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  • Writer's pictureLudovic Vilbert

The upper crust

How does the heat pad we use to germinate seed also help us to make the most beautiful homemade bread?

This is a story all about bread, yet it starts with a device associated with gardeners, not bread-makers. Yes, the humble heat pad. This is an essential item in our home for germinating seed, especially when we try to get a head start on summer crops like tomatoes. And without it, I just would not be able to make bread. Any bread maker who lives in a cold house needs a heat pad! Actually, you will need two other things: a cast iron pot with a lid and time. Bread-making is not a quick process. So gardeners, if you are looking to get more value out of your heat pad, bread-making may just be it!

I will not go through every step involved in making bread from scratch. This is just a quick walkthrough. I have listed some links at the end if you want to know more. For the sourdough starter, you can make it yourself or, my preferred option, ask your local baker for a little bit. After that you are all good to go.

To keep the sourdough starter alive, you cannot make it more simple. Mix a equal portion of sourdough, water and flour. Easy! And guess what, you do not have to feed it every day. When you are done, give it a last feed when it is active and stuck it in the fridge. You will always be able to resuscitate the starter even after a few months. The starter may be a bit slow, so feed it a few times and do some cooking again, again, and again.

Here you can see the sourdough going from small to big in 2 feeds just 24 hours apart.

When the sourdough is active, this is the time to start to mix the ingredients for making bread. You need to follow what we call 'Baker's percentage'. For my bread, I use these percentages:

  • 100% flour

  • 75% to 80% water

  • 20% sourdough

  • 2% salt

I use 1 kilogram of floor (600 grams white and 400 grams wholemeal). Therefore, I add 750-800 grams of water, 200 grams of sourdough starter and 2 grams of salt. Sorted! Mix all the ingredients roughly and let it rest for an hour on the heat pad.

Remember ... the heat pad is the secret weapon to success here!

After that period of rest, you then knead the dough. The dough will be sticky and messy. However, do not give up! After ten minutes of kneading, the dough should be all right (mate!). Another tip, use a scraper in one hand and think of it as a non-sticky hand.

After the kneading, fold the dough into itself every half an hour for 3 to 4 hours, then let it sit for another 3 to 4 hours. During this time, place the dough back on the heat pad when you are not working it. This is when the magic happens. Watch the dough start to double in size.

It is now time to shape the dough. Cut it in two pieces and fold the dough into itself. Do not go too hard; you want to keep the fluffiness and airiness of the dough. Make it a nice ball and put it in a shaping basket which you have lightly dusted with flour first. You can buy a specially made shaping basket or just use any bowl. If using a bowl, and not a shaping basket, place a dry towel inside it first to prevent the dough sticking to it during this time. Do not be shy with the flour because you do not want to ruin your work with the dough sticking to the basket. And if you like, add some sesame seeds for the perfect loaf. Roll the dough in a plate with these seeds.

After this, the dough will undergo a second fermentation. I like to put it in the fridge for a night or two. Or wait another 3 to 4 hours.

And the last part: the baking. Take the dough out of the fridge a hour before you want to bake it. In the meantime, place the cast iron pot in your oven which you have turned on full blast, as high as you can. After that, score the dough with a sharp implement. Any razor blade will do. Do not use a knife if you want a clean cut. Have fun with it, it is a baker's signature. When people were baking in the oven of the village, this is how they recognised their bread, i.e. by their markings.

Put the bread in the cast iron pot for 20 minutes with the lid on and then another 20 minutes without the lid. And voila! Your bread is baked! And it has the most beautiful crust that you could imagine, thanks its time in the heated cast iron pot.

This bread can be kept in a cool, shady cupboard for up to one week. That is, if nobody eats it first!


Here are two very useful links that have helped me a lot in my bread-making journey.



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