Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jamaican patties

I've been trying to develop my skill with pastry these last few months. It obviously requires a different set of techniques, but I think I'm getting there. Certainly all that breadmaking has, I think, given me a feel for flour. So here's the latest in a line of attempts at a Jamaican pattie. Makes 8 patties.

250g plain flour
30g rice flour
half a tsp turmeric
pinch salt
70g vegetable fat
70g butter

I use a little rice flour to give extra crumbliness. I haven't seen this used in any other pattie recipes online. Crumbliness = fragility, though, so if you were making these for carrying on a bike ride, for example, you might want to use all plain flour. You make the pastry as normal and stick in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

250g minced beef (I used "lean" mince with 10% fat. Probably 20% would be better, for a moister result)
half an onion, finely chopped
1 tbs of finely chopped carrot
half a scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped
2 tsps of Dunns River curry powder
some thyme
two chopped spring onions (although in this context we should call them scallions)
a little oil

Fry the onion and carrot until soft. Add the beef and brown. Add curry powder, pepper and thyme and cook for a while. Lastly stir in the scallions, salt to taste, and allow to cool. You could have all sorts of variations on this, of course. Dunns River curry powder, although described as hot, isn't.

While it's cooling, get your oven preheated to 180c. Get the pasty out of the fridge and your rolling pin out of the freezer.

Divide the pastry into eight equal pieces, and roll each into a disc of about 15cm diameter. Use a saucer to trim into a perfect circle. Do all the discs in one go, piling them up with a sprinkling of flour to keep them apart. (Previously, I had shaped then filled, then shaped and filled. It gets messy.)

For each disc, put a tablespoon of the meat mixture in the centre. (It's quite surprising how little filling each pattie has.) Brush the rim with water, fold over and crimp and pierce with a fork. Arrange the patties on a greased baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes. Some recipes say you should use an eggwash. That doesn't seem authentic to me, but try if you like.

I don't think I've got the seasoning quite right yet, though. It could do with more cumin, and allspice, perhaps.

But it's nearly there!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sourdough I'm fairly happy with

Well, here it is: the best loaf I've yet baked with sourdough.

It's made with 300g white flour, 50g rye, about 50g wholemeal and about a tablespoon of the wholewheat starter mixed with about 240g water. About 5g of salt. I forgot to add any sugar.

The dough sat sullenly after kneading for a couple of hours, but then after a couple more hours, it was clearly alive and rising. It caused a surprisingly happy feeling in me! After a gentle knocking back, I let it rise in the banneton (you can see the rings) for only about an hour. Following on from what I said in the last post, I think the secret is to recognise the feel of the dough - its springiness  - in judging when it should be baked.

It was a fairly stiff dough so, as you can see, it took slashing very well, and rose more or less evenly during the bake. I think those irregular holes are just about inevitable with sourdough. Aren't they?

The wheat starter gives a much less sour taste than the rye, so this is a bread you could give to children. I slightly overbaked it; it's a little bit dry, but is still, more than 36 hours after baking, acceptable.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Last time I tried to raise a baby sourdough starter, I detailed its progress in these pages, so that everyone was able to see it stagger towards an untimely, fart-smelly death. This time, I've kept quiet, but I'm glad to announce, now they're both weaned, that I have raised two healthy starters: one rye and one wholewheat.

Both were surprisingly easy. I did the rye one first, mixing equal weights of flour and water, and feeding daily for a week. I used an old piccalilli jar, and the big difference with last time was that I kept the lid on. Obviously this kept away the fruit flies that flocked around my earlier attempt, but also I found that initially the starter had a pickly smell, despite how carefully I had cleaned the jar and lid. By the end of the week this was overwhelmed by the boozy smell of yeast. I then moved the rye starter into another jar, and started a wholewheat starter in the piccalilli jar. Again, an initial pickly smell gave way to a proper yeast scent. I have no idea if the traces of pickle helped, but it's quite possible!

So, I have two kinds of starter. They're both now living happily in the fridge, getting fed once or twice a week. The rye starter looks and smells better, if I'm honest, but both are quite young (about a month) and will I'm sure mature.

Using them, though, is quite different from using commercial yeast, and I'm still  learning.

(1) As expected, the sourdough yeast is weaker and slower, so dough needs a longer rise. On the other hand, it seems that during rising the bacteria in the starter, which are quite acid, break down the structure of the dough, so that it becomes wetter, and can look a bit uncooked in the centre after baking. It's a similar effect to using too much Diax - diastatic malt powder - which I've stopped using at all.
(2) so this means you can't - as with commercial yeast - subsitute time for temperature. I think the acid action works at any temperature, so if you leave a dough in the fridge overnight, the destructive acid has its fun all night long while the yeast is more or less sleeping. The dough rises, but then has no structure for baking.
(3) and if you try to add more sourdough, to get more yeast into the dough, you risk making the final loaf unpleasantly sour.
(4) So, you need to rise the dough at a decent temperature, to reduce the time
(5) and you need to use less sourdough starter than some recipes suggest. I'm using about 2 tablespoons for 400g of flour
(6) and it may well be a good idea to mix the starter into the liquid, to ensure that it's evenly distributed among the flour
(7) and adding a teaspoon or two of sugar to the liquid will help the starter on its way, and give a colour to the crust that might otherwise be lacking.
(8) It's important not to overprove the dough. Don't expect a similar rise to what commercial yeast will give. A 50% rise is the best you can expect.

