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The greatest thing since sliced bread…

1 Jun
Freshly baked home made bread

Freshly baked home made bread

Bread. I love the stuff. But it’s the real stuff that I love, the sourdough, the slowly-risen loaf. It doesn’t seem right that commercially produced highly processed loaves, made by the intensive Chorleywood process can even be called by the same name. They just are not the same thing. So, the greatest thing sliced bread is…. unsliced bread. Naturally.

Rant over. Probably.

Bread. When I think of eating bread, I think of friends, of sharing it, of tearing off great chunks and dipping it into olive oil & balsamic vinegar, of making slices of toast and spreading them with butter and marmite. And sometimes peanut butter too. Of my father, sitting at the head of the table, and cutting the bread, then spearing the slice on the point of the bread knife to pass it to your plate.

And all this sharing with friends is appropriate: the word companion literally means ‘with bread’ from the Latin ‘com’ (with) and ‘panis’ (bread).

I’ve been a baker for years, but most of my baking was biscuits and cakes and scones and traybakes, basically things without yeast. And then we started using the bread machine. Unlike many bread machiners, we used it 3 or 4 times a week, and with a bit of trial and error, and the purchase of some super-tasty stoneground flour, we started making really amazing loaves. I occasionally made a loaf by hand, but not so often.

I bought lots of books, made sourdough starters, killed sourdough starters when I forgot to do anything with them. And replaced the bread machine, three times. (Yes, we used it so much we wore it out).

And then I bought the best bread baking book: James Morton’s Brilliant Bread. He writes easily. Or perhaps he doesn’t, but it reads easily. His explanations make sense, and help you understand why you are carrying out each process. And he starts you off with the easiest bread in the world – it needs no kneading. It takes up so little of your time to make it. And it tastes delicious.

I’ve adapted it slightly, to make use of my sourdough starter, which gives it a wee bit extra flavour and chewiness, which I like.

A few things before we start:

  • this recipe requires NO kneading. It is easy peasy. You have no excuses not to make it
  • buy a set of digital scales. They aren’t terribly expensive but they will repay you every time you use them, and quite possibly will change the way you bake (in that you can weight things far more easily into any bowl or pan, rather than the bowl provided with the weighing scales)
  • use the biggest bowl you own; if you don’t have a really big bowl, consider buying one
  • procure a shower cap – the ones you get free from hotels are fine, in fact perfect. Using this, and re-using it over and over again, is much more sensible (and easy) than using cling film
After proving, ready to bake

After proving, ready to bake

There are other things you might want to buy if you really get the bread-baking bug, but wait a while to see if you get it or not. Otherwise you’re going to end up with an unused proving basket in your cupboard, which will just annoy you (instead of giving you these lovely ‘flour rings’ on a loaf).

The best white bread (and it’s easy)

  • 500g strong white flour (I use a stoneground from Bacheldre Mill, it’s lovely and comes in big 16kg bags if you get the bug!)
  • 10g salt (see why you need digital scales)
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 330g tepid water
  • a good dollop of sourdough starter (about 50g)
  1. Put the flour in a big bowl
  2. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl
  3. And the salt on the other
  4. Keeping them on their own sides of the bowl, mix them in with your fingers and then make a slight well in the middle
  5. Pour in the water, and add the big dollop of sourdough starter
  6. Now, using your hand like a paddle, mix all the ingredients together, until they are all combined
  7. Cover the bowl (with a shower cap if you have one, with cling film if you don’t) and leave it for about half an hour
  8. Go off and do something for a while; I recommend watering your tomatoes in the greenhouse, if you have any. Or reading the magazine section of the Sunday paper
  9. Now, take the shower cap off the bowl. Wet your hand under a tap, and keeping your hand a bit like a paddle, put your hand under one side of the dough and scoop it up, folding the dough over itself.
  10. Twist the bowl a quarter of the way around and do this again. Repeat several times, going all around the bowl, and round again. You should notice that the dough feels much smoother, slightly silkier than it did half an hour ago.
  11. OK, once  you’ve got it back in a nice wee lump in the middle of the bowl, pop the shower cap on again and leave it for a couple of hours at room temperature.
  12. Just get on with your life, and ignore the dough.. it’ll do its doughy thing quite happily without your interference or worry.
  13. This time you’re going to need a wee bit of flour and either a proving basket (if you’ve got the bug) or your baking tray. Prepare the baking tray by dusting it with flour. Dust your table or board with flour too.
  14. Now scoop the dough out of the big bowl onto the floury surface. You’ll see that there are lots of bubbles within the dough and that it feels a bit like a balloon full of water, sort of squishy, but not really squishable.
  15. Try to work relatively quickly with the dough… Make it into a sort of brick shape, and then pull it at each end and fold those ends over into the middle, and squish it down a bit. It might be a sort of round-ish shape now. Squish it in the middle and pull it at the ends to make an oblong brick again. And pull those ends out and over into the middle again to make a round. Do this another couple of times if you want, or not if you’re bored by now.
  16. Place your dough on the baking tray – either make it a nice round ball shape, or a sort of oblong.
  17. And walk away and leave it, for an hour or two, depending how warm your room is (the warmer the room, the less time it should be left). The dough is now ‘proving’ which just means that it is rising again – the wee bubbles in the dough are expanding and the gluten in the flour is nice and elastic now, so it’s stretching, and holding those bubbles in place. You want the loaf to almost double in size, but don’t fret if it hasn’t
  18. Heat your oven to GM7 / 425F / 220C. And when I say heat it, I mean switch your oven on a good 10 minutes before you pop the loaf in the oven, to make sure the bread goes into a properly hot oven. If you want a scrummy crust, put a dish of water in the bottom of the oven, to create some steam.
  19. Before you put the bread in the oven, cut a slash in it, which will allow it to stretch as it rises again in the oven. For a round, you can just do a cross on the top, and for an oblong try a long cut down the middle and then diagonal cuts on each side, like a leaf, or a feather. The cut doesn’t need to be deep, just cut through the skin of the dough.
  20. Bake for about 40 mins.
  21. Place on a baking tray once it’s cooked, and try not to slice it and eat it till it’s cool.
Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Top tips

