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Sourdough Donut Top Muffins

 

Everyone is baking in the isolationist era of 2020, and many people are mad for sourdough bread. I’m all in favour – I have lots of recipes for sourdough on this blog and I would encourage anyone to have a go!

If you make sourdough, you inevitably end up with left over starter. There are lots of things you can make with it, from enriching ordinary yeast breads, to making crumpets and making muffins.

Here is a recipe for muffins using leftover starter. I blogged it last Easter, but actually, while it has Easter flavours, it would be delicious at any time, so here it is again.

These super simple muffins are full of fruit and spices, plus the added bonus that they are dipped in cinnamon sugar to give a donut crunch on the top!

I’ve called them sourdough muffins, because of the left over starter in the mix. It certainly adds to the flavour, but you can just as easily make lovely muffins without the sourdough starter. You don’t need to add anything extra to the mixture, if you leave out the starter, you will just have slightly less mix.

If you make the mixture with the starter you’ll get 15 or so muffins. Without the starter you would probably get 12 muffins. That’s using a regular muffin pan. So obviously if you make 15 you’ll need a second pan or you would need to use the pan twice.

However, this mixture keeps really well in the fridge for a couple of days, so you can bake as many or as few muffins as you like and keep the remaining mixture in the fridge!

Ingredients
1 cup sultanas and raisins
1/3 cup of rum/sherry/port or any liqueur
2 cups plain flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking sofa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sourdough starter
1/4 cup milk
2 large free-range eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup golden syrup

For the topping
20g melted butter
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Method
Soak the sultanas and raisins in the rum/sherry/port/liqueur for half an hour or more, if you have the time.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease the holes of a regular 12 cup muffin pan.
Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a second bowl, beat together the starter, if using, and the milk, eggs, oil, honey and golden syrup. Blend the wet ingredients with the dry, taking about 20 seconds. Gently stir in the fruit just until blended.
Fill the holes of the prepared pan two-thirds full. Or fill a little higher if you like muffins that have a “muffin top”!
Bake the muffins for 15-20 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. I check after 15 minutes. Ovens are variable, so you need to keep checking for doneness.
When the muffins are clearly cooked, remove the muffin pan from the oven and allow the muffins to cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing them from the pan.
Put the melted butter in a small bowl, and mix the caster sugar and cinnamon on a plate. While the muffins are still warm, dip the top of each one in butter and then in the sugar/cinnamon mixture.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Great with your isolationist  morning tea or coffee!

Isolation Sourdough


Strange times, strange world. It’s 1 April  2020 and definitely not April Fools’ Day. Life is too serious for jokes. But one good thing is happening, people all over the world are enjoying cooking at home, and “from scratch”.

There is a renewed interest in baking your own bread. That’s great! Bread making is a wonderful skill, so satisfying and therapeutic. You can practise mindfulness when kneading a loaf!

But yeast is in short supply (unavailable for me currently), as would be bakers raid the stores to get supplies for making bread.

The good news is you can make brilliant bread without commercial yeast, if you embrace sourdough, the ancient and enduring method of turning flour and water into a risen loaf.

So I thought I would put my sourdough recipes into one post, or at least the links to the posts. I have been refining sourdough making over the last few years, and I am now confident, actually quite chuffed, with the bread I bake today.

I should mention that everything I’ve learnt about sourdough has been through the books of breadmaker James Morton: Brilliant Bread, Shetland:Cooking on the Edge of the World and his latest book Super Sourdough. The latter, in particular, is an excellent guide to sourdough bread making.

Another thing to mention is that to make sourdough bread you need a sourdough starter. But it’s not as daunting as it looks, and I give plenty of instructions in the posts.

Here are 3 links to my sourdough journey. All are good recipes and procedures to make sourdough. I think Sourdough, Ultimate Bread  is the best. It’s the most recent, and has some good tips and tricks, particularly in proving and shaping bread.

Here are the links. If you’re in home isolation and want to make bread, give sourdough a go. You won’t regret it!

1. Sourdough, Ultimate Bread: https://thequirkandthecool.com/2019/12/05/for-the-love-of-sourdough/

2. Shetlandic Sourdough: https://thequirkandthecool.com/2019/08/10/shetlandic-sourdough/

3. Simple Sourdough: https://thequirkandthecool.com/2015/08/01/simple-sourdough/

Sourdough Starter Crumpets

There’s always a dilemma when making sourdough, that is, what to do with left over starter. I often add sourdough starter to baking with man-made yeast, for added rise and that extra sourdough flavour.

Making sourdough crumpets is another favourite. There are recipes that suggest only using starter, with bicarbonate of soda added of course. Having tried these recipes, I’m not a fan of the resulting intensely “sour” flavour of the crumpets.

So I have experimented with a few versions and have come up with a recipe that is now my go-to crumpet recipe. In fact it’s easier than ordinary recipes involving man-made yeast!

The quantities are simple: equal amounts of strong flour, sourdough starter and water, plus a little salt and sugar and the bicarb. No proving or waiting involved. And the result is beautiful, flavoursome, dense crumpets complete with those crumpet holes!

