Two posts in two days, I know, but this one’s really straightforward!
If you think of Scandinavian bread, you think of dark, dense, rye-infused creations to keep you warm in a Nordic winter, or possibly well stoked up for a hike around the fjords: in short, Norway’s fjellbrød (which translates simply as “mountain bread”). I’m not terrifically sure as to how authentically Norwegian this recipe is – I’ve gone for a variation on two posts I’ve seen from Hazel Verden and Finnish blogger Asli, which both seem to derive from Nigella Lawson – but it’s very easy to make, very full of flavour and agrees with my memory of trips to Bergen.
It’s also the oddest recipe for yeasted bread I know: the only one that involves no kneading, no leaving to rise, and putting your bread into a cold oven. But I can’t argue with the results.
400g wholemeal flour
150g light rye flour
30g porridge oats
100g mixed seeds (I used a seven seed mix including sunflower, pumpkin and linseed; you can use whatever is your favourite)
Put the sugar, milk and water into a saucepan and warm to your body temperature (around 36℃). Transfer to a jug, add the yeast and stir. Leave until the yeast is beginning to froth (around 10 minutes).
Meanwhile, combine the flours, the oats, 80g of the mixed seeds and the salt in the bowl of your stand mixer (or other large bowl). Stir until evenly mixed.
Once your wet mixture is frothing, pour it into the dry mix, being sure to incorporate any yeast that’s gathered on the bottom. Mix thoroughly with the standard paddle (or a wooden spoon) until you have a smooth but somewhat sticky dough.
Grease a baking tin and pour in your dough.
Sprinkle the top with another 20g of seeds (and perhaps a few more oats); push them into the crust.
Cover the baking tin with foil and put into a cold oven. Turn the temperature to 110℃ non-fan and bake for 30 minutes.
Turn the temperature up to 180℃ non-fan and bake for another 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake until done, perhaps another 30 minutes. Use the usual skewer test: a skewer should come out dry.
This recipe is dedicated to Conceiçao, who looked after me during many happy childhood summers in Portugal. There was only one option for the Portuguese bake: the little puff-pastry custard tartlets called Pastéis de nata – or Pastéis de Belém, in their most famous incarnation in the bakery in the Lisbon suburb of Belém, around the corner from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and opposite the monument to Henry the Navigator.
A Pastel de nata has two components: a puff-pastry case and its custard filling. There’s nothing particularly unusual about Portuguese puff pastry recipes, so you can use whatever recipe you like. Since puff pastry is fundamentally difficult, the alternative is to simply buy the stuff ready made, but if you do this, try to get an all-butter version or the flavour balance will be seriously off.
What is slightly unusual is the mechanics of the tartlet: the trick is to roll the whole sheet of pastry up tightly, Swiss roll style, then cut it into rounds. You flatten each round and press into the depression of a shallow cupcake or muffin tin to form the characteristic snail shell pattern in the flakes of the cooked pastry.
The custard is also unusual: it starts with a simple flour and water mixture; you then add hot syrup, then you cool the whole lot and add egg yolks; the custard is then baked in the tartlets.
I’ve started from two Portuguese recipes: one for the pastry and one for the pastéis themselves. If you haven’t made puff pastry before, the recipe contains a handy video showing you the technique far better than I can describe it.
The puff pastry
300g plain flour (OO grade if you can get it)
250g butter (if you can, use a high melting point butter like Président)
Your key objective throughout this process is to avoid the butter melting and leaking out through the sides of your pastry. If it’s a very hot day, which it was when I made these, you will need to put things back into the fridge frequently to keep them down to well below the melting point of the butter. You can tell from the cover photo that I wasn’t entirely successful.
Take the butter out of the fridge. Time this so that when you get to step 3, the butter will be soft enough to roll but still cold enough to be in no danger of melting.
Put the flour, water and salt into a bowl and mix thoroughly until you have a smooth dough. Form the dough into a ball, cut a cross in top (I have no idea why), cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Cut out two large sheets of baking parchment (perhaps 40cm long). Roll the butter between the two sheets to form as neat a square as you can manage: you want a constant thickness. Put the assembly back into the fridge.
On a floured board, roll the dough until it’s slightly over twice the size of your square of butter.
Removing the paper, place the square of butter onto one end of the dough, fold the dough over and seal the edges. Roll the dough out slightly more to make sure that it’s properly laminated.
Fold the dough into three by taking one end to the middle and then the other end on top. Turn it by 90°, roll it out, fold into three again, then wrap with cling film and refrigerate.
Repeat this process twice (if you want to follow the Portuguese recipe strictly, do a 4-way book fold as your second stage). Refrigerate for 20 minutes or more again.