  1. Complete up to stage 11 in the evening, and then pop the dough in the fridge with its shower cap on. It will be quite happy overnight in the fridge instead of 2 hours at room temperature. The next morning, start from step 13.
  2. If you have a proving basket, use a really liberal dusting of flour before you leave the dough to prove in it. Once it’s proved, turn it out onto the prepared baking tray, and slash its top and pop in the oven.
  3. Use semolina or polenta instead of flour on the baking tray
  4. Increase the volume of sourdough starter, and reduce the water slightly
  5. Don’t worry about timings at all – if it’s left for 4 hours instead of 2 it will probably be fine

Want to see more recipes? What about making some lemon curd to spread on your home made bread? Or imagine how good it would be with home made chicken liver pate?

All my recipes are here: SheWolfInTheValley.

 

Crunchy, tasty, sweet and salty.

3 Mar

I’m one of those people who likes their sweets to be slightly salty.

Tasty homemade snack bars

Tasty homemade snack bars

I don’t cook with a lot of salt, preferring to use herbs and spices. I’ve bought into the ‘fact’ that too much salt is bad for you. However, there was a credible article in the Sunday Times the other week, highlighting new evidence which showed that the low sodium diet was as damaging as the high sodium one. My father has always just tipped the salt pot upside down and sprinkled it liberally over his plate, often then creating a small salt mountain on the side of the plate to dip forkfuls of food into. He’ll be 95 in a couple of months, so his super-high salt diet hasn’t exactly limited his life too much.

Anyway, although I like my sweets salty, I’m less keen on my savoury dishes being too sweet. I’m not a big fan of putting fruit into a stew or casserole. My exception is good redcurrant or rowan jelly with a roast meat. Or a not-too-sweet apple sauce with roast pork.

But back to the salty sweetness. When I was in the US last year, with a work colleague, we discovered Nature Valley’s Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bars. It was love at first bite for me. They aren’t available here in the UK, although there’s a huge variety of similar products. But I can’t be trusted in a sweet shop, so have to confess I haven’t tried terribly hard to find a suitable substitute.

I hadn’t thought of making my own. Why hadn’t I? I must be entirely mad.

Anyway, once the thought came to me, I flicked through all my recipe books and scoured the internet for the perfect sweet and salty crunchy nutty bars. And then I adapted. This isn’t entirely true. I can’t lie. What really happened is that I came across a recipe on Half Baked Harvest’s blog and decided it was time to get experimenting. This recipe is adapted from hers. It is the perfect crunchy, sweet, salty, nutty snack. But it’s not as healthy as eating an apple, so although they are addictive, try to ration them.

