Monday, 29 November 2010

A proving box

This week I made a wholemeal wheat bread based on Laurel Robertson's Desem bread. This was the first time I had tried to make it in any quantity, and one of the main challenges was proving it. The original recipe calls for a very short, warm, humid prove. Previously, with this sort of thing, I've either put it the molded loaves in a very low oven or in a plastic bag (as the recipe suggests for home bakers). In this instance, though, our only oven was full of bread, and plastic bags would have meant humidifying each of them separately. Luckily I have in the bakery a large plastic box which has periodically served a number of functions, and a roll of eco-wool plastic loft insulation, which I usually use for keeping ferments cool in the summer. I emptied a kettle of hot water into the bottom of the box, stacked some cooling wires on some empty bread tins, and set the loaves to prove on top of the wires. With the lid on the box, I wrapped the whole thing in the ecowool and set the timer.

It was astonishingly effective. After one hour and a half, the water was still uncomfortably hot to touch, and the loaves were ready to overflow their baskets. Handling them onto the peel and into the oven was quite tricky, but not completely unmanageable. For the second oven load, I halved the proving time. They were much easier to handle, and came out of the oven looking much prettier. When I tried the test loaves, though, I thought the first batch had the edge in flavour and texture, if not looks:

I really liked this loaf. I don't think the recipe is quite finished yet, but I thought the flavour and texture were pretty good, it's extremely wholesome, and we're still eating the last of ours 5 days after it was baked.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Another oven

We've been in London and managed to visit the E5 Bakehouse, who bake using an oven using the same principles as ours. Having only met them on paper so far, it was very exciting to see one in action and even bake some bread in it.

Matthew's starting a series of wholemeal specials this week with a wholemeal wheat loaf based on Laurel Robertson's famous Desem bread recipe. There will be two more wholemeal wheats and three ryes to follow over the next few months. With a break for something a little more frivolous over Christmas!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Change of seasons in the Bakery

In the majority of commercial bakeries the changing of the seasons goes pretty much unnoticed as far as the baking is concerned. However, in ours things are a little different. Sustainability is at the very heart of our bakery, and we were determined from the start to find a sustainable alternative to the banks of provers and coolers which are used in most bakeries to control the rising of the dough.

In the spring the change to the hot weather brought some challenges to us, and we began to think about low-tech cooling methods by which we could control the rise of the dough overnight. However, a tiny line in Alan Scott and Daniel Wing's The Bread Builders pointed to another possibility. They mention the practice of traditional French bakers, who used to vary the amount of leaven in the dough depending on the ambient temperature. At once we realised that the dough might hold the answer, we didn't need a low-tech solution, we needed to be in charge of the dough.

Matthew's adaptation of Jeffery Hamelman's DDT calculations provided a critical tool, meaning that the change of season from warmish to cold nights has passed without a hitch. Until fairly recently this kind of skill and knowledge must have been part of every professional baker's trade, but the ubiquity of technical solutions in bakeries of all sizes means these skills have been lost. The discovery that it is perfectly possible to bake without them has been an exciting one for us, and raises the possibility of another exciting prospect - the off-grid bakery.

Of course, this easy transition has not been without its down side. All transitions in the bakery - new oven, new recipes, new flour and (until now) new temperatures - have meant trial loaves. The presence of many half loaves yielded a bounty for our freezer, especially in the form of frozen cubes of bread to add to one of our favourite winter soups - ribollita. I was horrified to find that we were down to our last bag of bread cubes last week. Time to develop and new recipe I think!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Fife Diet Membership Drive

Our first encounter with the Fife Diet was a news story forwarded to me by my brother just before Christmas in 2007. It was a BBC story about Mike and Karen Small and their attempt to eat an (almost) exclusively local diet for a year. We had a jolly good chuckle about it, and then - well - the idea grew on us. But it seemed so barmy - in Fife! A Sicilian local diet might be one thing, but Fife?

And then we got to think harder about the food available around us. We already had a veg box, so we knew there was plenty of good veg available all year around. Fife is an amazing fruit growing area, with soft fruit farms and the orchards of Newbugh giving the potential, with careful storage, for year-round fruit. The Farmer's Market gave us chicken, beef, lamb, buffalo, the famous Fletcher's Venison. There was new artisan cheese production at the St Andrew's Farmhouse Cheese Company. The Fife Diet had encouraged us to look up and see the abundance around us.

