Baking with heritage wheat flour

Recently i was given some flour from some wheat grown at Torth Y Tir. Less dense in my fingers than Shipton No 4 and almost certainly ‘weaker’ , that is with less protein (it is the protein that gives the bread dough its strength and stops it becoming a soupy slop), i wondered about how to make sure i produced a loaf of bread with this.

I had heard that flour from heritage wheat can be more difficult to work with; on the other hand i also have heard from a very skilled baker that Jeffrey Hamelman, the famous American baker, recommends that you add low protein flour in the mix for all your bread.

The preferment after 8 hours

I would like to say that i had a long informed think about how to work with it, but i fancy that would be a fib. Instead, i distracted myself from lockdown news by coming to some quick on the spot decisions – i thought it might be good to bake it without mixing with other flour as a start, hold back on water, and use a sponge for a good long preferment to develop it as much as possible and then a long bulk in the fridge overnight.

The Torth y tir loaf just out the oven. The burst crust was a shame

What was interesting about working it was how far it stretched: i probably overworked it in fact – i have been told to be more gentle with the weaker flours. I certainly under-baked it by a couple of minutes, but it still came out to be a tasty loaf with a slightly nuttier and sweeter flavour.

In the autumn, hopefully we will have lots of heritage flour from the Sheffield Wheat Experiment and when we get to bake with it, this experience will be a useful bit of learning.

Community lockdown bake version 2

So, here we are again, in lockdown; but this time there doesn’t seem to be the novelty buzz! I hope everyone is well and feeling ok.

100 per cent wholemeal loaf

I am re-starting the community bake that i did during the Spring and Summer lockdown last year. If you live on Shirebrook, Kent or Albert Road in Sheffield and this interests you please email me.

I have been thinking about this for a while and how best to do it . Last lockdown, it all got a bit much, hence restricting it to a delivery service only and a small number of streets.

So, some things will be the same, some things have changed.  The same:

  • Lovely bread :))
  • Weekly email on a Thursday or Friday with a link to fill in the form. 
  • Payment by BACS

The changes:

  • This is for delivery to houses on Shirebrook, Albert and Kent Roads only. No collection service. (Apologies if you do not live on these streets in Sheffield!)
  • Bread will be delivered to your house between 8.30 and 9.30 am – please be sure to leave a bag out. Don’t worry, i will remind you!
  • For the moment, Thursday bake only.
  • I have a limit on numbers so first come first served. But, if i have run out, your order can be carried over to and prioritised for the following week. (You indicate this on the form)
  • No auto response this time. I will email you on Monday with confirmation and the price .
  • Please pay by Thursday evening using your reference number, which I will give you in your confirmation.

Thanks very much. Keep safe


Green bagels

No they have not gone mouldy!

Last year, in the Spring newsletter, I was looking to make sure we went a bit greener at The Tower of Bagel.

Well i am now really pleased to say it is goodbye (not without a tear) to the diesel van and hello (with a big thumbs up) to a Renault Kangoo e-van from Go Green Autos.

So far i am loving it – not so smelly, quieter and above all cheaper to run.

A pod of challah

I am wondering what the collective noun is for challah. They seem magical things like dolphins, so i am calling them a pod

a school of challah

I loved baking this challah – seeing them laid out proudly, they seemed to gain extra pride from their number stength . I always like the careful braid from three (or four or five or six) unprepossessing ropes of dough, and then a bread with life and magic glazed with egg (or honey solution) and scattered with poppy seeds.

Additional precautions against Coronavirus / Covid-19

Dear customers. This is a hard time for us all and i hope you are keeping well.

I have been taking some additional steps to ensure the risk that transmission of coronavirus via the bakery is minimised.

From a hygiene perspective i have done a deep clean in the bakery this weekend and I am following some very clear advice.  

I am not aware that COVID-19 can be transmitted in food. The bread sold by The Tower of Bagel is placed in a van which is right outside the bakery, driven to customers, then taken inside. There may be a small risk of the virus on packaging having been picked in this process. If you want to guard against this, please let me know and we can arrange something between us.

