Author: davidkarlin

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.37: Dutch Apple Pie

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.37: Dutch Apple Pie

For Americans, the phrase “Apple Pie and Motherhood” (or possibly “Apple Pie and Mom”) means “a thing in life that everyone agrees to be unarguably good”. But even Americans would accept that Apple Pie comes from the Netherlands. In fact, there are two variants of Dutch Apple Pie: appeltaart, the lattice-topped version that I’ve made here, and appelkruimeltaart, a crumble-topped version whose American equivalent is Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pie.

Most Dutch recipes (I’ve started with this one) go for a shortcrust pastry with a fairly high butter to flour ratio (this recipe uses 2:3, but I’ve seen higher), sweetened with brown sugar. As often, I’ve cut down the amount of sugar – the original recipe goes for 50% more than I’ve used. The Dutch use self-raising flour, which moves the end result somewhere in the direction of a cake compared to a typical French apple tart or English pie. A neat trick is to cover your base with a layer of breadcrumbs: this soaks up the juices in the early part of the bake and helps to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.

 The filling is usually fairly heavily spiced and often has other fruit or nuts in addition to the apple. I’ve chosen cinnamon and raisins, but there are plenty of alternatives: cloves, ginger, walnuts or almonds to name just a few. At least once recipe recommends soaking your raisins in rum.

If you’re not in the Netherlands with access to Goudreinet (Golden Rennet) or Belle de Boskoop apples, you’ll have to improvise. You’re going to want an apple which is crisp enough not to disintegrate while baking, and which has plenty of flavour and a level of tartness. Lockdown London isn’t offering my usual levels of choice, so I went for 50/50 Granny Smith and Cox’s Orange Pippin, which worked pretty well. The Granny Smiths are there for tartness, but I’d worry that using them exclusively would be both too sour and too watery.

The pastry

  • 300 g self raising flour, plus flour for rolling
  • 100 g soft brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 200 g cold butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt.
  2. Cut the butter into small cubes and mix into the flour mixture with your fingertips until you’ve got rid of the lumps of unblended butter.
  3. Keep aside a small amount of egg for brushing, pour the rest into your mixture and blend until you have a smooth dough which no longer sticks to the side of your bowl.
  4. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

The filling

  • 1 kg apples (see above)
  • Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
  • 6g ground cinnamon
  • 50 g sugar
  • 50 g raisins
  1. Peel, core and chop the apples into quarters, then chop each quarter into 4-5 slices. As you go, put the pieces into a bowl with the lemon juice and mix them around: the lemon will stop the apples going brown as you work.
  2. Add the raisins.
  3. Combine the sugar and cinnamon, add them to the apples and raisins and mix everything until even.

Final assembly

  • Breadcrumbs (probably around 30g – sorry, I didn’t measure)

I used the fan setting on my oven and I wish I hadn’t – baking for longer without the fan would have resulted in a somewhat softer filling. If you like the apples crunchier, go with the fan option.

  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ conventional.
  2. Grease a 22-23cm springform tin with butter.
  3. Divide the dough into 3 portions, roughly 40%, 40%, 20%.
  4. Roll out the first portion into a circle and use this to line the base of your tin. Trim off any excess and keep it.
  5. Roll the next portion into a long rectangle (you may need more than one) and use it to line the sides of your tin. Again, trim off and keep any excess.
  6. Add all the excess dough to your third piece, roll it out and cut into strips, around 1cm wide.
  7. Spread the breadcrumbs evenly to cover the base of your tart.
  8. Fill the tart with the apple mixture, trying to get rid of the air gaps so the apples are packed well down (but don’t press too hard). The filling will probably form a slight dome over the top: that’s fine.
  9. With your strips of dough, form a lattice over the tart. The Dutch tend to do a kind of overlapping W-shaped pattern – my attempt at this was comically clumsy, as you’ll see from the photos, but this didn’t really matter. You can also do a standard criss-cross version (and if you’re feeling particularly competent, weave it).
  10. Brush the top of the pastry lattice with the remaining egg.
  11. Bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown, which should take around 50 minutes (conventional) or 40 minutes (fan) – depending, as ever, on your oven.
  12. Leave to cool. After 10 minutes or so, extract the pie from the tin.

Enjoy. It’s the perfect treat for a damp, autumnal day.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.36: Soda bread from Ireland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.36: Soda bread from Ireland

So here’s the problem. I’m out of bread, I’m in lockdown and not heading for the shops, and it’s an hour to lunchtime. The solution? The Irish have this right: make soda bread. You can do the whole thing in 40 minutes (of which half is waiting while it’s in the oven), it’s delicious and it requires no particularly high level of skill. In short, I am confident that this will be the easiest of this whole “80 bakes”,  a winner that I keep coming back to.

