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Madeira cake

Madeira cake with clotted cream

A while back, I just had one of those urges – very specific, for something somewhat old-fashioned. Madeira cake. It’s one of those English cakes the Victorians, or possibly even the Georgians, would have tucked into, accompanied by a glass of Madeira. Madeira is a fortified wine from the Portuguese island archipelago of the same name, located in the Atlantic 880-odd km west of the Moroccan coast. The cake itself isn’t from Madeira.

Madeira cake is a basic concoction, not unlike pound cake: dense and satisfying. Checking my cookbooks, I found several different recipes. It’s amazing how something so simple can have so much variation. A unifying feature seems to be some lemon flavour in the form of zest in the batter and sometimes candied peel or zest added on top too, part-way through baking. Except that when I checked Mrs Beeton, she had none of this. No flavouring whatsoever – not even the inclusion of ground almonds, which several recipes use.

Mary Berry Madeira cakeJane Grigson Madeira cake

I tried several. Mary Berry’s, which has almonds, was good. I found it a bit dry, but possibly I over-baked a tad. The recipe in Jane Grigson English Food was basic and reliable. The recipe in Leith’s Book of Baking by Prue Leith and Caroline Waldegrave was pleasingly crumbly and unusually had a pinch of cinnamon. I’ve not seen this elsewhere, and Leith and Waldegrave give no preamble, so the rationale for the spice will remain a mystery. Perhaps it was just a whim on their part.

Leith Madeira cakeDuff Madeira cake

I also tried a few more recipes from Cakes Regional and Traditional by Julie Duff, which worked well, but was particularly nice as I had such good eggs with bright orange yolks, and The Sainsbury Book of Home Baking by Carole Handslip. This was no-nonsense and fine. Plus, it was a trip down memory lane as the book, published in 1980, was one of those I used in my mum’s kitchen in my childhood. I also used another book from my mum: Geraldine Holt’s Cake Store, published in 1983. The cake was also tasty but the mixture wasn’t enough for the 18cm tin she recommended. It’s important that this cake has some verticality, rather than being too flat. It’s a tall cake not a disc.

Books

Having done all that important research, here’s my version. I’m not claiming it’s the perfect Madeira cake but it suits my requirements for flavour, ingredients and shape.

210g butter, softened
180g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
225g plain flour
7g baking powder
110g ground almonds
90g milk
Pinch salt

1. Grease and line an 18cm tin.
2. Preheat the oven to 170C.
3. Beat together the butter and sugar until light.
4. Beat the eggs then add slowly to the creamed mix, combining all. If it starts to curdle, add a dash of flour.
5. Add the lemon zest.
6. Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture.
7. Add the ground almonds and pinch of salt and fold to combine.
8. Add the milk. If the mixture is too stiff, add a little more until it’s quite soft.
9. Put the mixture in the tin and bake for about an hour, until a skewer comes out clean. If the cake is starting to brown but the interior isn’t baked, cover with foil and leave in the oven a bit longer.
10. Cool on a wire rack.

Madeira cake in tin

I doubt many people drink it with Madeira wine these days. We certainly don’t. I’ve never even tasted the stuff, though we were just finishing off some pleasant Portuguese Vinho Verde when we had this one, eaten as dessert for Sunday lunch, accompanied by that ambrosial West Country delight, clotted cream. It’s also great, more modestly, with a cuppa.

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Michette di Liguria: sweet buns, strange legend

Michetta, michette di liguria, Dolceacqua

After a slice of my torta di Santiago, a friend of my brother’s asked if I knew of any cakes that are traditionally eaten for the Christian feast day of the Assumption of Mary, celebrated on 15 August. I didn’t.

My native England has lost so much of its traditional festival foods, and I hadn’t encountered any Assumption baked goods while living in Italy. So some research was undertaken. The Feast Day Cookbook suggested veal cutlets and shrimps in béchamel. Neither of which satisfies the cake remit. Digging around more though, I came across a sweet bun from Liguria, northwest Italy. Specifically they’re from the town of Dolceacqua.

They’re called michette. Michetta is a term that’s more commonly used in Italy to refer to a type of hollow bread roll, originating from Lombardia; I knew it in Rome as a rosetta. The Dolceacqua michetta is a little different though: it’s a small, enriched bun. It also comes with such a striking, disturbing folkloric origin story.

Once upon a time…
Here’s the story, or an interpretation thereof based on me plodding through various Italian sources and a couple in bad English.

In the 14th century, a Dolceacqua baker had a beautiful 19-year-old daughter called Lucrezia. She was set to marry a young lad called Basso. Unfortunately, Marquis Doria, the ruler of Dolceacqua, enjoyed his droit de seigneur, or lus primae noctis: the supposed right of the feudal ruler to claim peasant brides on their wedding nights. With claim basically meaning rape. Remember the scene in Braveheart? (Fictitious. Apparently droit de seigneur is fictitious too, or at least historians agree there’s no conclusive evidence for it happening in the Middle Ages in Europe.)

Understandably, Lucrezia and Basso were not happy about this and tried to hide. Doria, however, had had his eye on Lucrezia and tracked her down, taking her back to his castle. Desperate, she tried to throw herself from the window of a castle tower. The Marquis stopped her, and to subdue her, locked her in a hot, damp dungeon. She remained steadfast though, and died there of hunger and thirst.

Hearing of the death of the popular girl, the locals had had enough and approached the castle. Basso was able to sneak in and, at knife point, forced the Marquis to abolish the lus primae noctis.

