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Pizza

12 Jan

The Captain and I love the al fresco life. We have a terrace outside our bedroom, overlooking the Valley, and over the years we have gradually pimped the space. For the last few years we’ve had a chimenea fire and a barbecue, and we’ve had some wonderful evenings up there, with good food and a glass of wine as the sun goes down. But for a while I’ve been hankering after a wood fired oven, to extend my al fresco repertoire beyond barbecuing and smoking. And salads of course. I make pretty good barbecues and salads, but my dream was to have fresh pizza straight out of a wood fired oven on our terrace.

The good news is that dreams do come true. The Captain bought us a pizza oven for Christmas – after researching what was available and what would suit our space best, he’d chosen one from Ooni, and it is perfect for our needs.

Midwinter in Scotland might seem sub optimal when it comes to al fresco dining, but there is something just magical about wrapping up warm, putting out the awning (to protect from the inevitable rain) and huddling next to the fire, watching the moon rise and cooking and eating fresh pizza.

Parma ham, mushroom and onion pizza

And the other thing about going for it with pizzas at this time of year is all those leftovers! Don’t be boxed in by what you think of as sensible pizza toppings – see what you’ve got in the fridge, decide if you’d like them together and go for it. This is how I discovered the joy of a black pudding and brussel sprout pizza!

I’m not a purist when it comes to pizza dough – sometimes I make my own entirely by hand, on those days when 10 minutes kneading dough will help de-stress. Other days I pop the ingredients in the bread machine and let it do the work.

What I’ve discovered makes the most difference is making a really good pizza sauce – in the past I’ve zizzed up a tin of tomatoes, or used a passata… and while both of these are fine, they are a bit too watery and can make the pizza base go soggy. So my top tip is to take the time to cook some good pizza sauce while your dough is resting or rising or proving or whatever.

Everything prepped to make our first pizzas

If you don’t ‘have a wood fired pizza oven, don’t despair – home made pizza is pretty good made in any really hot oven.

Pizza dough

Ingredients

  • 250ml water (or use slightly less water, and slug in some sourdough starter)
  • 1-2 TBsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TBsp sugar
  • about 425g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp yeast

Directions

Put the ingredients in the pan of your bread machine in the order they are listed above and hit the button for pizza dough.

When it’s ready, take the dough out and separate it into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and place it in a bowl (which you’ve drizzled a wee bit of oil in the bottom). Cover each bowl with a damp tea towel, or a lid, or a plate, or cling film, or beeswax wraps, or whatever suits your environmental aesthetic, and leave for about half an hour. Don’t worry about timings too much. At the end of the time you’re going to turn each doughy ball into pizza.

Brilliant Pizza Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 (or more) garlic cloves, slightly chopped
  • 2 TBsp oil
  • 2 large tins of chopped plum tomatoes
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • your choice of herbs or spices – I like to add a wee bit of chilli, but mediterranean herbs would also be good

Directions

  • Put the oil in heavy based pan over a medium heat
  • Add the garlic and sweat for a wee minute. Don’t let it burn, just soften it in the oil
  • Add the other ingredients
  • Simmer for 20 minutes or so until it looks thick and bright dark red
  • Leave to cool

I make loads of this pizza sauce and keep it in a tub in the fridge – as well as pizza it’s found it’s way into the most amazing quiche (pizza sauce, caramelised onions, cheddar cheese and an egg/philadelphia cheese custard poured into a short pastry case), and also mixed in with pasta and some tuna as a midweek pasta bake.

You know how to make pizza, don’t you? I thought I did, but what I didn’t know well enough was that when you’re using a peel, to put the pizza into the oven, you need to make sure that peel has PLENTY of polenta on it, or you will never slide the pizza off the peel and onto the stone in the oven. The other thing I’ve discovered is that less can be so much more on a pizza – just a couple of good ingredients can be so much more satisfying than piling too much on.