You can choose any combination of flours you like: 100% white and 100% wholemeal are both fine, but my favourite is 50/50 white wheat and wholemeal spelt. The recipe specifies buttermilk, which definitely helps because of its slight acidity, but you can use milk as an alternative. I suspect that milk with a tablespoon of yoghurt would work well, although I haven’t actually tried.

If we’re all honest, this is closer to an oversized scone than a bread, which is perfectly fine, because scones are lovely. And like scones, once you’ve mastered this plain recipe, you can move on to all sorts of flavourings, sweet and savoury: raisins, honey, nuts, dates are great for sweet versions; bacon, cheese (and also nuts) for savoury.

This recipe is only slightly adapted from the one in Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s excellent How to make bread.

  • Sunflower or other oil for greasing
  • 125g white flour (plain or strong, it doesn’t really matter)
  • 125g wholemeal flour, plus a bit for the board (I use spelt, but wheat is fine)
  • 6g salt
  • 4g baking soda
  • 260g buttermilk (or 260g milk, or 240g milk plus 20g yoghurt)
  1. Preheat oven to 200℃
  2. Brush a small pie dish with a little oil
  3. Stir together all the dry ingredients in a bowl until evenly mixed
  4. Pour in the buttermilk and mix until you have an even dough with no separately visible flour. Don’t overdo the mixing.
  5. Transfer the ball of dough to a board lightly dusted with flour; with your hands also lightly floured, form it into a firm, even ball.
  6. Transfer the ball of dough to your pie dish and make two gashes across the top to form a cross.
  7. Bake for 20-30 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped.
  8. Transfer to a rack and cool for 10 minutes or so before eating

Soda bread is best eaten immediately after that initial cooling – but if that doesn’t work out, it’s still great for a day or so. It does NOT keep particularly well.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no. 35: Naan – bread from India

Around the world in 80 bakes, no. 35: Naan – bread from India

The word “Naan” isn’t really Indian at all, nor is it particularly specific: it’s actually just the Persian word for “bread”. However, speak to any English patron of Indian restaurants and of the many wonderful breads that Indians make, naan is the one that stands out. It’s one of the simplest of their breads but one of the trickiest to get absolutely right, pillowy soft and puffy on the inside, with the thinnest of crisp outsides, and the traditional teardrop shape. When you do get it right, it’s a magical accompaniment to curries and lentil dishes.

Since there are a growing number of flatbreads in this journey, it’s worth talking about the differences between them. The first obvious thing is the choice of flour: wholemeal for aish baladi, strong white bread flour for most of the others. Next, there’s the thickness: paper thin for lavash, a centimetre or so for aish baladi or naan, deeper for focaccia. Then there’s the flavour profile: focaccia laden with olive oil and herbs, naan most likely to be flavoured with ghee and nigella seeds. There are other choices to be made, like whether to add dairy products to your dough and whether to use oil (or butter or ghee), but these often vary as much in different recipes for what’s notionally the same bread as they do between nationalities.

As a Western home cook, your inevitable problem with naan is the absence of a tandoor with its intense heat and stone sides. For most of these breads, my recommendation is now the same: put the oven on its hottest setting and use a pizza stone if you have one. If you don’t, use a heavy metal frying pan that you can put in the oven (no plastic handles). Using a frying pan will give you the “slightly scorched in patches” effect that you often get in restaurants.

The Guardian’s Felicity Cloake usually does a great job of trying out many different recipes, so I’ve gone with her ingredient list, matched to my normal flatbread-making drill. 

The quantities here made four good sized naans.

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 8g salt
  • 5g nigella seeds (kaloonji)
  • 150ml tepid water 
  • 6g sugar
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 100g yoghurt
  • 40g ghee (or melted butter)
  1. Mix the flour, salt and nigella seeds
  2. Mix the water, sugar and yeast; leave for a few minutes until frothy
  3. Add the yoghurt and melted ghee to your wet mixture and mix evenly
  4. Add the wet mix to the dry mix and combine to form a smooth dough
  5. Using the dough hook of your stand mixer, knead for 3-4 minutes
  6. Leave to rest for 15 minutes
  7. Knead for another 2 minutes, then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise. Depending on the strength of your yeast and the temperature of your kitchen, this should take between one and two hours.
  8. Put your pizza stone into the oven and preheat to 250℃.
  9. On a lightly floured board, knock back your dough and divide it into four.
  10. Using a couple of baking sheets, form each of the four pieces of dough into the classic teardrop shape.
  11. Cover with tea towels and leave to prove for another 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  12. Brush with melted ghee (I forgot to do this for the photos) and bake for around 10 minutes
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.34: Chimodho – cornbread from Zimbabwe

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.34: Chimodho – cornbread from Zimbabwe

Chimodho is cornbread from Zimbabwe, where it also goes under the name of Mupotohayi. Many countries have their own versions of cornbread, sometimes several versions each; this is the first one I’ve made and I can’t vouch for it being dramatically different from a cornbread that you might get in the US, Italy or anywhere else. I can’t even vouch for it being the one and only Zimbabwean version: according to Zimbabwean blogger Princess Tafadzwa,  “Chimodho” means pretty much any homemade bread without a recipe. But I will vouch for it being one of the nicest quick bakes on this blog so far: soft, flavourful and impossibly moreish. It’s the perfect accompaniment to an autumnal soup.