To celebrate – and commemorate – local bakers like Lucrezia’s dad started to make a small, sweet bun – michette.

I’m a bit confused at this point, but some of the sources say the bun was supposed to resemble female genitals – it was like an offering to the feudal lord, an alternative to the rape. It’s the sort of thing that sounds like it has its origins in older, even weirder, stories, but I’m not sure. Some of the source even had quotes in Ligurian language, which really threw me.

Anyway, the day after the Marquis relented was the Feast of the Assumption, which in Dolceacqua also became the Festa della michetta. Since then, “the word ‘michetta’ is still used to define the virginity and the female womb”, apparently. I suspect locals could explain it all better.

Not many sweet buns come with such heavy historical and cultural associations though. Take the Chelsea bun – it’s a sweet bun, which was first made in Chelsea. That’s its story.

Michetta, michette di liguria, Dolceacqua

Shapes and notes
The most common shape for the michette seems to be a small elliptical bun. Then on this video (at 1.00 minute) you can see a baker making a version with snakes of dough rolled into three ball shapes. I’ve given instructions for forms. I’ve also read of the existence of a cross form, the crocetta, but I haven’t done these.

Note, this is a very yeasty dough – it’s not a nice healthy long fermentation bread, it’s an indulgent, feast-day bun. Even if you can buy them all year round now in Dolceacqua. It’s also a very rich dough – as befitting a feast-day sweet – containing sugar, eggs, butter and olive oil.

Butter in doughs can be problematic if it gets too warm, it’ll become greasy and ooze. If your dough is getting too greasy, cool it off in the fridge, to firm up the butter a bit.

Also note that Italians may well make the dough volcano-style, that is with the flour piled up on the work surface, a crater in the middle and the liquid ingredients added. I do this for pasta, but I find it easier to use a bowl for bread doughs, as it’s more familiar and gives me a better sense of how it’s feeling.

Recipe
500g flour – 300g strong white, 200g white plain (all-purpose)
40g fresh yeast (or 25g active dried yeast)
100g water, tepid + about 80g more
100g unsalted butter, not warm
2 eggs (about 100g, without shells), lightly beaten
120g caster sugar
2g fine sea salt
Zest of one lemon
40g extra virgin olive oil
Water
Extra caster sugar

1. Mix the yeast with about 100g of the water.
2. Put the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
3. Stir in the sugar, salt and lemon zest.
4. Add the yeast mix, eggs and oil.
5. Bring to a dough. Add more water if it feels tight. I ended up adding about 80g more, so about 180g total.
6. Turn out the dough and knead. You want it quite moist and sticky – but manageable. Don’t overwork it, or the butter will get to oily. The best way to handle this is a few more short kneads over half an hour.
7. Clean out the bowl, oil it slightly, then put the dough back in and cover. Leave 10 minutes then give it a short knead. Return to bowl, cover, leave 10 minutes then give it another short knead.

Michetta dough, first proveMichetta dough, first prove, doubled

8. Put the ball of dough back in the bowl, cover and leave to prove until doubled in volume. As there’s so much yeast in this mix, it’ll be quite quick, especially if the room temperature is warm.
9. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently deflate to redistribute the gases.
10. Divide the dough into pieces, scaled at 60g if you’re being accurate.

Michetta dough, scaled at 60gMichetta dough, form balls

11. Form the pieces into balls.
12. Form the balls into the final shapes, as mentioned above, there seem to be two variables. For the basic buns, they’re small ellipses, so just squash and stretch the ball slightly. For the longer form, roll out the ball slightly, then using the karate chop side of your hand, roll slightly to make two indentations all around the circumference of the cylinder (see pic below).
13. Place the michette on baking sheets and allow to prove up again.
14. Preheat the oven to 200C.
15. Bake for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned.

Michette - two shapesMichette, baked, caster sugar

16. While still warm, brush the top with water and sprinkle with (or roll in) caster sugar.

Enjoy as a breakfast bun or for afternoon tea.

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Pastiera Napoletana – Neopolitan grain and ricotta Easter tart

Blur

“On sale now – and only in this season – is a pagan springtime cake, pastiera Napolitana, made with soft grains of all kinds, removed from their husks months before ripe, and cooked with orange blossoms. There is a description of it by one of the Latin authors.”

Norman Lewis includes this description in his entry for 28 February in his book Naples ’44. Lewis was a sergeant in the British Army Intelligence Corps and kept a diary of life in the war-torn city. It’s hugely evocative – largely of the privations of impoverished Neapolitans, but it also includes rich records of Naples’s seasonal traditions, including its unique foods.

Pastiera slice

I first encountered pastiera when we visited the city in June 2013, and was drawn in by the cute olde style packaging of a bakery that specialised in this special pastry. Although that bakery seemed to sell it all year round, pastiera is more specifically associated with Easter. Though its origins – as Lewis says – are pagan, ancient Roman. It may have been eaten as part of celebrations of the goddess Ceres (Demeter to the Greeks) who oversaw agriculture, grain and fertility.

Or something like that. The modern pastiera is likely decidedly different to the ancient Romans’ concoction, though both probably featured eggs and grains, symbolic foodstuffs for pagans and Christians alike.

The other important ingredient is ricotta. In England the stuff you get is a dense, slightly characterless cow milk blob rammed into plastic tubs. In Roma – ah, the ricotta of Roma! Fresh stuff is sold every day in the city, curdy delicacies that sit, plump and proud, in little baskets in the displays of market stalls, cheese shops and alimentari. Some are made with sheep milk (the classic), some cow milk, some a mixture.

