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

Postcard English countryside, Bath, Oxford and the Costwolds villages

Gallery

rudloe hotel wonderland garden2

Less than 2h away from London, this itinerary is the promise of a romantic countryside weekend, in SO-British fashion; Prince Charles’ secluded lifestyle, glorious British architecture and scenic bike rides, on your doorstep. “Visit England ” is an advertisement you’re likely to have encountered if you commute in London; a serious push has recently been given to tourism in England and I can only emphasise their message after a picturesque weekend on the road navigating between Alice in Wonderland’s manor house, tea with Mr Darcy and Hermione’s magic tricks in New College cloister – I’ll break the suspense, I have not succeeded in changing my friends into a ferret – yet.

The May Day bank holiday weekend provided us with the perfect occasion, 3 / 4 days is ideal for a relaxing weekend away from the city. Be ready to step into a tale, you may find yourself taking notes or sketching houses!
It’s not one to plan on a shoestring though, England remains expensive and the cosy feeling of those places calls for boutique hotels and nice B&B. I would recommend renting a convertible car, packing fluffy jumpers and fine lingerie and heading out for a romantic escape.

Bath

If Bath has that strangely familiar feeling to it, it must be due to the amount of costume movies filmed there!  Actually it’s quite fun to follow the tourism office’s movie map around town. 

Bath Film-The Duchess-RoyalCrescent

Keira Knightley is Georgianna Cavendish, in the Duchess

 

The city was built by the Romans around three natural hot mineral springs, that were the basis for the infamous therms. Bath’s status as a World Heritage Site was bestowed in recognition of its magnificent Georgian architecture.

The spa is a new built but the rooftop swimming pool nicely overlooks the old town and its green surrounding. The water springs out at 44 degrees and is then cooled down to 33, for comfort. We happily bubbled in for a good part of the  afternoon until twilight. They accept no booking on Saturdays and I was told the queue can get a bit long (although we only waited for 15min), also last thing, take your flip flops. 

bath spa rooftop

The Spa rooftop pool, naturally warm

I was longing for the high Tea in Jane Austen’s tea room but how disappointed  was I when I got declined access for I had not booked…grrr. Next time.

We followed the Lonely Planet recommendation and went for dinner to The Circus and were not disappointed – book in advance, it’s busy.

Cotswolds Villages

Whether you want to walk, cycle or ride across this string of charming villages, it’s an ideal countryside postcard-perfect day amongst lambs, strolling from one charming pub to the next inviting inn.downtown abbey bampton village

Downton Abbey fans can hop by Bampton, I hear the Manor is even available for visit on certain days of the year but that should be planned well in advance.

Or followers of the Royals can move towards Tetbury, pay respect to Charles & Camilla‘s cottage in Highgrove.

My favourite village of all was probably Upper and Lower Slaughter with its mellow-stone manor houses from another time, undulating woods, formal gardens and parkland overlooking lake and sheep-grazed fields by a peaceful and unspoilt village, away from main roads…fab. 

Sone gem hotels can be found along the way such as the Lord of the Manor with its Michelin-star restaurant…to celebrate an occasion or just stop for a beer.

 

for bicycle-riders, the Guardian published this useful little map, inspired by the escape route book: ” My favourite bike ride – the Cotswolds

Blenheim Palace

By now you must be sick of me saying “it’s such a fantastic place”, reminding me of films, books and oozing of royalty and history figures but really..but look at that. Churchill wasn’t born there for no reason.

sunny-blenheim-palace-1024x682

Our visit was short and the enchanting gardens are huge! The good news is that day passes are convertible into annual passes for free so I’ll probably be back on sunny weekends this summer.

Oxford

I don’t think I need to introduce Oxford. It actually seem I was the only Londoner left to visit the student-packed city. With over 22 thousands students from over a hundred different countries, split over 38 colleges….a quarter of its population are students!

We stayed at the Four Pillars and although I have nothing bad to say about it at all, but there’s such a large choice of nice and quirky accommodations in Oxford … way too enticing:

the refurbished cells of the Malmaison prison, ok the gardens are beautiful but  personally I didn’t quite get the attraction though.

during the holidays, one can rent a dorm room and pretend they’re Harry Potter for the night (careful some can actually get expensive!)

but probably the gem boutique hotel is the Old parsonage, I realised how cute it was when dining at the Gee’s, their bar & restaurant

alice-in-wonderland-on-a-stained-glass-window-in-christ-church-colleges-great-hall

 

Ok I won’t go on and on about fantastic secluded college courtyards, but if it was to do again, I’d go for the Mad Hatter high tea in Christ Church College, sitting in the Great Hall next to the dedicated stained glass window must be just unbelievable…and yum. (only available on certain Tuesdays….)

