Tag: Baking

Around the world in 80 bakes: the index

OK, so there are a few dubious categorisations here to make the images line up. But I’ve done my best.

Biscuits (aka cookies)

Breads (loaves)

Breads – sweet

Cakes

Flatbreads

Pastries – sweet

Savoury dishes

Other

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.80: back home with my Spelt Sourdough

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.80: back home with my Spelt Sourdough

For my 80th and final bake, it’s time to come back to my home in London (which is very lovely, if a somewhat humbler edifice than the Reform Club, Phileas Fogg’s final destination).

This sourdough recipe is the one that I’ve been making, in variations, almost every week since October 2019. I’ve made breads with more intense flavours (Estonian black bread and its Russian cousin Borodinsky bread are probably my favourites) and I’ve made breads with more wonderful texture (Persian Nân Barbari is the clear winner here). But this recipe fits into my working life with no fuss, particularly now that I have a high number of days working from home: the elapsed time is long, but the amount of actual work (including washing up effort, which seems to get forgotten in most cookbooks) has been pared down to the minimum. And it produces a healthy bread which is packed with flavour and which I’m happy to eat week after week.

There are several variations possible. The flour mixture in this post is 50/50 strong white/wholemeal spelt, but you can vary the flavour by replacing the spelt by either dark or light rye or wholemeal wheat. Or you can go 60/40 for a less dense, more pillowy result. Or you can increase the amount of seven seed mix, or ditch it altogether and/or replace it with 20-30g of caraway seeds (whose flavour is very much a traditional accompaniment to light rye). In the loaf tin version pictured here, I had run out of seven seed mix so I used sunflower seeds only.

In terms of process, I have two variants. Most often, I use a two stage prove: the second rise is done in a cloth-lined basket after which I bake a free standing loaf in a cast iron Dutch oven made by US company Challenger. But if I’m in a hurry, I’ll just pour the kneaded dough into a greased baking tin, leave it to rise once and then bake.

I adjust timings to suit the day’s schedule by choosing the temperature for the rises: fridge (around 3℃), room temperature (my kitchen is usually around 20℃) or “a warm place” (near my boiler, around 30℃). The fastest option is to heat an oven to 50℃ then turn it off, because you don’t want the yeast getting above 45℃. 

Here are three typical timings: choose your favourite or make up your own. I deliberately haven’t put in numbers of hours because they’re incredibly variable; you just have to wait until it looks right.

  1. Start the sponge first thing in the morning, make the dough at lunchtime and let it rise in a warm place ready to be baked after work.
  2. Start the sponge at lunchtime, make the dough in the evening and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Take it out and leave it at room temperature or in a warm place, ready to be baked in time for lunch.
  3. Start the sponge in the evening,  make the dough first thing in the morning, letting it rise in a warm place through the morning ready to be baked around lunchtime.

You can use any starter you like. Mine started life in October 2018 as a wheat-based starter, but after the first couple of months, I started refreshing it only with dark rye (which apparently makes for a less fussy starter). The method came from Andrew Whitley’s “Bread Matters”.

The sponge

This is the initial mixture used to give the yeast in the sourdough starter the chance to multiply. It seems to go many names as well as “sponge”: Andrew Whitley calls it a “production sourdough”; I’ve also seen “pre-ferment”, “bulk ferment” or just plain “ferment”. A thicker version appears to be called a “biga”.

  • 90g sourdough starter
  • 90g dark rye flour
  • 180ml water
  1. If a layer of clear liquid has separated from your sourdough starter, mix it in thoroughly (some books advise you to discard this: I’ve never needed to).
  2. Mix thoroughly the starter, dark rye flour and water in a bowl. Leave to ferment at room temperature for several hours or overnight.

And don’t forget to refresh your starter:

  • 30g dark rye flour
  • 60 ml water
  1. Adding the flour and water to your starter, mix thoroughly, cover and replace in the refrigerator.

Making the dough

  • 350g Wholemeal spelt flour
  • 350g Strong white bread flour
  • 15g salt
  • 100g Seven seed bread mix (like this one, or your favourite other mixture of seeds)
  • 360ml warm water (warm but not hot to the touch, around 30-35℃)
  1. Put the flours, salt and seeds into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until reasonably evenly mixed.
  2. Add the water to your sponge and mix.
  3. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture. With a spoon, mix enough to ensure that you don’t have tons of dry flour at the bottom of the bowl where the mixer might not pick it up.
  4. With the dough hook, knead for around 7 minutes: the dough should be very elastic and stretchy. Go for up to 10 minutes if you’re feeling uncertain.
  5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure the dough is in a nice ball.

Preparing – tin version

  1. Brush oil over the bottom and sides of your bread tin.
  2. Transfer the dough into the bread tin, push it out to the sides and shape it into a loaf.
  3. Cover the tin with its lid or cling film (or non-single-use alternative) and leave the loaf to rise until it reaches the level of the tin.

For baking, I’ve assumed here that you have a casserole or covered roasting pan big enough to enclose your bread tin and be used as a Dutch oven. If you don’t, forget anything about making steam and simply cover your bread tin with its lid (if it has one) or with foil.

Preparing – free standing version

  1. Cover the bowl with cling film (or non-single-use alternative) and leave for several hours until approximately doubled in size.
  2. Pour some flour (I use the spelt flour, but it doesn’t really matter) into the bottom of your linen-lined proving basket and shake it out over a board. Put some more flour onto the board.
  3. Transfer the dough from the mixer bowl onto the board. Flour your hands and work the dough into a loaf shape: you’ll probably need a metal scraper to scrape some of the dough off the board when it sticks.
  4. Repeatedly stretch the top of your loaf, tucking the dough under. This will help get a well formed crust. You’re trying to end up with the smallest possible “key” – the gap at the bottom where all the folds have come together.
  5. Put the loaf into your basket, smooth side down and cover with a tea towel. Leave to rise until it is close to the top of the basket.

