Travelling in my kitchen to…Italy, with fresh made grissini for the aperitivo

Summer is here and with it, its lot of lazy drinks and nibbles shared with friends. One of my favourite aperitivo staple are grissini, those lovely flavoured Italian bread sticks.  We have been to Italy Continue Reading

Confession of a (sourdough) bread addict

How would life be without bread? Personally I find it difficult to have a balanced meal without it. Without proper crusty, fresh, flavoursome bread that is, not the industrial sliced “wonder” packed with sugar and fat. All bread is, is water, flour salt – and a bit of love. I started making my own sourdough at home a few years back, and this no-knead recipe is childishly easy, as well as flexible for busy schedules, a perfect way to get on the wonderful bread crumbs trail… Continue Reading

One-a-penny, two-a penny, hot cross buns!! in my sourdough kitchen

Happy Easter!!! and what screams “Easter” louder than hot cross buns? This recipe is a naturally leavened sourdough method, and therefore a little bit more demanding that Jamies’…but “delayed gratification” is the key word here.

And actually in 1592, Queen Elizabeth introduced a decree forbidding the sale of such buns except on Good Friday, at Christmas, and at burials as they were simply too special to be eaten any other day. Isn’t that the ultimate proof that those little buns are absolutely scrumptious!? Continue Reading

Travelling in my kitchen to… Japan with matcha & white chocolate biscuits recipe

From Japan I came back with 2 packs of super-food matcha powder. It’s basically very bright coloured green tea powder. It’s not only used to make a tea beverage, but also included in cooking, I have tasted all sorts of patisseries, and even ice-cream. I tried first some American style soft baked cookies, but my favourite were the tea biscuits dipped in white chocolate…here’s the recipe Continue Reading

Travelling in my kitchen to…the Italian Alps with a fennel flavoured rye bread “la Puccia”

The village of Cortina d’Ampezzo, in the Italian Alps has that old-fashioned chic athmosphere, but it’s actually their flavoured brown bread that I will dedicate this post to. The “Puccia” bread is a brown, fennel and cumin seeds flavoured bread from Trentino Alto Adige, and as soon as I tried it I knew I wanted to bake it! So yum as a toast with a bit of cheese or cured ham… Continue Reading

Travelling in my kitchen to…Alsatian Christmas markets, lots of mulled wine and a “pain d’épices” recipe

We came back from Myanmar 2 weeks ago and stepping into a full blow Christmas-y London right back from the beach slightly startled me! It’s only this weekend when we travelled to Alsace, the French border region Continue Reading

Mousse au Chocolat with an Amaretto twist

A Franco-Italian cooperation that works amazingly, dark chocolate, a smooth mousse texture and the bitter & crunch of Italian Amaretti Continue Reading

Easter Colomba, baking adventures, [part 2]

ok by now your friends have started worrying for you: last night you went out for drinks, and after 2hours 45min precisely you asked for the  bill, promptly paid and mumbled something about urgently going Continue Reading

Easter Colomba baking adventures: sending Pasquale the Italian leaven to a 3 days boot-camp [1st Steps]

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Last year the Italian Cultural Institute of London organised a conference on Milanese Christmas traditions, and in particular, the delicious Panettone, this extremely rich and yummy brioch-ey cake. Rita Monastero did a passionate speech about the importance of a naturally leavened dough…picked my curiosity and subsequently got most of my December free time VERY busy!! Panettone isn’t quite a simple brioche: It’s a full-on 4 days adventure. And when I say 4 days I assume you already have an active natural leaven, and all the necessary ingredients available in your pantry…. I was indeed way too eager with my initial version and got a flat rich cake, not quite the fabulous fluffy and sweet thing I was expecting. But a few more tries and I was almost there, but after Christmas, my Italian testers all went on (much needed) detox, when I voiced the idea of baking one last one for Epiphany, my boyfriend just frowned and gave me the warning look. Ok my cases will go back to the cupboard. But I couldn’t let Easter go without a tasty and fluffy Colomba.