We signed up, got involved, and began to see the potential and the madness that constitute the routes between field and plate in this country. We could see wheat growing from our windows, but could not buy local grain or flour. It was simpler for us to get to Edinburgh to the Farmer's Market than to any of the Fife Farmer's Markets, except for the once a month Dunfermline one five minutes walk away. By what route did the eggs from neighbouring Perth get to our local Marks and Spencers? The Fife Diet sought to find ways to have a more sensible local food economy.

Having gone through the year of a strict Fife diet, the Fife Diet project now aims to encourage people to eat more local and sustainable food. There's a good page here on their site with practical ideas to help. They're on a drive to double their membership by Christmas. If you're living in Fife you can register as an Active Member. If you live elsewhere, but want to support the Fife Diet you can register as a Friend. Here's the place do it.

And here are some beautiful Newburgh plums, now transformed into spiced plums waiting to be enjoyed with our local Christmas dinner.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Migraine, and focaccia.

Yesterday's baking was a bit precarious what with one thing and another. I woke up about an hour before the alarm with a proper migraine - dodgy vision, consuming nausea and a jackhammer in the temples. I feared for my bloomers.

Luckily, it was short lived. I was able to drift back off a couple of hours later and was functioning again by 6.30. But now the baking schedule was out by 3 hours. What to do?

Well, we had two more pieces of good luck. First, it had been a very cold night and the starter I had left to ferment wasn't ruined, and second, a last minute canceled order meant that I could redo the schedule to reduce the number of oven loads. I figured this meant I might just get everything baked in time for delivery.

As it turned out, baking went a little better than expected. The bloomers came out looking nice:

and delivery was only slightly later than we had hoped. Also, we got an extra treat out of it. There was all that dough hanging around from the canceled order, you see. It spoke to me of foccacia. Simultaneously soft and chewy from its long ferment, and delicious with extra oil and salt:

The household portion didn't last very long.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Fleeting pleasures

This is something which doesn't come together every year, but when it does, it's blissful.

This Saturday there were cob nuts under our local cob tree. The unpromising location of this cob tree is a closely guarded secret - squirrels have spies everywhere! We managed to pick up a couple of pocketfuls which, after some pleasant tussles with an adjustable wrench (why don't we have a nut cracker?), yielded a good handful of fat, sweet kernels.

The previous Thursday there had been russet apples in our veg box.

The Anster we got at the last farmers market had not yet all been scoffed.

We had whey and chicken fat, the critical ingredients for making outstanding oat cakes.

And there you have it. I think these things come together about once every three years, and when they do they make a local, seasonal, delicious lunch I love.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Autumn Spices

It's starting to feel very autumnal indeed here in Fife: cold mornings, mists, beautiful leaves, and - yes - mellow fruitfulness. We went over to Newburgh to the Orchard Group's fruit sale on Saturday. Came back with a lot of apples and pears, including the amazing all-red (and that includes the flesh) Bloody Ploughman. We'll be having a busy week this week at home with apple sauce, dried apples, chutney, mulled pears to make. Oh, and a new try-out - bramley lemon curd. I'm looking forward to that on a bit of Sourdough. Makes the fact that the nights are drawing in so much that we can have candles lit at supper time a bit easier to reconcile myself to.

The bakery has also been embracing the autumnal with last week's special - spicy Currant Buns. Toasted with a great deal of butter they made a fantastic tea-time treat. I think freshly ground spices are the secret of these buns. The spices get ground in one of our Spong coffee grinders.

We have a Spong No. 1 (the littlest) for coffee and one for spices. I'm rather hoping that the larger capacity of the new oven will mean we'll have to invest in a whopping great Spong No. 4 to grind the spices. Spong grinders can be a little addictive.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

DDT calculations

Desired dough temperature (DDT) is just what is says on the tin. The temperature you want your dough to be. Different temperatures have different effects on the dough. Cooler doughs take longer to ferment and different temperatures favour different kinds of fermentation. Controlling the dough temperature is important a) so that you have some idea of when it will be ready to bake, and b) so that the baked loaf has the flavour and texture you want.

