Golspie loaf

Dan Lepard Golspie loaf

Over past several years, probably nearly a decade, my favourite bread book has been Dan Lepard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’. A lot of the pics from this old Flickr set of mine are the results of recipes from the book. I had a lot of fun trying them, and the book was a real inspiration for me as I got more serious about baking. I thought I’d tried all the recipes, but looking through the book again the other day I found a few I’d missed. The Golspie loaf is one of them.

Dan explains it gets its name from a watermill in Suterhland, northern Scotland, which produces its own stoneground flours and meals. Before wheat became readily available, more common grains used for breadmaking in northern Britain were barley and oats. Traditionally, the round, flat bannock is made from oats or barley. The Golspie loaf is another disc-shaped loaf, with Dan’s recipe based on a barley or rye leaven (sourdough starter) and strong wholemeal flour. I’ve still got some of the Surrey wholewheat flour I used here, while my leaven has been mostly fed with rye lately. Dan’s recipe also used a little extra yeast, but mine’s wholly sourdough. I also added some oatmeal to the dough, as any addition of oats seems to result in a lovely most dough.

Dan Lepard Golspie loaf torn apart

350g leaven – mine was based on rye, but then fed on strong wholewheat flour and was 100% hydration (that is, made with equal proportions of water and flour)
210g water
6g salt
400g strong wholewheat flour
20g oatmeal (I used medium coarse)
Extra oatmeal to coat

1. Put the flour, 20g oatmeal and salt in a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the leaven and water.
3. Pour the gloopy leaven and water mix into the flour and bring together a dough.
4. Cover and rest for 10 minutes, then give it a brief knead.
5. Cover and rest for 10 minutes, then give it another brief knead. Repeat this once or twice more.
6. Cover and leave the dough to prove. I did this in a cool cupboard over about 4 hours. You want it to prove up until it’s almost doubled in size. You can speed it up a bit in a warmer place, but a slower prove allows the flavour to develop more, and the yeast to work on the wheat proteins.
7. Lightly oil a 20cm springform cake tin and spinkle the inside with oatmeal.

Dough and tin
8. Form the dough into a ball, then flatten this into a disc.

In tin, before final prove
9. Put the disc of dough in the tin, and spread it to fill with your knuckles.
10. Sprinkle the top with further oatmeal.
11. Leave to prove up again. Again, how long this takes will depend on the warmth of the spot, and also the liveliness of your leaven.
12. Preheat oven to 220C (200C fan).

Before bake
13. When the dough is nicely risen, and reinflates slowly when prodded, cut two slices thrpough it in a cross shape, all the way to the bottom. (A metal scraper or cutter like this is very handy.)
14. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down by 20 degrees and bake for another 25 minutes. Baking times vary depending on your oven too but you want it nicely browned. If you have a fierce oven, check after about 30 minutes.
15. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

After bake

This is a real companionable bread – the cuts mean you can tear it easily into portions for sharing. Fran’s taken a quarter to work today with some of her salt beef, a project that’s been floating around in brine the past few weeks but was cooked up on Easter Sunday.

Salt beef sarnie

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Sicilian-style almond Ns (Paste di mandorla)

Sicilian almond pastries, biscuits

Alongside the renowned corporate outfit Cosa Nostra, Inc, the half-finished bridges, the bandy-legged hero cop (“Montalbano sono”) and its incredible history from Greeks and Phoenicians, to a Norman conquest around the same time as the 1066 one us English kids learned about at school, to said Mafia scrapping the nascent Italian state during unification, Sicily also is home to some of the world’s finest pastries and sweets. Or at least, I’m assuming it is – I’ve never been, but base my experience instead on Sicilian pasticcerie I frequented in Rome. Notable among them were Dagnino, an overpriced place near Termini station located in a wonderful 1950s arcade, and Sicilia e Duci on Via Marmorata in Testaccio.

The latter was a fairly regular stop for me as it was on my route home from Piramide and Porto San Paolo station, or from hanging out in Testaccio with Rachel and co. I’ve no idea if their wares are especially renowned, but they did it for me. In particular the various permutations of almond… thing. I never learned what they were called specifically, but looking now it seems such things made with a paste or dough of ground almonds are simply called Paste di mandorla sicialiane (Sicilian almond pastries) or Pasticcini siciliani alle mandorle (Little Sicilian almonds pastries).

I can’t quite bring myself to call them cookies, as I’m English, but nor can I quite call them biscuits, as they’re not biscotti (“twice cooked”). So I’m calling them Ns. If anyone Sicilian can tell me a more specific name, I’d love to hear it, as Google has failed me.

Plate, overhead

I believe more authentic (whatever the heck that means) recipes would use some bitter almonds, that is almonds of the strain Prunus dulcis var. amara (as opposed to sweet almonds, var. dulcis) that have a particularly distinctive flavour – and certain notoriety for containing traces of Prussic acid, aka hydrogen cyanide. But they’re not readily available in smalltown England, so I just went for normal almonds. In fact, I cheated – I should probably have freshly ground blanched almonds, but just used ground almonds instead.

Boy are they good. I’m eating one as I type, and it’s bringing back memories of indulging in a bagful from Sicilia e Duci.

They’ve got a chewy, slightly crisp crust, and a sweet, moist centre. Morbido is the Italian word. Moreish is another word. It’s probably one of those words that some conceited food writers say should be avoided, but, bollocks, I rarely, if ever, use it, so think I can get away with it here.

