Archive for the ‘baking’ Category

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Once the staple of healthy hippies, sourdough has quickly become the best thing since sliced bread!  The superb flavour of a finished loaf cannot be beaten with its tangy, chewy, smoky taste; this robust bread is the undisputed King of Bread for a reason.

Sourdough is on the rise (pardon the pun) and is as trendy as hipsters, beards and unicorn frappuccinos.  Instagram is flooded with photos of artisan slices of sourdough toast with obligatory avocado topping but sourdough isn’t new of course – it’s the oldest form of leavened bread and is thought to have been around since Ancient Egyptian times.

The moreish, tangy taste blinds you to the Sourdough Paradox: it is the simplest and yet most complicated of breads to bake!

Its simplicity comes from its ingredients as all you need is flour, water and salt.  You will also need patience, lots of it.  This is not one of those quick loaves that you’ll knock up one afternoon in time for tea.  Sourdough is not difficult to make in terms of kitchen technique but makes for great weekend baking as you will need time to potter to and from the kitchen letting the dough rest, kneading, proving, etc.  Alternatively, it’s something that can be prepared on a Friday evening ready for baking on Saturday morning.  Whereas commercial yeast will rise a loaf in hours, the sourdough journey takes days, helping develop its flavour and distinct crust and it all starts by making a sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter

Sourdough Starter 1A sourdough starter is just a mix of flour and water that you leave to ferment in a warm place; its new home, keep your eye on it and feed it every day.  Basically, the wild yeasts feed off the flour and generate carbon dioxide which you want to trap in the bread.  At the same time the bacteria present also feed, multiply and produce ethanol – which can be seen as a liquid floating on top of the batter that gives the starter its sweet, beer smell.  Stir this back into the mixture as this is what gives the sourdough its distinctive taste.

Every day for a about a week, you need to feed your sourdough starter.  Add equal measures of flour and water, give it a good stir and allow it to rest in its warm home.  Alex French Guy Cooking on Youtube uses only mineral water as he believes the chlorine in tap water can kill both yeast and bacteria – I have used tap water without problems.

Paul Hollywood adds slices of seedless grapes to his starter, whereas Nigel Slater has been known to add yoghurt and sultanas to his.  Rhubarb can also work just as well.  Nigella adds a sprinkling of commercial yeast to kick hers off.  I prefer to keep mine plain and true to its ancient roots.  If you are going to use fruit, I recommend you sieve this out after the initial ferment as you don’t want bits of grape/rhubarb in your dough.

Sourdough Starter 2

The starter can be as fickle as a tamagotchi pet!  Keep your eye on it as it may seem slow at first and almost as if the thing has died on you but keep up with the ritual of pouring some out, adding equal parts of flour and water as eventually it will bloom.  As long as it doesn’t smell off then you’re ok.  Monitor its progress daily as suddenly it can erupt from its vessel leaving a lava-like spill down the sides of your jar and onto the shelf it’s resting on, which is not as easy to clean as you’d think!  If you think there may be danger of this, pour some of your sourdough starter out reserving at least 75g of starter.  Keep topping up flour and water so that you have 225g of flour mixture to work with.

At any stage you can give any excess starter to friends, neighbours – as I did, however, let them know at what stage of the process you’re at.  The photos below show her results following a Paul Hollywood recipe:

Once you’ve got this going, as long as you feed it every now and again, you’ll never have to make one from scratch again!  Keeping it in hibernation in the fridge will also help prolong its life or even freeze some of it for future use.

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At least 12 hours before you start making your bread, mix 225g of your starter culture with 75g of flour and 75g of warm water so that you have a total of 375g (300g for the loaf and 75g to keep).  Mix well and leave in a warm place.  This is now the “levain” that you will be using to raise your sourdough loaf.

If it’s bubbling away several hours later, you know it’s ready.  One final check is the floating test: put a spoonful of it into some water, if it floats its ready.

Sourdough bread

I followed a Hobbs House Bakery recipe but there are many sourdough recipes that you can follow and youtube tutorials to follow.

Ingredients:

460g of strong bread flour (either all white flour or a mix of spelt/wholewheat/rye)

300g sourdough starter (levain)

10g sea salt

230ml warm water

Method:

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1st: Autolyse: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly using a dough scraper, a food mixer or your fingers.  Let the mixture rest for 30mins so that the flour hydrates fully as this makes for a better dough.  Cover with cling film or a tea towel and keep in a warm place.

2nd: Kneading and Folding: Hold the dough in your hands slap the overhang onto the surface where it should stick, and fold the rest of the dough you are still holding over.  Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process for a few mins.

Repeat every 30mins for at least 3 or 4 hours (First Prove) depending on the tackiness of the dough.

