Making the perfect sourdough

If you love the deliciously sour twang that sourdough brings to brunch, then why not try and make this bread yourself?


Making bread is very easy, especially if you have a bread maker. Making a speciality bread like sourdough is simple, it just needs a bit of time.

It can seem a bit daunting especially when the recipe calls for a starter and levain. It all starts to feel a bit too complicated and a trip to the artisan bakery seems all too easy. But stop! It is easy, you just need to be patient and like with all good recipes, you need to follow it step-by-step.

What is a starter, Levain, Poolish?

These are all names for the same thing. It is a way of defining a pre-fermentation process that is needed for sourdough.

Let’s call it a starter.

A starter is just flour and water mixed together in a clean jar and left to naturally ferment. You need to make sure your water is free of chlorine. Small amounts of chlorine can be found in drinking water. Fill a jug with water and leave uncovered on the side overnight. This allows the chlorine is dissipated. You can use filtered water (if filtered with a carbon filter) or distilled water.

So here is where methods differ. Some call for dark rye, others dark rye and plain flour and then Paul Hollywood calls for strong white bread flour and an apple.

Even though the addition of the apple seems a little odd, Paul Hollywood’s starter recipe is the easiest to follow and you can find it here.

What is a sponge?

Again, another process with many names. This part is sometimes called a sponge or sometimes (in the US mainly) called a Levain.

Here you take some of the starter and you mix strong white bread into it. You often need to do this the night before as you need to cover with clingflim and leave to ferment into a thick, sticky, bubbling dough.

How to make sourdough

Once your sponge is fermented add in our other ingredients. A nice recipe for sourdough is from Hugh Fearnley – Whittingstall in the Guardian. It is the simplest and without too much maths and temperature taking.

A sourdough should be quite wet. It likes to rise slowly in a cool environment. Don’t try to rush it. Hugh suggests kneading in the morning and leaving all day whilst at work or out, or in the evening and leaving it overnight.

Knock it out and get it ready for the second prove. Shape it into a nice neat round loaf. If you have a proving basket flour it liberally and place the dough in there. If not place a cloth covered in flour in a shallow dish. Cover the dough with oiled clingflim and leave to rise in a warm place until double in size. Now it is ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to the highest temperature and have a clean spray bottle of water ready. You need to create a steamy environment in your oven. Alternatively place a roasting tray of boiling water in the bottom of the over just before you pop your loaf in.

Heat a baking tray in the oven for around 5 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with flour and tip the loaf onto it. You can slash the loaf and give it a pattern. After 15 minutes in the over lower the temperature to 200c and bake for another 30 minutes until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when you tap it.

After all that waiting you need to wait another 20 minutes to let it cool before you can slice it warm. Perfect smothered in lots of butter.

The Ultimate (local) Christmas cheese board

Although I eat a lot of cheese throughout the year and often have a little cheese board at the weekend, something about Christmas and a Christmas cheese board makes me very giddy.

When the Christmas decorations start to appear and the adverts start slowly creeping onto the tv, I don’t think about presents, turkey or mulled wine, I think cheese.

With so many exciting local cheese makers popping up I headed straight to the only place to get your cheese, Porter Brook Deli, to talk to Nikki about the ultimate local cheese board.

Nikki and Nick are so incredibly knowledgeable about cheese that you cannot leave this shop without tasting something that blows your mind…more of that later.

Nikki and I decided that our local cheese board would incorporate the whole of Yorkshire, a bit of Derbyshire and one wild card cheese, a dessert island cheese if you will.

First up is a beautiful cheese in the shape of a milestone. Stanage Milestone is made at Cow Close Farm, Hathersage, by Sophie and James. With similarities to camembert, this cheese’s unusual shape makes it a great centre piece to your board.

Next up needs a bit of prep as we think Sheffield’s Little Mester Cheese, made by another Sophie in Kelham Island Sheffield, would be perfect baked and ready to be dipped.

A cheese board would not be complete without a stilton and we are very lucky to have the original Hartington Stilton right on our doorstep. Brought back into existence by a group of dedicated cheese lovers, this is an old time favourite. Mix it up by serving with some truffle honey from the Sheffield Beekeepers association.

It’s not quite a cheddar but it has the qualities of one. Dale End is produced in Botton near Whitby. The product supports adults with educational needs by helping them work on all aspects of the farm. With 48 cows in the herd, grazing on organic grass, this cheese is all about the quality of the milk it is made from.

Love it, or hate it a goats cheese should have a place on a cheese board. Its tangy flavour goes perfectly with a charcoal cracker. Hebden Bridge goats cheese is produced from just 8 goats. Porter Brook Deli is one of the few suppliers of this very special cheese.