Makes 24*

290g ground almonds, or whole blanched almonds (see below).
110g granulated sugar
1/2 t vanilla essence
1/2 t almond essence
20g runny honey
2 egg whites (that is, about 64g)
Icing sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan oven).
2. If you’re using whole blanched almonds, put them in a food processor with 25g of the sugar. Grind to a coarse powder. If you’re using ground almonds, go to step 3. Do not pass Go, do not collect £200…
3. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, working the mixture with your hands to combine. You want a soft, moist, slightly sandy paste
4. Form the dough into a ball.
5. Sieve icing sugar (aka confectioners’ sugar) onto your work surface.

Balls of almond paste
6. Weigh the ball of paste. It should be about 485g. Form the ball into a sausage, then cut off small portions, each weighing 20g (more or less).
7. Roll the pieces of paste into sausage shapes, about 10cm long and 1cm thick, coating them well with the sugar.

Shaping
8. Form these into shapes like the letter N, pinching the ends slightly.

Prebake
9. Place the shapes onto baking sheets lined with baking parchment, leaving a little space between them. They don’t expand much in the oven.

Baked
10. Bake for about 10 minutes until browning.
11. Sieve a bit more sugar over them.

Cooling

12. Scoff the lot.

Sugar shapes

 

* Recipe based on Biscotti alle mandorle amare found in ‘Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome’ by Mirella Misenti (an actual Sicilian) and Mona Talbot.

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Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua… Sort of.

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua, sliced

You could say pizza cresciuta is an Easter (Pasqua*) equivalent of the traditional north Italian Christmas cake panettone. Pizza cresciuta is one the many distinctive Italian baked products I saw during our two years in Rome. I mentioned it last year in a round-up of Easter baked goods and baking, saying that the verb crescere means “to rise”, as in the word crescendo. I also mentioned that the word pizza means a lot more than just a topped dough disc in Italy. So this is a “risen pizza” (it’s also called pizza ricresciuta – “re-risen pizza”). I believe a cresciuta is also term for what we’d call a sponge or pre-ferment – yeast, water and some of the recipe’s flour mixed ahead of time to get the leavening going nicely. It’s a term that’s also applied, in Naples I think, for a yeasted batter. Anyone with more knowledge about this, please do comment!

In shape the pizza cresciuta di Pasqua I saw in Rome was more like a tall round cake – that is, like panettone. Except when it’s savoury. Looking at recipes online, most of them are an enriched dough with some spices, but there are even recipes online in Italian for cheesy versions.

As the ones I’d seen in Rome were always sweet, I wanted to try that this Easter. Though I’ll say now that this is one of those experiments that didn’t really quite exactly work. Blogging it anyway, as a record. If I do try to perfect it, I don’t think it’ll be until next Easter.

A lot of the recipes I found used spices – notably anise seed and cinnamon. Most of them also used some liquor, notably spiced or herbal liquers like Alchermes (aka Alkermes) and Strega. One recipe I saw even contained 100ml each of rum, vermouth, alchermes, cognac, and cointreau! But I thought this much strong liquor was sure to bugger things up with the yeast (I note now that that recipe uses “lievito paneangeli” – I think this is a kind of vanilla flavoured baking powder).

I couldn’t hope to get Alchermes and Strega, but was able to source a bottle of the latter from TwentyOne Wines in Brighton (thanks Philip, who opened up for me during his Easter holiday last week). I was also finally able to track down some aniseed – something I’ve not been able to source in smalltown Lewes, and really want for several other Italian recipes, notably aniseed-flavoured ciambelline al vino (ring biscuits often eaten with a digestivo after dinner).

So here’s my recipe. Tweaked slightly from the weekend’s effort, but to really work I think it’ll need more tweaking. If you do have a try yourself, or have a better recipe, again, please let me know.

Some ingredients

Liqueur
50g Strega
2 t aniseed

Sponge / pre-ferment, or cresciuta
100g strong white flour
100g water
10g fresh yeast

Dough
250g strong white flour
300g plain, all-purpose or type ’0′ flour
6g salt
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
5 medium eggs
2 t vanilla
300g caster sugar (seems a lot but vabé)
50g lard
50g butter

Aniseed in Strega

1. Put the aniseed in the liqeur and leave to macerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
2. Make a sponge with the yeast, the water and 100g of the the strong white flour.

Lively sponge
3. Leave the sponge to ferment, covered, in a cool, draft-free place overnight.
4. Lightly beat together the eggs, vanilla, zests, sugar, booze and other spices.
6. Melt together the lard and butter then allow to cool.
7. Add the melted fat to the egg and liqeur mix.
5. Put the rest of the flour in a large bowl, along with the salt, then add the wet mixture.

Slightly strange sticky pizza cresciuta dough action shot
6. Make a dough – a nice soft, wet, tricky-to-handle dough.
8. Give the dough three short kneads every 10 minutes over half an hour or so, forming a ball, returning it to the bowl and covering between each knead. (This is the very handy Dan Lepard method.)
9. After the final knead, put the ball back in the bowl, cover again, then leave to prove until doubled in size.
10. Form a ball and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
11. Tighten up the ball, then put it in a tall, deep tin (it could be an old food tin, which is what I did when I made panettone, though note – not one with plastic lining), or in a paper panettone case. I used the latter, which are available from Bakery Bits.
12. Leave to prove up again. Ideally you want it to double in size and feel nicely inflated. Hm. See discussion below.
13. Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan oven).
14. Brush the top of the dough beaten egg. I didn’t bother as, frankly, my dough didn’t look great.
15. Bake the pizza for about 20 minutes, then turn down the oven by 20C.
16. Test to see if it’s done with a knock on the bottom. Hm. See discussion below.
17. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua. Sort of.

