Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Useful things

I've been pondering the great ponder, when one gets a repetitious item through consumerism. Somewhat out of necessity too. I'm talking about onion bags. Those plastic nylon nets when buying in bulk. I've kept several over the years, always with that question, what on earth can I do with them? 

Well today, that question has been answered...

I've turned them into weights, to help pull down new growth of my avocado tree. Those shoots are heading for the sky, and I don't want that. I want to be able to reach the avocados, rather than needing a ladder. So the shoots which grew after pruning my tree last winter, are now being weighed down with my recycled onion bags. They have to be used on green flexible growth, in order to train them before they harden off.

Of course there's more to it than onion bags...but not much more.

This was a large onion bag, about 5-8kgs worth, but you could use the 2 or 1kg onion bags too. Because it was a long, large onion bag though, I cut it in half. The top had a draw string, already built in, so I just tied a knot to seal the base. Then I added however many rocks I needed - sealing it with some leftover twine from a bale of Lucerne. (Note: cut length of twine in half, to go the distance between both bags).

Finally, another knot was tied, to make a large loop in the twine (see above).

This loop has to be big enough, so you can pass the bag of rocks through it. You select the place on the branch you want to weigh down, then simply pass the bag through the loop, and slip it into place. Gravity does the rest!

This requires some experimentation for where you'll place the bag, and also how much weight is inevitably placed in them too.

Because the aim is to bend the shoot, without actually splitting it. Which is why you gently let the onion bag down, once attached to the shoot. If you hear any cracking sounds, you might have to move the bag, lower down the shoot, or reduce how many rocks are in the bag.

Weighing down, upper shoots, or even lateral branches, helps keep fruit within reach. A bit of applied stress to the branch, also increases the strength of it to cope with a glut of fruit. Especially useful with trees which are prone to glut.

This is a lower branch of the same tree, which already has a natural bend in it. No artificial weights were applied by me. This is the lower branch's attempt to reach sunlight, from competition with the upper canopy. So avocado trees, are good specimens for training into more manageable sizes.

Some training is required for this tree, because it isn't in a desirable location. It's sitting on top of a retaining wall, so it's roots can only spread so far for nourishment and stability. By reducing the height and deliberately training the upper branches to grow downwards (through applied weights) I'm helping the tree survive it's limited growing space.

This can be done with any kind of tree, with flexible new growth, and tends to put forth gluts of fruit. Apple trees come to mind, so does any kind of stone fruit tree. I'm sure there are other uses for onion bags. Have you discovered any?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Buns and Candy-stripes

This morning, I pulled some more fruit buns from the oven. The weather cooled sufficiently enough, to be able to bake in the morning again. The kids will have a few today, now school holidays have started, and my husband will get the rest. I like to freeze them individually, and he can grab them for his lunch.

Afterwards, I continued knitting my candy-stripe, dishcloth. T'is the season for candy-stripes, right? But it came about more because I wanted to use up a ball of cotton, which I purchased from a second-hand store, many moons ago.

It was a case of seizing the opportunity, and not realising until I got it home, that I don't really like pink. Don't ask me how "white" cotton for my candy-stripe, ended up in my collection either. I must have thought it a good buy at the time.

In an effort to use up my supplies, instead of letting them collect cobwebs, year after year, I decided I could have a least one, candy-stripe dishcloth, as I am busy replenishing my supply. It means a lot of weaving-in ends, changing colours all the time, but at least I get to use up two colours, I may not have appreciated on their own.

Pink is not my thing, but making dishcloths are. I can't remember when exactly, I started making them (I estimate 8 years) but I know I only have to replenish my supply of dishcloths, every two years or so. I've always made the waffle knit dishcloth, from Homespun Living.

Only I modify mine, using 4 ply cotton now, and number 9 needles. I still use the same number of stitches though. It means I get a smaller cloth, but it fits perfectly over the sink faucet, and it doesn't hurt my hands to squeeze out. I found I struggled with the larger cloth, knitted with 8 ply cotton.