Bigger bakeries than ours employ provers and retarders which are essentially large and expensive temperature controlled cupboards. For us, and for home bakers, the best we can realistically hope for is to get the dough to the right temperature in the first place, and then to keep it there. In his fantastic book 'Bread', Jeffery Hamelman explains how to adjust the temperature of the water in order to acheive the DDT. The difficulty is how to account for the temperatures of the bakery (or your kitchen), the flour, the heat introduced by friction in your mixer and any preferments you are using, all of which can vary by 20 degrees between summer and winter, and different times of day.

Hamelman provides a very simple calculation to work this out (on page 383 in my copy). You first multiply the DDT by 3 (for straight yeasted doughs) or 4 (for doughs including any kind of preferment). You then subtract the temperatures of the air, the flour and the preferment (if you are using one). The remainder is the required water temperature.

I have been using this method for a while, pretty satisfactorily. Recently, though, with the arrival of colder weather, I have found it rather over-estimates the required water temperature and producing to too hot a dough. The reason is quite obvious: the initial multiplication step treats all the ingredients as if they had the same impact on the dough temperature, but they do not. For example, one might use twice as much flour as preferment.

So here's my contribution - a means of taking different ingredient quantities into account, whilst still being able to do the calculation on the back of a baking schedule.

First, one must estimate the relative number of parts of the ingredients which will contribute to the overall dough temperature. One might use 400g of flour, 300g of water and 200g of leaven for example: 4 parts flour 3 parts water, 2 parts leaven. Add all of these together to make 9 parts for the whole, and add one for the air temperature, making ten parts in all. We then multiply the DDT by the number of parts, so if we wish for 24C we have 24x10=240. We now take the temperature of each ingredient, and multiply it by the number of parts for that ingredient. If the temperature of the flour is 17C we do 17x4=68, and if the air temp is 15 we do 1x15=15. We then subtract each of these products from the multiplied DDT, i.e. 240-68-15 etc. This remainder must be accounted for by the water - but we have three parts of water, so we divide by three to get the actual water temperature. If the remainder was 120, we would do 120/3=40, and then use water at 40C. The original calculation produces a water temp of 46C.

To work it all out, I draw up a table like this:

Ingredient    Parts      Temp        
Dough           10    x      24     = 240
Air                 1      x     15       =  15
Flour             4      x     17       =  68
Starter          2      x     18       =  36
Water            3      x     40       = 121  

I start by determining the 'Parts' column, then multiply the DDT, and then take the temperatures in the middle rows. Lastly, I do the multiplications, subtraction, and the division to get the water temp. This method takes a little longer to work out, but so has so far produced much more satisfactory water temperatures.

Monday, 4 October 2010

North Queensferry Food Festival

Saturday found the Steamie Bakehouse at the North Queensferry Food Festival.

The Festival was organised by the North Queensferry Transition Initiative. Transition initiatives are community groups attempting to tackle the potential impact of peak oil and climate change at a local level. Food resilience (what happens if we can't rely on cheap imports any more) is a major part of the concern of most Transition initiatives. The great thing about supporting food resilience on a local level is that it tends to be a lot of fun. People get together to create community gardens, ecourage seasonal eating and create local food networks.

The Food Festival grew out of last year's Apple Day, and we were delighted to help with our strand of a local food network. We sold out of our bread (well, a couple of bits of Haggerty might have slipped home with me!) and enjoyed ourselves at the festival. The other exciting outcome for us was that we're pretty certain from the level of enthusiastic sign ups, that North Queensferry will be our first new Bread Club after the new oven is finished.

Somehow I managed to leave without getting any of the gallons of apple juice which was being pressed. I'll just have to go again next year.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Oven progress

This time last week we were all set to send the final oven design off to the fabricator, but a timely conversation with Peter Scott, led to some last minute changes. Peter Scott's site, Rocket Stove Design Base, has plans for a bread oven rocket stove. We saw these plans after many months of planning our own oven, having no idea if anyone had done something similar. It was very reassuring to know that someone had made an oven with a similar design to our own.

