Baking with Gerald - a 'friggin' feast in Kalk Bay

In a village the bakers always find each other and so it was that Gerald and myself ended up baking together. A few years ago Gerald built an oven so he could bake authentic bread, a smallish oven just enough for a few loaves. It’s the real deal- authentic wood-fired with a firebox below the oven as most of the French do. So it was that I arrived with my levain at Gerald’s place one morning at 10am. 

We chatted about the amount of dough to make and decided to combine my levain with his starters, as his starters were cool and still needed some activation, and my starter had a 24hr kickstart into being a young, milky levain. 

Working on the following approximate percentages :

20% levain

75% water

100% flour (80/20 ratio for the flour, 80% wholegrain, 20% bread flour and visa versa for the French country loaf)

Our recipes were as follows: 

Whole wheat dough

  • 300g levain 
  • 1050g water
  • 300g white flour 
  • 1200g wholemeal flour
  • 32g salt 

Country loaf

  • 300g levain
  • 1050 water 
  • 300g wholemeal flour 
  • 1200g white bread flour
  • 32g salt 

This bread was eaten consciously at a feast that followed:

Miche (Gerald’s daughter) and Flora, two very amazing people, arrived like the wind and constructed a master menu of….. see below… they are both champions of food citizenship and living cultures. They connect people and and create amazing events. We sat down to an insanely flavour-filled meal where conversations flowed and life was an organic communion of sorts. Definitely great day of baking and eating. Thanks to Gerald, Miche, Flora, CP,  ….. , Jaques for each persons special contribution.

Starter - Wood-fired sourdough bread with cucumber and almond gazpacho

Main - herb-smoked snoek, oven-braised tarragon potatoes, zucchini in tamari with fresh chervil  

Dessert - Organic cheese (biodynamic gouda)  from Camphill Farm in Hermanus, red globe grapes fromGerald’s garden and honey straight from the natural hive (spit the wax but what a flavour revelation)

“a frigging feast” 

For the bakers, here are the details of our baking :

The overall idea was to bake off the dough straight through, estimating a 4 hr bulk fermentation and a 2hr proof. We also decided to take half the wholemeal dough half way through the bulk fermentation and place it in a cloth lined bowl “shaped and ready” to be baked off the next day.

We chatted about starters and levainand and agreed on the following process of taking a starter that you keep in your fridge to young levain needed 24hour cycle as follows:

Take starter out of the fridge the day before you are going to bake. Take a tablespoon of starter and 3 tablespoons of wholemeal flour and same amount of “just more than luke warm” water and mix together. Leave overnight. First thing in the morning (6am) take the mixture and add a further 3 heaped tablespoons of flour (1 bread, 2 wholemeal) and water as before. Leave this for 4 hours and you have a “ready to go” young levain.

So off we went mixing the levain, water and flour at around 10.30 am so that we could leave for a short 30 minute autolaise. The temperature outside was mild in the mid 20’s so we just used tap water, so the dough would be around 24 degrees celcuis, a great day for baking, not too much manipulating of the temperature.

At 11.10 we added the salt, having kept back a 100g of water from each recipe to help mix the salt, This allows for easier incorporation into the dough.

At 11.30 we gave it a fold or two and I shot off to do some admin, returning at 12.30 for the next series of folds. After each fold we don't cover the dough,, we just wet the surface so it doesn't dry out but cloths are an option. 

At 1.30 we divided the wholemeal dough in half and folded them into 2 boules. After 20 minutes we gave the 1 boule a further fold and then placed it in a cloth-lined bowl (sprinkle lots of wholemeal flouron cloth) and placed it in the fridge. This will be left till tomorrow morning then it will be taken out, left to stand for a few hours and then baked off. With the remaining half we will complete the bulk fermentation process and it will get baked of later.

At 2.30 another fold

At 3pm we divided the country loaf into 4 pieces of approximately 700g each and the wholemeal in 2 pieces of the same size. We decided to use 3 silicon tins, 2 round baskets and 1 long basket. 

Once the dough was divided, we shaped the pieces of dough into boules and let them have a 20 minute bench rest. We then gave then a shape according to the container we were placing them in. covered and waited for them to prove.

One of the things with sourdough is you must wait for the dough to get to the “right place”, where it stops building and maturing, and starts to deconstruct. At this pointthe bread must go in the oven. When you have a wood fired oven that needs a lengthy warming, the challenge is to get the timing right so that the oven is ready as the dough reaches its pinnacle of readiness. 

We got the timing out a bit but the first loaves went in around 6, which was fine, the bread could still do a bit to reach that critical point so we were ok. The bottom of the oven was a bit hot so we had to manage that by inserting a grid underneath the loaves half way through the baking but the end result was good bread, naturally leavened with just flour, water and salt.

Summary

  1. Mix dough leave for 30 mins 
  2. Add salt leave for 15 mins 
  3. Do a fold and leave for 1 hr
  4. Do a fold and leave for 1hr 
  5. Do a fold an leave for 1 hr
  6. Fold and leave for 30 mins and then divide and shape
  7. Leave for 20 minute bench rest 
  8. Final shape for baskets or containers
  9. Proof for approximately 2hrs
  10. Bake for 30 to 40 mins depending on size of item