I started from a recipe on zimbokitchen.com, which I used pretty much intact apart from halving the sugar content. I’m glad to have done so, since the result was in no way lacking in sweetness, but your taste may differ. I also might try making this as muffins next time rather than as a single loaf, because the crust really is sensationally good.

  • 250ml buttermilk
  • 90ml sunflower oil
  • 1 egg
  • 180g coarse cornmeal
  • 170g plain flour
  • 50g sugar
  • 6g (1 tsp) salt
  • 3g (½ tsp) baking soda
  • 4g (1 tsp) baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃ fan.
  2. Put the buttermilk, oil and egg into the bowl of your stand mixer; beat with the egg beater until very smooth. 
  3. Mix cornmeal, plain flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder evenly in a bowl, then sift them into a different bowl. Make sure that the mix is very even.
  4. Add the dry mix to the wet mix, then mix thoroughly with the ordinary paddle of your stand mixer until you have a smooth dough, which will be fairly wet. Leave for five minutes or so.
  5. In the meantime, grease a baking tin with butter.
  6. Pour the mixture into the baking tin and smooth it out to an even shape.
  7. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the bread comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a wire rack.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.33: Black Forest gâteau from Germany

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.33: Black Forest gâteau from Germany

The Germans are fantastic bakers. I could have chosen from dozens of breads and pastries: pumpernickel, pretzels, seed-filled Vollkornbrot, melt-in-mouth Franzbrötchen and so many more. But I’m a child of the 1960s and I couldn’t resist the German cake of my childhood: the over-the-top architectural construction of chocolate cake, cherries and whipped cream that is the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – the Black Forest gâteau.

You need to be careful on this one: most English and American recipes are very sweet. The German recipes have better flavour balance, but do tend to be unbelievably heavy on the cream – I’ve seen recipes specifying over 1 kg of cream for a cake not much bigger than the one I’ve made here. The nice people at Gästehaus Reger, in the heart of the Black Forest, have posted an English language version of their recipe, so I’ve used that as my starting point (dramatically reducing the cream content). By the way, according to Wikipedia, Black Forest gâteau doesn’t actually come from the Black Forest (it was created by a confectioner near Bonn), but they seem to have embraced it with enthusiasm.

German recipes specify jars of sour cherries. Being unable to get these, I substituted frozen black cherries, adding lemon juice to give a sour edge. It’s not perfect, but it worked. I was also short of kirsch – the cherry-based firewater that is the key ingredient of authentic Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, so I had to substitute some blackcurrant schnapps, left over from a trip to Sweden, which gives a similar flavour. I suggest that you don’t go for the cherry brandy that features in many recipes, because it has a very different flavour, stronger and sweeter.

The next problem to solve is your choice of cake tin. Ideally, you want to follow the Germans and use a single tin, slicing the cake into three layers after baking, because you don’t want lots of crusts. However, the cake extremely light and airy due to its mixture of both sabayon and meringue: my 23cm springform tin is about 6cm high and the cake overflowed it by some margin. This required me to trim some rather misshapen excess: use a deep tin if you have one.

This is a fairly complex and time consuming recipe, with two different baked layers and three fillings/drizzles. You will also use and wash up more bowls than you can possibly imagine. But none of this is unduly difficult.

You need to make the base, the cake and the cherry filling far enough in advance that they’re completely cool. The rest is best done at the last minute.

The cherry filling

If you can get jars of sour cherries, use 500g of those and 250g of the juice from the jar in place of the frozen cherries and lemon juice listed below. Also omit the blitzing of cherries and add 30g sugar.

  • 750g frozen pitted cherries
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 25g cornflour
  1. Defrost the cherries. (That’s why I’ve shown this step first – you may want to make your cake layers while this is happening).
  2. Reserve 12 of the best looking cherries – you will use them later for decoration.
  3. Blitz half of the remaining cherries to a coarse puree.
  4. Put the puree and any juice into a saucepan with the cornflour, stir thoroughly and warm gently until thickened. 
  5. Add the remaining cherries and bring to the boil.
  6. Remove from heat and refrigerate.

The shortcrust base

This is optional (several recipes don’t include one) but it gives a nice contrast of texture and makes the cake easier to handle.

