Saturday, 28 March 2009

Experimenting with Barley and a big thank you to Trevor

chewy & moist barley bread

after the first 14 hours in the fridge

and then I knocked it back!

30 minutes rising in the warming cupboard, just before baking

the verdict? delicious.

This bread was inspired by Trevor Vibert, a fellow bread-baker who gave me lots of great bread tips, including the idea of using barley. I'm not sure if this is what Trevor had in mind, but I found some barleycorn flour at my local supermarket and decided to experiment with barley bread. The barleycorn mixture consists of wholewheat flour, barley corn and seeds. I added a handful of cooked pearl barley that I was intending to use for a sweet potato, chickpea and tomato stew (am on a bit of a veggie kick at the moment) and the end result? A rustic wholemeal loaf with a fabulous malty flavour, chewy interior and extra crisp crust.

Will definitely be making this one again, so thank you Trevor ;-)

  • 500g barleycorn flour
  • 300ml cold water
  • 1 sachet fast-acting bread yeast
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • handful cooked pearl barley
  • seeds of choice (I like linseed and sesame but use what you have)

Basically the same as the spelt bread from a few days ago, except this time with a couple of minutes of kneading. Mix all the ingredients together, adding enough water to make a wet-ish dough, not too runny though. It should come off the sides of the mixing bowl whilst not being hard as a brick.

Knead for 5 minutes either in the bowl, or if you're feeling energetic, on the kitchen counter. This is a superb way to built strong upper arms and also to release any latent tension you might be experiencing! I happened to be listening to Marvin Gaye whilst kneading, highly recommend you do the same.

After kneading, cover the dough in the bowl with cling film and place in fridge. Leave overnight, preferably up to 18-24 hours. After about 14 hours I removed the dough from the bowl (you can see how big the mixture became before I knocked it back in the photo above) and sculpted it into a loaf shape to place in the bread tin. Cover again with cling film, this time spreading a bit of oil on the side of the cling touching the dough (this keeps the dough from clinging to the cling, so to speak) and then return to the fridge for another 4-8 hours, depending on when you want to bake it.

When you're ready to bake the bread, take the dough out of the fridge and allow to rise in a warm place for 30-45 minutes. I placed it in a warming cupboard where we keep linen and towels, don't place it in a tumble dryer as I once did when I was very young (I forgot the basic premise of the tumble dryer in that it tumbles. My Mamma was not impressed)

About 10 minutes before you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 220C. Place the bread in the oven when it reaches this temperature and then reduce the heat to 200C after 10 minutes. This, I've probably mentioned before, gives the bread extra ooomph.

After 45 minutes-1 hour, the bread should be golden-brown, and if you give it a tap the crust the bread should sound hollow. It should also feel lighter than when you placed it in the oven...

Once baked, the bread will keep a couple of days. I made it yesterday and can attest to its moistness today - great with butter and honey, or with lashings of that sticky black stuff, Marmite. I imagine cheese would also be a fine match too.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Breaking of Bread...

Scandinavians famously love good bread. I mean LOVE good bread. We're rather guilty of extolling the superiority of our wonderful bread culture whilst sneering at the stuff which passes for bread over here. Or at least I am, but then I'm also very particular and nothing quite puts me in as bad a mood as chewing fruitlessly on Anglo-Saxon bread that has hardly any flavour, let alone texture.
Thankfully Britain is replete with real bread - you just have to know where to find it. I was in Bristol last week and had some of the tastiest wood-fired sourdough bread I'd ever eaten at the wonderful Lido restaurant. A really great example of chewy, flavoursome bread with an irresistible moistness on the inside and lovely thick, almost charred, crust on the outside. Perfect dipped in olive oil and nothing else.

Meanwhile back in London, La Fromagerie's a great haunt for bread-lovers, and I was reminded of how magnificent their bread-selection (not to mention their cheese, produce, and condiments!) is when I went to a springtime Scandinavian dinner they co-hosted with Trina Hahnemann, author of 'The Scandinavian Cookbook.' Fromagerie do a great job promoting bread made without preservatives, enzymes or any weird chemicals. All you need is some unrefined flour - preferably wholemeal, a generous splash of water, yeast, salt and maybe a pinch of honey or sugar. And some crunchy seeds! Easy as pie, or bread if you will. 

So in the spirit of real bread I slow-fermented a spelt dough in my fridge and left it for 18 hours before baking it today. This recipe's adapted from one I found in Xanthe Clay's food column in the Daily Telegraph, and I've cited the link above. 

Known as "3-minute spelt bread"  the recipe couldn't be easier - no kneading, no fussy shaping of the bread into an elaborate wreath or baton. Just mix the ingredients, stick in the fridge overnight and bake the next day. 

