Tag Archives: dan lepard

Peanut butter buckwheat cookies

Peanut butter buckwheat cookies

Our kids are now three and two. The older one has a sweet tooth, the younger one isn’t too fussed. One thing they both do like is peanut butter. But not just any peanut butter, so I ended up in that situation where the shelf was littered with open jars of rejected spreads.

Now, nut butters are a great ingredient for cookies – eg here are some I made a few months ago. So that was the ideal solution for using up some of the extraneous stock. A quick browse of my cookbooks and good old Dan Lepard had a recipe for peanut butter cookies in Short and Sweet. His recipe uses wholemeal or spelt flour combined with rolled oats.  All ingredients I love, but I fancied making some buckwheat flour cookies, not because I’ve suddenly decided I can’t eat wheat or gluten, but just because buckwheat is yummy.

This is one of those great recipes that can handle tweaking. We did a batch that was half buckwheat, half plain flour, then I did another that was 100 per cent buckwheat. They worked very well. I reduced the sugar (as I always do) and used coconut sugar for one batch. Then in this one I used cocoa nibs and chocolate chips.

Peanut butter buckwheat cookies

200g peanut butter
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
140g soft brown sugar
8g vanilla essence
1 egg
250g buckwheat flour
6g baking soda
80g cocoa nibs
80g dark chocolate, chopped into rough chunks

1. Preheat the oven to 170C.
2. Prepare baking sheets by lining with parchment or silicone.
3. Put the peanut butter, butter and sugars in a large bowl and cream together until soft and light.
4. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
5. Sieve together the baking soda and flour then add to the bowl.
6. Add the nibs and chocolate and combine well.
7. Fall balls about the size of a walnut, around 30g each.
8. Place, spaced out, in the baking sheets.
9. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until nicely browned.
10. Allow to firm slightly on the sheets then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Enjoy. In our case, quite possibly in a playground or on a walk up the hill.

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Filed under Baking, Biscuits, cookies

Puff pastry, three recipes compared

Dan Lepard puff pastry baked

The past week or so I’ve been playing around with puff pastry. The first recipe I made was from Ginette Mathiot’s The Art of French Baking. I used this for my galette des rois Epiphany tart, but wasn’t entirely satisfied with it, so I started reading up and decided to compare some different recipes.

I’ve made puff pastry in the past, but like most home cooks I’ll either do rough puff or just buy ready-made. It always just seemed a bit of a faff to do at home, especially after I’d done it at college on a pastry break, aka dough sheeter, aka laminating table – a kind of conveyor belt with adjustable rollers that makes it so much easier and quicker to make laminated dough or pastry.

That’s what puff pastry is – it’s laminated, it consists of layers, lots of layers. Although croissants or cornetti are also laminated, they use a yeasted dough. Puff pastry doesn’t contain any leaven or raising agent, and lift mostly relies on the lamination, with layers of butter trapped between layers of a simple dough. When it’s baked, the water in the mixture turns to steam, tries to expand and pushes upwards. The fat layers trap it, opening up the product.

In French, classic puff pastry is called pâte feuilletée*. The whole art of making it and using it is called feuilletage, which can also be translated as lamination. The basic technique involves creating a simple paste that’s predomiantly flour and water, called the détrempe, and laminating into it butter (or other fat), called the beurrage.

Puff pastry/Pâte feuilletée from The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot

This book was originally published in 1932. If you look at older recipe books, there’s often quite a lot assumed on the part of the writer and the recipe can seem cursory to modern readers. Such is the case here, when you compare it to books – or indeed blogs – with lots of helpful pics.

200g plain flour
Pinch of salt
100g ice cold water
100g butter, diced and softened

GM1

1. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and add most of the water to create “a smooth, elastic dough adding the rest of the water if necessary.”

GM3
2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll it out. She says 15mm thick, which seems a bit thick considering the quantities. She doesn’t give any guidelines for how big a sheet of pastry you’re aiming for.

GM4
3. Add the butter to middle of the sheet “and fold over the flour corners” to enclose.

GM6
4. Wrap and chill for 10 minutes in the fridge.
5. Roll out again, this time to a “long rectangle 5mm thick”.