Some toppings we like:

  • Black pudding and shredded brussel sprouts
  • Parma ham and mushrooms (and then add rocket once it;s out of the oven)
  • Goats cheese and beetroot
  • Blue cheese (preferably gorgonzola) and pear, maybe some ham too
Black pudding and brussel sprout pizza

Want more recipes? Perhaps a quick midweek dinner? Or easy peasy biscuits? Just head here and have a browse.

The easiest ice cream (with a hit of sweet, salt and smokiness)

1 Jan

I love a new recipe. I particularly love something that is ridiculously simple, and also easily adapted. Or pimped.

This is one such recipe. If you’re looking for sweet and salty, creamy and sophisticated, while also being so simple that a small child could make it with hardly any instructions, and little supervision, then this is your recipe.

20191215_115358

Tubs of grown up ice cream

I first saw Nigella make a version of it on one of her eponymous Christmas cookery shows, so all credit goes to her for this deliciousness. Feel free to channel her energy and lick the spoon like you were 5 years old all over again.

Apologies that I’m posting this on 1 January, which for most people is probably a week too late, as it would make a nice easy Christmas dessert (though by that time of the meal, I’m usually craving a simple fruit salad instead of rich creamy ice cream). And of course it would be an ace thing to have tucked away in your freezer for Hogmanay – make it days in advance, when you’ve got oodles of cream left over from Christmas. And impress your guests with your back to basics cookery skills. No sous vide or expensive ice cream maker required.

Ingredients

  • A large tin (397g) of condensed milk CARAMEL (it’s the equivalent of Dulce de Leche)
  • 300ml double cream
  • Sea salt (the kind that comes in crystals, try Maldon, but other brands are available). I used some smoked salt, which seems readily available at my local supermarkets in rural Scotland
  • Whisky (or your other favourite spirit). I used a smoky, peaty malt which we had in the back of the drinks cupboard, and which complemented the smokiness of the sweet saltiness

Directions

  1. Dollop the caramel into a big bowl
  2. Pour in all of the cream and give it all a good stir
  3. Now start whipping it. I use a hand held electric beater, but if you’ve got a free standing electric mixer obviously use that. Or build up your muscles with a bit of elbow grease and use a balloon whisk. Anyway, however you do it, whisk it till you get luscious soft peaks. You’ll want to stick your finger in now and taste a dollop. Go on, you’re allowed.
  4. Stir in a couple of teaspoons of sea salt, and pour in a good glug of whisky. You NEED to taste it at this stage, as you want to make sure you can taste some of the salt coming through.
  5. Pour in more whisky. Why not?
  6. Stir it all up – give it another whisk if it needs it, but you don’t want to whisk it beyond the soft pillowy peaks or you’ll end up with some disgusting butter-like substance.
  7. Spoon it into a freezer proof dish, and pop it in the freezer.
  8. Feel smug as you lick the bowl.

This would be lovely served with a simple shortbread biscuit, or even a caraway biscuit, which it so happens I have a recipe for!

Feel free to experiment and make it with various other spirits which are lurking in the back of our drinks cupboard. And if you don’t want the caramelly flavour, just use ordinary condensed milk.

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Whisking up some smoky, salty, sweet ice cream

 

 

Wild Garlic Pesto

3 Apr
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Wild Garlic Pesto is one of life’s absolute joys. You go out to the woods, pick a handful or two of wild garlic leaves (you’ll know them by their scent) and then come home and whizz them up with some cheese, nuts and oil. And you have just transformed your dull pasta dish.

If you’ve not made it before, you might not believe the pungency of the pesto comes from just those leaves, and that no real garlic has been added.

Anyway, if you’ve just come in from a walk down the woods, armed with your bag of leaves, here is your recipe. If you’re looking for precise quantities and directions, go elsewhere, and probably don’t forage.