Bagel walk getting longer

If you worried about your fitness over this festive season, the bagel walk just got longer with the addition of South Street Kitchen at Park Hill flats.

It is now a leg firming 13K and google says it takes 2 hours and 24 minutes but that does not include coffee and bagel time in the cafes!

Click on the map to get the full details

Kat’s surgarless kitchen

Fran (left), Kat (right) and me

I knew i would be very nervous before being on Kat’s Kitchen yesterday, a BBC Radio Sheffield Saturday morning slot, so i spent some time ensuring i was prepared.

  • I made sure Fran from Regather was available to come too to help the conversation flow
  • revised quite a bit about bagel history (didn’t get to talk about that)
  • I made sure i knew the order i was going to do things in (revised this umpteen times!)
  • I made a list, of course, of all the things i had to make sure to bring

To start with, in this list, was sugar. And then i thought , hang on i am trying to go sugarless, what better time to launch this than on the radio?

Taking the sugar out is no big deal: the only thing is to make sure , from a weight perspective, to make the dough stretch as far, we replace about 2/3 of the sugar weight with flour and the rest with water.

But what about the taste? The use of barley malt syrup rather than diastatic malt powder (which is what i have been using when baking in bulk) brings out enough sweetness , so i will be switching back to syrup.

So. It Tower of Bagel is now a no sugar bagelry! (And challary: challah will be with honey in future (or Agar Syrup for vegan challah)

Pizza bagels – live and direct , Friday 15th March

Now is your chance to get your bagel appreciation to another level.

Vegan pizza bagel

St Mars of the Desert , the people behind the best new beers on the Sheffield block, open up the tap room every Friday.

This Friday (15th March), Sheffield beer week, they are opening up for longer.

So to make sure you don’t get hungry while you drink, pizza bagels will be available direct from the bakery starting at 4pm until we sell out.

Just pop next door – or send a runner – we will bring your pizza bagel through.

All bagels are vegan and vegan toppings are available.

Prices and toppings are here

The great sugarless changeover

The recipes i have been using for bagels have sugar. And it seems that bagels are known as a sweet bread. This has prompted two questions for me.

First, what was the sugar content back in the shetl when bagels were sold on street corners stacked on sticks? This is a question about ‘authenticity’ – what is a bagel? Some Montreal bagels you can see on You Tube have eggs, similar You Tube videos about New York bagels contain malt, nether of which i suspect were readily available in Lublin or Krakow or Vilnius.

But food travels and changes. So authenticity – unless you are trying to absolutely replicate the original recipe – for bagels in this case – does not seem pertinent. A bagel is a boiled-then-baked bread with a hole; its constituent parts are the subject of debate maybe even argument.

The second issue is more current. How can we produce food with less sugar and deliver health as well as environmental benefits:

An excess of sweetened foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, bloodsugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions.

There are also wider environmental benefits:

Sugar cane is usually grown as a monoculture. Production in many countries has moved to marginal areas removing natural rainforests, mangroves and other sensitive environments, Cane sugar has been responsible for reduced wildlife biodiversity, polluted rivers and seas, eroded fertile soils, careless use of pesticides and fertilisers, poor management of irrigation, air pollution from burning cane, and damage to coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef. The processing of sugar cane has also been shown to be very polluting, especially in poorer countries.

So, two issues emerge. Removing the sugar from the bread is simple enough, though i am not sure about its impact on the fermentation process and the final taste and texture. This needs to be discovered.

In addition, baking commercially, the process in the bakery is designed to ensure the bagels are baked in a certain time, that a certain number fit on a tray and have a certain pre-bake weight. This seems to present a problem so that the recipe is adjusted to retain efficiency as well as for the correct water content levels

Wholemeal seeded bagel. No sugar!

Even so, I am going to work towards removing as much sugar as possible from most varieties so that by the end of the year there will be a sugarless set. And we already have one, which has already made a couple of outings to Beanies, though it needs some work.