GM7
GM8
GM9

6. “Fold the short ends to overlap in the centre, like a business letter, to make a smaller rectangle with 3 layers.”
7. Chill 15 minutes.
8. Roll out again and repeat.
9. Chill 15 minutes and “Do this six more times”, this is called six more turns.
10. “After the sixth turn the pastry is ready but the more turns you do, the more layers the pastry will have.”

This is the most basic recipe in terms of a straight détrempe and beurrage. I found it didn’t puff up that well but that may have been partly to do with my learning curve, as you can see from the pics this wasn’t the most refined batch. I did it again, more neatly but it still didn’t puff up that well, though it made for some delicious sausage rolls.

Sausage rolls

All-butter English puff pastry from Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard

Short & Sweet collects Dan Lepard’s essential recipes from his run in The Guardian. You can find a version of this recipe here, though I highly recommend the book, which includes a tweaked version containing egg.

Dan L writes “this recipe is based on an old English method from the late 1800s that varies from the French puff pastry recipes from that era, in that it adds more of the butter when mixing to the dough.” He says this makes it easier to roll, and “very delicate and tender” once baked. What interested me here was a Britain-based Australian baker doing an old English recipe from probably only a few decades before the French Mathiot recipe.

Dan L puff 1

275g plain flour
275g strong white flour
1 tsp fine salt
550g butter, “cold but pliable”
2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg yolk
175g cold water

Dan L puff 2
Dan L puff 3

1. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and add 125g of the butter, cut into small pieces and rub in fully.
2. Beat together the water, lemon juice and egg yolk then add this to the flour and “knead to form a consistent dough.”
3. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
4. Roll out to about 50x30cm.
5. Slice the butter and lay this over two-thirds of the dough. Fold down the unbuttered third, then fold up the buttered third at the opposite end. So you are doing a single book fold again, just adding the butter in a different fashion.
6. Roll the top slightly to press out any air bubbles.
7. “Seal the edges with a sharp thwack of the pin” then wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
8. Roll out again to 60x20cm and fold the thirds again, so the parcel is about 20x20cm
9. Cover and chill again.
10. Roll out again, repeat. Chill, repeat – giving four more “turns”, resting between each.

As with so many Dan Lepard recipes, this one just works. There’s enough detail to explain, but not so much you get boggled. I used some to make a pie (main pic, above) and it puffed wonderfully.

Feuilletage Jean Millet from The Roux Brothers on Patisserie

The essential text The Roux Brothers on Patisserie was published in 1986, reprinted in 1991 and given to me as a Christmas present by my parents in 1995. I’ve enjoyed a lot of challenges from it over the years, and plenty of delicious results. I’d not tried their puff before though. They credit it to “our friend Jean Millet, the president of the Confédération de la Pâtisserie, Confiserie, Glacerie de France and MOF in patisserie,” which isn’t intimidating at all.

500g flour
200g water
12g / 1.5 tsp salt
25g white wine vinegar
50g butter, melted
400g butter, well chilled

Roux 1

1. They combine the liquid into the flour working it on a work surface. I just used a bowl – flour, salt, then add the water, vinegar and the butter (which I allowed to cool a bit after melting). “When all the ingredients are well mixed, work the dough with the palm of your hand until it is completely homogenous, but not too firm.”

Roux 2
2. Form a ball and cut a cross in the top.
3. Wrap and chill for 2-3 hours.

Roux 3
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out – extending the quarters formed by the cut to create four ears, with a small mound in the middle.

Roux 5
5. Put the chilled butter between two sheets of parchment or plastic and hit with the pin, “so that it is supple but still firm and very cold.”

Roux 6
6. Place the flattened butter in the middle of the dough then fold over the ears to enclose it.Roux 8
7. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes “to bring the butter and dough to the same temperature.”

Roux 9
8. Roll out to about 70x40cm. “Fold over the ends to make 3 layers. This is the first turn.” Ie, you’re doing another single book fold.
9. Roll out and fold again. “This is the second turn.”
10. Wrap and chill 30 minutes.
12. “Make 2 more turns” then rest for 30 minutes to hour in the fridge.
13. “Make 2 more turns bring the total to 6.”

This worked well too. As with Dan L’s, you incorporate some of the fat into the détrempe, making it easier to handle. As with Dan L’s it also makes quite a lot – about 1.2kg. So you can cut it into portions and freeze them.