Crunchtastic sweet and salty nutty bars

  • 250g / 3 cups porridge oats
  • 35g / 1 cup rice krispies (or any puffed rice cereal)
  • 40g / 1/4 cup roasted salted nuts (peanuts is fine, but mixed nuts would work just as well)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 125g honey
  • 130g peanut butter
  • 30g butter or coconut oil (I prefer to use coconut oil these days)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F or GM4. Line a 9″ x 13″ baking tray with greaseproof paper. Leave an overhang of paper over one long side of the tin (to make it easier to remove the bars later)

  1. Mix porridge oats, krispies, nuts, salt, and bicarb of soda in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre
  2. Put the honey, peanut butter and butter (or coconut oil) in a small pan and warm gently till all the ingredients are melted
  3. Add the vanilla
  4. Stir the melted ingredients till they are all combined into a sweet and goopy sauce
  5. Pour all this melted mixture into the well in the centre of the dry ingreds.
  6. Stir well to combine it all together. Try to make sure there are no dry bits left in the bowl
  7. Pour this into the prepared tin. Get a big metal spoon (or a metal measuring cup) and lightly oil the back of it, then use this to press all the mixture down into the tin
  8. Put in the oven and bake for about 20 mins, or until golden brown. Watch out, it can go from perfect to ‘slightly burnt’ quite quickly.
  9. When you take it out of the oven, try to slide the whole lot out of the tray onto a heatproof surface, and then walk away from it for at least half an hour. (I’m only telling you to do this so that you don’t end up trying to cut the bars when they are still in your baking tray, and you end up ruining your tray, with knife scores across it)
  10. Once it is cool, try to cut it into pieces. You’ll need a sharp knife, and some of it might crumble a bit. Any extra crumbs left, pour into an airtight pot and use for sprinkling over yoghurt, or ice cream or in a crumble.
  11. Keep the bars in an airtight tin, for as long as possible. You may need to put them on a very high shelf, out of your reach. Or to give them to friends.

Suggested adaptations – you could add dark chocolate chips, or dried fruit (cranberries, chopped up apricots, raisins). Or desiccated coconut. Or, cinnamon would be nice, Or chopped dried apples, with some cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and some ginger. You could probably replace the honey with agave syrup, or golden syrup, although I’m not sure why you’d want to do that.

And apologies if you don’t have digital weighing scales. I was old-school for YEARS, but bought a digital set recently (so I could weigh out my 7g of yeast to make home made bread) and it has entirely changed how I bake. Just pop the bowl on the scales and add the next ingredient. Easy peasy. They’re not expensive and take up hardly any room in your cupboard. Isn’t it time to treat yourself?

Want to find more of my recipes? Take a look here: Shewolffe’s Recipes. If you like this, you’ll probably like my salty nut brittle, but go see what else is in there.

Sweet and salty nut brittle

18 Jan

Is salted caramel still on trend? A couple of years ago it seemed to be everywhere. And I was happy. I love that combination of sweetness and saltiness. I adore peanut butter, adore it even more on hot buttered toast with marmite. Or incorporated into a sweet with chocolate and a biscuit base.

So, a simple salty, nutty caramel brittle is pretty much the perfect sweet to make. And it turns out it was pretty much the perfect home-made Christmas present to give to nephews too! (Although obviously not for you, if your nephews have nut allergies).

Salty nut brittle 

  • 340g mixed nuts, preferably not salted. The type of nuts doesn’t really matter, but why not buy a bag of peanuts, of brazil nuts and pecans. Or hazelnuts, and macadamia and almonds. Whatever you prefer.
  • 400g sugar. Ordinary granulated sugar is fine, or you could use caster, or golden caster
  • 120mls water
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Maldon sea salt (there are other brands, but please use a good quality salt in flakes, not ordinary table salt)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F / 180C / GM 4
  2. Spread the nuts onto a big baking tray, as big as you’ve got – you’re aiming to get them into a single layer, if possible
  3. Roast the nuts in the oven for about 8 minutes, give or take. You’re looking for a golden browniness, not burnt.. and there’s a relatively short window of opportunity between the two. To make it easier in a minute or two, pour the nuts onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper or kitchen foil, or a bowl (this is so that you can QUICKLY pour them from whatever receptacle they are in, into a pan of hot hot hot caramel later on). While you’re at it, get another sheet of greaseproof paper, and line the baking tray with it, and leave to one side. You’ll need it soon.
  4. Now put the sugar, water, butter and golden syrup into a heavy based saucepan, and gently heat, stirring till the butter is melted and the sugar has all dissolved.
  5. Pop a sugar thermometer into the pan, and leave it in there while the mixture heats up to the boil. Keep it boiling, and stir occasionally if you can’t stop yourself
  6. Keep an eye on that sugar thermometer, and as soon as it reaches 150C (which incidentally is between ‘soft crack’ and ‘crack’ on my thermometer) take it off the heat, and quickly stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
  7. It should all swoosh up a wee bit which is exactly what you want it to do. Work quickly – pour in the nuts and stir them in. And then pour the whole lot out onto a baking sheet, with a piece of greaseproof paper on it
  8. Use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture nice and thinly … but not TOO thin
  9. Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes
  10. And now walk away for a while. Leave it be. Come back when it’s cool
  11. Break it up with your hands and store in an airtight container. Then hide it somewhere you can’t reach, just to save yourself from eating more than you really should

