Thursday, 28 June 2012

Foodie penpals: from Catherine to Emma

Last month was my first experience of foodie penpals and it was definitely an interesting one. So, with a month gone by, foodie penpals time has come round again.

For those who don’t know what foodie penpals involves- near the beginning of the month, you’re contacted with details of somebody to send a package to. You get in touch and ask foodie preferences and where to send the package to, and you’ll receive an email yourself asking the same questions you’ve just asked someone else. Some interesting shopping, creative packaging and sometimes expensive posting later, your package is sent and you receive one yourself.

I sent a package to Emma in Norwich, the details of which you can see here:

And I received a package from Catherine, who was sending from Leeds.

The day the package arrived, I happened to be at work, but mum was greeted with a note through the door when she came home telling her that a parcel was “in blue bin (to protect from rain)”... which made me giggle when I saw it. Parcel in the wheelie bin, but I least I got it that day and it was dry!

Upon opening the parcel, I found plenty of interesting goodies. Catherine had included marmalade (I’ve brought some plain sourdough home from work specially to go with this) and lovely, melt in the mouth meringues, both home made.

In the letter she’d included, Catherine explained that she was originally from South Africa and had included a few things that reminded her at home- a Safari guava fruit roll and a strawberry fizzer. She’d also trawled the local farm shops and found farmers pickle, blackberry vinegar (not sure how to use it yet but it tastes tangy and interesting) and Yorkshire mix boiled sweets.

I’ve already cracked into most of the things I got sent. Schemes are developing as to what to do with the rest of it. Thanks Catherine!

Foodie penpals: a package for Emma

This was my first foodie pen pals and I got paired with Emma from  I can say it was a total delight and I was over the moon with my foodie package.
I got my email from Emma on the 5th June explaining she would be my foodie pen pal this month. After asking me some questions in regards to what I like, I explained that I had a very sweet tooth and love baking. The reply email couldn’t have been more exciting; Emma told me that she is in fact a baker, she’s just finished doing a pastry chef NVQ and she has been doing lots of experimenting with chocolate. And some of that should make it’s way into my parcel. Well if I wasn’t excited enough about my first package, to then find out I was paired with a baker who was “experimenting with chocolate” just put the cherry on the cake.

The 18th June came round and to my delight my post women knocked at the door holding a parcel; I couldn’t take it out of her hands quick enough.  The first thing that struck me was the weight of it. I was like a child at Christmas. Once I had opened it I was in absolute amazement. I was expecting 1 or 2 items and secretly hoping it would be something Emma had made. I was right!
In my Box:

A lovely hand written card explaining the reasons behind the items in the box.
Eccles cakes & Parma Violets – both very local to Emma. I loved the story about how the Swizzles Matlow factory used to test new sweet flavors out on a local school.
Rhubarb & Ginger jam.
Freeze dried strawberries, Edible gold leaf, Red magic sprinkles – all to decorate my cakes & bakes.
Natural Jelly Belly jelly beans and Hershey’s cookies & cream chocolate.
 And of course homemade salted caramel millionaire’s shortbread – this was heavenly and I would buy this buy the lorry load.
All in all it was a fab experience and thank you so much Emma for an amazing package!!! I loved everything!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Dough diaries beyond bread

My blogging activity levels have taken a bit of a nosedive recently. Working in a bakery means that I'm not baking a hell of a lot of bread at home anymore so actual things to write about have sort of dried up.

I'm missing blogging though so I think it's about time to widen the remit of my blog and include some of the other things that I've been tinkering with at home, even if they're not bread related. Because, believe me, I've not been completely idle at home while I've been working at the bakery.

May have to come up with a new blog name though... watch this space

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Foodie Penpals: from Louise to Emma

Well, this is the first post in a while! I’ve been a bit too busy with work recently to do any bread baking at home but I’ve been getting involved in a few food-related... well, I suppose “communities” is probably a good way of phrasing it. A few week ago, it was Clandestine Cake Club. This time round, it’s Foodie Penpals.

So, how does Foodie Penpals work? You sign up and, on the 5th of the month, you receive an email telling you who you are sending a package to. You get in touch with your receiver and sender, exchange foodie preferences and a postal address and then gather together stuff for a parcel of food to send to your receiver penpal, which you then post by the 20th of the month. Shortly after sending a package on yourself, you get one from sender penpal. Cue excitement when a massive parcel of random goodies appears at your house.

I sent a package to Pia; she doesn’t currently have a blog of her own but she’s guesting on mine this time round, so please check her post out!:

I received a package from Louise. Of course, I missed it when the postman tried to deliver it and it required a visit to the post office depot to retrieve it. No real surprise that it didn’t fit through the letter box... it was huge! And heavy. Didn’t even have to open it to know that Louise had gone to town with this one.

It became pretty obvious why it was heavy when I opened it and clearly I’m going to have to get back to making bread at home, because the parcel included spelt flour, rye flour and yeast. There was time for a bit of speculation after that, because it looks like Louise may have popped into a South East Asian supermarket; goodies along this line included palm sugar, creamed coconut, Hello Kitty chocolate-covered breadsticks and fortune cookies (which were the first things to be cracked open as we were having a Chinese takeaway that night). There was a bit more unwrapping to do because there were some heavy, jar-shaped items in bubble wrap. Looks like Louise has been busy because the jars were lime pickle and pear and vanilla jam.