Roux 10

This is the batch I used to make my pithivier. I’ll include this pic again, as it show very clearly some great puffing action.

Baked, sugar, side

Observations and tips

Flour – Mathiot stipulates plain flour (equivalent to all-purpose in the US), while Dan L uses a mixture of plain and strong, and the Roux brothers don’t specify. My old teacher said to use all strong flour. Stron (higher protein) flour is more resilient to all the manhandling and manipulation involved and will also give more lift in the oven. Plain (lower protein) flour will give a shorter texture, so will aid the melt-in-the-mouth quality. Always one to try and find an amenable middle ground, I’d recommend Dan L’s half-half approach.

Fat – proper puff pastry needs butter. This can be problematic for people on certain diets, but personally I don’t want to eat “pastry fat” – which is made from hydrogenated vegetable oils. The body simply cannot metabolise hydrogenated fats. Plus, butter simply tastes better, and doesn’t leave the iffy dry mouth-feel of some more processed fats.

Always make sure the fat you’re using is at a similar temperate to the paste, the détrempe. This means cold but pliable. As for the type of butter, Dan L says “You get the lightest pastry using a butter with a low moisture content, like Lurpak or Président” (ie Danish or French) but as I prefer to use local produce, I wanted to at least use English butter; Yeo Valley organic seemed to work well too. Oh, and generally unsalted makes most sense, as it’s more versatile for sweet or savoury products.

Combining – cutting the cross and making the ears is known as the French method. Slicing up the butter and laying it on two thirds of the rectangle is known as the English method. I found it easiest to handle the butter, and start the folding, when it was beaten with the rolling pin, as opposed to cubed or sliced, which seemed more likely to cause breaches. So when I tried Dan L’s I smeared the slices a bit to take off any sharp edges.

Acid – as these three recipes have shown, some call for lemon juice, others vinegar, while Mathiot’s contains neither. My online travels showed me that Richard Bertinet, Anna Olsen and Joe Pastry, among others, include lemon juice. Paul Hollywood doesn’t include any acid. The only explanation of the acid I can find is that helps prevent the pastry from oxidising and turning grey and helps tenderize it. In my case, I tend to use stoneground flours, rather than shiny bleached flours, so my doughs are always off-white anyway. Once baked, I don’t think it makes much difference with pastry, especially if you glaze it.

Resting and temperature – you have to rest the dough when you handle it a lot. This is for two reasons. Firstly, you don’t want to melt the butter or it’ll just blend with the paste, destroying the layers, so it’s always best to keep it below about 16C. Secondly, if you overwork the paste or dough, it’ll toughen up; resting it allows the gluten to relax and stay pliable. Resting times really seem to vary in these recipes, but I found Mathiot’s too short and more than 30 minutes potentially tricky, as if you fridge is at 4C, it’ll get too cold, reducing that pliability again, meaning you’ll probably need to let it warm up again before pinning it out. If it’s too cold, the butter can break through the layers of paste. That said, you may need to leave it in the fridge longer to fit in with your other commitments!

Folds and turns – when you roll it out and fold it up, that’s a turn. There are different techniques. I just stuck with the technique of folding the rectangle in thirds. You can also quarter the rectangle, folding both ends in towards the centre, then folding again in the centre, as if it’s the spine of a book. This immediately creates more layers. There seems to be some confusion over the names of these techqniques. Some call the former a half-turn or single book turn, while others called the latter a book turn or a double book turn. I’m not going to try and authoritatively name either.

Pinning out – when you pin it out, make sure you have the open ends of the parcel in the direction you’re rolling. Try to keep your piece of pastry in a rectangular shape, with straight-ish edges and square-ish corners. This takes a little practice, you can straighten up the edges with your rolling pin and stretch or pin out the corners. Also, when you fold it, take care with any air bubbles. You can press these out, or even jab then with the point of a knife, though this isn’t ideal. You’re trying to build up consistent layers.

Using it – it keeps well in the freezer, or for up to about 3 days in the fridge. When you’re using it for pastries, or pies, or tarts, it always benefits from being washed with whole egg or yolk, but when you do try to avoid any edges or it’ll seal them up and stop it rising and puffing nicely. Before baking, let it rest again, for more than 20 minutes and even overnight, as this will prevent it from  distorting when it’s put in the oven. Dan L even freezes his again before using, once it’s pinned out. Bake it at a hot temperature, 200C plus.

