Monday, 15 December 2014

My New Year BREAD-o-lution

Its that time of the year when we start making up plans for the future and write down New Year resolutions. I am pretty bad with sticking to any resolutions, and in fact I’ve given up even making any for a number of years.

This year I’ve decided to share my New Year resolution with all you lovely people, so if I start straying from the path you can yank me back on the straight and narrow.

So, the plan is to bake a new bread every month – something traditional – from as many countries as possible, something familiar and a bit unusual at the same time, something I haven’t baked before.<

Here is the plan, but I reserve the right to change it as I please :)

Please, join me in my baking – I would love to see your photos

January - English Cottage Bread. This is a good old traditional recipe, and I really like the fun shape of it. A nice and easy recipe to start the year.

February - Pain de Campagne. Again, a very traditional French bread – I’ve read a recipe for that pain de champagne in so many bread books but never actually managed to get around to baking it.

March - German pumpernickel. I have tried making pumpernickel bread before, but never found a recipe I liked, so its time to give it another go.

April - Colomba Pasquale – Italian Easter Dove cake, similar to panettone. I’ve made Panettone plenty of times before but have always admired the dove version, so that’s going on the list.

May - Russian Borodinski bread. I remember eating it as a child, so I am going to try and re-create my childhood.

June - Picnic Bread – I am thinking some sort of Italian or Frensh bread stuffed with roast peppers and cheers – something you can grab and head out for a picnic (being a bit optimistic – expecting summer picnic weather in June).

July - Sweet Braid of some description – a lot of Eastern European recipes with cottage cheese and cherries inside – yumm!

August - Tear and Share loaf. I’ve always admired the idea and all the different shapes you can make it in, but never actually made one.

September - Decorative Bread – I am thinking massive elaborately decorated loaf, with flowers and animals and who knows what.

October - Pumpkin and Cheese bread, I’ve made pumpkin bread and I’ve made cheese bread before, but not together. It sounds fun, and its seasonal after all.

November - Crusty Greek Bread (Horiatiko Psomi). I don’t think I’ve ever baked anything Greek, and its durum flour bread, so I am gonna give that a go.

December - Christmas Stollen. I am not a big fan of marzipan so have never thought of making a stolen before, well its time to change that.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Trade Secrets of Messy Baker

I took a few months break from sourdough as its been quite busy with new job and lots of house work. But this weekend I decided that I’ve had enough of shop-bough break and went to wake up my starter to make some decent bread.
The bread I ended up making is a simple Miller Loaf, but as I was making it I realized that I’ve learned a few bread tricks in the last few years and wanted to share them with you lovely folks. Grab a cup of tea and make yourself comfortable, knowing me, it will go on for a while :

-          Keep just one or two starters
When I first started making sourdough I had about four or five different starters in the fridge, every possible flour combinations. They all had their own names and their own tempers – at the end it was a full time job just to keep them all fed and watered, so inevitably I ended up killing most of them :)
Right now I only keep one starter in the fridge – my mother starter – it’s a 100% hydration (1:1 water to flour ratio in grams) white flour, and I convert it to any other flour type and hydration I require for a recipe when I start feeding it

-          “Wash” starters every 6 months
As I mentioned, I keep my mother starter in the fridge and only take a teaspoon or so out when I want to bake. The rest of it sits in the fridge, snoozing away. But as anything, starters get tired and lazy – meaning it takes longer to activate them. To keep your mother starter nice and happy, you need to “wash” every few months, I think the longest I went between washes is nearly a year.
What is a wash? Take a teaspoon of your mother starter, activate it, as described below, and throw the rest of mother starter out. Wash the jar thoroughly and air dry it. Once you have a reasonable amount of fresh live starter, put it in the jar and pop it in the fridge – that’s your new mother starter.
I keep my starter in a small jar – about 300-400ml, and its not even half full.