The other brilliant thing about using 4 ply cotton though, is the cloth dries really quickly in summer. Meaning no time for it to grow smelly or mouldy. If I haven't been writing much, it's because my knitting needles, are busy clicking in the background instead.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tanks for the ride

So the plumber came to plumb in our new tank, on the first day predicted for a heatwave. Friday. Fortunately, we registered 2 degrees less, than the maximum temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. But STILL, a very hot day to be working all day in the sun.

I was sure to check on him a few times, in the six hours he took to finish the job. Just to make sure he hadn't passed out. I also offered cool drinks if required. But he came prepared. I still had to ask though.

Trench for the underground pipe

The last job we had to get done, before he arrived, was to dig the trench for the return line, up to our existing tank, and pump. He explained, both tanks would be drawn from, at the same time. Which was meant to be better for the tanks, than emptying one at a time. The plastic walls should have less chance of sagging inwards, as the water levels in both tanks, drop together.

Temporary solutions

As we were waiting days for the plumber, with trenches in the ground, we had to prepare for the possibility of rain. Which we DID receive. More about that soon. So we had to install a temporary hose in the overflow pipe of the old tank. Which is the black plastic you see.

Next to it, is a couple of old 2x4's used as a temporary bridge. It was much safer crossing a sturdy surface, than stepping over a large gap in sometimes soft, terrain. But what about that rain we received?

Outlet brass fitting

It was quite a big storm, and the trenches filled. The above picture was taken before the storm. It was on the day the tank was lowered into it's final resting place. Can you see where this is going? Trenches, water flowing and an open hole into the tank, at trench level.

I bet you can guess we had some soil deposited near the brass outlet? It didn't enter the tank, thankfully. It spilled onto the blue crusher dust though. I bet you couldn't guess that somehow, a thin veneer of water in the hole, was able to shift an empty, 450kg tank? Well, I certainly didn't believe it when I first saw it. The brass outlet fitting, that was facing centre of the trench (above) shifted, to face the edge of the trench instead.

Temporary protection

I was too busy trying to fix it the next day, to get photographs, but this is what it looked like afterwards. I had to reposition the trench (as seen by the darker soil) so the brass fitting, was centre of the trench again. And as we had several more days to wait for the plumber, with more rain predicted, I rigged up a piece of board and log, to seal the brass fitting. It would also stop any water and silt, caught in the trench, draining into the hole the tank was sitting in.

We did get another rain event, but it wasn't as much as the first. So not a lot of silt travelled, and thankfully, the empty tank didn't move again.

Trench to pump

Back to the trenches though. Once our long trench passed the two tanks, and went up the hill, we curved it around to the pump. Our reliable Onga pump, has been going since 2007. It had a small repair early in the piece, but was covered under warranty. It has been running faithfully ever since.

You can see the bricks we had to install, under the pump, after our first big rain event. There's a reason for that. A lot of water escaped the tank through the inspection hole, just above the pump. It subsequently washed the soil out, and left the pump hanging only by it's copper pipe. Having a plinth of bricks go under ground, would help prevent this, should the soil wash away again.

Here is a picture of how it happened.

 December 2007

The roof of the tank is not meant to be that round! This was a result of dodgy plumbers, hired by our building company. There are two very specific reasons this happened, and could have been prevented. Firstly, there were two pipes going into the tank (from the roof of our house) and only one pipe to allow excess water, to escape a full tank.

In other words, too much going in and not enough pipe to let the excess water out. The pressure mounted and the water naturally burst through, where it could.

Outlet pipes connecting tanks

Our new plumber helped to solve this problem, by installing two pipes into the new tank, subsequently matching the amount of water entering from the roof. The plumber also installed an expansion joint in the overflow pipes. So as the new tank settles, it has a little leeway to move without affecting the pipes.

The second reason our old rainwater tank, risked bursting at the seams in big rain events, was the kind of overflow fitting, the plumbers used on the outlet pipe. This outlet pipe is designed to allow excess water to escape a full tank. Dodgy plumbers & Co, installed a fixed outlet pipe. Meaning, we couldn't remove the wire mesh, to prevent mosquitoes accessing the tank.