Ingredients

200g strong flour 

200g sourdough starter 

200g water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2-3 tablespoons butter for cooking/greasing

Method

You will need a fairly large frying pan for the recipe plus crumpet rings. I used to use silicone egg rings until I invested in proper metal crumpet rings. The egg rings are fine, but I do like the stability of the metal rings.

Mix the flour, sourdough starter and water to a smooth paste. Add the salt and sugar and mix again. Add the bicarb. At this stage you will see some bubbles from the bicarb reaction. I get varying degrees of bubbles but I find that the crumpets still do their thing even when there are less bubbles.

Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan and melt over low heat. Once the butter melts, use a pastry brush to carefully butter 4 crumpet rings. I use this method as it saves on melting butter separately. Add another tablespoon of butter, turn up the heat to medium and leave the rings in the pan to heat up.

Now it’s time to cook the crumpets. Several important things to remember. Clean the crumpet rings in between cooking and butter again, otherwise the crumpets are in danger of sticking. Fill the crumpet rings half to three quarters full. Half for a traditional size crumpet and three quarters for a whopper size. I like my crumpets thick but I’ve learned from experience that filling the rings with too much mixture means the crumpets spill over the top and quite frankly end up so thick they don’t fit in the toaster!

Cook the number of crumpets that can fit in your pan. In my case, I can cook three at a time. I’ve always got the fourth ring ready to go with more mixture. Keep on cooking until you’ve used all the mixture. I usually get 6-9 crumpets from a mixture.

Fill each ring with the required amount of mixture and leave for a good 6-10 minutes to cook. The crumpets should rise and have almost cooked through. Remove the rings with tongs and flip over. The crumpets should be brown underneath. (If you can’t remove the rings don’t worry, turn the crumpets over in the rings and then remove the rings once cooked.)

Cook for a couple of minutes on the second side until brown. Remove from the pan. I find that the crumpets don’t all cook at the same rate so I remove them at different times.

Use the remaining tablespoon of butter as necessary to butter the rings for the next round of crumpets and also to add a little more butter to the pan as you cook more crumpets.

A word on holes. When you cook the first side, after a few minutes you will see the trademark holes forming on the top. The holes develop and pop as the mixture dries out.

I give the holes a helping hand, by popping the emerging holes with a skewer. I think this is quite acceptable as the ultimate aim in having holes is to allow more butter to be absorbed!

The crumpets, as is traditional, need to be toasted. Don’t be tempted to eat them untoasted just because they are freshly made!

I make these crumpets whenever I have left over starter after bread making and sometimes I top up my starter just to make a batch of crumpets.

They also freeze beautifully – I always have a few packs of crumpets ready to unfreeze and then toast.

I serve them with lots of butter and good quality honey or jam. In the photos I served them with my homemade strawberry conserve, recipe here.

If you’re a dedicated sourdough bread maker, this is the perfect recipe to use that precious starter you have worked so hard to develop and want to put to good use.

Sourdough, Ultimate Bread

I’m a sourdough evangelist. And I will preach to anyone who will listen – to which my friends will testify!

The power of natural yeast to change flour and water into a beautiful, intense flavoured loaf of bread is a wonderful thing. I began baking sourdough bread a few years ago, but this year I have embarked on a journey to develop my skills and come up with the perfect loaf. Of course, there’s no such thing, but every loaf has its value and provides a lesson in what works and what can be improved.

I make a lot of sourdough bread, and I’ve come a long way in my journey. So I thought it would helpful to write up my current sourdough process. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy this latest account, and perhaps will be inspired to make their first – or next – sourdough loaf.

And here I should say that I have developed my sourdough skills through reading and following the procedures, advice and hands on experiences of the baking doctor James Morton. He is the high priest of sourdough, and his latest book Super Sourdough (Hardie Grant Publishing) is an instruction manual and bakers’ bible in one.

It’s also full of commonsense and incredibly helpful advice and excellent recipes. I really recommend it.

Here is the sourdough process that is producing well risen, beautiful tasting and relatively consistent loaves for me, based on the James Morton method.

An important aspect of making sourdough is the baking component. I use the cast iron pot method, of which much has been written, particularly on the internet. The principle seems to be that baking the bread inside a pot creates steam which helps the bread to rise.

A note on a sourdough starter. I’m including a method suggested by James Morton that has worked for me. My starter is incredibly active and makes my dough rise really well. There are many methods around for starters, and I don’t claim to be enough of an expert to say definitively which ones are best.

Sourdough starter
Put 100g wholemeal flour and 100g fruit juice into a glass jar and mix. Leave for about 5 days or until it develops lots of bubbles. Feed with equal amounts of flour and water, at least as much flour as is already in the jar. After the first feed, you will need to discard some starter, to maintain a reasonable size starter in the jar. The starter can be used to make bread once it consistently grows in size after being fed.

If you’re not making bread everyday, and therefore using up starter, you can store the starter in the fridge and feed once a week.

Ingredients
450g strong flour
150g sourdough starter
325g tepid water
10g salt

Method

Mix
Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add the sourdough starter and the water. Don’t add the salt just yet. Mix very roughly just enough to incorporate the ingredients.

