Thursday, 17 December 2009

A visit to Gilchesters Flour Mill

We buy all of our ingredients from a wholesaler in Glasgow called Greencity. One of my favourite brands of flour is Gilchesters. They are based in Northumberland, where they both grow and mill all their grain. Their doing both the farming and the milling means that they can tell us absolutely everything about their flour, from the soil it was grown in to the speed of the stones that ground it. They can even, should we wish to know, tell us the name of the driver of the combine harvester which brought in the crop.

Although I really like such an amazing level of traceability, what I enjoy about the flour is the way it behaves when I use it to bake. Both their wheat and spelt flours make lovely doughs which feel just right in the hands. They also bake into a well structured and very flavoury loaf, and do so consistently.

So it was a great pleasure to be able to visit their mill on Monday. Our map was not as up to date as it might have been, but Andrew Wilkinson did not seem in the slightest bit put out at the lateness of our arrival. He was also extremely generous with his time, showed us all over the operation, and shared his astonishing depth of knowledge about grain nutrition, the subject of his PhD.

This conversation was, for me, the real joy of our visit. As well as learning a great deal of detail concerning topics about which I had previously only a cursory knowledge, I came away inspired and with a feeling of something like validation about the whole grain, naturally leavened breads that I like to make. It's not just that I think they taste better (and by 'taste', I really mean everything about the experience, from the fragile crispness of the warm crust in the hands to the comfortable satiation after eating). It is that there is a great deal of research which describes in detail the ways in which these breads are nutritionally superior to those produced by the chorley wood process, around 85% of bread in the UK.

Gilchesters flour is grown and milled with these nutritional qualities very much in mind. It isn't the reason we buy their flour; we do that because it makes super bread. It is very reassuring, though, to know that behind this lovely flour is a deep and knowledgeable concern for our nutrition.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Levelling the Steamie

My brother-in-law Ben visited us on Monday, eager to get his hands calloused with a little building work, so he, Matthew and our friend Dave - downstairs neighbour and Boss of the Job - got on with making the walls of the Steamie ready to receive the roof.

As the Steamie is at least a hundred years old and not of the finest construction this involved some considerable mixing of rubble and cement and tipping into gaps and other bodges. There are 'bellies' on the walls of thirty centemetres, the walls were sitting at several levels. In addition some of the walls are double-skin brick, one single-skin brick and one a brick and stone combo. However, on a beautiful sunny day they got it levelled.

Checking the to see if the chasm is filled

Ben got to do some brick laying to build up a low corner of the building; the girls had to be restrained from clambering on piles of half bricks and the rickety scaffolding; Matthew and Ben hauled rubble around and we filled up all the weely bins for the tenement with stuff (why do building sites acquire stuff?). Finally, as the sun was setting at about three in the afternoon, Dave got the damp-proof layer down and the walls level. This means that on the next fine day when we're not baking and the Boss isn't on another job we can get the A frame for the roof made. Seems a tall order for December, but we hope it can be done before Christmas.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Buttermilk Scones

When the owner of Reuben's asked if we could do scones for the cafe my thoughts turned at once to buttermilk scones.

Simple buttermilk scones have no additional fat (i.e. no rubbing in!), no eggs (critical for us as we have an egg intolerant daughter) and use the reaction of the lactic acid in buttermilk with the alkali of bicarbonate of soda to rise - so you don't get that baking-powdery taste to them.

Simple, I though, be there in a jiffy. Oh, how wrong! Three weeks later, countless batches of scones baked, many inches added to the waist line in tasting, and almost (but not quite) getting fed up of making and eating scones, I think I've cracked it.

I started using a recipe in Catherine Brown's Scottish Cookery with the addition of soaked raisins and sugar. It was delicious, but too wet to handle. Somehow the scones got wetter and wetter as I tinkered with levels of soaking water, fruit and buttermilk. After about five batches which were more batter than dough I had the wetness level under control, but couldn't get the cooking time right. In the end I realised that although putting the scones in the oven on the back of a batch of bread was economical for fuel, the kiln shelves we use to mimic a bread oven were cooking the bottoms too quickly. So I moved the shelves, and, bingo, the scone I'd been looking for. Luckily the cafe agreed, or I think I might have been put off for life!