I popped great big shards of this into kilner jars as Christmas present this year, and they went down a treat. If the shards had been smaller, I might have considered dipping them in chocolate to add to the sugar-salt-nut treatiness. It wasn’t required, but just imagine it enrobed with lush dark chocolate. Mmm.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

 

Desert Island Bites

3 Jan

I love Radio 4. I can’t remember what age I was when I first realised that it was what I wanted as the soundtrack to my life, but now it’s on whenever I’m cooking. And I cook a lot.

Weekends nearly always include Desert Island Discs, while I’m baking or making soup, or stew or something that’s caught my eye in a cookbook. I’ve never quite worked out what my eight discs would be, but it would probably include more 80s hits than I’d like to admit. And maybe some early Genesis. Years ago I decided my luxury would be a pack of cards, and my book would be a compendium of games of solitaire. But I think I’ve grown up since then, and doubt that I would want to while away my hours (days? weeks? months?) on my desert island perfecting game after game of solitaire. Or not. Because how many of the games would actually be all about chance and not about my skill level? How frustrating would that be?

Anyway, I’m no longer sure what my luxury would be – perhaps some endless supplies of glorious perfumes, so I could make my own hand and body lotions, with whatever I can forage (I’m imagining coconuts here) and then I could perfume them as I wished. Or I could just spritz myself with something delicious in times of need. One of my claims is that all situations can be improved with a spritz of perfume, and an application of lipstick. Many’s the time I’ve been seen to do this ‘double’ at my desk.

There’s a chocolate bar in the UK called a Bounty Bar. It’s a lovely soft coconutty thing, smothered in chocolate, either dark or milk. In the 80s the Bounty advert was set on a desert island, with beautiful people in cropped tops (it was the 80s remember) having a hedonistic time and eating Bounty bars. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

So, here is my recipe for my version of a Bounty Bar. It’s not really the same, but it is delicious. And very easy to make. And your friends will be very impressed when you give them a wee bag of your home made desert island bites.

Desert Island Bites

  • 3 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • a very large bar of good quality chocolate – milk or dark, whatever you prefer
  1. Mix coconut and icing sugar in a large bowl
  2. Add in the condensed milk and melted coconut oil
  3. Mix well together (using your hands is the easiest way to do this, perhaps the stickiest as well)
  4. Take about a teaspoon sized bit of the mixture and roll it in the palms of your hand to create a wee ball
  5. Place the ball of coconut truffle on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper
  6. Do this again and again and again until all the mixture is used up
  7. Pop the balls in the fridge or freezer for about half an hour
  8. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate in a double boiler
  9. Now comes the messy bit. Drop the balls, one by one, into the melted chocolate and then rescue them out again with a couple of forks. They might need a sort of a shoogle to shake of excess chocolate.
  10. Pop the chocolate coated truffles onto another baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and when you’ve done them all, pop them in the fridge. Unless your kitchen is as cold as mine ,in which case you won’t need to.

Serve with an espresso after you’ve had a lovely relaxing supper. Or put them in a nice wee box with some tissue paper, to make them look a bit chi-chi, and give them to a friend who needs a wee treat. Or head off to your desert island and be a hedonist.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

Memories, remembering, remembrance

9 Nov

It is nearly 11am, on Remembrance Sunday, a time for reflection.

In my childhood I took part in the Remembrance parade at Gatehouse, the small town where I was brought up. Most of the town took part in some way – I consider standing watching this parade as participating. Some years we had bright shiny sun and a blue sky, other years were less kind, and there were years of grey clouds, of smirry rain and one or two of proper big rain. But still the town turned out to remember. Mum nearly always wore her Astrakhan coat. I never really knew what an Astrakhan coat was, except that it was an inherited, enormously heavy black fur, with a curly coat, like a big black lamb. We all wrapped up warm. We were all freezing cold by lunchtime.