This is the first time I’ve been involved in Foodie Penpals but sending and receiving the packages has been great fun and a bit of a challenge to. Can’t wait to crack into some of the ingredients that Louise has sent me, especially the palm sugar... I’m wondering if I can incorporate it in some dessert or bit of chocolate work. And I know what’ll be cracked out next time we’ve got poppadoms in. Thanks Louise!

Foodie Penpals: a package for Pia

So, this is the first month that I've taken part in foodie penpals, which I explain in more depth in the next post. I sent a package to Pia, who lives in Germany and who was also taking part for the first time. She doesn't currently have her own blog so, this time round, she's guesting on mine. Here's what Pia thought of foodie penpals this month.


Hi, I am Pia and this is my first package while joining foodiepenpals.

This month it is from Emma and it was awesome.

Funny: when I opened the parcel, I was wearing my favourite vans and Emma put all of her food in a vans shoebox, what a coincidence!

She baked delicious lavender short bread for me, which tasted wonderful and smelled divine.

Because I love italian and indian food, she put porcini mushrooms and a indian dessert for me in the box. I will try both in the near future, especially the mushrooms, because I like them very much.

She sent me some lovely English breakfast tea with tea bag tweezers, which I never tried before and it tasted delicious. My husband loved it ;)

The last two items were English mustard (spicy and yummy) and some local food: Lancashire Eccles Cakes, which until then I didn't know.

Highlight, besides the food, was the lovely written card with a picture of a famous tudor building, which is near her home.

I have sent a package to Beth and you can read (and see) what was inside on her blog: !

Enjoying foodiepenpals so much, it is like birthday and christmas in one and I am looking forward to my next foodiepenpal, so I have an excuse to go shopping!!!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Let's twist again

Not much bread done again at home still because I’m still working at Bramhall Bakery. Don’t get to do a hell of a lot of the bread there myself either, I get there too late in the morning (most of it having been done by 6 am when I turn in). But one of the things I did get to help with today was the teatime twist. This one’s a versatile bread, so get your imagination going.

You start with a basic dough. For the particular ones that I was working on, it was a bun dough with currants and the like in it, but you can (and we do) use a basic white dough for a savoury “twist”. Once it’s been kneaded and had its first rest, turn it out onto a worktop (we don’t need to flour ours but you might feel more secure doing that at home) and squish it down with your knuckles to make a rough square shape, about 20cm each way.
Time to start pimping up your twist. The one pictured is a custard twist, which got smeared with incredibly thick custard with a little strip left at the bottom and a bigger strip left at the top. Our other teatime twist is smeared with apple sauce and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. And we do savoury ones smeared with garlic paste and topped with cheddar cheese, and ones with spinach, feta and cheddar cheese, and ones with chorizo, sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers and more cheese... you can see where we’re going with these ideas, can’t you? Grab your favourite pizza toppings, or the most imaginative things you can think of to smear on toast or top a pancake with, and you can bung these in your twist.
Now, the tricky bit. Well... it’s not that tricky, but if you don’t get it right then you’re twist isn’t going to be much of a twist. Start at the end where you left the smaller gap and fold this end over on itself, then press it down firmly to seal.
Place your hands on top of this bit and roll away from your body. You shouldn’t need to apply too much pressure for this to happen correctly. Use two hands for an even roll... I’m only using one hand in the picture because the other was occupied with the camera
Once rolled, you should have something that looks a little like this.
Next you need to crack out the scissors. And, if you’re me, you might need to grow a bigger pair of hands to open them wide enough to get them all the way round your roll of dough. You’ll need to make around 8 or 9 cuts in your dough, at about 45° and very close to all the way through but leaving a little bit, like a spine, to hold your twist together.
You’ve currently got lots of arrow-shaped cuts. Starting at the end the arrows point to, pull the end bit of dough to one side (e.g. left), then pull the next bit to the other side (... e.g. right). Continue to alternate pulling the pieces of dough out to the side until you reach the top, then gently pick it up and push it together slightly. You now have your twist!
Leave your twist to double in size before cooking as per the dough instructions. You want it to come out of the oven lightly golden and fairly soft. If you’re doing a savoury, cheesy one, take the twist out of the oven 3-4 minutes before time, top with more cheese and put it back in the oven for the cheese to melt.
For your sweet twists, you can glaze then with sugar syrup (or something like a Chelsea bun glaze) or dust them with icing sugar when they come out of the oven.
Finally... tear off a piece and enjoy.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Bee sting cake

Writing on Monday...

I’ve not been baking at home over the past week because I’ve been working for most of it... some of it in a bakery, which kept me happy on that front. I’ve heading back into the home kitchen this week on Bank Holiday Monday, because on the following Tuesday I’m off to a Clandestine Cake Club meeting and need to take a cake!

For those who don’t know, Clandestine Cake Clubs are where people sign up to meet on a specific day in a certain area and bring cake. You don’t know where you’re going until the day before but you’re given a theme in advance and should design your cake around this theme. This time round, the theme is “Cakes inspired by books”.

