Dough Quandaries: Sulphurous Sourdough

A recent sourdough crisis has prompted this latest post in what is to be a series involving ‘dough quandaries‘! I decided to build a new starter around a week ago, as the Yeasty Thing has been lying dormant in the fridge for far too long and I think it may have had its day! As described in an earlier post (linked above), the Yeasty Thing was built using Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s method – a straightforward flour and water concoction which is fermented, to begin with over a week, to attract and promote the growth of wild yeasties. This starter is fairly wet and, at first, I kept it bubbling away on the work surface (in a container, obviously!) feeding it a couple of times a day. But starters which contain a high proportion of liquid often rise and fall more quickly than more dense starters and the Yeasty Thing’s feeding schedule began to get out of hand – so she was banished to the fridge to slow down a bit!

My latest foray into sourdough was on the instruction of Peter Reinhart in ‘Artisan Breads Every Day’. His ‘mother starter’ is built in two stages. The first of which requires building up the ferment in four ‘phases’ over 7 (or so) days. He suggests using pineapple juice in the first stage, the acidity of which discourages the  growth of certain bacterias (including leuconostoc), which can overrun the yeast. Bacteria is present in all starters. It is the interaction between the yeast and bacteria cells which creates a successful culture that will raise dough.

I followed Peter’s guidelines to the letter, using pineapple juice in the first stage, and my starter behaved as it should; producing all the delightful aromas he mentions all the way into the second stage, when I formed a denser, more flour-heavy ‘mother starter’. Reinhart prescribes refrigeration after the mother starter becomes active, and this is what I did. I was pleased that I potentially wouldn’t have to replenish my starter for 5 days once it was in the fridge – a boon to any busy working mum!

So it was all good – my starter was safely nestled in the fridge, sedately swelling away between the milk and the orange juice. I quickly felt a sourdough loaf coming on and raided a portion of my new born starter to get baking. Reinhart’s book is sadly lacking in the sourdough loaf department – there are only a few recipes which call for a starter, so I referred back to Old Faithful, Whittingstal’s recipe for a basic sourdough loaf in ‘River Cottage: Everyday’. It calls for the starter to be fermented overnight with some flour and water, which is then mixed with more flour, water and salt to make the dough. Everything was going well, until I lifted the lid on the pre-ferment and reeled back in disgust at the sulphurous, eggy pong emanating therefrom!

I hit the blogs and the Fresh Loaf came up trumps with multiple articles about sourdough smelling like rotten eggs – all describing a similar situation in which gases from the dough itself omit this unpleasant odour. Meanwhile, the starter itself still smelt perfectly normal – acidic, almost winy. Even having discovered that this was unusual, and potentially due to an overgrowth in bacteria, I went ahead and baked the dough. It resulted in a pretty good sourdough loaf with a great tangy flavour.

This is the loaf that resulted from my stinky starter!

This is the loaf that resulted from my stinky starter!

My curiosity was still unsatiated and I was almost certain the eggy pong would return, should I attempt another batch of dough using the starter. So I have been searching the web ever since and have found out lots more about sourdough in the process. One interesting point to make is that in some countries, bread raised by bacteria is popular. Yeast is actually inhibited to promote the growth of natural bugs, which respire producing the gas that raises the dough (see this article about ‘Salt-rising bread‘). Maybe this is what I had produced!

Sure enough, I tried another batch of dough using my new starter and, sadly, it gave off a sulphurous whiff even more pungent than the first lot. During my online research into this, I came across lots of people who swore that one Debra Wink would be able to help. I was surprised to find that the ‘solution’ she was proposing, backed by extensive research, was to replenish your stinky starter with pineapple juice! (see ‘The Pineapple Juice Solution‘) I was back where I’d started! Maybe the bacteria which developed in my dough was different to that which Debra is trying to stave off? Or maybe it is the same, but managed to take hold once I began feeding my mother starter with spring water? Who knows? Either way, something doesn’t add up! In desperation to salvage my starter, I have started feeding it again using pineapple juice rather than water. I will keep you updated on its progress over the coming weeks.

I would really appreciate the input of anyone who can shed light on the mystery of my sulphurous sourdough starter! Happy experimenting everyone! 🙂

Brown Soda Bread topped with Oats

Brown Soda Bread loaf ready to bake!

Soda bread is my go-to when ‘a wedge of ballast’, to quote Mark from Peep Show, is urgently required and time is of the essence. It can be prepared in an instant (20 minutes max) and needs no time to prove, as it doesn’t contain any yeast; so including baking time can be on the table within an hour of turning on the scales!