I do wish I’d made this back in Rome, so I could have at least tasted the difference. I suspect made with real, fresh ricotta it would have been a somewhat different proposition.

Anyway, it’s about time I tried making one!

Pastry

300g plain, all-purpose or low-protein 00 flour
140g unsalted butter, cold
100g icing sugar
2 eggs

1. Sieve the flour.
2. Cut the butter into cubes.
3. Lightly beat the eggs.
3. Put the flour in a food processor, add the butter and blitz quickly until it resembles crumbs. Then add the icing sugar and blitz quickly again to combine. Alternatively, rub the fat into the flour by hand until it resembles crumbs then sieve in the icing sugar and mix.
4. Add the egg a little at a time, until the dough comes together. Again, you can do this in the processor or by hand. You may not need to use all the egg; you don’t want the pastry too damp.
5. Briefly knead the dough until it’s smooth. Don’t do it too much.
6. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge.

Ricotta mix

Filling

The grain is the most distinctive ingredient here. You can usually get whole wheat grains from health food shops, and they will need simmering in water. Some may need soaking before cooking – follow the instructions on the packet. Make sure you could them enough as undercooked grain, like undercooked pulses, isn’t great for your digestion. You may be able to source pre-cooked grain in a can. Once cooked, drain, reserving the cooking water – it’s great for bread making.

Pastiera is also called pastiera di grano, with grano meaning grain in Italian, but it’s also used as a synonym for wheat. If you prefer, you could use another type of grain – such as one of the older varieties of wheat like spelt, einkorn or emmer. You could even use barley or oats. Or a mixture, as Lewis mentions.

300g wheat grains (cooked weight)
350g milk
30g unsalted butter
1 lemon, zest
1 orange, zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
500g ricotta
250g caster sugar
2 whole eggs (about 120g beaten weight)
1 egg yolk (about 20g)
100g candied peel [ideally orange and cedrocitron, but latter not common in UK]
2-3 tbsp orange blossom water – optional, to taste

Uncooked wheat grainCooked wheat grain

1. Firstly, cook the wheat grains. Or open the can…

Wheat with milkWheat with milk 2
2. Combine the cooked grain, the milk, the butter, the zest, the cinnamon, the vanilla in a saucepan, cook gently for another 30 minutes or so. Again, you don’t want to turn it into a porridge, so keep an eye on it, as you would a stove-top rice pudding.
3. Blend the ricotta with the eggs, egg yolk and sugar.

Add grain to ricotta mixAdd peel to ricotta mix
4. Add the grain mixture to the ricotta mixture, then stir in the peel and orange blossom water, to taste. This stuff can be quite pungent, so go easy.
5. Grease a 25cm pie or flan dish or even a spring-form cake tin then line it with the pastry.

Pastry casePastry case, pricked
6. Prick the bottom with a fork and trim the edge roughly. We’ll tidy it in a mo.
7. Pour the filling into the pastry case. (Mine was a bit full – but I only had a 24cm tin. Hence I suggest using a 25cm tin.)
Pastry strips

8. Gather up the pastry offcuts, roll out again, and cut strips about 15 wide. If you have a pastry wheel with a serrated edge, this looks cute, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t.

Trim edges
9. Create a criss-cross pattern on top of the filling with the pastry strips, with the pieces of pastry set at an angle so you get diamonds, not squares. Tidy the edges.
10. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Baked
11. Bake the pastiera for about 1 hour and a quarter, keeping an eye on it. If it starts to brown too much, cover with foil and turn the heat down to 160C. It should be firm and set, if not, leave in the oven for another 15 or so minutes.
12. Allow to cool completely, then dust with icing sugar and serve at room temperature.

Happy Easter!

Pastiera cut

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Shrove Tuesday Scandinavian cardamom buns: fastelavnsbolle or semlor

Semlor, semla, fastelavnsbolle

I’ve never been to a Scandinavian country, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying their baked goods from afar.

I’ve had my eye on these cardamom flavoured buns filled with almond paste and cream for a while, but as the Christian Shrovetide, the three days before the pre-Easter fast of Lent, only comes round once a year, now’s my chance to make them. Yes, yes, I know I made some seriously sugary carby Italian Carnival treats yesterday, but it’s a busy time of year for indulgent foods. Indeed, Shrovetide is all about the indulgent foods, even giving Christmas a run for its money.

In Britain, the remnants of this tradition are our pancakes, with the secular name for Shrove Tuesday Pancake Day*. We used to have a tradition to eat slices of bacon – collops – on the Monday before Lent, but this seems to be all-but forgotten now. It’s all about the fatty, rich foods though, as commemorated in the more common international name for Shrove Tuesday: Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Fettisdag in Swedish. The Danish and Norwegian name, meanwhile, is Fastelavn, which comes from older German and means “fast-evening”.

Versions of these buns are eaten throughout Scandinavia and adjacent areas, and go under various names: according to Wikipedia these are “semla or fastlagsbulle (Swedish), laskiaispulla (Finnish), vastlakukkel (Estonian) or fastelavnsbolle (Danish and Norwegian)”, with semlor the plural of semla, from semila, the Latin for flour (and related to the English and Italian grain-related words semolina, semolino, semola). Another Swedish name is fettisdagsbullar. So either “Fast-evening buns” or “Fat Tuesday buns”.