Baking

  1. Half an hour or so before the loaf has risen, start to preheat your oven on the fan setting if there is one, with your Dutch oven in it if you’re using one. You want it to reach 250℃ by the time you start baking.
  2. Score a few gashes into your loaf, in whatever pattern you like (I use two or three crossways gashes when using a tin, or I do a kind of signature for the free standing loaf, along the lines of the stylised “P” that Poilâne use).
  3. Now work quickly: remove the tea towel (or cover of your tin), open the oven, remove the cover of your Dutch oven (if you’re using one), place your loaf in it, throw a few ice cubes around the side of your loaf (if using a tin, you can just use water) and cover. Close the oven and reduce the temperature to 225℃.
  4. After 30 minutes, open the oven door, uncover your loaf and close the oven door again. Continue baking for around 20 minutes. By the end of this, the top of your loaf should be medium-to-deep brown and the internal temperature should be around 98℃.
  5. Leave to cool on a rack for at least an hour before cutting and eating.
  6. Half an hour or so before the loaf has risen, start to preheat your oven on the fan setting if there is one, with your Dutch oven in it if you’re using one. You want it to reach 250℃ by the time you start baking.
  7. Score a few gashes into your loaf, in whatever pattern you like (I use two or three crossways gashes when using a tin, or I do a kind of signature for the free standing loaf, along the lines of the stylised “P” that Poilâne use).
  8. Now work quickly: remove the tea towel (or cover of your tin), open the oven, remove the cover of your Dutch oven (if you’re using one), place your loaf in it, throw a few ice cubes around the side of your loaf (if using a tin, you can just use water) and cover. Close the oven and reduce the temperature to 225℃.
  9. After 30 minutes, open the oven door, uncover your loaf and close the oven door again. Continue baking for around 20 minutes. By the end of this, the top of your loaf should be medium-to-deep brown and the internal temperature should be around 98℃.
  10. Leave to cool on a rack for at least an hour before cutting and eating.

So that’s it! We’ve baked round the world, from the great cities of our planet – Paris, New York, Vienna –  to the middle of nowhere in Pitcairn Island. We’ve made breads, cakes, biscuits, pastries, savoury dishes and a few random things that don’t fit into any category. We’ve done some super-easy bakes (soda bread) and some very challenging ones (chocolate eclairs, pannetone). Being diabetic, which means I shouldn’t really have been doing this blog at all, I’ve erred on the less sweet side, but there are a few very sweet dishes indeed. It’s been a grand ride and I’ve learned masses.

There will be one more post in this series, namely a recipe index. But otherwise, it’s goodbye, and time for me to revert this blog to its original intention of being about all my obsessions – travel, software, business, politics and anything else. If you’re interested, stay with me!

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.79: Vanillekipferl, Viennese crescent biscuits

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.79: Vanillekipferl, Viennese crescent biscuits

Austrians don’t necessarily like to think too hard about how close they became to being a Turkish province and quite how much they have to thank the Poles that this didn’t happen. In 1683, the Turks neared the city gates, to be defeated in the Battle of Vienna when the forces of the Holy Roman Empire were joined by the Polish army of King John III Sobieski.

For some reason, however, the crescent moon of the Turkish flag lives on in Austrian culture in the shape of Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescents): delectable, crumbly nut-flavoured biscuits that are particularly popular as a Christmas treat. They’ve spread from their origins in Vienna all over Germanic countries and many Eastern European ones, including (of course) Poland.

My wife has Austrian blood in her if you go back a century or so and this recipe came down from one of her relatives. It’s similar to many Austrian recipes today. There are choices to be made: this uses almonds, but walnuts are a popular choice and you also see hazelnuts. Some recipes have a slightly higher ratio of flour to everything else, and some add an egg to the dough to bind it, giving you a slightly richer and considerably less crumbly result with greater structural integrity.

This looks like a straightforward recipe but it’s trickier than many biscuit/cookie recipes because it’s easy to get the texture wrong. Undergrind your nuts and you’ll get a grainy, rather lumpen biscuit which tastes fine but just doesn’t feel right. Overprocess or overwork the dough – especially if your hands are too warm – and the butter will come out and you lose the flavour. But if you get this right, Vanillekipferl have a crumbly butteriness that makes them a rare treat.

The quantities here give you 300g of dough which will yield 15-20 Vanillekipferl. It scales really easily – just multiply by as much as you want. But be aware that a standard size baking tray won’t take many more than 20, because they spread.

The ground almond mixture

You don’t have to make grind your own almonds: you can just buy a pack of ground almonds and add sugar. But doing your own with good quality almonds will result in a better tasting biscuit.

I keep a jar of vanilla sugar, which is simply a jar of caster sugar with a couple of vanilla pods in it which has been left in the cupboard more or less indefinitely. Again, you don’t have to do this: you can either rely on adding more vanilla essence or buy a packet of pre-made vanilla sugar (which is what most Austrian recipes suggest).

  • 50g almonds in their shells
  • 50g caster sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
  1. Put the almonds into a bowl and cover with boiling water.
  2. Wait around 15 minutes, then discard the water and pop each almond out of its skin. When you’ve finished, pat the almonds dry with a tea towel or kitchen roll and discard the skins.
  3. Put the almonds and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and process until the almonds have been ground very fine. This should take around 1-2 minutes. Leave them in the bowl – you’ll be adding the other ingredients shortly.