I had an immediate mind blank when this theme came up  but, while flicking through a recipe book, spotted something with honey in and thought “aha, Winnie the Pooh!”. That wasn’t actually the recipe I went for but I’d remembered one from the new Hairy Bikers’ book called a “Bee Sting Cake”, which seemed to totally fit the bill. And, to make it even more “me”, it’s leavened with yeast.

Mild panic ensued when I realised that I’d be spending most of my time at work, at college or jogging (I’m doing the Manchester 10k in a few weeks and the lungs definitely need the practice!) and couldn’t think when I’d get this cake done, especially because of rising and proving times. Thank goodness for pointless bank holidays! Because the May Day Bank Holiday, however cold and windy it’s been outside, gave me plenty of time to get the cake sorted.

So, where did I start? 15g fresh yeast got pulled out of the freezer after I realised that I’d forgotten to get it out earlier... so it got chopped up and left on the work surface to thaw out while I weighed out everything else. Once it was actually defrosted, it went in a jug with 4 tablespoons warm milk and ½ teaspoon caster sugar; this all got mixed together and left to froth for 10 minutes, snuggled up to my wheat bag for warmth. I was a bit dubious about the next bit because the recipe called for plain flour, but I stuck with it and reasoned that plain flour could result in a cakey texture... which would probably be alright as I was making a cake rather than bread. That got sifted into the mixing bowl on my mixer, along with ½ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon caster sugar. Once the yeasty milk was frothy, that got poured into the mixing bowl along with 2 beaten eggs. The dough hook went down and I turned the mixer on...

Only to find that it just wasn’t taking up any of the flour from the sides. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I normally hand knead anyway, but I’d gone for the mixer this time because lots of butter needed incorporating. So I scraped the flour down, turned it on again... scraped the flour down a bit more, tried again... and eventually, it came together as a dough... only to get stuck in one position on the dough hook and simply pirouette around the mixing bowl. I resolved that there wasn’t enough dough in there for it to work properly... and that the dough hook was a bit useless... so turned the whole lot out on to the work top and got back to using good old elbow grease.

Time to incorporate lashings of butter. This is no airy-fairy Genoise sponge but a cake of much flour and a fair whack of butter. I’d cut it up into cubes and let it soften. I then started chucking lumps in and squishing, kneading and generally pummelling the whole lot until dough and butter became one. The dough needed even more kneading then to get it to the stage of “very pliable, smooth and slightly shiny but no longer sticky”. More flour was required but, of course, the bag was back in the cupboard. Mum just happened to walk into the kitchen at that stage (ah, what timing) so kindly got it out for me so that I didn’t spread dough all over the place. 10 minutes later and I had something resembling the right consistency. It went into a lightly greased bowl, got covered and went in a very, very, very low oven to double in size. I was a bit worried that it would start to weep butter but a half-time check confirmed that all was good, so back in the oven it went.
It plumped up nicely and, after an hour, got turned out into a cake tin (the bottom lined- I’ve learnt my lesson from the spelt bread!) and knuckled down until it filled it evenly. The cover went back on and got stowed back in the oven to plump back up again. This then required a bit of oven juggling... best not to start preheating with the dough still in.

Now, you may have noticed that no honey has actually made its way into this bee sting cake as yet. Fear not, because the next step involved smothering the top of the cake with warm honey and cinnamon. I didn’t do this quite delicately enough and popped some of the larger air bubbles while spreading, but it wasn’t too squished. A sprinkling of flaked almonds later and it went into the oven at 180°C  for 25 minutes, before coming out for another honey basting and getting another 5 minutes in the oven.

Things looked positive when it finally came out of the oven. The cake had a fairly craggy top under its sticky, nutty layer and had a good bit of spring when pushed gently. I let it cool before cutting it in half horizontally, which gave me a chance to look at the texture inside. And hey presto, we have cake! There was a consistent and nicely proportioned crumb structure inside and the cake was buttery yellow and gave off a combined smell of honey, cinnamon and yeast. However, it definitely wasn’t for eating straight away. It got tucked away in the freezer for the night (to preserve the crust) to be pulled out again the following day...

Writing on Tuesday...

Just in time to be filled and finished for the Clandestine Cake Club meeting. The Hairy Bikers’ recipe said to fill it with jam and cream but, as this was meant to be a cake inspired by Winnie the Pooh, I and my friend Levi smothered each half of sponge in more warmed honey and cinnamon, then filled it with freshly whipped double cream and gently reassembled it. The cake was ready for its big moment!

The Clandestine Cake Club meeting this time round was rather crowded and the night included several scrums; when the cakes got displayed on the table, when it was time to eat, when it was time for seconds... thirds... and when it was time to rescue leftover cakes and boxes before going home. Our bee sting cake joined some really imaginative takes on the “cakes inspired by books” theme, including one based on a Dickens character, a Clockwork orange cake, a butterbeer cake (and if you don’t know what book that’s from, you’ve shielded yourself from contemporary popular culture very well) and plenty of others. Levi and I pretty much caked ourselves out over the course of the evening, but dived into the bee sting cake first to make sure we got a sample.

