I first wrote this in 2017, but it’s had a run of hits lately. And I’m just making another batch, so an update seemed in order.
I like cooking, and I especially like to be able to reproduce food that I would normally end up paying an arm and a leg for if I went out and bought it from a restaurant or takeaway. I can make curry that tastes almost identical to those you get from an Indian Takeaway, and I can make pizzas which are also identical to takeaway ones.
Doner Kebabs (or ‘gyros’ if you’re in the USA) were always on my ‘to do’ list, but my previous attempts weren’t successful. Membership of various local cash & carry outlets means that I have access to the kinds of things you wouldn’t find on supermarket shelves, and I’ve seriously considered buying a whole doner leg (that’s one of those big things that slowly turn around in front of the grill at the kebab shop). If I’d have been stupid enough to do it, God only knows what I’d have done with 10kg of cooked doner meat – and yes, even the thought of buying a proper doner grill passed through my mind more than once. But genuine satisfaction could only come from being able to make doner meat from scratch.
The few goes I had were a hell of a palaver. It was all about mincing lamb breast twice, forming patties, pushing them inside an empty tin can, cooking it, then using a blow torch whilst turning the mini-doner leg on a fork and slicing layers off. Even the pictures that accompanied one of the recipes I tried (and note that the flavour of this was very good, if you’re wanting to make your own seasoning mix) showed that the final slices of meat were coarser-textured and nothing like a proper slice of doner meat. That’s how it turned out for me – the taste was pretty much spot-on, but the cooked meat was crumbly and had no ‘bite’ to it (and frankly, I wan’t that interested in farting around with a mini-doner leg, I just wanted the meat) The worded version of that same recipe suggested that commercial preparations ‘probably’ use transglutaminase – or meat glue – to hold the texture. That sounded somewhat plausible and I’d planned on trying it, when out of the blue the answer came from… bacon.
In a nutshell, the most critical part to getting the texture right when making doner kebab meat is the temperature you do the mixing at. It has to be very, very cold, almost freezing – but not quite.
I can vouch for Surfy’s Kebab Seasoning, but you can get other brands. Some of them are commercial mixes so they should be fine.
Surfy’s Kebab Seasoning, comes with a handy recipe for doner meat. The recipe is so simple that I couldn’t believe it was going to work, but I decided to give it a go exactly as it was written to see what happened.
I bought two 500g packs of lamb mince from Asda and stuck them in the freezer along with a bowl of water. When the water had just started to freeze (therefore acting as a crude thermometer), I threw the mince into my Kenwood Chef fitted with the K blade, added 50g of the kebab seasoning, and mixed on a medium-high speed until it became sticky and of a uniform texture (just like pink bread dough, in fact). Then I added 50g of the ice-water and mixed for a minute more, also on medium-high speed. Apart from the hour or so in the freezer beforehand, it took less than 10 minutes to produce the meat mixture in accordance with Surfy’s Recipe.
As I said above, I wasn’t in the least interested in producing a weird shape I’d have difficulty cooking and handling, so I packed the mixture firmly into a non-stick loaf tin by hand. Rather than just roast it, I decided to use a crude bain-marie, so I placed the loaf tin inside another tin and half filled that with boiling water and place it in a pre-heated oven at Gas Mark 4. Using my Meater probe (any thermometer will do), I let it cook until the inside temperature reached above 75°C. Once removed from the oven, I drained off the rendered fat and let it cool a little.
As soon as I cut into it I could immediately tell that I’d cracked the texture problem. It was firm and held together perfectly. And when I tasted it, it was identical to shop-bought kebab meat in both taste, smell, and texture. Once it was completely cool, I used my bacon slicer to slice it up into strips. The cooked loaf was about 220mm x 110mm x 65mm (i.e. slices were about 2½ inches wide).
I rolled the strips between parchment paper so that I could remove as many as I needed, and froze the roll for future use.
Making The Actual Kebabs
Re-heating can be done under the grill, in a pan, or in the microwave. Just don’t do it for too long, otherwise the strips dry out (though you might prefer your doner meat that way). Personally, I like mine juicy, so 30 seconds or so in the microwave gives you perfect moist strips.
I’ve typically like my kebabs on Pitta Bread, but I always find it a bit hit-and-miss over whether a pitta will puff up or not. Recently, Asda has started selling Naan Wraps, and these are absolutely perfect. They’re now my preferred bread for kebabs (until Asda stops doing them, as is their wont).