  • 120g plain flour
  • 3g (around ½ tsp) baking powder
  • 25g sugar
  • vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
  • 1 small egg
  • 60g butter, softened
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
  2. Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for around 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out on a baking sheet to a size slightly larger than your cake tin.
  4. Bake for around 10 minutes
  5. Leave to cool

The chocolate cake

  • 150g plain flour
  • 60g cornflour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 10g baking powder – around 2 tsp
  • 6 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • Vanilla essence to taste – around 1 tsp
  1. Grease your cake tin
  2. Sift the flour, cornflour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl and combine evenly
  3. Separate the eggs
  4. Add around 50 ml of warm water to the egg yolks and beat at your mixer’s highest speed for around three minutes, until you have a creamy sabayon-like texture. Add 130g of the sugar and beat for another three minutes.
  5. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the remaining sugar, then beat until you have a stiff meringue.
  6. Combine the sabayon, the meringue and the flour mix and blend thoroughly. Mix it as a gently as you can (avoiding losing the air that you’ve just beaten into the eggs) but enough to be sure that you haven’t left any clumps of unblended flour.
  7. Pour the cake into your tin, smooth it off so you have a flat top, then bake for around 40 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the springform tin and leave to cool.

The whipped cream filling

  • 600 g double cream
  • 60 g sugar
  • Vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
  • 60 ml kirsch
  1. Whip the cream for a minute or so.
  2. Add sugar, vanilla essence and kirsch.
  3. Whip the mixture until stiff.

Final assembly

  • 150ml kirsch
  • 20g sugar
  • 20g dark chocolate for grating (the amount is very approximate)
  1. Add 75 ml kirsch to the cherry filling and mix thoroughly
  2. Add 75 ml kirsch to 75 ml water and 20g caster sugar and mix thoroughly
  3. If the cake is heavily domed (mine wasn’t), trim off the domed crust.
  4. Turn the cake over so the crust side is down.
  5. If your cake overspilled the edges of your tin, trim it so that you have a cylinder.
  6. Slice the chocolate cake into three slices horizontally. It’s helpful to mark the slices with a toothpick in each one, immediately above each other: this will help you re-assemble the cake into exactly the right place.
  7. Move the slices next to each other and drizzle them with the kirsch/water/sugar mix.
  8. Trim the shortcrust base to a circle the same size as your cake.
  9. Spread some cherry filling over the base – remove any whole cherries so that you’re just spreading the jam.
  10. Place a layer of cake onto the base (start with the one that was the topmost layer while baking).
  11. Spread the rest of the cherry filling evenly over the cake. Make sure you get to the edges.
  12. Reserve around 80g of the whipped cream for decoration: you’ll want to put it into a piping bag with a star nozzle.
  13.  Spread ⅓ of the remaining whipped cream over the cherry filling. Make sure you get to the edges.
  14. Place the remaining two  layers of cake on top, using the toothpicks to orient you as to exactly where to put them. After each layer, spread another third of the whipped cream: the top layer should be very even. (At this point, the Germans would also spread cream over the sides to form a perfect white cylinder. But that’s too much cream for me.)
  15. Grate the chocolate into shavings with a grater of vegetable peeler, and sprinkle the shavings over the cake. If you’ve put cream over the sides, also dust the sides with grated chocolate.
  16. Pipe twelve small doughnuts of cream in a circle close to the edge of the cake. Into each doughnut, place a cherry.

You’re done! It was complicated and it was a long haul, but you’ve created a real spectacular, which is light as a feather and tastes fantastic.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.32: Ma’amoul – semolina cookies from Lebanon

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.32: Ma’amoul – semolina cookies from Lebanon

The biscuit tin (Americans: read “cookie jar”) was empty. So it was time to head back to the Middle East to refill it, in the shape of ma’amoul, filled cookies made from a shortbread dough rich in semolina. The filling is usually made of dates and/or nuts (usually pistachios, almonds or walnuts): for this first attempt, I used a date and walnut mix.

I’ve gone for a very simple, easy version of ma’amoul, using baking powder rather than yeast and eschewing any overnight resting. Even allowing for an hour’s resting, this takes not much over 90 minutes start to finish. The result was a crumbly, tasty biscuit that wasn’t excessively sweet and that I would definitely make again.

I used good quality soft medjool dates, which are easy to purée to paste with good consistency; various Middle East recipes consider that making your own date paste is tedious, preferring commercially made product.

Once ma’amoul have been filled and formed into their balls, they are often pressed into a patterned wooden mould, because (a) it makes them look pretty and (b) if you’re making more than one different filling, you can use a different pattern for each one. Strangely enough, I don’t own a ma’amoul mould, and if I bought the approved piece of specialist equipment for every item I fancy baking, my house would be filled several times over with baking junk, so I improvised the desired dome shape using a gravy ladle and a coffee tamper. It’s not like I expect everyone to have a gravy ladle, but you get the idea. If you’re doing more than one filling but you don’t have multiple moulds, you can try doing your own decorating by punching indents with a fork or skewer.