Conclusion
Unless you’re some kind of pastry purist, I’d recommend a recipe that incorporates a bit of the total fat into the détrempe. I’ve even seen recipes that incorporate a bit of the flour into the beurrage but I’m not sure that’s really necessary. I’d also recommend the recipes with a higher fat: flour ratio. The Mathiot recipe seems a bit meagre and modest with, in baker’s percentages 100% flour to 50% fat, when the Dan L is 100% fat and the Roux-Millet is 90% fat. Technically the Mathiot can be called a “half-puff” while Dan L’s is “full-puff”. As many chefs will tell you, fat is flavour, and good butter is delicious, never mind how it helps give that wonderful flaky, delicate, melty texture to the pastry.

I realise this is probably the longest post on this blog, but I hope a few get to the end and find it useful. I haven’t got into any maths [l = (f + 1)n] or mentioned the “Dutch or Scottish method”, but maybe I’ll talk about that in another post on rough puffs at some stage.

Baked crumbly puff pastry

 

 

 

 

 

* The French word pâte is related to the English words paste and pastry and the Italian words pasta, impasto, pastella etc, and they all come from the Greek for stewed barley, via the Latin. Feuille means leaf or sheet, and like the English folio or Italian foglia and foglio comes from the Latin.

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An evening with Dan Lepard at The Hearth, Lewes

Intro

Dan Lepard is my baking hero. If you know my blog(s) you’ll know I mention him a fair amount. His book The Handmade Loaf was the encouragment I needed to take my baking to the next level, and I had a great run making his reliable recipes from The Guardian, now collected in Short and Sweet. So I had some fanboy excitment when I heard he was doing a day at The Hearth pizzeria and bakehouse in Lewes, arranged by proprietor Michael Hanson.

Taking place on Tuesday 30 September, this was surely one of the biggest days of Lewes Octoberfeast, and indeed The Hearth has been at the heart of the 2014 festival. Dan had three events over the course of the day: classes Bread Made Simple and The Big (Cake) Bang Theory, then an evening meal, prepared in The Hearth’s wood-fired oven.

Heads down

As Michael said in his introduction, a hearth is “where people are around a fire, sharing stories, in each other’s company” and you can’t argue with the warmth, literal and metaphorical, that comes from a wood-fired oven. It also gives a remarkable depth and richness to any food cooked in it – both in flavour terms but also in more rarified, almost spiritual terms. This is real cooking: wood, smoke, oven walls with serious mass, ancient technology.

Desserts on hearth

For the meal itself, Dan, aided by Michael, food and travel writer Andy Lynes and The Hearth team, prepared a series of hearty dishes that carried on this theme of warmth, real food, depth of flavour, all eminently suitable for the last day of September, where our Indian summer is finally giving way to a change of seasons and the food cravings that accompany cooler weather.

Bagna cauda

First up flatbreads with a bagna cauda. I’d not encountered the latter before, but it’s a hot dip originally from Piedmont/Piemonte, northwest Italy. Dan’s version was an intense, thick, oily and salty, as only serious anchovy-based dishes can be, and was served with flatbread. It included oregano brought back by Emilio and Diane, who we shared a table with, from Emilio’s Sicilian hometown of Pachino (of tomato fame).

Chopping pork

The main course was shoulder of pork, with sage, lemon and garlic. The woodfired oven is perfect for proper, slow-cooked pork, and Dan said they cooked this for about four hours. It was served with crisped-up polenta slice, roasted celeriac and potato, and mushroom and borlotti bean stew. I hope Fran isn’t reading this as she’ll be really sad she wasn’t able to make it, as these are some of her favourite things, excellently done.

Apple crumble cake with gelato

The desert was one an apple and pine nut cake served with Amaretto and raisin gelato. It was a delicious, surprisingly delicate desert. The cake is based on one of Dan’s recipes for the Sydney Morning Herald, and he explained how cooking apple in orange utilises the ascorbic acid to preserve the natural sweetness, resulting in a need for less added refined sugar. And cakes with some form crumble on the top are always a winner in my book (cf toscakaka, streusel cake).

