Category Archives: recipe

Me, Nigel the Starter, and our relationship advisors

I know, it’s cutesy, but after a year and a half I’ve decided my sourdough starter (based on Dan Lepard’s recipe in The Handmade Loaf), needed a name. Nigel has a personality of its own (yes, still an it, as its yeast and bacterial cells are genderless): fragrant and sometimes a bit sluggish, but it always provides a tasty loaf, even if I stray too far from advice and slap something together experiment.

My relationship with Nigel has also been assisted expertly with the support in real time of Dan, Azelia and Joanna, among others. They’ve helped me think about flours and other ingredients, proving, shaping, and slashing, about how to swaddle the dough in warm weather so that it doesn’t lose the will to grow strongly, and how to fit bread-baking in with my life rather than let it take the reins. They’ve provided fabulous examples for me to emulate. And most of all they’ve kept me from being discouraged by the mistaken belief that I simply lack the chops to make beautiful, delicious bread. Lots of other folks, too, provide encouraging oohs, aahs, RTs and Likes when I send pics around on Twitter and Facebook, and my husband Andrew happily eats everything that comes out of the oven.

Nigel has expressed interest in travelling and its offspring have flown as far as Tilburg, The Netherlands, where they’ve set up housekeeping with future celebrity chef Luc. It’s possible it’s now travelled as far as Toronto; I’m waiting for an update from one of its guardians.

It turns out baking is not so much about chops, at least in any inherited sense; it’s about passion, persistence, luck (occasionally) and knowledge. See? I can do this! (After the pics, I’ll share my recipe.)

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This recipe combines features of two others that I love: Dan Lepard’s Crusty Potato Bread from The Handmade Loaf, and Pain de Campagne from William Alexander’s 52 Loaves (a terrific read about the quest for the perfect sourdough loaf). The key elements are, from Dan’s, honey and some grated potato, as well as Dan’s standard kneading-and-resting method, and from the other, mostly strong white flour with a bit of wholemeal and rye, and a smidge of yeast. Flour geeks: would you believe the spring these got from Hovis extra-strong *British* flour? I had no idea!

My only regret with the loaves above was that after shaping I refrigerated them on baking paper atop a baking sheet (I must’ve been thinking of bagels) and the baking paper stuck. Fortunately I was able to scrape the dough off the paper without deflating it, and dough held its shape for the rise, but with a wetter dough it would’ve been a huge mess. Next time, I’ll go back to the tried-and-true floured-cloth-in-a-bowl-or-basket method.

Sourdough Peasant Bread

200 g levain at about 90% hydration
1 1/2 tbsp honey
290 ml room-temperature water
400 g strong white flour
60 g wholemeal bread flour
30 g rye flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp yeast
small potato, scrubbed but not peeled, grated

Mix starter and honey in water. Weigh and combine flours, salt, and dry yeast. Add water-starter mix to flour and combine well, turning the mass onto a clean work surface if necessary to incorporate all the flour. Cover and set a timer for 10 min while you tidy up the kitchen or check Twitter. Knead/fold for 10-12 sec. Repeat 3 times.

Shape the (now smoother) mass into a ball and put in a lightly oiled bowl; cover with cling film. At this stage you can either leave it in a 20-25ºC kitchen until it’s grown in volume by about half, or put it in the fridge for longer.

Divide the bulk-proven dough into two halves and shape it. For this recipe my shapes approximated a batard and a slightly-off boule. Rub rye flour into a linen cloth to line a basket or bowl, and put the shaped dough in seam-side-up. Wrap loosely with cling film. Again, you can prove in the fridge overnight, or leave at room temperature for a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 200ºC, for about 45 min if you are using a bread stone of some kind. Dust with flour, then slash with a sharp, cerrated knife to about 1 cm in depth. Bake until well-browned, about 40 min.

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Rugel-what?

All raspberry to the right, raspberry plus chocolate and nuts on the left.

Rugelach. The ‘ach’ is as in ‘Bach’, though the a is a bit shorter. Anyway, not ‘atch’ as in ‘batch’. Challah is another word pronounced with the slightly gutturalized ‘h’ sound, as opposed to ‘ch’ as in ‘chips’, but challah is from Hebrew while rugelach is from Yiddish and…

Oh, sorry, I got distracted there; what is a rugelach? It’s a sweet, a biscuit, a cookie, of Eastern-European Jewish origin. A rugelach is rolled like a wee croissant; it’s a rich dough – often based on cream cheese and butter – filled with all the sweet stuff you can find: jam, chocolate, sugar, dried fruit, cinnamon, some nuts maybe, with a bit more sugar sprinkled on top, just to make sure. The dough itself is not very sweet, though, so it balances the fillings.

