Category Archives: Breads

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week One

For a while now I have been playing with the idea of making bread on a weekly basis. Then I stopped to compose the 2017/18 Life List and realised that one of the sub-projects of my life list could be to actually make bread every week for one year. So this is the beginning of that project. Here is my first loaf!

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This is not actually my first ever sourdough loaf. But it is the first loaf for this project. My interest in sourdough has been long-lasting, and at various points in my life (pretty much since cooking school in 2005!) I have kept a sourdough starter in the fridge, nursing and caring for it. I have taken a few courses on sourdough baking, at Small Food Bakery and also at The Sourdough School. Both were wonderful but when I got home, I found I couldn’t recreate the loaves like my teachers had and so even though I baked sourdough occasionally, I didn’t do so enough to develop my technique or skill. I also only really know how to bake bread with sourdough, but I am aware that there are many cake/pastry things that you can make and I want to explore these too. However, the main  purpose of this project is a quest for the perfect loaf.

Another purpose is to provide us with fresh bread every weekend (or whenever in the week it is possible to make it, if the weekend is unlikely). My life with the Spaniard includes adjusting to an expectation of bread at every meal, something my carb-fearing-young-self would balk at. Whilst A- does have a penchant for what I would call ‘trashy’ bread (food snob, yes I am very aware), I am slowly, slowly converting him to sourdough.

The third purpose of this project is to learn and understand the cultures of bread. One of the reasons this project came about is through discovering The Grain Gathering – a once yearly conference held by the Washing State University Bread Lab. I only know about this because Kim, from Small Food Bakery, has now been twice and I stalk her Instagram during this period. The researcher in me is totally fascinated and compelled by the people who gather for this conference -academics, activists, bakers – and the cultures they bring with them (both real sourdough cultures and imagined ideas about bread culture).

The final, fourth purpose of this project is to provide a type of structure to my week. Like crafting a space for writing each day, I want to craft a space for bread baking each week.

So! That is it. Let me see how I get on. The first week is always the easiest no?

Life Lists and Recovery

So a few weeks back my sister asked me where the life list for 2017 was. I realised that I hadn’t written one. I did write an ‘I did that’ list for 2016 but somehow I’d never written any goals for 2017. I suspect it is because I wasn’t feeling very goal-setting-y at new year. But now, as we begin the slide into the new academic year coupled with my now being 4 weeks post-surgery, I thought I might do some goal setting. (God, that sounds so pretentious and ambitious and just weird!) Of course, this awkwardly puts my 12-month list in line with the Northern hemisphere academic year, rather than the calendar one (something I’ve always found troublesome, having grown up in the south where the calendar year matches the academic one), but never mind. Change hey? Sometimes you just have to embrace it.

SFBakeryRoses August17I’ve thought a lot over the past four weeks about what I want to do over the next year. (Being incredibly slow and being forced to time spend resting allows for such contemplation). Full recovery from ACL reconstruction, including a return to twisty sports like netball, takes between 9 and 12 months. So my surgery recovery neatly maps onto my goals to find success outside of work. This is part of my post-PhD life goal, to define myself as something other than my work. I came dangerously close to losing myself in my PhD, and it has taken a lot of hard mental work to learn that I am not my PhD, I am not my work. My work does not define my worth. (That sounds like a mantra. Sometimes I have to treat it as such).

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So I have devised a number of things that I would like to accomplish in the next 12 months. Okay, I have 13, not 12 but 13 is one of my lucky numbers. (And really, let’s not be pedantic about the parameters of a wellbeing effort). These vary in both ambition and scale, and are connected to my work, health, wellbeing, and creativity. I am sharing them with you here as a way to keep myself reminded of my goals (so that they don’t squander, lost in a journal somewhere) and also because I have one that I am going to try and write about weekly, on this site!

So here is the 2017/18 list:

Take a yoga class. Survive it. Then go back to doing yoga regularly.

Run 5km

Swim in open water. If possible, swim outside all year round. If not, just lane swim a few times a week. Book to swim the Swoosh.

