Welsh Rarebit

Ok so this isn’t a recipe for bread – in fact it’s barely a recipe at all; it’s basically a glorified cheese on toast… but still… Welsh rarebit is one of those comfort foods thats great for a Sunday night dinner.

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Fresh out of the grill – the mixture soaks through the bread and browns on top

Being from Stoke, I find it hard to get past Staffordshire oatcakes as the best vehicle for melted cheese but, I have to admit, this comes a close second. When the mixture is made, it seems as though the resulting liquid will be far too runny to do anything other than leak all over the baking tray and make a mess. But once the bread absorbs the liquid and as soon as it is placed under the grill, it begins to develop a dark, bubbly crust. It also uses more of that dark ale from the previous post, and is a fantastic excuse for using some thick slices of the dark ale sourdough.

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Essential ingredients – a good beer and a hot mustard

Welsh Rarebit – serves 2

  • 100g grated mature cheddar cheese
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 25g butter
  • 1/4 tsp mustard powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1tbsp of beer (optional)
  • 4 slices of sourdough bread
  1. Preheat grill to high.
  2. Combine the milk and cheese in a pan over a medium heat and stir until melted. Stir in the butter, and then the remaining ingredients. Remove from the heat.
  3. Place the four thick slices of sourdough onto a baking tray. Slowly pour over the cheese mixture, allowing it to soak into the bread. Don’t worry if some leaks out.
  4. Place under the grill for 4-5 minutes, until the top has browned.
  5. Serve immediately.
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Baking Maths – The Baker’s Percentage

I’ve written posts in the past about the ingredients used in creating new bread recipes, and about the standard skills that I apply to each of my loaves. There is, however, a step before all of this that needs some attention: planning.

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Working out a new recipe on paper, before the trial and error of baking

When I started baking a few years ago, I relied on fairly simplistic recipes with reliable outcomes. I began with recipes like Jamie Oliver’s foccacia, which produced a good result every time. As my own baking skills developed, the recipes I used became more complicated, leading to sourdoughs and enriched, sweet breads.

Along the way I came across a book that I have mentioned on here before: Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and one part in particular has changed the way I plan and bake bread: The baker’s percentage.

The Baker’s Percentage

The purpose of a baking formula is to place all of the ingredients in relation to the flour used in the recipe. The reason for this is that, with a few simple calculations, it is possible to work out not only how much of each ingredient to use, but also to predict the outcome of the bread. As Reinhart himself writes,

“possession of this knowledge will strengthen your ability to control the outcome of your baking.” (p. 40).

So, how does it work? The total flour weight, or TFW, is always represented as 100%. From this, the other values are calculated. Using my most recent recipe, for beetroot sourdough, this would mean that 1000g of all purpose flour + 200g rye flour from the starter would equal 100% in the formula.

  • 1kg all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 670g water
  • 400g rye starter @ 100% hydration (200g starter + 200g water)
  • 18g salt
  • 430g raw beetroot, coarsely grated

From this, the rest of the ingredients can be converted by dividing the ingredient weights (I) by the total flour weight (TFW), and multiplying by 100. So, for the water: (I/TFW)x100 = ((670+200) / 1200)x100 = 72.5%.

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The beetroot sourdoughs – 67% hydration with 40% starter

As a start, this not only gives the amount of water, but also the hydration of the final dough. Applying this to the rest of the ingredients gives the following:

Total Flour (including flour from starter): 100%
Total Water (including water from starter): 72.5%
Salt: 1.5%
Beetroot: 35.8%

Some other aspects of this bread can now be worked out from the formula. 72.5% hydration is fairly high, but still not as high as, for example, a ciabatta. This dough will probably be fairly wet, but will hold its shape. The high amount of starter means that the total bulk ferment and proof time will be relatively short for a sourdough, and unless the dough is refrigerated, it will need to be made and baked on the same day or it will overproof. The amount of salt (1.5%) is appropriate, as most breads will have between 1.5 and 2%.

A knowledge of this basic formula has many applications. If you find a recipe you like, but feel that it is perhaps a little dense, then you can increase the hydration and experiment. Similarly, if you wish to manage the proofing time, you can alter the percentage of starter or yeast. If a bread is too bland, you can safely increase the amount of salt, but without going much beyond that 2% guideline.

These ciabatta have a very high hydration, meaning that the very
These ciabatta have a very high hydration, meaning that the very “slack” dough can be difficult to shape

I have actually slightly changed this post following a discussion on The Fresh Loaf. Originally, I was following Reinhart’s advice and treating the starter as an ‘ingredient’. However, I have been convinced that breaking it down into the flour and water, and adding those to make the total flour weight, is a far better approach. The slightly more complex approach gives a more accurate result: treating the starter as a 400g ingredient gives a hydration of 67% (670g of water to 1000g flour). Breaking it down gives 72.5% (870g water to 1200g flour). There is quite a difference between 67 and 72% hydration, so from now on I’ll be using the latter approach.

I will be following up on this post with further ones down the track, writing about how to use the baker’s percentage to scale up or down the number of loaves, to change the size of loaves, and to “troubleshoot” recipes. The topic itself can get very confusing – my advice as a homebaker would be to find something that works, and leave the fine-tuning to the professionals!

dmsnyder at The Fresh Loaf has an excellent post on Baker’s Percentages here.

If you wish to learn more about baker’s percentages, I would highly recommend getting a hold of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

This loaf is around 70% hydration - not quite as wet as a ciabatta, but dry enough to hold shape as a
This loaf is around 70% hydration – not quite as wet as a ciabatta, but dry enough to hold shape as a “boule”

Wholemeal spelt sourdough

This sourdough uses a method from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice to increase the fermentation time, resulting in a more complex flavour and a well developed crumb. The method involves using cold water and an overnight fermentation, and I have added an extra proofing stage to help with the irregular, aerated crumb.
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I shaped this batch of dough into 6 rough baguettes, two of which I cut into “épi” or “wheat” shaped loaves. This amount could be made into two free form loaves or three small tin loaves.

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Wholemeal Spelt Sourdough
200g rye starter at 100% hydration
500g cold water
600g wholemeal spelt flour
20g salt

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Rest for 20 min, then stretch and fold for 5 min.
2. Rest for 30 min, then stretch and fold a dozen times. Repeat this step twice more.
3. Refrigerate the dough in a bowl, covered in cling film, overnight.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge and rest at room temperature for two hours.
5. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Rest for 5 min, then stretch the dough out into rough baguette shapes. The dough is quite wet and slack, so either flour or water your hands and the work surface. Place each baguette onto baking paper on a baking tray.
6. Preheat oven to max. Proof loaves for one and a half hours. Slash baguettes just prior to baking.
7. If making épi, cut into the dough with a pair of scissors almost parallel to the surface of the dough. Swing the cut piece away from the dough but be careful not to cut all the way through. Repeat the cut, moving along the baguette, in roughly 8cm gaps.
8. Bake for 10 min, check and reduce temperature of necessary. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

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