Autolyse
Cover and leave for 30 minutes so the mixture can autolyse. I use a clear plastic shower cap as a cover, as it fits nicely over most sized bowls. A plastic bag is fine too.

Knead and Prove
Add the salt to the mixture. Now you can choose to knead the mixture using a dough hook in an electric stand mixer, knead by hand or use the stretch and fold method, essentially a no knead way of developing gluten in the dough. If you want to knead by hand, that’s fine, but I don’t, so I won’t describe here. There is plenty of information out there about ways of kneading!

If using a mixer, mix the dough for 6 minutes on the lowest speed, then 4 minutes on the next speed up. The dough should be lovely and stretchy, and pass the windowpane test if you pull and stretch a small section – it should be translucent. Cover the bowl again and leave the dough in a warm place to prove for about 4 hours. The advantages of this method are less work and you can leave the dough alone for the 4 hours.

The stretch and fold method is great if you don’t want to knead and if you haven’t got an electric mixer. Remove the cover from the dough. You need to wet your fingers for this method, to stop your fingers sticking to the dough. Gently grab one of the edges of the dough and fold over into the middle. Repeat, turning the bowl around so you have lifted up all of the dough and folded into the middle.The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this stretching and folding of the dough about 4 or more times, covering the bowl again after each stretch and fold. The whole stretch and fold method should be done over 4 hours.

After the first prove of 4 hours the dough should have increased in size by at least 50%.

Pre-shape
Now comes the interesting part of the process for, getting the dough into a shape that can then be shaped for baking. I was very nervous of pre-shaping initially, now its my favourite part of bread making!

Carefully remove the dough from the bowl with help of a dough scraper onto an unfloured work surface. Definitely no flour needed! I use an oversized wooden board, but a bench top will work too. The dough will be stretchy, and quite delicate, so no rough treatment. Slide the scraper underneath the dough, lifting it from underneath. You will feel the scraper catch the dough as it lifts it up. I try not to remove the scraper, just move it round all of the dough in a circle. Sometimes the scraper sticks, and you need to pull it out, remove the sticky dough, and then go under again, but the more you move around the dough, the tighter the dough becomes and the less likely to stick. Do this circular movement with the scraper a few times until the dough forms a round, wobbly ball that roughly holds its shape. Leave for 20-30 minutes to let the gluten relax.

Shape
I shape my sourdough loaves to fit the 2 cast iron pots I bake in. One is round, perfect for a boule shape. The other is oval, which is fine for a batard shape.

It’s important that you are super careful with the shaping. The dough is delicate and you don’t want to damage the dough you have worked so hard to develop.

For a round boule: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the round of dough is a clock face. Take one edge of the dough at 12 o’clock and gently pull towards you, and fold into the centre of the dough. Move the dough around to 3 o’clock and pull and fold again. Move to 6 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, pulling and folding. Do this process a few times until the dough feels tight and a little bouncy. Turn the dough over. Scoop the dough into curved hands and rock the dough backwards and forwards, until the dough feels tight and smooth.

For a batard: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the dough is sort of square shape. Take the two sides of the square shape that are opposite each other and gently stretch away from each other. Fold these stretched bits over each other in the centre of the dough. Turn the dough round 90 degrees and do the same with the other two sides of the square. Now that you have folded the 4 sides of the square, fold 2 of the opposing corners in the same way, and then fold the other opposing corners. Take any side of the dough and roll up like a Swiss roll. Press the seam to seal.

For either shape, carefully move the dough into a proving basket, round or batard shaped, with the smooth side of the dough on the bottom and the seam side on top.

Second Prove
While you can prove your dough for 2-3 hours at room temperature, I advocate the retarded or fridge prove, and this method serves me well. Leave the dough at room temperature for an hour then place in the fridge for 8-12 hours. Doing this at night works well as it allows you to bake your bread first thing the next morning.

Score and Bake
For the pot method, pre-heat your oven to really hot – 250 degrees C. Put the pot in when you begin to pre- heat, and leave for 20-30 minutes. The pot will certainly be really hot after half an hour – and perhaps this is a waste of energy – but I sometimes want to be completely sure the pot is hot, so I go the extra 10 minutes.

Turn your dough out of the proving basket onto a thin flat baking tray or peel, well dusted with semolina. The pretty side of the dough is now on top. Open the oven and carefully take the lid of the pre-heated pot off. You can then slide the shaped dough into the hot pot.

At this point you can score the dough using a lame or razor blade or sharp knife. For a boule, scoring with a cross is good, however, I sometimes score with 2 parallel slashes, giving the bread more of an oval shape. For a batard, score with 1 or 2 long cuts down the length of the dough.

Pop the lid back on the pot and close the oven door. Turn the oven to 220 degrees C or 200 degrees C fan-forced. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 20-30 minutes with the lid off. I have experimented endlessly with this latter cooking time, and have come to the conclusion that 20 minutes gives a lighter brown loaf, softer in the middle, while 30 minutes gives a richer, browner loaf not quite as soft.

Remove the bread to a wire rack or board and leave to cool for an hour before cutting.

