conversions from Dan Lepard’s yeasted recipe, measured the stuff, and started to mix. But while Dan forecasts a “soft and sticky dough,” and suggests you “scrape any dough from your fingers back into the bowl,” I ended up with a very dry dough indeed. It held together, but only barely.

I tried to get a bit more water into the dough, but that is really difficult with a stiff dough. Pretty sure that I had done the conversion right, I weighed the dough. And lo! It weighed 600gm instead of the 500gm that totting up Dan’s ingredients indicated. But how? I thought back, and still can’t work it out. I couldn’t possibly have put 100 gm too much flour in. Could I? And 200 gm of linseeds instead of 100? Maybe.

Off I went for my morning constitutional, during which I decided to turn this disaster into another experiment in my cracker series. So after about three hours of rising, I rolled the dough out as thin as I could get it, using a bit of rice flour – aka baker’s Teflon – to keep things from sticking. It was down to maybe 2–3 mm, which I cut into neat shapes. Now, the tricky bit; how long, and how hot?

I put the oven on max, which is just north of 220°C, and rolled out the scraps that resulted from tidying up the edges of the crackers. That gave me four test crackers. They got 10 minutes before I took a look. They were still quite pale, and soft. I flipped them over, and gave them another 10 minutes. Maybe a little too well done. So for the first tray of crackers proper, which were definitely a bit thinner than the tests, I reduced the time to 8 minutes per side. Not bad at all. And the second batch got even less, 7 minutes a side.


They were so good. Crunchy, but not tooth-breakingly so, with the nuttiness of the flax seeds and just a hint of bitterness. Magic, really.

Now all I have to work out is where I went wrong in the first place, so I can do it again.