Basic yeasted white bread rolls

This recipe makes lovely bread rolls. I have adapted it from the plain white bread recipe in Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookery Course, which makes two loaves of bread. The rolls freeze and defrost well, so you can make a batch and have them ready to go for days when you are pressed for time or baking isn’t an option.

If you make sourdough / naturally leavened bread, this recipe is also a good way to use up some of your discard from feeding your starter.

Ingredients

  • 425ml hand-hot water (a mixture of half boiling and half cold water should give the right temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 2 level teaspoons easy-blend / dried yeast (you can use also 7g fresh yeast instead of dried)
  • 700g strong white bread flour, warmed slightly
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • A little oil

If using discard:

Substitute 50g of flour and 50ml of water for 100g discard. You will therefore need to use 375ml hand-hot water and 650g strong white bread flour.

Method:

Step 1: Pour 150ml of the hand-hot water into a jug, then with a fork whisk in the sugar, followed by the dried yeast.

Step 2: Sift the flour into a bowl. The flour should be at room temperature – if it feels a little chilly, you can warm it in a low oven for a few minutes.

Step 3: Add the salt to the flour. Make a well into the centre of the flour, then pour in the yeast and the remaining warm water. If using discard, add 100g to the mixture at this stage.

Base ingredients for the dough – yeast mixed with water, the rest of the hand-hot water, flour and salt (in my case I have added 100g starter discard)

Step 4: Mix to a dough, starting off with a wooden spoon and using your hands in the final stages of mixing.

Mixing the dough in the bowl

Step 5: Wipe the bowl clean with the dough – scraping off any dry bits with the wooden spoon – and transfer it to a flat work surface (there shouldn’t be any need to flour this). Knead the dough for 10 minutes or until it develops a sheen and blisters under the surface. The dough should be springy and elastic.

Post kneading

Step 6: Return the dough to the bowl and cover it with a beeswax wrap / cling film (so that a skin doesn’t form) and a tea towel / blanket (to retain warmth).

Leave it in a warm place until it looks as though it has doubled in bulk. The season, humidity and temperature within your house will influence how quickly the dough rises. In summer I find that this dough rises in 1 ½ – 2 hours at room temperature or 45 – 60 minutes in a warm place (e.g. direct sunlight). Because this morning was a little cold and autumnal, it took ~4 hours to double in size.

Dough after the first rise (~4 hours)

Step 7: Once it’s ready, tip the dough out of the bowl onto the surface (using your fingers to loosen the dough from the side of the bowl), knock the air out and knead again for 5 minutes. The purpose of this is to promote an even crumb throughout the dough.

The dough after a second knead

Step 8: Put an empty bowl onto your scales and zero them. Pop your dough into the bowl to find out the weight. Divide the total weight of the dough by the number of rolls you want to make (personally I find between 90 – 100g is a good size). Put the dough back onto the kitchen counter, and use a bench / dough knife to cut off segments of the dough, weighing each segment as you go to make sure your rolls will be even in size.

Step 9a: To shape the bread rolls, I find it helpful to lightly grease the surface you are working on with a little bit of oil – that way the dough won’t stick.

Step 9b: Working with each segment of dough at a time, pull the edges into the centre and form a little tuck. This will be the underside of your bread roll. Use the palms of your hands to shape the outside circumference of the bread into little rounds.

Step 9c: Turn the roll over, then place onto the greased baking tray. Leave some space between each roll, as they will expand again during the second prove.

Shaping – the underside of one of the bread rolls
Shaping – the upper side of the bread roll. The dough is quite compact at this stage – but the rolls will relax and expand in the next step

Step 10: Place each tray in a well-oiled see-through polythene bag until the rolls have expanded in size (30 minutes in a warm place or an hour at room temperature). Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 8, 450°F (230°C or 210°C fan).

Step 11: When the rolls have risen, dust them with a little flour using a sieve.

Rolls post rise, ready to be lightly dusted with flour and baked in the oven

Step 12: Bake the rolls for 15 – 20 minutes until lightly golden. Keep an eye on them in the oven and rotate / swap over the trays between racks as needed, depending on whether you have hot spots in your oven. When they are done, the rolls will have a pale brown colour underneath and sound hollow when you tap their bases.

