Tag: Bread

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.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.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.71: Westfälischer Pumpernickel from Germany

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.71: Westfälischer Pumpernickel from Germany

We’re now into the last ten bakes in this series, and I’m going to stop insisting on a different country for each bake: rather, I’m going to revisit some of the countries we’ve already looked at where we’ve missed recipes that seem so important that it seem crazy to leave them out just because I’ve included another bake from that country. Phileas Fogg might object.

I’m going to start with Germany and the darkest, blackest rye bread called Pumpernickel, and more particularly with the original version from Westphalia (“Westfälischer Pumpernickel” in German), which has a baking time of 24 hours, the longest of any bread I know. The idea is that the very slow, low temperature bake imparts a particular colour and flavour to the bread in a way that you just don’t get by adding colouring agents, even natural ones like malt extract or molasses. The resulting bread, sliced thinly, is the best thing in the world to accompany dishes like smoked salmon or gravadlax.

 The long baking time makes this version impractical for many commercial bakeries, so many other processes get used, usually going for a higher temperature, shorter bake, and often adding some plain wheat flour to the rye in order to get some gluten structure. The version I’ve done is certainly tricky to handle – I haven’t got it 100% right on this first try (I’ll explain what needs to be done differently) but I think this is going to be a bread that I revisit many times.

I went for an amalgam of various German recipes (most notably this one) and the instructions in Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters.

The first key to pumpernickel is the use very coarse, dark rye flour. This is something you can’t necessarily get in the shops, so I’ve started with rye flakes and run them through the food processor. I did this fairly lightly, resulting in a loaf with a very grainy structure that the Germans would call “Vollkornbrot”. I love it – you may wish to grind down the rye flakes or grains rather more than I did. I also added some sunflower seeds, which one sees in several German recipes.

You’ll need a sourdough starter, home made or bought. My regular sourdough starter is made purely with dark rye flour: I use 90g at a time and replenish with 30g flour and 60g water. You will probably have your own version.

This isn’t a labour-intensive bake, but it takes a long time: you need to start around three days before you intend to eat the bread.

Day 1: production sourdough mix and main seed mix

  • 90g dark rye sourdough starter
  • 90g dark rye flour
  • 180g cold or tepid water
  • 350g rye flakes
  • 100g sunflower seeds
  • 270g boiling water
  1. Make the production sourdough: mix the sourdough starter with the rye flour and the cold/tepid water. Cover and leave at room temperature. (Don’t forget to refresh your starter).
  2. Meanwhile, make the main seed mix. Take 300g of the rye flakes and blitz them in a food processor for a minute or two until you have extremely coarse meal. Just how long you blitz for is up to you: next time, I would probably go a little finer than my first attempt than what you see here in the photos.
  3. Add the remaining re flakes, the sunflower seeds and the boiling water. Mix thoroughly (the texture will be something of a sludge). Cover.
  4. Leave both mixtures at room temperature for 16 hours or more.

Day 2 – get the bread into the oven

  • Sunflower or other neutral oil for greasing
  • 10-20g salt. I used 10g of sea salt, which wasn’t enough; I’ll be going for 20g next time. It seems to me that if you use conventional rock salt, you need less.
  1. Preheat oven to 160℃ conventional
  2. Choose a loaf tin: the quantities above were about right for a xx tin. It’s ideal to use a loaf tin with a lid (a “Pullman tin”); if you don’t have one, you’ll be having to improvise a lid with a layer of baking paper, an inverted roasting tray and something heavy to weight it down.
  3. Combine your two mixtures and the salt, mixing thoroughly. Some recipes suggest that you knead the dough with a dough hook at this point, for 10 minutes or so: personally, I can’t see the point if you’re using an all-rye mixture which isn’t going to form significant amounts of gluten anyway. I did, however, leave it for half an hour.
  4. Grease your loaf tin with oil and pour the dough into it, pressing it into the corners and forming a flat top (which should come up around ⅔ or ¾ of the way to the top).
  5. Put the tin into a deep-sided pan with water coming up to around half the height of your tin.
  6. Bake for an hour at 160℃, then reduce to 100℃ and continue baking for at least 24 hours.
  7. The bread will be done when it reaches an internal temperature of around 90℃. After the 24 hours prescribed in the recipe, mine wasn’t close, so I turned the oven up to 110℃ and gave it another two hours, by which time the temperature was 82℃ and I wimped out. I shouldn’t have done – another hour would have been better.