Ingredients

  • several handfuls of wild garlic leaves, rinsed well (you know that wild garlic grows below dog-pee level don’t you?)
  • about 100g unsalted nuts (I’ve used walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pinenuts, and a bag of mixed nuts… all are good)
  • about 100g cheese. Parmesan would be traditional, but you can mix it up with another hard cheese, or try a soft goats cheese to mix it up a bit
  • a good glug of oil – I use a mix of light olive oil and sunflower oil, but feel free to use your favourite oil (but probably not expensive extra virgin olive oil as the flavour will just get slapped by the wild garlic)
  • a wee squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Get your food processor out from whatever cupboard you keep it in. You can try making this with a liquidiser, or a nutri-bullet or one of those hand held soup zizzers. Or even one of those mini choppers. But you’ll probably kill the motor in anything other than a proper food processor with a big blade.

Roughly chop the cheese, and the wild garlic leaves. Feel free to roughly chop the nuts too, but you don’t really need to.

Throw everything in the bowl of the processor and press the button.

Keep adding more oil till you get the consistency you like. And taste it to see if you like the balance of flavours. Add more of what you fancy.

Pop in a jar and feel smug.

If you are making industrial quantities of the stuff, get yourself one of those silicone big ice cube trays, and freeze big cubes of the pesto. Once the cubes are frozen you can pop them out into a freezer bag and keep them all year. Then just nuke one in the microwave and through into a bowl of pasta to feel smug all over again.

Miss Morgan’s Butterscotch Sauce

4 Mar

I asked Mum about Miss Morgan a wee while ago, as I only have vague (but good) memories of her. She lived along the road from our house and occasionally babysat for us. I’m not sure why she looked after us, as our usual babysitter was Rachel, who was tall and manly and lived with the wee feminine Emily. Rachel and Emily were sisters; they had loved and lost during The War, and hence lived with one another, or that was what we were told.

Miss Winifred Morgan to my childhood self seemed sweet and kind, but with something more about her, perhaps she was secretly a Miss Marple? The other day Mum said that she had been a nurse and that she had worked in Egypt, possibly training or setting up nursing there…

My most concrete memory of Miss Morgan is her butterscotch sauce recipe. I think she was looking after us over a weekend, and to go with ice cream she taught me how to make butterscotch sauce. This was a revelation – until then I think we only had stewed fruit, or jelly with ice cream. Or on special occasions we would have a tin of fruit salad – but I sense that Mum avoided this at all costs as it would only cause arguments about who got they sole pink cherry from the tin. Butterscotch sauce seemed utterly exotic. And there was unexpected DANGER in making it.

Butterscotch sauce

  • 4oz sugar (just granulated is fine)
  • a scant 1/2 pint of water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 dessert spoon golden syrup
  • 1 TBsp cornflour
  • 2 TBsp cold water
  • 1/2 oz butter
  • a few sultanas
  1. Measure the sugar into a dry heavy based saucepan
  2. Stir over a moderate heat until it melts and turns golden
  3. Now here is the fun DANGER part: take your pan off the heat and pour in the 1/2 pint of water. It will all sizzle and bubble and steam, and then the sugar will seize and solidify on the base of the pan. That’s ok
  4. Put it back on a low heat and stir gently, until the sugar is all dissolved
  5. Add the salt, vanilla, syrup and stir
  6. Mix the cornflour and cold water together in a wee cup or mug, and then pour into the pan, stirring as you pour
  7. Bring back to the boil, stirring all the time, so the sauce thickens nicely
  8. Take off the heat, and add the butter. Stir till it is all melted in
  9. Add the sultanas if you want them. You could also add some rum, brandy or whisky at this stage to turn it into grown up butterscotch sauce.

Pour warm over vanilla ice cream. I’d say ‘the best vanilla ice cream you can afford’ but actually this would be pretty good over any vanilla ice cream, even the cheap stuff. That’s definitely what we had back in the 1970s, if only because that was all there was available at Brydens, our local shop.

Nowadays I guess I would probably sprinkle some salt flakes over the top too, to make it salted butterscotch, making that exquisite sweet-salty combo. I might use a bit more butter too. Just because.

It would also be delicious on warm gingerbread, a bit like a sticky toffee pudding. But I’m just saying that because I have a gingerbread in the oven.