This recipe made 16 generously sized ma’amoul. Photo warning: these are more cracked and crumbly than I’d like. I should have added a bit more water to the dough.

The dough

  • 110 g butter
  • 40g icing sugar
  • 240g semolina flour
  • 160g plain flour
  • 4g baking powder
  • 30g milk
  • 30g orange blossom or rose water
  1. Pour everything into the bowl of your stand mixer and mix the whole lot for one or two minutes until thoroughly smoothly combined. The dough should be wet enough to be able to pick up stray bits of flour from the side of the bowl, but no more than that. If it’s sticky, add a bit more flour. If it’s really crumbly, add a bit more milk.
  2. Form the dough into a ball, and leave to stand at room temperature for around an hour.

Filling and baking

The quantities given are what I made as shown in the photos. The next time I make ma’amoul, I’m planning to use 200g dates and no walnuts – I’m not convinced they complement each other and I’d prefer a bit more filling. I would do a walnut filling as an alternative, chopping some 100g of walnuts very finely, adding a couple of teaspoons of syrup and making them into a paste.

  • 40g walnuts
  • 125g medjool or other soft dates
  • Icing sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
  2. Chop the walnuts coarsely and toast them in a dry pan for a minute or two until fragrant.
  3. If your dates aren’t pitted, take the stones out now.
  4. Blitz the dates to a soft puree. Add a tiny amount of water if you need to, or more if your dates were quite hard. You could add sugar syrup rather than water if you want a sweeter filling.
  5. Have a 40x30cm baking sheet ready.
  6. Divide your dough into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
  7. Divide your filling into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
  8. Roll out a ball of dough flat and wide enough that you’ll be able to wrap it round your ball of filling
  9. Place a ball of filling in the middle of your dough, then stretch it over to cover.
  10. Press the whole ball into your mould (or, in my case, gravy ladle)
  11. Take the cookie out of the mould and place on your baking sheet
  12. When you’ve done all 16 ma’amoul, put the baking sheet into the oven and bake them for 15 minutes. They should be a pale brown colour: don’t bake them as far as the more usual “golden brown”.
  13. On removal from the oven, dust with icing sugar to taste.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.31: Kanelbullar –  cinnamon buns from Sweden

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.31: Kanelbullar – cinnamon buns from Sweden

In Sweden, October 4th is Kanelbullens dag, which makes the humble cinnamon bun the only baked item I know to have an officially sanctioned holiday. To be fair, it’s not the most long-standing of national holidays, having been dreamed up in 1999 by the Swedish Home Baking Council. But this year, as it happens, it coincided with a cold and rainy Sunday morning here in London, so no possibility of my usual tennis game. How better to spend the morning than with a bit of traditional baking?

The basics of the cinnamon bun are straightforward enough: make a slightly sweetened bread-like dough enriched with butter, milk and (in many recipes) egg, let it rise, roll it flat and spread with a butter/sugar/cinnamon filling. At this point, you have two choices: for the traditional cinnamon roll, you roll it into a sausage; for the cinnamon twist or knot (kanelknutar), you start with a book fold and do a tricky looking twisting trick. I went for the simple roll.

Just about anywhere in Sweden, the buns would be garnished with the little white sugar nibs known as  “pearl sugar”, and in many places, it would be brushed with a syrup glaze after baking. My sweet tooth isn’t what it was, so I’ve omitted both of these. For added puffiness, however, I’ve followed an American blog called “True North Kitchen” and used an Asian pre-dough technique called Tangzhong, which helps to keep the buns stay soft for several days after baking.

The Tangzhong (or “water roux”)

  • 75 ml milk
  • 75 ml water
  • 30g strong white flour
  1. Whisk the ingredients together in a saucepan, getting as many lumps out as you can
  2. Heat over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking frequently. Make sure you get rid of lumps as they appear.
  3. Keep heating for a couple more minutes – there shouldn’t be any taste of raw flour left – and then remove from the heat and set aside.