Learn to make a loaf of sourdough. Do this every week. Write about it, even when unsuccessful. Call this 52 weeks of sourdough. Create a hashtag on Instagram for this part of the project. #52weeksofsourdough

Knit a cardigan. (Possibly this one).

Finish the current book and submit the manuscript. Contemplate writing another book proposal. Think about writing a cookbook.

Submit another journal article. Possibly two. Push out the boat and write a third.

Establish the allotment! Put in raised beds. Grow things.

Keep an allotment diary. Take photos of the progress and print them. Or use the instant camera.

Investigate beekeeping!

Have people over for dinner. Try and do this once a month.

Get really good at ice-cream making. Try unusual flavour combinations. Use the herbs you’re growing on the allotment to experiment.

Finally, take some courses for fun. Spend time doing things you enjoy.

So that is my list. Watch out for my first post for 52 weeks of sourdough project, coming this weekend!

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning at Small Food Bakery (Part II)

Whilst Part I discusses all the loaves we made, and the dinner we ate on my Saturday Night, Sunday Morning baking course at Small Food Bakery, I found that I wanted to also write about making croissants and danish pastries and the last post was getting quite full. So here is the other half of the two-part series on my baking experience at Small Food Bakery.

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In between all the bread making, we also made an enriched laminated dough from which we generated croissants and pastries. We ate some of these for breakfast at the bakery on Sunday and the rest are currently in my freezer, waiting to be eaten at the weekend!

Unlike the sourdough and rye dough mixtures, which we made up ourselves, the croissant dough had been made up earlier by the team at Small Food because it needs to rest a significant time (at least 2 hours, preferably 4) in the fridge before being used. The dough was thus already super cold before we started to work with it. Kim taught us ‘single fold’ lamination.

Single fold lamination is achieved by rolling the dough out into a rectangle, and placing the butter in the centre. You then fold the pastry around the butter so it is entirely encased. It is then a case of rolling another rectangle and folding the dough up in thirds – so the bottom third up into the centre and then the top third over the bottom third so that you have a parcel of sorts. You then give this a quarter turn and perform the process again, rolling and folding the dough. If the dough becomes ‘tense’ you can place it in the fridge before rolling it out and folding it for a third and final time. This creates 27 laminated layers and results in a flaky, beautiful, buttery croissant. (This is the same technique for making puff pastry but that you roll and fold six times, resulting in the thousands of layers.) Once you have performed your three turns, rest the dough in the fridge to give it a chance to relax (and to make your life easier when you come to shape the pastries).

When you are ready to roll it out, remove the dough from the fridge and roll it into a square. We then divided the dough into four rectangles that would make shapes for four croissants and 5 pastries – cutting two rectangles into triangles, one rectangle in half and one rectangle into thirds. The triangles we rolled up into croissants (they look like little Eiffel towers before you roll them), whilst the halves became pain au chocolats and the thirds became danishes of various kinds. These were then egg-washed and placed in a clingfilmed tray to proof overnight. Kim told us that for pastries, the temperature and atmosphere are hugely important because they are so delicate. This is one of the reasons they are so difficult to recreate at home.

In the morning, our pastries had transformed themselves into poofy puffy clouds of light fluffiness. We egg-washed them again before decorating with fruits, seeds and chocolate.

These formed part of our breakfast on Sunday morning. One of the other participants (Adee) had brought some raw heather honey from his bees (I have the rest of the jar in my pantry now – Adee said he doesn’t sell the heather honey so this is a total treasure) and I took some of this years marmalade to share. I also brought my latest granola which I’ve been making with heather honey (recipe coming soon) and which I wanted to share with everyone. We thus ate a breakfast of kings with butter, honey, marmalade and croissants (is there a childhood story here about this breakfast? There might be I think.) There was also sourdough slices and these rather magical buns:

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These buns are made from stuffing the croissant dough into a muffin tray. They are made from the half rectangle shape that makes a pain au chocolat but we filled them with date syrup (and I put some chocolate slices in mine) and then placed them in the muffin trays to proof. In the morning Kim baked them off (they don’t need egg washing or anything) and then as soon as they came out of the oven tipped them out (because the syrup causes the buns to stick to the tray as they cool) and covered them in cardamom sugar whilst still hot. The result is a fragrant sticky flaky bun that is the stuff of dreams.