There’s another butterscotch sauce recipe here, a more modern one, probably not created by a wee lady who was probably born over 100 years ago now. And if sweet treats aren’t your thing, why not look through the other delights I’ve been rustling up in my kitchen, here.

A post-Christmas soup

4 Jan

We were given a lot of cheese just before Christmas. When I say a lot, I mean really an awful lot. Almost more than was possible for just the two of us to eat.

It included Grana Padana, Brie, Feta and Gorgonzola.

So I have discovered many things to make with cheese, Continue reading

Quick butterscotch sauce

9 Oct

It’s Autumn. I’ve spent the day in the kitchen, mostly making things with this year’s harvest of pears, apples, tomatoes and chillies. It’s been pure pleasure. And having jars of hot tomato chutney, apple ginger (the amazing toffee apple flavoured syrup), pears, mustard fruit and apple chutney over the winter will mean tasty meals are guaranteed.

For supper tonight I made a pimped up corned beef hash – chillies go in almost everything these days, so I added some chopped chilli in with the onions, and then took a notion to add some fresh tomatoes and some chorizo too. The Captain’s verdict was that it was good, but he prefers it plain. I think I’d have got away with the chilli, but the chorizo was a pimping too far.

Anyway, afterwards I fancied ice cream and butterscotch sauce. I used to make a butterscotch sauce when I was wee – I couldn’t find my old recipe book, and can’t remember it exactly, so had a quick online search to see how I could make it. Most recipes add double cream, and I have none in the fridge, so I kept looking. And once I’d read a few, I headed for the kitchen, and improvised.

Butterscotch Sauce

  • 1/3 cup soft light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • some vanilla essence
  1. Put the sugar and butter in a small pan over a medium heat
  2. Stirring constantly, melt the butter and sugar
  3. Keep stirring and boil it up for a while
  4. Take off the heat and add the milk, keep stirring
  5. Stir in the vanilla essence
  6. Cool slightly and serve with ice cream

You can add sultanas and brandy or rum if you want to zizz it up a bit.

No pictures, because we ate it all.

Lush smoky pepper pesto

28 Sep

I bought a new gadget recently. I’d been vaguely wanting it for a while and then found myself in the cookshop next to Glasgow’s Central Station with some time to spare, and my credit card in my pocket. I didn’t need my credit card though, did I, because this isn’t an overly expensive gadget,

It’s the Kenwood Mini Chopper. Some of you may be aware that I’m a fan of Kenwood, and would loyally buy their products over any other for no other reason than that my mother had a sturdy Kenwood mixer (1962 vintage) which I used when I learned to bake. It’s still going strong, although it gets little use these days (my mother occasionally uses the mincer attachment, because life might be too short to stuff a mushroom or to bake your own cakes in my Mum’s world, but never too short to mince your own meat. Go figure).

Anyway, you’d think that as soon as I got the mini chopper home I’d be chopping everything, wouldn’t you? But no. It just sat there at the edge of my vision for some weeks. And then it went into the cupboard under the drinks cupboard. You’d think that would mean it would never ever get used, but I think I was just waiting for the perfect moment.

My lovely new gadget - Kenwood mini-chopper

My lovely new gadget – Kenwood mini-chopper

I didn’t have to wait for long.

Rick Stein created that perfect moment.

He has a new TV series out, From Venice to Istanbul.  I only caught a couple of the episodes, but it included Paddy Leigh Fermor’s Moussaka, and I was smitten. This Moussaka was made for PLF by his cook, even though he had stated he didn’t like Moussaka. Of course he loved this dish and finished it all off and then asked what it was. Or so the story goes. Anyway, she puts potatoes in the bottom of the dish and whisks up the cheese sauce in a lovely light whippy sort of a way.  Buy the book, it’s great. I did. Of course.

And I discovered this lush red pepper pesto. It’s seriously to die for, and I’m likely to use it in almost everything for the next few weeks, until I find the next thing I love most.

I’m reproducing the quantities for the recipe exactly as I find it, but with my own narrative.