One of my kebabs will therefore be a naan wrap, 3 or 4 slices of meat with my favourite sweet chilli sauce on top, then finely sliced red and white cabbage, onions, peppers (that’s my own addition), onions (red or white), tomatoes, cucumber, and Iceberg lettuce. You can put as many vegetables on it as you like. And that’s it.
I estimate that 1kg of lamb mince produces enough doner meat for up to ten kebabs – admittedly, perhaps not if you put the same amount of meat in you get from takeaways, but that’s probably a good thing because they are usually into pig-out territory anyway. At £8 per kg of mince, plus £0.60 for the seasoning, each serving of meat comes to about 85p. With all the other stuff, you’re looking at well under £1.50 per kebab – and it’s a full, healthy meal. You’d be looking at £5-£6 in a takeaway, and a lot more fat.
No one is ever quite sure what goes into commercial kebab meat. Even taking away concerns about the actual animal the meat in them comes from, they are loaded with additional fats (often trans fats) that have been added eat during manufacture. And since we’re looking at commercial production, chemical additives (sodium phosphate, in particular) are used, quite possibly along with synthetic flavourings in some cases. In short, you simply don’t know what you’re eating – just that you’re eating a lot of it (and you know you shouldn’t).
The only fat in this homemade meat comes from the lamb. The Asda lamb I bought contains less than 20% fat in the first place, and a lot of that is rendered out during cooking (which I pour away). It contains nothing except lamb and the seasoning.
I estimate that each homemade kebab weighs in at no more than 800 calories, even on a large naan (less on one of the Asda wraps I mentioned). On a pitta it’s closer to 500 calories. Indeed, the majority of the calories come from the bread and not the meat. It’s no more than a typical meal, and a lot healthier since it contains a lot of vegetables.
If you were on a 2,000 calorie diet, you could have up to three of these as your main meal without any worries. A shop-bought kebab, on the other hand, could contain the full 2,000 calories in one go.
Could you cook it over a grill like they do in the shops?
Yes, of course. As long as you made sure it was properly cooked as you sliced it, the raw mixture could be formed on a spit, and rotated over or in front of an open flame to cook it. I haven’t tried it and have no desire to, but if you packed it tightly and then chilled it I’m sure it would be firm enough to put on a spit. Come to think of it, that’s how a takeaway I used to use many years ago did it – I watched him one day taking handfuls of meat mix out of a bowl, forming them into discs, and then throwing them on to the skewer of the large spit as he formed the ‘elephant leg’ a layer at a time. If you really, really want to go for the poseur approach, you can buy devices to do it.
Can you freeze cooked doner meat?
The recipe given above is cooked from fresh ingredients. If it is frozen quickly afterwards it’s fine for freezing. Just don’t let it hang around too long before you slice and freeze it. And never re-freeze it once thawed.
Freezing doner meat you bought in a kebab from a shop is definitely out. It was probably frozen to begin with, and you have no idea what the hygiene standards were when you were sold it. You don’t need me to tell you what the insides of kebab shops are like, and eating fresh from them is OK, but leaving it around for too long is asking for trouble.
Is it possible to buy doner meat already made?
Yes. Some cash & carry outlets sell tubs of cooked meat frozen. You can buy it in some supermarkets in smaller packs. It tastes fine, but it is relatively expensive compared with DIY.
What gives doner kebab meat its texture?
It’s all in the preparation. The meat has to have about 20-25% fat and it has to be very cold – almost freezing – when you do the mixing so that it can emulsify (i.e. the meat and fat are no longer separate). When you press it down into a mould or tray and cook it as described above, the texture is just right – not at all crumbly, but firm with a definite bite to it.
At the moment, my newsfeed is filled with stories about ‘the best rice cooker’ – probably as a result of my browsing history, I admit.
They’re all-singing, all-dancing electric things that do far more than you actually need. Now, I know that a lot of Asian people swear by electric rice cookers, but they tend to be fairly simple machines. In the West, we try to incorporate functions that are useless – like being able to play Netflix movies while you’re controlling the central heating. Stuff like that.
I can tell you now as an absolute fact, the only rice cooker you will ever need – assuming you have a microwave oven – is the Sistema Rice Cooker. All you do is put one measure of rice in the pot, add one and three quarters (or two) measures of water, and a little salt, and microwave on high for 9-10 minutes. Give it a stir, let it stand for another 5 minutes, and you have perfect rice. Period.
