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Category Archives: Breakfast

Sourdough Bread: Isolationist Baking in the Covid 19 Era


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/

Homemade Granola with Dried Grapes and Figs



Looking back over my blog there are several posts for granola. I love eating homemade granola – you know exactly what’s in it. Important if you don’t want added sugar. The recipe, or rather procedure, is super easy and quick. I make it every few weeks. The granola keeps well too, in a jar with a good seal like a clip top jar.

So here’s the granola recipe once more. And it’s another food staple that you can rustle up if you’re staying at home in isolation.

I usually add a variety of dried fruit like sultanas and raisins and apricots. This time I added my own version of raisins, black grapes that I dried in the oven. I had some grapes that were past their best, and reluctant to throw them out, I stuck them in the oven on a baking sheet at a very low temperature. Of course ordinary raisins are just fine! I did something similar with figs too. A quick how-to for the dried grapes and figs at the end of the recipe. I also threw in some some glacé orange slices left over from Christmas. This time I didn’t add seeds, however I have included them in the ingredients.

The proportions in the granola are really up to you. The quantities here are a guide only, feel free to add more or less of something to taste. And add different cereals, fruits, nuts or seeds to taste too!

Ingredients

2 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of any cereal you have in the cupboard eg weetbix, corn or bran flakes
1/2 cup of salted nuts like macadamias, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts
A handful of mixed seeds like pepita, linseed, sesame
1/3 cup of honey, warmed with 1 tablespoon of water to pouring consistency in a microwave
1/2 cup of any dried fruit – dried grapes, figs, sultanas, raisins, apricots, cranberries, or even glacé fruit

Method 

Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C. You could try 160 degrees C for a quicker toasting but be careful you don’t burn the mix. Line a large baking tin with baking paper. You need to be able to spread the mix out so that all the mix is exposed to the heat.

Mix the oats, cereal, seeds and nuts together in a large bowl. Loosen the honey before microwaving with the water to make it more runny and easier to mix. Pour the warmed honey onto the mix and quickly stir it through. The mixture will be quite sticky, so stir fairly aggressively.

Spoon the mixture onto the baking paper in the tin, spreading it out so that it covers the base of the tin and there aren’t any big lumps.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the mixture is golden brown and thoroughly toasted. You will need to turn the mixture over half way through cooking, so that the underneath mixture gets its time on top and gets toasted. The oven time is a bit of guess work – just keep checking and remove when the mix is golden and not burnt!

Let cool for 5 minutes then add the fruit, combining everything well. Don’t worry if there are some clumpy bits stuck together with honey – they are a bonus!

Delicious with Greek yoghurt, milk or almond milk, or sprinkled over a big bowl of fresh fruit like stone fruit or berries.

Dried grapes are rather like muscatels in that they are more juicy than raisins. I guessed that drying grapes in the oven would work – and it did!

Take any black grapes you have that are just past their best. Pull individual grapes off their stalks or you can leave a few on stalks if you want. Lay the grapes on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Put the baking sheet into the cold oven, then turn oven to 100 degrees C. Bake until the grapes have not completely dried out, but are looking more like raisins. This process should take about 4 hours, but you can decide just how dehydrated you like your grapes.

Store in an airtight jar. You can use them in granola, or as part of a snack mix, or lovely with cheese.

Dried figs are easy to do too. Again, I use figs that are past their best. Cut them in half and place the halves on the baking sheet. Drizzle just a little bit of honey over each half. Bake in the same way as the grapes.

Summer Plum Muffins

Sydney in summer, January 2020. And what a summer. The drought and the bushfires dominate the literal and emotional landscape, as we swelter through hot, hazy and humid days.

Despite these conditions, there is still amazing summer fruit in abundance, to bake, preserve or simply to devour fresh as an antidote to the heat.

I love stone fruit in high summer. I’ve been jam making with apricots and with blood plums, fantastic for their rich ruby red colour.

I made muffins a while back with yellow fleshed plums, using my current go-to muffin recipe adapted from Matt Stone’s The Natural Cook Maximum Taste Zero Waste. Here is the recipe from 2018.

This recipe celebrates plums, baked in the muffin mixture and also as plum pieces on top of each muffin, but you could just as easily make it with other stone fruit – apricots, peaches or nectarines.

Ingredients

2 free-range eggs

140g raw sugar

1 Granny Smith apple unpeeled and grated

1 plum, diced

75ml vegetable oil

10-12 pecans, chopped (optional)

150g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp salt

3 plums, cut into segments, to decorate

A few pecan halves, to decorate (optional)

Method

Whisk the eggs together in a large mixing bowl and when  the mixture is foamy, slowly pour in the sugar. Keep whisking until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has doubled in size.

Whisk in the apple, diced plum and oil. Stir in the chopped pecans, if using. Use a spatula to gently fold in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger  and salt.

The mixture can be baked straight away but Matt suggests leaving it in the fridge overnight. This will give the flour a chance to hydrate and the baking powder to activate, resulting in a more consistent muffin texture. Even leaving the mixture for a few hours in the fridge is beneficial.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C fan-forced, 180 degrees C non fan-forced.

Grease a standard muffin tin and line 6 holes with squares of baking paper. Spoon in the muffin mixture, adding as many plum segments as you like on top to decorate, and pecan halves, if using.