Lush red pepper pesto

  • 660g red peppers (I use those long pointy ones which have such good flavour)
  • 50g tomato puree
  • 1tsp cayenne pepper ( I’ve used sweet paprika instead)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 30ml olive oil
  1. Cut the peppers into big chunks and place them skinside up under a super hot grill till the skins are blackened. You may need to do this in batches
  2. As soon as they are blackened, pop them in a bowl and cover with cling film, till they are cool(ish)
  3. Using your fingers (there really is no other way to do this) slip slide the skins off the peppers and pop them in your mini chopper
  4. Add all the other ingredients and zizz to your hearts content.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea if I have made this with 660g of peppers or not. I’ve used a couple of peppers with about an inch or two of tomato puree squeezed out of a tube, a good shake or three of paprika and a healthy old glug of olive oil.

Smoky roasted peppers ready for zizzing

Smoky roasted peppers ready for zizzing

Zizzing!

Zizzing!

 

And what to do with this mixture? Well here are some suggestions:

  • mix it with mayonnaise and make a dip for crisps, chips or crudites if you’re doing the healthy thing
  • add it to any tomato-y stew or ragu to give an additional depth
  • spread it lightly on sourdough bread, and then add goats cheese
  • make sweet wee canapes with teeny tiny oatcakes, chicken liver pate and a wee dollop of this on top
  • mix with yoghurt to make a salad dressing
  • use it like a pesto
  • make savoury muffins, once you’ve made the batter add 2/3 into each muffin case, then add a dollop of red pepper paste, then add the final 1/3 of batter. Cook as usual. This works brilliantly with these Parmesan and Courgette Muffins

Cheesy courgette muffins with red pepper surprise

Cheesy courgette muffins with red pepper surprise

Macarons – easier than you’d think

23 Sep

Chocolate orange macarons

Chocolate orange macarons

When I was wee we called them macaroons, but I’m going with the zeitgeist and will refer to them as macarons. Whatever you call them, they are the most scrumptious light almondy sweetie bonbons you will ever come across.

I always had this idea that macarons were tricky to make, that they wouldn’t rise properly, that they would just be too solid and not light and airy like they should be. Or that they’d be dry and crunchy instead of deliciously softly moist.

So, what changed my world view of macarons? Firstly it’s that I love them, and wanted to be able to make them. But mostly it was getting chickens. And then once we had so many eggs, I started making my own mayonnaise. And once you make your own mayonnaise you have a plentiful supply of egg whites. And I don’t like meringues much, so macarons were the obvious solution.

Don’t you love your life when macarons are the obvious solution!!

Basic macarons

  • 175g icing sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 75g caster sugar

To make these properly you need a few bits of kit. For starters, a food processor. You know, the kind that whizzes round and round and chops everything up really fine. You’ll also need a piping bag with a large plain nozzle. And your life will be a whole lot easier if you have either a food mixer too to whisk the egg whites.

Before you start, get your piping bag ready with the right nozzle in place, and prepare your baking tray (I line mine with non sticking baking parchment, but you could use rice paper, or a re-useable silicon mat).

  1. Combine the icing sugar and ground almonds and pop them in the bowl of the food processor. Whizz it briefly. Well not too briefly, get it all a bit more powdery and mixed together
  2. Put the egg whites into a scrupulously clean bowl (any hint of anything greasy and you will have a FAIL), and whisk them until you have soft peaks. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar, and get it all glossy and thick and gorgeous. At this stage I whisked in a few drops of orange essence.
  3. Now get yourself a big metal spoon (or a spatula) and fold half of the sugar/almond mixture into the egg whites. Once they are combined, add the remaining sugar/almonds and fold them in to make a light smooth mixture. Don’t over mix or you’ll lose all the air, but try to get rid of all the lumps.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the piping bag and pipe even sized circles of macarons mixture onto your baking tray.
  5. Turn the oven on: 140C or GM3.
  6. Now leave the tray of uncooked macarons at room temperature for about 15 minutes so the surface dries out ever so slightly.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool still on the tray.