And it’s about a tenth of the price of the fancy ones. Sistema make some good food storage containers, too.
During the lockdown, some items were extremely difficult to get hold of – and still are, unless you’re prepared to go into shops and markets.
My dad likes crab meat, and in the past I’ve always bought it for him at Makro, where they have very good fish and meat counters. But right now there is no way I am going in those sorts of places. And then my dad decides he wants some crab meat!
I started looking around and came across Wing – The Cornish Fishmonger. They’re recommended by Rick Stein (among others), and that’s good enough for me. Better still, the fish is actually fresh and all recently landed (at the very least, freshly prepared). So I ordered some hand-picked fresh crab meat, a whole Cod fillet (as I suddenly got a hankering for some when I saw the website), and some kippers (my dad likes those, too).
Items are shipped in polystyrene chill box, and you pick the date you want – usually within 24 hours if you order in the morning. For example, I placed another order late today – Wednesday – and it’s coming on Friday. The quality of the first order was excellent – Cod fillet as long as my arm, crab meat sweet, and apparently the kippers (which I don’t like) were ‘just like the ones you used to get’ (they’re whole butterflied fish). You don’t have to order whole fish fillets, as you can specify portions and it is prepared for you, but you can also buy whole fish if that’s what you want – and all the funky kinds you’d never see in Asda or Tesco. The shellfish are supplied live. And they also sell genuine Cornish Pasties, though I haven’t tried those yet.
Wing points out that buyers are supporting the Cornish fishing industry, which is struggling right now with everything that’s going on. They also have a 5-star rating on Trustpilot.
Regular readers will know I do a bit of cooking when the fancy takes me. The kind of stuff I cook involves any, some, or all of Olive Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Peanut Oil, Sesame Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Sunflower Oil, light Soy Sauce, dark Soy Sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, and several others.
Recently, and to simplify my use of my ingredients, I bought a pack of those long-necked ‘oil’ dispensers with silicone ‘corks’. They fit in any bottle as long as it isn’t too wide at the neck, and they work like a charm. But with the lockdown and everything, my usual source of cooking ingredients has moved online, and that means usually getting smaller bottles than I’d buy at the cash & carry or the Asian supermarkets. Typically, I buy 1L bottles of Soy, for example, but online the brand I use is only half that.
You can buy oil dispenser bottles, of course, but these too are often very small, and they’re not made of strong glass in many cases. Others are opaque and made out of porcelain, so you can’t see how much is in there, and come is silly shapes for some reason. They also cost a small fortune – more than a pack of ten dispenser nozzles if you want a decent one.
Anyway, my dad finished off a bottle of his rum and I decided to use the bottle for one of my oils. I needed to get the labels off, so I soaked it in hot water for a couple of hours, then scraped off most of the paper. Then I soaked it for a few hours more and got the rest of the paper off. And I was left with every bit of glue that was originally on there stuck firmly on the bottle (along with the RFID chip). Nothing would get it off – even that Glue Gone stuff that is supposed to shift label glue. Even scraping it with a penknife just moved it around (though that’s how I got rid of the RFID, albeit in tiny pieces).
Then I had an idea. Sodium Bicarbonate is supposed to be a miracle cleaner, so I made a 50:50 paste of Sodium Bicarbonate (aka Baking Soda) and regular cooking oil, painted it all over the glue, and left it to stand for about an hour. The oil kept it in place. Then, using the scouring side of one of those foam kitchen sponges and a little bit of Fairy Liquid and warm tap water, it just scoured straight off!
So there you go. To get rid of stubborn label glue, you need to make a paste of equal parts of Sodium Bicarbonate and oil, paint or dab it over the glue, and let it stand for a while. With a little elbow grease after that, it should come right off.
Since I wrote this half way through 2017, it has been viewed 40,000 times! For the last year, it has been the top post. Obviously, a lot of people like Cashew nuts!
Before I start, let me state clearly that I am not a doctor, and this is not a medical assessment of any kind. But I can state absolutely and categorically that eating too many Cashews CAN send your poop white – or at least very pale or clay-coloured. In fact, eating too much of almost anything – and especially nuts (any type) and pulses – is likely to affect your poop’s colour and consistency.
I found this out after I had a shock one day. I won’t go into graphic detail, but let’s just say after I’d been for a Number Two, I almost did another when I saw what colour my poop was!