Eat for your Easter Sunday breakfast. In Rome, the pizza cresciuta is eaten for Easter Sunday breakfast with corallina salami. We had this one for breakfast, even though I was disappointed with the results. And couldn’t get corallina.

I knew it was going wrong when the dough seemed sluggish for the final prove. There was some (very irregular) oven spring, but I knew it was going even wronger when I first took it out of the oven – it just felt hefty, not light like a panettone. I had the oven set too low originally, and it baked too slowly, and ended up both dense and thick-crusted.

Easter Sunday breakfast - Pizza cresciuta di Pasqua

The taste was interesting though, thanks to the Strega, which features saffron, mint and fennel among its many ingredients, and the aniseed. Though I do wonder about the Strega. Certainly yeast produces alcohol alongside CO2 when it’s active in the dough, but not too much alcohol, or the presence of strong alcohol retards the action. Scratching my head about this today, I found one comment at Delia Online (here) that says “Baker’s yeast is tolerant to alcohol to about 3%. That’s 3% C2H5OH [ethanol] by mass. Brandy is about 40% C2H5OH.” I’m not sure my 50g Strega could really retard the yeast quite so much, but clearly something was awry. My proving times were quite possibly problematic too. And  I suspect all that sugar might have been a factor in affecting the activity of the yeast too.

Anyway, next time I try it, I might adapt my attempt at panettone a few years ago, which was much more successful, and go easier on the strong liquor too. Fun experiment anyway even if the result is slighty heavy duty. We had a load more for Easter Monday breakfast earlier, and it was pretty good toasted.

 

 

 

* While the English word for Easter comes from the name of a pagan goddesses – the Anglo-Saxon Ēostre – the Italian word relates to the word Passover, which comes from Pesach and the Hebrew pesah and pasah.

 

 

 

 

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Hot cross buns, Easter 2014

Hot cross buns 2014

It’s Good Friday, and there’s a very interesting story in our local paper today. I’ve eaten hot cross buns on and off all my life but learned a few new facts from Kevin Gordon’s piece in the Sussex Express. These sweet, fruity buns, with their cross-shape commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus were traditionally baked “in preparation for the end of Lent on Easter Saturday.” Okay, that I knew, despite how much crass British supermarkets might start promoting them pretty much straight after Christmas these days.

Gordon continues though: “It was often a tradition that one bun would be saved until the following Easter for good luck. A hot cross bun hung up in your home would protect if from fire until the following year. It was thought that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday would never go mouldy.”

Sponge/pre-ferment:
140g strong white flour
18g fresh yeast (so about 9g granular yeast, 5g easy-blend yeast)
150g water

Dough:
320g strong white flour
6g salt
55g light soft brown sugar or light muscovado
55g butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
125g milk
3 t mixed spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger. Whatever you prefer.
85g peel
85g sultanas or raisins

For the crosses:
100g plain flour
100g water
30g veg oil
Pinch of baking powder

1. Combine the 140g flour, yeast and 150g of water to make a sponge or pre-ferment. Leave to ferment overnight until nice and bubbly.
2. The following day, mix flour together the flour and salt.
3. Melt the butter.
4. Warm the milk to about body temperature. You can infuse it with Earl Grey tea if you like. If you’re using tea bags, don’t forget to remove them!
5. Add the sponge to the flour and salt.
4. Mix together the melted butter, milk and spices then add this to the flour too.
5. Bring the mixture to a dough, and knead for a few minutes, then form a ball, put it back in the bowl, cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
6. Stretch out the ball, add the fruit, then fold over the dough, and knead it again to mix in. Form another ball, then cover and leave to rest for another 10 minutes.
7. Give the dough another brief knead. Rest for another 10 minutes then do a final knead.
8. Put in a clean bowl, covered, and leave to prove until doubled in size – perhaps two-three hours, depending on the air temperature.
9. When it’s proved, weigh it. It should be about 1100g. If it’s not, either I’ve cocked up or you have.
10. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces, weighing about 70g each.
11. Form the pieces into neat, tight balls.
12. Place the balls on baking sheets lined with parchment then cover and leave for a final prove. Again, this will maybe take two hours, depending on ambient temperature.
13. Preheat the oven to 225C (205C fan oven).

Piping crosses
14. Mix the cross batter. When the buns are proved, pipe crosses onto them. Mine were a bit messy this time… Hey, it’s artisan, rustic…
15. Bake for 12-15 minutes until nicely browned.
16. Glaze with stock syrup (made from half/half water and caster sugar, about 50g each, heated to dissolve) while still warm.

Enjoy for a Good Friday afternoon tea, or similar. The in-laws have arrived and we scoffed several for afternoon tea. Not sure if any will survive long enough to test the theory about them never going mouldy.

The cross design is traditional of course, but talking to Michael Hanson of The Hearth bakery and pizzeria in Lewes yesterday, he told me about his childhood. He’s a third generation master baker, and apparently his grandfather, then father, had different ways of doing the crosses. Read Michaels’ thoughts on sacred Easter breads, and memories of making hot cross buns, here.