Have a set of muffin or cupcake tins ready. Grease them with a bit of butter.
Roll the pastry flat, then roll the flattened pastry tightly into a cylinder. Cut the cylinder into slices: the recipe says 12, but my pastry came out a bit thick and I reckon that I should have tried to get a few more, perhaps 15 or 18.
Flatten each slice into a circle with the flat of your hand and/or a rolling pin, then press each circle into a muffin tin so that it lines the bottom and sides.
Refrigerate all of this while you make your custard.
250 ml milk
Peel of one lemon
75 g water
4 egg yolks
Ground cinnamon to taste
The tricky part of this recipe is to get as many of the lumps out as you can. Use a wire whisk and be ruthless with it!
Preheat oven to 230℃
Peel the lemon, keeping the peel whole in as few pieces as you can manage. Count the pieces. Keep the rest of the lemon for juice later.
In a bowl, mix 100ml of the milk with the flour. Get as many of the lumps out as you can manage.
In a saucepan, bring the remaining 150ml of the milk to the boil with the lemon peel.
Pour in the flour/milk mixture and whisk vigorously, on the heat, for another couple of minutes until you have a thick paste. Remove from the heat and discard the lemon peel (that’s why you needed to count the pieces). You now have another opportunity to have a go with the whisk to get more of the lumps out.
In another pan, mix the sugar and water. Bring to the boil and cook until you have a thick syrup. Mine got as far as 111℃ on a sugar thermometer, which is the top end of the “thread” stage, before it gets to “soft ball”.
Take your pastry out of the fridge around now.
A little at a time, dribble the syrup into your flour mix, whisking all the time. You can speed up towards the end: make sure the syrup and flour mix is as smooth as possible.
Yes, you got it. It’s time to get the lumps out again. I did this by more frantic whisking: I suspect that passing it through a sieve might have been less work, at the cost of a bit of wastage and more washing up.
Add the egg yolks and whisk until smooth
Pour the custard into the tartlets
Bake for around 15 minutes. The custard should have blobs that are dark brown, on the verge of burning but not quite there; the pastry around the edges should look golden and flaky.
Dust with a little cinnamon.
Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Pastéis de nata are fabulous straight out of the oven, but you don’t want to burn your tongue. Of course, you can have them cold later.
The Portuguese would never pass up a chance to have these with a bica (short espresso).
Aish baladi is the Egyptian wholemeal version of the bread more generally known in the Middle East as “khubz arabi” (Arab bread) or in the West as “pita bread”. It’s a small, flat bread baked at high temperature which forms a pocket into which you will be stuffing your hummus, ful medames or other goodies.
Traditionally, aish baladi is baked in a very hot, wood-fired, open topped clay or brick oven (the Arab version is called a tabun, the Indian one a tandoor): the bread against the hot sides and left there for a very short time. That’s always going to make it difficult to replicate in a standard Western kitchen, the key requirement being to take your circle of dough from room temperature to high heat as fast as you possibly can. It’s the suddenness of this process that causes the water in the middle of the bread to vaporise quickly; the pressure from the resulting steam causes the two sides of the dough to separate and form the pocket.
The Saveur recipe I started from suggests that you use a pizza stone: I don’t have one, but I do have non-stick frying pans that can go into a very hot oven: these work just fine if I wind my oven up the its maximum temperature. If I start with the bread on a standard baking tin at room temperature and put the whole thing into the oven, the result is perfectly edible bread, but without the puffed up pocket, which kind of loses the point.
The dough is a pretty straightforward yeasted wholemeal dough. I’ve broadly followed Saveur’s method (although I reduced the water content considerably – the dough from their recipe is really wet), but I suspect I could have used my standard method of “start the yeast with a teaspoon of sugar and some warm water” without a problem. Wholemeal wheat flour should be fine; if you want to be historically authentic, use emmer wheat; I used spelt. Do not use wholemeal rye flour, which doesn’t form enough gluten: my first attempt at aish baladi went comically wrong when I opened a packet of dark rye flour by mistake and couldn’t understand why interminable amounts of kneading appeared to be having no effect whatsoever.
7g dried yeast
240ml lukewarm water (around 40℃)
300g wholemeal flour, plus more for rolling
Mix the yeast, the water and half the flour in a bowl and leave for 30 minutes: it should go nicely frothy.
Add in the oil, the salt and the rest of the flour and blend to a smooth dough. Knead for 7 minutes with the dough hook in a stand mixer, or around 10 minutes by hand.
Leave to rise for around 90 minutes
Put your pizza stone (or frying or baking pan) into the oven and preheat the oven to its hottest setting (mine is 250℃ fan)
Flour a surface for rolling with more wholemeal flour. Use a generous amount.
