Monthly Archives: May 2013


ImageWould you believe it’s the first time I’ve really tasted rhubarb? Bob despises it so I had to tread carefully. I also made this Hugh Fernley Whittingstall rhubarb compote with rose syrup just because I had trouble imagining the two flavours—then again, how could I since I had never even tasted rhubarb up till now. I think i was just seduced by how pink it all sounded. And indeed it was all pink and sweetness, but I wouldn’t exactly make it again.Image

Also tried this grated carrots and seeds rye sourdough from the repertoire of the very talented Tx Farmer on TFL. She who needs no introduction. I substituted poppy seeds and some oats for the linseed, otherwise kept to her recipe. Go, go make this! 



Du Pain et des Idées

ImageThis is from a rather famous boulangerie Du Pain et des Idées, whose founder has not shied away from controversy. I’ve tried some of their signature breads and found them good, but not as good as the hype would have you believe. Although I must say the croissant and chausson aux pommes I had were really good, especially the chausson aux pommes, which comes unusually with a dome enclosing diced apples. What makes me write this post, however, is the rye sourdough I bought recently, which turned out to be singularly disappointing. I didn’t ask the percentage of rye, but I thought it a bit odd how i was not really picking out any lovely bread smells, rye or wheat. It was flat-tasting and just plain. I thought to give it some time, for the taste to deepen and change overnight, as sourdough breads can do in the loveliest way, but no, it stayed…tasteless. Quite surprising, given the emphasis the bakery places on its sourdough breads – they have a very limited range and, if I’m not mistaken, they do not even have baguettes. The nougatine pastry, though, was nice, even if the insides were a tad underbaked. Might I add that their breads are some of the priciest in town.

Einkorn (and a little wheat) sourdough


The photo doesn’t do justice to how tasty this bread is. This is the first time I’ve baked with petit épeautre (einkorn) flour and what have I been missing all this while… I bought a packet of stoneground organic petit épeautre (einkorn) flour and at first I thought it was spelt (épeautre) since I have practically no experience with spelt. But as I bit into the bread, I knew this was no spelt. I’ve tried spelt before but didn’t find it to be very distinctive in taste (or I need to try a better flour). This was nutty, in particular, hazelnutty, and there was a lovely soft, almost cake-like texture to it and an interesting crunch to it as well. As if one had added a sugar topping or sprinkled the bottom with sugar. Absolutely, absolutely delicious; good creamy butter smeared atop complements it in the most wonderful way as well.

It reminded me of the Sicilian pane nero I tried in Italy, also made with an ancient wheat grain called tumminia. This was another really distinctive-tasting bread I couldn’t get enough of. I managed to get hold of a bag of this flour and must get round to using it. These ancient grains really ought to be preserved and made more accessible. There is one boulangerie in Paris, which I’ve written about, that uses ancient grains, but their bread schedule is a bit confusing. I once went down all the way just to get the breads, having made sure to call the day before to confirm, only to be told the special flour breads are only available on Sunday. Come to think of it, this petit épeautre can’t be spelt, since shops here carry épeautre, and petit épeautre (usually from Haute Provence) is easily twice the price. Apparently it’s much harder to grow and the returns are much lower, which must account for the higher price.

There was some wheat in the final dough and I would like to go for a higher hydration but I’ve never baked with einkorn before and don’t know if the denser crumb is normal. I noticed that after the autolyse, I practically didn’t have to fold for strength anymore, but that there was not much rise. I did an overnight fermentation to fit my schedule but would be interested to know how einkorn takes to long fermentation, etc. Chime in anyone who knows!

Einkorn-wheat sourdough loaf

Leaven build
35g      Starter (mine was wheat)
100g     Einkorn flour, T110, stoneground
70g      Water

I left this for about 7-8 hours at 15-17 degrees. There was not much sign of activity, but then again i’m only familiar with liquid leavens. There was some puffiness and doming.

Final dough
All of leaven above
270g     Einkorn flour
125g     T65 flour
250g     Water
8g     Salt

I did the usual autolyse, then two stretch-and-folds over a period of five hours from the time of mixing, mainly because I was running in and out of the house. It certainly didn’t double but felt lighter and airy enough. Shaped and proofed overnight in fridge. The next morning, it had risen a little more, was taken out of fridge one hour before baking.

Will send this off to Panissimo, an event created by Barbara of Bread & Companatico and Sandra of Indovina chi viene a Cena? and hosted this month by Michaela



I haven’t made bagels in over a year. I used to make them for my cousin and now i’m making them for Bob. Dug out my trusted Hamelman recipe. They weren’t quite the same: you just can’t do without the high-gluten, very strong flour to get that dense, chewy NY-style bagel, and I also had to substitute honey for malt syrup. I should be glad I even got bagels at all. I had skipped one line in the recipe (something about the faint print and the wide spacing between each ingredient column, and squinting at the book over your shoulder…i’ve almost tripped up over the ingredients many times) and I ended up with a ton more yeast than called for. Thankfully I realised the stupidity and tried frantically to scoop it out.

