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.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

With knobs on

I'm always excited when I see skate knobs on sale, so bought a bag of them in Beckenham yesterday. Then had to think about what to do with them. How about a fish stew, maybe with some mash? I had various veg I needed to use up, and a couple of salmon fillets that have been in the freezer too long.

2 fairly small leeks, trimmed and sliced into rounds
1 large (as shallots go) shallot, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
3 skinny carrots, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped; save the green leaves
1 parsnip, cut into blades
1 small head of fennel, chopped
1 red chili (fresh from my backyard - yes, I'm still harvesting chilis in December) chopped
400 ml fish stock
about 500g skate knobs
2 salmon fillets, diced
salt as necessary

In a large pan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Fry the onion, garlic, carrots and celery until soft. Add the chili and fish stock and let everything simmer for 15 minutes. Add the parsnip and fennel and simmer for another fiive minutes. Verify seasoning. Add the skate and salmon and simmer for another five minutes until cooked. Chop the celery leaves and sprinkle on top, letting them wilt a bit.

Serve with mash made with a spoonful of mustard. If you're feeling poncy you could call it a deconstructed fish pie.

This would probably serve four people. But the other three would have to armed to get close to it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Seedy rolls

Another influence of the Great British Bake Off on me here. One of the challenges is always to create a set of things - they might be iced buns, cupcakes or mini-pies - and one of the objectives is to get uniformity: they should all look the same. Some people are naturally good at this. I'm not, and therefore I think they are dull automatons, while I am a free spirit. Your rules can't bind me, man.

But it's something I ought to try, and as bread's my forte, baking a tray of rolls seems the best way to look for my inner zombie.

I've used a seedy mix, as follows:

250 g strong white flour
50 g whole rye
100 g strong wholemeal
10 g red malt flour
5 g salt

20 g poppy seeds
20 g sunflower seeds
30 g pumpkin seeds
20 g sesame seeds

with 300 g water and 5 g dried yeast. A fairly quick rising - pre-toasting the seeds made the mix quite nicely warm.

So I had about 700 g of dough and decided to use around 100 g for each roll. Yes, reader, I weighed each roll to a tolerance of plus or minus 10 g. At first I thought I'd do knot rolls, but then decided to do spirals. Uncooked they look, let's say, unfortunate. So I egg-washed them and added more poppy seeds. Oh, and I took two of the lumps and made a three-strand plait. I'm so wild and crazy.
Here's the result. Eggwash always makes bread look better, doesn't it? But look at the two rolls at the front. One spirals this way; the other that. It's left-handed. (Left handed-ness in bread rolls is clearly a recessive gene; of the four spiral rolls, only one expresses it.) I didn't even think of this when I was rolling. And I can't say it's free-spiritedness; it's just that I revert to universals too quickly: a spiral is a spiral. Will I ever have an eye for detail?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pain d'épi

My imaginary girlfried Lorraine Pascale inspired me to do this: french bread in the shape of an ear of corn. It's surprisingly easy to form. You just form a baguette with the proved dough, then snip flaps with scissors at regular intervals and fold them in alternate directions.

I used a basic french bread dough - half and half plain and strong flour, no oil, not much yeast, and a fairly quick rising and proving. It took about four hours from start to finish.

It's probably not going to be the best bread I've baked - it's too quick for that - but it's definitely a proof of concept and I will certainly try this again for a special occasion.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Love life loaf and be happy

Waitrose's new range of "love life" products seems a bit confused. Alongside the wholegrains and pulses, there's a selection of ready meals. One product that caught my eye was this: a wholemeal flour with 11.5% mixed seeds (millet, poppy, linseed) and some other grains. Protein is high, at 16.3%, but a lot of that is down to the seeds.

It's attractive packaging, I think, combining a homespun simplicity with sophisticated colours. So I bought some. What kind of bread does it make?

My first attempt was disastrous. I didn't take any photos and wouldn't publish them if I had. I made a basic dough, using fast action yeast and about 65% hydration, but left in the fridge overnight, which probably isn't a good idea.  The dough never really came to life and when I baked it, in a cudgel shape, it rose very unevely with a big cavity in the middle. I also underbaked it. I think I'm just not used enough to wholemeal baking.