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Real bread, red bread

Sliced, morning sun

The expression “the best thing since sliced bread” is profoundly ironic. Grain is packed with nutrients, but plastic wrapped sliced “bread” is generally made with flour that’s been ground with hot steel rollers, which damage and degrade the nutrients, and then baked with the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), a heinously misguided mechanisation of the bread-making process developed in England in the 1950s.

All that sliced, plastic-wrapped pseudo-bread they sell in supermarkets and cornershops is CBP product. It’s not bread. It’s an insult to bakers, to our baking heritage, to the farmers who husbanded grain over the centuries. It’s an insult to our constitutions.

And yet the CBP “is responsible for over 80% of the bread [sic] produced in the UK and is used in every corner of the world.” (From Campden BRI.)

One of the reasons the CBP was developed and became so dominant was because the British population grew so fast in the industrial revolution we couldn’t grow all our own grain, and became reliant on shipments, especially from parts of the then British empire, notably Canada, as well as the US. Since the late 19th century, British bakers also began to prefer using the harder, higher protein wheats grown in such places.

A story, or myth
I’d always been lead to believe that the CBP was developed as two world wars, and a dependence on shipped grain, had seriously compromised British food security. The scientists at the British Baking Industries Research Association at Chorleywood wanted to both mechanise the bread-making process, making it faster (perhaps their greatest folly, see below) and wanted to be able to ease reliance on higher protein foreign wheats. They wanted to make bread again from the soft, lower protein wheats we could grow in Britain.

Flour

Or at least, that was the story. It’s one that’s regularly trotted out, such as here, on the site of one of Britain’s biggest organic flour brands. But last weekend I bought a bag of flour from the market stall of Imbhams Farm Granary. It was their latest batch of wheat flour, called Surrey Red Strong Bread Flour. (It’s called red because of pigments in the bran.) It was grown in Surrey, about 50 miles from Lewes, stone-ground to retain the nutrients at a mill a mile from the fields and, notably, very high in protein.

Surrey strong info

The info sheet said 17%, James Halfhide of Imbhams quoted a figure slightly higher, and said it would be even higher if they sifted more of the bran out to make a lighter coloured, less wholegrain flour. For comparison, low protein plain or all-purpose flour might be 10-12%, strong bread flour about 13% plus.

It’s Barlow wheat, a hard spring wheat developed recently* in North Dakota in the US, but James said it grew very well here, especially in the excellent 2013 season. Which quite shocked me, after years of hearing the story – nay myth – that British wheat means low protein.

Wholesomely wholegrain
Although I like and make all sorts of bread, as the Imbhams farm flour is so wholesomely branny – and wheat bran is a great source of fibre, fatty acids, iron and other minerals and vitamins – I wanted to make a 100% wholegrain bread. I also wanted to reduce the amount of yeast I usually use (10g to 500g of flour, or 2%, to about 6g to 500g of flour, or 1.2%) and do a longer fermentation – that all-important factor of bread production that the CBP neglects. Wheat needs long fermentation to be fully digestible – this whole rushed factor with CBP is the main reason so many people say they have dietary problems with wheat-based products these days.

Bread and butter

Wholegrain red wheat bread
500g Surrey Red strong bread flour or similar strong wholegrain wheat flour
350g tepid water
6g fresh yeast (so use about 3g instant/easyblend, 4g granular/ADY)
10g fine salt

This is all you need to make real bread – these four ingredients. Indeed, arguably, you don’t even need commercial yeast, you could just cultivate your own leaven with flour and water and wild yeasts.

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water.
2. Put the flour and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add the yeasty water.
4. Bring together a dough.
5. Knead briefly then form a ball and leave to rest in the bowl, covered with a shower cap or cloth.
6. After 10 minutes, knead briefly again.
7. Rest, covered for another 10 minutes then knead briefly again.
8. Repeat this once or twice more.
9. Put the ball of dough back in the bowl, cover and leave to prove in a cool place. I gave mine a turn (that is, stretched and folded it) after an hour or so, then put it in the fridge for about 10 hours.
10. Remove from the fridge, form a ball, then rest for another 10 minutes.
11. Form a baton shape and put in a tin.
12. Give it a final prove, until about doubled in size and ready to bake. This is where mine went a big wrong (see below).
13. Bake at 220C for about 15 minutes then turn down to 200C and bake for another 25 minutes.
14. Remove the loaf from the tin. Tap the bottom – you want it to sound hollow. If you get a bit of a dull thud, put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes without the tin.
15. Remove and leave to cool – to allow the interior to finish its baking process – on a wire racking.

So yes, I goofed slightly with the final prove, step 12. I left it a little long in the airing cupboard at about 24C, overproving it so that it deflated when I slashed the top and I didn’t get a nice oven-spring (that is, the final burst of yeast activity and dough growth when you put it in the oven).

Proved. Over proved

Deciding when the dough has proved enough and is ready to bake can be tricky. Many people say the to test is gently prod the dough and see if the indentation remains, but I’m not convinced by this, as it might indicate the dough is over-proved and the gluten structure is collapsing slightly. I think it’s better if your prod marks slow re-inflate. It’s not an exact science though and every dough is different, especially with different flours. There’s a good discussion here.