The internet is a fantastic resource for finding out about innovative designs, such as rocket stoves, but sometimes there's no substitute for a conversation with an actual person, and so it proved in this case. Matthew's conversation with Peter Scott has led to a number of critical improvements.

The plans are now revised and almost ready to go (again!).

This is the view of the internal metal structure of the oven looking from the front. You can see the open doors to the three decks. The previous iteration of the design had only two decks, so bread has definitely been the winner from the redesign!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Local Food Weekend

We've had a busy and exciting weekend full of local food adventures.

Saturday was the AGM of the Fife Diet. The Fife Diet aims to encourage people to source more of their food from their local area, and they've been a great support to us. The speaker was Phil Hanlon, whose AFTERnow project looks at the impact of the diseases of civilisation on today's society. What emerged strongly from Phil and those listening was the importance of community links and networks for dealing both with our current food situation - obesity, carbon emissions, loss of local foodways - and possible future senarios - peak oil, disruptions to food security.

We had a stall at the AGM, and it was great to hear lots of enthusiasm for our bread. We also got to chat with one of our long-time food heros, Joanna Blythman. The great value for us, as producers, in meetings like this one is, not only to hear about the work of the Fife Diet in the last year, but also to meet people with similar concerns and enthusiasms to our own. Academics like Phil Hanlon; writers and campaigners like Mike Small and Joanna Blythman; like-minded people living close by us we'd never met before; someone who might put us in contact with a source of local honey - all these links help to strengthen the community in which we live and work.

On Sunday we took our first trip to Muddy Boots, a farm, shop, cafe and source of varied outdoor fun. We were feeling pretty tired after our week baking followed by the Fife Diet stall so were hoping for good, simple food, not cooked by us! And Muddy Boots cafe were more than up to the job. We had a delicious pork stew with mashed potatoes. It's so rare that I eat a meal in a cafe or restaurant that is something I would have been really pleased to cook at home, but this stew and the mixed fruit crumble which followed it, did that job brilliantly.

I then picked up seven kilos of tomatoes to fuel my current food preserving obsession - filling the freezer with roast tomato passata while the Fife tomatoes are plentiful. Better get roasting . . .

Monday, 13 September 2010


The artisan baker is pretty dependent on fabric. The proving clothes, the wiping clothes, the endless handwashing . . .

You can, of course, buy proving clothes. However, to me that seems a rather expensive way to get some heavy hemmed cloth. When we started out baking in our kitchen, I started making proving clothes for lining the baskets in which the round loaves rise, and in which the longer free-standing loaves rise. It's so little trouble to do I still make them as we need them. I use heavy artist's canvas, which seems to do the job just fine. We have long clothes which are folded up to support many rising loaves and square ones which line baskets.

We also use cloth for delivering bread to bread clubs. Each household's bread is popped into a cloth bag, labeled with their order for the week, the bags are then taken to the hub household and people pick up their loaves from there. We use bags from Bishopston Trading

All of Bishopston's stuff is organic and fairtrade. And I don't think you can have a sustainable bakery without that.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Sun falling on cedars

Our new oven will be wood-fired. The design is a rocket-type, which is substantially more fuel efficient than a traditional wood-fired bread oven.

We are fortunate to be close to the Scottish Wood sawmill at Inzievar Woods, an organisation working towards their aim of creating a sustainable, exciting, regenerative woodland culture in Fife. Sawmill offcuts will be perfect for feeding into the new oven. There's even a cycle path on the old Dunfermline to Alloa railway which connects the bakery with the sawmill, but I'm not certain how practical bicycle collection of wood would be. Perhaps it's time to invest in a donkey cart. Or a goat cart? Then we could have goat's milk too.

However it gets to us, we're going to need somewhere to store the wood. My brother has built us a beautiful wood shelter.

This is the view from the bakery door, you can see the wood store through our nascent perennial herb, fruit and vegetable garden. Next year I hope you won't be able to see the wood through the abundance of berries, rhubarb and asparagus, but at the moment only the comfrey is blocking the view.

Here's a close-up of the lovely cedar shingles on top

Monday, 23 August 2010

Perks of the Job: No. 3


In the days when we were baking in our kitchen there was quite often the opportunity for using up some surplus starter from the day's bake in hotcakes for the next morning.