This recipe is from Dorie Greenspan, with minor changes; I’ve adapted the measurements for the UK, but the original, with US measurements, can be found here. It’s also in her book Baking: From My Home to Yours.She also includes currants, but when rolling mine up I found there was already plenty of stuff in there for the tiny cookies to hold.

Traditional Rugelach

Dough

115 g cream cheese, cold, in chunks

115 g unsalted butter, cold, in chunks

125 g plain flour

1/4 tsp salt

Glaze

1 large egg

1 tsp cold water

2 Tbsp coarse white sugar

Filling

225 g raspberry jam, apricot jam or marmalade. (I recommend a low-sugar, high-fruit style of jam or preserves.)

2 Tbsp caster sugar

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

50 g chopped nuts: walnuts are traditional, but pecans or almonds are also fine

115 g 80% dark chocolate, finely chopped

Makes 32 small cookies.

TO MAKE THE DOUGH: Let the cream cheese and butter rest on the counter for 10 minutes — you want them to be slightly softened but still cool.

Put the flour and salt in a food processor, add the chunks of cream cheese and butter and pulse the machine 6 to 10 times. Then process, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, just until the dough forms large clumps, not until it forms a ball on the blade. It should, though, stick together when you squeeze it.

Turn the dough out, gather it into a ball and divide it into two approximately equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disk, wrap them in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day. (Wrapped airtight, the dough can also be frozen for longer periods.)

TO MAKE THE FILLING: Heat the jam in a saucepan over low heat, or do this in a microwave, until it melts. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

TO ROLL THE RUGELACH (this is the fun bit): Pull one dough disk from the fridge. If it is too firm to roll easily, give it a few bashes with your rolling pin, but don’t be afraid to lean on it.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an 11- to 12-inch circle; the dough will be about 1/8″ thick. Brush a *thin* gloss of jam over the dough – too much and it will leak out and burn or get stick-to-your-teeth chewy – and sprinkle over half of the cinnamon sugar. Scatter over half of the nuts and half of the chopped chocolate. Cover the filling with a piece of wax paper and gently press the filling into the dough, then remove the paper and save it for the next batch. This will help keep the chopped nuts from getting lost.

*This is a good time to preheat the oven to 175°C .*

Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 wedges, or triangles. (The easiest way to do this is to cut the dough into quarters, then to cut each quarter into 4 triangles.) *Starting at the base of each triangle*, roll the dough up into a crescent. Arrange the rolls on a baking sheet, making sure the points are underneath the cookies, and refrigerate. Repeat the steps above with the second disk of dough, and refrigerate the cookies for at least 30 minutes before baking.

TO GLAZE: Stir the egg and water together, and brush a bit over each crescent. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake the rugelach for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets if necessary, until cookies are puffed and golden. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks and cool to room temperature.

STORING: You may want to use sheets of baking parchment or grease-proof paper between layers of rugelach in a tin or in the freezer to prevent them sticking together and breaking. They can be kept covered at room temperature for up to 3 days. or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.

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Free food from nature: Apple-cheddar pie

The house we rent has the most miraculous apple tree. Last year, we harvested buckets and buckets of huge red-green apples. They grew so tightly on the branch that, in removing one, three or four more would fall to the ground. There were too many even for the worms to keep up with. At the end of the harvest, though, the gardener came by and pollarded its branches back to the quick and, I’m sorry to say, this year there were no apples. I’ve been obsessively monitoring and scavenging other peoples, and finding ways to use any and all that come to me so as not to waste the resource (although I understand that returning to the soil and providing food for animals are also legitimate uses of the resource). It helps that it’s the Jewish New Year, for which, at least in the Eastern European tradition, eating apples is auspicious for a round and sweet year to come. And I enjoy the English pride in local heirloom apple varieties, similar to what I grew up with in the northeastern US, and with some overlap – but I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of tasting all the colorfully named fruits.

One of my favourite ways to eat apples is with sharp cheddar. I’d be happy to make a daily habit of lunch consisting of alternating slices of apple and cheese. But variety is good, too, and baked goods are another perfectly good way to eat up a glut (whatever that is) of apples and, if you’re so lucky, cheese. Hence this pie, based on Williams-Sonoma’s recipe. I like to use a good Canadian or Welsh cheddar as many of the cheaper English varieties have a certain flavour-note that I don’t get on with. Fortunately my mother-in-law’s tree was heaving with apples this year, so when we brought her back to Cambridge – with a bucketful – it seemed like a good opportunity to try the recipe which, while a bit long and fiddly, benefits from the detail.