A number of countries count soda bread as a staple in their diets, including Serbia, Scotland and Poland; none as famously though, as Ireland.

Irish flour has a low gluten content and so is not well suited to making yeasted breads. Around the mid 1800s, bicarbonate of soda was introduced as a raising agent in Ireland. The fact that there was no long tradition of yeast cookery in rural communities, as there was already in other European countries, meant that baking with bicarbonate of soda caught on; its speed and ease of use were just an added bonus for Irish bakers.

Soda farls, baked on a griddle, and wheaten and soda breads are still very popular today in Ireland and around the world. Brown soda bread, like the one pictured above and below, is usually referred to as ‘wheaten bread’ in Ireland and is sometimes flavoured with sweet ingredients. The name ‘soda bread’ is reserved for the savoury variety which uses only white flour. However, despite it containing wholemeal flour, this bread has a savoury flavour and so I have called it ‘soda bread’. It also doesn’t contain buttermilk, an ingredient used in traditional Irish soda bread, as I didn’t have any in the fridge in my hour of need! So I am not claiming this is a strictly Irish recipe by any means!

The buttermilk in traditional soda and wheaten breads is used to activate the bicarbonate of soda, as it contains lactic acid. Some form of acid is needed to get the bicarbonate of soda releasing carbon dioxide, which is the gas that causes the bread to rise (think back to those school science experiments involving sodium bicarbonate and vinegar!) Since I had no buttermilk to hand, I needed to concoct a similar mixture which contained both fat, for a soft, moist crumb, and some acidity, to create the rise. All that I had in the fridge was a 300ml tub of double cream. I was slightly pensive about using vinegar on account of its harsh flavour, so I opted for lemon juice to bring acidity to the mix. This didn’t bring the volume up to what I needed, so I topped it up with water; I thought this would be fine, as buttermilk is more liquid than double cream, so I knew it would not affect the balance of moisture in the bread.

Anyway, enough of the preamble! Here’s my recipe for brown soda bread! It has a lighter than air crumb and crisp, crumbly crust. Delicious eaten warm, straight from the oven. I dipped mine in a steaming bowl of fresh tomato soup. Gorgeous!

Ingredients:

  • 300g Plain Wholemeal Flour
  • 100g Plain Flour
  • 1.5 Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 0.5-1 tsp Salt (depending on personal taste)
  • 300ml Double Cream
  • 1 Lemon, thoroughly squeezed
  • 25g Butter, melted
  • Water to top up to 400ml (a little more maybe needed if the dough seems too tight)
  • 25g Jumbo Oats

To make the bread;

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Prepare one baking tray by flouring lightly.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and set aside to cool.
  3. Sieve the dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl.
  4. In a measuring jug, measure the cream and add the lemon juice. Mix well with a fork.
  5. Add the cooled melted butter and use the fork to combine with the wet ingredients.
  6. Add water to the cream, lemon and butter mixture to bring it up to a volume of 400ml.
  7. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream and lemon mixture.
  8. Mix well using one hand. You may need to add a little more water at this point to help the dough come together.
  9. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a minute or so, just to incorporate the ingredients. Do not over knead here!
  10. Form the dough into a smooth ball.
  11. Generously scatter the work surface with oats and roll the ball over them, pressing gently so the oats stick to the surface of the dough.
  12. Place the ball of dough onto the prepared baking sheet and dust lightly with flour. Make a deep cross in the dough using a sharp knife. The depth of my cuts were around half that of the ball (see picture above).
  13. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes.
  14. The bread is ready when it makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

As I mentioned above, by far the best way to enjoy soda bread is eaten warm, straight from the oven, with a generous slab of butter. This bread is so quick and easy to make, and if you do happen to have it in the fridge, you can substitute the cream, lemon and water mixture for 400ml of buttermilk. Although I found that the double cream made for a deliciously moist, soft crumb! Let me know how yours turns out!

Baked Brown Soda Bread

Spelt and Mature Cheddar Cheese Scones

scones

This morning I was craving a good, hearty, savoury breakfast. I had just settled my little man for his morning nap and wanted something quick and easy to fill the gaping hole in my stomach! Images of toasted English muffins, topped with poached eggs and lashings of Hollandaise flickered in and out of my mind; but baking muffins was out of the question due to time constraints and the next best thing seemed to be savoury scones! Scones are super quick and easy to make. They involve no rising or chilling time and so the dough can simply be mixed, rolled, cut and baked. I love baking with spelt flour (see my ‘Daily Spelt Loaf’), on account of its nutty flavour; plus, I wanted to add a touch of healthy wholegrain – these were for breakfast after all! I searched for a recipe online and went with the first one that cropped up. However, I changed this considerably as I didn’t have self-raising flour, which the recipe called for, and it didn’t include spelt flour either (Click here for the original BBC Food recipe).