The internet is a great thing, but it can be very misleading if you’re not careful. I mean, you get a pimple, you look it up… cancer. You get a toothache and you look that up… cancer again. A headache? Yep, cancer – or possibly a stroke, a heart attack, cirrhosis of the liver, or mange. And so it goes on. And social media is even worse for bad information. It’s people who are the problem.
You’ll get someone who had a headache, so they Google it. Some online doctor (or one of your 100,000 ‘followers’) says it means you have a brain tumour, even though it was the fact you were hit over the head with a baseball bat that afternoon which prompted you to look it up in the first place. If you’re even half as crazy as your followers, you’ll now believe the online stuff and be convinced you have a tumour. And you’ll spread it around like you’re an expert for other people to find and be worried about. The baseball bat obviously caused some damage – but not what you’re now thinking.
In my case, I had done something sufficiently different from normal – namely, I made some salted, roasted Cashews (which are easy to whip up, and way cheaper than buying them ready made) and ate some. By “some”, it was actually more like half a kilo of them over a fairly short period of time. I like Cashews, and since I hadn’t had any for a while I suddenly got a hankering for some. They were nice, and I didn’t give it much thought until my stomach started rumbling an hour or two later.
When I Googled “stool colour and cashew nuts” I was surprised at how many results came up – mostly dire warnings about cancer and scrofula. There were also a lot of cases of people questioning their poop colour after eating Cashews. So many, in fact, that there was absolutely no way that there couldn’t be a connection.
So rest assured that if there is otherwise nothing wrong with you – and there probably isn’t – the answer is most definitely yes: eating too many Cashew nuts can turn your poop very pale, or even white. And other nuts and pulses can do the same sort of thing. Mine cleared up after a few hours. And I recently made some more salted Cashews – not eating as many this time – and my poop went pale again next morning.
Incidentally, I have also discovered that eating a lot of black grapes can give your poop a green tinge.
However, pale poop can be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires the involvement of your GP, so if it doesn’t clear up inside a day or so, make an appointment.
Can eating a lot of Cashews affect a child’s poop/stool colour?
Yes. And it wouldn’t need anywhere near as many nuts as it would for it to affect an adult.
Can eating a lot of Walnuts affect your poop/stool colour?
Yes. From what I have read, eating a lot of any nut, pulse, and some dark-coloured fruits and vegetables can make your poop change colour. Green, very pale, even reddish/orange have been mentioned in the various sources I checked.
You need to be careful with red (and black) just in case it is due to blood in your poop rather than merely a pigmentation effect. If you see blood, get checked out by your GP.
Do Blueberries affect your poop colour?
Yes, they can make your poop green, reddish, or dark depending on how many you eat (and whatever else you’ve eaten). Be careful if your poop is genuinely red or black/very dark as this can sometimes mean there is blood present, which is potentially a serious issue and nothing to do with what you ate. If it persists, see your GP.
I ate nuts and there are bits in my poop
It’s normal. Things like peanuts and sweetcorn – things high in fibre or with tough skins – might not get broken down completely and may make it all the way through, ready to scare the living daylights out of you when you see it.
Do Cashews give you diarrhoea?
Not directly – unless you are allergic to them. However, eating too much of any nut can lead to diarrhoea or very loose stools, and that includes Cashews. It’s because of the fats and fibre in them.
As with any problem, if it lasts for more than a day, see your GP. And if you get proper diarrhoea every time you eat a few nuts, you might want to get that checked out, too, because you could have an allergy – and nut allergies are potentially quite serious.
Do Cashews make you go to the toilet more?
Probably. They contain a lot of fibre, and eating that does loosen your stools, so going to the loo will be necessary. It’s why people who are constipated are advised to eat more fibre. There’s a difference between loose stools and diarrhoea, though.
IMPORTANT: this article does not constitute medical advice, and should not be taken as such. If any problem lasts more than a day, go and see your GP. If you ate Cashews and your poop went pale, it should clear up in a day or so. If it doesn’t, see your GP. And never ignore blood in your stools.
Seriously. I’ve been thinking of getting an automatic potato peeler for years, but the fact that they’re usually industrial units for use by chip shops, matched by industrial prices, has put me off. Maybe not so much the price, but certainly the size.
I was browsing through the newsfeed tonight and came across this review. Lakeland is now selling an electric home potato peeler (or potato rumbler, as they’re called).