Cut the dough into 8 or 9 pieces, then roll each piece into a thin circle, perhaps 15cm in diameter. You may find it easier to go for an oval than a circle: make sure you know exactly how many pieces of dough are going to fit onto your stone or pan.
Optionally, sprinkle the top of each circle with some bran (if you have it) or some of the excess flour from rolling.
Leave to rise for a further 20-30 minutes.
Prepare somewhere to keep the bread warm: I used a basket lined with a tea towel
Now work quickly: open the oven, take the stone or pan out, and put one or more circles of dough onto it, put it back in and close the oven. The faster you can do this, the more likely you are to get the approved puffiness.
Bake for around 6-8 minutes. Take the pan out, transfer the bread to your basket (or whatever you’re using) and repeat until you’ve done all the batches you want.
Be careful: bread straight out of the oven will be really, really hot: you want to give it a minute or two before allowing anyone to risk biting in or they’ll burn their mouths! But the bread is at its best in the next 10 minutes after that.
Cocadas are everywhere throughout the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. They’re the bake is for coconut lovers: there’s nothing I’ve ever mode which has a higher percentage of pure coconut.
In most places, cocadas show up as balls or swirls (they’re often translated as “coconut cookies” or “coconut macaroons”). In Bolivia, they make them as “bar cookies”, which I take to mean baked in a tray and cut into squares, somewhat like brownies.
Western recipes tend to use sweetened condensed milk: I’ve started with a recipe from “Bolivia bella” in which you make your own condensed milk by starting with coconut milk and sugar. The original then adds freshly grated coconut, but I didn’t have any, so I’ve put in desiccated coconut at the beginning of the process to allow it to rehydrate while the coconut milk is condensing. I’ve also considerably reduced the proportion of sugar to coconut – you can increase it to 200g if you prefer a sweeter end product.
400ml coconut milk
150g desiccated coconut
3 egg yolks (mine clocked in at around 54g)
10g sesame seeds
grated rind of 1 lemon (around 2g)
Heat oven to 160℃ fan
Line a baking tin with parchment: I used a 23cm x 23cm tin
Mix the coconut milk, the desiccated coconut and the sugar into a saucepan.
Bring to the boil and simmer gently, stirring frequently, until thickened to a paste. Take it off the heat and stir in the sesame seeds, butter and lemon rind – mix until the butter is melted and combined. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes more: you don’t want to scramble the eggs in the next step.
Beat the egg yolks thoroughly, then add them to the mix and blend them in quickly
Return the saucepan to a low heat and cook for a few minutes longer until the mixture is very thick.
Remove from the heat and spread the batter evenly into your tin.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until firm to hard. Use a longer time for a crisp biscuit, a shorter time for a softer brownie-like consistency.
Leave to cool in the tin. You’ll struggle to extract it when it’s still warm.
Remove the whole thing from the tin and cut into squares or rectangles.
Confession time on the photos: I got the baking temperature/time badly wrong on my first attempt and then inexplicably used the wrong baking pan on the second. So my final cocadas are too thin and unevenly baked. But they still taste great…
It’s time for this series to make its first foray into Africa: I’m going to start in Nigeria with “Agege bread”, named after the suburb of Lagos from which it came. It’s a bread with a story and I’ll retell the basics, with the help of this great video by “For Africans By Africans”.
Bread wasn’t native to Nigeria until the later part of the 19th century, when it started to be brought in by immigrants from the Caribbean. In 1913, Jamaican-born Amos Shackleford arrived in Lagos and set up a bakery business which thrived to the point where he was considered “the bread king of Nigeria”: his “Shackleford bread” would arrive in Agege by bus until services were disrupted in the wake of independence in 1960. A local by the name of Alhaji Ayokunnu set up his own bakery and gave his product the name “Agege bread”. Subsequently, an enterprising community leader negotiated with the suburban railway for trains to stop in Agege, which became the means by which Ayokunnu’s bread colonised the city and won a place in Nigerian hearts.
It’s a slightly sweet white loaf, usually oblong and baked in a tin, whose defining characteristic is that it’s fabulously soft and fluffy. It also keeps well, which is not an insignificant feature in Lagos’s warm, humid climate. A big part of this comes from the kneading process which uses a machine called a “dough brake”, introduced by Shackleford, which looks rather like a washing mangle or a giant pasta machine: the dough is repeatedly squeezed between a pair of rollers.
A bad episode happened in the 1980s, when President Babangida banned imported wheat. At the time, home grown Nigerian wheat was of lower quality, so bakers started using “improvers” to artificially boost the softness and fluffiness of their product. At least one of these, potassium bromate, has since been found to be carcinogenic and has been banned; other alternatives remain.