The Colomba is that – allegedly dove-shaped little sister of the Panettone. Traditional Easter dessert if any, it’s overall slightly easier than the Christmas version so I’d probably recommend starting there. If you want your Colomba ready for next weekend, I would recommend starting refreshing your leaven this weekend, maybe take the opportunity to bake some bread to use up the quantities. Give your baby a name, mine’s usually called Robert, and he’s Franco-British, but for the Colomba, you’ll need to create his much stronger Italian cousin, we called him Pasquale and sent him to this 2/3 days boot camp first. I’ve adapted the timings for working home-bakers as most of what I found on the internet or the guide I got  from Rita Monastero, are just not realistic. So I started creating Pasquale on a Thursday night and plan on baking the final product on the Saturday, if you’re doing it on the bank holiday weekend, even easier as it does take some time.

Fun facts: ALL Italian recipes call for the sacred “Manitoba flour from Molino”, and I jumped through a number of hoops to import / store 10kg of the d@mned thing in my kitchen…when I realised sheepishly that Manitoba was a Canadian province and all it actually was, is a strong  flour (i.e. very high protein rates, in and around 15gr protein per 100gr of flour) coming from Canada. In other word, what our supermarkets here call “strong Canadian flour” easily found at Tesco, Waitrose and the likes! yay, one problem sorted.

Before we start:

you will need a leaven starter, Manitoba or strong Canadian flour, 00 or all purpose flour. In term of equipment I would recommend a set of glass transparent dishes (to monitor the leaven) , a simple soft scraper, a couple of of proofing linen cloths.

Step 1 : Thursday evening – toughen up IMG_7224 take 50gr of your usual leaven, steer it with 50gr tepid water and add 100gr of manitoba flour. Robert has left place to Pasquale, it’s starting to take an Italian accent, and it should feel much tougher, thicker, to the point where you can knead it a little bit. Do so for a minute or so.

Cover your pot with a linen, and go out for dinner, or indulge with a spritz and watch La Grande Belleza. You have 3/4 hours ahead of you (depends on the temperature, I personally leave it 3h in the very warm boiler room). In the end it should look smoother, and be 1.5x to twice bigger.

Step 2 : Thursday night– Pasquale rolls with the punches

take 100gr of your now tough Italian leaven and take it to the next stage: shred it in little pieces, add 50gr of lukewarm water and stir. Add 100gr of Manitoba flour and knead for one or 2 min. At this stage I also add a little drop of honey or liquid malt. If we’re sending Pasquale to a boot camp, he’s taking a sweet in his pocket!

now roll it very tight in a sturdy dry and clean cloth, slightly floured and tie it very tight for the night. I used a shoes lace but a present wrap that can be cut off may be a better option.  Place it in a small pan or pot for the night, in a warm place. Good night Pasquale! you’re back to the boiler room for 8 hours in your pyjamas. IMG_7226 Personally I didn’t understand the point of this step the first time, but then realised it was important as it strengthen the leaven and also is a good visual test. In the morning, Pasquale is well grown and trying to escape the bowl…

IMG_7228 Step 3 – a touch of softness in a tough world

After such a night, Pasquale is rather tired, let’s give him a bit of love. Discard any dried bit and use the middle soft part to carry on. IMG_7234To 50gr of the sourdough, again shredded in small pieces add in 50gr tepid water and soak it for a few seconds. Then knead it with 100gr of 00 flour (i.e. all purpose flour).

IMG_7236  Step 4 & 5 : flex your muscle!!

repeat step 3 twice, at least at 3h interval, either on Friday afternoon if you’re using Good Friday to nurse Pasquale, or on Friday evening for those who have a life!! Get a good night rest, there’s a day of kneading coming up!!

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step 3 / 4 / 5 : knead 50gr of leaven with 50gr of water and 100gr of 00 flour for a couple of minutes.

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after 3/4hours (or up to 8hours if needed), it should have doubled in size.

While you’re  nursing Pasquale like a hen hatching her eggs, you can also make sure that you have all the required equipment for the next stage. I got most of what I was missing at Bakery Bits, in particular the cases, the pearl sugar and the candied orange, the delivery should take up to 3 days so plan it ahead.

for the next steps you will need:

– 475 gr. Manitoba flour (i.e. Canadian strong flour)
– 185 gr. soft butter
– 135 gr. cast sugar
– 200 gr. tepid water
– 6 egg yolk
– 15gr honey
– 4gr salt
– 1 vanilla pod
– 1 orange peel
– 300gr of candied orange peel

columba pasquale paper tin 1kg

Colomba strong paper tins

 

End of the adventure now published there 

Baking a fig sweet sourdough bread to match our cranberry Christmas foie gras

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Coming from a bakers family, the only food I was truly missing in London was great bread, available daily and conveniently.
During the course of 2013, I started baking my own sourdough bread at home and I’m pretty proud of my regular no-knead loaf, super easy and hassle-free. (thanks loads to the guys from the E5 bakery for having set me up on the right direction!)