These are some of the lessons I've learned so far. Generally, it's clear that sourdough baking is a more skilled endeavour than baking with commercial yeast, and I'm not there yet. But at the best, the results have been encouraging, and as the starters and I develop our powers, the bread will get better. So that one day, I may even post a photo of a finished loaf.

Friday, June 22, 2012


There's an urban myth that if you go into any big supermarket and ask nicely at the bakery counter they'll happily give you a lump of fresh yeast. I've never met anyone who'd done this, and I don't have the nerve to try it. But I've found a much more expensive way of getting fresh yeast, which does at least work. The Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School sells it online. Price is £3.95 plus postage of around £3 for a block of 500 grams. I imagine the cost is all to do with the preparation and that the wholesale price is a lot less. I ordered on Tuesday, the yeast was dispatched on Wednesday, I received it about 10 on Thursday, and by 2 pm I had this cooling on the table:  The yeast variety is Hirondelle, which is what my very local baker, Cooper's Bakehouse, uses. There it's described as "a slow-acting, gentle yeast". I probably used too much yeast, as it rose very quickly, but it's an impressively light half-wholemeal loaf. Next time I'll use less and give it a longer rise, so that the flavour develops better. But I'm very pleased and I now have enough fresh yeast to last me a few months. Some is still in the fridge, and I've frozen quite a bit of it in manageable lumps. It arrived in good condition in a huge amount of thermal insulation. So, if you want fresh yeast, this is something you could try. 500g is a hell of a lot for a home baker, though, so I'd suggest if you can find someone to share with, do.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Leek and walnut pie

This was an improvisation, and could be tweaked no doubt.

1 fat leek, the white part, sliced into rounds
1 fairly large shallot, finely chopped
some cubed pancetta - half of one of those twin packs Waitrose sell
2 small cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
a handful of shelled walnuts, lightly chopped
some stock (I used the liquid from boiling chick peas)
about a tablespoon of plain flour
salt, pepper, a little allspice
some mashed potato

In a big saute pan heat the oil and add the pancetta, shallot and garlic. Fry gently until the shallot is soft.
Add the leeks and let them get hot.
Add the flour, stirring it into the oil. You might want to add some butter.
Before the flour goes brown, add the stock, and mix it into the flour. Keep stirring for a while. You're basically making a white sauce.
Season creatively and add the walnuts.
Let it all cook for about 10 minutes, adding more stock if it looks too dry.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180c and prepare your mash.
Put your leek mix into a pie dish and dump the mash on top. Decorate it artistically with a fork, then bake for about 20 mins until the mash has browned a little.

Allow to cool a little before eating. If you can stand to wait, let the pie cool completely to room temperature and eat it with some kind of salad. (It was much nicer like this).

Possible tweaks would include leaving out the pancetta and adding cheese somewhere along the line.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Duck food

I was reading about brewing the other day and was interested to discover the concept of the amylase rest (see this page on Wikipedia). Before the yeast is added to the mash, there's a stage where the mixture of water and malt is held at around 70C to allow the amylase enzymes to have a party. It's their favourite temperature, and so they quickly break down the starch molecules into smaller, sugar molecules, which the yeast can then turn into alcohol and CO2.

This seems like a good idea. I've already used autolysation, where you let the mixed dough rest before you knead it, but that was at about 40C at best. You can't go much higher because you'd kill the yeast. So what happens if you mix flour and water, bring it up to 70C and hold it there for a while?

(I mixed 200g of strong white flour with 200g of water at 70C, and then put this in a bowl over an saucepan of hot water on a low gas. The temperature of the mix initially fell, of course, but rose to nearly 70 before I turned off the gas and let it stand for 20 minutes. I'd expected it to be longer, but it was obvious that big effects had already happened. )

The short answer is that you get porridge. The texture of the dough is distinctly different from usual, and it's noticeably sweeter, which is what we want. So I added about 170g more flour, 100g water and half a teaspoon of dried yeast, and 3g salt. Kneaded this all together then let it rise. It didn't rise well, but looked ready for baking so I formed it into a pain d'epi shape and baked at 240 for 45 minutes.

Readers, it was a disaster. Doughy on the inside, but crisp of crust (all that sugar!) it was inedible for humans. Now I know why I've never seen this technique mentioned. Something crucial to the structure of bread is lost. The shivering ducks in Ladywell Fields loved it though.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Three-bearded rockling

Do you like rockling? Don't tell me you don't know, you've never rockled. I saw some rather attractive fish at Blackheath market this morning, so asked the stallholder what they were. "Three-bearded rockling" he said. "We don't normally sell them, but use them as bait. I've never eaten one but I know people who have, who say they're just perfectly fine white fish." This wasn't convincing me, but then he said "They're a pound a fish", so I bought one.

Got home and looked in Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall's fish book. Not a mention. On the web, hardly anything. Safest, I thought, to take off the fillets and shallow fry them, with a bit of seasoned rice flour coating.

And they are perfectly nice white fish. A fairly soft and open flesh, and a surprisingly good taste. And the head and bones will make a super stock, I'm sure.