The dough

  • 75g butter
  • 8g yeast
  • 30g sugar
  • 6g salt
  • 400g flour
  • Ground cardamom to taste (I started with whole pods and shelled and ground my own in a pestle and mortar, which yielded about 1g, which was fine)
  • 125ml milk
  • 1 egg
  1. Melt the butter and leave to cool
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, evenly mix the yeast, sugar, salt, flour and cardamom 
  3. Warm the milk to lukewarm (around 40℃)
  4. Add the milk, egg, melted butter and tangzhong to the dry mix. Stir until combined into a smooth dough (either with a wooden spoon or the standard paddle of your mixer.
  5. Knead for around 5 minutes with the dough hook.
  6. Leave to rise until you have a light, puffy dough: this took a couple of hours in a not particularly warm autumn kitchen, but will vary according to the temperature of your kitchen

The filling

Preheat the oven to 225℃

  • 75g butter, softened
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 4g flour
  • 5g cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  1. Combine all the ingredients and stir until you have a smooth, even dark brown paste. 
  2. Make sure it’s soft enough to spread thinly and easily: 30 seconds in the microwave is a good way of doing this. There’s no point in tearing your dough because you had lumps in the filling.

Final assembly

  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of milk
  1. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board until you have a thin rectangle around 50cm x 40cm – try and be as accurately rectangular as you can manage, otherwise (as you’ll see from my photos) the two buns at the end will be rather conical and rather shorter of filling.
  2. Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and milk together until smooth
  3. Slice the dough into sixteen even slices.
  4. Prepare two baking trays and array eight buns on each one. If you have paper bun cases, use them: they help the buns keep their shape. If not, make sure the trays are properly greased.
  5. Brush some egg wash over each bun
  6. Bake the buns until golden brown: this should take around 8-10 minutes; if you did both trays at the same time in the oven, the bottom tray will need a couple of minutes longer.
  7. Cool on a wire rack.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.30: Focaccia from Italy

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.30: Focaccia from Italy

With apologies to ciabatta-lovers, focaccia is the Italian bread par excellence. Its pillowy, soft texture, coupled with a crisp outside, a slight crunch of salt flakes and the aroma of olive oil simply can’t be beaten. 

My focaccia recipe is, to be honest, a bit of a mongrel. Prior to this strange year, I was visiting Italy around twice a year, but the best focaccia I have ever had was not made by an Italian but by an Indian chef at a hotel in the mountains of Oman who swore by a triple proving. The softest, most pillowy dough – my ideal focaccia consistency – comes from the kneading method in the Persian flatbread recipe in Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana. I’ve gone for Giorgio Locatelli’s recommendation for flour (from his Made in Italy, via Felicity Cloake’s round-up recipe in her excellent “The perfect xyz” series in The Guardian), and done toppings as suggested by Italian-American Maurizio, aka The Perfect Loaf. Personally, I think the results are well worth the extra effort, but there are certainly shortcuts available if you’re pushed for time.

Two important variables are the salt and oil content. I eat a fairly low salt diet and the amount in here is about the maximum I can take. For some, even this will be too much; for others, this won’t be nearly enough compared to the salt hit they expect from a focaccia. My focaccia is also relatively low in oil: you may prefer to drizzle on a lot more than me. You’re just going to have to experiment until you get these to your taste.

Also, I’ve opted for a 40cm x 30cm tray, which gives a flattish focaccia with a relatively short, hot baking time. A variation would be to use a smaller, higher-sided tin and a lower temperature (say 200℃) for a loaf with a higher ratio of inside softness to outside crust.

  • 400ml warm water (around 40℃)
  • 20g sugar
  • 8g dried yeast
  • 375g strong white bread flour
  • 375g OO flour
  • 10g salt
  • 100ml olive oil, plus 30ml for the drizzle
  • A tablespoon or so semolina flour (optional)
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 24 black olives, pitted
  • Half a dozen sprigs of rosemary
  • 20ml cold water
  • 10g sea salt flakes

There are some options as to how to prepare baking trays. You’re trying to get high heat onto the base of your focaccia as soon as you can, so Cloake suggests that you preheat a pizza stone in your oven and “transfer” the focaccia to it. That’s all very well, but it’s difficult to transfer a large rectangle of dough while keeping its shape, without the toppings falling off. I opted for a metal baking tray placed onto the stone: metal is a good conductor and this did the job just fine. An alternative is to lay out your focaccia on baking parchment: if you don’t have a pizza stone, you’ll want to preheat the metal tray and then move your dough to the heated tray while still on its parchment base.

As ever, rising times depend completely on the temperature in your kitchen, and the alternatives should be obvious if you don’t have a stand mixer.