Macarons out of the oven

Macarons out of the oven

Make the chocolate orange filling…

  • 50g good quality dark chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted
  • zest of an orange, and some orange juice
  1. Melt the chocolate
  2. Beat the butter, and add the icing sugar and orange zest. Keep beating
  3. Fold in the melted chocolate and mix together
  4. Mix in some orange juice or cointreau if you want an adult version – enough to make the mixture just squidgy enough

You know what to do now.. spoon (or pipe) some chocolate orange filling onto half of the macarons. And pop a second macaron on top of each, to make lovely macarons sandwich. YUMMY.

 

 

 

Hot tomato chutney

4 Sep

Jars of goodness

Jars of goodness

I sowed a few tomato seeds this year. And miracle, of miracle, most of them grew. They grew slowly, mostly because it’s been colder than usual all year, but they grew. And now I have a LOT of tomatoes.

I get my seeds from The Real Seed Company, which you should go visit if you have any interest in growing your own vegetables. They encourage you to save your seeds year on year, which if we all did, then they’d have no business. But mostly I don’t. And anyway, they have crazy unusual varieties of things, often from far flung parts of the world, and they have new seeds each year. I grew a Russian melon one year (I figured if it could grow in Russia it might just survive our Scottish summer) and this year I chose Grushovka and Urbikany bush tomatoes. The Urbikany comes from Siberia, and the Grushovka sounds like it’s of Russian extraction too. Anyway, so far I’ve picked 7.4kg of tomatoes, so I’ve been eating quite a lot of my favourite tomato salad: panzanella. It’s got that perfect balance of flavours and textures, and also uses up 2 or 3 day old sourdough bread (if any ever gets to be that age in our house!).

I’ve been making my super tasty tomato sauce (to use on pasta) which I’ll share with you later.

But for now… Another of my favourite tomato recipes is my hot tomato chutney. It’s super-easy to make and is the perfect accompaniment to cold meats or cheese. In fact when I’ve got a jar of it in the cupboard, it gets added to almost every sandwich, or salad platter. It’s just sweet enough, and just hot enough, with that lovely tang of sharpness too.

I’ve been making it for years, so don’t really know why it’s taken so long to add the recipe here. Anyway, here we go:

Hot tomato chutney

  • 1.8kg tomatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 6 red chillies
  • 450g caster sugar
  • 1TBsp salt
  • 300ml vinegar (malt, or it works well with a mix of red wine and cider vinegar)
  1. Peel the tomatoes. You know how to do this, right? OK, here’s how I do it. With a wee sharp knife, just nick the skin of each tomato, you don’t need to go through all the flesh, just break the skin. Now put a full kettle on to boil, and pop some of the tomatoes into a big heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling water over the tomatoes. Leave them for a wee minute, and then, using a holy willie spoon (that’s a slotted spoon), take a tomato out, and using your fingers, peel/slip the skin off the tomato. Repeat. And repeat and repeat again until all the tomatoes are peeled.
  2. After you peel each tomato, roughly chop it straight into a large pan. It’s easiest just to do this while holding the tomato in your hand, over the pan, so you catch all the juice into the pot. Or chop them on a plate, so you catch all the juice and then just sloop the whole lot into the pan.
  3. Now, chop your onion, into small and even sized pieces and add this to the pot.
  4. Chop the chillies into teeny wee bits, and add them to the pan. If you only want a gentle heat, leave out the membrane and seeds, which are the super hot bits.
  5. Add the caster sugar and salt to the pot.
  6. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring as you go.
  7. Now simmer it for an hour and a half. Yes, an hour and a half. You should stir it occasionally, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, but you don’t need to hover over it all the time. Go read a book. Or water your tomato plants. Or whatever.
  8. Now add the vinegar to the pan, and stir again
  9. Bring it back to the boil and boil it, stirring occasionally, for 10 – 15 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when you pull the spoon across the bottom of the pan, and it does a sort of “Moses Parting the Red Sea” thing, with the chutney ‘holding back’ and not immediately all slooping back into the base of the pan. You might not understand what I mean until you see your chutney doing it. But really, this is the best test I know for readiness of this chutney. If you weren’t simmering it on a hot enough heat earlier, this stage will take way longer than 15 minutes, which is fine. Just make sure it boils down enough to get that glossy look, and to ‘part the Red Sea’ or it will end up too runny and a bit rubbish.
  10. And that’s it. It’s ready to pop into sterilised jars. You’ll probably fill about four 350ml jars, and it will keep for around 4 months. It might keep for longer, but I’ve never had any last that long.