With its crisp, flaky, cheesy crust and melting apples, this pie did not last long.

Apple-cheddar pie

Ingredients:
For the dough:
315 g (2.5 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
170 g sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
225 g (2 sticks) frozen unsalted butter, cut
 into 1/2-inch dice
75 to 120 ml (1/3 to 1/2 cup) ice water
For the filling:
1.75 kg (3.5 lbs) cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut
 into slices 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 lb. Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored 
 and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cream

Directions:
Dough:
In the food processor bowl – without processing, yet – add the flour, salt, sugar and cheddar, breaking apart any large clumps of cheese. Put the diced butter on top and put bowl in the freezer for 10 min.

When the mixture is chilled, return the bowl to the machine and pulse until combined, about 25 to 30 pulses. Add 1/3 cup of the ice water and pulse twice. The dough should hold together when squeezed with your fingers. If it is crumbly, add 1 Tbsp more water at a time, pulsing twice after each. Divide dough in half and shape each half into a disk. Wrap the disks separately in cling film and refrigerate for a good hour or more; the dough is much easier to work with if quite cold.

Filling:
While preparing your apples, have lemon juice ready in the bottom of a large bowl, and toss the slices in the lemon juice as you go along. Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, and stir to combine. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Rolling out the bottom crust:
While the apples etc. are macerating, remove one dough disk from the refrigerator. Flour a smooth work surface. Peel back the cling film partway, and place dough on the work surface. With the cling film on top, roll the dough into a 12-inch round about 3/16 inch thick, evening out by hand any uneven edges. Scraping it up if you need to, drape the rolled-out dough onto your rolling pin; transfer it to an ungreased pie dish and press into the dish Trim the edges if needed to leave a 1/2-inch overhang. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F).

Filling, continued:

Reduce the apple/lemon juice as follows, to produce a glaze for the apples: Remove the juice by draining apples through a sieve over a small saucepan, then transfer the apples to a large bowl. Heat the juices over medium-high, add 1 Tbsp butter and cook until reduced to 1/3 cup, 3 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the apples and toss to combine, then stir in the reduced juices. Transfer apples with juice to the pie shell.

Rolling out the top crust:
As above, roll out the remaining dough disk into a 12-inch round about 3/16 inch thick. Drape the dough over the apples and press gently to eliminate air pockets. Trim the dough flush with the rim of the dish. Fold the bottom crust over the top crust and squidge the top and bottom together as decoratively as you’d like; I did it with my fingers. Cut slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to escape. Brush the top of the crust with the cream.

Bake for 20 minutes at 200°C. Cover the edges and top with aluminum foil if they begin to get too dark. Reduce the oven temperature to 175°C and continue to bake until the apples are easily pierced with a knife and crust is nicely browned, 65 to 70 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours before serving, or eat warm, with poured cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Bagels, part 2

We’re getting close now. This recipe is worth trying, and making your own. Made with very strong flour and less water, they’re chewier inside, retaining a crispy crust when fresh. Relative to my earlier recipe, based on that of Jo Goldenberg of Paris, these are less sweet. I also tried malt syrup in the dough as well as in the water, and didn’t like the colour or flavour. So, plain old table sugar it is. In addition, these bagels need less yeast because they rise in the fridge overnight once shaped. This makes them easier to manage in the boiling process, and a slow ferment is always good for flavour.

And more on upping the chewy-factor: Normally, for pretty much any yeast bread, I use the Dan Lepard approach to kneading, i.e. 10 seconds of kneading followed by 10 seconds of rest, in three cycles. In this case, however, continuous, serious kneading seems to be necessary to maximize the gluten, possibly, too, because the dough is drier. So it’s a good recipe to make if you enjoy getting your back into it, as well as, eventually, your teeth.

Finally, it has some sourdough starter in it, mostly for taste, so it doesn’t have to be terribly active. My starter began with a couple of tablespoons of yoghurt for the bacteria. Whether or not that makes my bagels dairy, after many generations with no further yoghurt added, is a question for the rabbis, but there are perfectly good starters with no yoghurt in their history, too.