Put the muffin tin in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes. Check the muffins at 15 minutes and every 5 minutes from there, using a skewer to check if cooked. From my experience, in my oven, they take about 20 minutes.

Remove the muffins from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5–10 minutes. Remove them from the tin and place on a wire rack. I leave the baking paper on as the muffins are easier to store.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Great on their own, as they are so moist, but also good with butter, or Greek yoghurt and a drizzle of honey.

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 rounds 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 toasted.

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.

Ruby Sunrise Marmalade

My last two posts have incorporated marmalade because once I’ve made a batch I just have to use it in my cooking! My Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding and Blueberry and Marmalade Tea Cakes are more delicious because of the addition of Ruby Sunrise Marmalade.

I’m a huge fan of marmalade, and I’m always willing to try different citrus fruits in search of something a little different. I have to admit though, that my traditional marmalade using seville oranges, is not as good as some of my other marmalades and jams. Seville orange marmalade is clearly a work in progress..

Ruby Sunrise Marmalade is so named because of its rich orange-red hue, a little like a beautiful Sydney sunrise. It’s surprisingly simple – just three different kinds of fruit – blood orange, ruby grapefruit and mandarin. I only make small quantities at a time, so this batch was made with one each of the blood orange and grapefruit and two mandarins.

Great with toast, or adds a touch of tangy citrus to desserts.

Ingredients

1 blood orange 

1 ruby grapefruit 

3 mandarins (thin skinned preferable)

Water to cover fruit

Sugar

Method

Cut the fruit in half. Chop into segments, peel and pith included. Remove as many pips as you can. You want strips of citrus so that your marmalade is chunky. Put the fruit into a heavy bottomed saucepan.

Cover the fruit generously with water, making sure you have enough in the pan so that the fruit does not boil dry. Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit is tender. This should take from between 30-45 minutes.

Measure the pulp and the remaining liquid. Return to the pan adding 1.5 cups of sugar for every 1 cup of pulp. Bring to the boil, making sure the sugar is dissolved. Cook until setting point is reached  – 20 to 30 minutes. I use the saucer test* to check for setting point. Leave for 10 minutes before stirring gently. Pour carefully into sterilised jars and leave to cool.

* Testing for setting point
Take the saucepan off the heat and allow the bubbles to subside. Take out a small saucer previously placed in the freezer, and spoon a little liquid onto the saucer, then return to the freezer for 1 minute. Push the marmalade along the plate with your finger. If setting point has been reached then the marmalade surface will wrinkle slightly and the marmalade won’t run back straight away. If it’s not at setting point, return to the heat and boil again for  a few more minutes (maximum 5 minutes) before re-testing. Repeat until setting point is reached.

Blueberry and Marmalade Tea Cakes

With spring very much in the air in September in Sydney, the produce that is available in fruit and vegetables is amazing. We are seeing in particular lots of early summer berries, and at great prices too. The markets are full of big juicy strawberries and punnets of oversized blueberries, with both kinds of berries going for a song. So delicious, so tempting!

September is the also the season for blood oranges, and I have been buying these to cook with, or just to eat, as I love their ruby red fresh and intensely sweet juice.

With so much lovely produce on hand, I have been jam making madly! My current favourite jam I call “Ruby Sunrise”. It’s a marmalade made from blood orange, ruby grapefruit and mandarin. It’s got a great colour and that blood orange tang. Recipe to be posted soon!

These little tea cakes were just an excuse to use my Ruby Sunrise marmalade and to make a rich sticky blueberry compote, to adorn those little cakes.

The tea cakes are made from my go-to easy cake recipe featured in the last post – Yoghurt Cakes with Middle Eastern Flavours. This is such a great recipe as its easy to make in the food processor, the cakes turn out really well and they are light and moist.

I halved the quantities from the original recipe this time. I got 5 good sized tea cakes baked in my popover moulds. I could have got 6, if I’d gone a little smaller. If you used ordinary muffin moulds, I think you could get 6-8 little cakes from the mixture. Or you can use the original recipe quantities if you are cake making for a crowd.

Ingredients
125mls canola or vegetable oil
165g caster sugar
1 free-range eggs
140g Greek yoghurt
150g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (or vanilla extract or almond essence if you prefer)
1 quantity blueberry compote
2 tablespoons any good marmalade

Method
Preheat oven to 170 degrees C fan forced. Grease and flour whatever moulds you are using – popover or conventional muffin tin.

Place the oil, caster sugar and egg in the bowl of a food processor. Process until well combined. Pulse in the yoghurt, followed by the flour. Stir in the orange blossom water to the mixture.

Pour the mixture into the popover or muffin moulds.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If you’re cooking in muffin moulds, you might like to check after 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven, and cool for 10 minutes then turn out the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Spoon over some blueberry compote and some marmalade onto each cake while they are still warm. The quantities are up to you, but a good teaspoonful over each little tea cake seemed about right to me.

To make the blueberry compote:
Place a punnet of blueberries (125g) in saucepan with 3 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. Stir gently till the sugar dissolves. Simmer for a few minutes only until the some of the blueberries have broken down, the compote is slightly reduced and is thick and syrupy.

Serve the little tea cakes more Greek yoghurt, or cream, with a spoonful more of the compote or marmalade if desired.

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