Making the Kipferl

  • 100g butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt (⅛ tsp is plenty)
  • Vanilla essence to taste – but be generous
  1. Preheat oven to 160℃ fan.
  2. Line a baking tray with a Silpat sheet, or baking paper if you don’t have one.
  3. Cut the butter into cubes (between 5-10mm).
  4. Add the butter, flour and vanilla essence to your food processor bowl with the almonds and sugar.
  5. Process the mixture until it comes together into a smooth dough.
  6. Take a small ball of dough, around 15-20g, compress it in your hands and roll it into a cigar shape around 8 cm long. 
  7. Form the dough into a crescent and place it onto your baking sheet. Make sure to keep at least a couple of centimetres between each crescent, because the Kipferl will spread in the oven more than you expect.
  8. Repeat for the other Kipferl and bake until just beginning to go golden – this will take around 16-18 minutes. You want them fairly pale for the best flavour.
  9. Remove from the oven, slide your Silpat sheet off the baking tray and leave to cool. Handle with care because the Kipferl are quite fragile. 
  10. If any of the Kipferl have merged together when they spread, separate them gently with a knife and serve.

I stop here, because the Vanillekipferl are plenty sweet enough for me already. But Austrian recipes now dust theKkipferl with icing sugar in one or both of the following stages:

  1. Immediately after taking out of the oven. In this case, the icing sugar will be absorbed into the Kipferl.
  2. After the Kipferl have been cooled. In this case, the icing will stay as a pretty powdery dusting on the top.

It would, of course, be close to criminal to miss out on having these with good coffee…

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.78: Potica from Slovenia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.78: Potica from Slovenia

Think of it as the child of a love triangle of brioche, cinnamon bun and baklava, only with a lot less sugar. For Slovenian celebrations – Easter, Christmas, weddings, whatever – the Potica (the “c” is pronounced “ts”) is a favourite baked item. (I’m not really sure whether to call it a bread or a cake). There is even a special mould for it called a Potičnik, which is a relative of the bundt tin more commonly found in the UK or US, but with a different pattern around the top. However, if you don’t own a bundt tin, you can make a perfectly good Potica in a normal loaf tin, as I’ve done here: it just won’t be quite as striking.

The critical part here is to make a beautifully stretchy dough enriched with eggs, butter and some sugar, although really a lot less than you might expect from similar breads around the world. I’ve started with this recipe from Jernej Kitchen and I’m really impressed: it’s resulted in a truly lovely dough: smooth, elastic, non-greasy and deeply satisfying to work with.

Next, it’s the filling. Staying with Jernej, I’ve gone for walnuts and honey, which is probably the most popular version of Potica: apparently, you can choose any of the usual things that Eastern Europeans like in pastries: poppyseeds are a favourite of mine.

Finally, rolling and baking. Let’s be honest here: looking at the photos, it’s obvious that there aren’t nearly enough turns on my spiral of dough and filling. Partly, that’s the fault of the recipe suggesting that I roll it to 40cm long – I think doubling that would have been good – and partly, I wimped out of how thin the dough was. Next time, I’ll roll out the dough to as close as I can get to the full length of my board and then make strenous efforts to roll the whole thing as tightly as I can.

By the way, proving times are pretty flexible. Jernej gives a couple of options, both of which involve long proves in the fridge; I didn’t have time so I just proved at slightly above room temperature and watched carefully until the dough was risen how I wanted it, which I think worked fine.

The dough

  • 5g dried yeast
  • 25g sugar
  • 270ml milk
  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 65 g butter
  • 8g salt
  1. Put the milk into a bowl and warm until lukewarm (45s in my 900W microwave got the milk to 34℃).
  2. Put the yeast, sugar and milk into a bowl and leave until frothy (10 minutes or so)
  3. Put the flour into the bowl of your stand mixer
  4. Separate the eggs: place the yolks in the bowl with the flour, setting aside the whites, which you’ll use for the filling.
  5. Add the yeast mix to the bowl and mix with the standard paddle until well combined
  6. Melt the butter and add it to the bowl with the salt.
  7. Switch to the dough hook and knead at low speed until smooth and elastic – around 8-10 minutes.
  8. Form the dough into a ball and place in a bowl and cover.
  9. Leave until risen to around doubled in size – around 1-2 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

The filling

  • 300g walnuts
  • 60g honey
  • 30g granulated sugar (or caster)
  • 100g single cream (Jernej went for 75 g heavy cream – single was what I had)
  • 20g butter
  • 20ml rum
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 2 egg whites reserved from above
  • 25g caster sugar
  1. Put the walnuts into a food processor and grind until fine – but don’t overdo it: you don’t want oil coming out of the walnuts.
  2. Put the honey, granulated sugar, cream, butter and rum into a saucepan and bring to the boil; simmer for a minute or so.
  3. Add the mixture into your bowl with the walnuts, add the cinnamon and lemon zest and stir thoroughly.
  4. Wait until around 10 minutes before your dough is sufficiently risen before the next step, which is to make a meringue.
  5. Beat the egg whites at high speed. Once they are soft and beginning to fluff, add the sugar gradually as you beat.
  6. Continue beating at high speed until you have a stiff meringue.
  7. Fold the meringue into the walnut mixture until smoothly combined.