For the uninitiated, hotcakes are a kind of naturally yeasted pancake (think drop scone rather than crepe), traditionally done on a griddle. Sandor Katz in his excellent Wild Fermentation has a great recipe and description. His is an Alaskan Frontier recipe - the frontiers men would carry their sourdough starter with them so they could have bread or hotcakes wherever they found themselves.

I'm sure the life of an artisan baker is very cushy in comparison to that of an Alaskan Frontiersman, but when you're up at Baker O'clock, a couple of hotcakes with jam and creme fraiche are extremely welcome.

Even now when we don't bake in our kitchen I keep a jar of starter whose main function is the raising of weekend hotcakes. They are also great with a fried egg and salt pork.

Baker's Breakfast Hotcakes

The night before

140g starter
250ml water - lukewarm
200g fine wholemeal flour (I use Dove's Farm)

Mix these together, cover, and leave to ferment until the next morning.

In the morning -

Gently heat a cast iron pan or griddle, or other heavy frying pan. Then stir in to your hotcake mix

1 egg, beaten (if you need egg-free pancakes, you can leave this out, although the soft middle of the hotcakes will be a little squidgy)
1 tbspn olive oil, or melted lard or butter.
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda (this is not essential, but neutralises the slightly sour taste of the hotcakes, if you want).

Put a little lard or butter on a bit of kitchen roll or cloth and rub over the griddle.

Pour on sufficient batter to make the size of hotcake you require. When bubbles have formed and the top has firmed up a little, flip and cook the other side.

As they come off the griddle eat at once, or keep warm for a short while in a low oven wrapped in a tea towel.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Travelling Starter

A major consideration when packing for our holiday for the last few years has been 'how can we get our starter safely to Cornwall?'. With four of us going on the train over two days, this is no small matter. How can we seal the jar so the starter doesn't escape on the train, without pressure building up causing the jar to explode? (Yes, this has happened to me!) How to keep it cool enough? How to remember to put it in the fridge during our overnight stay in London, when all we want to do is eat my Mum's delicious supper and drink some wine? And again, how to remember to pop it straight in the fridge when we get there and not leave it in the sun while we run straight to the sea?

Important questions when you have a plan to try out beach bread!

The starter made it down to Cornwall without major incident, and the beach barbeque plans were hatched. Naturally leavened beach bread cannot be a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. Not when you've got to make the starter the night before. So we had to gamble on the weather and ended up with a classic British beach day - grey with a threat of drizzle - each time with did it! However, as you can see, we found that it's much better to get out onto the beach in the drizzle and get on with it than kick around the cottage.

We chose a spot at the base of a rocky outcrop and built a small fire pit.

First up were some John Dorys, they cooked while the fire was hot, at the same time the stones under the fire, on which we planned to cook the bread, were heating.

When they were done we wrapped them up and buried them in warm sand while the bread cooked.

Matthew then stretched out bits of dough and placed them on the hot rocks where the fire had been.

Things got a little sandy and ashy . . .

. . . but nothing a quick brush down couldn't fix.

Barbequed fish, flat breads baked on the stones and some locally-grown cucumbers the shape and colour of lemons. Yum. Love holidays!

Monday, 9 August 2010


Wow, summer is not a great time for blogging. How did four months go by without attention to this poor neglected blog?

One reason is that the bakery work has been changing and keeping us on our toes - because we don't have a proving box (a massive fridge used in most bakeries to keep the speed of their dough proving constant) we adjust the amount of starter and water in the dough to make the loaves prove more slowly in hot weather. Doing this over the change of season for the first time has taken a bit of adjusting to. We made a couple of batches of 'barbeque loaves' when Sourdoughs got too flat in the heat.

And here is photographic evidence that in June it was even hot enough to make a barbeque to go with them. In Fife! Flat sourdough bread and herrings were a brilliant combination.

There have been so many things to keep us outside at this time of year that sitting in front of the computer has been a low priority. However, now it's August and the rainy season has begun! We are also finally starting the process of building our new oven. After much research, thought and conversations with architects, potters and materials manufacturers, it's time to actually do it!