Last bit of cake

All in all, a great evening, hosted by two men who combine experience with enthusiasm, to paraphrase Dan quoting Forbes. An evening that played to the strengths of a wood-fired oven, which isn’t just for pizza – though The Hearth remains one of the few places I’ve had a decent pizza in England. Let’s hope Dan Lepard comes back to The Hearth more in future, to spread knowledge – and cook great food.

(Oh, and usual apologies about the photography. I’m really not a photographer, despite being the only one wielding a DSLR yesterday evening. Not only was Dan a professional photographer, I also met Susan Bell that evening, which throws these bodges in a very sorry light.)

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Strawberry tart

Strawberry tart

We’ve had some proper summer weather here in southern England the past few weeks. I’m quite shocked. It’s potentially looking like a good year for fruit too. All that rain in January-Febuary then a strangely hot and sunny spell in March might count for something in that department. Already our plum tree is sagging under the weight of ripening fruit, and out goseberry bush is starting to look ready to yield its sour green offerings.

I was planning to use the goosebrrries, a fruit I ate a fair amount as a child but haven’t touched for years, if not decades, for a tart yesterday, when we had friends visiting for lunch, but decided they weren’t quite ripe (the bush is in a very shady spot). Instead, the farmers market had a stall loaded with (ripe) gooseberries, cherries, strawberries and tayberries. I hadn’t encountered the latter before, but they’re a common blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)/raspberry (Rubus idaeus) cross. We bought a punnet, but mostly we bought strawberries as I’d seen a handsome looking recipe in Dan Lepard’s ‘Short & Sweet’. Another version of his recipe is available here on the Guardian.

It involves a slightly unusual custard, or sort-of custard. I’m not sure it’s a strict definition but I always assumed custard referred to things made with a mixture of milk or cream and egg yolk. This one, however, is made with egg white. Which is a typically nifty Lepard trick, as you use yolk in the pastry, and can then use up the leftover white. You make a mixture of milk, cornflour, sugar and the egg white, cook it till thick, then cool this, later on combining it with crème fraîche. Lepard uses a similar process for another of his custards, though that one does use yolks, then is mixed with double cream. It’s very handy.

So anyway.

Strawberries
About 500g strawberries
A little caster sugar

Pastry
125g plain flour (all-purpose or cake flour)
25g icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
Pinch salt
75g unsalted butter, cold, cut in small cubes
1 egg yolk
A little cold water

Custard
130g milk
20g cornflour (corn starch)
1 egg white
50g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g crème fraîche

1. Cut the stalky bits off the strawberries then slice into two or three or four, depending on the size of the individual fruit.
2. Put the strawberries in a bowl, sprinkle with caster sugar, then leave in the fridge to macerate, stirring occasionally.
3. Make the pastry by sieving together the flour and icing sugar, adding the salt then the cubed butter. Rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (you could do this in a food processor), then add the egg yolk and water and bring together a dough. Don’t be tempted to add too much water. A tablespoon or so should be enough. You want the pastry crumbling not sticky.
4. Form the pastry into a disc then wrap in plastic and rest in the fridge.
5. Combine the milk, cornflour, egg white sugar and vanilla in a saucepan.
6. Whisking well, put over a low heat. Continue whisking, increasing the heat slightly, until the mixture thickens. It can get pretty thick, so don’t get too carried away. And watch it doesn’t burn.
7. Put the thick mixture into a bowl, cover with a plate and allow to cool. Then leave in the fridge until you need it.
8. Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 25cm-ish pie or flan tin.
9. Preheat the oven to 170C.
10. Bake the pastry case blind – that is, covering the pastry with a lining of parchment and filling it with baking beans. I used to use my childhood marbles, but I’ve lost them (ahem), so currently I’m just using kidney beans. Bake for about 15 minutes then remove the beans and parchment and keep baking until the case is golden.
11. Allow the pastry case to cool.
12. Put the thick custard mix in a large bowl and loosen it up with electric beaters.
13. Add the crème fraîche and keep beating until it’s all nicely blended.
14. Put the crème fraîche-custard in the cooled pastry case.
15. Arrange the macerated strawberries over the top.
16. Serve.