Day 3 – bread out of oven

  1. Take the bread out of the oven and wrap it in a cloth. Leave at room temperature

Day 4

  1. Slice thinly – your pumpernickel is ready to eat, preferably with gravadlax, cream cheese and dill sauce!

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.68: Tapalapa from the Gambia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.68: Tapalapa from the Gambia

To borrow Mr. Spock’s apocryphal turn of phrase: it’s baguette, Jim, but not as we know it. Tapalapa, from the Gambia, is shaped like baguette, but there the resemblance ends: where the centre of a baguette is soft, aerated and, let’s admit it, relatively tasteless (the flavour is all in the crust), tapalapa is a heavier bread with a dense crumb and a strong, distinctive taste…

…which means, dear reader, that this is a bread that splits the crowds. One of my family members loved it and one hated it. I’m in the middle: I really enjoyed tapalapa when eaten with the right things (hummous was ideal) but there a lot of European foods I wouldn’t eat it with – don’t under any circumstances try it for teatime bread and jam.

What makes tapalapa special is the combination of flours: a mixture of wheat flour, millet flour, cornflour and what’s called “cowpea flour” (in the UK, this translates as ground black-eyed beans). I used a recipe from the ever-reliable 196flavors.com – with the proviso that with my particular dried yeast on a decidedly chilly English summer’s day, the rise times were many times as long as Mike suggests in the recipe.

Millet flour and cowpea flour are hard to find in the UK, but it’s easy enough to get millet and black-eyed peas: a coffee grinder turns them into flour with no difficulty.

Yellow cornflour is available from specialist Mexican grocers. I’m going to guess that standard cornflour would have been fine.

  • 160 g bread flour
  • 70 g millet flour
  • 160 g yellow cornflour
  • 60 g cowpea flour
  • 12g dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 350ml lukewarm water (around 40℃)
  1. Put the flours, yeast and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer and stir until blended. Add the water and mix until you have a smooth dough.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and knead for around 5-7 minutes.
  3. Form the dough into a ball, cover and leave to rise until doubled in size. The recipe suggests that this might take an hour: for whatever the reason, it took around three hours in my kitchen.
  4. Split the dough into two and form each half into a baguette shape. I happen to have a specially shaped tin for baguettes, but you can probably get away with just putting them on a greased baking sheet.
  5. Preheat oven to 220℃ fan
  6. Leave to rise for another hour or so.
  7. Slash a shallow gash down the middle of each stick.
  8. Bake until golden brown and dry on the inside: this should take around 15-20 minutes
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.59: Latgalian Rye Bread from Latvia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.59: Latgalian Rye Bread from Latvia

You will find good rye bread everywhere around the Baltic Sea, but in Latvia, rye bread is virtually a national symbol, with a thousand stories surrounding it. There are many different types, but I’ve chosen one that packs a huge punch of flavour – Latgalian Rye Bread (Latgaliešu Maize). The starting recipe comes from Stanley Ginsberg, who styles himself “The Rye Baker” – his website is a real baker’s treasure trove, with rye bread recipes from all over Europe. His books sound great also. 

Warning: this bread is something of a project. There are multiple steps lasting three days, and it’s fiddly as regards temperature control. There’s a Russian language Youtube video (remember, Latvia has a large Russian-speaking population) which is very similar and reminds you on several occasions that you shouldn’t attempt this if you’re a beginner. The techniques, using various scalds and pre-doughs, are similar to the full Russian recipe for Borodinsky (as opposed to the simplified version I did early on in this blog series). Because of the sheer complexity, I’m not sure that it’s a bread I’m going to be making again and again – but for a treat, it’s fantastic.