 Picture taken, June 2016
we previously rigged a temporary pipe to take water away 
from the base of the old tank

Why would we want to remove the mesh preventing mosquitoes access? So all those plastic shavings inside the tank, as a result of the plumbers drilling holes into it, could escape.

All those filings were blocking the outlet pipe from draining at full speed. Cheap and nasty plumbing solutions. There should have been a removable mesh cap on the overflow pipe.

 New inspection joint

Needless to say, when our new plumber provided a different solution, when he came to quote, he got the job straight away. He was going to install a little device in the overflow pipe, which would allow us to clean the outlet pipe, of all the plastic filings he'd put into the tank. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

In the outlet pipe, there are removable mesh caps, above and below. They are easy to remove and more importantly, ensure that any overflow water, once both tanks are full, won't be blocked by plastic shavings. It's our job to remove the wire mesh, and clear it - especially the first time it overflows.

We still need to backfill at rear

Look what a professional job he did though. Not only is the overflow pipe going underground, and won't be released some 3 meters away from the base of the tank, but he also provided a plastic black box, for the tap and valve to be housed safely.

 Access box to main valve

The pipe coming out of the tank, has a return valve, so the tank should never run dry and put air bubbles into the pump. When that happens, you have to re-prime the pump again. Which our friendly plumber showed me how to do, even though it was 38 degrees Celsius and he installed a return valve, so I shouldn't have that problem anyway.

He installed the return valve as a precaution, as he wasn't going to assume the plumbers who installed the first tank, installed a return valve. The first tank was partly buried, and from what pipes he had to access underground, he couldn't see a return valve. They could have put it lower down, but from where he had to access, he couldn't see it.

Technically, they should have installed a return valve, but he was rightly protecting his own workmanship, by ensuring any additions he plumbed in, wouldn't run into that problem, if the former plumbers didn't do their job properly. Which is really a sign of a professional, who takes their own workmanship seriously.

Water outlet, released down hill

Another feature, which won him the job with us, was taking the overflow water away from the base of the tank. Three metres away (all underground), and he even installed a grate so nothing could get in. The soil you can see on the grate box, was from the last storm. It came the very next day, and even though the plumber had installed everything the day before - he didn't have a spare grate in his truck.

He promised to pop around, the next day (a Saturday) on his way to a family gathering, to glue it on for us. He literally beat the storm, only by a few minutes.

I was really impressed with his workmanship, and ability to explain every step of the process. The fact we were doing the earthworks, ensured he had to explain various features, so we could implement the correct work. However, he made sure we understood all the pieces we weren't involved with either. If you're a local, then I can't recommend Ken Ball Plumbing, highly enough.

Backfilling crusher dust

One last job for us to do now, is finish backfilling the tank with crusher dust. And of course, because we love to garden, some new plants around the tanks. There will be rhyme and reasons for our selections of plants, which I look forward to sharing another time.

While the recent storm we received, wasn't able to fill both tanks, it did give us extra water to shift to the emptier tank. We were advised the tank should be at least a third full, before commencing backfilling. This ensures it won't be moved by any pressure we exert against it, dumping more crusher dust.

So, yay! Most of the incredibly hard yards and uncertainty about the second tank, have been settled. If you're interested in the numbers, here's the breakdown:

  • Tank on sale, including delivery  - $2,450
  • Plumber (labour, parts, travel)    - $1,560
  • Crusher dust (supply, delivery)    - $   300
  • Compactor hire (half a day)        - $     65
                                                   Total - $4,375

Which works out at 81 cents per gallon, or 21 cents per litre.

Before there were trenches, there was a hole to dig

Doing the earthworks ourselves, using only manual tools, saved us from $1,000 and possibly more. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised by the plumbers comments, after he installed the overflow pipes, between both tanks. He used his spirit level and said they were spot on, level. Coming from a professional, that meant a lot to us. We did our best to get them even, and spent extra time making it so, but to hear that confirmation, unprompted, was reassuring.

Perhaps we're not just a couple of crazy people, who like to suffer unusual punishment, digging relentlessly for months! Maybe it gives us a sense of satisfaction, after all the money gets exchanged, that we weren't just consumers shafted to the sidelines of our purchase. We've been honing skills, ever so gradually, over the years, and we hope to put them to good use in other projects in future too.

