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