The review is somewhat lacking, because it doesn’t say anything about what happens to the peelings and how you wash them out, but I would imagine there’s a collection box or something (from Lakeland’s own description, the peel apparently stays in the main bowl, so you just rinse it out). Even so, it’s a very reasonable price, and can peel a kilo of potatoes in one go.
Lakeland has high street stores all over the country, but it’s available online from them. It looks like the days of my trusty OXO Good Grips peelers are numbered – at least as far as potatoes are concerned.
A couple of years ago I was having a clear out and I was amazed at the number of magazines I’d collected over the years. They were mainly my Classic Rock mags, and part of my decision to have a clear out was that I’d been getting more and more disillusioned with that particular publication.
At the time, I was on an annual subscription, but Planet Rock had just launched its own magazine and that did exactly what it said on the tin – it covered rock music. Classic Rock acquired a new editor, and she made it clear in her introductory piece what she was planning. Subsequently, any rock music they covered had to include at least half female acts – meaning it became obscure and far from ‘classic’, at best – and they also decided that (as just one example) Depeche Mode somehow ticked both the ‘classic’ and ‘rock’ boxes at the same time (actually, they decided twice in the space of just a couple of months with that one example). Then they did their ‘best 100 female artists of all time’ issue, and necessarily had to include non-rock genres to fill it out. That was it from me, and I cancelled my sub.
Before any feminists start frothing at the mouth over this, I go to see lots of female artists and bands with female members. I actually seek them out if I hear them on Planet Rock and like the sound. Like Samantha Fish, Haim, Paramore, Evanescence, Courtney Love, Joanne Shaw Taylor, The Lounge Kittens… I just don’t need any feminist magazine editors trying to filter out the men for me. And if you don’t like the fact that I don’t like that fact, click the back button and go somewhere else.
Planet Rock mag suits me fine, but when the lockdown came along, it also came with a lot of extra time for reading and finding tips on how to do stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise had time for. And going out to buy magazines wasn’t an option – even if it would have been of benefit with the ‘current’ issue on sale (you usually need a series of them).
A few years ago, as a result of my quest to find some authentic German food recipes, I came across a subscription service called Readly. It carries – and this is no exaggeration – thousands of UK titles. They’re all the ones you see on the newsstands (and many you don’t), from TV Times, OK!, Hello!, through all the photography and amateur DIY magazines, through to music and musicians (including Classic Rock). They cover specialist computer and technology subjects, gaming, weddings, cycling, fishing, horse riding, pets… everything (but no X-rated adult stuff). Including back issues, too, which multiplies the content by at least ten. And as I already implied, they have similar numbers of publications from Europe, Asia, and America. They’ve also recently started including newspapers, though it’s only The Independent and Evening Standard right now.
My normal Readly subscription is less than £8 a month, but they offer a two months for free trial. Even so, at £8 a month, that’s the newsstand cost of just three magazines! If you were after foreign magazines, you’d probably pay more than that for a single issue once shipping was included.
You can get the Readly app with the offer through Amazon (it’s free), and you can read on your phone, tablet, or computer. You can also read offline by downloading the content.
There will (eventually) be a few more pictures. The recipe I’m using is very simple, and is given below.
|600g||Roggenmehl Typ 1150|
In a suitable bowl, beat the starter, salt, and water until frothy and well mixed. Add the flour and mix either by hand, or with a stand mixer. You just need to make sure everything is thoroughly combined – no need to knead or develop the gluten (there’s not much gluten in rye flour).
What you end up with can only be described as a sticky mess, but that’s OK because it’s exactly what it should look like. I’m glad I went with my Kenwood, because if you get any on you it sticks like all get out! Cover it with a tea towel and let it rise at room temperature for 10-12 hours.
Turn it out on to a well-floured surface and shape it into a round. Mine had risen by more than twice its original volume, but was still as sticky as hell. The phrase ‘turn it out’ is a bit of an oversimplification, too – most of it fell out, but there was still a layer stuck in the bowl, so I scraped that out with a spatula. I tried flouring my hands to prevent it sticking when I was shaping it, but that was no good, and I’ve since discovered you need to wet your hands with cold water when handling rye dough.
Gently place the dough into a well-floured proofing basket (mine has a canvas liner).
Let it rise for 60-90 minutes uncovered, until cracks appear on the surface. Mine rose again noticeably during this time.