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Kim dousing the buns in cardamom sugar

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Some filled with raisins, others plain, one with chocolate

I intend to make more of the magical buns this coming weekend, which is a bank holiday weekend and for which all I have planned is writing, writing and more writing so these will see me through I think.

This was a truly wonderful birthday present. And I heartily recommend the course for anyone even remotely thinking about making bread with sourdough…

Small Food Bakery

Primary, 33 Seely Road Nottingham

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning workshop costs £190. Places are available for July and September workshops. 

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning at Small Food Bakery (Part I)

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For my birthday this year I requested a cooking class. When my family asked what they should purchase, this was the best thing I could think of for a gift – a chance to do something fun and learn some new skills. I had a look around (online) at the very many different options available, but in the end chose the Saturday Night, Sunday Morning class at my local bakery – Small Food. The class lasts over 2 days. You spend Saturday afternoon and evening in the bakery and then return on Sunday morning. During this time, you learn loads about sourdough, fermentation, lamination, flour, yeast and sourdough starters. It was a fantastic way to spend (most of) a weekend. Because we learnt so much (and I took so many photos, most of which I want to share), I’ve written two different posts: this one is all about making bread and Part II is all about laminated dough (croissants and pastries).

Saturday afternoon began with the participants (six of us) sitting down with Kim (the owner) over coffee to talk about the plan for the weekend, and sourdough starters – the starting point for any sourdough baking. Kim had sent instructions for preparing a starter and everyone had a version of one with them. My starter actually comes from Small Food, as I had no luck trying to start my own last year and I have been caring for it for a number of months. As such, the flavour and smell is very developed – it smells very fruity, mostly of apples and has a wonderful cider-y (ferment-y), apple-y taste. Did you know you can taste your starter? I had no idea until this weekend when we shared our starters around the table, tasting and comparing them. Some were young, creamy and yoghurty; others, like mine, were more sour, with fruit notes. There is no ‘right’ taste to a starter, it all depends on the flours you’ve used, the water and the yeasts in the local air.

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Ovens to covet at Small Food Bakery

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Then it was straight into work! We began by making a large sourdough mixture, enough to generate four different loaves (for taking home) and two small(ish) pizza bases that we were to eat on Saturday evening. One of the reasons I love making sourdough is getting my hands into the dough, incorporating the flour, water and starter, squidging the mixture between my fingers, feeling and hearing the dough change shape, watching as it absorbs the water and changes into something malleable and usable.

Once we had our bulk dough made – you basically work the mixture until it forms a shaggy dough and has absorbed all the water – we put them into clear tubs and placed them in a proofer (of sorts) to relax. This is called the autolyse stage and allows the dough to absorb water and also lets the gluten relax. Then we mixed up a 100% rye dough from which we made rye loaves and crisp breads. The rye loaf doesn’t require any kneading. You just mix the dough and scoop it into the tin (scooping being the operative word here as the dough is very wet). Then you proof it very slowly at room temperature before retarding the rise in the fridge overnight.

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All this physical work was broken by much coffee and cake. Sarah is the cake queen at the bakery and she had whipped up banana and macadamia loaf cake with cream cheese icing, orange and poppyseed cookies, and chocolate chip and lemon shortbreads. (She also screenprinted the fabulous aprons we got to use over the weekend and have now taken home.) After our tea break, it was time to prepare dinner and flavour our loaves.

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Once autolyse stage is finished, you add in more water and salt, squidging this into the dough until all the water is absorbed and you can no longer feel the salt. We then rested the dough again before starting to perform the ‘turns’ which add structure to sourdough and ensure it doesn’t just collapse and seep all over the counter when you’re trying to shape it. These turns are completed at half hour intervals, so in-between we had time to think about flavourings for our breads. We all made a Radford Wild and a beetroot sourdough. I then made an olive, chilli and seed bread, and a chocolate, fig and pistachio one. When all the doughs were flavoured and resting once more, we turned our attention to dinner.