But for and gratitude.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"The" sourdough tutorial

I've been meaning to do this tutorial for quite some time. It's the way I personally make sourdough, all in one post. This should make it easier to print out.

Unlike many online tutorials though, which use weights as a guide for ingredients, I've always used volume measures and estimates instead. This is how I learned to make sourdough, and it is the method I explained in the Sourdough workshop, with the Toowoomba Simple Living Group.

Griffin, the sourdough starter

With all sourdough making, everything begins with the starter. This contains natural leavens to raise the dough, instead of manufactured yeasts. If you want to know how to make a starter, I wrote about my process here. I keep my starter in the fridge, most of the time but especially during summer. As it can use up the food I give it, rapidly, and start to die back. Which is what we don't want to happen.

I always get my jar of starter out of the fridge, at least 2 hours before I need to use it. This gives "Griffin" (the name of my starter) the opportunity to get to room temperature, before I begin feeding again.


The way I feed Griffin, involves 2 separate bowls and a whisk. Then into each bowl, I place:

  • 1 cup of baker's flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • 11/2 cups, or half the jar of starter

The amount of starter is my estimates, in play. I don't like to see starter go to waste, so I utilise all that is in my jar, between the two bowls. It will roughly be, anywhere between 1 - 1 1/2 cups. It doesn't matter the amount of starter fluctuates, because when we get to the kneading part, we will incorporate enough flour to make the dough.

Stir all the ingredients in each bowl, until the flour is incorporated. Pour one bowl, back into your jar, and return to the fridge. If you plan to bake with your starter, the very next day, leave it out for an hour before it goes in the fridge. If you plan to bake 3-4 days later (like I do) it can go back into the fridge almost straight away. You can go up to 7 days between feeding.

Now you have one bowl on the counter, and this is called your sponge. We're allowing the yeasts from the starter, to increase their numbers in the sponge, by gross feeding. Which is why you will leave your sponge out (loosely covered, or not) between 2-4 hours. In summer it will take less time, than in winter.

Newly fed sponge

This is what your sponge will look like, just after you've split and fed it. There is some bubble activity, but not enough to make a loaf adequately yet. See below for correct sponge consistency.

Developed sponge

This is what it should look like, after 2-4 hours. The entire surface, either has a bubble on it, or a bubble attempting to break the surface. It should have a thick custard like consistency too.

Now your sponge is ready to begin turning into a dough. You will need a spatula for mixing in the ingredients.

Add ingredients

Into the sponge add:

  • 2 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar (you can use castor)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Feel free to omit the powdered milk and reduce the sugar if that suits your tastes better. But keep the olive oil and salt. Stir with the spatula until combined.

Adding flour

Then you will add, roughly 1 to 3 cups of bakers flour - but not all at once. The above image, is what it looks like, after stirring in 1 cup of flour.

Still incorporating flour

The above image is after a second cup of flour has been incorporated, with the spatula. You could use a wooden spoon, if you don't feel your spatula is up to the challenge. Mine is particularly sturdy though.

I always hold off adding the third cup of flour, until I've turned what's in the bowl, onto the bench. But I will sprinkle a little of the flour (from that third cup) down first.

Then it's a matter of kneading until you reach a "tacky" stage. Incorporating flour as you go. What do I mean by tacky? This is where the dough can still stick to you, or the bench, but pulls away, without leaving any (or much) dough behind. I will show you what I mean...

Too sticky

This above image is "sticky", not "tacky", meaning the dough sticks to you or the bench, and won't pull away cleanly. It will always leave a portion of itself behind. Keep incorporating flour, until you reach a more tacky texture.

Successfully tacky

This is what I mean by correct "tacky". It will stick to you and the bench, however, it will pull away cleanly, without leaving any (or much) dough behind. I could only use one finger to demonstrate this, because the dough wouldn't allow two fingers to pull anything away.

Once you're satisfied with the amount of flour you've incorporated, knead the dough for around 10 minutes.