  1. Combine water, sugar and yeast; leave for a few minutes until frothy
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the flours and salt and stir until mixed evenly
  3. Add the wet mix and 100ml olive oil to the dry mix
  4. With the standard paddle, mix for a minute or so until you have a smooth dough: you should find that it comes away cleanly from the sides of bowl
  5. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes
  6. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then knead for another 2 minutes. Repeat this.
  7. Brush a little olive oil over the surface of a large bowl, transfer your ball of dough to it, cover and leave to rise for around 60-90 minutes.
  8. If you’re using baking parchment, line your baking tray with it. Optionally, dust a tablespoon or two of semolina flour over this.
  9. Knock back the dough and shape it into a rectangle covering the whole tray, Make it as even as you can: you’ll get some resistance, but you can pull it around with little danger of tearing.
  10. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 45 minutes or so.
  11. If using a pizza stone, put it into your oven now. Otherwise, slide the parchment sheet off your baking tray and put the tray into the oven.
  12. Preheat oven to 250℃ fan (or as near as you can get).
  13. Leave the dough for its second rise, around 45-60 minutes. 
  14. Meanwhile, prepare  your toppings: chop of blitz the rosemary very fine, halve the cherry tomatoes. If your olives came in brine, wash them thoroughly to remove the salt.
  15. Uncover the dough and with a finger, press a pattern of 6 x 8 indentations into it with a finger, going deep. Press the cherry tomato halves and the olives into the indentations in a chequerboard pattern (that’s why I’ve been fussy about the numbers). Sprinkle the rosemary evenly over the top.
  16. Cover with a tea towel again and leave for another 30-45 minutes.
  17. Prepare a mixture of 30ml olive oil and 20ml water, whisking with a fork until emulsified. Spread this evenly over the focaccia.
  18. Sprinkle the sea salt flakes evenly over.
  19. Now work quickly: open the oven, take out the stone or tray, transfer your focaccia to it, replace it in the oven and close. Now reduce the oven temperature to 225℃.
  20. Bake for around 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  21. Remove from the oven, slide the focaccia onto whatever board or tray you’re going to serve it on, and leave to cool for a few minutes before eating. This may be the hardest thing in the recipe, but you don’t want to burn your mouth!
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.29: Pasta Frola from Paraguay

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.29: Pasta Frola from Paraguay

Where home-coming Argentinians make a beeline for Alfajores, Paraguayans head for Pasta Frola: a lattice-topped jam tart filled with either guava or quince paste. Childhood summers in Portugal have made me particularly partial to quince paste, and in any case, guavas are hard to get hold of here in England, so the quince version was the obvious choice.

Time for a couple of short linguistic digressions. The Spanish for quince is “membrillo”, and quince paste (sometimes called “quince cheese” for reasons I can’t fathom) is “dulce de membrillo”. In Portuguese, however, a quince is a “marmelo” and the paste is called “marmelada”. The English word “marmalade” confuses both Portuguese (where orange jam is just called “doce de laranja”) and Italians, for whom the word “marmellata” means jam of any sort, and “marmellare” means “to make jam”. In Italian, “pasta frolla” simply means shortcrust pastry, and this dessert would be called a “crostata”.

You can buy dulce de membrillo ready made in the UK, but it tends to be fairly expensive at around £25 or £30 for a kilo. Anyway, our local shops don’t stock it and our local fruit shop had quinces, so I had a go at making my own. Peeling quinces is a bit of faff – the skin is very tough – but other than that, the process isn’t too difficult.

Quince paste

This is metricised and modified slightly from the recipe from simplyrecipes.com. I overbought quinces and made around double this recipe, which was way too much: the quantities here will make well over 1kg of paste, which is a lot more than you need for the Pasta Frola.

  • Around 1 kg of quinces (typically 4 fruit)
  • Grated zest and juice of one lemon
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  • Around 800g jam sugar (to be adjusted)
  1. Peel and core the quinces, being sure to remove the fibrous bit of stalk that’s inside the quince. Chop coarsely (maybe 8-12 pieces per fruit).
  2. Put them in a saucepan, add the grated lemon zest cover them with cold water and bring to the boil.
  3. Simmer for around 30-40 minutes until you can cut them with a wooden spoon
  4. Drain the quince pieces and transfer to the bowl of a food processor: blitz until extremely smooth (this can take several minutes).
  5. Return the puree to a saucepan, add the sugar, vanilla essence and lemon juice.
  6. Bring to the boil, uncovered, and simmer gently for 60-90 minutes, stirring often enough to ensure that you don’t caramelise the paste on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Preheat oven to 125℃
  8. When the mixture is a dark pink/orange, remove from the heat. Line a shallow rectangular oven dish with baking parchment and spread the mixture evenly into the dish.
  9. Leave the dish in the oven for around 90 minutes for the paste to dry out. The Spanish and Portuguese cook theirs to the consistency of thick jelly, so that you can cut slices of it. It’s quite difficult to get to this stage without burning it somewhere, and in any case, you don’t need to for Pasta Frola: a soft paste is just fine and you’re going to be baking it some more anyway.

By the way, quince paste is a really wonderful accompaniment to cheese, particularly sharply flavoured cheese.

The Pasta Frola

Thanks for this to my daughter’s South American colleague Daniel (who was the person who insisted that it should be included in this blog in the first place). His recipe was for about double this amount as a 40cm x 30cm traybake: I used a square tin with a removable base of around 23cm x 23cm, which left a small amount of pastry left over.