The texture was really intriguing, especially compared to the many dense sponges that it sat alongside. There was a certain crispness and crumbliness to it but it wasn’t dry. But I’m glad we opted for the extra honey, or it wouldn’t have had much of that flavour. There was a definite yeastly flavour to the cake which added a really interesting and tasty extra dimension. The fresh cream in the middle was also sort of “refreshing” (not sure if that’s exactly the word, but... well, it was a break from the overwhelming sweetness of some of the other cake fillings.. partly because I’d forgot to sweeten it, as the original recipe had suggested) and the almonds added a nice texture contrast.

A bread/cake well made, methinks, and I’m really glad I tried this one out. Yeast levening for cakes... a definite... well, optional... way forward.

Simplified recipe

For the cake
1 ½ teaspoons fast action yeast or 15g fresh yeast
½ teaspoon caster sugar
4 tablespoons warm milk (but not too hot; it needs to be yeast-friendly)
250g plain flour (yep, you read that right, plain flour), plus extra for kneading
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
2 medium eggs (at room temperature), beaten
85g softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
For the topping
5 tablespoons clear honey
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
20g flaked almonds
For the filling
300ml double cream
150ml honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.       Put your warm milk in a jug and add the yeast and the ½ teaspoon caster sugar. Stir and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes, until frothy
2.       Sift the flour, salt and the 1 tablespoon caster sugar into a mixing bowl
3.       Make a well in the middle and add the yeasty milk and the eggs. Get your hands stuck in and combine the ingredients, then turn out onto a work surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes)
4.       Begin adding the butter a little at a time (the book says a teaspoon but I think I ended up us doing slightly more, just to speed things up) and working it into the dough. You may want to sprinkle a little flour about while doing this as the dough will become very sticky
5.       Once all the butter is incorporated, place it on a clean, floured work surface and continue to work it until it becomes “very pliable, smooth and slightly shiny but no longer sticky”, which should take about 10 minutes. You may need to incorporate more flour while you’re doing this
6.       Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to double in size (about 1 to 1 ½ hours)
7.       While you’re waiting, grab a 25cm spring-clip or loose-bottomed cake tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper
8.       When the dough is ready, turn it out into the cake tin and press it down with your knuckles until it evenly fills the tin. Cover it back up and put it back in a warm place to prove until doubled in size about (about 30-45 minutes)
9.       Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F or gas mark 4)
10.   Get your topping ready. Put the honey and the cinnamon in a saucepan and heat until runny
11.   Once your dough is ready and the oven preheated, spread the top of the dough with ¾ of the honey and sprinkle with the flaked almonds
12.   Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes “until risen and golden brown”. Brush with the rest of the honey (which may need re-warming) and bake for a further 3-4 minutes
13.   Place the cake on a cooling wire while still in the tin and leave for 10 minutes, then take it out, peel off the baking parchment and allow to cool
14.   For the filling, whip the double cream to form soft peaks. Fit a piping bag with a star nozzle and spoon in the cream
15.   Carefully cut the cake in half horizontally. Warm the second lot of honey with the cinnamon and spread over the base. “Pipe the cream in concentric circles on top” and then carefully top with the other half of the cake (although, actually, we just plonked the cream on. Worked fine)
16.   Either serve immediately or keep chilled until it’s time to serve (because you don’t want to ruin a good cake with curdled cream)

The Hairy Bikers’ Big Book of Baking, Si King and Dave Myers, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The baking just got serious

My baking has reached a new level over the past week. Well, sort of. My following instructions, ingredients weighing and dough shaping has shifted from the home to a work place. Instead of doing it in small quantities for me and my family, I've been at the Bramhall Bakery learning how to make vast amounts of bread to sell to the general public. I'm gonna have some strong arms by the end of this experience.

Cross section of the 8 grain bloomer
So, test baking started last Thursday. I was eased in and asked to come in over the afternoon. Breads tested included white, 8 grain and granary. I missed mixing the doughs but was there in time to help with a little bit of shaping. So far, shaping hasn't exactly been my strong point. I got taught a new technique involving knuckling the dough back, folding, rolling and shaping... and watched with my mouth slightly ajar at the speed that Scott, the bread- making machine behind this new bakery, managed to shape the dough. I didn't manage anything nearly so fast and struggled a little getting a nice final shape... a few of my bloomers ended up resembling dog bones. But still, first day; I'll get plenty more practice. This first day of test baking of course included a bit of sampling. Personal favourite of that day; the 8 grain.

Time to tinker with some loaf tins
I was back for a second afternoon at the bakery the following day (after a morning that involved blue food colouring paste going everywhere... I was unimpressed). Scott had been doing more baking since and a sourdough mixed up the previous day hadn't developed quite right, so it was time for a bit more feeding for another attempt later. Some poolishes mixed up the day before and left to develop got turned out, shaped and baked. We got to have a bit of a play with the new loaf tins. And we started experimenting with some tray bakes, which involved me taking some of my food-colouring-related aggression out on a lot of digestive biscuits.