That’s it. I have tried to explain what works for me. There are infinite variations on the how-to of sourdough bread making. This is just one method. I can only encourage you to try this method, or any other, to discover the joys and pleasures and the huge satisfaction of turning flour and water into a magnificent loaf of bread.

Shetlandic Sourdough

Eshaness Shetland

It’s August 2019 and I’m in Shetland, seeking out the unique wildlife of the islands and finding out more about its Norse heritage. And doing some sampling of the food of the islands too.

So what has this got to do with sourdough you may ask? Quite a lot actually!

I have been making sourdough for a couple of years, but have been actively practising this particular sourdough recipe throughout this year, making loaf after loaf, every other day, trying to get a loaf that ticks all the boxes. I am by no means there, but I feel happy enough to write up my latest efforts for this post.

My version is based on the recipes of James Morton, the Shetlander baker known for his bread making skills and in particular for his passion for, and scientific approach to sourdough. His latest exploits on Instagram @bakingjames are a fascinating diary of a keen bread maker!

It seems appropriate, therefore, to be blogging about sourdough while I am actually in Shetland. 

My sourdough procedure is based on James’ recipe from the book Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World, co-written with father Tom Morton, but also on his original sourdough recipe from his book Brilliant Bread. I’ve got my own take too, on these recipes, and what I am blogging below is as much about my experience of the pitfalls of sourdough as well as its exquisite joys.

Shetland is utterly beautiful. I am gobsmacked by its rugged coasts and verdant pastures, and its birds, otters and seals. I am also quite smitten with the sheep of Shetland – picture perfect flocks, more romantic than our more prosaic Australian sheep! 

Today I’ve been in Hillswick and in Eshaness, walking stunning cliff tops and enjoying the local food at the St Magnus Bay Hotel and writing my sourdough post.

So here’s my take on James Morton’s recipes for sourdough, blogged on Shetland. 

Note: This recipe calls for baking the bread in a cast iron pot or casserole. It’s an amazing way of cooking the bread, allowing you to cook at quite high temperatures. I also use a bread proving basket. Not quite as necessary as the cast iron pot, but a really good investment if you’re a bread maker.

Sourdough Starter 

Ingredients 

100g organic stoneground flour

100g fresh orange juice 

Method 

Mix the flour and fruit juice together in a glass jar, big enough to hold at least triple the amount of the original starter. Leave this for about  5 days, or until the mixture is bubbly and frothy but has begun to settle. Now you can feed the starter with equal parts flour and just water. For the feeding stage, I use 125g flour:125g cooled boiled water. 

Leave for 12-24 hours until the starter is bubbly and has expanded in size.  It’s now ready to be used.

Keep on feeding every day in this way. If you’re not baking bread, you will need to discard a lot of the starter, to make room for more flour and water. You should have  only about 200g of starter in the jar left before feeding. 

If you don’t want to feed your starter every day, you can put it to sleep in the fridge and feed it just once a week.

Sourdough Bread 

 

Ingredients

250g tepid water

200g sourdough starter 

400g strong white flour

10g or 1.5 teaspoons salt

Method

Pour the tepid water into a large bowl.

Add the sourdough starter and stir together with the water until the mixture is loose and just mixed. It’s so loose it’s almost like soup!

Add the strong white flour and salt on top of the water/starter mixture. Use your fingertips to mix the salt into the flour, then a wooden spoon to mix everything together into a dough that is quite rough and sloppy.

The bowl needs to be covered and left for half an hour. I use a plastic shower cap, the kind you find in hotel rooms. I collect them just for this purpose. Or you could use cling wrap or a large plastic bag. Leave somewhere in the kitchen where it’s not draughty.

Remove the cover, and with the tap running, wet one hand, (to stop your fingers sticking to the dough), fold the edges of the dough over and into the middle. The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this for about 30 seconds.

Put the cover back on the bowl. 

You need to repeat this stretching and folding of the dough 3 more times. I make the time interval in between stretching and folding suit whatever I am doing on the day. The minimum time is 30 minutes. I often leave the dough 2-3 hours in between stretching and folding if I’m busy during the day. As James says: “Timings aren’t that important, as long as the stretching is done.”

After the last stretching session, cover the bowl and leave for 2  hours.

Sprinkle a work surface with some flour. 

Flour a proving basket. Proving baskets are great for shaping your loaf! If you don’t have a proving basket, put a tea towel into a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with flour.

Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, making sure there is enough flour on the working surface so the dough doesn’t stick.

Now here is the interesting part. That is, how to shape your bread. I have used the James Morton method very successfully, as described below. I also discovered another way on an Instagram video from @season_adam.  I suggest looking up this Instagram video as it’s well worth the look. It’s too tricky to try to describe here.

Here is James Morton’s method:

Using lightly floured hands press the dough out slightly flatter. Next you want to roll up your dough as if rolling up a Swiss roll or a Persian rug really tightly.

Turn the rolled dough 90 degrees and roll it up again.This time it will be harder – it will feel tight and try to spring back. You’ll now have piece of dough with a seam on the top and a smooth surface on the bottom. You want to keep this smooth surface on the bottom and sit the dough in your proving basket or prepared tea towel in a bowl.