A common version of the bun these days involves filling it with almond paste and whipped cream. The almond paste form was first recorded in 1883, the cream supposedly came as a ration-busting celebration in Sweden after the First World War. In our modern world of more-is-more, both are combined.

Eaten without a filling, and instead sprinkled with cinnamon and served in a bowl of warm milk, they’re known as hetvägg. King Adolf Fredrik of Sweden purportedly died in 1771 after eating 14 but that may be one of those myths perpetuated by the internet. Not reading Swedish, I can’t confirm or deny it.

Almond paste

It’s very easy to make almond paste, marzipan or mandelmassa, but if you are intimidated it’s easy to buy too.

175g ground almonds
175g icing sugar (aka confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar)
1 egg

1. Beat the egg slightly and combine with the ground almonds in a bowl.
2. Add half the sugar and bring together – either with a spatula or wooden spoon or by getting your hands in there – and form a sticky dough.
3. Sieve the rest of the icing sugar onto your work surface then turn out the dough, and bring together, incorporating the sugar.
4. Wrap in plastic and leave in your fridge until it’s needed. (Well-wrapped, homemade marzipan will last for a few weeks in the fridge.)

Dough and buns
1 tsp cardamom
75g butter, melted
300g milk
20g fresh yeast (or 12g ADY or 10g instant)
500g plain/all-purpose flour
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
50g caster sugar
5g fine salt

Semlor ingredients

1 extra egg, for glazing

Ground cardamom

1. Crack open a few green cardamom pods and grind the seeds to a powder in a pestle or mortar or spice grinder.
2. Combine the melted butter and milk, warmed to about body temperature.
3. Add the yeast to the milk and allow to sit and activate for a few minutes.
4. Put most of the flour, the sugar, the salt, the cardamom and the egg in a mixing bowl, then add the yeasty milk mix.

Dough, mixingDough, sticky
5. Stir to combine and bring together the dough. It will be pretty moist. (Say your beaten egg weighs 58g, along with the milk and melted butter that’s 433g of liquid, to 500g flour – ie about 87% hydration, though the butter will firm up somewhat.)
6. Put the rest of the flour on your work surface and turn out the dough. Bring it together and knead, trying not to add too much more flour – you want to keep it nice and moist, so the resulting crumb is light.
7. I gave mine a Dan Lepard style knead – that is, brought it together, formed a ball, let it rest, covered in a clean bowl, for 10 minutes then gave it another short knead. Then I repeated this 10 minute rest, short knead process twice more.

Dough close up
8. When you have a nice smooth dough, put it back in a clean bowl, cover, then leave to double in size. This will take an hour or two at room temperature (about 18C).

Dough pre first riseDough after first rise

ScalingForm balls
9. The resulting dough weighs 1kg, more or less. To make 18 medium sized buns, divide this into pieces scaled at 55g. You can go bigger or smaller – up to you!

Forming balls 1Forming balls 2

Forming balls 3Forming balls 3
10. Form these pieces into neat balls. I do mine two at a time, rolling them inside cupped hands. This technique works best if your surface isn’t floury, so the dough sticks just slightly. Even better if your surface is stainless steel or marble. As mine is bamboo, I oil it slightly first, which also works well for wood work surfaces.

Balls, final proveBalls, egg washed
11. Put the balls on lined baking sheets, leaving enough space for them to expand, then give them their final prove, again until about doubled in size.
12. Preheat your oven to 220C (I use an interior thermometer as you can rarely trust the temperature on the knob).

Buns, baked
13. When the buns are proved, brush them with beaten egg then bake for about 12 minutes, until risen and golden.
14. Cool on a wire rack, covered with a clean cloth.

Filling
200g marzipan
Crumbs from the buns
100g milk (QB – you may not need it all)

500ml cream, whipped

Buns, splitBuns, hollowed out

1. When the buns are cool, slice off the tops and scrape out some of the crumb with a fork or even a grapefruit spoon if you have such a thing. (I’ve got the remaining single one from a childhood set.) Put the crumbs in a bowl.

Marzipan, grated
2. Finely grate the marzipan then add to the crumbs.

Making the almond fillingMaking the almond filling 2
3. Add enough milk to form a thick paste by squishing it all together with a fork or spoon.

Buns, hollowed out 2Buns, filled
4. Put a blob of the paste in the cavities inside the buns.

All creamed
5. Pipe a layer of the cream on top of the paste, then put the lid back on. I only had a 250ml pot of cream, some of which I’d already eaten with another cake, so it’ll be much better with the 500ml I mention here. Shoddy. Sorry. But I wanted to get this post done today rather than rush off to the shop again.

To serve
Dust with icing sugar.
Enjoy. But don’t try eating 14.

Semlor, semla, fastelavnsbolle close-up

Personally, I’m not too fussed about calories and all that. As well as using the default human form of transport (brisk walking) or cycling when many modern slobs use their car, I also have a general principle that diet is about balance. So obviously I don’t just eat the stuff I write about on this blog. My weight naturally seems to wander about between 80 and 85kg. That said, during out building work last year, when we didn’t have a kitchen and I couldn’t bake, I was 80kg; now I’m 85kg. Methinks a few more brisk walks up our local hill are in order. Or some Lenten fasting. Hm.

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Christmas biscotti

Christmas biscotti

So I wanted to create an all-purpose biscotti recipe, an equivalent to this eminently useful customised cookie recipe where you just make a basic dough then chuck in whatever else you feel like. The plan was to have a recipe that I could adapt to utilise some Christmas flavours, some spices, some peel – and use up some pistachios that were sitting in storage while we didn’t have a kitchen during our 12 weeks-became-24 weeks building project.

