Beetroot Sourdough

It’s been a long while since I posted a recipe, but in the gap I have been baking more or less weekly, and adjusting my sourdough technique to make baking fit around my work and home life. The most important aspects of baking for me – other than the final quality and taste of the bread – are the time and effort it takes to make a loaf.

Whilst I occasionally have time to spend a few hours attending to a dough (as for croissants, or puff pastry), generally I want the best results in the least time possible.

“Time”, however, is fairly subjective when it comes to sourdough. From start to finish, most of my loaves take three or four days to make. Whilst this might seem like a long time – when compared to, for example, a plain white loaf that takes a couple of hours from start to finish – it’s the amount of contact time with the bread that I’m interested in.

So, to get back into the swing of blogging, I’ll be writing a series of posts demonstrating the different methods I have been working with of baking quality bread with very little effort or contact time. The first of these is a beetroot sourdough. This bread was inspired by a recipe in Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Breada book I came across a few years ago in England. I have also used Hadjiandreou’s recommended “stretch and fold” method of kneading the bread. In other recipes, I will discuss the merits of “no-knead” bread. For this one, however, I think that the beetroot is better incorporated into the dough with a little extra attention.

All of these recipes require an active starter. That means – for a weekend bake – feeding a starter on Thursday or Friday (about 5 minutes), combining the dough ingredients the following morning (5 minutes), doing a few stretch and fold kneads (another 5 minutes…), and dividing and shaping (5-10 minutes). The total “contact time” of these breads then is less than half an hour – for the rest of the time they just sit around and do their thing on the kitchen bench.

For recipes for the rye starter, baking skills, and some of the terminology such as “hydration“, see some of my previous posts and the glossary.

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Two large sourdough boules, studded with fresh beetroot

Beetroot Sourdough – makes 2 large loaves

  • 1kg all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 670g water
  • 400g rye starter @ 100% hydration
  • 18g salt
  • 430g raw beetroot, coarsely grated
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, water, and starter. Autolyse for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Add beetroot and salt. Knead to incorporate. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or cling film and bulk ferment on the counter for 4 hours. During this time, stretch and fold the dough several times – still in the bowl, grab a portion of the dough, lift it, and fold it back on itself. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat the stretch and fold. Repeat several times.
  3. After the dough has risen by about a third, tip dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide and shape into two balls. Rest for 20 minutes.
  4. After resting, shape again into ‘boules’. Place into well floured bannetons or bowls. Proof for 2 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to maximum with a Dutch oven (or ‘Le Crueset’ style cast iron pot) on the middle shelf.
  6. Score the first loaf, and bake in the Dutch oven for 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid, reduce the temperature to 230˚C, and bake for a further 15 minutes.
  7. Carefully remove to a wire rack and rest for at least one hour. Repeat with the remaining loaf.

Because of the beetroot I have found that this bread will not last as long as other sourdoughs before going stale. Once it is cool enough, if you are not planning on eating soon, I would recommend slicing it and freezing.

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Two beetroot sourdough boules proofing – the pink colour bakes out but the beetroot remains

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Awards and a sourdough holiday

A big thank you to lapetitepaniere for the nomination of the Dragon’s Loyalty Award, which encourages connectivity between blogs. I have made a decision not to follow the whole process of nominating more blogs, because there are so many great blogs out there that I feel the process would be never ending if I started now! Congratulations to all of the other bloggers nominated for that and other awards though, and I am very pleased to have been nominated so soon after starting this blog.

Another reason that I will not be carrying on the nomination process is that I am taking a short break from baking and blogging. I have fed my sourdough starter (I left myself a note so that I did not forget…) and stashed it at the back of the fridge until I will need it in a couple of weeks. Feeding it before leaving it for a while generally ensures that it will be easy to reinvigorate when you next use it; however, it is still a good idea to look for the following signs of deterioration:

  • Black liquid on the surface – this is OK, it is just the ethanol (alcohol) from the fermentation. It can be tipped off or stirred back in.
  • Overfermentation – this could happen as it has just been fed; the starter might explode out of the jar and into the fridge…
  • An ‘off’ smell – you would know something was wrong if you smelled it. A good starter has a sweet, cidery smell, a bad starter smells awful.
  • Mould – white/grey mould is OK, just scrape it off. Green mould is bad, throw it away.