So I tried again, substituting strong white flour for about a fifth of the flour, again using fast action yeast but with normal rising times. Here's the result. Believe me, it's a lot better, but I can't get excited about the taste. I guess it's the seeds: linseed still doesn't do it for me, and the poppy seeds aren't making a big impact. Maybe I've just got so used to the flavour that a long slow rising with old-fashioned dried yeast gives.

Waitrose do a couple of similar seedy flours, and I might try one of them, but I think it will be better to carry on adding seeds etc to my own specification.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Black peppery rye

My first go at a Dan Lepard loaf is his Black peppery rye bread. It's a bold combination of ingredients, using coffee as the liquid, and black pepper as one of the ingredients. I followed the recipe almost to the letter (using fennel seeds), the only difference being that I turned down the oven to 190 after 15 minutes. And I think I should therefore have increased the baking time to 45 or 50 minutes, as the bread's a bit underbaked and doughy.

I'm not sure I like the taste. For me there's a bit too much pepper. Lepard recommends eating this with soft cheese or smoked salmon. I've tried it with some goat's cheese, and that's ok, but still a bit too peppery. I'm not sure the coffee's actually doing anything

There's another couple of faults in my loaf. First, for some reason it's split a bit at the base. Second, the internal structure is slightly marked by the rolling process; here and there it looks a bit like a swiss roll.

But it's a pleasant even texture, and I guess it could be my basic rye bread. Without the coffee and the pepper, though.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Short and sweet

I once had to describe myself in three words for an application form for a quiz we were applying for. I chose the words short and sweet, because it's true, but also because I liked the swank of "wasting" one of my words on and. We didn't get onto the quiz.

Anyway, Dan Lepard has now used the phrase for a manual of baking, with which I hope to exploit my Great British Bake-Off enthusiasm. (The series ended last night, with a victory for sweet, sweet Jo, who pipped the original favourite, Holly. Although Jo's very nice, I like the tinge of steel and ruthlessness in Holly. She'd be a more interesting companion, if interesting is what you like.)

It's a proper cookbook too, with general, slightly theoretical advice prefacing each section (bread, cakes, biscuits ...), detailed, trustworthy-looking recipes, and a nicely rationed supply of photos (maybe one every 6 recipes). Once I get started I hope to be publishing the results here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Seedy bread for beginners

A seedy bread that people who don't like seedy bread might like.

10g cumin
10g linseed
10g poppy
5g sesame
all dry fried     

400g strong white flour
50g wholemeal rye flour
4g salt
5g sesame oil

300g water
4g dried yeast

It was a mild humid day: this mix rose well between 1130 and 1530. Into the oven at 1700: 15 mins at 200C then 25 at 180C. Turned out nice: a light crumb, a bit of crunch in the crust, and a slightly subtle flavour (though cumin dominates).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A better balance

Still trying to perfect the seed-heavy loaf, I think I've got a better balance with this loaf.


20g sunflower seeds
20g poppy seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
15g sesame seeds
(all lightly toasted in a dry pan)

400g strong white flour
50g wholemeal rye flour
6g salt
2 tsp red malt flour
a splash of rapeseed oil

300g water
pinch sugar
3g dried yeast

I used an overnight fridging, and am very pleased with the result.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Seedier still

There are probably people who object to the term "beef up" as carnivorist. Nevertheless, beefing up is what I've tried to do to the seedy bread recipe in my last entry, especially now I've got some linseeds. The experience has only convinced me that Lepard's original recipe is impossible.

250g strong white flour
100g wholemeal rye flour
50g strong wholemeal wheat flour
4g salt
about 20g sunflower oil

50g sunflower seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
20g poppy seeds
50g linseeds

250g water
pinch sugar
4g dried yeast
10g red malt flour

I started this on 26 July at 11:30, dry toasting the seeds and adding them to the flour, then, when it had cooled a bit, adding the liquid. Unsurprisingly, it was a stiff horrible mix, but I thought adding more water would make it worse. So after about ten minutes kneading I put in in the fridge for a long rest

On 27 July it was still pretty sluggish, so after it was back at room temperature, I kneaded it again, and left it overnight at room temperature (probably around 16C).