Films & books 

The Duchess – or Keira Knighley in the role of the 18th Century socialite, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, partly filmed in Bath and the surroundings. Sadly still modern.

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austin’s first book.  I got my hand on a nice and free audiobook version but really I was after a version read by local actors, that would screams Oxfordshire, let me know!!  (like this version of Alice in Wonderland for example)

 

I used a the new version of google map to plan my trip that I then amended once back; click on the  thumbnail below to use it.

map

 

and now tell me, is it just me who feels like the Countess of Dowager is going to come out of one of those little churches anytime?

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]

Image

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!!

IMG_7237

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

IMG_7242

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

Image

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.

20131226-001924.jpg

20131226-001939.jpg

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.

20131226-002015.jpg

Fruit sourdough loaf
A fruity sourdough bread to serve with the Christmas foie gras
Write a review
Print
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.

20131226-002038.jpg

IMG_6745

Turkish Coffee (in a silver cup)

The world divides in 2 categories: coffee addicts and tea maniacs. Turkey ticks both (and many other addictions) I first discovered Turkish coffee when I was a student in Madrid, my friend would brew some at Continue Reading

Moroccan wedding reinvented

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  

Like the King’s wife, Salma of Morocco, my friend is from Fes. Unlike her, she is a full time executive worker in Paris and married a French guy from the Caribbean  The common point to all Moroccan weddings isn’t the rum-punch; it’s that the bride is always a princess. Like in little girls dreams, she’s pampered, fed delicious delights, being introduced to the party on a sedan chair….

Picture 006

Moroccan weddings are a major institution, and 3 days of festivities could feel quite intense; however, life goes by at a different pace there, and the seamlessly  organised step by step process is also very patronising, securing. First because they’ve invented the wedding planner concept with their tradition keepers (the neggafates), so no schedule slip and no worries – at least for the guests.

Medina, narrow street

I flew there 2 days prior to the wedding and we steamed and scrubbed in the hammam at the sound of women’s songs and chants…marvellous way to relax and gather amongst girls. Unsure if it’s the pampering or the carb and sugar load but the whole pre-wedding experience feels pretty childish, in a good way. more info on Morrocan weddings

dates, symbol of fertility

And the actual wedding ceremony is a spectacular ballet of  – extremely sweet – food, from the pastilla to the Cornes-de-Gazelles and other honey & almond-heavy deliciousnesses.

And if you thought European weddings were colourful and Kaftans were a austere dress ? mmm not quite there; guest are rivalling with not so traditional kaftan of all colours, shapes, fabrics, folding it up the knee and dancing till late.

medina rabbat

The diversity and refinement of kaftans is fascinating from a fashionista point of view as it gives a canvas that can be declined in to so many versions! I went to the wedding wearing a long gown but instantly wished I had rented one! I had never realised it could be so sophisticated and also figure flattering with the large belt that can be adjusted. To get a better idea, check last year’s fashion shows, and my favourites. 

Do’s and Dont’s in Rabat

  • do stay in a Riad in the medinah, avoid the Hilton (Sofitel) unless you’re on a business trip. I stayed in Ali’s Riad Zyo, an oasis of hospitality. I could eat his home-made beghrir everyday for breakfast…yum
  • do bargain argan oil, rose water and orange blossom water: each time I open the bottle, my bedroom travels back to the souk
  • don’t go for just a weekend when travelling from London – with no direct flight to Rabat you will have to fly to Casa and take a train. That’s not true anymore: Ryanair has open a direct London – Rabat, knock yourself out, they’re at £25 at the moment!! It’s cheap and rather easy, people are friendly enough they will show you the way in French or broken English. 

Readers Corner – what do I take in the plane?

for those who can read in French: Partir – Tahar Ben Jelloun

Next trip?

Morocco is an enticing country, with lovely, welcoming people and Rabat combines the wealth, the Mediterranean sea-side and diet. When tourist guides all focus on Marrakesh and Essaouira, I felt pretty privileged to have been invited to Rabat and shared delicious home made Couscous al-fresco.

From there, where next?

surfing in Imessouane, Dakla or Sidi ifni which I have been recommended recently. And given how welcoming people are, how good the food and how consistent the weather is, it’s on the “get back” list. Or maybe who knows, one day I put my guts together and sign up for the Marathon des Sables