As I eagerly measured, rubbed and rolled I was, in a hungry stupor, running through endless serving suggestions. As you can see from the picture above, I went with some crispy back bacon (and a squidge of ketchup!); but I also considered a slice of cheese with a dollop of spicy mango chutney and a handful of salad leaves (rocket would rock!); or a slice of salty salami and some of those yummy cocktail gherkins. Let me know what you go with!

So here’s my recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 190g Plain Flour
  • 35g Wholegrain Spelt Flour
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 55g Butter
  • 25g Mature Cheddar, grated (plus a little extra for topping)
  • 150ml Milk
  • 1 Egg, beaten (for glazing)

To make the Scones:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
  2. Weigh out the flours into a large bowl. Add the salt, baking powder and bicarbonate and mix thoroughly using a whisk or fork.
  3. Add the butter to the flour in small cubes. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour with a lifting and rubbing motion to help aerate the mixture. It should have the appearance of fine breadcrumbs once fully combined.
  4. Add the grated cheddar and mix through with a fork. You may need to break up any large clumps of grated strands so they are evenly incorporated.
  5. Add the milk and stir with a metal spoon, bringing the ingredients together into a soft dough. You may need to add an extra 10g or so of flour at this point if the dough is too sticky to work with.
  6. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead very briefly to produce a cohesive ball of dough.
  7. Roll out using a floured rolling pin, until roughly 3cm thick.
  8. Cut rounds using a corrugated cutter and arrange on the prepared baking sheet.
  9. Brush the tops of the scones with beaten egg (not the sides as this could inhibit their rising), and grate a little cheese over the top of each scone.
  10. Bake for 12-15 minutes. You could turn once after the first 10 minutes to ensure your scones brown evenly.

I hope you enjoy baking and eating these as much as I did – they’re SO easy and quick! The result is a light, almost fluffy scone with a great savoury taste – great for lunch boxes and snacks too. I reckon my little man will be pleased to wake up to one of these 🙂

 

On the Importance of Cooking and Baking with Children

I should preface this short essay by saying that I wrote it two years ago and have just stumbled across it again whilst browsing through my drafted posts. It is all as true now as it was then, so I’ve … Continue reading

Dark Chocolate and Macadamia Tear-and-Share Loaf

Chocolate and Macademia Tear and Share

Pulla is ubiquitous in Finland, where my partner, Jani, was born. The daily ritual of having coffee (kahvia), often together with family or friends, would not be complete without a variety of sweet buns and cakes to accompany it. Not to mention the rarity of breakfast in the absence of a ‘pitko’, or braided loaf, slathered in butter. Jani even likes to save the ends, leaving them until they are stale and dry, so he can make ‘köyhät ritarit’ or ‘poor knights’, slices of week old pulla soaked in milk and then fried in butter. Yes, the Finns are renowned for their gargantuan consumption of both butter and sugar. The excuse touted by most is that they need lots of calories to survive the punishingly cold winters. Well I need no excuse to make a big batch of pulla once in a while. The great thing about it is that it is very versatile. At its base, it is a simple sweet bread dough, the addition of crushed cardamom seeds gives it its signature taste.

It was during one of our pulla-making sessions that this loaf was born. This recipe makes a very large batch, 5 or 6 medium braided loaves; or 2 or 3 loaves and a batch or 2 of ‘korva puustit’ or ‘beaten ears’ (small cinnamon buns). I had a bag of dark chocolate chips, half a large bar of dark chocolate and two-thirds of a packet of macadamia nuts left over from several recent baking exploits and these gave me all the inspiration I needed to transform this wonderful pulla recipe into something even more naughty and a just a bit special.

The recipe I am about to share with you has been passed down through Jani’s family for generations. As I have said, it yields a large batch, so feel free to halve or even quarter the quantities to suit your appetite!

To make traditional Pulla, add 3 teaspoons of crushed cardamom seeds to the mix before kneading. I have omitted them in the recipe itself, as they can overpower the taste of the chocolate (although you may prefer to leave them in).