I might have been disappointed with the over-proving and lack of oven spring, but it’s still good stuff. Hearty and slightly nutty. It went very well with a tasty a soup (gurnard, smoked paprika – yum) I made for dinner last night and with Marmite for breakfast. And, compared to how sick, how utterly sullied, you might feel after eating a CBP product, I felt thoroughly brimming with nutrients after eating this.**

 

 

 

 

* So yes, it’s hardly a heritage variety of Triticum aestivum, bread wheat. But it’s locally grown, locally stoneground.
** Yes, of course I’m imagining I can feel the nutrients going into my body, but it did just feel good and wholesome. I haven’t eaten CBP products of years, but remember feeling bloated and sluggish and sick and gastrically stuffed up when I did.

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Lardy Johns and the simple pleasures of pig fat-based baked goods

Johns on plate

Here’s another traditional Sussex product that doesn’t really seem to exist any longer. Much like the Sussex plum heavies I did a month ago I’ve never seen the superbly named Lardy Johns in bakeries, and there’s very little information about them online. Also much like plum heavies they sit on the fruit pastry-scone spectrum and utilise that more old-fashioned baking fat: lard.

This recipe is from ‘Sussex Recipe Book With a few excursions into Kent’, a collection of traditional recipes by Margaret Samuelson, published in 1937. Some are her own or her family, many are gathered from interviews, while others are from 18th and 19th century sources.

The book doesn’t provide the source for the Lardy Johns recipe, which is given in the following wonderfully abrupt format: “Quarter pound flour, 2oz lard, 3/4 teaspoonful baking powder, 2 teaspoons sugar and a sprinkling of currants. Rub all together in your hands, and add enough water to make a stiff paste. Cut the paste into squares and bake for about 10 minutes.”

Putting that into a modern recipe format:
120g plain flour
3/4 t baking powder
60g lard
12g sugar
25g currants
40g water – more or less

1. Sieve together the flour and baking powder.
2. Cut the lard into small pieces and rub into the flour.
3. Add the sugar. I used granulated, but caster would be fine while Demerara or other brown sugar would give a slightly richer flavour.
4. Add the currants.

Lardy mixture
5. Bring the dough together with water. It’s 40g, more or less – what Italian recipes would put as “QB” – quanto basta, “how much is enough”.
6. Roll the dough out about 12mm (half inch) thick.

Unbaked
7. Cut into squares of about 50mm (2 inches). This recipe produced six, so if you want more double it.
8. Bake in an oven preheated to 200C for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned.

Baked
9. Eat warm, or let them cool, split and eat like scones (skohn, skon) with jam.

Scone-style

These really are very basic. Ten minute jobs. Simple fare from an era before fancy fats and flavourings. But they are surprisingly good. Slightly sweet, with a texture that’s light, slightly crisp and shorter than you’d get with a crumblier scone, which is likely made with butter and/or buttermilk.

And discuss
In ‘English Bread and Yeast Cookery’, Elizabeth David says, “If you cannot lay hands on pure pork lard, don’t attempt lardy cakes.” Well, I’m not sure of the purity of the stuff I’m use. It’s certainly not pure in a moral sense, being a product of the heinous industrial meat industry, something I try as much as possible not to engage with. But as I said in the heavies post, it seems almost impossible to source lard of good provenance. I’ve asked one of the meat purveyors on our local farmers’ market if she could do me some lard, so hopefully that’ll come through.

My vegetarian younger self 10 or 20 years ago would be horrified, but I’m enjoying these lard baking experiments – never mind the fact that products like these are a big part of the English culinary heritage. David suggests lardy cakes were traditionally made when people didn’t have their own stove and would bulk bake once a week. She explains, “… all the lardy cakes, the yeast dumplings, the buns and small cakes … were made from any extra dough not used for bead.” She goes on to say, “For these lovely cakes and rolls, lard is essential to achieve the proper texture, richness and weight. There is no such thing as a really light lardy cake.”

This suggests the Lardy Johns recipe from Samuelson is fairly modern,  developed from the yeast dough recipes with the advent of baking powder – a 19th century invention. Interestingly, the more common surviving members of the English lardy cake family are yeasted. Central and southern English counties like Hampshire and Wiltshire are associated with lardy cake, and the Wikipedia entry says lardy cake is found in “in several southern counties of England”. David, however, also gives a recipe for a Northumbrian version that neatly defenestrates that anonymous Wikipedia contributor’s theory.

I would hazard that lard, and a bit of sugar, and a few currants, when combined with a basic dough, would have been used by poorer folk throughout Britain to make a treat through from the early modern era to the mid-20th century, when intensification of farming made butter more cheaply available. They’re modest treats, sure, but compared to the absurdity of the cupcake, and suchlike contemporary middle-class obsessions, they have an assertive honesty and simplicity.

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Burger buns with a twist

Beanburger with carrot and cumin bun

Over the past few years, the UK street food scene has improved markedly. Artisan producers, in part inspired by the US street food scene, have started producing real food from food trucks – a world away from the mechanically separated burgers, listeria buffets and industrial crap that has dominated here for so long.

The other day I was in Brighton and went to the Street Diner, a Friday street food market in Brighthelm Gardens, Queen Street, BN1. It started up exactly a year ago and is now operating Saturdays too I believe.

As well as various Asian and Middle Eastern-inspired food stalls, there was enough pulled pork, brisket and burgers to satisfy my carnaholic wife Fran and brother-in-law Al. No street food scene is complete without burgers of course. As much as I adore the form factor of a burger in a bun, I’m not a carnaholic, so went for something Middle Eastern. But the next day, back in Brighton to meet Fran, I thought she might be craving burger, so did some investigation into Brighton’s best.

