I bang on a bit about eating fresh, locally sourced unprocessed food. But every now and then I realise there are things I need to do to put words to action. Last week, for example, I had a small epiphany: considering I bake bread almost every week, I realised I really don’t know what’s in the flour I use or how it’s processed, or where the wheat originates from and all those things.
I have had an awareness of Tasmania’s Callington Mill pretty much since I moved back to this little state four and a half years ago. But even though I know it’s a mill, have seen their flour around and have watched television features on it, I’ve never bought the flour. Why? I don’t know.
It certainly ticks all my foodie boxes: locally grown wheat and other grains are stone ground in an old fashioned mill, with no additives or additional processes bar light sifting to remove the bran from the whole wheat. It’s not bleached or further tampered with in any way.
Last weekend things changed. Tony and I made the short, 45 minuted drive through winding country roads from our home in Richmond to Oatlands. The mission’s purpose: to buy 2x bags of stone ground flour from Callington Mill. Time for a shake up on the bread baking front.
The main street of Oatlands is very pretty in a historic sort of way. With its Georgian architecture and gently curving road, you might think you’re driving through a quaint English village.
But you’re firmly in Tasmania, where gum trees meet the willows along with lavender and poplars planted by early settlers.
The mill itself isn’t open to the public per se, however there is a small visitor centre, with a gift and tea shop and hourly tours are conducted from 10am-3pm.
Hey I’m excited. There’s fresh bread to be baked.
I made the starter, or pre-ferment on Saturday night, so it would ready to use the next day. I usually use 200g bread flour to 50g organic rye flour, but decided to stick with my newly sourced Callington Mill flour only for this bake.
Something I noticed immediately on mixing the starter was its earthy smell, thanks to the new, fresh flour. It was a startling difference to the normal smell of the commercial flour I buy from the supermarket shelves. Things were looking, and now smelling, good.
When possible I like to leave the starter for 12 hours. It’s easy – all it requires is this:
Wet bread starter
250 grams lightly sifted strong bread flour
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1.5 metric cups lukewarm water
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in the water and use a whisk to mix as much of the flour through as possible. If it has a few lumps, that’s okay.
Cover with cling film, place in a warm spot and leave to do its thing for at least 2 and up to 12 hours. When you get back to it, it will be bubbly and frothy and smell sweet.
Make the dough
1.25 kilos bread flour (see note below)
5 teaspoons dry yeast (I’ve been using Lowan brand, but am looking at sourcing fresh)
1 tablespoon sea salt or other natural, unprocessed salt
3 teaspoons unrefined sugar, such as a molasses sugar, raw sugar or pure molasses
2.25 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon black chia seeds and 1/4 cup sunflower seeds (optional)
Add all the dry ingredients to your bubbling starter. If you’re using an electric mixer, fit the dough hook on and put the bowl in place. Pour the water in all at once, turn your mixer onto low speed and mix until the dough comes together.
When it’s mixed up, turn onto a clean and lightly floured surface then knead by hand for between 5-10 minutes. The kneading develops the gluten and as it does, the dough becomes smooth and doesn’t tear. Thanks to the flour, this dough was like dealing with a new animal – see note 2 below.
Once kneaded, place into a large and lightly oiled bowl, cover with an upturned bowl (this prevents dough from sticking) and set aside for an hour to an hour and a half to rise until doubled in size.
When ready, use your fists to punch the dough down. Yes, push hard into the beautifully risen dough and push all the air out.
Normally I would form my loaves after one rise, but decided to give this batch a second rise. So I popped it back into the bowl, covered it and let it rise again. This time it was risen and domed on top in about half an hour.
Knock back again, then turn out and just knead it lightly to bring it together as a longish cylinder. It’s up to you whether you are making two loaves or a loaf and some rolls, or even some baguettes. I cut just over half the dough off and formed the loaf that I make weekly. I slashed its top and set aside, covered lightly with cling film, to rise.
Next I rolled the remainder of the dough into a long cylinder and cut it into even sized pieces. I weighed each piece to about 300 grams and rolled into a ball before placing quite close together on a tray. It made nine buns and the leftover bit I formed into a long roll. Once again, I slashed the top and set the buns aside, covered, to rise.
Preheat your oven to about 220C, fan forced.
After 45 minutes, when the loaf and buns have doubled in size again, the whole lot is ready for the oven.
Brush lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle semolina on top. This step isn’t mandatory, but it’s nice to do.
If you have a clean spray bottle with water inside, spray the oven to develop some steam, then place the bread quickly inside. Bake for about five minutes at high heat, then turn down to 200C non-fan / 180C fan to finish cooking.
The rolls will cook quicker than your loaf. Check it all after about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and tip off / out of the pan. Tap the bottom lightly with your knuckle. If it sounds hollow it’s cooked.
And I mean hollow – when you’ve baked bread a few times you know the difference. If not, just place back in the oven directly on the rack, checking regularly until it’s done.
Note 1: I usually mix up my flours and have been known to use some spelt, rye, oat or even soy flour, along with white and wholemeal / whole grain.
For this dough I used 100% Callington Mill flour as follows: 650g whole grain, 500g lightly sifted and 100g semolina, just because it was worth a go. I’ll replace the semolina with rye in future. I like the flavour and texture it gives.
Note 2: Using such fresh, properly milled flour offered more surprises than I expected. Not only was the smell of the dough amazing and earthy, but the texture and weight of the dough was heavy and required nearly 15 minutes to knead it until I was happy with the dough.
Note about water: In the initial mixing I’d only added 1.75 cups water, but it was far too dry for my liking, so while kneading I had to knead through a further half cup.
For Sunday night’s dinner I thought, ‘hang the carbs’ and served this incredible bread with my beautiful roasted cauliflower, parsnip and leek soup. Perfection.