Finished dough

You'll know when the dough is finished, because it will form a tight ball and if you press into it, the dough will push out again.

You can see in the above image, the remnants of the third cup of flour I didn't incorporate. Now I have not made this dough, in a bread machine before. But if you want to experiment, you could try 2 cups of flour and see if you get the desired dough consistency. If it's too sticky afterwards, you might have to add an extra 1/2 cup of bakers flour.

I'm an advocate of experimenting with your sourdough making. There's a unique way to work with sourdough, with what *you* have available. Once you learn that way, it's yours to use, for however long you want to make sourdough. So feel free to breach the limits of my tutorials, and get what you need from the process that works for you.

Oiled bowl

Now your dough is finished however, it's time for it to rise (or prove) for the first time. We will prove the dough twice, in the making of our loaf of bread. But for the first prove, take a large bowl (glass, ceramic or stainless steel) and spray it with oil.

As you can see in the above image, I wipe the top of the dough in the bowl (contacting the oil) then I turn it over. This will help avoid any skin forming on the dough.

Ready for first rise

You can then cover your bowl with a damp tea towel, borrowed plastic lid from another container, a plate, or (as I do) use a glass casserole lid, on a bowl it will fit over.

Then your dough will sit on the counter from 4 - 8 hours. It all depends on the temperature, and how active the yeasts are.

End of first rise

Basically you want your dough to double in size. It can go slightly larger, but not too much, or you'll exhaust the food supply, before it gets through the second rise.

You can remove the dough from the bowl now, and knead it roughly for a minute. If it's incredibly sticky, you've over proved it. You can work quickly with a sticky dough, to get it into a bread tin, but it won't be really good as a stand alone loaf. It will spread out across the tray, during the second rise. But you may still end up with a tasty loaf. It will just make really awkward sandwiches.

Ready for second rise

If your dough is good, you can roll it into a sausage, and place it into your oiled bread tin. Place the seam side, facing the bottom. I'm using an older image to demonstrate this below. I use a different baking tin now.

Seam side down

Now the bread has to rise for approximately 1 hour in the baking tin. There are special considerations for the environment, the second rise takes place in. As you don't want a skin forming on the dough as it rises.

I like to use my oven as a prover for the second rise. I set the oven temperature to 50 degrees Celsius (fan forced) and place a bowl at the bottom of the oven, with boiling water in it.

After the oven has been running for five minutes, I'll place the shaped loaf, in. The oven runs for approximately 10 minutes after the loaf has gone in, and then gets switched off again. The residual heat, will provide the warmth and humidity the bread needs to rise.

End of second rise - ready to bake

An hour later, carefully remove the risen loaf, and place it on the counter. You should still have some water at the bottom of your oven, in the bowl. If not, top it up.

Then set the temperature on the oven for 210 degrees Celcius (fan-forced, check other oven temperatures here) and five minutes later, place your loaf in.

Finished loaf

Twenty five, to thirty minutes later, you'll pull your loaf from the oven. It helps to turn your loaf, half way through baking though - even in fan forced ovens. Once golden brown, tip onto a cooling rack immediately (use oven mitts) and leave the bread on it's side. That way the base can be harder, instead of soggy, when it comes to slicing your bread. Only slice, once it has cooled completely though.  Cutting into hot bread will ruin its texture and flavour, once it cools.

The above loaf has completely cooled, which is why it's now standing on it's base. A bit of advice on baking times, you'll get to know how long it should bake, in *your* oven. The bread should sound hollow, when you turn it out and tap the base, with your knuckles.

There are limitations to this method of sourdough making, however. It's pretty much designed around one loaf of bread. But it's a hefty loaf - restaurant size. You can make a large loaf of bread, 12 fruit buns or two smaller savoury loaves.

Two savoury pull aparts

If however, you'd like to increase your starter for making more loaves, I do have some means to make it happen.

Notes on doubling your starter:

It might be, that you have to bake a couple of loaves in one day, and you'll need to increase the amount of starter as a result.

While I'm happy to use estimates in baking a loaf, you really should use exact volume measurements when increasing your starter. Simply because you want the right amount of food available to grow your starter into larger volumes.

