At home with Benjamin Hübner

Cooking has turned out to be one of the great soothing factors over the past few months, with many of us having turned to new and unfamiliar dishes and techniques of baking. We visited chef Benjamin Hübner at home, to take a peek into his kitchen and learn what his staples are. A huge fan of fermentation processes, he generously shared recipes for a sourdough starter and a loaf.

Benjamin, what are your pantry staples?

Flour, usually from my favourite brand, to bake bread with.

Kibi shiro shoyu, a Japanese-style soy sauce made in Berlin. This one is a favourite, made from millet and fermented in an oak cask. The flavour is fine and delicate, it’s just unbelievably good.

Apple-cider vinegar that I make myself from Apfelwein and that I soaked fresh elderberry flowers in. They add a floral scent and I use it for everything, it’s perfect for salads.

Wholegrain mustard that I made with our neighbour’s 8-year old daughter. Great to eat with bread or sausages and for salad dressings.

Buckwheat koji that I make myself, by fermenting buckwheat with koji spores. I use this as a starter for all my Asian ferments like miso and soy sauces.

Bonito flakes and kombu algae that I use together to make a nice dark flavourful Japanese stock with a delicious rich flavour. It’s a base for sauces or miso soup.

Gochugaru, Korean red chilli flakes with a relatively mild and fruity. It’s a staple that I use to spice everything, and also for the kimchi I make.

What do you always have in the fridge?

A good bottle of Champagne or Sekt – there’s always a reason for a glass of good bubbly!

Butter – I’m fairly open to what kind, though it has to be organic.

Jus – Naturally homemade, a rich brown sauce that pairs well with a good piece of meat.

And: Fermented chili paste that I make myself, that’s a little spicy and a little sweet, perfect when someone’s looking for a bit more spice in their dish.

Tell us more about your collection of fermented goodies.

My sourdough starter I feed regularly and use it to bake a loaf of bread once or twice a week.

I make a homemade fish sauce by fermenting fish heads and bones with buckwheat koi and salt at 40° for a few weeks. I love fermenting fruit and vegetables in a lactic acid-based solution. These can be served as is, with a slice of good bread, or made into chutneys, salad dressings and a whole variety of other things. There’s always some kefir around as well, that really simple to make with kefir grains and milk. It’s like a thin yoghurt, salty and flavourful, very nutritional and a great probiotic.

What can’t you live without?

Coffee! Without it things would be a bit impossible. All the products made from milk, that I love – if I suddenly developed an intolerance to lactose, things would get very difficult!

Benjamin’s recipes for a sourdough starter and a sourdough loaf:

Sourdough starter:
Combine equal quantities of wheat flour and water (for example 200 gm flour and 200 ml water) in a large, clean jar. Mix well and set aside for a day, covering the top with a net or cloth to keep insects away. Repeat this twice, each time after 24 hours. By the third day you should notice bubbles on the surface of the starter, and it’s ready to use after the third day.

Sourdough loaf:
200 gm starter (see above)
400 gm 1050 wheat flour
100 gm wholegrain wheat flour
20 gm salt
300 ml water

Making the dough:
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and pour over with the water. Using a hand mixer fitted with dough hooks or a food processor mix together for 30 — 45 seconds until a dough forms. It should feel firm and spongy to the touch.

Fold the dough over a few times by grabbing the edge opposite you, pulling it up gently and folding it over the ball, towards you (watch this video for technique). Cover and set aside to rest for an hour.

After the first hour, fold the dough into itself for a few minutes in half-hour intervals, repeated 3–5 times.

An hour later: fold the dough into itself every half hour, 3—5 times.

After the final folding, transfer the dough to a well-floured proofing basket. Alternatively line a bowl with a clean dry tea towel, flour generously and place the dough inside. Cover with a another tea towel and place overnight in the fridge.

Baking the loaf:
You can bake the loaf in a Dutch oven, if you have one or on a baking tray.

Heat your oven to the highest it will go. If you’re using a Dutch oven, heat it as well and leave in the oven until the baking temperature has been reached. If using a baking tray, this can be heated too.

In a Dutch oven:
Working quickly, remove the heated Dutch oven and remove the lid. Lay a folded piece of baking paper on the bottom, onto which you can place the risen loaf. Using a sharp or serrated knife to score a line in the middle of the loaf, following parallel to the outer curve, in a crescent form. Pour 50ml water into the casserole, trying to get it under the baking paper. Shut the lid closed, place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes at maximum heat.

Remove the lid after 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 200°C and bake for a further 40—45 minutes, depending on how dark you’d like the crust. The loaf should feel hollow to the touch when you knock on the top. Remove from the oven, tip the loaf onto a wire mesh and allow to cool completely before slicing.

On a baking tray:
Heat the baking tray in the oven. Remove, line with with baking paper and place the loaf on it. Use a sharp or serrated knife to score a line in the middle of the loaf, following parallel to the outer curve, in a crescent form. Place in the oven and moving fast, pour about 100 ml of water on the floor of the oven to create steam, shut the door and bake at the highest heat for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 200°C and bake for a further 40—45 minutes, depending on how dark you want the loaf to be. Remove the loaf and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Thank you very much for sharing your pantry essentials and love for fermentation – and how to make your own sourdough starter!

Follow Benjamin’s cooking and fermenting adventures on Instagram.