Preheat the oven to the highest temperature you can (Gas Mark 9). Place a pan of boiling water on the bottom shelf to provide steam. Flour the top of the loaf and gently tip it on to a baking tray (the canvas liner released it readily, which was a huge relief).
I put one shallow slash using a sharp knife through the dough’s ‘skin’ to be on the safe side, though it cracked by itself. Drop the oven setting to Gas Mark 8 (230°C) and put the loaf inside. Total baking time is 50 minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove the tray of water.
For the last 10 minutes, open the oven door a little – just slightly ajar.
This is what the result is straight out of the oven. It’s exactly what I was after – on the outside, at least. It’s identical to the authentic German loaves. And after letting it cool right down…
Yes! Result. It has a nice tangy taste (which is one that you need to acquire, so be warned) and the crumb is pretty much just as I wanted it.
It’s amazing, really, that just 10g of the Anstellgut did all this. Many of the American recipes – and a lot of the British ones – use a tonne of the stuff. I guess that is to speed up the proofing time so it rises faster and (sigh) attempts to get ‘grape-sized holes’ – as I saw one American trying to do in a rye bread only last night – in the crumb. They also have complicated multi-stage processes which revel in terms you have to look up, but the one I found is as simple as you can get. And it works.
This long slow rise is authentically German, and it results in an even, dense, and authentic crumb.
When I make my next loaf (or subsequent loaves), I will add to the images here depending on how clean I can keep them looking (and as I hone my skills) so you can see the different stages.
Also, I was so desperate to cut into this one to see what it was like, it was still slightly warm. Apparently, you’re supposed to keep them for 24 hours before cutting into them, and I’ll do that in any future attempts.
What is ‘room temperature’?
Say, between 20°C and 25°C. If it’s less than that, it will rise much more slowly. I discovered that on the 2nd loaf, when we’d gone from around 20°C outside to less than 10°C, with indoor temperatures down pro rata.
How do you stop it sticking to your hands?
Cold water is definitely the answer. I initially tried flour, but it was no good at all. But running my hands under cold water, then quickly shaping the round and dropping it into the proofing basket was simple the second time. Just don’t go overboard with it.
My loaf has a dense or damp bottom
Assuming that it’s fully cooked, make sure you let it cool on a wire rack – not on a solid (and especially, a cold) surface. If the base cools too quickly, moisture in the loaf condenses, and that makes it denser or even soggy at the bottom.
After my preamble in Part I, now it’s time to get down to business and start making my proper German Sourdough Rye Bread – Vollkornbrot in this case.
The whole point of sourdough bread is that you don’t use any added yeast – which is fortunate, since the panic-buyers have it all. Instead, you make use of the yeast that occurs naturally in the flour. The only problem with that is that there’s not much there compared with a tablespoon of pure bakers’ yeast, so you need to gradually bring it to life and let it grow before you can actually make any bread.
This is a one-time process, and at the end of it you have a ‘starter culture’ – or Anstellgut, in German. Incidentally, if any German readers want to correct me, please do. I’m trying to improve my German language skills right now, and having to translate these recipes has been fun, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have got all the words right. Anstellgut in particular doesn’t translate too well – you get some pretty funky results – and I had to work it out for myself.
The principle behind making a starter is that you mix approximately equal portions of flour and water, then incubate it in a warm place for a day. Then you ‘feed’ it with more flour and a similar amount of water, and incubate again. You repeat this for several days, until at the end of it you have a nice frothy starter which is now fully active and can be used to make bread rise. You can use any flour to make a starter, but it is usually best (though not essential) to use the type of flour you’ll be making the bread out of later. In my case, I want a rye bread, so I am using rye flour.
I’m using “Roggenmehl Typ 1150”, which I purchased from Bäckerei George, located in Dresden, Germany. They’re on eBay, and the listing is in German, but you can use any rye flour if that worries you (and if you can get it). They delivered to me with no problems, so I’m happy to vouch for them. Roggenmehl means ‘rye flour’, and Roggenmehl 1150 (the number relates to the ash content) is high in B and E vitamins, contains at least 85% of the whole grain, and is therefore darker than normal bread flour. Rye has a lower gluten content than regular white flour and a slightly sour taste.