New York/Boston-style Bagels

450 g very strong white flour
150 g active sourdough starter
250 ml warm water
1/2 tsp dry yeast
2 Tbsp honey (or sugar)
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp malt syrup (or sugar, or treacle) for boiling
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 egg white+1 Tbsp water for glaze

Toppings: poppy and sesame are most traditional; nigella, caraway seeds, onion or garlic bits and sea salt are other possibilities – or all of the above: the Everything Bagel.

Combine flour with dry yeast, sugar and salt; stir with a fork. Dissolve starter in warm water and add to flour mixture. Stir till combined and let rest for 10 minutes.

Turn dough out onto smooth surface and knead vigorously for 10 minutes. Dough should be on the dry side at this point. When dough is very smooth and springy, put it in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in volume.

Divide risen dough into 8 or 10 equally sized pieces and form into tight ball shapes. Let these rest for 10 minutes, then form your bagels thus:

–       Roll a ball into a snake shape about 6 inches long, its ends somewhat tapered.
–       Wrap the middle of the snake around the tops of your fingers and pull and pinch the ends together between your thumb and fingers.
–       With the bagel still wrapped around your fingers, roll the joined bit back and forth on your work surface to seal the join.

Put the formed bagels on baking paper (parchment) on a baking sheet with at least half an inch between them. Cover securely but not tightly with cling film (plastic wrap) and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat oven to 210°C. Take the bagels out of the fridge and let them rest while you get set up for boiling, decorating and baking. They don’t have to be completely warmed up to be boiled, however. Now is a good time to mix your egg/water glaze and set up your seed toppings.

Set a medium-to-large pan to boiling. Add sweetener and bicarb. Once the water boils, turn it down until the surface is just barely moving. Add 2 or 3 bagels to the water, flip them after about half a minute, and continue to simmer for half a minute more. Scoop out and remove to a clean tea towel. Be gentle, as they will be quite soft at this point; a big slotted spoon is good for this task.

Brush the boiled bagels with egg glaze and sprinkle with seeds to taste.

Bake for about 25 minutes in the middle of the oven. About halfway through baking, flip the bagels over to prevent excessive flattening of one side.

Update: My friend Azélia gave me a hint on the sweetener: apparently honey improves the texture of the dough, and it seemed to be the case the last time I tried the recipe substituting it for sugar. They came out smoother and shinier. Malt syrup, used in some traditional recipes, apparently has the same function, but I found it gave the bagels a misleading brownish colour given that they were actually made with white flour, and anyway honey is something most people are more likely to have around the house.

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Scones. Just scones.

Real flour from a working water mill.

As skeptical as I am of the whole royalty thing, I felt I had to watch the wedding today, if only to join in the general Twitter levity – which was fun. And then, this afternoon, I had the urge to make scones, which I hadn’t done in over a year. Shocking, I know, given how much I like them.

I started with a recipe from Houghton Mill, a National Trust property just outside St. Ives in Cambridgeshire, where we’d stopped on a recent walk with friends. We’d nodded and smiled briefly at the mill itself but were famished and tucked right into their cream tea, with scones made from the mill’s wholemeal flour. Of course, I bought a bag of it, and the nice people there also insisted I take free packets of vegetable seeds, which I was happy to do.

The original recipe called for cream of tartar, which – too tired to figure out the substitution – I went out and bought, and margarine, for which, naturally, I subbed in butter. The scones were pretty tasty, a worthy showcase for their flour, with raspberry jam and cream.

Houghton Mill Whole-Wheat Scones

275 g whole-wheat flour
125 g plain white flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
75 g chilled butter, diced
50 g sultanas
300 ml milk (replace a little of the milk with lemon juice to make it sour, or use buttermlk)

Flour lightly a nonstick oven tray. Heat oven to 200°C. Sift together flours, aking soda, cream of tartar. Rub in margarine with your fingers. Add milk and mix to stuff dough. Roll out on a floured board to 3 cm thick and cut out with a large pastry cutter. Brush the tops with milk and place on baking tray. Let stand for 15 min then place in centre of oven for 15 mins. Remove and cool on rack.

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Dad’s plum torte

There were far too many choices for baking with plums in the past week or two. First, @Dan_Lepard tweeted what appeared to be his first recipe in the Guardian, a cobnut and plum tart. Then @Zebbakes sent around a link to a lovely recipe for stone fruit yogurt cake with plums (based on one of Dan’s) in her blog. The next day, Nigel Slater’s single-crust plum pie appeared in the Observer Food Monthly. Meanwhile I had bought a kilo of the things at the Cambridge market. Where to begin?