Step 13: Cool on a wire rack (otherwise on a flat surface the steam will be trapped and the crust will become soggy) before eating or freezing.

The finished result – a baker’s dozen
The finished result – the inside of one of the rolls

Vegetarian shepherd’s pie

Over the past few months, I have been consciously trying to reduce the meat and fish that we eat as a household, for a combination of reasons: concerns about the impact to the planet; animal welfare; the impact of overfishing our oceans. I have also noticed that I feel better when I eat a predominantly vegetarian diet and cardio exercise feels easier – I don’t get stitches when running, and I have increased stamina. Don’t get me wrong, we still have the occasional meal with meat and fish, but a lot less than we used to eat.

In my humble opinion, this vegetarian shepherd’s pie is just as good as a meat version (if not better, because there’s no lamb fat to clean up afterwards!), and Mr Salford Kitchen doesn’t seem to mind at all. When I apologized for serving up lentils for dinner in the place of lamb, he coyly admitted that he was “hoping that I’d decide to make this again”!

Ingredients

  • 250g puy lentils, cooked as per the packet instructions
  • 25g butter
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • ½ pepper (red or green), deseeded and chopped
  • 225g vine tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon dried mixed herbs
  • ½ teaspoon mild chili powder
  • Bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the mashed potato topping:

  • 700g potatoes, e.g. Maris Piper, peeled and cut into evenly sized chunks
  • 50g butter
  • 3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
  • 100g cheddar cheese, grated
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas 4.

Place the potatoes in a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook the potatoes until tender, then drain and mash until smooth. Mix in the butter and some salt and pepper, then add the spring onions and three-quarters of the cheese and mix again. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. If the mash is too dry you can add a splash of milk to loosen it. Set to one side.

Meanwhile cook the puy lentils as per the packet instructions.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Place the sliced tomatoes onto the baking parchment. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and season with some freshly milled salt and black pepper. Place the tray on the top shelf of the oven and roast for 15 – 20 minutes or until the edges of the tomatoes are starting to brown. When done, remove from the oven and set to one side.

Melt the butter in a saucepan then add the celery, onion, carrots, chopped pepper and bay leaf, and cook gently until softened. Add the cooked lentils. Add the garlic, herbs, spices, salt and pepper to taste, then spoon the mixture into a large pie dish and arrange the roasted tomatoes on top.

Spread the mashed potato on top of the ingredients in the pie dish. To help the potato to brown and crisp up, run the tines of a fork over the potato to form little ridges. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top, then bake for around 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Serve with green vegetables.

The leftovers are extra good the next day – twice baking makes the topping ultra crispy. Enjoy!

Leek and pancetta quiche

This leek and pancetta quiche with homemade shortcrust pastry is a favourite in the Salford Kitchen! The original recipe is from Gordon Ramsay, but I use a slightly different method to make the pastry case. I’ve made this quiche many times, as it’s relatively easy to whip up, super delicious, and stores well in the fridge – perfect for lunch or dinner the following day!

Leek and pancetta quiche, served with a simple garden salad

Ingredients

Serves four

  • 1 quantity shortcrust pastry – see here for ingredients and method
  • 200g pancetta lardons
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp crème fraiche (or double cream)
  • 100g Gruyere cheese, finely grated
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  • Make the shortcrust pastry, and blind bake as per the instructions here.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 180°C fan / Gas 6 and place a baking sheet on the top shelf of your oven.
  • Fry the pancetta in a large oiled frying pan over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until coloured, and the fat has been rendered. Remove the pancetta from the frying pan and drain on kitchen paper.
  • In the same pan, add the leek and sauté for 3-4 minutes until soft and completely cooked through. Drain and remove excess oil if necessary.
  • Mix the eggs and cream together in a bowl. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add three-quarters of the Gruyere and stir in the leek and pancetta. Mix well then add the parsley. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
  • Pour the mixture into the cooked pastry case, ensuring an even distribution of the leek and pancetta, and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Place the pastry tin on the preheated baking sheet and cook for 15-20 minutes or until golden and set.
  • Remove the quiche and allow to cool slightly on a wire rack before serving.