When you've baked it, just eat a slice on its own, or with a sliver of good butter. That cult-condiment Marmite always goes well with wholemeal bread I find, as does cheese, jam, gravadlax, mackerel in tomatoes, sweet and salty anchovies and soft-boiled eggs....OK, am getting carried away - the Scandi nostalgia's really kicking in!

Seriously though, nothing beats good bread.

  • 500g spelt flour
  • 480ml cold water
  • 2 sachets fast-acting bread yeast
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (not a pungent, extra virgin one though)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  • an assortment of seeds such as sesame, pumpkin, linseed and sunflower for sprinkling on top

All you do is combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, then add the water, stir using a large spoon for a minute or two to form an even dough, then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate until you're ready to bake the bread.

When you're ready to bake, remove the dough from the fridge, and re-shape into a loaf tin. Cover again and place in a warm spot for 30 minutes so it springs back to life. Preheat the oven to 220C and place the loaf in the upper-middle shelf of the oven, and after ten minutes turn the heat down to 200C (the extra heat adds a bit of lift to the dough), if you want to get a really great bread crust you can throw a few tablespoons of water on the bottom of your oven before shutting the oven door. It's a nifty trick, I forgot to do it. I also forgot to add any seeds to the top, but that's not the end of the world.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, checking the bread is ready by tapping it underneath - it should sound hollow. Take the bread out of the tin and place back in the oven for a further 5-10 minutes, this gets the whole bread nice and crisp. 

Eat whilst warm, sharing with friends and loved ones. After all, what is the breaking of bread if not the pinnacle of commensality?

p.s. there's a great new bakery called Peter's Yard. They're a Swedish bakery based in Edinburgh but you can find their most excellent crispbread at specialist delis, and of course at La Fromagerie. Look out for them, they're definitely one to watch as Scandinavian food conquers the world ;-)

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Spiced Sour Cream Cake with Apple & Cinnamon

This apple cake was a case of "arghh! what do I make with bramley apples festering in my fridge?" actually, the apples were fine, but I really had a hankering for apple cake and decided to use up some odds and ends from the cupboard and fridge to make this German-style coffee cake. Bramley apples have a mouth-puckering tartness to them so I just sliced them up and added a drizzle of fructose and cinnamon to take the edge off their crisp acidity.

The wholemeal flour gives a lovely nutty flavour, though the cake dried out a bit the following day, so I'd probably modify the recipe slightly next time and leave out the bran after sifting. Otherwise it's a straightforward recipe and the cake's rather delicious if I do say so myself :-)

  • 100g self-raising plain flour
  • 100g plain wholemeal flour (will decrease this to 75g next time and leave out the bran)
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 175g light brown sugar
  • 180ml half-fat sour cream
  • 70g butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking bowder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large Bramley apple, peeled and sliced into moon-shaped slivers (see photo) I made an apple compote out of the other apple. Next time would probably use 1 1/2 apples in the cake

Preheat oven to 180 C

Lightly grease a 22cm cake tin (you could use a 20cm which would make the cake taller)

In a large bowl, whick the eggs with the brown sugar un
til fluffy (5-8 minutes should do it)

Add the sour cream, whisk a bit, then sift in all the dry ingredients. Swirl the melted butter through the mixture, then using a large metal spoon make figure-of-eights in the mixture until all the dry ingredients are incorporated into the liquids (see below)

Pour this gently into the cake tin, and scatter the apple pieces on top - you can make a pattern if you want I just placed them randomly (depends how much of an aesthete you are). Sprinkle a bit more cinnamon over the apples and then place the tin on the middle shelf of the oven.

Bake 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out dry.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Lemon Drizzzzzle cake

After spending the better part of this sunny Monday marooned in the library I absconded myself from the mountain of anthropology reading and spent a happy couple of hours baking.

Lemon drizzle cake is a real treat - I don't make it enough, though I love that lemony tanginess and the crunch from the inclusion of poppyseeds. This recipe's from Jamie Oliver's 'Red Nose Recipes' booklet available at Sainsbury's supermarkets. The booklet's in aid of Comic Relief, an annual tradition in this country when money is raised for charitable causes during a day of pranks, high jinks and tomfoolery - hence the 'comic' element ;-) The idea behind Jamie's booklet is to bake or cook something for Comic Relief Day, which takes place - rather inauspiciously - this Friday the 13th March.