Googling for information on starters and sourdough throws up some bizarrely complicated methods which seem fixated on ending up with barely more than a thimbleful of starter from anything up to half a kilo of flour and the same amount of water. I went for a simple Anstellgut based on one I found on a German cookery website. It takes 7 days to prepare – assuming nothing goes wrong. I used a big enough container so as not to have to keep pissing about throwing half away here, and half away there to try and keep it in a jam jar (it rises and falls when you’re making it).
I started with a jam jar, then switched to a larger jar when the volume increased. Before use, I washed the jar I needed and then dried it in a low oven for 20 minutes to sterilise it. You can use a plastic container as long as it’s clean.
Oh, one more thing. Chlorine is very bad for the low levels of yeast spores in the flour, and it kills or inhibits them. Don’t use tap water when making your Anstellgut – use spring water from a bottle. And you can warm it slightly either in a clean pan on the stove, or in the microwave for a few seconds. Ideally, it should be around 25-30°C when you use it.
I was intending to show a series of pictures, but I quickly realised this is pointless. Once the Anstellgut kicks off, it rises then falls over 24 hours. So although it might double in volume a few hours after you feed it, after 24 hours it has calmed right back down and you can’t see anything dramatic.
To the clean jam jar, add 50g of flour and 80g of slightly warm bottled spring water. Mix with a clean spatula, cover the jar with muslin, and incubate at about 25°C for 24 hours.
There is already obvious activity even after 24 hours, with a few bubbles and a honeycombed texture when you dig into it. It has a very slight acidic odour. It’s looking good, so far.
Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.
Sometime during the night, the marks on the jar show it doubled in volume, then fell back again. It is frothy with the same slightly acidic odour. I’ve transferred it to the larger jar now (I only just got away with it in the smaller one).
Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.
Again, at some point overnight it doubled in volume and then fell back. It smells more yeasty now – almost like when making beer, but not as strong.
Add 50g of flour and 60g of slightly warm water. Mix with a clean spatula, re-cover with muslin, and incubate for 24 hours.
Again, it doubled at some point, then fell back. The smell is still good.
Once again, it doubled and fell back. I’m beginning to see how this works. Each feed, it becomes highly active with the new food, then quietens down once it has used it up.
Once again, it doubled and fell back
My Anstellgut – my baby (which has a name, by the way) – is ready to use (and that comes in Part III).
Maintaining the Anstellgut
If you’re baking regularly, feed the Anstellgut in exactly the same way as you did when you were making it. Equal amounts of flour and water daily if you’re keeping it at room temperature.
Storing the Anstellgut
If you’re not baking regularly, seal the lid, put the Anstellgut in the fridge, and feed it weekly. It will keep almost indefinitely.
Like most of us, I have a lot of spare time on my hands right now, and regular readers will know that I like cooking, especially if it involves trying to copy something that already exists commercially, and which I enjoy eating.
Note: This is a three-part series – the fun stuff is in Parts II and III.
Before the lockdown, I rediscovered something I’ve missed for years – German Rye Bread. And I mean the proper sourdough rye – not Hovis or any other insipid ‘wholemeal’ concoction that’s just packet white bread with some brown dye in it.
Thinking back to whenever I travelled abroad with someone on business (even when I used to go on skiing trips with friends, for that matter), once we got there food was always a problem. There was always someone in the bloody group who would only want to eat burgers or pizza – and even that threw up issues if the burger wasn’t a McDonalds, and the fact that proper continental pizza is nothing like a Dominos or Pizza Hut affair.
‘Tough, we’re having Bratwurst and Sauerkraut’ tended not to go down too well, so there was little choice but to give in at least some of the time. You see, if I’m in France, I eat croissants, proper baguettes, and anything else French. And I love it. It’s the same if I’m in America, Pakistan (a bit risky), Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Italy, or Germany. I mean, what’s the point of being up in the Alps or The Dolomites, with the smell of wood fires and fresh coffee all around, and you’ve got to walk miles to the end of the village to get a bloody McDonalds (and Coke) for a fussy eater? One time, at a conference in Vienna with this guy (it was close to Christmas, with all the Christmas markets over there, to make matters worse), we’d agreed to alternate on who decided where we ate each evening. As the one of us who wasn’t afraid to look around and embarrass himself trying to speak German (I can, a bit), and who preferred continental beer to Fosters at the best of times, the first night I found a place where they didn’t speak any English, served brilliant Austrian food (Wiener schnitzel, strudel, spätzle, and so on), beer in Steins, and and which was where all the locals went to eat. Next night, the guy I was with wanted to go for a bloody Chinese! I was seething – we’re in Vienna, at Christmas, with all the Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel in those markets, and instead we’re eating Crispy bleeding Duck (he was being ‘adventurous’) in a plastic Chinese restaurant that was exactly the same as back home.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Germany, though, and the last few times I was there – while those I was with would grumble and gingerly poke at a bowl of non-British cornflakes with non-British milk (or maybe a croissant with non-British jam) for breakfast, in prelude to the nightly argument over whether we’d go for Schweinshaxe followed by Germknödel or a McDonalds that evening – I’d go for the full-on German option of scrambled eggs and a selection of different and often very dark breads, with various cooked meats, salamis, and cheeses. I fell in love with German bread more each time I went (as well as Germknödel). Incidentally, if ever you go to Hanover, look up The Bavarium restaurant – brilliant Gulaschsuppe and (sigh) Germknödel.
