I have always enjoyed making stuff. Beer, wine, cheese, jams and now bread. In fact, I have become obsessed by bread. I am lucky enough to not work on Friday's and have fallen into a beautiful routine. The day starts with slipping on a well worn conference t-shirt and my old Hiut's (I have 5 pairs but nothing is as good as the first pair which are now softer than a babies bum), I am then in the zone. The scene is set and after a good strong coffee, I am ready to bake.
My weekends are now basically 72 hours of fermenting. I brew beer & wine and make bread. I wake early each morning and jump out of bed to check my overnight proofing - my weekends have transformed. Gone are the 10am lie-in's, the second my eyes are open I am springing out of bed and making a beeline for the kitchen.
My current bread of choice is the sourdough. I love the fact that a sourdough has a life of it's own. It requires feeding and caring for. It is also the basis of some fantastic bread. Standard bread requires yeast to help rise the dough - sourdough is basically fermented flour and water which creates a fantastic yeast alternative. I often get bloated by normal bread, sourdough doesn't have this effect on me. It just feels healthier.
Now for the geeky bit.
Bread needs proofing - time to grow, relax and take shape. Good proofing requires a stable temperature. During the summer months, the ambient temperature of the kitchen is enough for good proofing. With the changing of the seasons, maintaining a stable temperature (around 20c) can be difficult. Some use an unlit oven relying on the bulb used for light as it radiates a small amount of heat, some wrap bowls in duvets (weirdos) and I have read stories about some using their own body heat to keep the dough warm. I had a different idea.
As a self certified geek, I knew there had to be a better way. So I built something. Powered by a Spark which is basically an Arduino clone with built in wi-fi, the BreadBot maintains a temperature set via a dial allowing the sourdough to proof perfectly, every time. The temperature remains accurate to one tenth of a degree. I can even check temperature and make adjustment's via my iPhone or a web browser. The BreadBot is made simply out of an old wine crate, the Spark, an LCD display, a couple of L.E.D's, a food safe DS18B20 thermometre , a relay and an old heating belt traditionally used for home brewing. I have ordered a few upgrades (currently on a slow boat from china) which will help make the process more accurate (including a frickin' laser), but for now, the BreadBot is functional.
A good sourdough can take 12 hours+ of proofing. A variation of 5 degrees can alter this time by as much as 100% so I can time when a dough is ready for baking by simply dialling in the correct temperature. As an example, the first stage of proofing (creating the production dough) takes around 4 hours of proofing at 27c, the second stage then takes around 6 hours at 27c. Over proofed dough tends to be too light and can collpase in on itself so it is essential to have the dough ready at the time that suits me. I have found that if I dial the temperature to around 22c I can leave the dough overnight and be ready for baking when I wake. I now have the flexibility to dictate when the dough will be ready.
The result is fantastic bread when I want it and total consistency. I will post more detail about (including the code) the BreadBot when it is finished.
Another sourdough mix goes into the BreadBot