Here’s the Christmas version. I’ll post the all-purpose version when I’ve tried a few more variables.

3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
250g plain flour
200g sugar (caster or granulated)
1 tsp baking powder
(30g raw cacao powder, optional – I just had some)
pinch salt
3 medium eggs, beaten (QB, see below)
100g pistachio nuts
85g candied peel

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Line some baking sheets with parchment.
Christmas biscotti, spices

3. Prepare the spices: crack open the cardamom pods and take out the seeds then grind them up, along with the cloves. I use a mini electric grinder, but you could use a pestle and mortar (can’t find mine). Mix these spices with the cinnamon and a few grates of fresh nutmeg. Again, the spice mix is up to you really – all these spices are wonderfully evocative of mid-winter feasting to me, but if you don’t like or don’t have cardamom, for example, don’t worry.
4. Sieve together the flour, cacao powder if using, baking powder and spices and add the salt.
5. Make a dough by adding the beaten egg, a little at a time. You may not need to use it all. For example, my 3 medium eggs produced 170g of beaten egg, but I only needed 160g to make a dough that was malleable, not too dry, not too sticky. That’s QB – which is found in Italian recipes, is short for quanto basta, and means, “how much is enough”. In this case 160g was enough.

Christmas biscotti, dough
6. Add the nuts and peel and combine. Don’t knead it, it’s not bread, mix it just enough to homogenise.

Christmas biscotti, logs, unbaked
7. Form the dough into three slightly flattened logs, about 40-50mm wide, and place these on the baking sheets, sufficiently spaced for some spread.
8. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. You want the logs baked but not dried out, not still gooey. If they’re too gooey inside still, they’re hard to slice for the next stage and the second bake.

Christmas biscotti, logs, baked
9. Allow the logs to cool slightly then, with a serrated bread knife, slice, on a slight angle, into pieces about 10mm thick.
10. Return the biscuits to the baking sheets and bake again, for about 10-15 minutes. Take them out, turn them over, then bake again, to crisp up.

Christmas biscotti, sliced
11. Cool on a wire rack.

As they’re baked twice – biscotto literally means “twice baked” in Italian, from the Latin – they’ll be crisp and hard. They keep well in an airtight container and are suitable for dipping in a glass of desert wine, or a digestivo, or a hot drink if you’re being abstemious. It’s the season for abstemiousness right?

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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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Pizza bianca – the quintessential Roman street food

Pizza bianca, sliced

Pizza bianca is ubiquitous in Rome. Although Romans don’t by and large like eating on the move, chances are you will see people wandering along clutching bready packages and chances are, they’ll be folded pieces of pizza bianca, either plain or filled (farcita).

Pizza bianca – “white pizza” – is effectively plain pizza, simply sprinkled with coarse salt. It can be fairly thin, or it can be fairly puffy – more akin to what we’d called focaccia in the UK. There are fine lines between different types of flat bread, but what we call focaccia (literally “hearth bread”, from the word focus – Latin for hearth) is probably more akin specifically to the focaccia Genovese. Usage of the words “pizza” and “focaccia” vary a lot around Italy; for example, in our local Sardinian restaurant here in Rome, they serve discs of crisp flatbread that they call… focaccia.

This is my second attempt at pizza bianca. I made some in February 2012, but my oven has such fierce bottom heat, I struggled to get the top golden without over-baking the bottom.

Pizza bianca

Plus, well, as pizza bianca can be found in every bakery and pizza takeaway place in Rome, it seemed almost silly to persist in trying to master it. Except recently, when we’d decided to leave, it seemed I really ought to. Then last week I stopped by Rachel’s place while she was making it, and it galvanised me to revisit the document that’s been sitting on the my desktop the past few month called “Pizza bianca recipes”.

The most important factors
Pizza bianca is made with a fairly basic white bread dough, but there are several important things to consider:
You want a a nice moist dough.
You want to give it some folds.
You have to give it time to ferment.
You need to be gentle with it.
And ideally you want decent extensibility, as with any pizza dough.

Mine fell down slightly on the final factor: perhaps an autolyse process at the start would help, but this didn’t seem to be traditional. Or I could have tried to increase the hydration.

Rachel used the recipe from Gabriele Bonci’s book (so far only available in Italian), which was 70% hydration (ie 700g water to 1kg flour), but last December we saw this recipe in the window of Bonci’s bakery in Prati. Ninety flippin’ percent hydration and two days of leavening. I was just discussing the challenge of high,70%+ hydration ciabatta dough yesterday with Jeremy; that’s tricky enough. I’d love to see Bonci handling his 90% dough.

Recipe in the window of Bonci bakery, Dec 2012

Otherwise my first effort was okay; I would have liked to get a nicer golden colour on top, but couldn’t manage that with my pesky oven…. which will only be my pesky oven for another 10 days, before we leave our home of the last two years and head back to Blighty, then on to a bit of a trip to see friends and family in the US and NZ. So all very bittersweet. Yay to visiting friends and family in the US and NZ, boo to leaving Roma friends and infuriating, wonderful Roma.

Variation and experimentation
As usual with my recipes, I’m experimenting as I go along. You can just make this with commercial yeast, but I did a mixture of fresh yeast and my leaven/sourdough. If you don’t use leaven, increase the yeast to 12g.

