Food Lockdown Loaves

Location
London
3E2B1DD3-E318-482D-929A-6EBAB58503B5.jpeg In a minor panic last week, the only flour I could get was this Malted Brown from Marriage’s (who’s normal white and wholemeal strong I use regularly). Other than needing far less water than other flours, I use the basic yeasted recipe 400/7/8 flour/yeast/salt and about 250ml of water. The result, if not spectacular, is a perfect sandwich loaf and luckily I still have some cold Sirloin from Sunday!
 
I've developed something of an anxious obsession about the lack of flour. Normally I would say pissed off, but that doesn't seem appropriate currently. Everyone keeps on saying there's no shortage of grain to mill, but try buying some! Every time I hear a talking head on the TV or radio emphasising there are no supply chain problems I wonder how there can't be.
 
My gut feeling about this that there is no money in flour. It’s not an absolute necessity, as most people don’t use it, buying their cakes and bread already made and it is thus relegated down the pecking order in the supply chain.

I used to notice in my local Waitrose (prior to all of this), that the flours usually remained unstocked for the longest period of time after there was a major shopping period eg. Christmas, Easter, last days before kids returned to school in September. That and the middle size of plastic freezer bags. They would hold stock of two of the three sizes and forego the middle size until there was space on the truck. Kitchen rolls would also often be out of stock too.

My local was anecdotally always the least profitable store in the country, due to supply and floor space constraint and there was talk of it closing. It was relatively small and was apparently difficult to get large trucks to. As a result shortages were fairly common as there was a limited amount of truck capacity. Choices had to be made and those three items would often be the most affected, being either bulky or unprofitable.
 
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It's the weight/cost ratio which must make it relatively unprofitable in spite of the considerable small quantity markup. On the other it's nothing compared to own brand water.
 
Well, Demeter indulged me in fresh supplies from a local wholefood shop today, so my anxiety is eased. I took enough to last for a month and was able to leave plenty on the shelf for the next person.

I imagine that in former times demand for bread flour was not high and more importantly stable and predictable. Flour has a shorter shelf life than grain, so millers must have been settled into a just in time model. Increase demand by a multiple in a few weeks and the result isn't surprising. It underlines just how finely tuned, and fragile, our entire economic system is (was).
 
Just found a malt loaf (the Soreens type of thing, not a loaf of bread with malt in it) I made about five or six weeks ago. I made two and only kept my hands off one for about a week, but with everything going on, I forgot this one. I slightly overbaked both of them (it's hard to tell), and this is a bit hard. But 10 seconds in the microwave softens it perfectly, and it's pretty delicious even if I say so myself.
 
Back when I used to row, Soreen were fundamental. A malt loaf in one's bag could be eaten at any point, even if one had sat on it a few times before remembering its presence*. I do recall they got fiercely more chewy as the ambient temperature dropped down to zero.

I recall they formally sponsored a friend's boat, such was the consumption.

(* Which reminds me of my first trip to the US, when a very friendly dog came and greeted me in San Francisco, as I waited with only my small knapsack for my luggage to arrive. The small friendly dog was followed by a large man with a large gun, who explained the dog was on official business sniffing out illegal imports. My memory is that when I explained it was the bag I normally put wet rowing kit in, the man with gun nodded politely and didn't even ask to see inside.)
 
Currently doing a test run with no autolyse ie. the starter added in at the very beginning of the mix. All other amounts and proportions unchanged. First thing I’ve noticed is that the dough has different characteristics and handles differently. Despite the same proportions it has seemed slightly wetter and stickier throughout the process and has slightly less structure at this point. Currently pre-shaping.
 
Currently doing a test run with no autolyse ie. the starter added in at the very beginning of the mix. All other amounts and proportions unchanged. First thing I’ve noticed is that the dough has different characteristics and handles differently. Despite the same proportions it has seemed slightly wetter and stickier throughout the process and has slightly less structure at this point. Currently pre-shaping.

I think autolysis definitely helps although it's probably only a 'two-percenter', as Peter Moores might say. In fact, I'd say that the whole sourdough process is made up of a series of such judgement calls.

There are two things to which my technique seems to be particularly sensitive - 1) brand of flour (easily the most important decision to make in the whole process) and 2) the stage at which you introduce the salt. Both of these really can make or break a lockdown loaf.
 
In that spirit I will have a go again at adding the starter later.
Amusingly I found four bags of Waitrose Canadian with a best before date of Feb 2020 next to my wine this morning.
 
with the lack of yeast (for those who don't have starters) has anyone tried using beer? A friend sent this ramsey video, which suggests it works well
 
To make a leaven it is necessary only to mix wholemeal rye flour with water and to leave it about three days until it starts frothing. Ideally one then throws away all but a teaspoonful and mixes with about 100g each of flour and water until it smells nice but it is effective straight away. Easier than buying yeast at the moment!
 
Agreed. It's very easy to get one going.

What is the consensus on using the mother/starter to make a separate levain for each loaf? I believe this process results in what's known as a poolish or post-ferment; either way the potential for synecdochal inexactitude is really rather thrilling.

I've never bothered as my starter is very active after an hour or so out of the fridge. Sometimes I'll give it a teaspoon of flour and water to really get it going but I've never tried making a fresh strain of levain for each loaf.

In the spirit of trying to wring every last bit of spring out of my wholemeal flour stocks, I am wondering if this extra stage might be worth pursuing.
 
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