The dough should be proved again in the proving basket or bowl. Put the dough in the proving basket or bowl in the fridge to rest for a few hours, or overnight if you reach this stage at night. This fridge prove is important as it allows the bread to develop flavour.

Heat the oven to 240 degrees C half an hour before you want to bake the bread.  Place the cast iron casserole pot, lid on, into the oven to heat up over the half hour.

After 30 minutes, carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid.

Turn your dough out into the pot, so the smooth side is on top and the seam side is on the bottom. This can be tricky, but be bold – and careful – and turn the dough out as deftly as you can.

Score the dough with a sharp serrated knife or lame. This is a sharp razor blade attached to a handle and is really useful to have if you bake a lot of bread. Replace the lid and put the pot back in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. After this time turn the oven down to 230 degrees C. Then carefully remove the lid  from the pot and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the loaf is very brown. The loaf needs to be a really dark brown colour. Don’t be afraid to go an extra 5 minutes to get that colour.

Once cooked, remove the loaf and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. You need to wait an hour before slicing as the bread is still cooking!

Serve with lashings of butter and homemade jam. Sourdough toast is lovely with a boiled egg too!


Special note re oven temperatures! 

The temperatures given work well for me in a fan forced oven. I have read several recipes which also use similar high temperatures. And I have made this recipe countless times using these temperatures. However, you know your oven and whether the suggested temperatures would work for you.

The magic of any bread, but particularly sourdough, is seeing how much the bread rises. I am always nervous on lifting the lid after the first part of the baking to see how much it has risen. But it’s a fantastic feeling to see that beautiful risen loaf in the pot! And when you take the bread out of the oven after the final bake there is another moment of triumph when you see your brown risen sourdough loaf in all its glory. 

Sourdough bread is so worth the effort to make!

And the sheep of Shetland are pretty good too.

Easter Sourdough Donut Top Muffins

Easter is coming…and soon too, but it’s not too late to do a little baking. Here’s a great alternative – or addition – to hot cross buns, super simple muffins with all the flavour of hot cross buns. And the added bonus that they are dipped in cinnamon sugar to give a donut crunch on the top!

I’ve called them sourdough muffins, because I included some of my left over starter in the mix. It certainly adds to the flavour, but you can just as easily make lovely muffins without the sourdough starter. You don’t need to add anything extra to the mixture if you leave out the starter, you will just have slightly less mix.

With the starter you will get 7-8 large muffins, without it, you will still get 6 large muffins. So you will need an extra 6 cup pan for the bigger mixture. You could also make them in a regular 12 cup muffin pan – same principle applies – with the starter you’ll get 15 or so smaller muffins, so you will need an extra pan.

However, this mixture keeps really well in the fridge for a couple of days, so bake as many or as few muffins as you like, of either size, and keep the remaining mixture in the fridge! That worked very well for me this week before Easter, and I have been able to bake muffins on demand all week!

Ingredients
1 cup sultanas and raisins
1/3 cup Pedro Ximinez sherry or any sweet sherry
2 cups plain flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking sofa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sourdough starter
1/4 cup milk
2 large free-range eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup golden syrup

For the topping
20g melted butter
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Method
Soak the sultanas and raisins in the sherry for half an hour or more, if you have the time.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease the holes of a 6 or 12 cup muffin pan.
Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a second bowl, beat together the starter, if using, and the milk, eggs, oil, honey and golden syrup. Blend the wet ingredients with the dry, taking about 20 seconds. Gently stir in the fruit just until blended.
Fill the holes of the prepared pan two-thirds full. Or fill a little higher if you like muffins that have a “muffin top”!
Bake the muffins for 15-20 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. I check after 15 minutes. Ovens are variable, so you need to keep checking for doneness.
When the muffins are clearly cooked, remove the muffin pan from the oven and allow the muffins to cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing them from the pan.
Put the melted butter in a small bowl, and mix the caster sugar and cinnamon on a plate. While the muffins are still warm, dip the top of each one in butter and then in the sugar/cinnamon mixture.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Great with your Easter Sunday morning tea or coffee!

Sourdough Bread Method

I’ve been baking sourdough for a few years now. I’ve changed and tweaked my method as needed. 

This method comes from the excellent book Brilliant Bread, the first book on bread making by James Morton, who has a really good understanding of how to turn flour and water into superb loaves.

The book contains everything you wanted to know about bread making, and more! Lots of sound recipes and helpful advice too. 

Here’s James’ method.

Getting a sourdough starter going. This is a real labour of love. You have to be dedicated, patient, observant and accurate. A starter needs constant care and vigilance. It needs to be fed regularly, and, unless you hibernate your starter in the fridge, you have to look after it for ever!!! Or be prepared for the news of its demise.

Your sourdough starter needs more care than a pet…

Sourdough Starter

Here is an abbreviated recipe from James’ book. Buy the book to get the full, incredibly helpful story.

1. Take 100g strong flour and 100g tepid water and measure into a glass jar (see through is best so you can see what’s going on).