Spinach and ricotta ravioli

Spinach and ricotta ravioli

In all honesty, I make pasta from scratch maybe once a year (if that). It’s hardwired in my brain that pasta is the ultimate mid-week quick fix for dinner, so the thought of standing around for hours making the dough, refrigerating it, crafting the fillings, rolling out and cutting the pasta, drying the strands (if making spaghetti) / assembling the little parcels, then cooking them defeats me more often than not. No can do, no compute, not-a-number!

This week though was the once a year occasion. Recently I’ve had a hankering to have a go at making ravioli – and a half-eaten pot of ricotta in the fridge rapidly approaching its expiry date and a wilting bag of spinach were good enough excuse. A natural early riser, I woke up at 6.30am and had a choice what to do with my hours of free time before the work day began: put some hours in studying about databases or computing networks, or try my hand at making ravioli from scratch? Silly question; pasta wins of course!

This was a labour of love to make but worth all the effort. The result was a melt-in-your-mouth, gorgeously thin pasta with a lemony, zingy kick from the ricotta filling. Yum!

Ingredients

  • 360g tipo 00 flour, or strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 200g fresh spinach, washed and drained
  • 200g ricotta
  • 40g parmesan, finely grated, plus extra to serve
  • 1/2 lemon, grated zest only
  • Sea salt and black pepper

To make the ravioli, I followed a BBC food recipe (here) and used my KitchenAid pasta making extension kit to make and roll out the dough.

Method

Put the flour, eggs and a large pinch of salt into the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix gently until it comes together. It may seem very dry at first, but it will gradually form a dough. If, after a minute or so, it still seems crumbly, add 1–2 teaspoons water, kneading after each addition. Continue to knead for 6–8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and stretchy, and springs back when you press your finger into it. Divide the dough into four equal pieces, wrap tightly in cling film and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the spinach into a large dry frying pan and place over a high heat. Cook the spinach, turning frequently, for 3–5 minutes until it has completely wilted. Drain in a sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible, then wrap in a clean tea towel and press out any remaining liquid, so the spinach is as dry as possible. Finely chop the spinach and transfer to a bowl, together with the ricotta, Parmesan and lemon zest. Season to taste with salt and plenty of black pepper, mix well and set aside.

(At this point, I put both the dough and the filling in the fridge and left them during the day while I was at work. Later that evening…)

Take one portion of dough from the fridge, remove the cling film and lightly dust the dough with flour. Flatten with a rolling pin to the width of your pasta machine. Feed the dough through on the widest setting, then fold each side of the dough to the centre, as if you were folding a letter to fit inside an envelope. Feed the dough through on the widest setting again. Adjust the rollers to the next setting and roll the dough through the pasta machine again. Continue to roll the dough through the machine, decreasing the thickness by one setting each time and dusting with a little more flour if it becomes sticky. Do not be tempted to skip settings on the pasta machine, otherwise the dough may tear.

Thinness is critical to a good ravioli, and you want to be able to see the shadow of your hand behind the dough when you hold it up to the light. If the dough is too thick, the seams (where the layers of dough come together) will be thicker than the rest of the ravioli, leading to it being undercooked and unpleasantly chewy in texture.

Once you have rolled it through the thinnest setting, cut the long sheet of pasta in half widthways. Lay one length on a floured work surface and set the other half to one side, covered with a clean damp tea towel.

Place teaspoonfuls of the ricotta mixture at even intervals along the middle of the pasta sheet, using no more than about a quarter of the mixture. You should be able to fit about nine teaspoons of filling along the sheet of pasta.

Using a pastry brush and water, dampen the pasta around the ricotta filling. Now take the other half sheet of pasta and carefully lay it over the ricotta, gently pressing down around the mounds of filling and pushing out any air pockets. Traditionally, a ravioli should be square, and the original recipes calls for a sharp knife to trim the pasta into evenly sized squares of ravioli. I went off-piste here and used a fluted cookie cutter. Tradition you say? Pah I say!

Once cut, put the ravioli parcels on a tray, and dust them with a little flour. You can keep the trimmings for other pasta dishes. Roll out and fill the remaining three pieces of pasta in the same way.

When ready to serve, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the ravioli (in batches if necessary) in the boiling water for about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, then serve immediately. The original recipe includes a sage butter sauce accompaniment, but we found pairing the ravioli with Mr Salford Kitchen’s classic marinara sauce to work just as well and to be equally delicious 🙂

Buon appetito!