The olive sourdough made a nice starter when I went
round to a friend's house after a day in the bakery
I was in my more mundane work over the weekend so missed out on the test baking then, but I was back in on Monday, this time doing 9-5. We did a bit more work with poolishes, including a rye dough that we turned into a bloomer. Scott had had a breakthrough with the sourdough over the weekend and so we had another go, this time incorporating some delicious and rather huge olives. We also broke out some spelt flour... both of us a bit blind on this one, as Scott hadn't worked with it much and I'd only worked with twice at home. I missed this one being baked but Scott said it was a success and would be a great addition to the range of breads sold. I did, however, leave at just the right time to nab some olive sourdough straight out of the oven and it was definitely worth the wait.

The fresh bread, displayed and ready for the
customers. The display didn't stay intact for long!
And finally, Tuesday... opening day! Scott eased me in with my first proper bake day by getting me to start at 5 am (put into perspective, the builders were still working at 1 am and Scott just plain didn't leave...). Strolling down the road early in the morning, all I could hear was a chorus of birdsong, which I took as a good omen. I arrived to find Scott well on the way with baking and got stuck in with shaping, scaling and mixing. At one stage, this involved emptying a whole 16kg bag of white bread flour into the mixer. We did our best to fill the brand-spanking-new display baskets with delicious bread and, after customers started trickling in from about 9 am, we had a veritable flood of bread seekers by lunch time. The range included a few savouries such as Marmite and cheese scrolls, tomato chutney and cheese scrolls and sausage rolls (with sausage meat from the butchers next door. Great bit of local collaboration, but bloomin' difficult to pipe). And so, by 1.30 pm, the shop was back to looking a little bare and the resident of Bramhall were tucking into fresh bread baked that day.

1.30 was also the time that I got released and so I headed home with the loaf of bread that I'd managed to cadge before they all disappeared (a nice bit of 8 grain, although I'm sure I'll gradually work my way through the rest of the range). My bread got chomped alongside some soup for my lunch (and our chilli later as well actually...) and... well, it wasn't too long before I was caught napping. 

No bakery tomorrow as I'm in college but I'll be back in on Thursday. Another early start, but lots more bread to look forward to!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Chestnut, sage and onion spelt loaf

Like panettone, this is another bread that I should have done at Christmas. I came across the recipe when delving into my “Random recipes” folder, on a quest for something that used spelt flour. The flavours in this bread may be rather Christmasy but I like them, so what the heck!

This one starts with a sponge. And I really wish my memory, or attention span, or ability to read, or... whatever issue it is at the moment that means I can’t follow instructions, would just fix itself. I’d got it into my head that this sponge only needed overnight. So, on an evening when I thought “yeah, I’ve got time to do this one tomorrow morning”, I started the sponge off; flour, water and yeast, kneaded for “6 mins” (a very exact but slightly random number...), the bunged in a bowl, covered and put in the fridge. I checked the recipe again. Pants. The sponge wanted 24 hours. Ok, it probably could have had less, I imagine the step was part of developing flavours, but I didn’t want to chance it. I mentally shifted about my plans. It could probably be done the following evening... probably...

I did what preparation I could in the morning. This involved finely chopping a red onion, roughly chopping 200g chestnuts and 6 sage leaves (I felt a bit mean taking these from mum’s new sage plant... I know it’s for using but it felt a tad like I was stripping the poor thing). This went in a tupperware in the fridge. The lid didn’t stop the onion stinking out the fridge.

Later in the day, I managed to hop out of where I was early, in time enough to finish this bread before bedtime. More flour, some salt, more yeast and more water went in with the sponge and the whole lot worked together, then turned out and worked for 5 minutes. I then spread this out on the worktop, sprinkled on a third of the chestnuts, onion and sage, folded the dough over to encase the mix and worked it in, then repeated twice more. Dough ready!

Now, the recipe said put this into a circular, spring-form cake tin. I didn’t think my biggest tin was going to be quite big enough so it went into the tin that I usually use for focaccia. It got spread out in the very well-greased tin, dimpled and then decorated with sage leaves... fewer than the recipe suggested, but I was still fearing for the welfare of the sage plant. Covered, it went to prove for about an hour until doubled in size. The oven got preheated to 230°C and the dough bunged in for 20 minutes, before being turned and getting another 15 minutes.

Now, to get it out of the tin. And this was when I discovered why the recipe suggested a springform cake tin. I gave it a bit of encouragement around the edge, turned it over... whacked the bottom... had a little peak to see if there was movement... hit it some more... did a bit more waggling around with the knife... more hitting... You get the idea. It decided to come out eventually, but it did leave a bit of the base stuck to the tin, which I peeled off and stuck back in place... it was on the bottom... no one would ever know. The top got glazed with a bit of olive. And it was done.

Time to sample. Because it’s made of spelt flour, it had the crumpety texture that the Roman style loaf that I did a while ago had. The recipe didn’t feature much salt which was noticeable in the taste, but the flavours from the sage, onions and chestnuts more than made up for this, especially the sweet chestnuts.

I’ve been snacking on this one since but I’m now looking forward to it dunked in some soup.