Anyway, back to the point. I had found proper German rye bread in Asda, of all places – made and packed over there. It was just rye bread, too, and not that poncey stuff with sunflower seeds, or nuts and raisins in it, and usually with a bloody rainbow on the wrapper somewhere. Nor did it specifically mention ‘for vegans and other weirdoes’ on the wrapper. It was just as I remembered, but being unfortunately situated on the special weirdo shelf in Asda’s bakery section, it was often sold out. As a result, I bought it when I could and froze it – being so dense, it freezes perfectly. Then came the lockdown, Asda doesn’t sell it online, nor can I find it anywhere else.
In the early stages of the lockdown it was impossible to get any bread from Asda at all thanks to the panic-buyers. My elderly parents only eat white bread and my dad, in particular, is a stubborn old sod and won’t accept that we need to make do with what we can actually get, rather than pick and choose what we want. My first thought was ‘Breadmaking Machine’, but I immediately discovered that the panic-buyers had cleared those off the shelves (and online). Then I realised they’d cleared out all the stocks of yeast and flour, too.
Things have calmed down a bit with Asda, though it’s still hit-and-miss, and getting white bread for my parents is somewhat easier. But I wanted German Rye, so out came my project hat, and off I went to resolve the issue.
Googling threw up a multitude of ‘authentic’ German recipes, all of which were as authentic as a Corsa with a BMW badge glued to it. Anything which contains ‘all-purpose flour’ is not authentic. It’s American. Any ‘sourdough’ recipe calling for ‘instant yeast’ is the same. And Americans seem to have this weird fascination with making bread with silly patterns on the crust, and the biggest imaginable holes in it so they can boast how much it has risen in multitudes of ‘rustic’ photographs. Yet this was all that kept coming up.
Then I realised what I was doing wrong, and fired up my trusty VPN to pretend I was in Germany. That did it! Stacks of German recipes, from Germany, and in German. Armed with my fluent (in my dreams) German linguistic skills – and Google Translate – I figured out how I was going make Vollkornbrot to begin with.
As I already implied, there must be thousands of nutcases all over the UK right now who are sitting on stockpiles of every type of flour, yeast, and electrical appliance that could even remotely be used in baking bread, without having a clue how to use any of them. But, when in Rome – or in the case of my VPN, Germany – I decided to order from German millers. So I now have 10kg of rye flour (Roggenmehl) and a couple of kg of coarse rye meal (Roggenschot). Roggen means ‘rye’, Mehl means ‘flour’, Roggenschot literally means ‘rye scrap’ or ‘rye flour’ (but coarsely ground), and Vollkornbrot means ‘whole grain bread’.
Sourdough (Sauerteig in German) bread doesn’t use any added yeast. Instead, you have a starter culture (Anstellgut), which utilises the natural yeasts present in the flour. To make one, you simply mix flour and water, and over a number of days gradually coax the yeast into becoming more and more active by adding more flour and water until it is at a level of activity where it can be used to give the necessary rise to your bread. As long as you keep feeding it, the starter lasts pretty much forever (some bakeries boast starters which are over 100 years old), and you only use a fraction of it each time you make bread. More about this in Part II.
My target is something with a tight crumb similar to this (the stuff I was buying from Asda). No stupid 3cm wide holes, and no Leonardo da Vinci crap on the crust. Just a dense rye bread.
And trust me on this. It might seem like a lot of hassle, but it isn’t. Once you have your starter – which isn’t time consuming other than the day wait between stages – making bread is an absolute, laid-back doddle.