Post cooking.
Dressed with Mr Salford Kitchen’s marinara sauce and topped with freshly grated parmesan.

It’s aBAOt time…

Homemade bao buns, served with pulled pork, Asian slaw and pickled cucumber

…I tried my hand at making Bao! It’s been a germ of an idea in the back of my mind ever since we discovered Bao Fitz, a gem of a restaurant just off Tottenham Court Road. I fondly remember it as one of the best meals I have ever eaten in London.

Mr Salford Kitchen and I perused the menu at the wooden bar, haloed by the overhead lights. Outside the warm glow of the restaurant, the midnight blue and indigo tones of the late autumn evening descended, the gathering darkness studded by fairy lights in early anticipation of Christmas. As the food arrived, the tension of the frenetic workday slipped away, and the parameters of my world shrank to the plates before us. The bao buns had a slight chewiness on the outside, which quickly yielded to a soft, pillowy interior. Crunchy, crisp, salty, sour, sweet – each bite was bursting with inventive and delicious fillings. And the soy peanut milk…oh, how I dream about the soy peanut milk. That’s another item on my ‘to recreate’ list!

So where is this all going? Well, recently I was given a generous gift of a delicious piece of pulled pork, partly cooked using sous-vide and marinated for days in a Vietnamese-inspired spice rub. Various recipe combinations chased through my head, until I finally settled on the perfect pairing. This would be best enjoyed in bao buns. I wonder, I wonder… do any of my recipe books include instructions for making bao?

As it turned out, one of them did. Meera Sodha’s excellent book ‘East’ includes a recipe for bao, which I have referenced below along with her recipe for a pickled cucumber accompaniment. For a first attempt, I was pretty pleased at how the bao turned out. Served with pickled cucumber, Asian slaw and of course the beautiful pulled pork, Mr Salford Kitchen and I had a bao-ntiful lunchtime feast! (couldn’t resist the dreadful pun! Sorry not sorry!)

Ingredients

Bao buns

Makes 10 bao

  • 375g plain flour
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 225ml warm water
  • Vegetable oil

Pickled cucumber

  • 100ml rice wine vinegar
  • ½ a cucumber, halved, deseeded and thinly sliced

Asian slaw

For the dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar, grated
  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 ½ tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon eater
  • 1 birds eye chili (deseeded if you prefer a mild tingle), thinly sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove (minced)

For the slaw:

  • 1/3 finely shredded Chinese (napa) cabbage
  • ¼ finely shredded red cabbage
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 mint stems, leaves picked and roughly chopped
  • Fried shallots
  • 1 tablespoon crushed unsalted roasted peanuts

Method

To make the bao:

  • Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the water little by little and bring the dough together using your hands: you should have a sticky ball.
  • Turn it out onto a clean surface and knead for 5 minutes, until smooth and bouncy, then place in an oiled bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place to double in size for 1 to 1 ½ hours.
  • When doubled, turn the dough out on to a clean surface, knead for a minute to knock out the air, then divide into 10 equal pieces.
  • Take once piece, flatten it into a 1cm-thick disc, then brush one half with a little oil. Fold the bun into a half-moon and place on a perforated parchment bamboo steamer paper liner on a tray. Alternatively, you can use a small square of baking parchment. Repeat with the remaining dough, then loosely cover the tray with a tea towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes. While you’re waiting for the dough to complete its final rise, make the pickled cucumber and slaw (see below).
  • To cook the bao, set a steamer over a pan of simmering water. Put the bao, still on their paper liners, into the steamer in batches, making sure that they do not touch. Cover and steam for 8 minutes.

To make the pickled cucumber:

  • Put the vinegar for the picked cucumber into a small saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water.
  • Bring to a simmer, then pour into a bowl, add the cucumber and leave to cool.

To make the slaw:

  • First make the dressing. In a small saucepan, heat the palm sugar over a gentle flame until dissolved. Once the palm sugar shards have liquidized, remove from the heat and set to once side.
  • In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, water, chili and garlic. Add the palm sugar liquid once cooled. Taste the dressing – it needs to be sharp and punchy, as its intensity will be diluted when combined with the vegetables in the slaw. Let the dressing stand.
  • When you are ready to serve, combine the cabbage, carrots, red onion and mint in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss.
  • Top with the fried shallots and crushed unsalted roasted peanuts and serve immediately.
Mr Salford Kitchen, with bao in hand

Homemade granola

I am super impressed with this granola recipe from Cookie and Kate (https://cookieandkate.com/healthy-granola-recipe/) – it is easy, delicious and packed full of healthy ingredients.