Burgers in Brighton
This seems to be such an important subject, there’s even an entire blog dedicated to it (here). So yes, we couldn’t possibly hope to get to the bottom of the Brighton burger scene straight away, so just plumped for Troll’s Pantry. They’re one of the most established of Brighton’s burger outfits, emphasising a use of local ingredients and operating out of the Hobgoblin pub. Which is all well and good, but on a Saturday evening, the latter wasn’t exactly a joy. It felt just like some dodgy student pub from my uni years in the 1990s, stuck in grubby aspect. And even though they have half a dozen or so handpumps, most of them were off. Don’t they have any actually trained to change cask on their busiest night?

The burgers themselves were excellent though. They’re served, US-style, in a plastic basket and a brioche-style bun. Chips – or fries, if you must – extra. I had a veggie one, Gaea’s Bounty, that was tasty, and Fran said her beef job, the Imperial Swine, was excellent.

“All beef comes from Sussex conservation project, where the English Longhorn cattle lead a wholly natural lifestyle,” says the blurb on their site. “The beef is aged for 35 days before being ground into 100% steak patties.” So that at least compensated for the lame pub. Pity Troll’s Pantry can’t find a better place to ally with.

Brioche for breakfast not burgers
Anyway. The brioche thing. It’s had me scratching my head since I first encountered it in Rome, in a venue doing US-inspired burgers. I just can’t quite reconcile the use of brioche buns for burgers.

For me, brioche is quintessentially a breakfast bread. Enriched with egg, dairy and sugar, it lends itself to eating with jam, Nutella (god forbid), coffee and hot chocolate. I don’t get how it’s considered an appropriate partner for the salty, savoury experience that is burger patty and chips.

So when I wanted to make some bean burgers at home, I didn’t want to make brioche buns. I’ll save that for a weekend breakfast, thanks.

Good old Dan Lepard had a good option, a recipe in Short and Sweet, the book that collects his wonderful recipes from the Guardian. His burger bun involves carrot and cumin. And onion. And paprika. In the dough. Yes. Quite odd, perhaps, but it worked well.

In fact, the buns are, like brioche, made with dough enriched with milk, butter and egg. But rather than taking the dough into sweet, breakfast-appropriate territory, Dan takes it into savoury, burger-appropriate territory. With the addition of veg and spices.

If the addition of carrot sounds strange, just think how it helps make for delicious moist cakes. Dan, meanwhile, says, “The grated carrot and corn flour keeps these buns bouncy, soft and moist, helped by the hot oven and a short baking time.”

The original recipe can be found recipe here. The version in Short and Sweet is slightly differnt. Here’s my version,a tad tweaked.

100g milk
120g boiling water
15g fresh yeast
50g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
100g carrot, finely grated
50g onion (ie a small-medium one), finely grated
500g strong white bread flour
50g cornflour (that’s cornstarch in American)
12g fine sea salt
1 t ground cumin
1 t paprika (I used smoked)
Water and sesame seeds to finish

Ingredients

1. Combine the boiling water and milk in a jug. You don’t want it too hot – if you have a thermometer, no more than body temp, or 37C.
2. Once it’s at a suitable temperature, crumble in the yeast.
3. Whisk the butter and egg into the liquid too.
4. Combine the flour, cornflour, salt and spices in a large bowl.
5. Add the liquid to the powders and bring to a dough.
6. Knead for a few minutes to clear (that is, bring it all together nicely), then leave, covered, for 10 minutes.
7. Give the dough another short knead, then leave for another 10 minutes and repeat. Do this once more.

Dough before proving
8. Form a ball then leave to prove in a covered bowl in a draught-free spot.

Dough after proving
9. When the dough has doubled in size – how long this takes will depend on the temperature of where you leave it – take it out of the bowl.
10. Divide into six pieces. My dough weighed just over a kilo, so each ball weighed about 184g. You could make bigger or small balls depending on what you’re doing with the buns – are you making massive burgers or small ones?
11. Form the pieces into balls, put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and leave to prove up again.

Buns before baking
12. Preheat your oven to 220C (200C fan).
13. When the balls are plumped up – the original recipe says “until risen by half” – brush the tops with water and sprinkle with seeds.
14. Bake for about 25 minutes, until nicely browned.

Buns after baking
15. Leave to cool completely.

We had ours with some bean burgers. I like making bean burgers – you can basically just chuck beans and some stodge and whatever flavours and leftovers you have into a food processor. I used butterbeans, some soffritoed onion and garlic, some bread, a bit of mashed potato, some of the wild garlic and nettle pesto I made a massive batch of after a foraging walk on Sunday.

I’m not going to get into veggie vs meat argument here, as obviously a bean burger is a very different proposition to a real meat burger, lacking that juicy, bloody fattiness. But, like a meat patty, bean burgers can exploit the same satisfying format of condiments (in this case mustardy mayo) and additons (cheese, gerkins) all combined inside a bun. The chips here were actually just made from roasting raw potatoes.

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Frappe, chiacchiare, cenci, angel wings – sweet deep-fried pasta treats

Plateful of frappe

One of the many things I’m missing about Rome is the pasticcerie – pastry bakeries, patisseries. Our old neighbourhood alone had four within about a hundred metres of each other, all independent, selling wonderful selections of handmade pastries. And what made these places a particular joy – for a baked goods geek like me – was watching their wares change over the seasons.