-          Feed me
When I am “feeding” my starter, I take 1 tsp/Tbsp of mother starter out of the fridge and add equal amount of flour and water – in grams. I normally add 30g of flour and 30ml of water for each feed – once in the morning and once in the evening. I find that, depending on how fresh my mother starter is (see above), it takes about 2-3 days for a starter to wake up, which gives me 200-300g of starter – plenty to make a loaf of bread.
When I do make bread, I normally keep back a tablespoon of starter and carry on feeding it, so I have enough starter to make another loaf in a couple of days time.
I normally bake every 3 days, meaning that I don’t need to dip into my mother starter after the first loaf – I just carry on feeding and baking every 3 days, until I get too busy or get too lazy J

-          Use filtered water
Its only recently I’ve discovered that water does make a difference. I noticed that my starter is activating much faster if I use filtered water rather than tap water. I am sure there is some of scientific explanation for it, but I just know it works :)
I love experimenting with liquids when making sourdough – add following to your liquids to get different flavours :
milk (replace 1/3 of water) with sweet or enriched dough
whey (instead of water) with sweet dough
orange juice (replace 1/3 of water) with rye breads
apple juice or cider (replace 1/3 of water) with wholemeal breads

-          Use good bread flour
I am a big fan of Italian flour – I used to buy massive 25kg bags of it from Shipton Mill. Use it for any softer, sweeter breads, focaccia and ciabatta, panettone and sweet buns, or any breads with fillings
French flour is great for rustic breads, works really well with a bit of rye flour. I like to use French flour when I bake straight breads – just flour, water and salt – no other extras – you can really feel the flavor and the texture of the flour
I buy Canadian Extra Strong flour for bagels, you really need to have the extra strong element to achieve that chewy texture
Spelt flour is a reasonably new discovery for me – replace 10% of your flour with spelt flour and you get a richer, tangier flavor. That’s a tip I got from Mr Ranty Senior and I now always keep a bag of spelt flour in my flour draws.

-          Flour can “go off”
I used to buy great bags of all sorts of flours, wanting to experiment with all the different flavours. At the end I just picked a handful of flours that I liked to work with and stuck with those. I go through quite a bit of white bread flour, and its very forgiving, it will keep for a while. Pay more attention to wholemeal and rye flour – they do tend to “go off” – its not like they are going to go moldy or start to smell or anything, but you will notice that the texture of breads won’t be the same. Try to use it within 2-3 months of opening a bag of wholemeal or rye flour. Some people recommend keeping them in the fridge or even freezer to keep the flours fresh for longer.

-          How much starter?
I get asked this on a regular basis, but there isn’t a straight answer to that – you can use as little as 1 Tbsp if you are making a very slow New York style sourdough or as much as 60-80% (compared to total flour amount) if you are after a faster loaf.
The ratio I normally use :
200g starter
290g water
500g flours
Total water = 390g = 290g + 100g (from starter which is 50:50 flour to water)
Total flour = 600g = 500g + 100g (from starter which is 50:50 flour to water)
So that makes following percentages (everything measures over total flour amount) :
Starter (200g over 600g = 33%)
Water (390 over 600 = 65%)
Flours (100%)

-          Use enough salt
For a while I was so afraid to under-salt the bread that I cut down the salt to just under a teaspoon. In reality salt has to be about 2% (of total flour), so I was under-salting my breads. If a bread hasn’t got enough salt, it won’t bake properly and will have very gummy texture. Over-salt the bread and it won’t rise properly, so you have to be very careful there. I now use 1 ½ tsp of salt (see above calculations) and it works out about the right amount.
Its much easier to under-salt rather than over-salt - over the last 10 years I probably oversalted only 2 or 3 breads

-          Stretching is important
By this I mean doing stretch and fold every half hour for the first two hours of first prove. I used to be religious about it when I first started baking, but over the years got a bit lazier and started skipping this step. And I really noticed that my breads are not as light and not as springy unless I invest the time in doing stretch and fold. Its also interesting to see how a piece of lumpy dough turns into a smooth shiny ball of dough with each stretch.