Strawberry tart 2

I was hoping we’d have a little of ours leftover but eight of us – five adults, three kids – demolished it in mere seconds. Well, a few minutes perhaps. All in all, it was a lovely end to a very satisfying lunch. For starters we did some fiore di zucca: battered, deep-fried zuccchine flowers, filled with mozzarella and a little anchovy. Then for the the main course we did honey-glazed roast chicken with lemon thyme and smoked paprika, a great Tom Kerridge recipe that can be found here; smashed new potatoes with mint; broad bean, pea and mint salad with Medita (our local version of feta, from High Weald Dairy); and a simple lettuce salad. The kids didn’t fuss about any of it – indeed, they demolished most of the mains in seconds too. Kids can really be the worst critics of food, so we were very chuffed with this result. Wish we’d taken a few photos.

All accompanied by local beer and incredible sunshine, and a post-prandial walk on Malling Down, part of the South Downs, an area that’s just received a special Biosphere status from Unesco alongside places like the Amazon and the Rockies, it was a wonderful day. Which compensated nicely for my disappointment about the 18th South Downs Beer & Cider Festival, which we’d attended the day before.

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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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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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Brutti ma buoni, mark III

Brutti 3, plate

This is the third recipe for brutti ma buoni – Italian “ugly but good” hazelnut cookies.

It’s very different to the others I’ve tried, or read, as it doesn’t involve whisking the egg whites. All the other recipes I’ve seen involve whisked egg whites, resulting in cookies with a meringue or macaroon-type character. Not these, which are still delicous, but much more crunchy little lumps, reminiscent of coconut macaroons, unlike the more disc-like previous version I tried, or the knobbly mounds of the first recipe I tried.

So many variations with so few variables!

Anyway, this recipe is from my favourite baker, Dan Lepard (whose personal site is still pending an update; it’s been down for yonks now, sadly!). His recipes in the Guardian newspaper are almost always reliable, and I recommend the book that collects them, Short and Sweet. I also heartily recommend his bread book, The Handmade Loaf. Of the three recipes I’ve tried for brutti ma buoni, however, I must admit this is my least favourite: I just prefer the texture when the egg whites are whisked.

The full recipe, along with Dan L’s panettone recipe, is available here.

Brutti 3, baking sheet

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Mocha ricotta marble cake

Marble cake 2 slices

I don’t drink coffee. There, I said it. I live in Italy, but I don’t like the national drink/quotidian drug. It’s a slight problem for me, as really, the caffè (café) is all about the caffè (coffee), right down to sharing the same word. Having said that, I don’t mind a little bit of coffee flavoured cake-action. I think it’s a fond memory of my grandmother’s coffee-walnut cakes, which I’d happily eat as a small child, while never actually developing a taste for the actual drink.

Oddly, though, I do like really bitter ch ocolate, and other bitter flavours. People have told me this is silly, as the bitterness of a serious dark chocolate is not unlike the bitterness of a good coffee. (My favourite chocolate at the moment is 73 percent cacao with cacao bean nibs.) Although I realise I miss out on a major factor in the Italian socio-cultural dynamic, in many ways it’s good I never developed a taste for it: I’m a fairly twitchy person and a bad sleeper at the best of times. A caffeine habit wouldn’t help.

Anyway. One of my Christmas presents was Short & Sweet, a collection of baking recipes by Dan Lepard, some of which from his ever-reliable column in The Guardian. I had some butter than was threatening to go rancid, so I had to bake something, subito! (Which is Italian for “immediately”, even though in English we use the Italian word pronto – meaning “ready” – to mean “immediately”. How did that switcheroo happen?) It was unsalted, and I suspect they hadn’t washed the buttermilk off the fat sufficiently well.

uniced 2

Browsing the book, I found his Coffee and ricotta marble cake. There’s something eminently satisfying about the mottled crumb of a marble cake, plus coffee and ricotta are quintessentially Italian. We have some wonderful fresh ricotta available to us here. At the farmers’ market in the Ex-Mattatoio in Testaccio (open 9am to early evening Sat, 9am to around 2pm Sun), you can get sheep, cow or goat milk ricotta. Possibly even buffalo ricotta, as you can get buffalo mozzarella (bufala) – the best type, ahead of cow’s milk mozzarella, which is distinguished by being called fiore di latte, “milk flower”.