About a month ago I hosted my parents for a weekend at home and had baked Dan Lepard’s raisin and rye crown bread for breakfast; they liked it so much that mom set me on a mission to bake a good fruit loaf to toast her home made foie-gras on Christmas eve. I wanted something spicy and fruity that would keep a real sourdough bread texture and taste. Our foie gras being already layered with candied cranberry, I didn’t want to bake something overly sweet. Also, most recipes call in for the addition of nuts but mom though it would add a “crunchy” distraction and preferred a fruit-only loaf.

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After having tested a few options at home, I crossed the channel with my (4kg) Dutch oven and 2 types of sourdough starters; and off I was, in for a good backing lesson on the field. For a start, I just could NOT find the same flour as in London easily available. Bread is made of almost only flour and water, and ingredients are absolutely essential to the taste and texture. If the internet is global and gives is the impression we can follow any recipe from any and all blogs across the planet, reality sometimes makes a humble check-in. Products are not only different, but also, the water tastes different, the bacteria present in the air is different, the humidity is different, and my parents’ big countryside house is much cooler than our central London apartment, messing up all proofing times.

I ended up abandoning the idea of a rye bread for I couldn’t find the right supply on time for Christmas; and remixed several inspirations I took from my go-to baking blogs. I started with a test-run and made the raisin loaf from you can do it at home blog. Tasty enough! (under the dog’s surveillance) so I braced myself up, and started scratching my head in search for a fig adaptation.

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Fruit sourdough loaf
A fruity sourdough bread to serve with the Christmas foie gras
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Ingredients
  1. - Starter 135gr (100% hydration)
  2. - White flour 85% - 216gr - the white flour I found at the supermarket did not contain enough gluten so I had to increase the whole wheat % to avoid ending up with an unmanageably wet dough. Any unbleached white flour should do, ideally with as close as you can get to 12-13% proteins.
  3. - Whole wheat flour 15% - 38gr plus dusting
  4. - Water 67% - 171gr
  5. - Salt - 7gr
  6. - Cinnamon - a teaspoon
  7. - Mixed spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg mix)
  8. - Chopped dried figs 33% - 85gr
Instructions
  1. Add the lukewarm water to the starter and dilute for a few seconds.
  2. Add both flours, mix well and knead until the gluten develops. you should now be handling a relatively wet ball of dough.
  3. Let it autolyse for 15/30min.
  4. Add the salt + figs and spices, and again knead until the fruit is well incorporated.
  5. Let it rest for 1/2h in a greased bowl (adapt the timing depending on your temperature)
  6. fold gently and let proof in the banetton overnight.
  7. In the morning, slash it the way you like and pre-heat the oven at 225C or maximum temperature. Bake it for 40 minutes in a Dutch oven, take off the lid and bake it for another 10min at 200C.
Our Bread Crumbs Trail http://www.ourbreadcrumbstrail.com/
Ingredients:

– Starter 135gr (100% hydration)
– White flour 85% – 216gr – the white flour I found at the supermarket did not contain enough gluten so I had to increase the whole wheat % to avoid ending up with an unmanageably wet dough. Any unbleached white flour should do, ideally with as close as you can get to 12-13% proteins.
– Whole wheat flour 15% – 38gr plus dusting
– Water 67% – 171gr
– Salt – 7gr
– Cinnamon – a teaspoon
– Mixed spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg mix)
–  Chopped dried figs 33% – 85gr

Directions:

Add the lukewarm water to the starter and dilute for a few seconds
Add both flours, mix well and knead until the gluten develops. you should now be handling a relatively wet ball of dough.
Let it autolyse for 15/30min.

Add the salt + figs and spices, and again knead until the fruit is well incorporated.

Let it rest for 1/2h in a greased bowl (adapt the timing depending on your temperature)
fold gently and let proof in the banetton overnight.

In the morning, slash it the way you like and pre-heat the oven at 225C or maximum temperature. Bake it for 40 minutes in a Dutch oven, take off the lid and bake it for another 10min at 200C.

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