-          Prove is in the bread
You cannot rush sourdough – that’s a fact! You can slow it down by putting it in the fridge for a few hours – it gives you more flexibility as well as develops richer flavor, but you should never ever try to prove sourdough in a warm place – room temperature or even cooler.
In the first prove you want the dough to double in volume – knock it down, shape it and prove again – anywhere from 2/3 to double the volume again
This is a tricky stage – under-prove your bread and it will rip when it bakes, and you will get thick gummy line at the bottom of the loaf. Over-prove it, and it will go flat as a pancakes and heavy as a piece of brick

-          How Hot?
Again, this will largely depend on the type of the bread you are baking and most importantly your oven. My oven is shiny and new and it super strong – if I am baking from a recipe, I adjust both the temperature and the banking time down, otherwise its gonna burn.
Most of my breads bake at 200C (fan) for 30 minutes. Rich breads go in for 20 mins at 180C (fan). But you know your oven better than I do, just keep checking on the bread (try not to open the door if you can help it), and do the all important tap test – if the bottom of the bread sounds hollow when tapped – its done!

-          And…
As with any bread, make sure that you leave your sourdough to rest for at least a couple of hours before you slice it. I know its very tempting to try a slice of that still warm, crunchy crust beauty of a loaf, but IT WILL RUIN THE FLAVOUR!
As sourdough cools, it develops that unique creamy chewy crump with thick rustic crust – you need to give it time to do its magic, before you can really appreciate true sourdough flavour.
I try to bake late at night, leave it to cool overnight to have a slice of sourdough toast for breakfast. A sign of really good sourdough if it tastes better 1-2 days later, that’s if it lasts that long :)

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, as always – feel free to ask any questions



Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Queen of pancakes

This is not strictly a baking post, but I haven't made sourdough for a while, so I thought I'd amuse you with some pancake stories.
Pancake challenge (nothing to do with the ridiculous ice bucket challenge doing the rounds at the moment) is a challenge I set for myself - to make the fluffiest and also the easiest pancakes ever known to man kind. I want them fluffy - think American style rather than French crepes, and I want them easy - Ms Rantlet aged nearly three and Rant-a-Baby at 11 month don't leave much time or effort for elaborate pancake-making.

We recently went to a wedding in Kent - Buxted Park hotel is highly recommended if you are after a bit of luxury by the way. Post wedding breakfast included made to order pancakes, and thats what Ms Rantlet went for - honestly, she would eat pancakes for breakfast lunch and dinner if I let her. When they arrived, it was a heaven on a plate - a stack of super fluffy golden-brown pancakes drizzled with maple syrup and topped with strawberries. Simply put they were plain awesome! I managed to sneak one bite from Ms Rantlet plate, but that we enough, plus, she wouldn't let me have any more - she gobbled up the whole lot (I won't bore you with stories of what a plate of maple syrup does for a nearly-3 year old). With all that in mind I knew I had to try my best to re-create them.

Also there is another pancake from my past that haunts my dreams - Lemon Ricotta pancakes from Five Points in NYC - the place was recommended to us by a friend on our last visit to the Big Apple, and it was a revelation! Mr Ranty ordered huevos rancheros (and he still scouts every even vaguely American/Mexican place for a version of that breakfast), and I had lemon ricotta pancakes that I can still smell and taste, four years later.
I spent last four years trying to replicate Five Point recipe - kicking myself now for not buying their book, and I spent last couple of weeks trying to make the fluffy American version - as I mentioned, I have no shortage of people wanting to clean up the results of my pancake attempts, no we HAVE been eating rather a few pancakes for breakfast.

I also make Russian mini-pancakes now and then, if we have a canapé party, but they are a bit of fuss, so I have taken to buying packs of them instead. I'd also love to learn how to make Turkish and Indian pancakes stuffed with cheese and vegetables, but that requires a lot of testing and new cooking equipment that I am just ready to invest it just yet. So I shall just stick to sweet pancakes - easy to make and always well received.

Fluffy American Pancakes
150 ml milk
2 eggs, separated
30 g sugar
30 g butter, melted
130 g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar, add milk and melted butter, until everything is well combined. Sift in flour, add salt and baking powder - mix everything together until you have a rather thick, well combined batter. In a separate bowl whist egg whites to stiff peaks, add to the pancake batter and gently fold in - white lumps of egg white are okay.