Simplified recipe

For the sponge
300g wholegrain spelt flour
10g fresh yeast
200ml water

1.       Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and rub in the yeast
2.       Add the water and bring together into a dough. Turn out onto a work surface and work for “6 min until you have a nice smooth dough”
3.       Place back in the bowl, cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours

For the final dough
600g wholegrain spelt flour
5g salt
10g yeast
400ml water
1 finely chopped red onion
200g roughly chopped cooked chestnuts
6 chopped sage leaves, plus extra to decorate
Olive oil, to grease and to glaze

1.       In another large mixing bowl, rub the yeast into the flour, then add the salt
2.       Add the flour to the sponge mixture, then add the water. Combine until everything comes back together as a dough, then turn out onto a work surface and work for 5 minutes until smooth
3.       Spread the dough out and cover with the onion, chestnuts and sage leaves. Fold the dough over the top, then knead gently to until fully incorporated (you may need to split the mix up and do this step in a few stages)
4.       Grease a large baking tin (the original recipe suggests a 10 inch round tin; if you don’t have one, use a baking tray with high sides. But you’ll be doing yourself a favour if you make it a springform one because this bread is a pain to get out of the tin)
5.       Put the dough in the tin and push it with your fingers to reach the corners, then dimple the top with your fingers. Decorate the top with whole sage leaves. Cover and leave in a warm place to double in size (about an hour)
6.       Preheat your oven to 230°C (450°F or gas mark 8)
7.       Bake your loaf in the oven for 20 minutes, then turn it round and bake for a further 15 minutes
8.       Once out of the oven, glaze with olive oil and leave to cool before slicing


Saturday, 21 April 2012

English muffins with spinach

I’ve still not cracked this recipe. I tried this one a few months ago and it was an absolute failure, the muffins themselves ending up in the recycling bin. I altered the recipe from the previous attempt, but they still weren’t quite right. They’re supposed to be green, but mine had no vague resemblance to Kermit.

I hadn’t been too sure about the recipe when I’d first done it. It required you to melt butter and sugar, then add milk, spinach, nutmeg and yeast and wilt the spinach. What with using fresh yeast, I was worried about taking the temperature too high, so the spinach didn’t actually get that wilted. So instead this time I didn’t put the yeast in; I took the milk mixture to a higher temperature to wilt the spinach and then rubbed the yeast in the flour (with a dash of salt in too, of course) while I was waiting for the milk to cool down. This seemed to work better... the spinach was at least limp. So, wet mix went into dry and gathered together into a ball, then turned out.

Second issue from last time, and this is more to do with me muddling instructions. I thought they’d implied that the dough needed working for a fairly long time, because 10 minutes mixed by a machine sounded like a lot. I missed the key words 10 minutes “at half speed”... doh! (No pun intended) So I just worked it like I usually would... because when I first try things, I never do the obvious thing... apparently.

Last alteration of the recipe. It said leave to rise once, shape, then cook straight away. I found other recipes that told you to shape, then prove, then cook, so I went with those, again another method I was more comfortable with.

It didn’t help me with my inability to move something that’s been shaped without ruining its shape, so my muffins were a bit on the squiffy side. And cooking, which was done in a hot, dry pan. I can’t seem to get the temperature right and managed to “blacken” a few of my muffins. Fearing that they weren’t cooked all the way through, I put the in the oven for a bit.

I let them cool before crossing my fingers and cutting one open. They appeared cooked, but still not bright green (maybe the spinach needed more wilting?). I bit into a piece. Hmm... doughy. That was my first thought. So my mind immediately went to “was the dough ok”... yes, the dough had seemed fine, worked to the right stage. “Was the pan too hot?”... erm, yes, probably. They were just on the verge of cooked, but maybe they’d needed a little longer. “Were they too thick”... again, yes probably, especially as they’d puffed up even more when proving. I clearly haven’t got the hang of these griddle-cooked doughs yet.

In the hope of getting some advice, I asked one of my tutors in college about cooking English muffins. He said his work always did them in the oven...


Simplified recipe

30g butter
2 teaspoons sugar
300ml milk
A very generous handful of spinach
A generous grating of nutmeg
450g strong white flour
10g fresh yeast
A generous pinch of sea salt
Semolina for dusting (or flour if you don’t have any)

1.       Melt the butter and the sugar in a saucepan. Add the milk, then the spinach and the nutmeg and heat it all enough to wilt the spinach. Remove from the heat and allow to cool down to about 25°C, or lukewarm
2.       Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and rub in the yeast, then add the salt
3.       Once it’s the right temperature, pour the wet mix into the dry and work into a dough ball. Turn out onto a work surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Put back in the mixing bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to double in size
4.       Dust your work surface generously with semolina (or flour) and turn the dough out, then dust the top with semolina too. Pull it out and stretch and push it with your hands to about half an inch thick. Use a circular cutter to cut out your muffins. Transfer to a baking tray, cover and leave in a warm place to double in size again
5.       Once risen, heat a large pan on the hob (no need for oil... although Delia would tell you to use lard). You want something approaching a medium heat, to give your muffins some lift from the pan but not so much that the outside burns before the inside cooks
6.       Transfer your muffins to the pan and cook until golden on that side, then flip and repeat. Use the usual tap test (hollow sound... yes?) to check that they’re done
7.       Refer back to the internet for recipes using English muffins- trust me, there are loads


Thursday, 19 April 2012

London buns

My recipe book collection is steadily growing. 2 of my most recent acquisitions were stumbled across while I was on a day trip to the Lake District. Added bonus; they only cost me £1.40 each. So, flicking through one of the books, I pulled out a recipe that I fancied doing.

