Thursday, 15 August 2013

We're back!

The Steamie Bakehouse is closed. From the end of August, 2013, I will be baking at the Seven Hills Bakery in Sheffield whilst we decide how to put the experience of the last three years to best use.

The Steamie Bakehouse website and blog will be coming down shortly, so we will be returning to this blog for our (very occasional) writings and transferring our posts from there to here - if you have subscribed to our RSS, please update your feed.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Oven Performance

Brian, from Iowa, writes:

I live in Iowa, USA and have built a traditional woodfired
oven(cob). Makes great bread but uses lots of wood. I am searching your site for info on the plans/current operation, preformance of your present oven. How is it going? Any
thing on the blog besides the original construction?

My reply:

Sorry, running the bakery means we don't get round to blogging etc as often as we'd like. The oven is performing well. It bakes continuously, about 3 deck loads per hour, between 8 and 26 loaves per deck, depending on the size and shape of the loaves - 8 large cobs as opposed to 26 small pans. I am happy with the way it bakes, when I manage it properly.

We get our wood from a local sawmill, and use side off cuts around 30mm square in section and up to about 500mm long. These cost about GBP50 per crate, which measures about 2mx1mx1m and lasts about 3 weeks. One day's firing uses a volume about 600mmx500mmx500mm, which is enough to bake up to about 100 loaves.

On the downside: it took about 6 months to figure out how to manage it properly - briefly, it comes down to a rather uneven heat distribution, and the need to bake loaves evenly, i.e. not scorch them on one side. To do this we need to 1) heat the oven slowly, about 5 hours to come up to 240 degrees or so, this minimizes heat differentials and 2) move the loaves around after the first 10-15 minutes. The fire box measures about 180mmx180mmx180mm; a fire this size is more than sufficient to heat the oven - I have heated the lower deck (the hottest) to about 450 Celsius. The uneven heat is due to the direct heat transfer from the fire to the oven small differences in the flow of hot air around the oven can mean quite substantial differences in the temperature of different parts of the oven. There is no means of control other than simply loading more or less wood into the fire. Using this method it is a bit of a challenge to get oven to the right temperature and keep it there - but an enjoyable skill to acquire.

Lastly, this kind of oven is a complicated project to build - it took me about two months, and I had a blacksmith to do the metal work (by far the biggest part of the job), and a couple of experienced builders helping with the rest.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Cultured Butter


Inspired by one of our Bread-Clubbers, Lisa, I snapped up a couple of marked down tubs of double cream in the Co-op last week.  I'd hesitated rather over butter making, probably as I remembered a whole lot of shaking of jars for a teaspoon of butter after a childhood visit to a farm.  With two 600ml tubs of double cream with use-by dates of the next day sitting on the counter, it was time get over my worries about sore arms and low yields and have a go.

Having consulted both Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making and Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, I decided to use the 'shake it in a jar' method, which appealed both to my love of simple methods and my lazy reluctance to lift the Kenwood over to the work surface.  I tipped half of one tub into a large jar and shook it well.  Before long I had a lovely jar of whipped cream.  Nice, but not exactly what I'd been hoping for.  I consulted Ricki again, who advised that raising the temperature would raise the acidity levels and help things along.  So I tipped the remaining half of the first tub into another large jar, stood it in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes and tried again.  I got butter!

Again following Ricki Carroll's instructions I strained out the buttermilk (declared delicious by my two small testers), washed the butter with cold water, salted it and popped it in an earthenware pot.

I decided to add buttermilk to the other tub of cream to have a go at cultured butter.  I left the cream out on the counter to culture for twenty-four hours to turn it into creme fraiche before going again with the shaking.  The cultured butter was even more delicious than the plain, richer and more buttery somehow.

So here's my method for Cultured Butter

Add a dessertspoon of buttermilk to a tub of double cream (600ml double cream yields about 320g butter).  Leave to culture for around 24 hours.  I don't know if commercial creme fraiche would work here - let me know if you've tried it.  Put it into a large glass jar with a well fitting lid.  You want it about a third full, so you might have to do it in batches.  Now shake.  Because the creme fraiche is quite solid, it's more of a thump than a splosh, but after three to five minutes of shaking you should notice that it has separated into butter and buttermilk.