2. Add your starter aid to kick start the the starter. James recommends raisins – that’s what I used.

3. Cover your jar and leave for 24 hours at room temperature.

4. Whether the starter is bubbling or not, add another 100g flour and 100g water and stir vigorously to combine.

5. Leave for 24-72 hours, or until you notice plenty of bubbles forming through the mixture and that it has definitely increased in volume. Then pour away at least 3/4 of your starter.

6. Give what’s left a good feed of flour and water – make it up to at least the size it was before you poured it away. James recommends not bothering with weighing feeds from now on – always feed your starter  using more flour than you think is already in the jar. James doesn’t mention how much water to add – having added the flour, I carefully add enough water so that the mixture looks roughly the same as it was before you threw stuff away.

7. Feed your starter every day and keep it at room temperature. You can put your starter in the fridge to hibernate if you’re going away or if you’re not baking. You will still need to feed it every week or so. If you want to use it, take it out of the fridge, let it warm up and give it a big feed.

IMG_7558
IMG_7561

Some basic points:

Once you are onto the feeding stage, use cheap white flour, as you will be using a lot of it.

Remember, you need to discard at least 3/4 of your starter before you feed it. Of course, if you are using your starter for making bread, you have already taken away some starter so you can feed it at that point.

Your can use your starter when it is full of bubbles and has grown in size in the jar. (It does get noticeably bigger, but I don’t think there is a level of “bigness” that is required).

At this stage the yeasts in your starter are used to being fed  – they are said to be in a “fed state”. This normally 12- 24 hours after a feed and if the starter is fed regularly.

Simple Sourdough

This is basically James’ recipe. But as with the starter, the book is really helpful for more details.

Ingredients

400g Strong White Flour

10g Salt

200g White Sourdough Starter

275g Cold Water

Method

In a large bowl, weigh the flour and then rub in the salt until combined. Add the starter and water and mix until it has come together into a very wet dough. Cover and autolyse for 30 minutes. (This is resting of the dough, letting the yeast get a lot of the work done for you, so that when you knead, your dough will come together more easily).

Knead the dough for 10 minutes.

Cover and rest the dough for approximately 4-6 hours at room temperature, or, alternatively, after a couple of hours, put it in the fridge overnight or during the day. This is an important stage, so the dough should be noticeably risen, if not quite doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and then shape your loaf.  I used the method of rolling up your dough like a Swiss roll really tightly. Then turning the rolled dough 90 degrees and rolling it up again. The dough will have a seam on the top.

Carefully transfer the dough to a proving basket or a floured tea towel inside a bowl, with the seam side on top. I have used both on different occasions, here I used the proving basket.  Leave to prove for 3-4 hours at room temperature until noticeably larger again. Or you can put your dough in the fridge to prove after an hour or two overnight or during the day. I left my dough to prove overnight.

Preheat the oven to 240 degrees C at least 30 minutes before you intend to bake, and heat a cast iron casserole pot with the lid on.

When the 30 minutes is up, it’s time to turn out the proved dough into the pot. Turn down the oven to 210 degrees C. Take the lid off the pot and carefully turn out the dough into the pot. The smooth side will be on top. Score a cross on your loaf with a sharp serrated knife.

Bake for 40 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 10 – 15  minutes until the top and sides are really brown. Remove from the oven, and let rest for 30 – 60 minutes.

Serve with lashings of butter and your favourite jam. This time mine was apricot conserve from last summer’s bounty.

Simple Sourdough

This is an updated post about making that most marvellous of breads – sourdough. I’ve also posted the recipe as Sourdough Ultimate Bread. It’s my current go-to method for sourdough baking.
18 May 2020

The power of natural yeast to change flour and water into a beautiful, intense flavoured loaf of bread is a wonderful thing. I began baking sourdough bread a few years ago, but this year I have embarked on a journey to develop my skills and come up with the perfect loaf. Of course, there’s no such thing, but every loaf has its value and provides a lesson in what works and what can be improved.

I make a lot of sourdough bread, and I’ve come a long way in my journey. So I thought it would helpful to write up my current sourdough process. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy this latest account, and perhaps will be inspired to make their first – or next – sourdough loaf.

And here I should say that I have developed my sourdough skills through reading and following the procedures, advice and hands on experiences of the baking doctor James Morton. He is the high priest of sourdough, and his latest book Super Sourdough(Hardie Grant Publishing) is an instruction manual and bakers’ bible in one.

It’s also full of commonsense and incredibly helpful advice and excellent recipes. I really recommend it.

Here is the sourdough process that is producing well risen, beautiful tasting and relatively consistent loaves for me, based on the James Morton method.

An important aspect of making sourdough is the baking component. I use the cast iron pot method, of which much has been written, particularly on the internet. The principle seems to be that baking the bread inside a pot creates steam which helps the bread to rise.

A note on a sourdough starter. I’m including a method suggested by James Morton that has worked for me. My starter is incredibly active and makes my dough rise really well. There are many methods around for starters, and I don’t claim to be enough of an expert to say definitively which ones are best.

