Category Archives: bread

Valentine Buns or Plum Shuttles

plum shuttles/ valentine buns

A friend lent me one of her long-held books called Cattern Cakes and Lace, A Calendar of Feasts by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer. She had bookmarked the recipes for February wondering if they might be of use in my bread making course. The book is a fascinating month by month look at the traditions and festivals of Britain and the food associated with them.

These yeasted buns, that originate from Leicestershire and Rutland, were traditionally given as a token to a potential suitor or to the children in a village on Valentines Day and were shaped as weavers shuttles because of the strong weaving industry in the region. I hope that I have done some justice to the shape of the weavers shuttle (see the pic at the bottom of the post).

We enjoyed them sliced in half and buttered (generously, of course).

450g plain flour
5g salt
15g fresh yeast or 5g (or a sachet) of easy bake yeast
10g caster sugar
50g water
50g butter
125g milk
1 egg
200g raisins or mixed fruit
beaten egg to glaze

Method
Pour the milk into a small pan and over a medium heat bring almost to a boil. Milk contains proteins that can fight with the yeast and by scalding it you denature these proteins helping the buns to rise better. Add the water and the butter to the hot milk and stir well to melt the butter and get the mixture to a tepid heat (too hot and you will kill the yeast). Place the flour in a bowl. If you are using fresh yeast crumble it in like you would when you rub butter into flour for pastry. If you are using easy bake then just add it to the flour. Add the sugar and salt (keep the yeast and salt separate from one another, salt will kill yeast). Pour in the milk mixture and the egg and mix together well.

Stand mixer instructions:
If you have a stand mixer then mix until combined then leave to sit for ten minutes. then knead on speed 2 for 2 minutes. Leave the dough to sit for ten minutes. then mix again for 1 minute. Leave the dough to rise until doubled in size.  Add the fruit into the dough, mixing in well.

Kneading by hand instructions:
If you are kneading by hand, keep the dough in the bowl and pull one side of it and stretch and fold it over itself. Give the bowl a quarter turn  and repeat the pull, stretch and fold. Keep doing that action until you have done about ten to twelve stretches and folds. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a damp towel and leave to sit for ten minutes. Repeat the stretching and folding. Leave to rest for ten minutes and then repeat the stretching and folding. You will need to do less stretching and folding each time before the dough resists you. (When it does begin to resist stretching you know you have done enough of the folding and leave it to rest.)  Leave the dough to rest and prove until at least doubled in size. Add the fruit into the dough, mixing in well.

Divide the dough into eight (the original recipe specifies twelve, but I am greedy). Flatten each piece of dough carefully so you don’t deflate too much. Take the two top corners and fold them into the centre of the dough. You should now have a triangular shape at the top of the dough.

Using your thumbs fold this tightly into the centre of the dough. Press the seam down well.

Fold the dough over again so that it is now starting to look like a baguette. Press the seam down well.

Roll the bun into a small baguette shape so that they resemble weavers shuttles (or as near as I can get them). Place on a greased baking tray.
Cover with lightly oiled clingfilm or a large plastic bag. Leave to prove until 1½ times the size.

Preheat the oven to 200°c, gas mark 6 making sure that you place a tray in the oven to heat up. Bread and yeasted buns benefit from being placed onto a hot tray as soon as it goes in the oven. When the buns have proved, brush with beaten egg and place them in the oven and bake until golden for about 25-30 minutes.

This is what a weavers shuttle looks like. Can you see the similarity?

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Pumpkin bread

Pumpkin loaf

If you are here looking for the American style pumpkin bread, then I am afraid you will be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a loaf of delicious bread to go with your soup (or anything else for that matter), then you are in absolutely the right place. This loaf is very tasty. The crumb is soft and tender, the crust has a delicious chew and the sugar in the pumpkin gives the crust a wonderful caramelisation. The loaf manages to be both sweet and savoury. I think a teaspoon or two of black onion seeds (aka nigella seeds) would be a wonderful addition, adding a depth of savouriness. Look at the colour of the crumb:

Pumpkin bread sliced

What a golden hue! It looks as if I have used yellow food colouring. I must add that the blue pumpkin I used did have a deep yellow flesh.

