Archive for February, 2015

As many of you already know Saturday night is my Pizza Night.  Always pepperoni.  For years I’ve followed a Jamie Oliver pepperoni pizzarecipe for a basic bread dough which to be honest has served me very well.  I’ve made this dough so many times that I no longer weigh the ingredients and I can gauge how much flour I’m using depending on the size of the mound on my worktop.  I make a decent sized well in the flour and add a good glug of olive oil before adding the yeast/water/honey mixture and stir with my claw-crane hand.  Once a ball of dough has formed I’d then flour the surface and knead for several minutes before letting it prove under a tea towel for up to an hour in a warm place.  In the past I’ve even made a small loaf of bread if I’ve felt there was excess bread dough.

I would normally cook my pizza dough directly onto the oven rack and bring it out once I felt that the dough was cooked (frequently mis-timing this!) often having to settle for a dense, undercooked doughy pizza.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a Paul Hollywood recipe, which even though had the same ingredients and followed the same basic principles of the warm prove, had slight changes.  One definitive change is that Mr Hollywood prefers to add olive oil to the surface you are to knead the bread dough on and not more flour as he feels that, “olive oil helps to keep the texture of the dough consistent.”

Flavour-wise, the Jamie Oliver recipe with honey was tastier; whilst the Paul Hollywood recipe would cook retaining shape and forming a crispier crust.

Recently, however, a friend and fellow foodie introduced me to the joys of cold proving also know as cold fermentation.  And like me, you’re probably thinking back to your school science classes where you were told, “Yeast is a living thing and needs food and warmth to function properly.”  But this is the crux of the matter; the lukewarm water activates the yeast and it starts to produce carbon dioxide.

By slowing down the activity of the yeast; at cool fridge temperatures, yeast behave differently producing more desirable flavour compounds.  It also produces carbon dioxide (the air bubbles present in bread) more slowly.  Long fermentation gives the enzymes present in flour more opportunities to link up into gluten, subsequently gluten structure is improved.  Finally, the colder the dough when you shape it before the final proof, the fewer bubbles are forced out of it.

So what’s the ideal time-frame for a cold fermentation?

J Kenji Lopez-Alt, Managing Culinary Director of Serious Eats’ Food Lab made a large batch of dough and allowed it to cold-ferment over 10 days. His research suggested that 3-5 days cold proving produced the best results; dramatically improved flavour, texture and workability.

So follow Roberta’s Pizza Dough recipe to create the perfect pizza:


153g Bread Flour (or 00 pasta flour)
153g Plain Flour
8g salt
200g of lukewarm water
2g active dry yeast
4g olive oil


1st: In a large bowl mix the flours and salt.
2nd: In a measuring jug, mix 200g of lukewarm tap water with the yeast and olive oil.
3rd: Pour this into the flour mixture and using your hand like a claw-crane mix until well combined and then knead for 3 minutes.  Allow to rest for 15minutes.
4th: Knead the rested dough for a further 3 minutes.  Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape into a ball.  Place on an oiled tray and cover in cling.  Place into the fridge for anything from overnight to 5 days later.
5th: Remove from the fridge 45mins before you begin to shape it for pizza.

Top Tips:

Wetter is better.  The dough should be super sticky and almost flow out of the tray rather than fall.
Use coarse semolina rather than flour to help the base slide easily on and off the paddle and stone.
Wetter is better.  Shape your pizza dough by hand – don’t use a rolling pin.
Set your oven to its highest setting and heat your pizza stone for at least an hour.
And just in case you’re still not sure – Wetter is better!

Along my pizza journey I have acquired several pieces of kit that I now always use to assist me reach pizza perfection:
A pizza stone for a crisper base
A semolina covered paddle (or inverted chopping board!)
Dough cutter that also acts as a great scraper

When you make Roberta’s recipe, the first thing that you will notice is the tiny amount of yeast that you need to use (not even half a 7g sachet) but trust me that it is enough to produce the desired amount of fermentation.

My only reservation with the cold prove method is that you need to be quite organised if you chose to have a cold-fermented pizza.  I made my batch of dough on Thursday night and reaped the rewards on Saturday.  If, however, I just did not have the time during the week to create the dough far enough in advance, I would have to rely on the warm prove method – accepting that the dough would not be as established in flavour or texture as its cold fermented counterpart. Either way – nothing beats a pepperoni pizza and Saturday will always be my pizza night.

After the over indulgent aftermath of the Christmas period, new year’s resolutions, crash diets  and penniless pockets, January takes on a cloak of austerity.  Our tastes become less extravagant and simple; we re-introduce the aspect of portion control in the hope that we will regain a waistline before the summer.

The temperature having finally dropped means that we want wholesome, hearty, comfort food.  Soup becomes a regular staple which not only caters for the cold weather but also our pockets (as soup is the epitome of thrift.)