Made with whole foods including oats, coconut oil, nuts and dried fruit, it is also naturally sweetened with maple syrup. Admittedly, the ingredients are a little pricey – it costs more to make than a supermarket bought bag of granola – but trust me it’s worth it! The granola tastes amazing and makes your house smell incredible while it is roasting in the oven. It also contains none of the additives that can be in store bought breakfast cereals. The only downside is that it requires self-restraint not to keep snacking on it, as besides being enjoyed with a plant based milk or yoghurt it’s also really nice as a snack by itself as a mid-afternoon pick me up!

I have listed the ingredients and method below, with a conversion from US imperial measurements (cups) into UK metric measurements (grams).

Ingredients

  • 500g rolled oats
  • 188g raw nuts and/or seeds (I used pumpkin seeds and a mixture of cashews, blanched almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts and pecans)
  • 1 teaspoon finely-ground sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 64g melted coconut oil
  • 64g maple syrup (or honey)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 83g dried fruit (I used a mixture of dried raisins, golden raisins and cranberries).

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 190°C / 170°C fan and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, nuts and/or seeds, salt and cinnamon.
  • Pour in the oil, maple syrup and/or honey and vanilla extract. Mix well, until the oats and nuts are lightly coated. Pour the granola onto your prepared pan and use a large spoon to spread it in an even layer.
  • Bake until lightly golden, about 21 to 24 minutes, stirring halfway. For extra-clumpy granola, press the stirred granola down with the back of a spoon to create an even layer. The granola will further crisp up as it cools.
  • Let the granola cool completely, undisturbed (at least 45 minutes). Top with the dried fruit. Break the granola into pieces if you want to retain big chunks, or stir it around with a spoon if you don’t want extra-clumpy granola.
  • Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks (although there’s not a chance that it will last that long in my house! :D).
Post bake. Now I just need to practice self-restraint to not keep snacking on it every time I’m in the kitchen!

Signs of regeneration

Arturo and Patrick: brothers from another mother

For a while there I was worried about poor Arturo, my fledgling avocado tree. After cruelly lopping off his head I thought he was a goner. Nothing much seemed to be happening – his stalk was as bare as could be and I had serious doubts that he would be able to grow back in the chilly autumnal weather.

But then, lo and behold, a cluster of small leaves has started to emerge. For a Central American tree, Arturo is proving to be pretty hardy yet (fingers crossed I haven’t spoken too soon!). That being said, the depths of winter are still to arrive, so we’ll have to see if he makes it through the frosts and snows to spring.

I am also joyful to see that Patrick my parsley plant is sporting a new hairdo, after I cropped his lovely parsley locks a few weeks ago, to enjoy in my parsley sauce. I repotted him in a larger container and untangled his roots, to give him more breathing space and room, and topped up his compost to give him a good feed. From the looks of things, he’s loving it!

The UK is heading into a full national lockdown again on Thursday, and more broadly the world is in a terrible state of affairs. It’s hard not to worry where this is all going to end; it seems that the right messages aren’t being absorbed by those who have the most power and influence to make a positive force for change. Looking to the natural world however, there is a message for us all. Things may seem bleak and as though they will never regenerate, but never give up hope. It may not be in the way that you imagine, but there may be growth yet.

Autumn vegetable tart

This tart is packed full of colourful and healthy veggies, and is particularly enjoyable at this time of year. The recipe is largely based on Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Very full tart’ recipe in Plenty. If you can, I’d encourage you to make your own shortcrust pastry beforehand. It is well worth the time and effort.