I roasted the pumpkin rather than steaming it. I wanted the sweetness that comes with roasting and I wanted the moisture content of the pumpkin to be reduced. It made quite a stiff purée, so the measurements I give here for water may need to be adapted to suit your particular purée. If it’s wetter, then reduce the water, if it’s drier, add more. You get the idea. The key with bread is always err on the side of too wet rather than too dry. A dry dough will make a brick of a loaf. What you are aiming for is a soft and slightly tacky dough.

375g pumpkin puree (made from pumpkin, skinned and cut into chunks and roasted until tender, then whizzed with a blender or processor or pressed through a sieve)
5g easy bake yeast or 15g fresh yeast
10g fine sea salt
300g white strong flour
150g water (see above for note on the amount of water needed, I use cold water and allow more time for my loaf to do its first rise, this improves the flavour)

Method

Place the pumpkin puree into a large bowl or free standing mixer. Add the remaining ingredients (if you are using fresh yeast just crumble it into the flour, remember to keep it separate from the salt, as salt kills yeast). Add the water cautiously at first as you may need less, you may need more (see note above). You want a dough that is soft and slightly tacky.  If using a free standing mixer, mix on speed 1 until combined and then for a further 5 minutes until the dough is well mixed and feels soft and satiny.  If doing it by hand use one hand as a claw to mix the ingredients together. It should be soft and very slightly sticky, adjust the water accordingly. If you have added too much water and your dough is sloppy then add flour until it gets to a soft dough.  The water content of the pumpkin will continue to hydrate the flour so you don’t want to have too wet a dough. When the mixture has come together, tip out onto a  surface (no flour needed on the surface) and knead for a good 8-10 minutes until the dough has a smooth, satiny feel. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a large plastic bag or oiled clingfilm and leave to rise until doubled in size.

Preheat your oven to the hottest setting, placing a baking sheet onto the oven shelf (a loaf benefits from being placed onto a hot surface).

Gently deflate your dough and tip onto a lightly floured surface. Shape your bread into a round or bloomer. (You can see from the photo that I did the second prove in a banneton but you don’t need one).  Place your loaf onto an oiled tray and cover with oiled clingfilm to rise until it’s grown to one and a half times its size.

When it’s ready to bake, make a slash or two on the top  with a  sharp knife (this tells the loaf where to expand when it has its last burst of growth in the oven, otherwise it will burst at its weakest point and not look so attractive) and place onto the preheated baking tray.  Either spray the oven walls with water (be careful around the light and the glass of the oven door) or have a tray in the bottom of the oven to tip a cup of water into. The steam helps your loaf do its best rise. Bake the loaf for ten minutes and then turn the oven down to 200°c, gas mark 6 and bake for a further 20 minutes. Check if the loaf is cooked by tapping on its bottom, it should sound hollow.  Place on a wire rack to cool completely before enjoying.

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Harvest Bread

On Sunday we had a little trip out to Acton Scott Historic Farm. It’s a wonderful place, not least because the Bailiff’s Cottage has the traditional bread oven still in place and still in use. They were having their harvest festival on Sunday and using the oven to bake their harvest loaves. I was very excited to talk to the Bailiff about his use of faggots to get the oven up to temperature and to find out that you can cook up to 18 loaves in the capacious oven.  Whilst I was in heaven talking to the Bailiff about his oven, our 11 year old was doing what 11 year old’s do best; muttering under her breath wondering how her mother could possibly find any of this interesting. One day, she will understand. The nearly 9 year old though still has a year or so before the proper disdain for her mother’s interests sets in, so she was quite interested. On Monday she asked me to make a dough the following day so that she could make a harvest loaf when she got home. I was more than happy to oblige. I have always been a bit put off from making one as they look like you might need an artistic eye and patience, neither of which describe me. But in we ploughed.