Sourdough starter
Put 100g wholemeal flour and 100g fruit juice into a glass jar and mix. Leave for about 5 days or until it develops lots of bubbles. Feed with equal amounts of flour and water, at least as much flour as is already in the jar. After the first feed, you will need to discard some starter, to maintain a reasonable size starter in the jar. The starter can be used to make bread once it consistently grows in size after being fed.

If you’re not making bread everyday, and therefore using up starter, you can store the starter in the fridge and feed once a week.

Ingredients
450g strong flour
150g sourdough starter
325g tepid water
10g salt

Method

Mix
Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add the sourdough starter and the water. Don’t add the salt just yet. Mix very roughly just enough to incorporate the ingredients.

Autolyse
Cover and leave for 30 minutes so the mixture can autolyse. I use a clear plastic shower cap as a cover, as it fits nicely over most sized bowls. A plastic bag is fine too.

Knead and Prove
Add the salt to the mixture. Now you can choose to knead the mixture using a dough hook in an electric stand mixer, knead by hand or use the stretch and fold method, essentially a no knead way of developing gluten in the dough. If you want to knead by hand, that’s fine, but I don’t, so I won’t describe here. There is plenty of information out there about ways of kneading!

If using a mixer, mix the dough for 6 minutes on the lowest speed, then 4 minutes on the next speed up. The dough should be lovely and stretchy, and pass the windowpane test if you pull and stretch a small section – it should be translucent. Cover the bowl again and leave the dough in a warm place to prove for about 4 hours. The advantages of this method are less work and you can leave the dough alone for the 4 hours.

The stretch and fold method is great if you don’t want to knead and if you haven’t got an electric mixer. Remove the cover from the dough. You need to wet your fingers for this method, to stop your fingers sticking to the dough. Gently grab one of the edges of the dough and fold over into the middle. Repeat, turning the bowl around so you have lifted up all of the dough and folded into the middle.The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this stretching and folding of the dough about 4 or more times, covering the bowl again after each stretch and fold. The whole stretch and fold method should be done over 4 hours.

After the first prove of 4 hours the dough should have increased in size by at least 50%.

Pre-shape
Now comes the interesting part of the process for, getting the dough into a shape that can then be shaped for baking. I was very nervous of pre-shaping initially, now its my favourite part of bread making!

Carefully remove the dough from the bowl with help of a dough scraper onto an unfloured work surface. Definitely no flour needed! I use an oversized wooden board, but a bench top will work too. The dough will be stretchy, and quite delicate, so no rough treatment. Slide the scraper underneath the dough, lifting it from underneath. You will feel the scraper catch the dough as it lifts it up. I try not to remove the scraper, just move it round all of the dough in a circle. Sometimes the scraper sticks, and you need to pull it out, remove the sticky dough, and then go under again, but the more you move around the dough, the tighter the dough becomes and the less likely to stick. Do this circular movement with the scraper a few times until the dough forms a round, wobbly ball that roughly holds its shape. Leave for 20-30 minutes to let the gluten relax.

Shape
I shape my sourdough loaves to fit the 2 cast iron pots I bake in. One is round, perfect for a boule shape. The other is oval, which is fine for a batard shape.

It’s important that you are super careful with the shaping. The dough is delicate and you don’t want to damage the dough you have worked so hard to develop.

For a round boule: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the round of dough is a clock face. Take one edge of the dough at 12 o’clock and gently pull towards you, and fold into the centre of the dough. Move the dough around to 3 o’clock and pull and fold again. Move to 6 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, pulling and folding. Do this process a few times until the dough feels tight and a little bouncy. Turn the dough over. Scoop the dough into curved hands and rock the dough backwards and forwards, until the dough feels tight and smooth.

For a batard: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the dough is sort of square shape. Take the two sides of the square shape that are opposite each other and gently stretch away from each other. Fold these stretched bits over each other in the centre of the dough. Turn the dough round 90 degrees and do the same with the other two sides of the square. Now that you have folded the 4 sides of the square, fold 2 of the opposing corners in the same way, and then fold the other opposing corners. Take any side of the dough and roll up like a Swiss roll. Press the seam to seal.

For either shape, carefully move the dough into a proving basket, round or batard shaped, with the smooth side of the dough on the bottom and the seam side on top.

Second Prove
While you can prove your dough for 2-3 hours at room temperature, I advocate the retarded or fridge prove, and this method serves me well. Leave the dough at room temperature for an hour then place in the fridge for 8-12 hours. Doing this at night works well as it allows you to bake your bread first thing the next morning.

Score and Bake
For the pot method, pre-heat your oven to really hot – 250 degrees C. Put the pot in when you begin to pre- heat, and leave for 20-30 minutes. The pot will certainly be really hot after half an hour – and perhaps this is a waste of energy – but I sometimes want to be completely sure the pot is hot, so I go the extra 10 minutes.

Turn your dough out of the proving basket onto a thin flat baking tray or peel, well dusted with semolina. The pretty side of the dough is now on top. Open the oven and carefully take the lid of the pre-heated pot off. You can then slide the shaped dough into the hot pot.

At this point you can score the dough using a lame or razor blade or sharp knife. For a boule, scoring with a cross is good, however, I sometimes score with 2 parallel slashes, giving the bread more of an oval shape. For a batard, score with 1 or 2 long cuts down the length of the dough.