Particularly fun was the period of Carnevale, equivalent to our word carnival, and from the Latin to “take the meat away”. That is, stop eating meat for Lent, the period of Christian abstinence before Easter. In the Roman pasticcerie, Carnevale seemed to start pretty much immediately after Christmas and was heralded by the appearance of frappe and castagnole. For the two Carnevales we were in Rome, we indulged in these goodies extensively (check out here, here and here).

Plateful 2

Angelic chit-chat
I never tried making them though – there was little incentive when they were easily available. But now I’m home in Blighty, where proper handmade pastries aren’t quite so readily available. Plus, I was browsing Diana Henry’s book Roast Figs Sugar Snow and found her recipe for bugne ­– which are pretty much identical to frappe but from Lyon, France and take their name from the word beignet, another kind of sweet, dough fritter variable.

Bugne and frappe are simply deep-fried pieces of enriched, sweetened pastry or pasta dough* served dusted with icing sugar. Indeed, good ol’ Wikipedia – the dream of the internet incarnate – lumps bugne and frappe and may other similar international treats under the entry for “Angel wings”, which is presumably the US American English term, as I’ve not heard it in British English.

For me they’ll always be frappe as that was the name used in Rome, but even Italian has several other names for them, including cenci (“rags”) and chiacchiere (“chit-chat”).

So anyway, it’s technically Lent now, so I should have done this recipe a few weeks ago. But, well, I’m not religious and I just felt like some. Apologies to any devout Catholics who treat their seasonal gluttony proper seriously.

Frappe recipe

250g plain flour
1/2 t baking powder
30g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Zest of half a lemon
25g butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/2 t vanilla essence
1/2 T of liquor – grappa, brandy, rum, or whatever depending on your inclinations and what’s in your cabinet. We didn’t really have anything so I added a dash of vodka.
Oil for deep-frying (sunflower or similar)
Icing sugar for dusting

1. Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl.
2. Add the pinch of salt.
3. Add the sugar and lemon zest.

Eggs
4. Lightly beat together the eggs, add the vanilla essence and liquor.
5. I could say “make a well in the centre….” but I’m not convinced you really need to worry about that unless you’re working directly on a work surface so simply add the egg mix into the flour mix.

Added together
6. Likewise add the melted butter.
Mixing

7. Bring together a dough. (You could do all this in a food processor, like making short-crust pastry, or in a mixer.)

Ready to roll
8. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth and well integrated.
9. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest for at least half an hour in a cool, draught-free place.
Rolled
10. Pin out the dough to about 1mm thick, maximum 2mm. You want them thin so they cook through and crisp up evenly. Ideally, roll it out with a pasta machine. We don’t have one.

Cut CU
11. Cut rectangles about 5 x 10cm. If you have one of those little pastry wheels that gives a crimpedety** cut, perfect.

Cuts
12. Cut two slices within the rectangle. The difference between frappe and bugne is in the cut, nominally. With the bugne, you cut one slice and fold the piece of dough in on itself.

Frying
13. Heat the oil (to about 170C) then deep-fry the dough pieces a few at a time, until golden.

Cooling
14. Take out and put on some kitchen paper to absorb some of the fat.
15. When cool, arrange on a plate and dust liberally with icing sugar.

With hot choc
16. Enjoy, perhaps with a nice rich cup of quality hot chocolate.

After our record winter rains, we had a warm, sunny, dry March, very much spring. But now it’s turned cool and wet again, so I think we can do a bit more hot chocolate drinking before it gets too balmy to really enjoy that most delightful of hot drink. Current hot chocolate of choice is still Montezuma’s Dark, but local coffee-grinders Jaju also sell a very fine Columbia hot chocolate.

I found it very hard to stop eating these last night. So it’s probably better if I don’t make them too frequently.

 

 

* This dish really highlights the fine line between pastry and pasta.
** I am aware this is not a real word.

 

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Filed under Food misc, Other food, Recipes, Rome

Le Creuset-baked sourdough

Sourdough baked in Le Creset, straight out of the oven

This is a technique I’ve been wanting to try for ages. Since last year, in fact, when still living in Rome. There, I encountered the blog of another ex-pat baking enthusiast, Krumkaker. She made several of her loaves in a casserole dish. It’s also a technique demonstrated by the ever-enthusiastic Vincent Talleu here.

I didn’t have my Le Creuset, or similar, with me while living in Rome, but now I’m home, I’ve found it. (Though we’ve lost a load of other baking kit in our double move. Particularly sad is the loss of an Eiffel Tower-shaped cake mould Fran bought in Paris with our dearly missed late friend Sara.)

Anyway. I’m not sure baking in a cast iron casserole, or Dutch oven, or Le Creuset, is a Scandinavian technique. It’s likely something that just evolved before Europeans had ovens, and would bake in pots, initially earthenware.

Cracks

On the road
The only other time I baked in a Dutch oven was in New Zealand, 1989, when I was on the road with my old friend Stephen McGrath, his Clydesdale horses and an elaborate caravan of wagons and carts. I made an enormous, heavy-duty loaf in a massive Dutch oven, baking it in the embers of our campfire.

Me driving wagon through Westport, New Zealand, 1989

The logic of baking in a casserole dish is that the cast iron is not only nice and hot – you preheat it – it also traps the moisture of the dough, effectively steaming the bread as it bakes.