I also picked the recipe for “London Buns” because it was one featuring caraway seeds, an ingredient that had come up in bready discussion recently as one that was very traditional in English baking. I’d never used them in anything myself before and required a good sniff before starting... my best description of them is as something between fennel and mint. Random ingredient sniffing done, it was on to the actual baking.

Which didn’t go entirely according to plan. The recipe was written in pounds and ounces, which wasn’t really an issue because it had a conversion table in the back. But then I also think that the recipe wasn’t written quite right. Or maybe that my memory is so shocking that, from turning from the conversion table back to the recipe page, I forgot the amount and weighed it out slightly wrong. Even then, I think I was only out by 50g... which doesn’t account for the problems I had with the milk.

I weighed out my flour (slightly wrongly, but just put that to the back of your mind for the moment), added the rest of the dry mix (salt, nutmeg, candied peel and caraway seeds) and then got on with the wet mix. This told me to cream the yeast with the sugar... which I didn’t like the sound of, because I’ve read that too much sugar slows the yeast down. So, instead, I mixed the yeast with the milk (4 fluid ounces... pay attention, this will become important), then added the caster sugar and melted butter. So far, so not following the recipe.

The wet mix then went into the dry and I began to mix. The recipe implied that I should end up with a soft and pliable dough.... which there wasn’t a hope in hell of with the amount of milk that I originally added. After repeated trips to the fridge (for the milk) and the microwave (to warm said milk up), in the process doing my usual stunt of getting dough all over the kitchen, I eventually got the dough to something resembling soft and elastic. But it did mean that I’d tripled the amount of milk that the original recipe had specified, although it did take it up to a ratio of flour to fluid that I was more familiar with. All this milk adding, and the fact that the dough had been so tight to start off with, meant that I’d been kneading for something like half an hour. I’m going to have some good arm muscles by the end of all this baking.

The dough went away to double in size. After 1 hour of being in the mildly warm conservatory, it didn’t appear to have risen at all. But, the oven had just been finished with a was cooling down, so mum suggested I shove it in there with the door ajar. Now, we had a little bit of movement, but the oven cooled down quick. With my oven being a fan oven, however, it has some very low settings... so, with fingers crossed, I turned the oven back on and checked on the dough regularly. Hurrah! The upward movement of the dough actually started to happen and it doubled in size about an hour later than expected.
I turned out the dough and started to divide it into 12, but I fancied being accurate with something for a change and so weighed all the pieces so that they were even. Each got formed into a ball and I used the opportunity to try a little ambidextrous ball rolling. They then went onto a greased baking tray, got covered and went back in the slightly warm oven. It felt a bit weird to be sticking them in the oven at this stage but they seemed to do alright. Probably wouldn’t be a good idea with something with a higher fat content, because they got a tad sweaty, but they did puff up nicely.

I took them out of the oven before I preheated it. For that reason, and because they needed brushing with egg yolk. 10 minutes at 220°C left them as little domes topped with a deep-brown shiny patch where the glaze had been.

Cutting into them half an hour later (I’m beginning to know how long I have to leave the bread before I can hack into it), the pocket of air bubbles were quite tightly packed, which didn’t surprise me after the problems I’d had with the amount of liquid in the dough, but not so dense that they weren’t soft. The flavour from the caraway seeds came through... and I’ll stick with my original judgement of them being somewhere between fennel and mint. The bit that didn’t seem to make much a difference was the candied peel; the amount in the recipe seemed a bit stingy and I’d say that you could probably put more in if you’re a particular peel fan... you could probably even double it.

With the right proportions in the recipe, the London bun isn’t a bad one. I’d suggest serving it like a toasted teacake... namely, toasted.

Simplified Recipe

450g strong white bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
30g candied peel
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
10g fresh yeast
330ml warm milk
57g (ish) caster sugar
57g (ish) butter, melted
1 egg yolk, beaten

1.       Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, then add the nutmeg, candied peel and caraway seeds
2.       In a jug, mix together the milk and yeast, then add the sugar and the melted butter and mix well
3.       Pour the liquid into the dry mix and combine until it comes together as a soft, sticky dough. Knead until smooth and elastic (around 10 minutes). Place the dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour, but don’t bet on it if you’re house is as cold as mine)
4.       Turn the dough out and divide into 12 even pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and place on a lightly-greased baking tray. Cover and leave in a warm place to double in size again (about 30 minutes)
5.       Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F or gas mark 7)
6.       Brush the top of each bun with the beaten egg yolk
7.       Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until golden  and they give off a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom
8.       Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool before eating

Favourite Home Baking Recipes, Carol Wilson, J. Salmon Limited

Friday, 13 April 2012

German potato bread (kartoffelbrot)

I haven’t been baking a lot in the past few weeks because I’ve been on holiday! Don’t get too excited, we only popped on down to Cardiff in the car, but it was a fun trip involving lots of Cardiff history and a fair bit of food. And the biggest Chelsea bun I’ve seen in a long time.

So, back home this week and to the recipe book that I ordered before I went on holiday. I always like a good bit of the Hairy Bikers and this recipe for German potato bread (aka kartoffelbrot) took my fancy, mostly because I was wondering how mashed potato in bread would turn out.

