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Home baking: Helen Evans of Flor London shares her secret tips

So you've nailed sourdough, but how to take your baking to the next level? Helen Evans of cult London restaurant and now bakery Flor shares her pointers for using different types of flour, and how to really understand if the dough is too wet or too dry

Helen Evans of Flor London on how to bake brilliant bread at home

If you haven't queued for a pastry from Borough Market's Flor on a Saturday morning, you probably aren’t doing London right. But now's your chance to rectify that, because Flor is expanding to a bakery-only site in Spa Terminus, complete with a bigger oven for more of the cult heritage grain pastries and breads.

The bakes come from the hands of Helen Evans, Flor's head of baking and pastry. She shares her insider tips for baking great bread at home.

What essentials do you need at home to make really great bread?

To make great-tasting bread you have to find the right flour. Try a new variety like rye, spelt, Maris Widgeon or Miller's Choice, and blend it in with some of your favourite strong white bread flour to practise. Use it wholegrain, because the flavour will be far superior. Other than that, a cast iron pot (like a large Le Creuset) with a lid works well for home baking. Leave the lid on for the first half of the bake then remove to let the steam out and allow the crust to caramelise.

What's your top tip for making bread?

My top tip when making sourdough is to pay attention to temperature. Water should be lukewarm and never cold (we mix dough with 26-28°C water). You want your final dough temperature (once mixed) to be no lower than 26°C (otherwise nothing much will happen). If your kitchen is cold, mix with even warmer water, like 30°C. Just be careful not to mix with very hot water because you'll kill all the yeasts in your sourdough culture.

You'll never really know how much water to add to the dough – even I'm still learning!

How are you really supposed to know when the dough is too wet or too dry?

You'll never really know – even I'm still learning! Every variety of wheat will absorb water in a different way. The way it hydrates also depends on how recently the wheat has been milled into flour. Generally speaking, the fresher the flour, the less water it will absorb, and vice-versa. The only way to get better at judging water content is through practice; it will become almost instinctive.

What makes grain-focused bread different when it comes to texture, flavour and nutrition?

Bread made with more wholewheat is generally more flavourful. Wholemeal flour essentially contains the 'whole' grain, meaning more fibre, vitamins and minerals than sifted white flour (which is mostly just endosperm, since the bran and germ is removed at the roller mill). Because there is more bran present in wholemeal flour, it generally doesn't possess the same strength as white flour, because the pieces of bran inhibit gluten development. For this reason, your homemade loaves containing more wholemeal may appear slightly denser with a more closely packed crumb structure, but they'll be better for you and taste better, too.

When you work with different grains, how does that affect how you make the bread?

If you're ready to start experimenting with different grains, I would start off by hand-mixing your dough. By using your hands you'll get a better feel for how the flour is absorbing the water, and how much strength is developing within the dough as you mix. Heritage variety wheats tend to contain slightly less gluten, so they might not respond so well to heavy mixing in a food processor. Start gently and use a tuck-and-fold motion, and give your dough plenty of time to rest between folds.

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Which different types of grain are good to try out at home?

I think spelt is a good introductory 'different' grain: it's easy to get hold of and works well in everything. It has a lovely extensibility, so it works great in pizza dough, and a decent amount of strength. Be brave and try a 100% wholemeal spelt loaf – put the dough into a tin if you're worried it feels a little soft (tins hide a magnitude of sins. We often bake wholemeal loaves in tins if we're worried the dough feels a little too soft/weak for a freeform hearth loaf).

What can you do with your sourdough leftovers?

I like making quick batters at home; I never have the patience to wait around in the same way we do on a day-to-day basis at the bakery. Sourdough pancake batter using old discarded leaven, or crumpets – both are really quick to prepare and taste much better fresh and homemade. Unleavened flatbreads are also great for accompanying dips or snacks, and take minutes to prepare. You can add extra flavour by adding freshly milled and/or wholewheat flour (the bran holds so much flavour and is discarded as a by-product all too often, or leftover sourdough starter.

flor-bakery.com

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