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Bubbles forming in the sourdough

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Turning the dough on top of itself

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Flavouring the dough

Dinner was sourdough pizza. Each pizza was formed of 250g of dough weight. Nathan provided instructions on how to thin out the dough into something that resembled pizza and then we were given free range to create pizza toppings. They were all baked in the large ovens before being sliced and shared amongst all of us.

I made a potato pizza with creme fraiche and a butternut, onion, mozzarella and chilli pizza that was super thin and crispy. (Potato pizza looks beautiful once baked as the edges of the potatoes crisp up and brown, making the whole thing look a little like fish scales.) There was green salad and wine (and beer), and lots of conversation about food and drink. It was rather hard to muster the energy to stand up again to do more shaping but the loaves were in need of attention!

After dinner we focused on preparing our sourdough loaves. The flavoured doughs had been proofing whilst we ate and were ready to be turned out, bench rested and then folded to provide structure and strength in the baking process. These are then tipped into sourdough baskets (lined with cornmeal) and left overnight in the fridge.

The next morning, we returned to the bakery to bake off all the bread loaves. Kim illustrated how to score the loaf – this has to be done so the loaf can expand whilst it cooks. If you don’t score it, the loaf will simply expand where it wants. By scoring it, the baker is guiding the expansion in a particular way. Scoring a loaf takes confidence. If you are too hesitant you will damage the structure and affect the aesthetic appearance too.

Once the loaf is scored, it goes into the oven where it bakes until a dark golden brown. The bread bakes directly on the base of the oven which is stone and therefore incredibly hot.

Whilst our sourdough loaves were baking, we made stencils for our rye loaves. Stencils are a fun way to decorate loaf-style breads and everyone got to create their own ‘logo’ of sorts for their rye bread.

The last activity with the rest of the rye dough was to make crispbreads. Kim says she came up with these by accident, after over-fermenting a dough but they remind me a lot of lavash and I suspect are fantastic with hummus. The rye dough is formed into sausage-like logs, using water on your hands and on the work surface (so quite messy to recreate at home). The logs are sliced into 2cm long pieces and these are massaged out onto baking paper until incredibly thin and delicate. You can flavour them pretty much any way you see fit – salt, herbs, seeds and the like. They are baked directly onto the base of the oven until crisps – about 7 minutes.

I had an epic weekend. There is nothing I love more than spending time with other food people, talking about food, eating, making food. Superb birthday present (thanks to Mom and the Princess!)

Small Food Bakery

Primary, 33 Seely Road, Nottingham

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning workshop costs £190. There are places available on the July and September workshops. 

Saffron Earl Grey Tea Loaf

Happy Good Friday all! Andrés and I are lazing about the house today, preserving quince, roasting lamb (yes, I know this is usually saved for Sunday but today is the only day we are off together so we’re feasting early) and this morning I have been shaping and baking this loaf. In case you are all hot cross bunned out, this is equally satisfying and moreish. The texture of this loaf is akin to brioche, it is a pretty yellow colour from the saffron, and it works incredibly well as a vehicle for butter and marmalade.

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The original recipe comes from this month’s Delicious magazine. I can’t decide exactly when but at some point this last week I started dreaming about saffron and earl grey tea together in a brioche-type dough. I read loads about hot cross buns made with fruit steeped in earl grey tea and decided I could adapt a recipe to suit my needs. The tea doesn’t add flavour so much as plumps out the fruit in a rather glorious way. Take note, this is a two day affair. You proof the dough three times so it is easiest to make the dough the night before and proof it in the fridge overnight. Then you only have two proofs to do on the day you’d like to eat it. I took the dough from the fridge at 8.30am and we ate the loaf for brunch at 1pm. If you’re a dried fruit hater (I have been known to be one in the past), simply remove it. You can add in some candied peel if you like too.