The point of the recipe is to encourage lots of fermentation and the creation of various sugars, acids and lactobacilli which impart the amazing depth of flavour. Interestingly, this multi-stage process isn’t the only possible method: other methods start with Bulgarian Yoghurt or kefir and I came across one blog post from an agritourism trip to Latvia which describes a traditional baker who left out much of the complexity but went for five days of fermentation in a bucket!

So here goes, largely paraphrasing Stanley Ginsberg and substituting ingredients when I couldn’t get his exact suggestions. I’ve given the exact times I used: obviously, you can shift them around to suit your own day and anyway, I’m sure the timings are by no means precise.

Day 1, around 9pm – “The scald”

  • 320g dark rye flour
  • 650ml hot water (65℃)
  • 20g malt extract
  • 5g caraway seeds
  1. Preheat oven to 55℃.
  2. Put all the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix thoroughly.
  3. Cover your bowl and put it into the oven for around 18 hours.

Day 1, around 9pm – “The sponge”

  • 20g rye sourdough starter
  • 50g dark rye flour
  • 30ml water tepid (40℃)
  1. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl or tupperware. It will result in a very thick dough.
  2. Cover and leave to stand at room temperature for around 18 hours.

Day 2, around 1pm

  1. Inspect your two mixtures. They should both be smelling strongly and showing evident signs of fermentation. The scald will have gone very dark, and the sponge will have become, well, spongy in feel.
  2. Lower the oven temperature to 55℃
  3. Add the sponge to the scald mixture in your mixing bowl and combine thoroughly (I did this with a wooden spoon).
  4. Cover the bowl and return to the oven.

Day 2, around 9pm

  • 5g dried yeast
  1. Remove your combined mixture from the oven.
  2. Add the yeast and stir thoroughly.
  3. Leave to ferment overnight at room temperature.

Day 3, around 9am

  • 600g dark rye flour
  • 100ml water
  • 5g salt
  • 30g honey
  1. Add the ingredients to your fermented mixture.
  2. With the dough hook, mix at low speed for 7-10 minutes until thoroughly mixed.
  3. On a floured board (I used light rye flour), form the dough into a rounded oblong and transfer onto a piece of baking paper.
  4. For the full traditional look, use your fingers to make indentations into the loaf. By tradition, each area of Latvia had its own signature: I just went for a few bars on each side.
  5. Brush the loaf with water, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise at room temperature for 60-90 minutes. You will need to brush water over the loaf regularly to stop it drying out – every 15-20 minutes or so.

Final bake and glaze

  • 3g cornflour
  • 150 ml water
  1. In plenty of time before your loaf has finished rising, preheat oven to 250℃ fan, with a pizza stone placed inside.
  2. Brush your loaf with water one last time, then transfer it on its baking paper to the pizza stone.
  3. Bake for 45 minutes.
  4. Reduce the temperature to 200℃ fan. Keep baking until the internal temperature is around 95℃ – probably another 20 minutes (admission: I underbaked mine by a few minutes, so you can see from the photo that it’s a bit doughy. It still tasted fabulous).
  5. Brush the glaze over the loaf, return to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes.
  6. Cool the loaf on a rack.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.50: Tabun or Pita bread, from Jordan

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.50: Tabun or Pita bread, from Jordan

This blog post is a two-in-one, because these two flatbreads are the same for the whole process up to the final bake, where different techniques get a different structure. I’ve labelled them as Jordanian because the first recipe I looked up claimed to be from Jordan, but in all honesty, you’ll find these all over the Arab world. I was actually making them to eat with lamb shawarma, in a recipe from Sami Tamiri’s wonderful Falastin.