It took us about an hour and a half to put together. I was ridiculously pleased with the result of our work and kept taking pictures and telling the youngest how brilliant it was.

For the instructions on how to a make the harvest loaf take a look at Daniel’s brilliant blog Bread, Cakes and Ale. He has made one too and has given detailed instructions as to its construction. Even if you don’t want to make the loaf pop over to his blog anyway for a good read.

And here is a picture of the loaf I was so proud of.

Harvest Loaf

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Hotel Chocolat Pasta and Pesto

Hotel Chocolat pasta and pesto

I was recently approached to review items for Hotel Chocolat. There were some lovely Christmas chocolates that I could have quite happily chomped on, but what really caught my eye was their cocoa pasta and pesto. I was intrigued. They arrived beautifully presented and the girls were immediately interested. Well, of course they were, the bag had the word chocolat on it. I had planned roast chicken for tea and the girls were eager to try the cocoa pasta. The pesto is what it says on the bottle – a basil pesto with added cocoa nibs. So I boiled the pasta and stirred in the pesto. A simple, quick solution for an unusual dinner. I have to admit the first taste was unusual. The pesto is quite bitter. But, a few bites in and I was more convinced and Mr OC agreed saying that he thought I had gone mad at first but that the pasta/pesto combo was really quite delicious. I think the slight bitterness of the cocoa nibs in the pesto was a step too far for the girls though with their less adventurous palates.

I made a dip to go with the chicken too, by mixing an equal amount of mayonnaise and natural yoghurt together and adding pesto to taste. This edged out the bitterness of the cocoa nibs and made a very good dip indeed. I will be having this a lot.

The next day, the family were coming for fireworks in the garden and so I cooked the remaining pasta and made a chocolate custard, mixed the two together and served cold with brandied cherries that I had frozen after making cherry brandy. This was a great success, the pasta adding a bit of bite to the dessert. The cherries made a lovely addition but the dessert would stand well enough on its own.

cocoa pasta and chocolate custard

125g cocoa pasta

100g 70% chocolate
300ml double or single cream
4 egg yolks
1 tsp cornflour
1 tablespoon caster sugar

Method

Boil the pasta in a large pan of boiling water until al dente (it must have a slight bite to it). Drain and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave.

Pour the cream into a heavy based saucepan and bring just to the boil. In the meantime combine the egg yolks, cornflour and caster sugar in another bowl. Add the hot cream in a steady stream to the eggs and whisk all the time to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Wash out the saucepan and then add the cream and egg mixture to the pan and whisk over a gentle to medium heat until the custard thickens. Whisk in the slightly cooled melted chocolate. Add the pasta to the custard and place into a serving dish. Grate chocolate over the top. Place in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

I really enjoyed trying these items, so thank you to Hotel Chocolat for the opportunity.

I received the items in the top photograph for free from Hotel Chocolat for the purposes of review. I was not paid for this review. All opinions are my own and are honest. 

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Bread!

I have become a woman obsessed. Obsessed with achieving the perfect loaf. Not long after I started this blog back in 2009 I had my first success with bread making. It then became a habit, regular kneading and eating. Then bread bought from anywhere just didn’t satisfy any more; it had to be my home-made loaf or nothing. A few years ago I experimented with sourdough, but it wasn’t a hit. I hadn’t waited long enough for the starter to mature and the resulting loaf was just too acidic. The starter was too much trouble to maintain. Back to the yeasted loaf we went.

Then at the beginning of this year I became tempted once more by the attraction of building a sourdough starter. At first taste of that first loaf I was bewitched and so began the quest for creating the perfect sourdough loaf.