I’m just a humble tart, saying “please eat me”…

Ingredients:

Serves 4

  • 2 red peppers
  • 1 medium aubergine, cut into 4cm dice
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3cm dice
  • 1 small courgette, cut into 3cm dice
  • 2 medium brown onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, quartered and separated into layers
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 300g shortcrust pastry
  • 8 thyme sprigs, leaves picked (or you can substitute with dried mixed herbs)
  • 120g ricotta
  • 120g feta
  • 7 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 medium free-range eggs
  • 200ml double cream
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Method:

  1. Make the shortcrust pastry case and blind bake beforehand.
  2. Heat the oven to 230°C / 210°C fan / Gas Mark 8. Start by roasting the vegetables. For the peppers, cut out the stalks and discard along with the seeds. Place the two peppers in a small ovenproof tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and put on the top shelf of the oven. Check them periodically and turn to coat in the oil and roasting juices.
  3. Mix the aubergine in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread in a large baking tin and place in the oven on the shelf beneath the peppers.
  4. After 12 minutes add the diced sweet potato to the aubergine tin and stir gently. Return to the oven to roast for another 12 minutes. Then add the courgette to the tin, stir and roast for a further 10-12 minutes.
  5. At this point the peppers should be brown and the rest of the vegetables cooked. Remove all from the oven and reduce the temperature to 160°C/ 140°C fan / Gas Mark 2 ½.
  6. Place a heated, rimmed baking sheet onto the top shelf of your oven.
  7. While the vegetables are roasting, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan on a medium heat. Sauté the brown onions with the bay leaves and some salt for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they turn brown, soft and sweet. Remove from the pan and discard the bay leaves.
  8. In the same pan, add the red onion segments. Toss in the oil and fry for a few minutes until the edges are starting to brown, but there’s still a crunchiness to the onion.
  9. Take your tart tin with the pastry shell inside. Scatter the cooked brown onion over the bottom of the pastry and top with the roasted vegetables (apart from the red onion), arranging them evenly. Scatter half the thyme leaves over. Next, dot the veg with small chunks of both cheeses and then the tomato halves, cut-side up, and the red onion segments.
  10. Whisk the eggs and cream in a small bowl with some salt and pepper. Slowly pour the mix into the tart case; the top layer of tomatoes, red onion and cheese should remain exposed. Scatter the remaining thyme over the top.
  11. Place in the oven on the pre-heated baking sheet and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, or until the filling sets and turns golden. Remove and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before taking the tart out of the tin and serving.

Shortcrust pastry

Making shortcrust pastry for a tart or quiche requires more time and work than buying pre-made, but the end product is well worth the extra effort. To me, homemade pastry has a taste and beautiful short texture that supermarket bought just doesn’t match. Making good shortcrust pastry is an art however! There are many pitfalls with this type of pastry; the crust can easily become crumbly rather than flaky, it can be prone to splitting when rolling out, and it can be tough if overworked. Many, many curses have been uttered when making shortcrust pastry in my house!

However, tips in the ‘How to squeeze a lemon: 1,023 kitchen tips, food fixes, and handy techniques’ book have really helped me to improve my shortcrust from a jigsaw patchwork of tough pastry that I’ve had to piece together in the tin to a consistent sheet of flaky pastry that melts in the mouth.

Below is the method I have found produces the best results, and techniques I have learnt along the way.

Ingredients:

Makes enough to line a 23cm tin:

  • 250g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 140g chilled butter, cubed
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 – 2 tbsp chilled water

To make the pastry:

Method:

The trick to making shortcrust pastry is to keep your ingredients and equipment as cold as possible, and keep handling to a minimum. I use a food processor to make the dough, in order to minimise contact time with my hands.

  • Prepare your ingredients:
    • Cube the butter beforehand and keep it in the fridge.
    • Use cold eggs, stored in the refrigerator. Cold eggs are also easier to separate.
    • Chill your water briefly in the freezer or store a small bottle beforehand in the fridge.
    • Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl, and then tip it into a food processor.
  • Add the chilled butter to the flour and salt in the food processor and blitz briefly.
  • Add the 2 egg yolks and blitz until everything is roughly combined. Finally, add 1 tbsp of water to the mixture and blitz again. Note: try to be as sparing as you can with the water; it’s always better to add less rather than more as adding too much liquid can make the pastry tough.
  • Tip the mixture out onto a countertop (unfloured) and knead briefly so the dough has a consistent texture.
  • Pull the pastry together with your hands, shaping it into an even, flat disc, about 10cm in diameter and 1.5cm thick. Do this as quickly as possible, without overworking the pastry, which makes it tough.
  • Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for half an hour in the fridge before rolling out. This will relax it and prevent too much shrinkage, as well as firm up the butter. If the dough is too warm and soft when you try to roll it out, it will stick to the rolling pin and your work surface, forcing you to add too much flour as you work it.