Putting it together 

  • A little milk for brushing
  1. Preheat oven to 165℃ fan.
  2. Grease your baking tin – a bundt tin if you have one, or a loaf pan if you don’t.
  3. Flour your board.
  4. Roll out the dough into a rectangle. The width should be the length of your loaf tin, or around twice the width of your bundt tin. The length should be as long as you can reasonably make it without tearing the dough.
  5. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving around 3-5cm around the edge.
  6. Roll the dough up into a spiral, as tightly as possible: the more turns the better. Pinch the ends to stop the filling leaking out.
  7. Transfer the dough to your tin, seam side up.
  8. Cover and leave to rise until most of the way to the top of the tin. This took me 2 hours: it will take you more or less, depending mainly on the ambient temperature. Jernej suggests overnight in the fridge.
  9. Poke holes in the dough with a skewer to allow moisture from the filling to escape with lower risk of the layers separating;  I probably poked a dozen holes in total.
  10. Brush with milk.
  11. Bake for 45 min; then reduce the heat to 140℃ and bake until a deep gold colour – around 20 minutes more.
  12. Remove from the oven, cool for a couple of minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and leave to cool.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.77: Must Leib – Estonian black bread

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.77: Must Leib – Estonian black bread

There have been several dark rye breads in this series, but after a recent visit to Estonia, I felt compelled to make the Estonian version, known simply as “Leib” (bread) or, if you’re feeling loquacious, “Must Leib” (black bread). It’s a soft, earthy and aromatic loaf that immediately hit the top of family favourites of any bread that I’ve made, displacing its Russian cousin Borodinsky bread; it also seems to keep particularly well. You need a couple of days elapsed time and it’s fairly hard work compared to many breads, not least because the dough is very sticky so you spend masses of time on washing up, but it was well worth the trouble and it’s definitely going to become a regular.

As ever, recipes vary: the common theme is the use of dark rye, caraway seeds and various other seeds (pumpkin and sunflower here; I’m sure others are possible), as well as the use of a fairly long fermentation time. I’ve started with a post on Deutsche Welle from their EU correspondent Georg Matthes, taking down the quantities around 20% to suit the size of my bread tin and changing a couple of ingredients to the ones readily available to me. By the way, my bread tin measures around 29cm x 11cm x 10cm, so around 3 litres, probably not far off an American 10 x 5 inch loaf pan.

Georg is surprisingly precise about fermentation time and temperature – 17 hours at 24℃ – which is fine if you are a professional baker with access to a temperature controlled environment but sounds scary to us amateurs. I have the choice of room temperature (around 20℃ in winter) or the cupboard containing my boiler (more like 30℃), so I ended up doing a kind of mix and match. It worked fine, so I suspect that things really aren’t all that sensitive.

I’ve given you the timings and sizes that I used successfully. Obviously, adapt as needed to your schedule, kitchen and available equipment. 

Day 1 – around noon

You’ll start by making three separate mixtures and leaving them to ferment. In each case, combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mix thoroughly, cover and leave.

Sourdough

  • 50g sourdough starter (mine is dark rye)
  • 200g dark rye flour
  • 200ml water

Plain dough

  • 280g dark rye flour
  • 300 ml water

Seed mix

  • 50g pumpkin seeds
  • 75g sunflower seeds
  • 8g sat
  • 120ml boiling water

Day 2 – around 9am – mix and first rise

  • 200g wholemeal wheat flour
  • 10g dried yeast
  • 35g malt extract
  • 50g molasses
  • 7g caraway seeds
  1. Put all ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer. 
  2. Add all three doughs from the previous day.
  3. Mix thoroughly at medium speed for around 10 minutes using the normal paddle (the dough hook won’t work). You may need to stop and scrape the sides a few times to make sure that you incorporate any flour at the bottom that hasn’t blended in, as well as ensuring that the sticky malt extract and molasses are evenly distributed.
  4. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size (in my relatively cold kitchen, this took close to two hours).

Day 2 – around 11am – shape and second rise

  • 15g butter
  1. Melt the butter and brush your baking tin with it.
  2. Press the dough into the pan, getting it fully into the corners and making as even a shape as you can. Don’t worry about maintaining gluten structure: the preponderance of dark rye flour means there won’t be much.
  3. Leave to rise until the bread is nearly level with the top of the tin. This took another two hours, but in all honesty, the time is completely variable (disclaimer: I should have left mine about half an hour longer than I did for the loaf photographed here). You just have to be patient and keep watching the bread at regular intervals.

Day 2 – around 2pm – bake and glaze

  • 8g potato starch
  • 30ml water (this is a guess – Georg doesn’t specify)
  1. Around half an hour before you think your loaf will be fully risen, preheat your oven to 250℃ fan.
  2. Spread the potato starch thinly over a Silpat sheet or sheet of baking paper over a baking tray. When the oven is up to temperature, put it in the oven and roast until golden (this took me around 15 minutes). Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  3. When your loaf is risen to your satisfaction, score the top and brush it with a little water.  If you have a thermometer probe that you can use in the oven, stick it into the loaf.
  4. Put the tin into a larger roasting pan with some water and put the whole assembly into the oven.
  5. After 10 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 180℃ fan and open the oven briefly to let off the steam.
  6. Bake until the internal temperature reaches 98℃ (this took me around 50 minutes).
  7. Around 10 minutes before the end of the baking time, put the roasted potato starch and the water into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes or so. Take off the heat.
  8. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. Brush it all over with the potato starch and water mixture.
  9. And here’s the hard part: leave the bread to rest for 24 hours before eating!
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.76 – Panettone from Italy

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.76 – Panettone from Italy

Christmas food in Italy is a whole lot more varied than in England, with all manner of different meats, fish, pasta dishes, cakes and biscuits (mercifully, the Italians don’t share our obsession with roast turkey). But there’s one thing that you’ll see at Christmas all over Italy: the cylindrical, sweetened, enriched bread called “Panettone” – the “big loaf”. Whenever I’ve been to a café in Italy at Christmas time, usually in or near Milan, the base of modern, industrial scale panettone manufacture and said to be its city of origin, piles of panettone pieces have been arrayed on the bar for everyone to nibble with their coffee. The aroma of citrus and vanilla in a bread of extreme fluffiness is unbeatable.