I have researched the net and bought the books. I have joined the Real Bread Campaign to get tips from there. I have bought scrapers and a lame to improve my chances. I have researched flours and visited mills. I am learning about hydration and how to manage that sticky dough. The kitchen smells of yeast or freshly baked bread. There is always a fine layer of flour dust on the kitchen shelves that needs to be dusted away.  I have had great loaves emerge from the oven and some not so great, but all of them have tasted good.

The bread journey continues. I will keep you updated.

Sourdough

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Bara Brith – the cake and the loaf

The cake version

The cake version

 

The loaf version

The loaf version

I have become a little obsessed with bara brith. A long time ago someone used to make our family a bara brith on a regular basis. It was delicious. It became a little less delicious when we heard that she mixed it in her bath.

There are two types of bara brith. The cake version and the yeasted bread version. Bara Brith translates from the welsh as speckled bread, referring to the currants, raisins and candied peel within each slice. The arguments about which is  the real bara brith rage on. History has it that bara brith would have been the last loaf put in the dying oven at the end of the weekly bake, adding the fruit to the bread dough to make it a more palatable loaf.  When raising agents came into regular use the bread became a cake.

The cake version is often a tea bread with the fruit steeped in strong cold tea overnight. This makes it a very moist cake that lasts for days. Spread with butter, it goes very well with a flask of coffee and a beautiful view.

The bread version, though, I have been having trouble with.  I initially tried a version from a traditionally welsh cookery book. This particular recipe asks for wholemeal flour. However, I found that the enriched dough became just to heavy to get anything more than a small rise, making for a heavy bread. It tasted OK, but the cake tasted better. However, I was determined to keep trying.  I found another recipe, and this one uses plain white flour. The rise was much more successful, but perhaps not authentic, traditional bara brith.  If anyone makes a bara brith bread (the yeasted version) that they enjoy then I would be very interested in their recipe.

At the moment I think my heart belongs to the cake version. It lasts for days making it a handy cake to have in the tin.  The bread is just a little too heavy, even when made with the white flour and if I want a fruit loaf then this one wins hands down.

I would be interested in your bara brith thoughts to keep the obsession alive.

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Wholemeal, nut and apple loaf

I make three or four loaves a week these days.  It is usually a white loaf or a spelt loaf.  Sometimes , if time is short, then it’s soda bread.  I felt like making something a bit different this week.  I had cashews loitering and apple juice open in the fridge and so this loaf was born.  You could make it with normal wholemeal flour and omit the yeast and make a soda bread if you are short of time.

I liked it so much that I have made it twice, once with the addition of ground almonds, replacing some of the flour, which makes it really lovely and nutty.

It’s a tasty and easy loaf to make.  It’s good with cheese (grilled or not, it’s up to you), with strawberry jam and with honey, or dipped into soup. It’s a substantial loaf that you can really get your teeth into.

400g strong wholemeal flour (or 300g flour and 100g ground almonds)
100g porridge oats
50g cashew nuts, bashed in a food bag with a rolling pin until nubbly
2 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp easy bake yeast
1 tsp runny honey
150ml apple juice
150ml water

Method

Butter a 2lb loaf tin.

Place the flour, ground almonds (if using), oats and cashews in a large bowl or freestanding mixer.  Add the yeast, the salt and the honey. Warm the apple juice and water until hand hot. Pour into the flour and mix well until combined.  You may need a spot more water, as it will depend on the flour you are using.  The dough wants to be slightly sticky. Roughly shape into the size of the tin and place in the tin.  Cover with a large plastic bag, making a tent shape so that the loaf has room to rise.  Leave in a warm place for about an hour until the loaf has risen almost to the top of the tin. Wholemeal loaves do not rise as much as white loaves.

Place in a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 6 or on the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga for about 35-40 minutes until the loaf is well browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.  You may want to return it to the oven for another five minutes out of its tin to let the base crisp up. When cooked place it on a wire rack to cool completely.

 

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