Pop the lid back on the pot and close the oven door. Turn the oven to 220 degrees C or 200 degrees C fan-forced. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 20-30 minutes with the lid off. I have experimented endlessly with this latter cooking time, and have come to the conclusion that 20 minutes gives a lighter brown loaf, softer in the middle, while 30 minutes gives a richer, browner loaf not quite as soft.

Remove the bread to a wire rack or board and leave to cool for an hour before cutting.

That’s it. I have tried to explain what works for me. There are infinite variations on the how-to of sourdough bread making. This is just one method. I can only encourage you to try this method, or any other, to discover the joys and pleasures and the huge satisfaction of turning flour and water into a magnificent loaf of bread.

Sweet Grape Focaccia



Recently I held another bread making workshop for friends. I really enjoy passing on the knowledge I have gained about creating beautiful bread from scratch, all from my own hands on experience and trial and error baking.

We talked a lot about sourdough, as I am a self confessed sourdough nut! My friends who are scientists, were really impressed when I showed them the wonderful growth that happens when you feed a sourdough starter!

However, I was keen to show my friends how easy it is to make bread using commercial dried yeast. So we made two breads, a simple free form shaped loaf and a sweet grape focaccia, both made with the same dough.

Here is the recipe for the grape focaccia. It’s a really easy, quick bread. It’s not traditional, but a simple adaptation of a bread recipe that you can knock out in a short time, if you’re looking for a sweet bread fix!

Ingredients 

425g strong white flour

10g table salt

7g sachet fast-action dried yeast

325ml tepid water

2-3 tablespoons brown sugar

Enough black grapes to cover the focaccia

Optional – a few sprigs of lemon thyme

Olive oil

Method

Place the flour in a large bowl. Add in the salt at one edge of the bowl and the yeast on the other side. This is because the salt can stop the yeast from working.

Add the tepid water and mix together to form a dough, using your dough to mop up any flour sticking to the bowl. Now knead the dough for a minimum of 5 minutes up to 10 minutes. You can knead the dough in the bowl, stretching and folding the dough. An easy way to do this is to gently grab a section of the dough, stretch it and fold back over the remainder of the dough in the bowl.

Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Keep this up until the dough is noticeably smooth. A good way to see if the dough is well kneaded is to do the window pane test. Gently pull a little section of the dough with both hands and the dough should stretch without breaking and be translucent.

Cover the dough and rest for 45 minutes to one hour until the dough has doubled in size. My favourite way to cover the dough is with a plastic shower cap, but a tea towel will do as well.

Take the dough out of the bowl and move on to a floured surface. Now for the shaping of the focaccia. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a rough rectangle, pulling it into shape.

Lightly oil a baking tray. Place the shaped rectangular dough onto the oiled tray. Loosely cover, this time with a large tea towel, and leave to prove for an hour, or until it has doubled in size and springs back when pushed.

During this hour prove, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C fan forced, at least 20 minutes before baking.

Remove the tea towel from the proved dough. To make the recognisable focaccia dimples, gently press your fingers all over the dough.

Scatter the brown sugar over the dough. How much you scatter is up to you, but you need at least 2 tablespoons. Remember there is no sugar in the bread dough. Put the grapes over the dough, again using as many as you like. At this point, you can scatter a few sprigs of lemon thyme over the focaccia. The lemon thyme adds a lovely piquant flavour. Dribble a little olive over the focaccia dough.

Place the focaccia into the oven on a low or middle shelf for 35-40 minutes. The focaccia should be a deep brown and the grapes dark and oozing juice.

Serve warm on its own, or with cream or ice cream. I like to serve slices of the focaccia smeared with sour cream.

Baked Garlickly Mushrooms – 5 Ingredients


I’m revisiting a recipe I blogged in 2018 from Jamie Oliver’s super simple book 5 Ingredients. All the recipes in the book are easy to prepare and can be whipped up quickly with 5 simple ingredients.

I have recently grown some lovely Roma tomatoes on four tomato plants which I have nurtured from little seedlings. I’m no gardener, so I was delighted with their first bumper crop! I have another crop ripening, so I thought it would be great to use them in this delicious supper or lunch dish.

So here’s the recipe. Lovely on its own and even better served with crusty sourdough!

Ingredients

4 cloves of garlic

 ½ a bunch of fresh sage (15g)

350g ripe mixed-colour cherry tomatoes

4 large portobello mushrooms

40g Cheddar cheese

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Peel and very finely slice the garlic. Pick the sage leaves. Halve the cherry tomatoes. Peel the mushrooms, reserving the peel.

Place it all (peel included) in a 25cm x 30cm roasting tray and drizzle with 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add a pinch of sea salt and black pepper and toss together. Pick out 12 perfect garlic slices and sage leaves for later and sit the mushrooms stalk side up on the top. Bake for IO minutes.

Remove the tray from the oven, crumble the cheese into the mushroom cups and sprinkleover the reserved garlic and sage*. Return to the oven for I5 more minutes or until the cheese is melted and everything’s golden then serve up.

*I added some rosemary sprigs too, as rosemary works well with sage.  

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