For those of a superstitious disposition there would have been much lentil consumption as you hailed in the New Year – or perhaps on Blue Monday (Monday 19th January 2015) the most depressing day of the year – to help break the curse of the January blues.

But as January draws to a close, for those that chose to revel in it, there is one final celebration that you could choose to indulge in:  Robbie Burns Night.  Usually celebrated on the eve of the great Bard’s Birthday, 25th January or thereabouts, can be the perfect excuse to celebrate surviving the uphill struggle that can be the month of January.

Looking at the event from a culinary perspective you are required to follow certain practices.  Whiskey needs to be omnipresent throughout the meal, there has got to be a haggis served with ‘neeps and tatties’ and cock-a-leekie soup should be the ideal starter to warm you through before you continue with the evening’s proceedings.

Starter: Cock-a-leekie Soupcock-a-leekie soup

2 leeks washed and diced
4 rashers of streaky bacon
A whole chicken or
8 chicken pieces
Splosh of white wine
180g stoned prunes
1 bouquet garni (thyme, bay, parsely)
Water/stock to cover the chicken)
Oil/Butter for frying

1./ Melt the butter and fry the chicken pieces until golden brown, then remove and set aside.

2./ Add the chopped bacon to the pan and fry until some of the fat is rendered out and fry one of the leeks in this until the whites are translucent.

3./ Splosh in the white wine and boil rapidly whilst scraping the bottom of the pan.  Return the chicken pieces (making sure to pour in any liquid it may have released) with the bouquet garni and add enough water/stock to cover.  Simmer for 45 mins or until the chicken is tender.

4./ Remove the chicken from the pot and allow to cool slightly.  Chop the second leek and add it to the pot.  Simmer until tender.  Remove the bouquet garni.

5./ Remove the chicken skin and bones and discard.  Shred the chicken or cut into coarse chunks and add this to the pot.  Add the prunes and simmer for another 20-30mins.

6./ Skim off any excess fat using a turkey-baster and season to taste.

Main Course: Haggis with ‘Neeps and Tatties’

Not so much a cheat but a necessity – BUY THE HAGGIS – don’t even attempt to recreate this at home.  Most supermarkets will stock a decent haggis that you can be proud to serve.  You can now even get vegetarian haggises (or is it haggi?) and to simplify matters you can microwave them if that would make matters simpler. 

“Great chieftain o’ the pudding race!”

To be honest you should spend more time thinking about your ‘neeps and tatties’ and how you’re going to serve these.

‘Neeps and Tatties’ cause annual controversy.  The ‘tatties’ are mashed potatoes and the world is in unanimous agreement over this, however, the ‘neeps’ cause such contention that no one is truly sure what these are anymore; even amongst the Scots there is disagreement.   Possible options are: turnips, swede, parsnips and I’ve even read about someone using celeriac.  Having researched around on the topic, I believe that traditionally turnips would have been used but I was unable to find decent turnips at the grocers so opted for parsnips instead.

My ‘Neeps and Tatties’ were treated the same way: peeled, boiled, mashed with butter, cream and nutmeg, salt and pepper.  I made a quick port and red wine reduced sauce to serve with.
Timbale of haggis neeps and tatties

After one of my guests performed the ‘Address to the Haggis’ and with alacrity sliced open the haggis with the finely honed edge of his ceremonial dirk (actually my kitchen knife!) we served ourselves from the centre of the table.   I made a quick port and red wine reduced sauce to serve with.  Experimenting with the leftovers the following evening I served this as a timbale as can be seen in the photograph.

cranachanDessert: Cranachan

5 tbsp porridge oats
2 punnets of raspberries
600ml double cream
3 tbsp heather honey
5 tbsp whiskey
1./ Spread the porridge oats on a baking sheet and grill until it smells rich and nutty.  It will not darken quickly like almonds.  Set aside until cool.

2./ Crush some of the raspberries into a purée.  Whisk the double cream until set and stir in the honey and whiskey.  Stir in the toasted porridge oats.

3./ In glasses assemble layers of the cream mixture with the raspberry purée and the raspberries.  Serve with a sprig of mint.

Although not truly authentic, adding other berries might add to this dessert – blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries would enhance its creamy-fruity lusciousness.   Anyone who knows me well, knows that I cannot stomach whiskey but here the subtle ghost of whiskey, mist-like in this dessert was just right; I almost feel as if it needed more honey or sugar to just lift the taste.  Perhaps serving it with some shortbread biscuits.

The leftover cock-a-leekie soup became a quick chicken and leek pie for lunch the following day:

Food for thought for next year: cock-a-leekie starter worked very well but maybe some crusty bread to go with, turnips instead of parsnips, serve as a timbale, more port and red wine sauce, more berries and honey in the cranachan.

Generally more whiskey!