First stop, order the materials . . .

Friday, 9 April 2010

Perks of the Job: No. 2

A Dear Little Loaf

When the bakery has a little dough left over, the girls can made A Dear Little Loaf. Sometimes they shape it and make what is, essentially, a bun. However, they also have a diddy loaf tin from a children's cooking set which makes a real mini-loaf.

Then there's small-girl-size toast to be eaten.

Of course, as these small girls have enormous appetites, a Dear Little Loaf generally makes only one snack, but it gives a great deal of satisfaction.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

A Compromise

Well, it's not the large wood-fired oven we need and it is also possibly one of the ugliest ovens I've seen, but it's not our domestic oven and it's not in our kitchen.

In order for life and baking to continue without hindering each other further, we've found a new space in which to bake and bought a small catering oven. The joy of having the kitchen back for family cooking and home educating is considerable. For Matthew, there is the liberation of not having to put the bakery back in a box at the end of the day, and a space devoted to dough. It's making some pretty nice looking bread, too.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Hot Cross Buns

I know it's a day or two early, but I love making hot crossed buns. I baked these yesterday morning:

Here's our recipe. Inevitably it is based on several others, most notably Andrew Whitley's (Bread Matters) and Elizabeth David's (English Bread and Yeast Cookery). Our contributions are a greater quantity of wholemeal flour than is usual and the use of leaven instead of yeast. Happy Easter!

Hot Crossed Buns (makes about 16 buns)
Milk Leaven:
    Wheat leaven: 230g
    Whole milk: 205g (at about 30 degrees celsius)
    Wholemeal wheat  flour: 45g

Mix all the ingredients together and leave in a warm place (20-24 degrees celsius) until there is obvious activity such as swelling and bubbles on the surface. This will probably take at least 4 hours, depending on the vigour of your wheat leaven and the temperature of your kitchen.

    Strong white wheat flour: 110g
    Wholemeal wheat flour: 240g
    Sugar: 40g
    Ground mixed spice (spice mix at the end of the post): 10g
    Water: 330g at about 30 degrees celsius
    Salt: 5g
    Melted Butter: 55g
    Dried fruit (raisins, currants etc): 285g + hot water: 45g

Soak the fruit in the hot water and leave for 12 hours. This works best if you put them in a freezer bag and tie it up so that all the fruit is in contact with the water.

Mix the milk leaven with 100g of the water. Mix together the flours, sugar and spice, and then mix them into the diluted leaven. The dough should be quite stiff. Cover the bowl with plastic (cling film, a plastic bag etc) and let it sit for 10-20 minutes. Knead it vigourously for 200 strokes. Re-cover it and let it rest for another 10 minutes. Knead it again for another 200 strokes. Re-cover it and let it rest for another 10 minutes. For the rest of the dough making, I find it easiest keep the dough in the bowl. Add the salt, and knead until it is entirely absorbed. Now add the butter and knead again until the butter is absorbed. Add the remaining water a little at a time, each time kneading until the water is absorbed into the dough. You should end up with a dough that is very soft, and perhaps a little sticky without being unmanageable. You may need more water, depending on the strength of your flour. Now fold in the fruit. The action I use to do this is a bit like kneading, but much more gentle. The dough should be so soft that it is quite easy to incorporate the fruit without squashing it.

When all the fruit is incorporated, cover the bowl and set the dough to rise. How quickly this happens depends again on the temperature of your kitchen and the activity of your milk leaven, but it may be 6 hours or so. I often cool the dough and let it rise even more slowly overnight.

When the dough is risen, break it into equal sized pieces. I like about 75-80g, which gives the 16 or so buns that this recipe is designed for. They will be a little smaller than most commercial buns but then these are also a little bit denser than those hyperlight, supersoft confections. Form the pieces into buns and place them on a buttered baking sheet about 1inch/2.5cm apart. Leave them to rise for about 2 hours at 20-24 degrees celsius. The will not swell much, but at the end of this time you should notice that they are markedly softer when you poke one with your finger.