Fry pancakes on medium-high heat on a non-stick frying pan (or crepe pan if you have one). Add a little bit of butter to the pan if the pancakes begin to stick. Fry on both sides, flip with a spatula - be careful, they get quite hot

I normally make them medium sized - about 15-20 cm in diameter, and they turn up light and fluffy.

The recipe makes 6-7 pancakes, enough for 3 people for breakfast.
Serve with maple syrup, jam or lemon juice and sugar.

Tip: mix the mixture the night before and store it in the fridge overnight - helps if you have little people running around in the morning demanding pancakes NOW.
I store the mixture in a clean milk bottle, so in the morning I just shake the mixture, pop off the lid and just pour the mixture out of the milk bottle and into a pan - easy as!!

This is what they should look like

And this is my youngest stuffing her face with a pancake :)

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
(adopted from Nigella's pancakes)
2 eggs, separated
30 g sugar
120ml milk
250g ricotta or cottage cheese
zest and juice of one lemon
100g self-raisig flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar, add milk, lemon juice, zest and ricotta/cottage cheese, until everything is well combined. Sift in flour, add salt and baking powder - mix everything together until you have a rather thick, well combined batter. In a separate bowl whist egg whites to stiff peaks, add to the pancake batter and gently fold in - white lumps of egg white are okay.

Fry pancakes on medium heat on a non-stick frying pan (or crepe pan if you have one). Add a little bit of butter to the pan if the pancakes begin to stick. Fry on both sides, flip with a spatula - be careful, they will be quite messy and will try to fall apart

I normally make them rather small - about 10-15 cm in diameter, and they turn up light and fluffy.

The recipe makes 10-12 pancakes, enough for 4 people for breakfast.
Serve with maple syrup, jam or lemon juice and sugar. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Speedy Fougasse

I have been thinking about making fougasse for a long-long time, at least a couple of years, ever since I saw Richard Bertinet’ “Dough” book - I just knew I HAD to make it!! I don’t actually own the book, but I have rented it from a library so many times that I am sure that they think I own it :)

Seriously, photos in the book are just amazing, and recipes… well, what can I say about recipes – as far as I am concerned Richard is an absolute Bread God!! I am an absolute convert after watching his mixing and kneading video – and I am telling you its either some higher magic or some sort of voodoo! His technique of turning what seems like a mess of flour and water into a smooth ball of dough is nothing short of a miracle.

So as you are guessing I am a fan, a FUGE fan of Richard and his recipes, and I finally decided to give fougasse a go. I looked up a recipe online, and normally I wouldn’t mess with Richard’s recipe, but I was a bit tired and a bit short of time, so I decided to do a speedy version of it.  
Mr Ranty was serving chicken and mushroom pasta and I thought a nice fresh loaf of bread would go rather well with it.

Speedy Fougasse

450g white bread flour
50g wholemeal spelt flour
350ml warm water
1 tsp sugar
¾ tsp fast acting yeast
1 tsp salt

The recipe talks about hand mixing for 10 minutes following Richard’s technique, but I only had a few minutes between babies dinner and bath time, so I chucked all of the ingredients in a standing mixer and set it off – 3 minutes on slow speed (KitchenAid speed 1), 3 minutes on medium speed (KitchenAid speed 2) and 1 minute on high speed (KitchenAid speed 3).

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and leave in a draft-free place for an hour – an hour and a half, until  it doubles in size. Cover your kitchen top generously with semolina flour (or semolina meal) and gently pour out the dough out of the bowl. Stretch gently, sprinkle some more semolina flour on top. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and transfer the dough onto the tray. Take care while doing that, as the dough will be very soft and very stretchy. Shape the dough into a triangle, using a dough cutter cut a long slash along the middle and three smaller slashes, diagonally, on each side. You are aiming for a tree kind of shape – line in a middle with tree “branches” going up. Once you did all the cutting, stretch the cuts out a bit, to achieve the traditional fougasse shape.
 Preheat the oven to 230C and bake fougasse for 12 minutes, leave it to rest for about half hour before tucking in.

I sprinkled some herbs on fougasse just before putting it in the oven, but I wouldn’t mind doing an olive version or even a sweet version, with cinnamon and brown sugar.