There are zillions of recipes, from the traditional candied fruit to those with more outlandish fillings: chocolate, hazelnut puree, tangerine paste, marrons glacés and so on. But there are a few things that distinguish a panettone from other breads/cakes of its type:

  • The dough is sweetened and enriched with egg yolks and butter, giving an overall flavour profile something like a brioche. But where you would try to get a brioche smooth and even in crumb, a panettone should be as aerated as you can make it: fluffiness is mandatory and large air pockets are completely acceptable.
  • The loaf is baked in a cylindrical case or tin. Originally, the chances are that you’d have reused one of the large tins in which canned goods were sold, but today, you are more likely to go for a single-use paper case made specially for the purpose: these are inexpensive and readily available both in the UK and the US.
  • To prevent your loaf collapsing down the moment you take it out of the oven – the fate of most heavily aerated breads and cakes – a panettone is cooled upside down: instead of collapsing, it gains extra height and fluffiness.

Making panettone turns out to be something of a project: it’s going to take you most of a day as an absolute minimum, with some recipes calling for multiple resting and proving stages taking several days, in order to develop the flavour to its maximum. I went for an intermediate, starting with a sourdough “sponge” at 6pm on day 1 and getting the panettone out of the oven around 24 hours later, to be cooled and ready for breakfast the next morning.

I ended up taking bits and pieces from several different recipes: Giallo Zaferrano, Great Italian Chefs, BBC Good Food. But rather than slavishly following a set of quantities and times, I relied more on getting the dough to look right at each stage, with my main reference being this video from chefsteps.com. You’ll see from the photos that my texture came out perfectly – I couldn’t have asked for better. However, my flavours beed adjusting for next time: I used a bit too much salt and not enough sugar and I was definitely too conservative about how much candied fruit to add. I’ve adjusted the quantities below to what I think I should have used (and will try for next Christmas).

Confession time: I was going by look and feel and not measuring all the quantities as accurately as usual. So if you’re going to try this, use your judgment.

Day 1, around 6pm: the sourdough sponge, part 1

  • 30g sourdough starter
  • 170g strong white flour
  • 130ml water
  1. Mix thoroughly the sourdough starter with 30g of the flour and 60ml of the water. Leave to ferment for around three hours.
  2. Add the rest of the flour and water, mix thoroughly then leave to ferment overnight.

Day 2, around 8am: the sourdough sponge, part 2

  • 100g strong white flour
  • 4g dried yeast
  • 100g yoghurt (any active yoghourt should do, buttermilk or kefir might be better)
  1. Add all the ingredients to your sponge from the previous day, mix thoroughly and leave to rest until everything is bubbling nicely. This will depend on the ambient temperature: I left mine for around two hours in a place near my boiler which is around 30℃.

Day 2 mid-morning: make the dough

  • 400g flour (very approximate, do by feel of the dough)
  • 8 egg yolks, at room temperature (when you separate the eggs, keep a small amount of the white – you’ll use it for the glaze.
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 140g butter, at room temperature
  • zest of one orange
  • zest of one lemon
  • seeds scraped from one vanilla pod
  • 5g salt
  • 120g lemon peel
  • 120g sultanas
  1. If it didn’t start there, put your sponge into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add flour and egg yolks and knead using the dough hook for five minutes. Leave half an hour, then start kneading again, for perhaps another five minutes, until the dough is extremely elastic with the gluten very stretchy.
  2. Slowly add the sugar and continue mixing with the dough hook until throughly mixed in. The dough should loosen out as the sugar dissolves.
  3. Cut the butter into small cubes, perhaps 1cm on a side. Add the butter a little at a time, continuing to mix until it’s all incorporated. I found that the butter tended to clump around the side of the bowl, requiring me to stop mixing at regular intervals and scrape down the sides.
  4. Eventually, you should have a soft, silky dough whose gluten makes it stretch into thin sheets when pulled. Leave it to relax for ten minutes or so.
  5. Add the vanilla, the lemon and orange zest, the salt and the dried fruit, and carry on mixing until the fruit is nicely coated in dough – this is what will stop if from sinking to the bottom of your panettone during baking.
  6. Now leave to ferment until doubled or tripled in size – in my case, this took around three hours.

Day 2 mid-afternoon – stretch and fold

  • 1 panettone mould (or other cylindrical tin)
  • Oil spray
  1. Spray a non-absorbent work surface with oil; also spray your hands, your scraper and the surface of your dough.
  2. Transfer the dough to the work surface.
  3. Stretch the dough as far as you dare, then fold it over onto itself, trapping some air. Repeat a few times, respraying with oil as needed.
  4. Transfer the dough to your mould. It should reach half to 2/3 of the way up.
  5. Leave to rise. You’re hoping for the dough to reach close to the top of the mould, which will probably take at least an hour, maybe two. At some point during this, start heating your oven to 180℃ fan.

Day 2 early evening: glaze and bake

  • 20g egg white
  • 20g icing sugar
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 20g flaked almonds for topping – I’ve never liked the traditional topping of  “pearl sugar” which is often found on a shop-bought panettone, so I’ve just used the almonds. But you choose.
  1. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the egg white, icing sugar and ground almonds to form a fairly thick, sticky glaze (add egg white if it’s too thick).
  2. Preferably with a silicone brush, paint the mixture carefully over the top of the panettone. Since the dough is very light an puffy at this point, you need to treat it gently: you really don’t want to be tearing holes in the surface right now.
  3. Scatter the ground almonds over the glazed panettone. You can press them in a tiny amount, but again, don’t risk tearing the surface.
  4. If you have an oven-proof temperature probe, insert it into the middle of the loaf and bake until the internal temperature reaches 94℃. I use one called a “Meater”, which is intended for meat cookery but works well for this.
  5. If you don’t have a temperature probe, you’ll have to guess: bake for around 40 minutes and then poke a skewer in through the side to look for signs of dough that’s still wet. Mine took just short of 50 minutes total, in an oven that was supposedly set to 175℃ but was actually running at 180.
  6. When the panettone comes out the oven, hang it upside down to cool for at least 12 hours before serving. There are various ways of doing this: most involve knitting needles or, in my case, Turkish kebab skewers. As you’ll see from the photos, I poked two skewers through the loaf and balanced the whole lot on a pair of towers of cookbooks. It was rustic, but it worked.