Crosses (from Andrew Whitely, Bread Matters):
    Plain flour: 50g
    Baking powder: 1g
    Water: 50g
    Vegetable oil, or melted lard or butter: 10g
A gram of baking powder is hard to measure; half a teaspoon does the job. Mix all the ingredients together into a smooth batter and pipe them onto the buns immediately before baking.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees celsius and bake the the buns for 15-20 minutes (but see the note on baking times below). While they are baking, prepare the glaze:

    Muscavado Sugar: 50g
    Water: 50g

Boil the water with the sugar until you have a dark and fairly liquid syrup.
When the buns are done (the crosses should be no more than just colouring), turn them off the tray onto cooling racks, leave them for 5 minutes and then brush them with the glaze.

I really like Elizabeth David's variation on her own sweet spice blend for HCBs: the addition of cumin. Her quantity of cloves, however I find excessive. Here's our version. Grate 2 large nutmegs into a bowl and mix with 14g ground ginger (or grind your own if you have some dried ginger root). Grind together 14g Allspice berries,  14g cumin seeds, 7g cinnamon bark and about 20 whole cloves and mix them with the nutmeg and ginger. this mix can be a bit overpowering if used immediately, if your spices are good and potent. I like that but if you don't, try making it 24hours ahead of time to let it mellow.

Baking time
15-20 minutes is about right if you have only this quantity to bake. If you bake double, say, the drop in oven temperature when you put them in will be greater and you will need to let them bake for quite a bit longer.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Perks of the Job: No. 1

Here is the first in an occasional series on the many perks of the job when you are a baker's wife.

No. 1 - Left over pieces of sourdough can make such tasty treats.

You come in from a hard day's home educating in the galleries of Edinburgh, collapse in the kitchen chair and are at once bought a cup of tea by your two year old and an onion, anchovy and mozzarella pizza by your husband. You see, you've got to do something with those leftover bits of sourdough, haven't you?

It's a hard life, I tell you.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Hearth Haggerty: the recipe

Here is the recipe for Hearth Haggerty. As Zillah said, there have been through several iterations before we arrived at this version, so please experiment with substituting your local cheese, or your favourite dough or herbs, and tell us about the results. If anything needs clarifying, just ask.
305g Wholemeal Rye Leaven (See Notes: Leaven)
345g Warm water (about 115 boiling to 230 cold)
100g Plain white flour
100g Wholemeal rye flour
240g Strong white flour
10g Salt
Sunflower Oil (See Notes: Oil)
2 Onions (medium to large)
250g Anster Cheese
20 Sage leaves (See Notes: Sage)
Ground Pepper.


Disperse the leaven in the water. Mix together the flours and salt. Add the flour and salt mix to the leaven and water and mix together until you have a very soft, sticky, dough. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a plastic bag and leave to stand for 20 minutes. Mine looks like this at this point:

Oil your hands and stretch the dough: slide your fingers under one side of it and lift it gently, letting its own weight stretch it, and fold it back onto itself:

The aim is to stretch it without letting the gluten tear. Repeat this action every ten minutes for one hour, by which time you should start to feel some tension [but see Notes: temperature and timings]. Then do it every twenty minutes for second hour. Then let it sit for a third hour, by which time it should have expanded a fair bit and have a fragile, souffle-esque feel in the hand:

During the third hour, slice the onions and gently fry them until the are very soft, have taken on a light tan colour, and have little or no moisture remaining. Chop or crumble the cheese into small pieces and finely chop the sage.

Grease a baking sheet of 36cmx26cm or an equivalent area with butter or lard (see Notes: oil and fat), and smear some sunflower oil on top of the grease.

Tip your dough out onto the baking sheet, divide it in half and put half back in the bowl. Press and stretch the remaining half out to cover the sheet. Spread the onions over the dough, sprinkle the sage evenly over the onions, add a uniform grinding of pepper and distribute the cheese:

The next step is a bit of a challenge for your dough handling skills: with oily hands, pick up the second half of the dough and, without letting it touch anything, use a series of smooth, quick motions to form it into a thin sheet and lay it over the cheese [See Notes: Dough handling].

Let it sit for two or three hours, until has puffed up a bit. Then press it down with your finger tips all over and bake on a stone in an oven preheated to 240 celcius for about 30 minutes.