I don’t want to use improvers, but I do want to get to something like the approved fluffiness, so I’m going to follow the lead of Nigerian cook Nky-Lily Lete and use the Scandinavian “scalded flour” method – if you want to see why this works, take a look at this post on Bread Maiden, which also describes a newer method invented in Taiwan called Tangzhong.
Since I don’t have access to a dough brake, I’ve simulated the effect by repeatedly rolling the dough with a rolling pin and reforming it. To speed things up, I’ve done some kneading in advance with the dough hook of my stand mixer: if you don’t have one, you’ll need to spend longer on the kneading process.
500g strong white flour, plus more for kneading
200ml boiling water
80g warm water
Mix the boiling water with the 100g of the flour. Cover the bowl and set aside to cool, for at least one hour (you can do this overnight if you want)
In a bowl, mix the warm water, milk, sugar and yeast. Leave for 10 minutes or so until frothy.
Soften the butter (my preferred method is to chop it into small pieces and set it aside at room temperature while you do everything else.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the remaining flour with the salt.
Add the scalded flour and the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix thoroughly (either with your hands or with the paddle attachment). Leave for 10 minutes.
Add the butter, mix it in and then mix with the dough hook for around 5 minutes
On a floured board, roll out your loaf, then fold it up, picking up as little flour as you can manage. Roll it out again and repeat until the dough is very elastic.
Shape the dough into an oblong and put it in a baking tin. Cover and leave until well risen – depending on your kitchen temperature, this could take anything from one to four hours.
Preheat oven to its hottest setting – mine was 250℃ non-fan.
Bake, covered, for around 20 minutes. The bread should come out soft, risen and not dried out.
It’s best to at least try this bread when it’s fresh out of the oven, even if you’re keeping most of it for later!
Note that I haven’t bothered with a knock-back and second rise: they don’t appear to do this in the Agege factories. But there’s nothing stopping you from doing this if you want.
Slight caveat on the photos here: the quantities in this recipe turned out to be too large for my smaller bread tin and rather too small for the larger one. The resulting bread should really be square in cross-section: to achieve that with the tin you can see, I’d really need to add 50% onto all the quantities here.
Carrying on from last week-end’s public holiday theme: July 11th in Belgium is the day when the Flemish community celebrates the 1302 Battle of the Golden Spurs, in which Flanders rebels routed the forces of King Philip IV of France. To this day, the Walloons and the Flemish don’t agree about much, but at least one thing unites them: a taste for the spiced shortbread biscuits they call speculoos. Traditionally, they’re baked for St Nicholas Day (on December 6th in Belgium), but I’d run out of biscuits and I didn’t feel like waiting…
As with many baking recipes that go back a long way, there are lots of variations. Speculoos recipes vary widely in ratio of the main ingredients (flour / sugar / butter). They vote for water, milk or an egg to stop the mix crumbling. Everyone agrees on using brown sugar (cassonade in French), but there’s lots of choice as to which sub-variety. For the spicing, everyone agrees on cinnamon, but there’s lots of choice as to what else to use: I opted for nutmeg and ginger; additions/alternatives include cloves, allspice, cardamom, star anise and even white pepper. My quantities of spice are on the low side compared to many, so feel free to play around with the quantities here until you have something that’s exactly to your taste. This really looks like a recipe that defies conventional wisdom about all baking needing to be super-accurate.
Ingredients for around 30-36 small biscuits
180g brown sugar (I used a mix of muscovado and soft brown)
50g ground almonds
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp nutmeg
Preheat oven to 175℃ fan
Soften the butter (if it’s straight from the fridge, chop into small cubes, around 1cm, and leave it while you do everything else).
Mix the flour, sugar, ground almonds, salt and baking powder in a bowl (if you have a stand mixer, you can weigh everything straight into its bowl). Stir everything until all the ingredients are evenly distributed – try to ensure that you’ve got rid of any clumps of sugar.
Add the butter and egg and combine until you have a smooth, even dough – either with the stand mixer or manually with a wooden spoon.
Roll the dough out on a flat surface to a thickness of around 5-7 mm. Try to get it pretty even, because you want your biscuits to be all baked at the same time.
Cut out biscuits with your favourite cookie cutter(s) or cooke mould. If you have young children, you’ll probably want animal shapes, hearts or whatever: my kids are grown up and I couldn’t find any in the house other than a fairly standard circle.
Place on a baking tray lined with a Silpat or silicone baking sheet (if you have one) or baking parchment. You’ll probably need to do two trays worth: this makes around 30-36 biscuits.