Richard III Wensleydale is a very popular cheese at Christmas. This handmade cheese is younger than your usual Wensleydale and has a lovely fresh flavour.

Now you might not consider a sheep’s cheese for your board, but you should! Mario Olianas is using sheep’s milk from Harrogate to produce fabulous pecorino cheese. The Fresco is just 30 days old and has that lovely young flavour that only pecorino has, and the Leeds Blue is a rich and creamy adaptation of gorgonzola.

So, we come onto the wildcard. The mind-blowing cheese. When I asked Nikki which she would choose she didn’t hesitate, and when I tasted this cheese I couldn’t agree more! Kirkham Lancashire MUST have a place on your cheese board, or just in your fridge all the time. This yogurt, lemony, fresh cheese will blow your mind with its deliciousness. Not exactly a local cheese, but we will let it off!

Mindfulness is affecting the way we eat

In a world where we are all making a more conscious effort to be more mindful of our own health, and that of our family, these influences are impacting the way we are shopping.

The latest Waitrose Food and Drink report has revealed that a third of those questioned have a meat-free or meat-reduced diet.

What is a flexitarian diet?

A flexitarian diet means that a person actively removes meat from their diet. This is considered more of a lifestyle choice and reflects the mindfulness people are showing towards the environment in general.

One Briton in five is now identifying as ‘flexitarian’. Half of those who say they are vegetarian, or vegan, say they eat meat ‘at weekends’ or ‘on special occasions’. This has been made possible by the increasingly matter-of-fact approach to these diet choices. Whilst there remains an ethical stance, for many these lines have now been blurred.

Is this the year of veganism?

2018 really feels like the year that veganism went mainstream. With a rise in vegan restaurants, and street food, long gone are the days when there isn’t even a vegan option on a menu and the only vegetarian option is a goat’s cheese tart, or something with mushrooms.

Waitrose have reported that 25% of their ‘milk’ range is made up of non-diary options due to demand. The biggest growth areas in the non-dairy milk market are oat milk (up by 116%), coconut milk (up by 60%) and almond milk (up 26%).

Early mornings, faster life, more food?

The food and drink report highlighted that people are feeling more pressure at work than five years ago. To combat this they are rising early and picking a healthier lifestyle to make sure they are making the most of their time.

Six in ten get up earlier to tackle chores or have some me time. As a result 15% of these early birds have an extra breakfast to get through the longer mornings. Breakfast is becoming less of a grab and go meal, and more of an event.

This faster pace of life has ultimately changed our relationship with food. People don’t want to feel stuffed and sluggish after a meal. People are searching for options that are smarter and healthier.

Waitrose has found that visits to their online BMI calculator has risen by 104%, and searches for healthy recipes have increased by 158%.

Jane Orchard, Partner and Manager, Store Innovation said: “Customers tell us the most useful things we can do to help them with good choices are making healthy food convenient and easy, and providing recipe ideas”.

60% of the respondents to the report said that they try and resist the urge to eat on the run. They like to sit down and eat their meal mindfully.

In terms of eating out this tells us that veganism is here to stay and needs to be taken seriously. But it is positive in the sense that people are enjoying the savouring eating out and enjoying it again. Eating is no longer seen as something to do on the run. The hunt for more interesting food is a great opportunity for small independents who can react and adapt quicker than the bigger brands, building up a successful reputation.


With awareness of the issues of unethical single-use plastics on the rise, it is important for businesses to actively tackle the issue and in turn help customers to do the same.

However, is it possible to make this profitable for your business?

We’ve outlined three ideas that businesses can quickly put in place and see immediate results from:

Disposable coffee cups vs bring your own

There’s an ongoing war on disposable coffee cups, many of which contain plastics that mean they can’t be recycled, but you could turn this into a positive for your business.

Paper cups cost money, so when someone brings their own you can make an immediate saving. Incentivise customers to do so by upgrading their drink to the next size up, which will appeal to them but cost you less than the price of your cups.

You could also consider selling a range of the higher-end reusable cups. Stainless steel and glass vessels might appeal to your customers as they are more aesthetically pleasing.

Why not run a tasting event using them to demonstrate how well they work? Customers might just recycle their plastic one in favour of one that you’re stocking.

Don’t forget to see if there are ways to brand your merchandise – rubber collars with your logo on are a perfect way to protect your customers’ hands from the heat while getting your brand out there at the same time.

Plastic bags vs paper or cloth

Paper and cloth bags are the more expensive options, but by having these available you will be placing yourself favourably in your customers’ minds.

Paper bags feel nostalgic and have a limited number of uses, but cloth bags can be branded and sold. Cloth bags are a great way to promote your brand as your customers will use them for other shopping.

If you go down the route of a cloth bag consider a fun design and include your logo. It may seem a bit ‘old hat’ but fewer and fewer people are selling tote bags now.