  • 250g plain flour (use OO if possible)
  • 15g baking powder
  • 90g cup of sugar
  • 125g butter, plus some for greasing
  • 3 egg yolks (around 50g)
  • 40ml milk
  • 700g quince paste (see above)
  • 50ml madeira, port or similar fortified wine
  1. Preheat oven to 150℃
  2. If your butter isn’t soft, cut it into squares and leave it a few minutes to soften
  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, sugar and baking powder and mix well
  4. Add the butter and mix until you reach the breadcrumb stage
  5. Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the mixture, together with the milk
  6. Mix until you have a smooth dough
  7. Knead it for a couple of minutes until somewhat elastic, then cover and leave for 15 minutes
  8.  Meanwhile, grease the tin, and mix the quince paste and madeira in a bowl
  9. Once the dough has finished resting, separate out one third of it and set aside. On a generously floured board, roll it out to the size of your tin with around 2cm overlap all the way round
  10. Line your tin with the dough. If, like me, your dough always breaks at this point, don’t worry – just press it into the bottom and sides with your fingers as best you can. The recipe is very forgiving
  11. Pour your quince mixture into the tin and spread it to the edges
  12. If necessary, trim the pastry down to the height of the filling
  13. Roll out the remaining amount of pastry and cut it into strips approximately 1cm wide. Use these to form a lattice over the tart. At this point, you might like to think about how many pieces you’re going to cut the tart into and make sure that you have a gap, not a strip of pastry, at the point at which you’re going to do this (clue: I didn’t do this and learned the hard way).
  14. Brush the pastry on the top with some of the egg white.
  15. Bake for around 40 minutes.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.28: Sernik from Poland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.28: Sernik from Poland

Last night was Erev Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year’s Eve), so there was a need to bake something suitable for a Jewish occasion, so what could be better than cheesecake? What I think of as “Jewish cheesecake”, which is broadly similar to what Americans call “New York Cheesecake”, actually hails from Poland, where it’s not particularly Jewish and is called Sernik. 

Dozens of countries have versions of curd cheese: paneer in India, Quark in Germany, túró in Hungary, labneh in the Middle East and many more. The Polish version is called twaróg: just about all the Sernik recipes I’ve found use this. It’s readily available in England; otherwise use any other curd cheese: farmer’s cheese, ricotta, etc.

There are many different variations of Sernik, regional or otherwise, which use different toppings and/or pastry bases; some even dispense with the pastry altogether. I’ve chosen the version from Kraków, Sernik krakowski, largely because it looks pretty and I’ve actually been to Kraków. The pastry is a fairly standard shortcrust, except that it includes baking powder, thus ending up somewhere between a pastry and a cake. The Kraków-specific bit is to top the cheesecake with a lattice made of the same pastry. I’ve included raisins (definitely part of the cheesecakes of my childhood) and separated my eggs, making a meringue with the whites: this makes the finished product lighter.

The pastry

  • 280g plain flour (OO if you have it)
  • 5g baking powder
  • 2g salt
  • 140g butter (start from cold)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g sugar
  • 50g soured cream
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, mix flour, baking powder and salt
  2. Cut the butter into cubes, add into the food processor and process for 20 seconds or so until you get to the consistency of fine breadcrumbs
  3. Add the eggs, sugar and soured cream, process for a few seconds until thoroughly blended
  4. Form the dough into a ball, put into a covered bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  5. Preheat your oven to 180℃ fan
  6. Grease a cake tin around 28cm diameter
  7. Take about ⅔ of the pastry and roll out on a generously floured surface
  8. Line the base and sides of the tin, pressing the pastry firmly into the corners. Prick the base with a fork. Add any offcuts to the rest of your pastry and set aside
  9. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beads. Bake for 15 minutes
  10. When you’ve taken out the pastry, reduce the oven temperature to 150℃

The cheese filling

  • 2 eggs
  • 100g butter, soft
  • 500g twaróg or other curd cheese
  • 25 g flour
  • 100g sugar
  • vanilla extract to taste
  •  125 g raisins
  1. Separate the eggs.
  2. Beat the butter until smooth.
  3. Add the twaróg and mix thoroughly
  4. Add the egg yolks, flour, and vanilla and mix
  5. Beat the egg whites until soft, add the sugar and mix until stiff
  6. Fold the two mixtures and the raisins together

Final assembly

  1. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into 1cm wide strips
  2. If you haven’t already, remove the baking beads and paper from your blind-baked pastry case.
  3. Fill the pastry case with the cheese filling
  4. Form a lattice over the top of your cheesecake with the strips of pastry (if you don’t know how to do this, YouTube is your friend)
  5. Bake for around 50 minutes until the pastry lattice is nicely brown
  6. Leave to cool