Steam is how you get a crisp crust on bread, and can be difficult to create in a domestic oven. Professional baking ovens have steam injectors, but domestic techniques using misting sprays or trays of water are never quite as good. I can’t remember the qualities of my campfire loaf all those years ago (25!!!), but certainly this loaf has a lovely crust – though it wasn’t the crispest I’ve managed over the years in a domestic oven.

It also has a very satisfying shape, and the dish constrains any dough flow if I hadn’t moulded the ball well enough. (I hate it when I make a round free-form loaf, forming the dough into a ball, then it flows out into a discuss shape when it take it out of the proving basket; shaping nice tight balls can be surprisingly tricky.)

My leaven / sourdough starter, healthy again

Rude health
This loaf is also my first sourdough for a while. Although I’ve been making most of my own bread since we got back to England at Christmas, I’ve been neglecting my leaven somewhat.

Now about five years old, my leaven is well-travelled and much changed. It was born in London, then moved to Sussex, then it moved to Italy with us. There, it was fed on many and varied Italian flours – wheat, rye and various things referred to by the much misunderstood term farro.

Then it moved back to Britain. And I abandoned it for a few months. While we visited friends and family in the US and NZ, the sourdough lodged with my mother. Who’s a great cook, but not a bread-maker – she’s doesn’t make bread with easy yeast, let alone have any experience with sourdough.

So the past few months I’ve been nursing it back to health. I fed it rye, and local stoneground wheat flour, and filtered water. Finally I introduced some other leaven, from third generation baker Michael Hanson of The Hearth in Lewes. This could be seen as cheating, but I see it more like a kind of marriage. The yeasts and bacteria in my (puny) leaven mixing with those in Michael’s leaven. And after weeks of TLC, it’s finally back in rude health.

Mad science
As with much of my bread-making, this is kinda experimental, not a recipe as such.

I made a sponge with:
300g water
80g wholewheat leaven (at 100% hydration)
200g strong white bread flour
All mixed together, and left, covered with a shower cap – another technique I learned from Krumkaker.

I left it all day, for about seven hours, while I went off and worked in The Hearth.

In the evening, I made up a dough, with a further:
100g white bread flour
150g wholemeal wheat flour
10g salt.

I gave it a short knead, formed a ball, then let it rest for about 10 minutes. I then gave it another short knead, another 10 minute rest, and repeated this a few more times. I then left it an hour, at room temp (about 18C). I then gave it a fold then put it back in the bowl, covered it, and left it in the fridge overnight (4C).

Dough

In the morning, I gave it another fold, resting it at room temp for another hour, then formed a ball, rested it 10 minutes, tightened up the ball, then put it in a basked and gave it a final prove in the airing cupboard (about 24C).

Final prove

I then preheated the oven to 250C, with the Le Creuset inside. After about 20 minutes, with the oven at heat, I turned the well-floured dough out of the proving basket and dropped it into the hot dish – taking care not to roast my knuckles. I didn’t slash the top -  because I wanted to see how it cracked. Or because I forgot.

Before baking

The lid went back on and I baked it for about 25 minutes at 220C. I then took off the lid, dropped the temperature again to 200C, and baked for another 20 minutes or so.

Cut

The results were good. The crust is more chewy than crisp, the crumb soft and moist. We had some for dinner, when I did wood pigeon breasts with a pancetta, thyme and juniper berry red wine sauce. We didn’t eat all the meat, so Fran used the leftovers for a sandwich for work, with a smear of wild garlic sauce. I bet no one else had that posh flavour combo sarnie* for their work lunch today.

Sandwich

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Any US readers, “sarnie” is British English – possibly even English English – slang for sandwich.

 

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Brazil nut, maple and white chocolate blondies

White chocolate maple Brazil nut blondies

If you’re a baking obsessive and have a bit of a sweet tooth, you’ll know that feeling when you just have to have something sweet and homemade in the house. Call it a sugar addiction, but I prefer to think of it as enthusiasm. (I’m not allowed to say I’m passionate about it though, as that’s Fran’s linguistic bugbear du jour.)

The other day, I was heading home, thinking, Damn, we’ve eaten all the last batch of cookies. I fancied something chocolately, and while some chocolate cookies are quick to knock out and conventional brownies are  easy to make (I normally use a no-nonsense Stephanie Alexander recipe I’ll post here one of these days), I thought I’d veer towards blondies instead.

For those who haven’t encountered them before, blondies are like brownies – a gooey, sweet, tray-bake – but are light in colour and flavoured more by the sugar (something rich like Demerara), and not by cocoa and dark chocolate.

White chocolate maple Brazil nut blondies

Here’s what I came up with.

75g unsalted butter
100g Demerara sugar
80g maple syrup
75g plain flour
1 t baking powder
2 eggs
1 t vanilla essence
100g brazil nuts
100g white chocolate

1. Preheat the oven 180C (160F fan).
2. Grease and line a square or rectangular baking tin. I used a 22cm square.
3. Melt together the butter and sugar, until the latter is starting to dissolve.
4. Add the maple syrup to the butter and sugar and remove from heat.
5. Sieve together the flour and baking powder.
6. Beat the sugar-butter mixture into the flour.
7. Beat the eggs and vanilla into the mixture.
8. Coarsely chop the nuts and white chocolate and stir into the mixture.
9. Pour the mixture into the baking tin and smooth.
10. Bake for about 20 minutes. As with brownies, you don’t want to over-bake blondies, you want them to retain some moisture and squidge. Exact cooking time will depend on your oven.

 

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