Strain out the buttermilk and drop the butter into a shallow bowl.  You can use the buttermilk in baking, or use it to culture more cream.  At this point it really helps to have some butter paddles, but I'm sure a couple of spatulas would do the trick.  Squeeze between the paddles to get out more butter milk, strain this off.  Then pour a couple of tablespoons of cold water over the butter and work it in with the paddles.  More buttermilk will come out, strain it off.  Keep doing this until the water comes out clear - it took me about five goes.  Then take a spoon and eat your butter.  No, I didn't say that, but do try it  at this stage.

Keep your butter in the fridge.  I'm afraid I don't know how long it will last, as ours seems to disappear in a few days.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Left-over loaves

We make a big effort to try and keep our bread waste to an absolute minimum, but sometimes a stray stale loaf makes it back to our kitchen looking for a good home.  I have a couple of favourite ways of using up old bread, and the one I want to share today is Bread and Cheese Pudding.

I think Bread and Cheese Pudding might have taken the place of Macaroni Cheese as my top cheesy comfort food.  Back in the old days when I was a pasta eater, Macaroni Cheese with home-made tomato sauce used to be a big favourite of mine.  Whilst I've become reconciled to the idea of cauliflower cheese over the years, the presence of brassica gives it an air of virtue which is not entirely welcome in a comfort food situation.  Bread and Cheese Pudding made with wholemeal bread, with a mustard flavoured custard and crisp cheese topping, is nourishing, comforting, and downright delicious on a cold evening.

This is also a great way of using up a loaf you've forgotten to put the salt into, just add an extra teaspoon of salt to the custard mix.

Bread and Cheese Pudding

About five slices of slightly past-its-best wholemeal bread.
250ml whole milk
150ml creme fraiche
2 medium eggs
1 heaped teaspoon grainy mustard
Salt and Pepper
Good strong cheese, grated.  I leave the amount up to you - I like a great deal both in the custard (about 150g) and on the top (about 200g), but if you only have a small amount leave it for the top and have the custard without cheese in.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM 4.

Chop the bread into 3cm-ish cubes (you can arrange the slices artfully in the dish, if you like, but I find cubes less of a faff) and tip into an oven-proof dish.  Earthen-wear is good for a custard based dish.

Thoroughly mix together the milk, cream, eggs, mustard and salt and pepper, together with your cheese not destined for the top.  Pour over the bread cubes and top with the remaining grated cheese.  If you can, leave it for a hour or so at this stage to let the bread absorb some custard.

Place in the oven and bake for about an hour.  Check after 45 minutes by giving it a good poke right in the middle - the custard should be soft but no longer liquid.

Serve with tomato sauce, and even some green veg - if you're feeling especially virtuous!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Flour types for starters

Following the Cultured Cooking event in Cupar, Kerstin wrote to ask:

I could not get hold of rye flour yesterday in Cupar so started off with spelt - it might be a couple of weeks. Will there be a problem "converting" the starter later on?  Is it still ok to use strong flour in the actual bread as  that's what I have? And spelt. 

The yeasts and lacto-bacillae will consume any fermentable material you give them, so in terms of keeping the culture alive, there is no problem in feeding it with different kinds of flour. In my experience, softer flours (with less protein, and hence more carbohydrate) tend to ferment a little bit quicker than strong ones, and whole grain flours ferment a whole lot faster than white flours. Beyond that, yes, different flours do bring different characteristics both in terms of their own flavour and the kinds of fermentation they seem to promote. To some extent, all starters have something of their history in their characteristics (like all of us, I guess) - so a starter that has been 'converted' to spelt and back to rye might be a litle different from one which was rye all along,  but they are all good for making good bread.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Questions about sourness

Vitalyi, a fellow home-baker-turned-pro in Yekaterinburg, writes with some questions about leaven refreshment and sourness:

According to our experience we use 3hrs for fermentation and 2hrs 30mins
for final prove at 25 celcius. We have found that the shorter final proof, the
less oven spring is. When the final proof longs 2hrs, the volume of the loaf is
visibly less. Maybe there is another reason for the phenomenon.