And, if like me, you have a glut of tomatoes, make lots of this. And tie pretty fabric squares to the pot lids, with a ribbon, and there you have your first homemade Christmas presents of the season.

Mini oatcakes with cheese & chutney or ham & chutney. You choose.

Mini oatcakes with cheese & chutney or ham & chutney. You choose.

If you ‘re interested in more of my recipes, have a wee look here, and see if anything else inspires you. There’s all sorts from how to poach the perfect egg (spoiler: start with a perfect egg) to Christmas Cake for people who don’t really like Christmas cake. Go have a mooch.

The greatest thing since sliced bread…

1 Jun

Freshly baked home made bread

Freshly baked home made bread

Bread. I love the stuff. But it’s the real stuff that I love, the sourdough, the slowly-risen loaf. It doesn’t seem right that commercially produced highly processed loaves, made by the intensive Chorleywood process can even be called by the same name. They just are not the same thing. So, the greatest thing sliced bread is…. unsliced bread. Naturally.

Rant over. Probably.

Bread. When I think of eating bread, I think of friends, of sharing it, of tearing off great chunks and dipping it into olive oil & balsamic vinegar, of making slices of toast and spreading them with butter and marmite. And sometimes peanut butter too. Of my father, sitting at the head of the table, and cutting the bread, then spearing the slice on the point of the bread knife to pass it to your plate.

And all this sharing with friends is appropriate: the word companion literally means ‘with bread’ from the Latin ‘com’ (with) and ‘panis’ (bread).

I’ve been a baker for years, but most of my baking was biscuits and cakes and scones and traybakes, basically things without yeast. And then we started using the bread machine. Unlike many bread machiners, we used it 3 or 4 times a week, and with a bit of trial and error, and the purchase of some super-tasty stoneground flour, we started making really amazing loaves. I occasionally made a loaf by hand, but not so often.

I bought lots of books, made sourdough starters, killed sourdough starters when I forgot to do anything with them. And replaced the bread machine, three times. (Yes, we used it so much we wore it out).

And then I bought the best bread baking book: James Morton’s Brilliant Bread. He writes easily. Or perhaps he doesn’t, but it reads easily. His explanations make sense, and help you understand why you are carrying out each process. And he starts you off with the easiest bread in the world – it needs no kneading. It takes up so little of your time to make it. And it tastes delicious.

I’ve adapted it slightly, to make use of my sourdough starter, which gives it a wee bit extra flavour and chewiness, which I like.

A few things before we start:

  • this recipe requires NO kneading. It is easy peasy. You have no excuses not to make it
  • buy a set of digital scales. They aren’t terribly expensive but they will repay you every time you use them, and quite possibly will change the way you bake (in that you can weight things directly into any bowl or pan, rather than into the bowl provided with the weighing scales)
  • use the biggest bowl you own; if you don’t have a really big bowl, consider buying one
  • procure a shower cap – the ones you get free from hotels are fine, in fact perfect. Using this, and re-using it over and over again, is much more sensible (and easy) than using cling film

After proving, ready to bake

After proving, ready to bake

There are other things you might want to buy if you really get the bread-baking bug, but wait a while to see if you get it or not. Otherwise you’re going to end up with an unused proving basket in your cupboard, which will just annoy you (instead of giving you these lovely ‘flour rings’ on a loaf).