If you get this far and have a lovely dome reminiscent of the cupola of the cathedral in Milan, bravo!

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.75: back in England for Bakewell Tart

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.75: back in England for Bakewell Tart

It’s not really obvious why the picturesque Derbyshire market town of Bakewell (population 3,949 at the last census) should have become known as the home of England’s most famous tart. The dessert that bears its name didn’t even start out as a tart – the “Bakewell Pudding” starts to appear in recipes in the early 1800s (there are arguments as to exactly when) and then morphs into its present pastry-fruit-and-frangipane form around the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps it’s just down to the name.

The ubiquitous mass-produced “iced cherry Bakewell” would not make a fit subject for a blog post. But Nigella Lawson’s classic How to Eat has a fabulous recipe for Bakewell Tart. It may owe rather more to French patisserie than to what you’d find in a pastry shop in the village, but it really captures the Bakewell Tart’s almond-and-raspberry loveliness and has been a favourite in my family for years. I’ve changed a few things – mine is a little less sweet and the pastry technique is slightly different (actually based on another recipe in the same book), which I find makes more elastic pastry that’s less prone to tearing. But if you buy the book and make the original, that will work perfectly well too.

If your raspberries aren’t all that sweet (this is December, so mine very much weren’t), you’ll want some extra raspberry jam or, as I’ve done here, use some raspberry coulis made from raspberries cooked down with a bit of sugar and cooled (I happened to have some left over from a previous dessert).

The pastry

  • 200g plain flour (preferably OO grade), plus more for rolling
  • 40g icing sugar
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 60g butter, cold
  • 2 Eggs
  • Juice of half a lemon
  1. Put the flour, icing sugar and ground almonds into the bowl of your food processor.
  2. Cut the butter into small cubes (perhaps 5-10mm)  and add to the bowl.
  3. Put the bowl in the freezer for at least half an hour.
  4. Remove the bowl from the freezer and blitz to a fine, sandy texture.
  5. Beat together the eggs and lemon juice, add to the bowl and pulse for a short time to blend in.
  6. Pour the contents onto a surface, bring it together into a ball, knead it a few times, flatten, wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
  7. Grease a tart tin (the quantities here do a 27-30cm tin).
  8. Flour your board and rolling pin; roll out the pastry to a diameter several centimetres larger than your tin, then line the tin with the pastry.
  9. Put the tart in its tin back into the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble it.

The frangipane filling

  • 3 large eggs
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 180g ground almonds
  • 180g butter, melted
  1. Put the eggs into the bowl of your stand mixer, setting aside half an egg white for use brushing the pastry.
  2. Mix the eggs, caster sugar and almonds
  3. When you’re sure the butter is cool enough not to scramble the eggs, mix it in thoroughly

Putting it all together

  • 300g raspberries
  • 70g raspberry jam or coulis (omit this if the raspberries are sweet)
  • Flaked almonds for sprinkling (I used around 25g)
  • Optional: 100ml or so whipped cream
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃ fan
  2. Prick the pastry base with a fork
  3. Brush the base with your reserved egg white: this helps to stop the jam and/or filling seeping into the pastry with the resulting dreaded “soggy bottom”.
  4. If you’re using the jam or coulis, spread it over as evenly as you can manage.
  5. Dot the raspberries evenly around the whole of the tart base.
  6. Pour the frangipane mixture evenly over the tart base and raspberries. You may need to tilt or shake the tart slightly to get everything reasonably level.
  7. Scatter flaked almonds over the top.
  8. Bake until golden brown, around 35 minutes.
  9. Cool and serve. Whipped cream with a dollop of raspberry jam folded lightly through it makes a nice accompaniment.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.74: Chocolate brownies from the United States

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.74: Chocolate brownies from the United States

For my first bake from the United States, I chose my personal favourite of Californian carrot cake. But if I’m being honest, the archetypal American bake (leaving aside apple pie, which is really Dutch), is the chocolate brownie – born in the U.S.A and the favourite of millions. Somehow, I’ve managed to live all these years and eat countless brownies without ever having tried to make a batch, so it was about time to try.

There are a million variations on the basic brownie recipe, mainly to do with how gooey you do or don’t like your brownies, but also about choices of nuts and additional flavourings (there are even “blondies” if you prefer white chocolate or you want to omit chocolate altogether). If you are keen to calibrate your recipe carefully to your own taste, Felicity Cloake in The Guardian is probably a good place to start. This being my first time, I went for authentic Americanness rather than perfection and headed for Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker’s The Joy of Cooking, probably the most famous American cookbook of all time and the book bought by my mother in New York when my family lived there briefly in the early 1960s.

On the grand scale of things, brownies are not a difficult bake: there’s just one tricky bit, namely knowing when they’re done. Again, this is a function of how gooey you want them: I got panicky and left mine in too long, so they were considerably too cake-like for my taste. So don’t use the “skewer has to come out dry” test if you want them remotely sticky.

With my usual aversion to measuring things in cups, I’ve turned everything to metric.

Brownies are, by tradition, square or rectangular. I used a pretty standard 30cm x 40cm baking tin which resulted in fairly thin brownies. If you like them thicker, either go for a smaller tin or multiply up the recipe.