If your idea of pita bread is the small oval slices of cardboard bought from supermarkets, think again. Freshly made pita crisps and puffs up like a ball, perfect for stuffing with the filling of your choice: shawarma, falafel, muhamarra or any other Middle Eastern goodies. Tabun (or taboon) is softer and flatter: use as open sandwich rather than trying to stuff it. (The tabun is the name of the wood-fired open-topped oven in which the bread is traditionally baked, similar to the indian tandoor.)

Since  I don’t have a tabun, I’m improvising, using one of two techniques. For pita, I’m putting a pizza stone in the oven and winding the temperature as high as I can get. The sudden heat applied to the dough makes the moisture in the centre evaporate, resulting in the characteristic pocket. For tabun, I’m approximating to the stones on which the bread would traditionally be made by pouring ceramic baking beads into a frying pan (or skillet), and laying the flatbread over the top and using a lower temperature oven (you could also do this on the hob).

Here’s an updated round-up on the list of flatbreads in this blog:

  • Aish baladi (Egypt): the wholemeal version of pita or tabun
  • Focaccia (Italy): flavoured with olive oil, salt and other ingredients such as rosemary, olives or tomatoes. Thickness varies from one baker to another (it can be very thick)
  • Lavash (Armenia): similar dough to tabun, but rolled or thrown to be wafer thin before baking
  • Naan (India): between a tabun and a focaccia in thickness, often flavoured with ghee, nigella seeds or other ingredients.
  • Pita: thickness somewhere between lavash and naan, baked quickly at high heat to puff up into a pocket for filling.
  • Tabun: thickness starts similar to pita, but baked more slowly for a more pillowy texture.
  • Finally, there’s Persian flatbread (Nan Barbari), which is probably my favourite of the lot of them, which has the generous softness of a focaccia but with Middle Eastern flavours instead of the oil. I’ve already done a Persian bake in this series, so I’ll just point you at Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana as the source of a fabulous Nan Barbari recipe. The Afghans do their own version (Nan Afghani), so this may appear in a future post – but first, when I stop being worried about lockdown, I want to go and watch them at the Afghan shop a few km from my home.

The dough

The quantities here make four flatbreads.

  • 5g dried yeast
  • 10g sugar
  • 200g lukewarm water (around 40℃)
  • 25g olive oil
  • 300g strong white flour
  • 10g salt
  1. Combine yeast, sugar and water, leave for a few minutes until frothy.
  2. Combine flour and salt. Add the wet mixture and the olive oil and mix until smooth.
  3. Knead until stretchy. I found these quantities too small to work properly with the dough hook in my stand mixer, so I did the kneading by hand. If you double the recipe, the stand mixer should work fine.
  4. Leave to rise until doubled in size (1-2 hours depending on ambient temperature and the temperature of the water you used).
  5. Divide the dough into four, roll into flat circles of around 5mm thick. Personally, I seem to be incapable of rolling a perfect circle, so mine tend to end up oval, heart-shaped or some crazy irregular alternative. This doesn’t seem to matter too much.

The Pita version

  1. Place a pizza stone in your oven and preheat the oven to 250℃ fan
  2. When you’re ready to bake, give a circle of dough an extra roll (it’s probably shrunk a bit).
  3. Working quickly, open the oven, take the stone out, place the circle of the dough on the stone and put back into the oven. If you have space for two at a time, great.
  4. Bake for around 8 minutes (you can turn the bread half way if you want, but that’s not essential) until puffed up and crisp.
  5. Repeat for the remaining flatbreads.

The Tabun version

  1. Pour baking beads into a skillet. If using an oven, preheat it to 200℃ fan. If using the hob, heat your skillet until everything is very hot.
  2. When you’re ready to bake, give a circle of dough an extra roll (it’s probably shrunk a bit).
  3. Lay the circle of dough over the beads. If using the oven, put the skillet back in.
  4. The flatbreads should each take around 10 minutes to cook. You’ll want to turn them over half way.