Rolling out your pastry:

  • Remove your pastry from the fridge and allow it to warm up slightly. Dough that’s too cold and hard will resist rolling and crack if you try to force it.
  • While you wait, lightly grease your tin.
  • Lightly flour your worksurface and a rolling pin. Place the disc of pastry on the floured area of your bench. To roll out:
    • Start with the rolling pin in the centre of your dough disc. Roll towards 12 o’clock, easing up on the pressure as you near the edge, to keep the edge from getting too thin.
    • Pick up the pin and return it to the centre. Roll towards 6 o’clock. Repeat this motion towards 3 and then 9 o’clock, always easing up on the pressure near the edges and then picking up the pin rather than rolling it back to centre.
    • Continue to roll around the clock, aiming for different “time” (like 1, 7, 4, 10) on each round until the dough is the right width and thickness.
    • Turn the dough and check often for sticking. After each round of the clock, run a palette knife underneath the dough to make sure it’s not sticking, and re-flour the surface if necessary.
  • Once the pastry is rolled out to the desired width and thickness, use your rolling pin to get the pastry off the bench, by loosely rolling the pastry up over the pin. You can then transfer the pin over your tin and ease the pastry into the tin.
  • Cut off any overhang with a non-serrated paring knife. You can use part of the excess pastry to patch up any cracks (to prevent leakage while the tart bakes) and also press the pastry shell down so that it lies flush against the tin.
  • Prick the base of the pastry with a fork, which will allow steam to escape, then put the tin with its pastry into a non-perforated plastic bag and put in the fridge for 20 minutes. Chilling the pastry shell before blind baking it is important to stop the edges from retreating or slumping over the edge of the pie tin, as piecrusts baked right after shaping are warm enough for the butter to melt quickly in the oven.
  • Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 160°C / 140°C fan / Gas Mark 2 ½.
  • Blind bake for ~20 minutes, or until the pastry is just starting to turn golden.

On blind baking:

Blind baking means baking an empty piecrust before adding a filling. This gives the crust a head start, allowing it to firm up before the filling is added and preventing sogginess. Here are a few tips for getting the best results:

  • Weight it down: ceramic baking beans will help the crust to keep its shape. Without them, the crust will rise and puff on the bottom or slide down the sides under the weight of the pastry. If you don’t have ceramic baking beans, you can use dried pulses or rice.
  • Crumple a sheet of baking parchment before putting in your pastry shell to hold baking beans: A crisp, new sheet of parchment doesn’t fit into a pie or tart shell neatly when you need to blind bake, but if you first crumple the sheet into a ball and then unfold it, it should fit easily.
  • Protect your piecrusts with a foil shield: To keep the edges of your piecrust from browning too quickly, you can wrap little strips of foil around the rim of the pie.

I hope the above helps anyone who has had the same amount of trouble I’ve had when it comes to making shortcrust pastry. Happy baking!

Wheat and rye levain bread

Wheat and rye levain bread
Crumbshot!

This is the first time I have experimented with putting rye flour into a dough. This is going to be a new favourite recipe and flour to use, because boy does it produce a gorgeous loaf. Baked to medium – dark, the crust is full of flavour, while the inside has a lovely soft texture from the rye flour and depth from the fermentation. Levain breads do require a time investment, and a slow but attentive approach, but the end results are so worth it.

The recipe and method is from Ken Forkish’s book Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza. As for the pain de campagne loaf, this bread mostly uses levain as a rising agent, with a tiny bit of dried yeast (2 grams) for a little added lift.

Schedule:

Bulk fermentation: ~5 hours

Proof time: 11 – 12 hours

Sample schedule: feed the levain at 8am, mix the final dough at 3pm, proof the loaves overnight and bake at around 7 or 8am the next morning.

Ingredients:

Makes two loaves.

540g white flour

175g rye flour

85g wholewheat flour

620g water, 32°C to 35°C (90°F to 95°F)

21g salt

2g fresh or dried yeast

360g mature levain

A little rice flour (for shaping)

1a. Feed the levain

About 24 hours after previously feeding the levain, discard everything but 100g of levain, leaving the remainder in your container. Add 400g of white flour, 100g of whole wheat flour, and 400g of water at 29°C to 32°C (85°F to 90°F) and mix by hand until incorporated. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours before mixing the final dough.