Say you want to bake two loaves the next day. Get your starter from the fridge, the day before. Let it sit for 2 hours. Once it has come to room temperature, in two separate bowls, place in each:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup starter

With the contents of one bowl, return it to your starter jar and back into the fridge. Leave the remaining bowl on the bench for 8 hours. Then split it again, into two separate bowls, with (in each bowl):

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • half the starter (we don't have to be exact now)

This has made up the sponge for two loaves now, which will sit on your bench for 2-4 hours. Then you will turn it into dough as usual, only you'll make two!

It does sound complicated, but once you try it a few times, you'll get the hang of it. The next part I need to deal with, is how to go about arranging your schedule.

Notes on baking schedules:

One thing which turns people off making sourdough, is the length of time it takes to make a loaf. It's worth persisting with however, to design a way you can work sourdough making into your routine.

Here is a basic worktable on what you have to plan for:

  • Starter out of the fridge - 2 hours (needs to be close to room temp)
  • Sponge on the counter - 2-4 hours (needs lots of bubbles)
  • Dough rise, first time - 4-8 hours (needs to double in size)
  • Dough rise, second time -  1 hour (using oven as prover)

I've given a range of times, depending what the inside temperature of your house is. During summer, the yeasts are active, so they need less time to work. In winter, you can extend the times because they're less active.

You can divide your worktable into any number of arrangements. Especially if you add refrigeration into the mix. It's possible to make a dough, and place it in the fridge. It will continue to rise in the fridge, but extremely slowly.

You'll need to get your made dough out of the fridge, 2 hours before you can work it again, but it will probably need 4 hours, just to reach the double size, it needs to grow to.

Here is my baking schedule for summer:

  • Starter out of the fridge - 4 pm
  • Feed and divide starter - 6 pm
  • Make dough from sponge -  9- 10 pm
  • Sits on counter until - 5-6 am the next morning
  • Rises one hour
  • Start baking - 6 - 7 am

I have divided the worktable up, over 2 days. The only issue I have during summer, is the potential for the dough to over prove on the counter, by the next morning. I have yet to experiment with refrigerating the dough, on a regular basis. When I do, I will write more about it.

On the day, I did the sourdough workshop however, I placed my dough in the fridge, after making it at 9.30pm. Then I got it out at 6am the following morning. It was ready to start baking with, from 10am. Although it probably wouldn't hurt to give it an extra hour to rise.

I hope this bigger tutorial helps those who are trying to bake with the starter I shared at the Toowoomba Simple Living group. If you have any question, just ask in the comments. Or you can send me an email, by clicking this link.

In case you missed these earlier, sourdough related links:

Loaf pan sizes - for baking sandwich loaves
All about the dough - how to knead dough
Summer sourdough - what to look out for, during summer

Happy baking!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Summer sourdough

So the day before the big tank, moving day, I decided to make another tutorial about how to make sourdough. It would be featuring, Griffin, the sourdough starter again, and how to turn it into wonderful, soft sourdough bread.

The day before last, was uneventful for Griffin. My starter performed as expected, once I split and fed it. I happily collected photos along the way. At about 10.30pm that night, I made up the dough and put it to bed, overnight, on my kitchen counter. Complete with the glass top to preserve moisture.

I have done this evening process, of leaving the kneaded dough on my bench overnight, for many years now. But there's always one thing you cannot predict. The overnight temperatures. If it gets too warm, the wild yeasts, feast quicker.

That's when I woke up to this....

My dough had over-proved. In this particular bowl, the dough just barely touches the glass top, when it's ready. But the dough had lifted the glass top instead, so a skin formed on the exposed dough, billowing out the sides.

If you're fortunate, like I was, the dough hadn't completely broken down it's gluten yet. So I was just able to handle the wet, sticky dough, quickly enough to place it into a greased tin...

There is nothing graceful about handling a sticky dough, which won't hold it's round shape. A little flour on the counter and hands may help, but I wouldn't attempt to deliberately knead more flour into it. As this will give you a heavier, more gritty tasting loaf.