Hamelman’s recipe for the home baker halved (makes about 8 good-sized bagels)
450g                                High-gluten flour
262g                                Water
1 tsp                                 Diastatic malt powder
1/2 TBS                            Salt
slightly less than 1/2tsp    Instant yeast
Malt syrup & toppings of your choice

1. Mix all ingredients minus the malt syrup and knead hard. I did this by hand. The dough is very stiff so comes together very quickly. If, like me, you’re used to folding wet doughs, this will feel strange. When I used to use high-gluten Canadian flour with a mixer, the dough came together in seconds and was a hard, bound-up mass of dough. I now recognise this is quite essential to getting that dense bagel.

2.Proof for one hour.

3.Divide and shape. I lined a tray with parchment paper, sprinkled rice flour, then placed shaped bagels on top. No stickiness at all the next day. Then cling film and plastic bagged the lot, and into the fridge.

4.Preheat oven to 250 degrees celsius. Hamelman’s description of the next steps are for the professional kitchen, I reckon, with bagel boards etc. What I do instead is, when oven is about ready, bring a big pot of water to the boil and add malt syrup (honey in this case). Hamelman says to add enough syrup until the water resembles “strong tea”. Bear in mind that honey is lighter-coloured so you won’t be getting that dark look! Drop in as many bagels as you can without crowding them. Poach for less than a minute—they’re ready when they puff up and rise to the surface.

5.I then removed them with a slotted spoon and drained them on a dishcloth while I dropped the rest of the bagels into the pot. Then it’s just the toppings and into the oven they go. The wet bagels generate plenty of steam on their own, so no need to add moisture.

In about 20 mins, you’ll have your fresh bagels, and that’s always reason for cheer. Even though, in our case, it was more bready than bagelly. Also, please do make sure there’s some cream cheese (and lox!) on hand. We had ours with butter, and it’s just not the same.

bagels with spread

Milk Kefir Bread, and what we have in common

milk kefir crumb
A few years ago, someone gave me water and milk kefir grains, and I’ve always wanted to experiment with these in relation to bread-baking. All this was put on the back burner until i saw Joanna’s post. She also pointed me to Carl’s attempt. I decided it was time to reactivate my poor milk kefir grains that mostly languish in their pool of milk in the fridge. I made an attempt based on these two recipes.

150g Fermented milk using kefir grains (no grains!)
50g Water
75g Strong flour
15g Honey

Final Dough
All of preferment above
300g T65 flour
25g Olive oil
6g Salt
30g Fermented milk using kefir grains (again, no grains)

This bread required a special kind of patience, at least in the case of my kefir. When I first mixed the preferment, the texture was reminiscent of crepe batter, thin and in need of much whisking so the flour would not clump. Carl and Joanna cautioned that it would take a long time for the preferment to be ready, anything between 12-18 hours. Perhaps my kefir was still sluggish, perhaps it was because the temperature took a dip, but mine never doubled or showed signs of great activity. I should have taken photos, but if you look at Joanna’s photo of her preferment, it has the bubbles and poofy surface of a leaven, that is to say, something recognizable. Mine never came anywhere near. It would show promising signs of activity then back down. At the 20-hour mark, I thought I had two options: throw or try anyway. Of course, I had to try 🙂 So with great skepticism, I plodded ahead.

Both Joanna and Carl said they added extra water accordingly. On hindsight I could have gone for a higher hydration, but since I was not expecting much out of it anyway, I stopped when the dough seemed to come together. I used more KEFIR instead of water because I thought it might find that extra kick helpful! I probably overhandled the dough because I changed tins, then decided to shape it into two rolls instead of one long one, probably deflating more than one air bubble. Again, there was not much sign of life in the final dough—until I thought I’ll leave it in a spot of sunshine on the doorstep.

That’s where I realized my milk kefir and I are more alike than we think. We do not take kindly to the cold. Although kefir is said to originate from the Caucasus, which is anything but warm. In less than an hour, the dough had miraculously puffed up to almost double its size. I had noticed already when feeding the grains that it was quite sensitive to temperature. We read all the time about proofing dough at ‘room temperature’, but it’s still funny to see how a matter of a few degrees can make all the difference. (Btw, this idealized ‘room temperature’ always makes me laugh because one man’s room temperature is another’s sauna or fridge, just whose room temp are we talking about anyway???)

Anyway, so I happily proceeded to bake it, at too high a temp, which browned it too fast. But it was all right. Taste-wise, I can’t say it is any different from an enriched dough, except for a certain coolness. On the other hand, in spite of the very long fermentation, there was no hint of sourness at all. I’ve made sourdough brioches and pan de mie before, and I’ve been able to detect a slight tang in some of them. I wish I could scrutinize these colonies of yeast and bacteria under the microscope and see just how similar or different they are from the ones in the usual sourdough leavens. We had these over three days and I noticed they did not dry out at all. Hmm, I miss them already.

I’ll like to make these again, with a higher hydration and cutting out the oil and honey to perhaps get at a truer taste of a kefir bread. But first I’ll like to try to bake side by side loaves made from a usual water-, water kefir-, and milk-kefir fed leaven. Knowing me and my propensity to get distracted, this will take ages. I’ll also have to take the water kefir out of storage! Anyway, thanks to Joanna, Carl, and another blogger Cecilia, who sparked off Joanna and Carl’s attempts!

milk kefir loaf