Dan L’s recipe divides the mixture, and mixes one with strong coffee, the other with marsala or rum. Given my attitude to coffee, I wasn’t entirely convinced by this, especially as I didn’t think it’d make the sponge distinctly dark enough, so I made a coffee/cocoa mix instead. Hence it’s a mocha ricotta marble cake. Which, frankly, has a lovely ring to it too. I knocked back the sugar in his recipe too as quite so much didn’t seem necessary.

Recipe
10g ground coffee
10g cocoa powder
25g boiling water
125g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
200g plain flour
150g ricotta
3 medium eggs (about 50g each)
2 teaspoons baking powder
25g marsala or rum

1. Preheat the oven 180C.
2. Grease and line a deep loaf time, around 18cm long.
3. Pour the boiling water onto the coffee and cocoa powder.
4. Cream together the sugar and butter.
5. Add about 50g of the flour to the sugar and butter mixture and beat in.
6. Sieve together the remaining 150g flour with the baking powder.
7. Beat the ricotta into the sugar and butter mixture.
8. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
9. Gently beat the remaining flour/BP into the mix.
10. Divide the mixture in two. You don’t have to weigh it unless you’re especially pedantic.
11. Mix the mocha liquid into one half, the marsala into the other.
12. Put alternating spoonfuls of the mixtures in the tin, smooth down the surface with wet knuckles, and run a skewer or spoon handle through the mixtures to create some marbling. .
13. Bake for around 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
14. Cool in the tin for around 20 minutes, then remove and cool on a rack.

To serve
You can serve it dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with a smooth basic water icing made with around 50g icing sugar and cold water. Add the water in tiny amounts and blend until you have a slightly runny consistency.

I did my icing  with a small paper piping bag. They’re nifty little items. This video shows you how to make them, but I would say divide the initial triangle into two smaller triangles as you only need a small bag for such a small amount of icing. Also, for small bags (I’m talking about the length of a finger), you don’t need a nozzle either, just snip the very end off to make a whole of around 2mm and it’ll be perfect for drizzling.

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Spelt experiments, or When bread goes wrong, and the dilemma of blogging the failures

So I was feeling experimental this week. I’d been both looking at old photos of breads I’ve made the past few years and browsing my favourite baking book, looking for inspiration. One of the breads I liked but haven’t tried too often is a 100 percent sourdough with some potato in the mix. I’d had great results once – a bread with a great, irregular crumb, which is something of a holy grail for bakers like me. It requires a high hydration dough and, generally, a natural leaven. It’s not something I’ve had much luck with lately, but I had done back in Blighty with a better kitchen and more familiar ingredients. I can’t find a photo of the bread in question, but here’s one with the kind of crumb I mean.

Okay, thought I, I’ll try that again – but with farro flour. Indeed, I’m going through a bit of a phase trying to use farro bianco all over the place, where, if I was still living in the UK, I’d use strong white or even plain flour.

I revived my leaven over a few days, then got stuck in. Feeling optimistic, taking photos to record the process, thinking I could proudly blog the results, imagining cutting open a loaf with a crunchy crust and finding that wonderful irregular crumb structure again.

Except it didn’t go well. The bread is borderline terrible. Dense, heavy, and clearly lacking in life, with no oven spring. It tastes strangely like a teabread.

This left me with a dilemma. It’s one that’s probably faced by anyone who likes to make food and blog about it. If you make something, and it’s crap, should you blog about it? You of course want you food to look marvellous when you shove it out here on the interweb. But then I thought, Hang-on, this isn’t a glossy magazine or a recipe book, it’s a blog. It’s record of my endeavours, and not just the successes. So why shouldn’t I blog the failures? Or at least talk about the agonies of deciding whether to go public with the failures. And if by some miracle this is read by experts, perhaps that can give advice. (Yeah, right. Ed.)