A note on the flour too. All the Italian recipes that I’ve seen specify using a grano tenero flour – that is “soft grain”, not a high protein wheat flour. I used Mulino Marino’s organic 0 grano tenero. (00, 0 etc refer to the fineness of the milling; see here for more discussion of Italian flour terminology). This is now available in the UK, but frankly, it’s always better to use local produce as food transportation is a massive contributor to climate change. So see if you can find a medium protein (12-13%) fairly fine flour from your most local mill.

Some recipes also use other ingredients like milk, sugar and even “strutto di maiale” (lard), but at its purest pizza bianca is just flour, water, yeast, salt. And olive oil. But then, what’s any Italian food without some olive oil?* Though the oil here is a classic qb element.

Pizza bianca recipe

The recipe
So here’s my recipe. It makes quite a lot – two fairly large, squarish pizzas – so you’ll need some room in your fridge. Or do half quantities.

The process seems quite convoluted, but mostly it’s about time and gentleness.

1000g flour
700g water
5g fresh yeast (or 3g active dried yeast)
50g white leaven (100% hydration)
20g fine sea salt
30g extra virgin olive oil… or qb.

1. Combine the water, yeast and leaven.
2. Put the flour and salt in a bowl and mix together quickly.
3. Pour the liquid into the flour and mix, along with a sloosh of olive oil. Use your hands or a rubber spatula.

Pizza bianca
4. Turn the rough dough out onto a work surface and knead. Try to stretch the dough and fold it over, to incorporate air.

Pizza bianca recipe, kneading sticky dough
5. It will be sticky. Don’t keep adding more flour. When you’ve got it nicely combined, clean off your hands with some flour, rubbing it between your fingers like soap.

Pizza bianca recipe
6. Put the ball of dough in a bowl, cover with film or a cloth or a shower cap and leave to rest at room temperature.
7. Put a drop of olive oil on the work surface and rub. This won’t stop it sticking, but it can help a little…

Pizza bianca recipe
8. Turn out the dough, and stretch it to form a rough rectangle. Be gentle.

Pizza bianca, folding

9. This next bit is important. It’s called stretching and folding, and it’s a gentle way of redistributing the gases building up in the dough and helping develop the structure, while avoiding any of that old-school British violent mistreatment of the dough.

Pizz bianca, folding
10. Once you have a rough rectangle, fold one third inwards, then fold over the opposite end, to form a kind of envelope. A dough scraper, or tarocco (“tarot card”), is essential here.
Pizza bianca recipe

11. Fold this envelope in half again in the centre of the long rectangle, to make a more cube-type shape (sorry, no photo, but in the photo direclty above, fold the top edge up so it meets the top edge). Put it back in the bowl and cover again.
12. Repeat this process two or three more times at 20 minute intervals.
13. Clean your bowl, or use a fresh container, oil it, then put the dough back. Cover with film or a lid, and put it in the fridge.
14. Leave the dough to quietly, slowly ferment for about 20-24 hours.
15. Remove the dough from the fridge.
16. Depending on how big you want your pizzas to be, divide up the dough. I’ve got an oven sheet that’s 40x40cm (about 16”), so I did divided the dough in two.

Pizza bianca recipe
17. Give the dough another gentle fold, form a loose ball, then leave to rest again, bringing it back to room temperature.
18. Preheat your oven – ideally about 250C, or as hot as it’ll go. Baking any pizza, the hotter the oven, the better. (A good wood-fired oven can top 500C.)

Pizza bianca recipe
19. Take your ball of dough and gently extend it into a square or rectangle to fill your baking sheet or pan. Do this gently, as you want to retain the nice gassy structure. You can either do this on a flour or oiled work surface and transfer it, or it directly on your baking sheet/pan. The more you push your fingers into the dough, the thinner your pizza will be.
20. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. You can also sprinkle it with coarse sea salt before baking.
21. Then bake for about 12-18 minutes. You want a nice golden finish, something that eludes me…

Pizza bianca
22. Once it’s baked you, drizzle with a bit more oil, so it’ll be absorbed while the pizza is still warm. If you didn’t sprinkle it with salt beforehand, you can do it now instead.

Pizza bianca, and porchetta

The results
The result should be a delicious salty, slightly crunchy bread with an open, irregular structure.

You can vary it by adding olives or rosemary beforehand, but this really is entering focaccia territory, and a true Roman pizza bianca is plain.

We split ours open and filled it with porchetta, a speciality from the Rome area that’s a rolled pork roast with layers of stuffing made with garlic, rosemary and other herbs and has, ideally, some serious crackling to boot.

I’m not a meataholic like Fran,  but this made for a cracking sarnie. We served finger-food sized pieces last night at our farewell-please-take-our-stuff-while-drinking-Italian-craft-beer party. Boy oh boy, what a great selection of beers we had.

Pizza bianca with porchetta

* Of course, this was a flippant comment. Reading about Marcella Hazan, who died 29 Sept 2013, I feel quite dumb to have even made this off-hand comment, as, of course, some things are better fried in butter or types of vegetable oil, even in Italian cuisine. Frying fritti, for example, in extra virgin olive oil would be a total waste, plus, inversely, EV olive oil can be just too strong a taste for more delicate dishes.

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Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

Cinnamon and ricotta pizza

Ricotta. Generally, I don’t know what to do with this classic Italian “recooked” whey cheese. I’ve used it in cheesecakes before, and it is delicious eaten for breakfast with a drizzle of honey. But the sheer scale of its presence in Rome, where fresh stuff arrives by the tonne every day, indicates it’s used very widely indeed.