Bake for around 15 minutes.
The biscuits cool fine without taking them off the Silpat sheet, but if you’re using anything else, you probably want to turn them over after 10 minutes because the bottoms can get soggy.
Enjoy! Speculoos are the ultimate biscuit to accompany a coffee; they can also be crumbled to make an excellent topping for a fruit-and-cream type of dessert.
It’s been a strange Fourth of July this year: the poison of the Trump era has made it harder than ever to summon positive feelings for the United States. Still, I’ll use the occasion to celebrate happy days in the past and hope for happier ones in the future, with some close family members and numerous friends in the USA firmly in mind.
I lived in California for a couple of years in the early 1980s and one of my fondest memories is of whiling away hours at Printers Inc., a bookshop-plus-café that was a kind of prototype Borders. Long before Starbucks had started to expand outside Seattle, Printers Inc. served really good coffee and superb brownies and carrot cake. Cake lovers would invariably spot some book they liked, while those in search of a book, with equal inevitability, would be entrapped by the aroma of fresh coffee and cake.
Sadly, I never did get the recipe for the best carrot cake I ever had, baked by Gigi Ellis, the wife of my boss at Fairchild, and I lost touch with Frank and Gigi decades ago. So this recipe, which is close to the Printers Inc. version, comes from the cookbook I bought at the time, a model of Californian eclecticism entitled San Francisco à la Carte. I’ve turned everything metric, because I just don’t see how you can bake accurately using measuring cups, or indeed why you would want to when digital scales are cheap, accurate and generate less washing up.
The quantities here will work for a single cake in a 23cm x 23cm square tin. That will do for 16 small portions (or 8 very generous portions, or whatever you pick in between). If you prefer, you can use more than one tin, which avoids the tricky process of slicing the cake in half, at the price of leaving you with an internal crust that you don’t really want.
Make the cake:
250g carrots (weight after peeling)
250g plain flour
10g baking soda
150g corn oil
Preheat oven to 175℃.
Grease the bottom of your cake tin, line it with baking paper, then grease the bottom and sides.
Mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. There’s no need to sift the flour.
Peel and grate the carrots.
Beat the eggs (I use a stand mixer). Add the oil and beat until the eggs and oil have combined into a smooth mixture.
Add the flour mixture to the egg and oil mixture and beat until smoothly combined.
Add the carrots and stir until they’re evenly distributed.
Pour the whole mixture into your baking tin, ensuring that you spread it evenly including the corners.
Bake for 30 minutes – use the usual skewer test to ensure that it’s done. I’m always surprised by the way the cake can be really raw at 25 minutes and just fine at 30. By the way, some people like their carrot cake sticky: if you’re one of them, make sure the skewer *does* come out with some mixture sticking to it.
Cool in the baking tin for 5-10 minutes and then on a wire rack.
Make the frosting:
200g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
Vanilla essence to taste (optional)
Beat these together thoroughly until very smooth.
Cover and leave in the refrigerator: especially if it’s summer, the frosting will be very runny and you want it to hold its shape when you spread it.
Assemble the cake:
90g pecan halves
Reserve 16 of the best pecan halves for decoration (this will use around 40g). Chop the remainder into small pieces.
Transfer the cake from the wire rack to whatever you’re going to serve the cake on: cake plate, board, tray or whatever.
With a long knife, slice the cake horizontally into two approximately equal parts. Take the top half off and set aside – I do this by sliding a plastic chopping mat between the two halves, sandwiching the top half between the mat and a wire rack and lifting it off.
Spread half the frosting over the bottom half. Scatter the chopped walnut pieces evenly across the cake.
Put the top half of the cake back into place.
Spread the remaining half of the frosting over the cake and decorate with remaining pecan halves, in whatever pattern takes your fancy.
It’s probably a good idea to chill the cake at this point, because the frosting really is quite liquid. Take it out of the refrigerator half an hour or so before serving.
The core of every Jewish family is the Friday night dinner which greets the Sabbath. Even an unbeliever like me is deeply moved by ritual of the blessings over candles, bread and wine that bring my family together with each other and with our culture. And there’s only one bread for this: the plaited, egg-enriched, slightly sweetened white loaf called challah (or cholla, depending on your favourite transliteration of the Hebrew חַלָּה). Jewish children are addicted to the stuff from an early age and not just for its ritual significance: good challah combines tastiness and pillowy soft texture in a way that’s hard to beat. Beware, though: a lot of bakeries sell challah that looks the part with its perfect plaiting, but is dry or tasteless or both. Which is a good reason for making your own.