I always thought that fougasse it going to be all crust and dry in the middle, but its actually really soft crust with open chewy crumb.  It goes wonderfully with pasta, and just as good with some butter and honey with a cup of tea. Plus it keeps really well – it stays nice and soft the next day too, and I have enjoyed if with butter and jam with my morning coffee.

I tell you what, this is a bread I will be making again and again, it tastes great and it looks really impressive

Thursday, 29 May 2014

White Loaf Perfection (and a few other variations)

I have been a bit quite of late, due to a number of things, but mainly down to two small babies to run after and a lot of DIY work at home. I am blaming DIY for the murder of my starter – the number of times I have forgot to refresh it cause I fell asleep from physical exhaustion! Warm weather and a tired baker does not bode well, I tell you that! I still have some mother starter in the fridge, so not all is lost. However I decided to take a break from sourdough breads an started looking to a quick and easy every day loaf recipe that I can do in a couple of hours in-between looking after babies and house work.

I came across “John Whaite Bakes at Home” book and I found loaf perfection!!  John is the winner of The Great British Bake Off a couple of years back and I have been following him and his recipes for a while. I was super happy when Mr Ranty bought me John’s book as a present – its a beautiful book to look at, nice layout and tempting photos, also John’s writing style is incredibly personal and open – made me feel like I really got to know him as a person as well as a baker.

I’ve tried a few of recipes from the book and they all have turned out amazing. My latest obsession is his white loaf recipe – its very easy and also very versatile – I’ve made a number of variations, and they all have turned out incredibly well. Here is my journey through John’s recipe :

White Loaf (John’s true-born recipe) :
500g strong white flour
10g salt
20g sugar
10g fast-action yeast
100ml milk
240ml tepid water
40g unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil (for greasing proving bowl)

Bake in a 2lb/900g loaf tin

I am using KitchenAid to mix up this bread, but the dough could be easily done by hand, its very easy to handle. Place milk, warm water, yeast and sugar (honey) in the mixing bowl, leave to stand for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile melt butter and measure out flour(s and any other dry ingredients you might be using). Add flour (plus anything else if using), melted butter and salt to the mixing bowl. Mix on slow speed (speed 1 on my KA) for 4 minutes followed by 2 minutes on fast mixing (speed 2 on my KA).

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, roll it around to cover it with the oil, cover with cling film and leave to prove at room temperature until doubled in size – it has taken anywhere from an hour to two hours for me, depending how warm it is.
Take the dough out of the bowl, knock it back and shape into a fat sausage – don’t use any flour for shaping. Oil your kitchen top if the dough is too sticky, too hard to handle. The dough will be very soft, a little bit of the sticky side, but with a nice shine to it.

Line the tin with baking paper, place the shaped loaf in the tin and clover with cling film. Leave it to prove for further hour or so until the top of the top rises over sides of the tin.

Preheat the oven to 200C and bake for 25 minutes – mine is a fan over and it super fast, so you might need another 5 minutes to bake it through.

The finished loaf is a lovely dark golden colour, and the smell, THE SMELL – the butter gives it almost brioche-y smell, your house will smell amazing for days afterwards.
The bread is great toasted – again, toasting brings that butter-ness in the bread, giving a nice soft toast, but strong enough to stand up to jam and peanut butter and any other spreads you might like.

Also here are a few of “bastard” recipes,  based on John’s recipe above, but with some of my own twists. I like wholemeal or seeds or both in my breads, so I have tried a number of varieties, and they all have worked out really good. Follow the mixing/proving/baking directions as above, and feel free to make your own flavours:

White and Wholemeal Loaf
300g strong white flour
200g strong white flour
10g salt
20g honey
10g fast-action yeast
100ml milk
300ml tepid water
40g unsalted butter, melted

Apple and Oat Loaf
450g strong white flour
50g oats
10g salt
20g sugar
10g fast-action yeast
100ml milk
140ml apple juice or cider
140ml tepid water
40g unsalted butter, melted

Seeded Loaf
420g strong white flour
80g mixed seeds
10g salt
20g sugar
10g fast-action yeast
100ml milk
280ml tepid water
40g unsalted butter, melted