Shops like the likeable Antica Caciara in Trastevere have an entire window dedicated to baskets of the stuff. Farmers markets’ also tend to have several stalls selling bucketloads of the stuff. Since our farmers’ market was shifted out of Testaccio, and as it’s August and most of Rome’s markets are closed anyway, we’ve been frequenting our new Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop) near Ponte Testaccio. (Actually, it’s three outlets in one venue. See Info, below). They have a lot too, and on a couple of occasions when we’ve been stocking up on other goodies, they’ve given us some. It’s all about the freshness with Roman ricotta, so I suppose they just don’t want it hanging about – and they want to encourage our loyalty.

So what else do people do with the stuff? Well, I’m slowly discovering.

Fresh ricotta

It’s used in a few classic, simple pasta dishes, but to be honest, I don’t much like them; even with excellent quality ricotta such dishes seem oddly bitter to me. There’s a kind of cappuccino di ricotta according to ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli1, but I’ve never seen that. Manuelli also gives a recipe for ricotta condita that just involves the cheese, egg, sugar, cocoa and some booze. It sounds like a kind of trifle or tiramisu, but without any sponge. Other versions, such as in Oretta Zanini di Vita’s ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’2 use finely ground coffee instead of cocoa.

When I got the cookbook ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’3, one thing that caught my eye straight away was the budino di ricotta (ricotta pudding, or ricotta cake), which they make in a handsome ring form. So I gave it a go. It seemed simple – just ricotta, sugar, lemon zest, a little booze and some eggs, some separated, with the whites whisked to give the pudding some lightness.

Ingredients for ricotta and cinnamon pizza. Ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, dough. Basta.

It all seemed to go well. Until I turned it out of the tin. It deflated a bit. Okay, fine. But then I ate some. Really not my bag. I’m sorry to say I found it oddly nauseating, just unpleasantly whey-y, so I won’t be repeating the recipe here. I should have known really, as I’d made a baked ricotta pudding before, using ‘Cooking Apicius’ – recipes based on a collection from the late classical period4. That one involved lots of bay leaves and at first bite was amazing, but at second bite was exotically disgusting.

So I was back to square one with my slightly vexed question of what to do with ricotta.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza, before baking

And then Azienda Agricola Fratelli Nesta, one of the abovementioned three outlets, went and gave us another couple of etti5 of ricotta.

Luckily, ‘La Cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ has several other ricotta-based recipes. One of which is so absurdly simple I had to give it a try. It’s a sweet pizza, and would you know, I had some spare pizza dough.

According to authors Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré this is a “super-simple sweet that you can often find in the bakeries of Tuscia”. Tuscia is the historical region of the Etruscans (the Tusci in Latin), a large area of central and western Italy that now corresponds with most of Tuscany, northern Lazio and parts of Umbria. The recipe in is specifically called “Pizza ricotta e cannella di Tarquinia”. Tarquinia is an ancient Etruscan town near Viterbo, north of Rome.

I can’t find any mention of a ricotta and cinnamon pizza from Tarquinia or Tuscia,  or anywhere for that matter, online, but then, Italy hasn’t poured all of its vast and varied (food) culture onto the internet. So I’ll just give the two Maries the benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, I’m not going to mess about trying to put it in grams or whatever as it really is simple and flexible. It’s all about the “qb”, the quanta basta, the “how much is enough”. That is, the right amount according to your intuition and inclination.

You just need to make some basic white bread or pizza dough; I won’t give a recipe here, as there are numerous recipes in other sources. Just find one that suits you. I’d recommend one with a nice long fermentation.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

The ricotta and cinnamon pizza recipe isn’t even a recipe per se, it just says:

Bread dough
Ricotta
Sugar and cinnamon
Extra virgin olive oil

Then mentions the bakeries of Tuscia, where “the bread dough often comes in a thin form, covered with ricotta, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. You bake it in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.”

And you know what? It’s delicious. I especially like the way the oily, sugary mix caramellises on the crust. Sure, it’s an example of those Medieval flavour mixes of sweet, spice and savoury that us Brits don’t use so much these days and, sure, perhaps it’s slightly confusing quite when you might want to eat it. Is it a main course, is it a dessert, is it for afternoon tea, or even a breakfast snack? But frankly, it’s so simple and satisfying, you can eat it whenever you want. I scoffed most of mine at 5.15pm as the hangry hour was approaching.

Info
Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop), Via Bernadino Passeri 8, 00154 Rome.
Open Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat 8.00-19.00,  Sun 8.00-14.00

Footnotes and stuff
1 ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli appears to be out of print. The copy I’m referring to was published in 2005 by Conran Octopus, ISBN 1 84091 407 6.
2 ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’ by Oretta Zanini di Vita also appears to be out of print. The book I’m referring to is translatedby Maureen B Fant, and is listed on her website. First published 1993 by Alphabyte di Maureen Brown SAS, ISBN 88 86128 02 9. I’m not sure, but it may have been reprinted in 2003 by the University of California Press as ‘Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio’.
3 ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ (“The cooking/cuisine of Rome and Lazio”) by Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré is, so far, only available in Italian. Published 2012 by Guido Tommasi Editore-Datanova, ISBN 978 88 96621 844.
4 ‘Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today’ by Sally Grainger. More information here from the publisher, Prospect Books, along with a PDF download with ” the preliminary matter, the introduction, the list of recipes and the opening historical discussion of Cooking Apicius”.
5 An etto (plural: etti), or ettogrammo is a commonly used measure in Italy, especially for buying market produce. It’s a hectogram/hectogramme – that is 100g, 0.1kg, or about 3 and a half ounces.