For the purposes of this series, challah counts as the entry for Israel. In truth, however, it’s spread throughout the world and you can’t help noticing that similar breads are baked all over Europe from Germany eastwards by Jews and gentiles alike.
There are many ways of braiding your challah and at some point, you need to decide on how many strands you’re going to use: I recommend that you start with 3, but you can go for anything from 2 to 9. You’ve almost certainly spotted from the photographs that I’m fairly rubbish at this part of the puzzle, so I’m not even going to attempt to do a better of job of showing you how than this Czech YouTube video, which shows you how to do all of them. However, my challah is reliably soft and tastes reliably good, so I’ll stand by the virtues of my recipe, which is based on the one in Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s excellent book How To Make Bread. Hadjiandreou is decidedly non-Jewish, but who’s asking? His recipe has worked better for me than the ones from many synagogue websites.
This makes a single small loaf. It takes several hours from start to finish, but that’s mostly waiting time: the amount of actual work isn’t too horrific.
250g Strong while flour
4g tsp salt
3g dried yeast
80ml warm water (around 40℃)
20g sunflower oil
Poppy seeds or sesame seeds for dusting the top
Ideally, you want a silicone baking sheet to put over your baking tray (better still if you have the Silpat silicone/fibreglass type, which I don’t). But otherwise, baking parchment will do.
Preheat your oven to 50℃
Weigh out and mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl
Weigh out and mix the warm water and yeast in another bowl
Separate one egg and set aside the white in a bowl; mix the yolk with the whole of the second egg, beat lightly and add to the water/yeast mix
Pour the dry mix into the wet mix and combine until it’s beginning to feel like dough. It will probably still be a bit gritty
Add the oil and mix until you have a smooth dough
You could at this point proceed directly to kneading. But you’ll save yourself time and elbow grease by leaving the dough for 10 minutes (a process called autolysis), giving it a quick fold or two and then repeating this a couple of times
Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface. You’ll only need a bit of flour on your hands and on the surface – don’t be tempted to flood the dough with raw flour at this stage. Keep kneading until the dough is elastic and springs back when tugged or prodded.
Turn your oven off. Put your ball of dough back into the bowl, cover it and leave it to rise in your turned off oven. You’ll probably want it to rise for a couple of hours: you have to judge this by eye and experience.
Punch the dough down, transfer it to a lightly floured surface, divide it into equal parts: as many as you have chosen for your braid. Roll each part into a sausage, stretched out as long as you can reasonably make it while keeping all your strands the same length.
Braid the dough as per the instructions in the video – either on your board or, preferably, directly onto the baking sheet.
Transfer the baking sheet onto your tray (or, if you didn’t have a baking sheet, transfer the braided loaf to your lined tray). Brush the loaf with some of the egg white that you reserved in step 4, and sprinkle a generous helping of sesame or poppy seeds over the top.
Cover the challah with an inverted bowl or domed lid that’s large enough so that the challah won’t touch it when it expands. Now leave it in a warm place until it is well risen: this can be anything from 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the ambient temperature and on how strong your yeast was in the first place.
Make sure you turn your oven to 200℃ fan in plenty of time: the oven could easily take 15-20 minutes to come to temperature and you don’t want your challah sagging horribly while you’re waiting for it.
Bake the challah for around 20 minutes. The crust should be a medium to dark golden brown and if you stick a skewer into the bottom, there should be no sign of stickiness upon removal.
Leave the challah to cool on a rack.
For step 9, various authorities on bread-making say that you will get a better flavour by using a much slower rise at much lower temperature: perhaps 8 hours at a room temperature of 20℃ or so, or even longer in the fridge. I’ve never tried.
For step 13, if you have two ovens, you can use the same trick as step 9: preheat one oven to 50℃, then turn it off and use it as a proving drawer. Then use the other oven for the actual bake. If you only have one oven, you can’t really do this: if you have a boiler cupboard or airing cupboard that’s warmer than your kitchen, you can use it. Otherwise, you’ll just have to do the second rise at room temperature and be patient.
Some recipes recommend that you preheat the oven to 250℃ and then turn it down as soon as you’ve put the bread in. This gets a slightly better crust, but runs the risk of you forgetting to turn the oven down, something that’s now happened to me sufficiently often that I don’t go for this any more.
The usual in-process shots:
And here’s a quick look at the braiding process. But truly, use someone else’s!
The French are fabulous bakers. I could have chosen any of a dozen bakes from France, but this one is the taste of my childhood – my Proustian Madeleine, if you’re of a literary mind. So let’s hear it for the “éclair au chocolat”, which brings back a flood of happy memories of small boy in Parisian patisserie.