Saffron Earl Grey Tea Loaf

Adapted from Delicious Magazine

For the dough:

1 tsp saffron

220ml full fat milk

zest of two clementines

500g strong white flour

1/2 tsp salt

100g golden caster sugar

8g quick yeast

1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon, ground ginger and mixed spice

2 eggs

75g unsalted butter, soft

60g sultanas

60g currants

2 tea bags earl grey tea

Heat the saffron in a small saucepan until the colour darkens (this literally takes like 2 minutes). Remove from the heat and grind into a fine powder. (You do not want any threads of saffron in your final loaf – I did this by using my pestle to grind the saffron directly in the pan but this is mostly because the mortar part is still in South Africa.) Add the milk to the saucepan (and put the saffron back if you have ground it in another pan/in a mortar or coffee grinder) along with the zest of the clementines and heat until scalding. Leave to infuse for about an hour – the mixture should be cooler than body temperature when you use it.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, place the flour, salt, sugar, spices and yeast. Make sure the salt and sugar are kept separate from the yeast. You don’t want to kill the yeast by accident. When your milk mixture is cool, mix the dry ingredients briefly using a dough hook. Whisk the eggs into the milk mixture and add in the butter in pieces. With the dough hook on low speed, pour the milk/egg/butter mixture slowly into the dry ingredients. Mix until everything is incorporated. Once the dough has come together, increase the speed to medium and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic – approximately 8-10 minutes. Take the bowl from the standing mixer, cover with clingfilm and leave in your fridge overnight.

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Place the currants and sultanas in a bowl with the tea bags. Pour over boiling water until the currants/sultanas are covered and leave to steep overnight.

The next morning, drain the currants and sultanas and remove the tea bags. Set aside.

Take the dough from the fridge and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knock it back lightly. Take handfuls of the raisins/currants and knead them into the dough. This is a messy procedure and you won’t incorporate the currants/sultanas entirely but try. Some will escape but don’t worry too much, so long as most of them are incorporated into the dough. Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Cover with clingfilm and proof for an hour and a half in a warm spot (I always use the oven with the light switched on).

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Grease a large loaf tin and line the base with baking paper. When your dough has doubled in size, knock it back and weigh it. My dough weighed 1100g. Divide the dough into 10 equal portions and shape the portions into elongated buns. I found this easiest to do with wet hands as the dough is quite sticky. Fit these together into the loaf tin. Cover the tin with a clean shower cap or a plastic bag torn and secured with an elastic band. You do not want your loaf to rise and touch the plastic so make sure there is enough space between the top of the tin and the plastic. Proof again for approximately one hour – until the loaf is peeking up over the top of the tin.

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Preheat the oven to 180C. Make a paste with 25g flour, 1 tsp sunflower oil and 2 tbsp water. Pour this into a piping bag and pipe crosses (or any pattern of your choice) onto the tops of your buns.

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Bake for 40-45 minutes. After about half an hour, make a glaze for your loaf. You can either use apricot jam heated with a little water until smooth or you can make a glaze (as directed in Delicious) by heating 2 tbsp caster sugar and 75ml clementine juice (approximately both the clementines you zested earlier plus one more) for five minutes. When your loaf is baked through, remove it from the oven and glaze whilst it is warm. Allow it to cool before slicing.

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Chocolate and Pistachio Babka (and list making)

I would like to be the type of person who makes life lists. You know, like the big life lists – I will accomplish x by the time I turn 30/35/40. There is something aspirationally optimistic in such a list. I have never written one but part of me would like to.