The best white bread (and it’s easy)

  • 500g strong white flour (I use a stoneground from Bacheldre Mill, it’s lovely and comes in big 16kg bags if you get the bug!)
  • 10g salt (see why you need digital scales)
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 330g tepid water
  • a good dollop of sourdough starter (about 50g)
  1. Put the flour in a big bowl
  2. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl
  3. And the salt on the other
  4. Keeping them on their own sides of the bowl, mix them in with your fingers and then make a slight well in the middle
  5. Pour in the water, and add the big dollop of sourdough starter
  6. Now, using your hand like a paddle, mix all the ingredients together, until they are all combined
  7. Cover the bowl (with a shower cap if you have one, with cling film if you don’t) and leave it for about half an hour
  8. Go off and do something for a while; I recommend watering your tomatoes in the greenhouse, if you have any. Or reading the magazine section of the Sunday paper
  9. Now, take the shower cap off the bowl. Wet your hand under a tap, and keeping your hand a bit like a paddle, put your hand under one side of the dough and scoop it up, folding the dough over itself.
  10. Twist the bowl a quarter of the way around and do this again. Repeat several times, going all around the bowl, and round again. You should notice that the dough feels much smoother, slightly silkier than it did half an hour ago.
  11. OK, once  you’ve got it back in a nice wee lump in the middle of the bowl, pop the shower cap on again and leave it for a couple of hours at room temperature.
  12. Just get on with your life, and ignore the dough.. it’ll do its doughy thing quite happily without your interference or worry.
  13. This time you’re going to need a wee bit of flour and either a proving basket (if you’ve got the bug) or your baking tray. Prepare the proving basket / baking tray by dusting it with flour. Dust your table or board with flour too.
  14. Now scoop the dough out of the big bowl onto the floury surface. You’ll see that there are lots of bubbles within the dough and that it feels a bit like a balloon full of water, sort of squishy, but not really squishable.
  15. Try to work relatively quickly with the dough… Make it into a sort of brick shape, and then pull it at each end and fold those ends over into the middle, and squish it down a bit. It might be a sort of round-ish shape now. Squish it in the middle and pull it at the ends to make an oblong brick again. And pull those ends out and over into the middle again to make a round. Do this another couple of times if you want, or not if you’re bored by now.
  16. Place your dough on the baking tray (or into the proving basket) – either make it a nice round ball shape, or a sort of oblong.
  17. And walk away and leave it, for an hour or two, depending how warm your room is (the warmer the room, the less time it should be left). The dough is now ‘proving’ which just means that it is rising again – the wee bubbles in the dough are expanding and the gluten in the flour is nice and elastic now, so it’s stretching, and holding those bubbles in place. You want the loaf to almost double in size, but don’t fret if it hasn’t
  18. Heat your oven to GM7 / 425F / 220C. And when I say heat it, I mean switch your oven on a good 10 minutes before you pop the loaf in the oven, to make sure the bread goes into a properly hot oven. If you want a scrummy crust, put a dish of water in the bottom of the oven, to create some steam.
  19. Before you put the bread in the oven, cut a slash in it, which will allow it to stretch as it rises again in the oven. For a round, you can just do a cross on the top, and for an oblong try a long cut down the middle and then diagonal cuts on each side, like a leaf, or a feather. The cut doesn’t need to be deep, just cut through the skin of the dough.
  20. Bake for about 40 mins.
  21. Place on a baking tray once it’s cooked, and try not to slice it and eat it till it’s cool.

Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Top tips

  1. Complete up to stage 11 in the evening, and then pop the dough in the fridge with its shower cap on. It will be quite happy overnight in the fridge instead of 2 hours at room temperature. The next morning, start from step 13.
  2. If you have a proving basket, use a really liberal dusting of flour before you leave the dough to prove in it. Once it’s proved, turn it out onto the prepared baking tray, and slash its top and pop in the oven.
  3. Use semolina or polenta instead of flour on the baking tray
  4. Increase the volume of sourdough starter, and reduce the water slightly
  5. Don’t worry about timings at all – if it’s left for 4 hours instead of 2 it will probably be fine

Want to see more recipes? What about making some lemon curd to spread on your home made bread? Or imagine how good it would be with home made chicken liver pate?

All my recipes are here: SheWolfInTheValley.

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