Yesterday it had risen, so I kneaded it again. I added a little water as the surface had inevitable dried out a bit. It still was difficult, but formed into a plausible bloomer shape. It then took about four hours to prove and finally at about 16:00 it was ready for the oven: 15 minutes at 200, then 30 at 180. And here's the partially eaten result.
It's no doubt very healthy, but it's pretty joyless. It's like the classic Cranks offering: virtuous but dull. I think I could have added more poppy seeds: it would improve the flavour. I've a feeling I don't like linseeds; a problem because I now have quite a lot of them. And for anyone with false teeth this would be a nightmare.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Heavy with seed

Based on a recipe by Dan Lepard in yesterday's Guardian magazine, I set out to create a heavy seedy bread.

The seeds
As well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds, Lepard uses linseeds, but I didn't have any of those. He also uses 100g of each, which strikes me as madness, so I used:
40 g pumpkin seeds
40 g sunflower seeds
20 g sesame seeds
10 g poppy seeds

His brilliant suggestion is to toast the seeds. He used an oven; I used a dry frying pan in batches, until the seeds were slightly browned.


Meanwhile I was activating 4g of dried yeast in 250g of water with a tiny pinch of sugar. These days I mix any malt flour in with this water - it tends to clump in the bag, and this ensures the clumps are dispersed. I used 10g of red malt flour and 2g of diax. Lepard uses 2 teaspoons of fast-action yeast. I kind of thought this dough will need a long rising to develop useful amounts of gluten, so stuck with my normal practice.

Lepard uses 250g rye flour out of a total of 400g, and only 75g strong white. No way, matey!

150g strong white flour
80g strong wholemeal wheat flour
160g wholemeal rye flour
4g salt

All this mixed up and left to autolyse for about half an hour. I then attempted to knead it, but it was too dry and there was too little gluten. It tasted really nice though. I decided to leave it overnight in the fridge. It would at least make lovely duck food.

Today, it still looked a bit horrible so I added some water and made a more successful attempt at kneading. Then let it rise at room temperature, and the yeast had obviously begun to stretch the gluten. After about four hours, it looked like proper dough. I kneaded it fairly lighly and put it into a tin (lined with baking parchment - I'm not sure that was necessary). It came up to about 1cm below the top of the tin.

Within two hours it had risen to about 1cm above the tin, and I guessed it was ready to go.

Into the oven - my new combination microwave oven, which is clearly more efficient than the built-in one - at 200C for 10 minutes, then 180C for 30, out of the tin for the last five.
Here it is. I can't imagine what it would be like with 300g of seeds in it, or with 250g of heavy rye flour. But this is surprisingly firm - I mean it doesn't fall apart - and obviously tasty.

Friday, May 20, 2011


I finally found the German Baker's van in Forest Hill last week. It doesn't help that the details are wrong on the website. The stopping point is actually, unsurprisingly, beside the Dietrich Bonhoeffer church, and most of the customers were German. Most of the bread seemed a bit rye-heavy, again unsurprisingly. I bought a loaf which I'd guess was around 30% rye. It was nice enough but not endearing. What was endearing was a loaf described as "containing bumpkin seeds", which has inspired me, and I'm pretty happy with the result.

400g strong white flour
50g wholemeal rye flour
10g red malt flour
50g pumpkin seeds
4g salt
3g diax

Using 300g water, 6g of dried yeast and a tiny amount of sugar.

Now I'm not sure how much is due to the diax and how much to the sugar, but this dough rose really quickly. I'm also not sure how much diax I should be using. The packaging says around 1%, while online I've seen 0.1% quoted. I suspect I'm still using too much, which results in a doughy central crumb. Too much starch-to-sugar conversion weakening the structure?