Take it out of the oven, and transfer from the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool. If you can, leave it for about 30 minutes before you cut into it.

Temperature and timings: Our kitchen is usually around 17 or 18 degrees (celcius) at this time of year. If yours is warmer, your timings will be shorter than mine are here. If it is colder they will be longer. There is inevitably a bit of feeling your way in getting a new recipe to work in your own environment.
Leaven: If you don't have a leaven, there are excellent instructions in Dan Lepard's book 'The Handmade Loaf' and in Andrew Whitley's 'Bread Matters', and in many others, and on the web. It takes about a week. Alternatively, if you live near here (Dunfermline, Fife), I'd be delighted to give you some of ours.
Oil and Fat: You can end up using quite a bit of oil in this recipe. I think it may be possible to overdo it, which can lead to a very slight bitterness. Zillah disagrees. In any case, it is intended to be an oily bread. However, if you want to reduce the amount of oil I suggest that to stop your hands sticking too much whilst handling the dough, you dip them in water instead. I'd also like to encourage you to use the best quality oil you can find, by which I mean a) organic and b) cold-pressed c) produced as near to you as possible. Yes, it's more expensive, but it's worth it. For greasing the baking sheet, you will need to use hard fat, either butter or lard. Pure vegetable oil will be absorbed by the dough and will not prevent sticking. My favourite is pork lard, but to get organic pork lard in the UK, you must buy the fat and render it yourself. It's a bit of a faff, but again, worth it a thousand times over.
Sage: Our sage leaves here in Fife are about 1inch long. If your leaves are bigger, use fewer. Or more, if you like sage a lot.
Dough Handling: Stop laughing, I know it can be done because I've done it. At least twice. I don't really know how to describe what I did though, something like letting the edges slide through your hands whilst gravity does the stretching. To be honest, it ends up as a mess quite often, so here's an alternative method: holding it above the baking sheet, stretch it into a sausage as long as the sheet, and lay it down the middle. Now slide your fingers between it and the cheese layer at one end and stretch it out to the sides. Work your way along until you have covered the whole sheet. If it goes wrong, you can simply smooth it up to the edges, although this can disturb the even distribution of the filling. Don't worry too much about small holes: they will mostly disappear as the dough rises, and a bit of cheese showing through can be quite attractive.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Hurricane to Haggerty

Several years ago, with a large, low cloud sitting over our holiday in Cornwall, Matthew and Ben set about building a wood-fired earth oven. They made mud bricks for the base and dome, using sand to form the shape of the dome. A trip to a salvage yard rendered a bit of wood for a door. We fired it as you would a conventional wood-fired oven, making a fire with small bits of wood in the body of the oven then raking it out when the oven was hot.

In spite of its makeshift construction we cooked some good things in it - loaves of bread, of course, but also a joint of meat (lamb, I think), and on the last night a cheesy flat bread. There was a hurricane blowing in over the Penwith peninsula and it was our last night, so we were eager to give the oven one last fire to make a tasty last-night treat. It was a white dough with mozzarella and herbs in the middle. It was delicious. We called it Hurricane Bread.

Hurricane Bread has been through many iterations in subsequent years. We don't make white bread any more. We have also become interested in eating a more locally produced diet, so we try to use our local cheese, Anster, when we can. During this year's Cornish holiday Hurricane Bread gained an addition in the shape of slowly cooked onions. It had become one of our favourite breads and we were eager to use it for the Steamie. However, we wanted to give it a new, less personal name.

Anster Cheese is based on a Cheshire recipe, which brought to mind the Cheshire classic, Pan Haggerty. Pan Haggerty made up of layers of potato, cheese and onion, fried in dripping. It's utterly delicious . We felt that our flat bread could be considered a cousin to Pan Haggerty, so named it Hearth Haggerty.

Hearth Haggerty is two thin flat pieces of light rye dough with Anster Cheese, fried onions and fresh sage in between. It's a fantastic accompaniment to vegetable soup, especially if you toast it lightly first. We'll post the recipe up soon so you can try it for yourself.

Anster, by the way is made by The St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company in Anstruther in the far east of Fife. We're off to visit them tomorrow and see the cheese being made. Of which more later . . .