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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.

For the Love of Sourdough

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.

Yeast Fruit Buns – Cookery for Northern Wives


I love picking up local cookery books from places I’ve visited, the more esoteric the better. Visiting Shetland, I was keen to explore the food of the islands and to collect some recipes. I loved my exploration through eating! I had some wonderful food, particularly some excellent baking.

In Shetland I bought a facsimile edition of Cookery for Northern Wives by Margaret B Stout, a book published in 1925, “containing practical recipes for old-time and modern dishes, all suited to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.” Margaret Stout was a Shetlander who wanted to encourage young northern wives to cook simple dishes and also to record traditional Shetland recipes.

This is a recipe for Yeast Buns. They are basically fruit buns. I decided to give the recipe a go! The result was a rather soft style bun, almost like brioche. I expected it to be a bit like a hot cross bun, but it was much softer, more cake like, than a hot cross bun.

I did some tweaking to the original recipe. First, I substituted dry yeast for fresh yeast for the sponge. I also added sourdough starter for extra flavour as I always have plenty on hand from making sourdough bread. This changed the amount of flour I used in the sponge. I have included flour amounts for both using sourdough starter and without using it.

I cut down on the flour in the main mixture, as my baking sensibility suggested that 560g was a bit too much. I added more dried fruit than in the original, and substituted some candied clementine for the candied peel, as that is what I had on hand.

I converted the imperial measurements to metric, rounding up or down as necessary.

The bottom photos are of the original recipe from Margaret Stout’s book.

Ingredients

Sponge
113g strong flour
10g yeast
1 teaspoon caster sugar
113g sourdough starter
(or 226g strong flour all up if not using the starter)
400 mls lukewarm milk

Mixture
113g butter
450g strong flour
113g sultanas
100g raisins
113g caster sugar
60g candied peel (I used candied clementine)
2 beaten free-range eggs

Sugar and milk to glaze

For icing:
1 cup icing sugar and enough orange juice to make icing of dripping consistency.

Method

Here is the method, adapted from the rather scant instructions given by a Margaret Stout.

For the sponge, sieve the flour into a large bowl, then add the yeast and sugar and mix in the sourdough starter if using. Gradually add the lukewarm milk, stirring to make a smooth batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel, or my favourite, a disposable plastic shower cap. Leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.

Prepare the rest of the mixture. Rub the butter into the flour. Add the sultanas, raisins, caster sugar and candied peel or clementine to the butter flour mixture. Beat this mixture into the sponge, once it has risen, and mix in the beaten eggs. Mix well, for about 5 minutes.

Cover the mixture in the bowl with plastic wrap/tea towel/plastic shower cap and leave to rise again for 1 ½ hours.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C fan forced.

Form the dough into small balls, place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover the tray loosely with a tea towel and prove for 10 to 15 minutes in a warm place.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the buns are a deep brown colour.

Once out of the oven, while warm, brush the tops of the buns with a tablespoon of sugar mixed with a tablespoon of milk.

These buns are delicious eaten as is while warm! You can also eat with lots of butter and jam.

If you think the buns need zhushing, you could drizzle a little icing over the tops, made by mixing icing sugar with enough orange juice to produce a soft icing. I used blood orange juice as they are in season now in Sydney.

These buns keep well as they are enriched with milk, butter and eggs. They are really soft, and they remain soft even after a few days.

I’m so pleased I made them! It wasn’t difficult to adapt the recipe. The results were delicious.

Bills Darlinghurst – Sydney Food Icon

I’m always interested in restaurants that stand the test of time. Sydney has a few, but I think the place that has consistently delivered quality food, retaining iconic dishes over the years, while introducing contemporary menu additions, is the famous bills in Darlinghurst.

For me, Bills IS Sydney, as much for the friendly and laid back vibe as for the food that showcases lovely produce and simple, good cooking techniques.

Bill Granger, the man behind the name, is an Australian who has restaurants worldwide, but the original bills, located in Darlinghurst, is my regular, and the one I am reviewing today.