  • 100g chocolate (I used Menier 70%)
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 4 eggs (mine were of mixed size and weighed about 200g in total)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 350g sugar
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  • 100g pecans
  • 120g flour
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃ fan
  2. Prepare your baking tin by lining its base with baking paper
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler, blend well and leave to cool.
  4. Add salt to the eggs and beat at high speed until frothy and mousse-like.
  5. Still beating, add the sugar gradually and then the vanilla essence.
  6. Gently fold in the chocolate-butter mixture.
  7. Sirt in the flour and stir.
  8. Chop the pecans coarsely, add them and stir.
  9. Pour the mixture into your baking tin, smooth it out so that it’s level.
  10. Bake for around 20 minutes – less for more fudgey, more for more cakey.
  11. Cut into squares or rectangles. For the full Americana (and particularly if, like mine, you’ve overbaked the brownies so they’re too dry, they go well with blueberries and whipped cream.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.73: Nân Barbari – Persian flatbread

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.73: Nân Barbari – Persian flatbread

There have been many types of flatbread in this series. Persian flatbread – nân barbari – is my favourite, by a long way: its pillowy texture and crisp top are a winner. The recipe I’ve used is adapted from Sabrina Ghayour’s warmly recommended Persiana; it’s slightly westernised in that I don’t think they use melted butter for the top in Iran and I’ve westernised it further in that suspect that a self-respecting Iranian baker wouldn’t use a stand mixer either. But these are details: this is reliably the best flatbread I know and it works with just about any Middle Eastern dishes, not just Persian ones.

This recipe makes two flatbreads, which feeds around 10-12 people as part of a buffet including one other starch like rice or couscous. The multiple kneading and resting process described here results reliably in a fabulously stretchy dough; you could try taking shortcuts on it but it’s always worked so well for me that I try not to.

  • 7g dried yeast
  • 500 ml warm water (around 40℃)
  • 700g strong white flour
  • 15g salt (Sabrina is a diehard devotee of Maldon salt, I’m not all that convinced)
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 20g butter
  • A handful of nigella, sesame or caraway seeds
  1. Mix yeast with 50ml of the water, leave to rest for 5 minutes or so until frothy
  2. Put the flour and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer, along with 50ml of the olive oil.
  3. Add the yeast mix and the remaining water to the bowl and combine thoroughly.
  4. With the dough hook at low speed, knead for 7 minutes. With a scraper, take the dough of your hook, reshape into a single ball.
  5. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then knead for another 2 minutes, then recombine the dough. Repeat this three times in total; after the second time, add the rest of your oil.
  6. After your third 2 minute knead, reform the dough into a single ball, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise. Sabrina suggests three hours for the dough to triple in size; I bailed out after 2½ hours, by which time the dough was coming close to the top of the bowl. Your yeast and kitchen temperature will vary.
  7. Line two baking trays with silicone sheets or baking paper. Preheat your oven to 220℃ fan.
  8. Divide the dough into two equal parts and stretch each part into a large rectangle covering most of the length of your baking trays and around half as wide as they are long. Actually, you can pretty much use any shape you like, but try to make them of fairly even thickness.
  9. If you like, cut a pair of slashes into each flatbread, which will make your bread easier to “tear and share” at the table.
  10. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 40 minutes.
  11. Brush the top with melted butter, and sprinkle your chosen seeds over the top.
  12. Bake for around 15-20 minutes until golden. The loaves should feel springy if you press them gently. 

The ideal timing is for the bread to come out of the oven so that you can cool it to around 10 minutes before taking it to the table. Most of us don’t actually manage this and it doesn’t really matter.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.72: Tarte Tatin from France

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.72: Tarte Tatin from France

Yes, we all know the (probably apocryphal) history of the upside down tart made by mistake. But the reason for including a Tarte Tatin in this series is that quite simply, it’s the single thing that I bake that is most requested by my family. There’s something about the way that caramel blends into the fruit that is quite irresistible.

Tarte Tatin is most commonly made with apples and there’s plenty of room for debate as to which variety of apple to use. The most authentic version uses a French variety called “Reine de Reinettes”, which is equivalent to an English “King of Pippins”, but neither of these are readily available in UK supermarkets. Many modern French recipes specify Granny Smiths, although these can be very acid and even a touch watery. You’ll also see Golden Delicious: the trouble here is that there are some wonderful Golden Delicious apples around, particularly in Italy, but also some really powdery, tasteless ones. When I’m not using apples from the tree in our garden, I tend to use a half-half mix of Braeburn or Jazz and Granny Smith.

However, for this post, I’m not using apples at all. A fabulous new French restaurant, Les Deux Garçons, has opened down the road from our home and they do a stunning pear Tarte Tatin. Our apple tree has finished producing for the year, but we have a glut of slightly underripe pears which, the chef at Les Deux Garçons explained, should be perfect for making a Tatin. I checked this out and it worked like a dream: a gentler, more subtle flavour than the apple, but very fruity and truly scrumptious. The only real downside of using pears (at least our ones) is that they release at lot more moisture than apples, so any surplus caramel is considerably more runny than I’d like.

Depending on your level of patience and skill, there are various ways of cutting your fruit. The posh way is to cut out a circular core with a dedicated apple-corer, and then cut the fruit in half. This is fairly difficult to execute, but allows you  to pack your fruit really tightly in a regular shape. For those of you with less time and patience (like me), just peel each fruit, chop it into four and cut out a triangle around the pips, which is what I’ve done here. I remember one recipe which suggested cutting each fruit into three: I tried this and it struck me as particularly tricky to do with no obvious benefit.

You can use pretty much any pastry: shortcrust, rough puff or full puff – just don’t go for a sweet pastry because the caramel makes the tart plenty sweet enough as it is. In this recipe, I’ve gone for a rough puff because I really like the flakiness, but it’s a fairly lengthy process. You can always use shop-bought puff pastry instead of making your own, but try and find the stuff that’s made with butter (unless, of course, you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant).

