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

Idle hands

It’s been too long, maybe actual hours, since the last chilli featured in our lives. Well, that’s not strictly true as we eat chilli with most meals and are compulsively checking the nursery of chilli seeds for germination and leaf growth. So to be more honest, we have not made a chilli product in a while and, after the scrummy success of the fermented jars, we are itching to experiment. Tricky though, as homegrown fresh chillies are not easily forthcoming in January in the UK. However, a local supermarket comes up with the goods.  Let’s get fermenting!

We’ve been discussing other ingredients for the fermenting jars. Pineapple is on the list, as is ginger, turmeric root, rose petals, cola, bay, mango and lemongrass.  With this far flung candy box of ingredients in mind, my attentions turn to our stores. What do we have that can be bubbled up in a jar and turned into a tasty chilli sauce?

It turns out we have some peaches, jalapeños, white onion, lime, garlic and coriander seed. Chopped up, salted and topped up with water. Current status: inert. Give it a couple of days in the sunny windowsill and Mather Nature will work her magic.



Fermenting jar of peaches, white onion, limes, garlic, jalapeños, salt and coriander seed. Top up with water and twist on the lid.

All bottled up

In the lull before the growing season, what to do? Two out of three seed orders have arrived but it seems silly to start chitting without the other seeds. Email query sent, the thumbs are twiddling again. Ahhh, the fermented chillies! That’s what we can do.

At the end of the harvest season we collected and bottled a range of chillies. Not vast quantities but enough to play with. One jar of whole Prairie Fire chillies (plus garlic, turmeric and ginger slices). The chillies were too hot, too small and too seedy to be of much use.  Another jar filled with deseeded red Scotch Bonnet chillies and a last jar of mixed peppers (Aji Limon, Bulgarian Carrot, Fresno, Big Bomb & Jalapeños) all deseeded with garlic. Salt and water was added and the ferment was ON!


The jars were left on the south facing windowsill. They made a beautiful display. Then things got a bit lively. Fizzing and overflowing despite the lids being screwed on super tight. Saucers were put under the jars and they were left to continue their journey. They’ve been sitting there since October, quietly bubbling, fermenting and developing a wonderful flavour.

It turns out that making a fermented hot sauce is not tricky at all. Strain the contents of the jar. Whizz up the chillies with a bit of the fermenting water, some apple cider vinegar and this case, some honey. Other flavours can be added at any stage of the process. Cook it up and/or can it if you want it to halt the fermenting process there & keep outside of the fridge. If not, it will keep for a month or so in the fridge, and will continue to ferment.

And the end result? Fermented super hot Prairie Fire chillies make…yes you guessed it…a super hot chilli sauce. The mixed peppers made a more orangey hued sauce. Hardly any heat (although maybe my mouth was numb from tasting the Prairie Fire sauce?) Yummy all round flavour. The Scotch Bonnet sauce is beautiful. An almost glowing scarlet sauce with a stunning flavour. Hot, yes, but the flavour is worth it. Off to order some more Scotch Bonnet seeds for this year, despite the Chinense category being over subscribed already.

Left to right: Prairie Fire, mixed peppers, Scotch Bonnet