Here's the recipe.

Buttermilk Scones

160g fresh milk and 20g buttermilk culture, or 180g buttermilk *
100g raisins
40g hot water
30g light muscovado sugar
150g fine wholemeal flour
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 dsspn demerera sugar

24 hours (or 12 if you have a warmer house than us!) before you want to make the scones mix your buttermilk culture into the fresh milk. Pour the hot water onto the raisins. Cover both and leave at room temperature.

When you are almost ready to cook preheat your oven to 225C.

Butter a baking sheet and dust with flour.

Mix the sugar into the soaking raisins and stir well.

Sift the flours, salt and bicarb together into a mixing bowl.

Make a well in the centre of the flours.

Mix the 160g of the buttermilk into the raisins and sugar and pour them into the well into the centre of the flours.

Working quickly, using a fork or wooden spoon, work the flour into the liquid until it is all incorporated. You want to do this as quickly as possible, the lightness of the scones depends on it!

Tip the dough straight onto the baking sheet and, with lightly floured hands, pat it flat and shape into a circle. Taking a long knife cut the circle into six sections, flouring the knife between each cut. With a pastry brush brush the top using some of the retained 20g of buttermilk (don't use too much), then sprinkle the top with demerera sugar.

Pop into the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the top is pleasantly golden brown.

Attempt to wait until it's cool before breaking into farles and smothering with butter, jam and creme fraiche.

* We're lucky here in Fife that buttermilk is reasonably easy to get hold of. I use a lot of it, so I maintain my own culture. This is very straightforward to do. Fill a clean jar with milk almost to the top, stir in a dessert spoon of the dregs of your last lot of buttermilk (or a bought pot). Leave at room temperature until it has very slightly solidified. Then refrigerate. Mine usually lasts 10 days or so before getting a slight sharp smell, at which point I usually bin it. I try to refresh the culture once a week to keep things sweet and fresh!

Friday, 27 November 2009

From this week . . .

From this last crazy week we have learnt some useful things.

That doing an over-night prove, early morning bake and then needing to mix that day is not a good idea. To get the mixing off on the right foot we have to start at 8.00, and that means breakfast over and kitchen cleared of family stuff and into bread-prep state. You just can't do that if you've been baking already that morning. Things got so behind yesterday that Matthew was up until after midnight, and then up at six to bake again. We're a bit tired!

That baker's children do eat bread, but it mainly comes in the form of rolls made from left-over bits of dough after the loaves have been weighed out!

That a big bake is better than doing dribs and drabs. To that end we've agreed with Reuben's that we'll deliver bread to them three times a week and do no more than that until the steamie is done.

That I need meal planning to work around the baking schedule so that we have 'instant' lunches and suppers in the slow cooker on dough days.

That we would be lost without Matthew's mother, Rosie, who saved us on Tuesday after our first big bake by taking us out to the unbeatable Kushi's for a lunch-time curry. We might not have made it through the day without it. And she's going to let us store a big flour order in her lovely new garden room so that we can meet the minimum order for Green City and not have to drive to Glasgow again (in her car!).

That we need an early night. Now!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Baking again!

We had a call from Reuben's deli this morning to say that they had all but sold out and could we bake more for tomorrow.

It seems that there may be a market for decent bread in Dunfermline!

And look at our lovely new logo . . .

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The long road to a loaf

Today we delivered our first small batch of loaves to our local deli. We're completely exhausted, but delighted to have got over the hurdle of the first 'full' bake, especially as Matthew was writing the web site at the same time.

Baking sourdough bread is a slow process. For the batch of loaves delivered this morning (Tuesday) we started on Saturday night. At that point Matthew calculated the amount of started needed to make leaven for the four different loaves we were to make - sourdough, brown, oat and five grain - and mixed up the rye and wheat starters.

