Five Ways To Revv Up Your Sourdough Game
So you've caught the baking bug too, huh? It's so addictive! Coming from a good knowledge of fermentation, I've dived deep into sourdough these past few months with vigour (and a shitload of spare time) and have moved beyond the humble batard on occasion. While there are many different tweaks you can make to improve your loaf - most of which are overly complicated, found on ex-engineer's 5000-word blog posts - here are five simple ideas I'm sharing with you to try out yourself and think bigger and better! (No offense batard, we still adore you).
1 - Fruit it up!
Fruit loaf has to be one of my all-time FAVOURITE things, a childhood throwback. It's so simple to modify your basic loaf recipe into a fruity fluff ball with a couple of small tweaks.
Try adding 100g of currants and 50g of chopped figs (per loaf) into your flour mix, along with a teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Mix it up with the zest of half an orange, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, or infuse your baking water with chai tea for extra spice! I've just eaten two slices and, well, I'm glad I made a double batch..!
2 - Pimp your crust.
The crowning glory of a beautiful boule is a crisp, thick crust. How about making it a little fancy? My favourite thing at the moment is to bake an oat-crusted loaf, it looks so good! After the final shape but before I put the dough into it's tin for a cold proof, I wet my hands, rub the water over the dough's surface, then roll it in oats to coat it. They stick beautifully! You can also try this with sesame seeds, pepitas, or a homemade seed mix - delish!
3 - Get steamy.
If you're baking without a dutch oven (such as in loaf tins or on a hot stone), be sure to add steam to your oven for a bigger, better oven spring (rise). Steam helps to soften the surface of the dough as it bakes so, as air lifts the dough and gets trapped within the gluten strands, it can expand plenty before the outer crust becomes hard and limits its size. I place a shallow baking tray in the bottom of my oven and pour about half a centimetre of hot water in just before adding my loaves. It's a game-changer! If you find you had a bit too much water and steamed the loaf the whole bake, cool your loaf with the oven door ajar to make sure you still achieve a crispy crust.
4 - Set yourself a challenge.
Experimentation is at least half the fun of baking, in my opinion! I recommend making a dough you're comfortable with, and turning it into something different. Think a bubbly, herb-crusted foccacia (just flatten and add herbs, sliced onion, garlic and olive oil, then dimple with your fingers and bake until golden); beautiful cinnamon scrolls (flatten dough, coat with a layer of butter, cinnamon and brown sugar, roll up, slice and bake until golden and caramelised); or dinner rolls (cut dough into small portions, shape and bake bunched up on a tray with steam until golden). Dough is so versatile, and there are no rules. Even without a recipes, challenge yourself! You won't regret it!
5 - Share the love.
Less related to loaf improvement and more related to feeling great, bake a loaf for someone and surprise them with it. I do this quite regularly, especially when experimenting (as we'd never be able to eat all the loaves I make!) and it's always so well received. I know I'm stoked when people share something they've handmade with me, especially without warning, and I think it's a tradition a little lost in the world that is 2020. So go on, pop a crusty loaf on your neighbour's, Aunty's or Nana's doorstep and you can both revel in the loveliness that is sharing of fresh bread! What a gift.
Keep an eye out for my sourdough eBook, due for release late August 2020!
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