So anyway, this is the recipe I used, a variation on Dan Lepard’s Crusty potato bread
250g leaven (mine was fed with farro, 80% hydration)
280g water
25g honey
75g unpeeled potato, scrubbed and grated
500g farro bianco flour
10g fine sea salt

1 Combine the leaven, water, honey and potato.
2 Add the flour and salt and blend to create a wet, sticky dough.
3 Rest for 10-15 minutes.
4 Turn out onto a lightly oiled work surface and give it a brief knead.
5 Return to a lightly oiled bowl and rest for around 10-15 minutes.
6 Repeat this process (it’s Dan L’s process, developed while he worked in a busy kitchen. In some ways it’s irritating – kneading, cleaning up, waiting, kneading, cleaning up, waiting – but in others it’s great. It seems particularly good for handling wetter doughs).
7 Repeat again 2-3 more times, then leave the dough covered for half an hour. Give the dough a fold if you like.
8 Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each into a ball.
9 Rest the balls, again covered, for about 10-15 minutes.
10 Shape batons, then place then in proving baskets lined with floured clothes, or if you ain’t gone none, place side my side on floured clothes, covered.
11 Leave again until doubled in size. This will vary according to the temperature of your room, but if it’s warm (around 20C) it’ll be around 4-5 hours.
12 Heat oven to 220C.
13 Turn out the loaves onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and dusted with semolina.
14 Bake for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200C and bake for another 20 minutes.

So anyway, after all that, mine didn’t work. But if you use strong white flour instead, there’s a chance yours could. And if they do, it’s a lovely lovely bread.

Now for some diagnosis, some thoughts about why my bread didn’t work
1 The recipe really doesn’t like spelt flour. Although spelt has a not dissimilar proportion of protein to a strong white bread flour (around 14-15%), it has different proteins, which some sources refer to as “extremely fragile”. Compared to modern wheat varieties, it has less gluten, particularly gliadin, the protein that is integral to making easy stretchy white doughs (but appears to be at the heart of the increasing prevalence of coeliac/celiac disease). I’ve made plenty of decent loaves with spelt in the mix recently (like this one), but I think this is my first 100 percent spelt, 100 percent naturally leavened.
Which leads me to…
2 The leaven wasn’t sufficiently active. I perhaps should have fed and refreshed it over a few more days. Or maybe its current residents just aren’t happy with their conditions. It is Rome after all – so maybe it’s some kind of yeasty sciopero.
3 Or if I didn’t refresh it enough, I should have at least left the dough fermenting longer. It’s the winter, and our kitchen isn’t that warm, probably only around 15C (until I put the oven on). So yes, if it’s cold, it’ll take longer to ferment.
4 Except I also worry that if I left it fermenting too long, the yeasts would finish gorging themselves and any rise achieved would collapse back in on itself.
5 Some sources also talk about how you have to adjust the water. Well, I reduced it slightly from Dan L’s original recipe, and the dough did feel pretty good while I was working it. I dunno though , this place says “Too much [water], and the dough is sticky and weak and will not be able to hold the gasses that are produced during the fermentation process.”
6 Some other random factor. Like some unprecedented chemical reaction between the spud and the spelt. I know not.

Anyway, if you are a baker, and have any thoughts about what might have gone wrong here, please share!

In the meantime, I have to decide whether to continue my spelt experiments (I also used them in some brownies yesterday) or retreat to the comfort of strong white bread flour, or Manitoba as it’s known here in Italy, with its reliable if dietarily dubious gliadin and glutenin content.

Addendum

Here’s the recipe as baker’s percentages. I’m doing this partly because I’m getting out of practice and partly in response to talking to Jeremy.

250/500 = 0.5 x 100 = 50% leaven
280/500 = 0.56 x 100 = 56% water
25/500 = 0.05 x 100= 5% honey
75/500 = 0.15 x 100= 15% potato
500/500 = 1 x 100 = 100% flour
10/500 = 0.02 x 100 = 2% salt

Or if we’re getting serious (and it looks like we are), and factoring in the leaven… 250g leaven at 80% hydration = 112g water + 138g flour (rounded), so the total water is actually
392g, and the total flour is 638g.

392/638 = 0.61 x 100 = 61% water
25/638 = 0.039 x 100 = 3.9% honey
75/638 = 0.118 x 100 = 11.8% potato
638/638 = 1 x 100 = 100% flour
10/638 = 0.015 x 100 = 1.6% salt

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Polenta crust tomato bread

Polenta crust tomato bread

This is a Dan Lepard recipe – published in the Saturday Guardian.

In his intro, Dan says it’s “A loaf that’s unfairly despised by foodies and artisan bakers…”. I wonder why it’s despised. It’s not got the deep flavours of a naturally leavened bread, say, but it’s  fun and with its red hue and lumps of sundried tomato it certainly adds variety to sarnies. The crust, created by rolling the loaf in polenta, is great.

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