Potatoes peeled, chopped and in boiling water, it was time not to screw this first but rather important step. Because, after the potatoes were cooked (but not absolutely falling to pieces), they needed draining well (with some of the cooking liquid reserved) and returning to the heat to evaporate off the excess water. Why is this so important, I hear you ask? Well, I’ve tried making potato dumplings before and didn’t follow the instructions with all this evaporating, but wet potato has an amazing ability to absorb however much flour you throw into it and remain a sticky mess. I didn’t want a repeat of said dumpling incident so I was thorough with evaporating off the water this time. All seemed to go well; by the time I’d finished with it (1 tablespoon of sunflower oil added), I had a smooth but firm lot of mashed potato ready to go in my dough.

Now I just had to wait for the cooking liquid to cook down until it was a yeast-friendly temperature. Which took a while. So I twiddled my thumbs and bashed the potatoes to pieces some more. When it eventually got there, I crumbled in the yeast and added a teaspoon of caster sugar, then did my best to find the warmest room in the house (often a challenge) for it to sit in for 10 minutes.

Finally the various elements were ready and everything was weighed out. Time to combine. I put 1 teaspoon salt into the pan with the mashed potato, then the yeast mixture... then though “Oh ****, I hope that salt wasn’t too concentrated on the top, I don’t want dead yeast”, so I stirred it all together pretty fast. Time for the ingredient that’s normally pretty important in bread... flour. 200g strong white flour and 100g strong wholemeal flour got added and stirred in a tablespoon at a time, until the mix became incredibly stiff. This was actually before I’d got about half of the flour in, so I turned the dough ball into the flour bowl and kneaded it in the hope that it’d take on the flour gradually. It sort of did before I then turned it onto the worktop and carried on kneading in the rest of the flour, worrying that the dough wasn’t moist enough to take it all up.
There was no need to worry on that front, and it was actually a good job I hadn’t added any more water, because 5 minutes of kneading and the dough was sticking to my hands so much that I was about ready to fling it across the room. I even resorted to adding more flour (and, in the process, covered the cupboard door with dough) and, after kneading for the amount of time I’d usually knead, gave up trying to get it into a coherent ball and simply dumped it into the bowl to prove.

I calmed down a little bit after the hour, especially when I saw that the dough had risen nicely. The time sat in the bowl had also let the flour absorb a little more of the moisture, so it wasn’t as hard to handle when I turned it out (onto a well-oiled surface, mind you). It got formed into a sausage which was then sliced into 3, with the top left intact so that it could be plaited. It went back onto a baking tray to double in size (a very specific baking tray, mind you... the big oven was still broken) and again it puffed up nicely. It received a sprinkling of flour (but no onion seeds, as specified in the recipe, because I didn’t have any and the shops in the village couldn’t quite manage them) before going in the (narrow) oven at 220°C for 35 minutes.

We let it cool down just enough to not collapse completely when cut (lunch had been delayed specially for this bread), and I was probably rather stupidly surprised that there weren’t any traces of potato to be seen. Instead I had a very fluffy, light loaf with a slight sweetness to it and a great crust. It’s kept well too, as I’m writing a few days later now and the bread still has a nice texture, although the crust has gone soft and it’s not quite as fluffy. Potato bread has definitely been a success... no repeats of the horrible dumpling incident this time.

Simplified recipe

375g potatoes (good mashers, Maris Piper if you can get them), peeled and evenly chopped. Peeled weight should be 300g
1 teaspoon fast-action yeast or 10g fresh yeast
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon sunflower oil, with a little extra for greasing
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
300 strong white bread flour, or 200g strong white bread flour and 100g wholemeal bread flour
1 teaspoon onion seeds (optional)

1.       Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with coldwater and place on the heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the potatoes for 15-20 minutes until soft but not falling apart. Drain but reserve the liquid. Return the pan to the heat for 2-3 minutes and stir often to help evaporate off any excess liquid
2.       Let the cooking liquid cool down until it’s luke warm, then measure out 75ml of the liquid (90ml if you’re using a portion of wholemeal flour)
3.       Stir the yeast into the liquid, followed by the sugar, then leave in a warm place for 10 minutes until foam starts appearing on the surface
4.       Grab your pan of drained, dried potatoes and add the sunflower oil, then mash the potatoes to within an inch of their life, until as smooth as possible. Stir in the yeast mixture, then stir in the salt
5.       Start stirring in the flour a tablespoon at a time. When the mix becomes too stiff to stir, turn out onto a work surface and continue to work in the remaining flour. Continue to knead the dough for 10 minutes “until soft and pliable”. Place in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to double in size
6.       Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled worktop and knead gently to knock it back. Shape it into your preferred loaf shape (I plaited mine), then place on a greased baking tray (or in a tine, if your prefer), cover and leave to double in size again (about 30 minutes this time)
7.       Preheat your oven to 220°C (425°F or gas mark 7)
8.       Dust your loaf with wholemeal flour and, if you’ve got them, cover it in a sprinkling of onion seeds. Score your loaf if necessary, then bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes until golden, crusty and hollow sounding

The Hairy Bikers’ Big Book of Baking, Si King and Dave Myers, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012