3rd: Shape the dough into a ball by folding from the edges of the dough to the centre and invert this onto your surface.  Use a dough scraper, cleaver or your hands and try to create some surface tension over the surface of the ball of dough by pulling the dough towards you, rotating the ball and repeating.  Once you have created enough surface tension it is ready for its overnight prove.

4th: Second Prove (Overnight prove): Use either a proving basket called a banneton, or line a Pyrex bowl with a clean dishcloth and liberally dust with flour to stop the dough sticking to the basket/dishcloth.  Place the dough ball upside down in the bowl and cover. Allow to prove overnight in the fridge.IMG-0171

5th: Take the proved dough out of the fridge at least 2 hours before you bake it so that it comes up to room temperature.  Before you are ready to bake, place a dutch oven or large casserole pot into the oven and preheat to 250˚C.

6th: Very gently take the dough out of its proving basket / pyrex bowl by upturning it onto a floured bakers peel, tray or board.  Taking care not to burn yourself, sit the dough in the dutch oven and spray liberally with a water bottle.  Clamp on the lid and place in the oven.  Bring the temperature down to 230˚C and bake for 20mins with the lid on and then another 20mins with the lid off.

If you are not going to use a dutch oven/casserole pot, then spray water directly into the oven or put a tray of boiling water into the oven as the steam generated in the oven is what gives the Sourdough its magnificent crust.

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Once the bread is baked – you can check this by tapping the base, if it sounds hollow it’s ready; allow it to cool on a wire rack for at least 40mins before you cut into it.

Toasted sourdough and butter is great for Weekend breakfast as is the trendy avocado and quail’s egg or salmon combo.

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Sourdough Planner

1. Sunday night create your sourdough starter.  Remember to feed it every day as explained above.

2. Once you have an established starter culture: Thursday night take your sourdough starter out of the fridge and give it a feed.

3. Friday morning prepare your levain as explained above.

4. Friday evening complete stages 1 to 4.

5. Saturday morning complete stages 5 and 6.

I know that all this sounds much more complicated than going to the shops and buying a sourdough loaf but in Gibraltar, we suffer with the terrible affliction of bad bread!  Everything is mass produced and plastic wrapped, frozen bread.  We have few if no legitimate bakeries.  Going through the process of baking your own delicious bread from scratch is not just rewarding; it feels right.  It would be great to see your results.

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If I could only use one herb or spice for the rest of my life, seasoning aside, I would have to (pun intended) stick with cinnamon.

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Spice prized for both flavour and medicinal properties; the brown coloured, woody spice is evocatively aromatic with warming sweet and savoury notes at the same time.

Ancient Romans used cinnamon to make their bitter wine palatable and Ancient Greeks used cinnamon to season meat and vegetable dishes.  The Arabic world used it to flavour tea and now include it in most sweet and savoury dishes.  The rest of the world add it to baked goods and continue to sprinkle it over sweet treats and desserts.

Cinnamon is high in antioxidants and contains anti-inflammatory properties; it helps protect cognitive function, the heart and fight diabetes.  Regular cinnamon use, such as sprinkled over your morning porridge, can help lower your glycemic load and even help you to lose weight.

In cooking, the sweet-spicy flavour and warmth of cinnamon enhances the taste of fruits and vegetables, is a perfect partner for chocolate and no apple pie would be worth eating without cinnamon.

When baking with cinnamon, the entire house smells comforting and feels safe, warm and homely.

As the temperature drops and autumn makes itself known to us it’s this feeling of comfort and warmth that I’m trying to evoke through my food but I’m not ready for hot custard over fruit crumbles sprinkled with cinnamon nor hearty stews infused with cinnamon stick; something sweet to accompany a morning coffee sounds just right and there is nothing better than a cinnamon roll in the morning (or at any other time of day!)

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Proper cinnamon rolls can be cumbersome to make as you need to make an enriched dough, allow time to prove etc. as can be seen above but they are seriously good to eat.  However, there are a couple of cheats that make this easy to do for breakfast without even having changed out of your PJ’s.

Cheat Cinnamon Rolls

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Ingredients:
1 Pack of Puff Pastry
Melted butter
Brown Sugar
Cinnamon powder
Icing Sugar and water for the glaze

Method:
1st: Spread the melted butter over the unrolled puff pastry
2nd:  Sprinkle over the brown sugar and cinnamon powder.
3rd: Roll the pastry back up and cut into slices.
Place in a preheated oven at 200˚C for 10-14mins or until puffed and golden.
4th: Allow to cool on a wire rack and once cool prepare your glaze.  Drizzle over your cinnamon rolls.

Lemon Madeleines

Posted: May 19, 2017 in baking, Breakfast, French

 


Picking sleep out of my eyes, ruffling my bed hair and negotiating my slippers, I shuffled to the kitchen and made myself a cup of coffee.  The morning silence broken only by the sound of the swifts catching their breakfast.

What was I going to ‘catch’ for my Sunday breakfast?