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg Strong White Bread Flour
  • 1.5 kg Plain White Flour
  • 1350 g Caster Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 litre Milk
  • 100g Fresh Yeast
  • 3 tsp Cardamom Pods, crushed (for traditional Finnish Pulla)
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate Chips
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate
  • 100g Chocolate and Hazelnut Spread
  • 200g Chopped Macadamia Nuts

To make the Bread

  1. Whisk the sugar and eggs in a large bowl until well incorporated.
  2. Heat the milk over a low heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat and crumble in the yeast. Stir until dissolved. Too much heat here can kill the yeast so ensure that the milk is only just above hand temperature.
  3. I also melt the butter at this point, in a separate pan, and leave it to cool whilst I’m mixing the other ingredients.
  4. Add the milk and yeast mixture to the eggs and sugar and stir to combine. (Add the cardamom at this point, if required).
  5. Now, this is the part which is tricky without two people. If you are going solo, sieve the flours together into a separate bowl and then use one hand to tip the flour, little by little, into the wet ingredients, whilst kneading with the other.
  6. Since the mixture is extremely wet to begin with, I use a kind of grabbing or clenching action with my kneading hand to begin to incorporate the flour. Once all the flour is incorporated, add the melted butter and knead into the dough. I only begin to use my conventional kneading technique when the dough is firm enough to tip onto a lightly floured surface.
  7. It will take a while to develop the gluten since the amount of dough is so large, and also the recipe calls for plain flour as well as strong, which has a far lower gluten content. Hence you will be kneading for a good 20 minutes to achieve a cohesive dough with a nice sheen to it.
  8. Once kneaded, place the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl for its first rise. This will take 2-3 hours.
  9. Once the dough has doubled in size, it is time to shape it and add the filling. Fold the dough in on itself until most of the air has been knocked out and you have a rough oblong.
  10. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough (giving it a quarter turn once and again) until it is approximately 5mm thick and, again, a large roughly rectangular shape. Depending on the size of your kitchen workspace, you may need to divide the dough into two or even three pieces before rolling.
  11. Spoon large mounds of the chocolate and hazelnut spread onto the dough and spread using a knife or the back of the spoon, almost to the edges.
  12. Scatter the chopped chocolate, chocolate chips and chopped nuts evenly over the dough.
  13. You may have seen Paul Hollywood ‘tacking’ one edge of his dough, about to be rolled up, to the surface so as to make it easier to make a tight roll. You could do this, although I managed fine without this method. As tightly as you can, roll the oblong starting from the longest edge, into a long sausage.
  14. Using a scotch scraper, cut off the two ends, as these will have less filling and may be strangely shaped if the oblong was slightly uneven (you can pop these on a tray and make some small buns out of them!)
  15. Then, start by cutting the sausage in half, then these two pieces in half again, then halving these, and so on and so on…Divide the sausage into small equal sections about 6cm in length.
  16. Arrange these in generously buttered tins, placing them first around the edges, leaving about 1.5cm gap between each on all sides as the buns will rise into each other whilst proving, then place more buns in a second ring within the outer one, and then maybe a couple in the centre (see photo of finished loaf for pointers).
  17. Cover each tin with a tea towel and leave the buns to prove for around an hour until doubled in size again.
  18. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  19. Once the buns have risen. Wash the tops generously with beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with caster sugar.
  20. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is a luscious brown colour (keep a good eye on them as sometimes the sugar glaze can begin to catch) and the top feels firm but with a good spring beneath.

Enjoy this loaf still warm from the oven or the next morning with a big milky cup of coffee! Let me know how it goes 🙂 x

Orange flavoured Cassata alla Siciliana Cake

Orange Cassata Cake

Upon my return from the beautiful Italian island of Sicily, I promised I would experiment with baking some Sicilian treats that I could share with you all.

Cassata is a traditional Sicilian cake and can be found everywhere on the island, from cafés to pasticcerias to restaurant dessert cabinets. It is traditionally a sponge cake, moistened with fruit juice or liqueur and filled with this cake’s namesake – ‘cassata’, which is a mixture of sweetened ricotta cheese, mixed peel and chocolate (it can be flavoured with vanilla also); and decorated with a layer of marzipan and icing, usually in pastel colours.

As you can see from the picture above, mine is far from traditional in the icing stakes! But it’s creamy ricotta filling and fruity flavour echoes its more authentic Sicilian cousin.