As Bill says: ‘This is where it all began, in 1992. bills Darlinghurst is where I did my growing up. The miniscule kitchen and tiny dining room in one of Darlo’s old backstreet pub buildings set the tone for what we still do today. Local by-laws allowed us only a few seats – hence the now much-copied communal table where everyone ate together, reading the newspaper or striking up a conversation with the person enjoying scrambled eggs next to them. Today, it’s still a simple Sydney corner café, serving a menu of bills classics.’

Bills Darlo reflects his ethos for food and dining. When you walk into bills, the vibe is friendly, warm and generous. The communal table in the centre of the sunny space, allows everyone to share in each others’ dining experiences, while reading the paper, or people watching. This table of plenty has flowers, fruit and plates of cakes and other sweet delicacies. It’s a little bit like being at a family celebration in one’s childhood, with the anticipation of being able to tuck into the goodies so invitingly laid out.

There are some dishes that bills is famous for – creamy scrambled eggs, fluffy ricotta pancakes with banana and honeycomb butter and sweet corn fritters with roast tomato, spinach and bacon. These two latter dishes are available breakfast through to lunch. Everyone who has gone to bills has eaten these at least once! Bills burgers are pretty good too, the current beef version is a burger with comté, dill pickles, smoked chilli and onion aioli and maple bacon crumb. There’s a really spicy, sweet chicken burger too, with chilli, sesame and peanuts.

Desserts are simple, the offerings on the menu on my visit were cookies, salted caramel peanut brittle, daily baked cakes and white chocolate and pistachio pavlova with rhubarb and yoghurt cream.

This is my favourite! Who doesn’t love an Aussie pavlova, and the Darlo bills version, a little individual pav with its crunch of pistachio, slight tartness of rhubarb and hint of rosewater, is a delight to eat.

The bills concept is now worldwide, with restaurants in the UK, US, Japan and Korea. I’m looking forward to visiting Granger & Co in London for a comparison. And I know that famous pav is on the English menu. Yum – I can’t wait!

If you haven’t been, visit bills in Sydney or in other parts of the world. Consistently good food in a relaxed and friendly space. Highly recommended.

Oven Bannocks, Shetland Style

I’ll bake anything that involves flour. If it’s yeast based, all the better. And baking with your very own sourdough starter is the ultimate in satisfaction.

So I sometimes forget those lovely bakes that just involve self raising flour or plain flour and baking powder. They can be just as satisfying as yeast baking and are a lot quicker.

I recently acquired Shetland: Baking on the Edge of the World, by James Morton and his father Tom Morton. James is my favourite bread baker and I’ve been cooking his recipes since he first rose to prominence on The Great British Bake-off in 2012.

I was fascinated by his discussion of bannocks, both girdle cooked and oven baked. I’ve made both, but opted for the latter as they were easier to manage and produced a lighter product. I have served them up to friends who seemed to think they were scones… I kind of agree, although this might be an heretical thing to say!

Here’s James’ recipe for oven bannocks as I have made them. I’ve included the original quantities, which makes 16. I have actually made a half quantity each time I’ve produced them. This gives me at least 8 decent sized bannocks, more than enough for a morning or afternoon tea.

Ingredients

550g self-raising flour, plus extra for shaping
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon table salt
25g caster sugar
50g butter salted or unsalted (I prefer salted)
280ml buttermilk
150ml natural yoghurt
150ml full fat milk

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan-forced. Line two baking trays with baking paper. Very lightly sprinkle them with flour.

Into a large bowl put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar. Mix these roughly together with a wooden spoon. Add the butter and rub in with your fingers until the mixture resembles floury breadcrumbs.

Add the buttermilk, yoghurt and milk and mix together, then add to the flour using a wooden spoon, doing this quickly so as not to over mix. The mixture will be lumpy and quite wet and will need flour to handle it.

To make the bannocks, heavily flour a work surface, and scrape all the mixture out on top. Add more flour, and pat down the pile of mixture with your hands, into a rough square, about 2cm or ¾ inch thick.

Use a round cutter to cut out bannocks, or cut into rough squares with a knife, and then place the bannocks onto the prepared trays.

Bake the bannocks for about 12-15 minutes, or until light golden all over. You will need to watch them carefully, as there is a point at which they are golden and cooked, but still soft in the middle, and ready to come out of the oven.

Remove from the oven, and leave to cool a little before serving with lashings of butter or cream, and a good jam or conserve.

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