We would march up the town, past the clock tower to the War Memorial, a simple granite cross. The traffic through the town was stopped, and this, perhaps more than anything was what first told me that this was important. Mum told me about her Uncle Bobby who had died in the war, but when I was young I don’t think I really understood. I felt I should think of real people during that 2 minute silence, but I didn’t feel emotionally connected to anyone who had died in a war. I didn’t actually know any of them. I am lucky in that I still have no direct connection to anyone who has died in any war. But I do feel a real connection with this act of remembrance. I feel it is an honour and a duty for me to recognise it in some way each year.

When I first lived in London in the early 1980s I attended the ceremony at the Cenotaph each year, probably for about 8 – 10 years. It felt like the right thing to do, to show my respect, my thanks for those who had given their lives so that we could live in freedom. I thank them. And thank them again. I suspect that attending the Cenotaph is a different experience these days; there will be more security, and just more people there. The crowds were much smaller in the 80s and early 90s, despite the recent war in the Falklands. Most years, I had a direct line of sight to the Queen, who was only 30 or 40 feet away from me.

Since then I have mostly listened to it on Radio 4, or watched the BBC coverage of the ceremony. I don’t remember in what year it was that a silent tear first fell down my cheek, but now it never fails. So, here I sit considering those familiar words:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

In my mind I feel the weight of the flag, as I lowered it, that one year. The determination not to let it wobble as it lowered, or as I raised it again. It may only have been the Girl Guide flag, but it mattered. It still does.

Memories are important.

Remembering matters.

Remembrance shows we care.

Perfect salad for when you have the best tomatoes

28 May

You already know that I love buying and cooking and eating local food. So when Clyde Valley Tomatoes were back at my local farmer’s market earlier this month, I knew we’d be eating tomatoes all week!

I wanted to make a salad which would showcase the varieties of tomatoes.

Spring haul from farmer's market

Spring haul from farmer’s market

On the drive home I thought of a salad I used to make many years ago: fattoush. And then another tomato and stale bread salad: panzanella. I hadn’t made either for years, and started hankering for that melding of flavours and textures. Yes, these tomatoes were destined to become one big dish of delicious salad. Served with cold meats for lunch.

Panzanella

  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced and left in a bowl of ice cold salted water for an hour
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • a punnet or two of ripe tomatoes from Clyde Valley Tomatoes. Or perhaps about 8 medium tomatoes – if you’re using wee ones, feel free to double the quantities
  • 200g stale(ish) sourdough bread
  • 4 TBsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 TBsp capers
  • 2 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 6 TBsp extra virgin olive oil
  • small bunch of fresh basil
  1. Cut the peppers into big flattish pieces and pop them under a grill skin side up so the skin blackens. Alternatively use a toasting fork (who has such a thing these days?) and burn the skin over a gas hob, or chuck them in a hot oven. Or use a blow torch. You’ll know how you like to do it. Once the skin is black, put the pieces of pepper into a bowl and cover with cling film for 20 minutes or so.
  2. Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and place in a colander over a bowl. Sprinkle some salt over them and leave to drain while you prepare everything else
  3. Cut (or tear) the bread into chunks, about the same size as your tomato chunks and put them into a salad bowl and drizzle with vinegar
  4. Drain the onion and add it to the salad bowl
  5. Add the capers
  6. By now your peppers might be ready for peeling, so peel off the black skin, or as much of it as you can and cut the pieces of naked pepper into strips. Put them in the bowl
  7. Press down on the tomatoes and squeeze out lots of juice, then put the tomato flesh into the salad bowl
  8. Add the chopped anchovies and olive oil to the tomato juice and whisk
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste
  10. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Pick off some basil leaves and tear them onto the salad
  11. Leave for 15 minutes or so at room temperature – or outside in the sunshine
  12. Serve as one of those lunches where the table is covered with bowls and plates and ashets of this and that tasty treats.

Of course you could skimp some of the steps or tweak the recipe as you go:

  • If you don’t soak the onion right at the beginning, it will taste too harsh (for my taste buds). You might prefer to use red onion, or spring onions
  • Don’t bother pouring the vinegar over the bread. I think you’ll regret missing out that step though!
  • Add garlic. In fact most recipes include garlic. I just forgot to add is when I made it and enjoyed the garlic-free breath, and how the other flavours all sung out at me
  • Add cucumber, celery, chilli, crisp lettuce
  • Omit the anchovies if you’re feeding vegetarians. Obviously!

Basically make this your own panzanella – so long as you have the very best tomatoes and some good quality bread, you’ll make something delicious.

No pictures though, we ate it too quickly!

 

2013 in review

5 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog and I thought I’d share it with you… read on, if you’re interested.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,200 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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