Some twenty years ago, I made an impulse purchase of a dedicated ceramic Tarte Tatin dish. At the time, it seemed a ridiculous overpriced indulgence. Since then, the number of tarts I’ve made in it must be approaching three figures, which makes it seem quite reasonable, really. The truth is, though, that you can use pretty much any pan that has sides which are 5cm or so deep and is robust enough both to be used both on the hob and in the oven.

The quantities here are for my dish, which is around 29cm in diameter and produces 8 generous portions. Adjust the quantities for the size of your own dish but remember that it’s a square law, so you’ll need just under half the quantities for a 20cm dish and 1/4 for a 15cm one.

The rough puff pastry

  • 200g plain flour (I use OO grade) plus some more for dusting and rolling
  • 180g butter, frozen
  • 100ml (approximately) ice cold water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  1. If you have time, measure out the flour and put in the freezer for half an hour or so before you start.
  2. Put the flour into the bowl of your food processor.
  3. Grate 30g of the butter and add to the bowl; process until you have a fine mixture
  4. Add the lemon juice and most of the water and process some more. You want the dough to be pliable but not actually sticky. Take it out of the food processor, bring it together into a ball, adding a bit more water or flour as needed to get to a good consistency.
  5. Wrap the dough in cling film and freeze for 30 minutes
  6. Just before taking the dough out, grate the rest of the butter
  7. Flour your board and rolling pin, take the dough out and roll into a thin rectangle
  8. Do a book fold: add half the butter to two thirds of one end of the rectangle, fold the unbuttered end over, then fold the other end over.
  9. Seal the edges, roll the rectangle out again, turning it by 90 degrees. Repeat the book fold process with the second half of the butter.
  10. Wrap the dough in the cling film again and freeze for another 20 minutes (now, by the way, is about the right time to start on your filling).
  11. Take the dough out again, roll it out and do another book fold. Now it’s back into the freezer for 20 minutes and do it again. You will have done five book folds in total.
  12. Finally, you’re ready to roll your pastry into a thin circle, big enough to overlap the edges of your dish. Don’t worry about making it a perfect circle: you’ll be tucking it in around the edges and if there are some huge areas of excess, you can trim them off.
  13. If you have time, measure out the flour and put in the freezer for half an hour or so before you start.
  14. Put the flour into the bowl of your food processor.
  15. Grate 30g of the butter and add to the bowl; process until you have a fine mixture
  16. Add the lemon juice and most of the water and process some more. You want the dough to be pliable but not actually sticky. Take it out of the food processor, bring it together into a ball, adding a bit more water or flour as needed to get to a good consistency.
  17. Wrap the dough in cling film and freeze for 30 minutes
  18. Just before taking the dough out, grate the rest of the butter
  19. Flour your board and rolling pin, take the dough out and roll into a thin rectangle
  20. Do a book fold: add half the butter to two thirds of one end of the rectangle, fold the unbuttered end over, then fold the other end over.
  21. Seal the edges, roll the rectangle out again, turning it by 90 degrees. Repeat the book fold process with the second half of the butter.
  22. Wrap the dough in the cling film again and freeze for another 20 minutes (now, by the way, is about the right time to start on your filling).
  23. Take the dough out again, roll it out and do another book fold. Now it’s back into the freezer for 20 minutes and do it again. You will have done five book folds in total.
  24. Finally, you’re ready to roll your pastry into a thin circle, big enough to overlap the edges of your dish. Don’t worry about making it a perfect circle: you’ll be tucking it in around the edges and if there are some huge areas of excess, you can trim them off.

The fruit and caramel filling

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Around 8 medium to large apples or pears (see above)
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 50g butter
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃
  2. Put the lemon juice into a bowl big enough to hold all your fruit
  3. Peel and chop the fruit (see above for details). As you do each one, put the pieces into the bowl and coat them with juice – this will help to stop them discolouring.
  4. Put your dish onto the hob at medium heat. Spread the sugar over it in an even layer. Keep heating and stirring until you have a smooth caramel. How long you keep going is very much a matter of personal taste: if you take it off fairly early, at a sort of butterscotch colour, you will have a smooth, gentle flavour. Leave it on for longer and you will get to a dark colour and a flavour that is stronger and more bitter: I’ve had both in perfectly respectable French restaurants, so it’s really up to you.
  5. Remove from heat, add butter, stir in until smooth. The caramel will froth alarmingly, but don’t be frightened. And if bits of hardened caramel stick to your spoon, just hack them off. They’ll melt into the rest in the oven even if they don’t do so straightaway.
  6. Array the apples or pears into your dish, packing them as best you can to get a reasonably level top. If  you used quarters, once you’ve filled the dish with one layer, cut the remaining quarters in half and use them to fill in the gaps. 
  7. Spread pastry on top, trim off any large bits of excess, and tuck the rest in around the sides. Pierce the pastry in lots of places: you want steam to be able to escape.
  8. Optionally, sprinkle a little more 
  9. Bake until golden. Your oven may differ, but mine took around 40-50 minutes.
  10. Take out from oven and leave for around 20-30 minutes.
  11. Now say a quick imprecation to your favourite deity to stop pieces of fruit staying stuck to the dish (I tend to go for “Bismillah” because my favourite Persian cookery book specifies it at a critical point in its main rice recipe), cover your dish with a flat heatproof plate or wooden board and turn the whole lot upside down.leave at least 30 mins, then turn it over onto a plate or board, then remove the tin in the fervent hope that the tart has fallen out onto your board (the caramel will run, by the way, particularly if you used pears, so make provision for dribbles). If your deity wasn’t looking kindly on you, there may be a need for some swift repair work.
  12. If you’ve timed it such that you can serve the tart warm, so much the better. But it’s pretty good cold as well. Either way, vanilla ice cream makes a great accompaniment; a splash of Calvados doesn’t hurt either.