1b. Autolyse

After 6 to 8 hours, mix the 540g of white flour, the 85g of wholewheat flour and the 175g of rye flour by hand in a large mixing tub.

(The flour should be at room temperature. If it feels chilly, you can warm it beforehand in an oven on its lowest setting for 5 – 10 minutes. If the bowl it’s in becomes too hot, tip the flour into another).

Add the 620g of 32°C to 35°C water and mix by hand until just incorporated. Cover and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Mix the final dough

Sprinkle the 21g of salt and the 2g of yeast evenly over the top of the dough. Transfer 360g levain from its container to the dough mixture.

Mix by hand, alternating between using a pincer method and folding the dough to fully integrate the ingredients. The target dough temperature at the end of the mix is 25°C to 26°C.

The pincer method involves making four or five pincer cuts with your thumb and forefinger across the entire mass of dough. When folding the dough, ease the edges of the dough free of the container, gently taking lifting a quarter to a third of it, pulling it as far as it will stretch without breaking, and then folding over the mass of dough to the opposite side. Then repeat for all sides of the dough. The idea is to build tension in your dough without kneading, which helps give the dough its strength and contributes to good volume in the final loaf.

3. Fold

This dough needs three or four folds. It’s easiest to apply the folds during the first 1 ½ to 2 hours after mixing the dough. When the dough is about 2 ½ times its original volume, it’s ready for dividing.

A good cue for when the dough needs a next fold is when the dough has relaxed from being a ball with structure to flattening out in the bowl.

4. Divide

With floured hands, gently ease the dough out of the tub and onto a lightly floured work surface. With your hands still floured, pick up the dough and ease it onto the work surface in a somewhat even shape. Use a bit of flour to dust the area in the middle where you’ll cut the dough, then cut it into 2 equal-sized pieces with a bench scraper.

5. Shape

Dust two bread proofing baskets liberally with rice flour, making sure you catch all the sides with flour. If you don’t have a banneton basket, you can line a colander with a non-linting kitchen towel and dust it liberally with rice flour.

Doughs made with rye flour are stickier and need a bit more strengthening that doughs made without. To compensate, fold each segment of dough by pulling floured sections of the dough over and across, eventually enclosing the sticky inner surface of the dough. Then shape the dough into a tight ball.

Place the dough seam side down in the proofing basket and dust the top of the loaf with a light coating of flour, and repeat for the other section of dough.

6. Proof

Place the baskets in a nonperforated plastic bag and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, 11 to 12 hours after the loaves went into the refrigerator, they should be ready to bake, straight from the refrigerator. The loaves don’t need to come to room temperature first.

6. Preheat

At least 45 minutes prior to baking, put a rack in the middle of the oven, and put a Dutch oven on the rack with its lid on. Preheat the oven to 245°C (475°F).

7. Bake

For the next step, please be careful not to let your hands, fingers, or forearms touch the extremely hot Dutch oven.

Take a piece of greaseproof paper and scrunch it into a ball (this will stop the loaf sticking in the Dutch oven). Flatten the greaseproof paper on the countertop and invert one of the proved loaves onto it, keeping in mind that the top of the loaf will be the side that was facing down while it was rising. At this point, you can slash your bread if you want with a razor blade / lame, which will help to control how it rises.

Remove the preheated Dutch oven from your oven, remove the lid, and carefully place the loaf in the Dutch oven seam side up. Cover and bake. If you prefer a golden-brown loaf, bake for 45 – 50 minutes with the lid on the Dutch oven the entire time. If you like your crust baked dark, bake for 30 – 35 minutes then uncover and bake for 15 – 25 minutes, until medium dark to very dark brown all around the loaf.

Check the loaf after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot.

Remove the Dutch oven and carefully tilt it to turn the loaf out. Let cool on a rack or set the loaf on its side so air can circulate around it.

Repeat for the other proved loaf.

Let the loaves rest for at least an hour before cutting into them and enjoy this magnificent bread!

Lunch for Mr and Ms Salford Kitchen!