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Almond and candied peel cookies

Almond and peel cookies

A few weeks ago, I made some cookies using almonds and candied peel (ideally homemade, or at least handmade). The flavour was great, but the cookie wasn’t quite right. So I thought I’d try similar flavourings again, but with a much more basic cookie recipe. It’s v simple.

So here it is.

125g butter
100g caster sugar
75g soft brown or demerara sugar
1 egg (with the white and yolk weighing about 50g)
1 t vanilla essence
1 t almond essence
100g plain flour
80g ground almonds
1/2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon powder
50g candied peel, roughly chopped
50g plain almonds, roughly chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Melt the butter, then combine with the sugar in a bowl.
3. Add the egg and essences and beat.
4. Sieve in the flour, ground almonds, cinnamon and baking powder. The ground almonds probably won’t go through the sieve entirely – don’t worry, just dunk the rest into the mix.
5. Add the chopped peel and nuts, and combine to form a fairly loose cookie dough.
6. Put desertspoonfuls on baking sheets lined with parchment.
7. Bake the cookies for around 10-12 minutes, until browning nicely.
8. Cool on a wire rack.
9. Enjoy.

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Flapjacks

plate of flapjacks

Growing up in Britain, I was quite confused when I first heard the American English usage of “flapjack”. I ate a lot of flapjacks when I was a kid, and it was a staple of my university years, so the idea that the name could be used for anything other than a sweet slab of oaty goodness did not compute. Apparently the American usage of the word is for a pancake, something made with batter and fried in a pan. Wuh? What in blazes? What the flip?

I’ve experienced a lot of this low-level cultural confusion lately, having done three months in the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome. Some days I’d talk to a California colleague and they’d look at me totally blankly, following neither my accent nor my idiom. Other days, it seemed like everyone was doing comedy English accents, taking the piss. Anyway, I digress (as usual).

This is a flapjack. It’s made with rolled oats.

oats

We’re – finally – going hiking in the mountains this weekend, and when you’re hiking, you need energy food. Oats are perhaps the best straightfoward, real energy food you can get. Feed them to working horses and they’ll go and go. Eat porridge (gah – oatmeal!), muesli or granola for breakfast and you’re set till lunchtime. It’s all about the slow energy release from the complex carbohydrates. Oats are also great because the bran (the high fibre bit)  reduces low-density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol”. I should probably say “some research indicates” it reduces LDL or something, but I thought there was a pretty good scientific consensus these days. Oats are also high in protein – not the increasingly problematic proteins of starchy modern wheat, but a different type that’s reportedly akin to meat or egg protein.

Humble, but a real superfood.

So flapjacks are great. Except for the fact that, when making them, you undo a lot of the good work of the oat in its natural state by slathering it with butter and refined sugars, in the form of sugar and golden syrup.

Golden Syrup

The butter is essential for proper flapjacks, but what defines them is really the golden syrup. Ah, golden syrup. I believe this doesn’t exist many parts of the world, but in my British upbringing it was v important – notably for the quintessential winter steamed pudding known as treacle sponge. Which isn’t made with treacle (black, ie molasses) but is made with golden syrup (golden). It looks like honey, but is basically a viscous liquid sugar. Technically it’s an inverted sugar syrup. Felicity Cloake in The Guardian also dedicates one of her “How to make the perfect…” blogs to flapjacks. She discusses the whole crunchy vs chewy thing, so I’m not going to go into that. She also includes a link to this useful site, with an in-depth discussion of flapjacks.

Suffice to say, flapjacks are stupidly simple and unsophisticated, they’re packed with rolled oats, they’re very sweet, and they’ll help you get across mountains. I just hope it doesn’t thunder and lighting when we’re up there among the peaks of Abruzzo National Park, as that’d totally freak out Fran. And, as much as I’d dearly dearly love to see one of western Europe’s few (really tragically few – maybe a three dozen or) remaining brown bears, let’s just hope one doesn’t get too excited about the flapjacks, as that’s totally freak us both out. We should be alright; if they were made with honey, that’d be another story, as bears love honey right?

As for a recipe. Well, I made a lot of flapjacks when I was at universty, and played around with the recipe extensively. I’ve not made them for years though, and my recipe is tucked away somewhere, in another country, in a shed, in a box, in a knackered old blue scrapbook. So instead, I used Cloake’s, with a few minor tweaks that I’d probably tweak some more were I to make them again any time soon.

sugary fatty goodness

Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).

Line a baking tin with baking parchment. Cloake suggests a 30x20cm tin, but I think these would be better thicker, so if you have a tin a size down from that, I’d recommend using it.

Melt 250g butter in a large pan, along with 70g of brown sugar (Demerara is traditional; I used more of a soft brown as sugar types are little different here in Italy to in the UK) and 150g golden syrup. (Guys – seriously, electronic scales, tare function, easy. Tablespooning golden syrup is messy and inaccurate. Not that accuracy really matters for a recipe like this. It’s not a fancy cake with exacting chemical reactions.)

When the mix is all melted, add 450g of rolled oats. You can use a mixture of jumbo and quick-cook porridge oats, whatever you fancy. Add a pinch of salt too, if you’ve used unsalted butter.

Bake for about 25 minutes until nice and golden brown. Mine are a bit underbaked but the darned oven in our rental flat has very aggressive bottom heat so I didn’t want to char the bottom trying to get a golden brown top. I’ve had a charred bottom before, and it’s not fun.

sugary fatty oaty goodness

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