So, all going well we should have a sluggish but still active starter to bake with in a couple of weeks.

Don't forget to feed the starter before going away!
Don’t forget to feed the starter before leaving it!

Das ist nicht brot

So, five posts down and I’ve already strayed from bread to write about something else. I’ll justify it by saying that this German ‘friendship’ sourdough cake uses many of the same techniques as a sourdough bread (sort of), and that any cake that tastes this great can be written about anywhere.

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The German Friendship Sourdough Cake

A couple of weeks ago I gave a portion of my rye sourdough starter to a colleague who, coincidentally, had brought a tupperware full of German cake starter to work on the same day. Starters exchanged, I spent the next ten days stirring, feeding, watching, and wondering if this cake was going to turn out edible. I generally have mixed success with desserts, and my wife steps in as she is much better at sweets than I; but, I thought, surely a sourdough cake would be as simple as a sourdough loaf, so why not?

Sourdough starter, bubbling away in its fetching green bowl
Sourdough starter, bubbling away in its fetching green bowl

Luckily I was rewarded with an incredibly easy to make and extremely moist, delicious fruit cake, that even I could not manage to burn/undercook/drop on the floor. The point of the German ‘friendship’ cake is to feed up the starter to a point where there is enough to bake your own cake, and give three portions away to friends. Having dutifully forced two containers onto other co-workers, I kept an extra portion to make again, with some slight adjustments to the recipe, which is as follows (the original recipe, including how to make the starter, can be found here):

German ‘friendship’ sourdough cake

Starter

  • One ‘portion’ (about 250g) of starter – if you are unable to find someone to inherit the starter from, then you can make your own from scratch and begin harassing your neighbours with the original recipe.
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups warm milk

Cake

  • 1 portion of starter, after feeding cycle
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 heaped tsp cinnamon
  • 2 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

The starter feeding cycle

The following assumes that you have been given a portion of starter on ‘Day one’:

  1. Day 1-3: Leave starter in a container at room temperature, with no lid. Stir every day. It should double in size each day until you stir it and knock the air out.
  2. Day 4: Feed with 1 cup sugar, 1 cup warm milk, and 1 cup flour. Stir well.
  3. Day 5-8: Stir.
  4. Day 9: Feed with 1 cup sugar, 1 cup warm milk, and 1 cup flour. Stir well. Divide into four portions of roughly 250g each. Keep one portion to bake with, and give the other three to unsuspecting friends and family.
  5. Day 10: Bake as follows:

The cake

  1. Line a greased 23cm springform tin with baking paper. Preheat oven to 175°C.
  2. Mix the sourdough starter and the remaining ingredients, folding in the fruit to distribute evenly. The mix should be a fairly wet ‘batter’.
  3. Pour into the lined baking tin and sprinkle the brown sugar and melted butter over the top.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Test with a skewer, which should come out clean when the cake is cooked through.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer onto a wire rack.
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The thick cake batter poured into a greased, lined baking tin before going into the oven
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A cake skewer (my wife’s…) inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean when the cake is baked

In the end, quite different from a sourdough bread, but just as flavoursome. Giving the starter a feed with milk and sugar obviously adds a different dimension to the starter than a standard flour and water bread levain. For the 10 days that the start sits in your kitchen, you will notice a sweet, fruity, cider-like smell that you can tell will complement the apple and cinnamon cake. Perhaps one day a portion of this sourdough cake starter will work its way back to me through a friend or a colleague, and I’ll get to make it again. Or perhaps I’ll just make the starter again from scratch next week and have it sooner.

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The finished cake