My Reply:
Volume is greatest when the dough develops the right combination of strength (to trap gas) and elasticity (to stretch without tearing). When the
proof is too short, the dough is strong without being elastic and the
strength prevents expansion. This can cause bursting and tearing. When
the proof is too long the dough is elastic but strength lessens, and it
cannot hold so much gas - so volume suffers. An overprooved loaf tends
to flatten a little and may tear as it does so. But lots of things
contribute to dough development, not just the length of the final proof;
these include the ripeness of the leaven, the stiffness of the dough,
the temperature of the dough and the length of the initial ferment.


Is it crucial for the sourness of the final loaf that the starter should
be refreshed just before the mixing and kneading of the dough?

My reply:
This depends what you mean by 'just before'. The crucial factor is that the
the leaven should be correctly developed when it is added to the final
dough. What counts as 'correctly developed' depends on how you want your
bread to turn out. There are lots of ways to create sourness; in
general longer, cooler, stiffer ferments favour lacto-bacillic
fermentation (and thus result in more sourness), whilst short, soft,
warm ferments favour yeast fermentation (resulting in more gas
production). The trick is to balance flavour with texture and volume -
sourness is produced by acid; too much acid can harm the strength of the
dough. In my experience, 25 Celsius creates a good balance for a final
dough. I refresh my leaven twice before using it - the first time it is
warm (28 celsius or so), liquid (100% hydration) and short (4-6 hours),
the second is cool (less than 18 celsius), stiff (64% hydration for my
wholemeal wheat leaven) and long (12-16 hours, overnight). The first
creates lively yeasts, the second boosts the lacto-bacillae population.

Our wheat starter is maintained for more than half a year. We keep it
normally in refrigerator. Its water content is 100% and we feed it before
backing with 1:1 mixture of water and wholewheat flour, the weight of the
starter and the weight of the fresh dough being equal. Could you comment this
technique? How does it impact on the sourness of the final wheat bread? And why
do you use wholemeal rye leaven for the wheat bread? Is there any difference
between the words “starter” and “leaven”?

My reply:
100% hydration is a good compromise of the many factors affecting the action  of a starter. As a home-baker I maintained only one rye starter for
many years, and that was 100% hydration. I'm not sure that I have
understood the amount of starter that you use for refreshing - I use
20-40% of the flour weight, depending on how long I want to leave it for
and how warm the day is, so I might make 1.2kg of leaven using 500g
wholegrain rye flour, 500g water and 200g rye starter. See my above
comments about refreshing for some ideas about how different feeding
regimes impact on the final bread.

There isn't really any difference between 'starter' and 'leaven',
but I tend to use 'chef' for the perpetual culture that I keep in the
fridge, 'starter' for the first refreshment, and 'leaven' for the final
refreshment that gets used in the final dough.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Seasonal Schmeasonal

Provers, retarders and other electric temperature control devices have no place at the Steamie bakehouse. There isn't room, they're too expensive, and anyway, we're trying to minimize our power consumption. With us baking is very much a seasonal affair,  the details of temperature and humidity varying by the month. At this time of year, that means struggling to keep my dough warm and blowing on cold stiff fingers whilst I defrost the the van in the biting dark. Similarly, I LOVE cavolo nero, but I imagine I'd feel rather differently if I were responsible for harvesting the stuff. So in case anyone else is fed up with winter too, here's a decidedly a-seasonal lunch that we had today:

haggerty lunch

Griddled hearth haggerty (this week's special) and Cannellini bean hummus with paprika oil from Hugh Fernley-Wittingstalls new vegetable book (River Cottage Veg Everyday). Yum. Roll on summer!