So in the spirit of Comic Relief I decided to try one of Jamie's recipes and this lemon sponge cake caught my eye. Who doesn't love citrus-flavoured cakes and citrus fruit? A happy marriage methinks, and in this particular case I've adapted the recipe to make it gluten-free. Frankly the result is better than a sponge made
 with wheat flour, but that's entirely up to you. Use what you have in your cupboard.

Jamie's recipe calls for self-raising flour, and all I did was substitute this with nearly the same quantity gluten-free self-raising flour (if using the latter, drop the quantity by approx. 10% compared to regular wheat flour as gluten-free has a tendency to dry out more than wheat flour). Admittedly gluten-free flour doesn't always produce amazing results when baking, but this recipe called for a large quantity of ground almonds so the flour really is there to act as a binding agent, thus isn't the integral element of the cake. I wouldn't make scones, bread or pastry with this flour as the texture might be mealy or chalky. Anyway, I figured it was worth risking chalkiness in the name of experimentation, and thankfully the result's a success.

Don't be put off by the list of ingredients below - you need a lot of lemons, that's all. The cake's super-easy to make and so tangy it's worth the little bit of effort, and with all that syrup it should keep for a few days. 


  • 115g softened butter
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 180g ground almonds
  • 30g poppy seeds
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 115g self-raising gluten-free flour, sifted (original recipe called for 125g)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
Lemon syrup
  • 60g fructose (fruit sugar) instead of Jamie's original 100g caster sugar
  • 60g lemon juice (basically juice of 1 lemon)
Lemon Icing
  • 175g icing sugar (originally 225g icing sugar...far too much!)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly oil a 20cm diameter round cake tin.

Using an electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each one. 

Fold in all the remaining ingredients and mix til even. Spoon the mixture into your cake tin and place in middle shelf of the oven and bake 40 minutes:

Check the cake's ready by inserting a skewer or toothpick - if it comes out clean, with no wet mixture on it then the cake's done. Allow to cool while making the syrup. All you do is place the lemon juice and fructose in a small saucepan and on a low-moderate heat allow the fructose to dissolve, then turn up the heat for a minute or two until the liquid reaches a light syrup consistency (you don't want a gloopy syrup...)

While the cake's warm, pierce it lots of times with the skewer and then drizzle the syrup over, allowing to soak into the cake. I kept the cake in the tin while I did this as otherwise you'll have syrup all over your kitchen. Keep pouring, be patient. Don't let the cake stay in the tin for too long though, otherwise the syrup will form a sticky glue to the tin!

Finally, sift the icing sugar in a bowl, add the lemon zest and juice and mix thoroughly until the mixture resembles a paste (or a loose face mask), then spoon this on the cake. If it's really a loose consistency, add a few tablespoons of icing sugar to thicken the icing, but I found I just needed to spoon it slowly over and over again the same spots on the cake and then finally the icing set - am loathe to add any more icing sugar than absolutely necessary, it's the lemon flavour I'm after!

And that's it, the lemon drizzle cake is ready for scoffing ;-) Now go and make one this Friday and raise some money for a good cause...

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Nina's Passionfruit Brownies

A short posting on these birthday brownies I made for my pal Nina, who - like me - has a penchant for passionfruit. These brownies are dark, fudgey and guaranteed to lift the spirits on cold February days. Though thankfully we've entered March so I won't complain about how awful February was (I mean seriously, it was cold!)

The recipe was adapted from Nigel Slater's "very good brownies" in his Nigel Slater's Diary book, I simply halved the recipe and threw in a few passionfruit. You could of course add walnuts or other fruit such as raspberries, pears...

Makes 12 brownies

  • 125g dark chocolate (70% if possible)
  • 125g butter
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 40g self-raising flour
  • 2 medium eggs + 1 extra yolk
  • pinch salt
  • seeds and pulp of two passionfruit

The beauty of brownies is in the ease of preparation. There's no method per se, just chuck everything together and bake for 1/2 hour til they're done.

Preheat oven to 180C. Place some greaseproof paper in a 18cm square baking tin. 

Over a saucepan of simmering water, place a heatproof bowl and in this bowl put the butter and chocolate. Allow to melt, then take off the heat and add the sugar, stirring til incorporated, and add the eggs. Sift the flour, salt and cocoa powder into this mixture and stir again,  finally adding the passionfruit pulp. 

Bake on middle shelf of the oven for 1/2 hour - the brownies are done when you insert a skewer and there's some dense crumbs left on the skewer but no gloopy, wet mixture.

Allow to cool 1 hour before cutting into pieces, or eat the brownies whilst warm :-)

* if you want to make brownies and freeze them for future use, double the quantity here and freeze what you don't eat immediately - great for when you need an emergency dessert at a dinner party or just when you need something uplifting on a rainy afternoon