There have been some easy bakes in this series of posts: this isn’t one of them. It’s fiddly and requires hand skill as well as pin-sharp attention to quantities and timing. If anyone labels an eclair recipe as “quick and easy”, don’t believe them.
The éclair is a three part dish: a cylindrical choux pastry bun, a crème pâtissière (pastry cream) filling and a ganache or glaze. Each one has its choices: I’m going to write only one recipe, but I’ll give some ideas about the other options. I should also point out that I’m not a master pastry chef: if you are looking for perfect symmetry and an immaculately shiny top, you’ll need to go well beyond my skill level. But I can assure you that these tasted suitably authentic and went down very well with the family…
The crème pâtissière filling
Eclairs in England tend to use whipped cream as a filling. The French don’t do this: the filling is always some variant of crème pâtissière (pastry cream or creme pat in English), either vanilla or chocolate. You can use plain pastry cream or add some Crème Chantilly (sweetened whipped cream), in which case it’s technically called a Crème Diplomate. I went for something in between: a chocolate crème pâtissière, but with double cream mixed in to thin it down to a pipable consistency.
5g (1tbs) cocoa powder
60g vanilla sugar (or 60g caster sugar plus vanilla essence to taste)
25g dark chocolate (I used chocolate with 70% cocoa solids)
250 ml milk
double cream as needed – perhaps 30-50ml
In the methods, I’ve sequenced things to minimise stress rather than overall preparation time. For example, if you were trying to minimise time, you’d probably put the milk on straightaway and then quickly sort out the egg mix while the milk heats up.
Separate the eggs and put the yolks in a bowl
If your chocolate came in a bar as opposed to chips, chop it up into small pieces
Add 45g of the sugar to the eggs and whisk together
Add the cornflour, flour and cocoa powder and whisk thoroughly
Put the milk into a saucepan with the rest of the sugar (and vanilla essence if using) and bring to the boil
Pour the milk into your egg mixture and whisk together thoroughly
Return your mixture the saucepan and whisk in the chocolate
Cook for a minute or two longer until there is no hint of raw flour taste in the mixture
Decant your mixture into a bowl, dust it with icing sugar to stop a skin forming, cover and leave to cool; refrigerate until thoroughly cold and your eclairs are ready to be filled
The choux pastry buns
Most choux pastry recipes are pretty similar: mine mainly comes from an old Roux Brothers cookbook and therefore has a level of French authenticity. The real choice you have is how to improve the crust on the top of your eclair: I’ve sprinkled icing sugar on top, but you can use egg wash if you prefer. Some French recipes like this one from Ricardo use a thin layer of a sweet pastry called “craquelin”, which merges into the main eclair, caramelises and forms a characteristic cracked pattern.
45g unsalted butter, plus another 5g if your milk is semi-skimmed
½ tsp sugar
icing sugar to dust
Preheat oven to 190℃ fan.
Get your baking tray ready: lie a silicone mat over it (if you have one), patterned side up, or a sheet of baking parchment otherwise
Prepare a piping bag with a 1cm nozzle. A French star nozzle is ideal: this gets you a ridged eclair with more surface area to go crisp. I don’t have one of these, so I went for plain.
Sift the flour
Chop the butter into small pieces and put into a saucepan
Add the milk, water and sugar (you can also add ½ tsp of salt at this stage, which some recipes suggest)
Bring to the boil and take off the heat
Immediately add the flour to the mixture in a single go and stir to combine
When properly mixed, return to the heat and cook for a short while – perhaps a minute or two – until the mixture comes away nicely from the sides of the pan. Take off the heat and leave to cool for a short while
Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, whisking thoroughly until you have a smooth mix. If the consistency is right, you should be able to pipe the mixture but it should hold its shape when piped. If it’s too stiff, you can add more egg. If it’s too loose, you’re in trouble, so an alternative to the “whisk in eggs one at a time” instruction is to whisk the eggs into a bowl on their own, and then add the egg mix a bit at a time until you are sure the consistency. For me, life was too short and I just added them in.
Leave to cool for five minutes or so, then fill your piping bag with the mixture
Pipe your eclairs into tubes of choux pastry around 8cm long – the recipe should get you a dozen of them. Make sure they are properly spaced out from each other: they will grow during baking. You really need to try to get an even cylinder here, which means piping quickly with a constant pressure: this takes practise. On the photos here, you’ll see that I have some way to go…
Tidy up any stray bits of dough which are sticking out at the ends, doing your best not to destroy the structure of what’s left
Bake for 20 minutes without opening the oven door
Open the oven door to check: close it quickly and then continue baking for however long it needs for your eclairs to go golden brown (probably 5-10 more minutes)
Remove the eclairs from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack
Filling the eclairs
Take your crème pâtissière out of the fridge. Whisk in enough add double cream until you have a mixture that you can pipe easily: you want it to be rather thinner than toothpaste but not runny
Transfer the crème pâtissière to a piping bag with a nozzle of around 5mm: the exact dimension doesn’t matter, but piping will be difficult if it’s too small and you’re likely to damage the choux pastry if it’s too wide.