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When my mom was here we were talking about life and living, as we like to do often but particularly since I was in that post-PhD-hand-in crisis that entails questioning what the hell I was a) thinking when I embarked on said PhD and b) what the hell I am supposed to do now, after four years working on the same project. I realised, through the various conversations we had, that I am not the type of person who has a life plan. The best I’ve had is the post-school ‘I’ll go to university and study something for a while and see what happens’ and the nearest serious decision-making I have done was deciding I whole-heartedly needed to go to cooking school and learn how to make dessert. (My mom confessed she is much the same, didn’t really make plans and followed things as they happened.) And so I guess, being that I have been the type of person to leap at opportunities as they appear, it makes sense that I don’t make life lists. (I also wonder at the pressure of such a list. What happens if you don’t finish it by the time you’re supposed to? How do you cope with the disappointment?) But I was reading Sara over at Sprouted Kitchen (an old post titled ‘birthday cake’) and she wrote that making a layer cake made her list of ‘things to do before I turn 30’. And it struck me as odd because a) it never occurred to me to make a list before I turned 30 and b) I cannot imagine not having made a layer cake before that but then I realised that I probably don’t count in the real life version of making cake because I’ve been making layer cakes since I was about six. (And I mean that simply in a statement of fact kind of way and not a oh my goodness, I am amazing because I have been baking since I was six kind of way.)

Anyway, the point of all this rambling was that I realised I wanted to make a list (feel free to laugh here Jen, I know we laughed at other people and their lists together). Not a ‘things to do before a turn 35’ (dear god, how is that kind of a list even conceivable?!) because that is far far far too scary but a kind of list of things I want to do soon (I am good at writing and then promptly forgetting various new years lists, but they hardly count). I figured I could write it here so that there is proof the list exists. (And also because if I write it anywhere else, I will never look at it or remember it again.) And the best thing about this list is this post crosses off one thing that has been on the list of things I want to do (the one that exists in my mind)! So yay! Maybe list making is not so scary?

The 2015 List

Survive my viva

Learn Spanish

Make chocolate krantz cake from Jerusalem (done! see below)

Finish The Third Plate

Write an article for publication

Make a birthday funfetti cake

Use my recipe books more for everyday eating

Read newspapers that are not The Guardian (so I can widen my news sources)

Have people over for dinner

Make this (possibly for said friends above)

Okay. That is more than enough to be getting on with. Nothing totally unrealistic or unachievable. No real timeline. All possibly accomplishable in some way before the end of the year.

So about these babka. Ottolenghi calls them krantz cakes in the book and it appears that the name is interchangeable for babbka (he spells it with two ‘b’s – I’ve always spelt it with one, as does Deb over at Smitten Kitchen). They are soft and sweet, like a sweetened brioche dough and you fill and roll them like a cinnamon bun. But then you split the log down the centre and plait the two halves together, with the inside on the outside. (Even as I write that I realise how complicated it sounds and that is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to make these. But don’t be intimidated. They’re really quite simple and, once you’ve got the rolling and plaiting down, you will probably want to make these every week.) The result is a wonderfully soft, sticky (due to the syrup) sweet bread that you want to pull apart as soon as it is cool enough to touch with your bare hands. I am saving some to make French toast on Saturday morning because I suspect this will make French toast of the gods. I shall report back.

Some notes on the recipe: 1) the dough is pretty soft and if you leave it out of the fridge for a while (like I did) before working with it, it will be difficult and sticky. Keep the dough as cold as possible. 2) The filling needs to be spreadable but it will need to cool to become so – it is quite liquid when you first make it. So make this slightly ahead (by like 15-20 minutes) of when you want to roll the dough into a rectangle so the filling cools and becomes spreadable. 3) This recipe makes enough for two breads. I’m not sure what happens if you halve it but I have frozen the second half of the dough and shall report back when I defrost and use it. 4) Plan ahead. You have to leave the dough in the fridge overnight before you can use it.

