Chilly chilli bread

It’s darn cold here in the UK right now. Not necessarily the darkest depths of double digit negatives but it is colder than we’re used to and snow is forecast. Keeping the north side of our house warm in temperatures like this can be a challenge. A key heating strategy is cooking, especially in the mornings.

Does it surprise you to know The Birdhouse is a sourdough kinda place? Surely not. And today was a sourdough kinda day. As are most days. Preheat the oven, bake for an hour or so, eat warm bread. All in the name of breakfast.

Birdhouse sourdough starter

We always have a sourdough starter on the go. A regular feed and warmth -with the occasional vacation in the fridge- keeps it lively and tasty. Our starter began life as equal weight of flour and water. Fed until it was a robust, living, breathing member of the family.

The idea is that the natural yeasts and bacteria found on grains (and so in flour) multiply over the first few days of warmth and feeding. After the natural balance of microorganisms has battled it out and found harmony, this foamy starter can then be used in place of bakers’ yeast to make a leaven loaf.

When we started on our sourdough adventure we endlessly pored over images, recipes, blogs and FAQs from a couple of sources: Vanessa Kimbell at The Sourdough School and Maurizio at The Perfect Loaf. 

Our own tried and tested recipe and method is as follows:

The ingredients:

  • 100g of sourdough starter (not recently fed but not ravenous)
  • 300g of water
  • 500g of flour
  • 10g salt mixed into 15g water

All the ingredients are in grams as this just makes adding everything easy. It seems to be sourdough convention to do it this way. This is not a quick bread. Our dough generally takes 24 hours to get from jar to plate. This is a slow, cool, fermenting prove, not a quick, hot and tasteless affair. Minimal effort, spaced over a leisurely day. Once you get into a routine it’s difficult to get it wrong.

This morning we have chosen to add a good tablespoon of our Prairie Fire fermented hot sauce. Surely that will keep the frostbite at bay. We’ve mixed it with the salt and reduced the water accordingly.

The method:

  1. Mix the ingredients. No need to build up a sweat kneading, just bring it quickly together into a smooth dough in a bowl.
  2. Leave the bowl, in a warm place with a damp tea towel over the top for 20 minutes or so. This allows the microbes a chance to do their thing with the fresh flour.
  3. Then add the salt & extra water and poke it into the dough with your fingertips until there is little or no liquid remaining. You can’t add the salt too soon as it might kill off the fermenters.
  4. Lift and stretch and fold the dough in half. Do this four times: once to the top, once to the right, once to the bottom and once to the left.
  5. Leave the dough to sit for another 20 mins. Repeat the folding pattern.
  6. Leave for another 20 minutes, repeat fold.
  7. Last time, after 20 mins, fold away. You can leave longer than 20 minutes between each stage. Let it fit in with whatever else you are doing that day.
  8. Prepare your proving basket. We have bamboo bannetons. They add the iconic sourdough concentric circles of flour to the loaf. Dust out any older flour. Sprinkle a little cornflour, or polenta or semolina flour. Anything to stop the sticky dough sticking to the basket.
  9. Transfer the dough to your proving bowl. The bottom of this dough will be the top of your loaf so try and place a smooth side down into the basket.
  10. Cover the basket with a damp tea towel and place in the fridge overnight. This will allow the dough to prove slowly and the fermented sour flavour to develop. Baking can take place anytime within the next couple of days.
  11. Preheat the oven and baking vessel to 220 degrees. We bake in a dutch oven/casserole with a lid.
  12. Carefully turn out the dough and place into the baking dish. Pretty side up.
  13. Score the surface of the dough with a very sharp knife or razor. This allows the steam to escape as the bread rises and keeps the shape round and even. We have a birdie shape we like to add.
  14. Bake the loaf for an hour with the lid on.
  15. Remove the lid and reduce the temperature to 180 degrees.
  16. Bake for another 15-45 minutes depending on how dark and crisp you like you crust. By the way, it’s all about the crust.
  17. Take the loaf out and let it rest for a while. The final steam will come out and make carving a whole lot easier.

At steps 4-7 you can add all sorts of yummy ingredients: spices, herbs, seeds, nuts, flowers, fruit, cold porridge, sauces and pickles, sugars, syrups and honey, colours, veggies, cheese, pieces of meat, oils. The list is endless. At step 8 you can put a topping in the base of your banneton. We like rosemary springs, sesame seeds, walnut halves and chilli flakes (natch).

Just use your judgement regarding how these additional ingredients will affect the prove, consistency and bake of your loaf. Perhaps reduce the water? Maybe a little extra flour? An extra coating in the banneton? Baking is a science that requires thought, not just blindly following a recipe.

We love a dark chocolate, lime and coconut loaf as a breakfast bread. The basic recipe is an excellent way to use up the end of a pack of… whatever really. But today, it’s Prairie Fire chilli sourdough. Watch out, ‘coz here we come!

Birdhouse chilli sourdough loaf

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