With your nozzle, make three holes in what is currently the bottom of each eclair, reasonably evenly spaced, piping filling into each until the eclair is full. Wipe off any excess and add it back to bowl – in the quantities in this recipe, you’ll have little or none to spare.
The ganache or glaze
The best tasting and easiest topping, in my view, is a simple chocolate-and-cream ganache and that’s what I’ve gone for here. But if you want that patisserie hard gloss look (or you just want something that doesn’t get quite so dramatically sticky in hot weather), there are plenty of alternatives around, involving icing sugar or glucose syrup (some American recipes specify corn syrup).
75g dark chocolate
75g double cream
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler
Whisk in the cream and mix thoroughly
Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so
Spread smoothly over the eclairs with a small knife or spatula (spread them over the side with the holes you filled them from)
Leave to cool for an hour or so
If you have to, refrigerate and keep them for no more than a day or two: you don’t want to leave them for much longer, because the filling soaks into the pastry and it goes soggy. Eclairs don’t freeze, because the pastry cream splits. So really, you’re better off just eating them on the day…
Some notes and tips
Using cornflour guarantees that your pastry cream will thicken, but you risk it setting too thick to be piped easily – which is why I needed to thin it out with cream. If you use just 20g of plain flour rather than the flour/cornflour mix, you’ll need to cook the cream for much longer – perhaps as much as five minutes more – for it to thicken, but you then won’t need the cream afterwards.
Your biggest problem with eclairs is making sure that the buns dry out properly but don’t go rock hard. Of the various ways of preventing this, the one that seems to work best for me is to bake them at a relatively high temperature and have the nerve to bake them for at least 20 minutes before you open the oven to see how they’re doing. When you take them out, transfer them to a wire rack immediately: you don’t want any moisture building up on the base.
Canadian blog “the flavor bender” has an excellent post on how to troubleshoot problems with your eclairs, with a long list of what’s likely to go wrong and what you should do about it. It’s wordy and overly long, but the information is first class. Good luck!
Having travelled so far to get to Australia and New Zealand for the Lamington, we might as well stay there for the region’s other iconic bake: the ANZAC biscuit. It’s a biscuit with a story, conjuring up images of the wives and sweethearts of soldiers in the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps lovingly baking them to be sent to their embattled loved ones at Gallipoli and other World War I battlefields. Whether or not this is actually true (Wikipedia is mildly sceptical about the evidence), ANZAC biscuits are a feature of Australian and Kiwi veterans’ fundraising events to this day, their popularity stemming not just from the history but from their general deliciousness: the flavour combination of butter, golden syrup and coconut is a surefire winner.
More prosaically, you can think of ANZAC biscuits are a kind of sweet version of the Scottish oatcake (bake 10). They’re fairly straightforward to make: I followed the basic recipe in the ever-reliable taste.com.au, which gives variants for increased crispiness or chewiness. Most recipes are similar, varying mainly in the amount and type of sugar, with occasional other flavourings added such as vanilla essence.
The quantities here make around 30 biscuits (the eagle-eyed will spot a level of attrition on the way to the biscuit tin).
150g plain flour
90g porridge oats (don’t use jumbo oats, which are likely to result in your biscuits falling apart)
85g desiccated coconut
100g brown sugar
55g caster sugar
40g golden syrup
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
Preheat oven to 160℃ fan
Line a couple of baking trays with baking parchment
Mix the flour, oats, coconut and sugar in a large bowl.
Cut the butter into pieces and put it into a saucepan with the golden syrup and water. Warm gently until the butter is melted and everything is combined.
Add the bicarbonate of soda to the wet mixture and stir to dissolve.
Pour the wet mixture into your bowl and mix thoroughly. You want to make sure that there’s no dry flour visible when you spoon the mixture away from the sides of the bowl.
Scoop out a level tablespoon of mixture (this is a good way of getting the biscuits to be around the same size), roll it into a ball and place it on your first baking tray. Now repeat for the others, allowing as much space as you can between your biscuits.
Now press each biscuit slightly flatter. The 1cm thick suggested gets you a biscuit with a slightly chewy centre: going flatter will get you a crispier version. Either way, the biscuits will spread out somewhat during baking.
Bake for around 15 minutes, switching shelves half way to make sure they’re all baked the same amount.