On the other hand, I think the crust on loaves I've produced with diax is better. This recipe is nearly there. The taste is lovely.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I've started using a new ingredient: diastatic malt flour, or diax, from Bakery Bits. As I understand it, you could describe it as a natural flour improver. Malted barley is ground to a powder, but not heat-treated, so it holds on to the enzymes (mainly amylase) that are involved in the sprouting. Amylase is the enzyme that breaks long carbohydrate chains in flour (starch) into sugar, which the yeast can then eat. Adding diax means that there are more enzymes around, so the yeast can get to work quicker. It's a replacement for adding sugar, and I suppose the advantage is that more of the starch in the flour gets broken down, with good consequences for flavour.

The first time I tried this, in a plain white loaf, I messed up the cooking, so I'll pass over that. I decided to use the diax and a couple of other new ingredients from Bakery Bits to try to produce a granary style loaf.

390g strong white flour
10g red malt flour (2.5%)
3g diax (0.7%)
30g malt flakes (7%)
4g salt

220g water
3g dried yeast

Same-day mixing, rising, proving and baking. A photo will follow, but the bread is quite heavy compared to the best of this kind of bread. Should have used more yeast, I think. And I probably should have used more malt flakes. Hovis Granary flour has 17% malt flakes, so I was a long way off that. I also wonder if it would help to soak the flakes first. So, some tweaks to be made.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Basic white bread

I've been neglecting this blog, but the other day I found half a loaf I'd frozen sometime last year. It was simple white bread, obviously proofed in the banneton, rather flat and soft in the crust, but it was absolutely lovely. So yesterday I set out to remake it, guessing at the original ingredients.

Dry ingredients
400 g strong white flour (Waitrose)
4 g salt
10 g rapeseed oil

230 g water
5 g dried yeast

All mixed and autolysed for 15 minutes or so, then kneaded and left in the fridge overnight. A quick second kneading and proofed in the banneton, dusted with rye flour. A diamond slash pattern, a few smoked salt crystals sprinkled on top, and into a 220 oven for 40 minutes.

It's simple but very good, and so I'm putting this recipe into the reference section of this blog.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stout bread

I've made this bread using half a bottle of beer. Which seems like a good idea, but wooh! it puts the price up. Most decent beer costs around £2 a bottle, so this technique adds a quid to the price of a loaf, and so is an expensive way of vapourising a unit of alcohol which could be usefully engaged in the destruction of my liver.

500 g barleycorn flour
4 g salt
5 g fast-acting dried yeast
250 g Bath Ales Dark Side stout
50 g water

I don't often use fast-acting yeast, but wanted a quick rise as I was planning to use the oven for a rabbit pie as well. I probably should use it more, but generally speaking I think the effect of really slow rising is worth the wait.

So, here it is. I used eggwash and a dusting of oats. The stout has resulted in a darker than usual crumb, and the taste is there, but quite subtle. I don't usually do subtle.  I wouldn't do this everyday - I still prefer to drink beer - but for special occasions it'd be worth it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Heston's Pea and Ham Soup

On Friday, I made pea and ham soup using Heston Blumenthal's recipe for Waitrose, more or less.

Here's a summary.

Prepare some mint oil by blanching mint, then liquidising it with "grapeseed or groundnut oil".

Fry shallots, garlic and bacon in a little butter. Add vegetable stock and simmer. Add the defrosted peas and some more butter and immediately liquidise. Sieve, then add more peas and some pulled ham hock.

Serve the soup with a drizzle of the mint oil.

There are features about the recipe I don't understand. First, why does he defrost the frozen peas "completely" before using them? I didn't. Did that ruin the dish? Then, why blanch the mint? I thought this might be for health reasons - to kill any bacteria before the mint is put in the anerobic environment of the oil - but it just seemed to blanch out the mint flavour. You'd be worried about those bacteria if you were going to keep the oil for long, but not, like here, when you're going to use it straightaway.

Anyway, it was very tasty and generally faffless. The weak point was the mint oil, which really didn't add anything. Someone on the Waitrose site has suggested using minted yogurt instead, and that sounds like an improvement to me.