On Sunday night the leavens for the oat and grainy loaves were mixed up. This involves mixing a small amount of the sourdough starter with flour and water and letting the yeasts and acids develop over night. I measured out the grains and put them in the slow cooker. Those are the ones in the picture in the previous post - oat, wheat, spelt, rye and barley.

On Monday the serious work began. Matthew mixed up the doughs for the oat and the grainy loaves whilst I kept the girls occupied elsewhere - trying to answer a stream of 'why' questions whilst measuring out oats does not make for ideal dough mixing conditions! They were kneaded periodically throughout the morning.

At two the oat and grainy doughs were measured out and put into their tins and left to rise in our cool-ish kitchen.

At four o'clock Matthew mixed up the dough for the sourdough (basically a light brown, hand shaped) and the brown. They were kneaded over the next few hours.

Things were going very well to plan at this point. Thereafter we slipped at bit with timings, partly because I selfishly took myself off to yoga at half past five! Also because Matthew was desperately trying to get the website up and running .

The tinned loaves were baked at eight in the evening coming out after an hour.

The brown and sourdough shaped and put in the retarder at ten. We finally fell into bed at about half eleven.

Matthew got up in the wee small hours to get the hand shaped loaves in the oven. I confess I took this picture at the weekend at a rather more civilised hour.

It is a long process, and at this stage a lot of work for a small batch, but we need to start small whilst we don't have a proper bread oven. However, in spite of the long process, it is a gentle one. There are many hours in the day, even on a busy mixing and baking day such as Monday when the dough is happily doing it's thing by its self. One of the reasons for wanting to bake like this is to work together more, but also to have more time to spend all together as a family, and at the moment sourdough baking on site seems well suited to this.

As if to prove this point I managed to accidentally take an hour long nap with E this afternoon. Ooops. Matthew and S managed to look after themselves whilst I dreamed of scones. Of which more later . . .

Oh, and the deli sold half of our first batch. Which, on an especially foul and wet Tuesday, we're pretty pleased about.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A Trade Account

Today I drove with the girls through driving wind and rain to pick up our first order as The Steamie, from the Green City Cooperative in Glasgow. They have a minimum order, so rather than clog up our small flat with flour we don't yet need, we decided borrow a car to go and pick it up. Not a very environmentally friendly start, but we did combine it with a trip to the Burrell Collection for S and E.

This means we are almost ready to go with the small scale baking which we will be doing whilst the steamie is converted. However, it also means that our sitting room floor is covered with grains and flour. Better get baking . . .

We plan to spend the weekend perfecting the processes we will need for supplying the deli. We have a large oven, but I suspect getting the timings right for different stages of the bread making will take a little practice. I also have to grit my teeth and wear one of the most unattractive hats I've ever seen if I handle the dough. But my carefully crafted HACCP-based Health and Safety regulations say I must, so I must!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Welcome to The Steamie Bakehouse

Welcome to The Steamie Bakehouse. We began baking our own bread five years ago when the bread stall stopped coming to our local market and we found that we just didn't want to eat supermarket bread any more. Since those first tentative loaves we have learned, through reading, conversation, eating and experimenting, to bake bread that is, to us, delicious, healthy, attractive, nutritious, and respectful of the environment and our location in the world.

About eighteen months ago we realised that we wanted to sell our bread, and that it was good enough that other people might want to eat it! Since then we have been working on the bread and on our future bakehouse. That's the Steamie.

The Bakehouse is going to be created out of the shell that once was the steamie for the tenement building in which we have a flat. Steamies were communal wash-houses built on the shared ground of many Victorian and Edwardian tenements. When we moved into this flat two and a half years ago our steamie looked as if it might blow down in a stiff wind - and living on a hill in Fife, we get plenty of those! Right now it has four re-pointed walls and a window frame, soon it's going to need to earn it's keep.

This blog will record our journey in baking bread, building a bakehouse and creating a community oven.