My inspiration came from Dan Lepard’s glorious tome, ‘Short and Sweet’. Indeed I followed his sponge recipe entirely, only deviating when it came to the filling, to which I added marmalade rather than mixed peel; and moistening the cake. He describes this as the ‘Sophia Loren’ of cakes, which I can only imagine denotes its elegance and refined and delicate flavour as well as its Italian roots. I hope you enjoy making this wonderful cake…

Ingredients:

For the Cake:

  • 125g Softened Unsalted Butter
  • 125g Caster Sugar
  • 3 Eggs, lightly beaten
  • Grated Zest of 3 Oranges
  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 2 1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 25g Cornflour
  • 75g Icing Sugar
  • 75ml Cold Milk
  • 50ml Orange Juice (or Grand Marnier) for moistening

For the Cassata Filling:

  • 500g Ricotta
  • 150g Icing Sugar
  • 50g Dark Chocolate
  • 2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Tbsn Marmalade (Fine Shred)

For the Icing:

  • 3-4 tablespoons Orange juice
  • 125g Icing Sugar

To make the cake:

  1. Line two 18cm cake tins with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (160 degrees for a fan oven).
  2. Cream together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the beaten eggs little by little to the butter and sugar mixture, beating thoroughly after each addition.
  4. Fold in the orange zest.
  5. Sift the flour, baking powder, cornflour and icing sugar together into a separate bowl.
  6. Alternately fold a spoonful of the dry ingredients and then a tablespoon of the milk into the sugar and butter mixture until all ingredients are evenly combined.
  7. Divide the batter equally between the two prepared tins and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the centre of each cake feels springy to the touch.
  8. Leave to cool in their tins for 5 minutes before turning out onto wire racks.
  9. When the cakes are almost cold, poke some small holes into the surface of each with a cocktail stick. Drizzle the orange juice, or orange liqueur if you prefer, into each sponge to moisten.

To make the filling:

  1. Beat the ricotta with the icing sugar until smooth and fully combined.
  2. Finely chop the dark chocolate and stir in until the flecks are evenly distributed.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and marmalade and stir well.
  4. Place in the fridge to chill until needed.

To make the icing:

  1. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.
  2. Gradually add the orange juice and stir until smooth and at ‘ribbon’ consistency. This means that when a spoonful of the mixture is lifted and trailed over the icing in the bowl, it will leave ‘ribbons’ on its surface and won’t simply blend in – if it disappears as it hits the icing in the bowl, add some more icing sugar until it thickens to the correct consistency.

Assembling the Cassata Cake:

  1. Place the bottom layer of sponge onto a plate. Spread with a generous layer of the Cassata filling.
  2. Carefully place the second layer on top.
  3. Using a metal spoon, drizzle the orange icing onto the cake.

I hope this cake will give you all a taste of Sicily and maybe even inspire you to visit the island one day! It is truly a charming and captivating place. Don’t forget to let me know how you got on 🙂

Oat and Raisin Cookies: Naughty but Nice!

Oat and Raisin Cookies

I had the baking bug this morning and whilst clearing away the breakfast things I got a sudden craving for these sweet but wholesome, soft-in-the-centre-but-crunchy-around-the-edges cookies! I owe the inspiration for these to one Mark Lambert, a member of the Harlequins Rugby Club, whose offering was part of a feature in the Easter ‘special baking’ issue of Delicious Magazine (April 2013). It’s one I flick through often (for obvious reasons) and these caught my eye as they are super-quick and easy to make – and they turned out beautifully.

My recipe is for double quantities and I have exchanged the light brown sugar for the more toffee-y dark soft brown, which adds to their caramel flavour. I like to freeze half the dough, then I can rustle up freshly baked cookies in a flash whenever I fancy them!

 

Ingredients:

  • 230g Unsalted Butter (softened)
  • 250g Dark Soft Brown Sugar
  • 2 Free-Range Eggs
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 190g Plain Flour
  • 1 Tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1 Tsp Mixed Spice
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 240g Rolled Oats
  • 240g Raisins

To make the cookies:

  1. Beat the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract together in a large bowl, until well combined.
  2. In another bowl, mix the flour, bicarbonate, mixed spice, salt, oats and raisins together, again until well combined.
  3. Pour the dry ingredients into the egg mixture and mix thoroughly until there are no traces of dry flour in the mixture and the oats and raisins are evenly distributed.
  4. Tip onto a large piece of cling film, wrap tightly and place in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line two large baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  6. Once the dough has firmed up in the fridge, dollop small balls of cookie dough roughly 5cm apart onto the prepared trays. I use my tablespoon measure for this as it makes them all of a similar size, which means they cook evenly. I fill it generously (so each cookie is a heaped tablespoon) and then ease each one out with my finger onto the tray.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges have turned golden but the tops still look slightly under-baked. They will firm up as they cool and become wonderfully soft and chewy!

 

…And there you have it! These are a fantastic lunchbox treat, great with a cup of tea or coffee, or as an anytime snack! Enjoy x