I didn’t fancy toast; anyway I’d forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge last night and even though I had some smoked salmon that would have been lush with scrambled eggs and smashed avocados, I didn’t fancy that either.  And then it hit me… lemon madeleines.  I know, I know, only I can go from toast to baking madeleines as my alternative breakfast at 8am on a Sunday morning!  Anyway, once I had the idea in my head there was no turning back.

Madeleines are ridiculously easy to make, as can be seen in the clip below.  Still in my PJ’s I set about preheating the oven and weighing out the ingredients.

Mix everything together and let the lemony batter rest whilst the oven comes up to temperature.

 

Madeleines are best served warm, so once you’ve got them out of their pan and cooling on a wire rack, make yourself another cup of coffee and your lazy, relaxed, weekend breakfast is served.  This amount of batter makes 12 madeleines – I scoffed 4 without even feeling guilty about it and later had another one with a cup of tea…

…the raspberries make it one of your five a day…don’t they?!

Note: even though madeleines are very easy to make (and even easier to eat!) I wouldn’t necessarily want to make these on a work day where you’re generally following a regular morning routine and you’re up against the clock.  Maybe having the batter in the fridge from the night before and the minute you wake up turning the oven on might be too organised even for me!  The recipe is perfect for morning shuffling, plodding around the house, listening to your favourite radio station; waking the house up, slowly.

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I walked up to my front door to find that there was a bright red present tied with white and blue ribbon waiting at its feet.  It felt as if I had just received my first valentine card…the excitement, the joy, the intrigue.  Ripping through the wrapping, I found myself faced with a metal madeleine tray with 12 scallop-shell shaped moulds staring up at me.  Now if like me, you’re a food obsessive, you’d know what to do with it – otherwise you’d be taking it down the beach to decorate your sandcastles with.

the excitement, the joy, the intrigue

But I still hadn’t figured out who left it there!

The card that accompanied the tray made everything clearer; it was a gift from my friend, Pie.  On the card were suggestions as to which madeleine recipe to follow and who to youtube should I need direction, so that I too could enjoy the delights of a fresh, warm madeleine with a cup of coffee as a weekend breakfast.

I must place this in a context for you; my friend Pie, bakes delicious madeleines (or so she tells me as she’s never managed to invite me round for Sunday breakfast!)

So what is a madeleine?


A madeleine is a French patisserie favourite.  A small, buttery sponge cake to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.  Classically they will either be lemon or almond flavoured, however, they now come in a variety of different flavours; dunked in chocolate or filled with jam/fruit/curd.  But what sets a Madeleine apart from a standard sliced tea-time sponge cake, is the scallop-shell impressed pan they are baked in.

Having taken Pie’s recommendations and done some research myself – Michel Roux Jnr’s recipe is a good one to start with:

Madeleines

Ingredients:
2 eggs

100g caster sugar

100g plain flour + extra for dusting

1 lemon

¾ tsp baking powder

100g melted butter

Method:

1st: Preheat the oven to 200˚C.  Brush the Madeleine tray with melted butter, shake in a little flour to coat the shells and tap out the excess.

2nd: Prepare your dry ingredients in a bowl and the lemon zest.  Pour the lemon juice into the melted butter and set aside.

3rd: Whisk together the eggs and the sugar in a bowl until frothy.

4th: Pour in the melted butter and lemon mixture and lightly whisk in the flour.  Leave to stand for 20mins before carefully pouring the batter into your prepared madeleine tray.

5th: Bake for 8-10mins until risen in the middle and fully cooked through.  The madeleine should be golden brown around the edges.  Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack and leave for a few minutes to cool slightly.

Madeleines are best eaten within the hour – barely warm and sprinkled with icing sugar.

I recommend you set your timer for 8mins and then watch the madeleines like a hawk as they’ll go from pale and white to dark brown within the 2mins left!
Renowned food writers, such as David Lebovitz, who is known to “pop a few for breakfast” drizzles honey into the mix and gives his batter a generous wait time.  Rachel Khoo, from Little Paris Kitchen, drizzles in some honey and prods a raspberry into the centre of the batter mixture before baking, then piping lemon curd into the centre of the baked madeleine.  Julia Child’s recipe calls for salt, vanilla extract, 2 drops of lemon juice and 2 drops of bergamot extract as well as boiling the butter first to turn it brown – why would any home cook want to have to go through all that?!

I followed Michel Roux Jnr’s recipe adding more lemon juice than expressed.  Next time I’d like the madeleine to have a stronger lemon taste therefore adding more juice or perhaps adding some lemon curd to the batter mixture.  I prepared the batter before I went out the night before and placed in the fridge.

Make sure not to fill the moulds too much as they will spill over and engulf the madeleine next to it if you’re not too careful.


I suppose, like the old Chinese proverb: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.  Pie has provided me with the tools and wisdom, so that I too can eat madeleines as often as I want.

Cue accordion music