Takeaway packaging

Takeaway packaging is often made using lots of plastic and polystyrene, so how can you make a difference? It could be easier than you think.

Boxes made of recycled sugar cane are now available on the market that are perfect for hot and cold food.

You could offer people who bring their own takeaway box a discount, or try selling tiffin boxes to encourage customers to get into the habit of bringing their own.

There are lots of other little changes your business can make that will make a difference to the environment, your bottom line and your customers perception of your business.

A city without service

San Francisco is the open minded, laid back city that fosters start-ups and the gig-economy. Think Uber, Facebook, ancestry. It’s also known for fantastic restaurants.

But San Francisco has a problem. San Francisco is now one of the most expensive places to live in America and that has had an impact on the economy.

Rents have increased, labour costs have soared, which has left its beautiful restaurants with expensive items on the menu unable to find waiters to wait on their customers, so the customers are having to wait on themselves.

Runners will bring your food to your table, but you’ll need to fetch your own water and clear the table whilst paying $22 for pan-roasted salmon and $11 a cocktail.

In July this year the minimum wage in San Francisco will hit $15 an hour and anywhere with more than 20 employees are required to pay health care, sick leave and parental leave. Pot washers can earn up to $19 an hour and because of the labour laws in California, servers can make at least the minimum wage with tips, unlike most of their in peers other states in the US.

Economist at the University of California, Berkeley, Enrico Moretti, estimates that when housing rises by 10 per cent the price of local services increases by six per cent. Since 2012 the average home price in San Francisco has doubled.

Counter service is on the rise in the UK but the US were not the trailblazers. Norway has some of the highest median wages in the world. Many of their restaurants rely on counter service.

Surely the answer is for restaurants to raise their prices. However there is a ceiling. Traci Des Jardins from French restaurant Jardinière said they tried raising prices, but people still spent the same, reducing courses or skipping an extra glass of wine.

Jardinière now offers a counter service during lunch. Souvla, another exciting restaurant in the Bay Area, only offers counter service for their spit-fired meat and Greek wine.

When cities boom and their economy takes off, it becomes difficult for those who keep the city moving to live and work there, ultimately having an impact on the service that customers receive.

Selling food…you need to be Instagram worthy

Instagram is the beautiful, photo led social media platform that is loved by millennials. Unlike most social media before it, Instagram has changed behaviour, especially when it comes to spending money on food.

Towering burgers smothered in cheese, turmeric, beetroot and unicorn lattes, bowls of salad that look like art, Instagram has had a huge effect on how restaurants serve their food.

As little as three years ago people wouldn’t often queue for a burger, now there are lines around the block to try the latest creation. Food has become a status symbol, and according to the latest research, restaurants need to recognise this to survive.

Recent research by Zizzi found that 18-35 year olds spend the equivalent of five whole days a year searching food on Instagram. Thirty per cent of those searching said they would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.

So is it important that the food you are prepare is Instagram ready?

In short, yes! Business insider UK reported that millennials are eating in restaurants more than any other generation. If your Instagram is not engaging or your food is not aesthetically pleasing, you could be losing out on 30 per cent of your audience.

The 2017-18 Waitrose food and drink report emphasised the Instagram trend with items such as Buddha bowls (which started on Instagram), brunch, herbs and peanut butter. All items that are colourful, popular with millennials and can make for pleasing photos.

Is it all becoming a bit style over substance?

Many new places are making sure that not only the food looks great, but the venue it is eaten in works on the social platform too. However, not everyone agrees and some chefs are even moving towards an anti-Instagram stance after feeling like their food was all style and no substance.

Portuguese chef Leandro Carreira told The Independent that his latest venture, Londrino, did not factor in Instagram when it came to designing the dining space.

“We’d never put style before substance. We want to build a neighbourhood restaurant, where people become regulars and don’t just come to tick a photo off their list”, he told them.

Some places have become Instagram hits without even trying. Take Sketch in London with its lush pink décor and eccentric egg toilets, this place was designed 15 years ago – long before any social media or decent cameras on our phones.

“The restaurant is the result of an impulse, a mindset that understands interior architecture and how it can impact on people,” a spokesperson for Sketch told The Independent.

Tips for better Instagram photos

  1. Always try to use natural lighting. Electric lighting can make images dull and yellow.
  2. Think about your plates. Simple and classic, something that frames your food without it looking lost.
  3. Rule of thirds (imagine a grid and position your image to sit within the bottom and top lines and within two of the vertical lines) or symmetry is the best way to style your images. Think about the empty space, it is not always a bad thing.
  4. Think about your background. Shooting from above looks great but shooting from the side can work if you have an interesting background.
  5. Props can be good. Include cutlery, magazines, books and plants if they add colour to the image.