When dough over-proves, after the first rise, you're going to have problems handling it, and you may even have to have a longer than normal proving time, the second time around. That's because all the stores of food, are almost completely exhausted. It's a case of "seeing" if you can rescue it, but with absolutely no guarantees.

As if the first rise wasn't over-proved enough though....

Guess who's timer went off, when I was helping move the water tank into position, and subsequently didn't hear it? I was so elated with the new tank finally being laid, and all the photos I took afterwards, that I completely forgot I left bread to rise, in the switched off oven.

Hence, why the above image demonstrates a flat top to my loaf, instead of a rounded one. All the gluten strands were breaking apart, instead of holding their form. The first rise had already cost my loaf, and now the second rise, had almost done it in.

Nowhere to go however, but forwards. So into the oven, it went...

I really wish THIS is how it turned out. But this is a comparison photo, of what a well timed sourdough loaf, should look like. It has a lovely rounded top, and the crust is really smooth, where it has baked against the tin.

On the other hand, if you don't time your sourdough well, and over-prove your dough, the gluten won't hold it's form, and it will look more like this...

The top is more flat, and the crust is rough, because the dough hasn't risen uniformly. It baked well, in the 27 minutes I put it into the oven. The fact it hadn't completely caved in the middle, meant the dough still had some remaining stores of gluten left, to hold "some" form.

But I wouldn't know it was edible, until I opened it up and gave it a try. I had to wait many hours until it was completely cool, as I knew this loaf would be harder to slice.

The crumb was okay. Which meant the bread wasn't falling apart. There was still some flexibility in the slices. The taste however, was a little more sour than normal. My youngest didn't like it and my oldest, still ate it when made into a toasted sandwich. Is there nothing grilled cheese cannot fix?

The moral to this story, and the reason for this post, is to demonstrate how your sourdough making will take some twists and turns, because of some elements you cannot always control. Temperature will always be one of them. Not hearing when your timer goes off, is another. *wink*

So what can you do when the overnight temperatures get warmer? One option is to put your dough in the fridge and allow it to rise slowly. Make sure to get it out of the fridge several hours before you intend to bake with it though, so it has a chance to come to room temperature. A second option though, with the quicker rising times, is to bake a loaf in a day.

Here's a sample timetable:

  • Get your starter out of the fridge at 7am
  • Split and feed it at 9am
  • Leave your sponge to sit on the counter, until 12pm
  • Make dough and have it start rising, from 12.30pm
  • Knead dough lightly, and place in bread tin, by 6pm
  • Let it rise again for an hour
  • Be ready to start baking your bread by 7pm
  • It will be out of the oven, by 7.30pm

This is a guideline, because on warmer days (especially during summer) your dough and starter will be extremely active. Which means you'll need to watch it's activity level, and intervene when it's the right time. Rather than following a prescribe time format in hours. So what are some of those visual cues you can look for?

When it comes to your sponge, after splitting and feeding, you watch the bubble activity.

This demonstrates some bubble activity, after a recent addition of flour and water. The presence of large bubbles tells you that, the starter is actively feeding. But it's still not enough bubble activity, to tell you the sponge is ready to start turning into a dough yet.

This demonstrates many more bubbles, so the yeasts are multiplying enough, to start to turn the sponge, into a dough. This has probably been sitting an hour too long though. A sign of the warmer temperatures, accelerating the yeast production. How do I know it's been sitting too long? The finer bubbles on the surface (like froth) instead of being trapped in the custard-like sponge.

The above can still be turned into a dough, it just means we have to watch the dough rise the first time, to make sure we don't over prove it, for the second rise. Your dough of course, is ready to be placed into your baking tins, once it has doubled in size (or slightly more). We don't want billowing dough, falling out the bowl though.

These are the skills you will learn as you bake bread through summer. Times will accelerate, with the yeast being so active in the food you feed it.

I have more to share about sourdough making, as I gather the photos for it. But I hope this helps anyone encountering problems, making dough at this time of year. Know that you aren't doing anything wrong in the process, but your times for intervention are accelerating. Keep a timetable in mind, but watch to see when you need to intervene. It will probably be sooner than you think during summer.