I couldn’t decide, and was busy making other things, so the plums sat in the fridge until today, when I remembered a favorite recipe of my father’s that he had emailed me once, and that I had never made. In the end, guilt and family loyalty won, but I think both were worth it, and it really was easy. Here’s his recipe, which he adapted from one in the NY Times; I’ve added in a few metric equivalents.

Plum Torte

1 cup (200 g) sugar, maybe a little less
1/2 cup (60 g) sweet butter (ordinary salted butter will do)
1 cup (110 g) unbleached (plain) flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla (I’ve been using vanilla bean paste for everything these days, really good stuff)
pinch salt
2 eggs
~24 halves pitted purple plums (mine were bigger than Italian prune plums, so I used fewer)

topping: sugar, lemon juice (or brandy), cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

1. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the flour, baking powder, vanilla, salt, and eggs, and beat well.

2. Spoon the batter into a 9 inch (23 cm) spring form, or into a 10 inch (25 cm) pan with a disc of parchment inide. Place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and lemon juice, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Sprinkle with cinnamon to taste.

3. Bake for one hour. Remove and cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired. Or cool to lukewarm and serve plain or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (or double cream or custard if you live in the UK!).

4. To serve frozen tortes, defrost and reheat briefly at 300°F (150°C).

Yield: 8 servings

This very elementary recipe also works well with other fruits, including fresh raspberries. The fruit sinks into the batter during the baking process.

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Bagels in the UK: No longer an oxymoron

I’ll confess now that the one thing I was a little disappointed by, upon moving to the UK, was bagels. I canvassed friends and combed the internet, and tried all the places recommended – even in the historic Jewish areas of London. I systematically tried bagels from all of the shops in Brick Lane and Golders Green. Alas, though some of the bagels were edible enough, they weren’t much like the kind I grew up with in the Boston area. Boston, MA, that is. I confess I haven’t been to Boston, Lincolnshire, to check on their bagel situation.

I tried making my own from the only likely-looking recipe I could find on the intertubes. It was funny, opinionated, and New York Jewish in tone, but overly chatty and rambling, and hence hard to read. Its editorial inadequacies aside, I tried the recipe twice, following as closely as possible, with unhappy results.

When I visited the States this past May, I consulted my bread-making guru friends Paul and Marcia. Paul has a few opinions about bagels, which pretty much concurred with mine, and I knew he could steer me right. He pointed me to a recipe from a restaurant in Paris of all places, Jo Goldenberg‘s in the Marais’ Rue des Rosiers, via Bernard Clayton, author of several excellent bread volumes.

Here’s my adaptation for European audiences, so everyone can make them.

Real Bagels

350 ml lukewarm water (1 1/2 cups)
3 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar
~450 g plain (all-purpose) flour (3 1/2 cups), or more as needed to make a somewhat firm dough

1.5 l (2 quarts) boiling water
1 Tbsp malt extract/syrup, or sugar
1 egg white + 1 Tbsp water (for optional glaze)
Optional toppings: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion, caraway seed

Because this dough is a bit sticky before rising, I recommend a stand mixer or food processor.

1. In the mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in water for 2 to 3 minutes. Add sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. (If using processor, pulse a few times to add flour.) When 450 g flour is mixed in, knead for 3-4 minutes by machine or 8 minutes by hand.

2. Scrape dough from mixer and put in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in volume. [Note: I rose the dough in the fridge over night, and the dough was became less sticky and easy to manage. Lots of good bakers recommend a long, slow rise for the best texture of the final product.]

3. When dough is risen, set water to boil in a fairly large pot, and add malt extract or sugar. Preheat oven to 220°C (425ºF).

4. Turn dough out onto floured surface, squeeze air out, and divide into 8 pieces; a dough-scraper works well for this. Let dough balls rest on a floured surface for several minutes.

5. To form bagels, make a hole by putting your thumb through a ball and twirling it once or twice; do not overstretch. Place formed bagels on a floured surface, cover, and give them a brief, 15-minute rise.

6. To boil bagels, you’re not actually boiling them; reduce the heat so the water is simmering. Put one or two bagels in the water at a time and cook for 45 seconds, turning them about halfway through. Remove delicately – e.g., with a perforated pancake turner – and drain on a tea towel.

7. Brush bagels on both sides with egg white diluted with water. Sprinkle with toppings.

8. Put bagels on baking trays lined with baking paper or parchment.

9. Bake for 25 minutes at the middle level of the oven. Turn halfway through for even browning and to help prevent one side from being too flat.

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