I haven't got a photo. The colour wasn't as vibrant as in the Waitrose photo, probably because of the stock I use. Home made, using quite a bit of onion skin, it's obviously too dark for this purpose.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I don't believe I haven't made pitta before - at least not for many years. It's such a useful bread to have around: you can use it as an accompaniment to any sloppy main course, and a filled pitta is probably a much more convenient package than a normal sandwich to take out. Maybe it's the fact that there's a decent Turkish food shop and bakers near me, whose pittas always used to be really good.

150 g plain flour
100 g very strong white flour
2 g salt
160 g water including a tiny amount (around 1 g) of dried yeast

All this mixed up at midday yesterday. The tiny amount of yeast meant a long - overnight in the fridge - rise, and at noon today I rolled the dough into four pieces, and let them prove for 20 minutes before 20 minutes in a very hot oven.

The one on the left came out about 5 minutes before the others - that's why it's less brown, but it was also softer and moister, which may be more like pitta should be. There's a good case for slightly undercooking them, so they can be toasted immediately before use later.

I can't remember what I was thinking to use so little salt. There should be more. I also think a slight amount of a darker flour would help the taste- maybe 10% wholemeal. But they are of course as nice as any you'd buy from a supermarket and I'll work on the refinements.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


See this woman? Lovely or what? She's Lorraine Pascale, currently fronting a cookery series on BBC2 called Baking Made Easy.

Unsurprisingly, she used to be a model, but when that career was coming to its end she looked around for other jobs and decided to go into food. You get the impression she always loved eating and cooking - to the extent that life as a skinny model must have been really difficult for her.

She rose to attention on the back of the cupcake boom with her shop Ella's Bakehouse in Covent Garden, but I first became aware of her when on Twitter about a year ago she promised to give £1000 (I think it was) to the Haiti earthquake appeal if she got 1000 (I think it was) followers. So I followed, expecting to unfollow once the target was reached. But she scuppered that plan by making the donation anyway. She seemed nice, so I stayed following.

And, confounding our expectations of someone who used to be a model, she is nice. Very friendly and inquisitive, with an infectious enthusiasm. But what I hadn't expected is how well she comes across on tv. Obviously the camera loves her, but she has bags and bags of simple charm, including a way of breaking eye-contact with the camera that suggests a certain shyness. And her style is warm and supportive - she'll say that perfection isn't necessarily important, and that a little variation if you don't have all the ingredients is fine.

Last night's show included sun-dried tomato palmiers, and that's what I've attempted today. The recipe really is easy; the only real work was in chopping up the tomatoes. Here's the result. Obviously my food stylist is on holiday but they are tasty little morsels.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Oats and honey

One of the nicest loaves I made for Christmas was a 100% kamut loaf. I really like that flour - it has a light texture and a lovely sweet nutty taste. But it is relatively expensive. So what happens if you use it as part of the mix? Another thing I've been wanting to do is use oats in the mix. So here's the possibly over-complicated list of ingredients:

140 g kamut flour (ie the amount left in the bag)
230 g very strong white flour
50 g oats
4 g salt

300 g water
3 tsp honey
1 tsp dried yeast

I mixed all this up using traditional kneading, and let it rise near a radiator for 5 hours (which, for me, is almost instant). Knocked back and formed into a bloomer, which I proved for 45 minutes. Slashed and sprinkled with more oats then into a 240C oven for 15 mins then 220C for 25 more. I used a tip from Lorraine Pascale and put ice cubes in the tray below the shelf, to give more lasting steam. It's also quite a bit safer than splashing water around!

Here's the result. It's got the typical kamut colour, but I think the most striking thing about the bread is that it's a bit too sweet. Less, or no, honey would have been better. There's also a bit of a split along the sides near the base, which might mean it didn't prove long enough. But the texture seems fine and I enjoyed eating those first two slices. Will probably match strong cheese pretty well, or something saltier, like taramasalata or tapenade. I'll try tomorrow.