Chocolate and Pistachio Babka

Adapted (ever so slightly) from Jerusalem

Bread Dough:

530g plain flour

40g golden caster sugar

60g soft brown sugar

a pinch of salt

10g instant yeast

3 eggs

120ml water (plus about 2 more potential tablespoons – 30ml)

150g unsalted butter, at room temperature (reasonably soft), cut into cubes

Filling:

50g icing sugar

30g cocoa powder

130g dark chocolate

120g unsalted butter

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

2 tbsp golden caster sugar

Syrup: (enough for one bread)

130g golden caster sugar

80ml water

First, make the dough. Place the flour, sugars, salt, and yeast in a bowl. Stir everything together. Using either a standing mixer with a dough hook or a hand-held mixer with dough-beater-feet, add in the eggs and water and mix until the dough starts to come together. If it seems dry and is struggling, add in the extra water. Once the dough has come together nicely, begin to add in the butter. I cut it into cubes and add them one at a time into the mixture. Mix until the dough is smooth, shiny and elastic. Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl during this process so everything is incorporated. Place the dough in a large bowl (I just use the one I’ve mixed it in), cover with clingfilm so it is safely sealed and refrigerate overnight.

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In the morning, grease a loaf tin with some oil and place a layer of parchment paper along the bottom. Make the filling. Melt the butter on the stove. Switch off the heat and add in the chocolate. Allow it to sit for a minute and then stir until smooth. Combine the icing sugar and cocoa powder in a small bowl and then whisk in the butter mixture. Leave this to the side to cool.

Retrieve your dough and divide it into two. (I froze the second half). Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, into a rectangle shape of 38cm x 28cm. Keep a 2cm border at the edge and spread the chocolate filling onto the dough. Scatter the pistachios over and press them into the chocolate filling very lightly with your hands. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp of caster sugar. Brush the long side of the rectangle furthest away from you with some water.

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Roll up the rectangle as you would cinnamon buns, folding the long side closest to you over onto itself and continuing to roll away from you. Press the log closed along the seam. Even the log out with your hands and leave it to sit on the seam. Trim the ends (approximately 2cm).

Now slice the log in half, down the length of the log. Open the two halves so they are sitting cut side up, the filling looking up at you. Press the ends together lightly and then lift the left half over the right half. Repeat with the right lifting over the left, then left over right, until you have plaited the loaf. Press the ends together.

Very carefully lift the plaited loaf into your loaf tin and place in a warm place (covered lightly with a tea towel) for an hour to prove. If you are making the second loaf, repeat this process.

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Heat the oven to 190C and place the risen loaf into the oven. Bake for approximately 25 – 30 minutes, until the cake sounds hollow and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

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While the cake is baking, combine the caster sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat to dissolve the sugar and then bring the syrup to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. When the loaf comes out of the oven, pour the syrup over the loaf. Do this slowly so that the loaf absorbs all the syrup. Restrain yourself whilst it cools. Then eat with abandon.

Milk Loaf

If I tell you I was going to write about pull-apart cinnamon bread this week, will you turn away from a relatively boring (in comparison) post about milk loaf? At the beginning of the month, when I was organising the recipes I would make, I wanted to make cinnamon bread. I really did. But this week, the last thing I wanted to eat was cinnamon bread. I know right? Who does not want to eat cinnamon bread all the time? Well that was me this week. And, because this space is really about my life and the food I eat, I didn’t want to make something just because I said I would. Who would eat it? So there’s no cinnamon bread here today. Instead there is milk loaf.

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I actually didn’t think there would be a recipe here this week at all. When it got to Wednesday I was still busy rewriting Chapter Two of my thesis. I had set a deadline for Wednesday to get it done and I was determined, no matter the hour, to finish it then. I did, finally, at around 11.30pm. So there was no opportunity to make anything or to blog on Wednesday. The rest of the week was spent recipe testing for Florentine, a new book by Emiko Davies, a food writer. Ages ago, via Instagram, I offered to test some of the recipes and this week I finally got round to doing so. But as a result, I wasn’t really in the mood to do any of my own recipe development for here. I figured I’d write about how fun recipe testing had turned out to be. How challenging it was to have to focus on actually following the recipe, rather than automatically looking at what could be adapted or changed. Actually measuring one teaspoon of vanilla, rather than pouring it in by sight; paying attention to baking times, rather than waiting to smell when something is done; the sequence of steps and the equipment needed (you mean I can’t simply put this cake batter into a round tin? It has to be rectangular? Really?). It was great. But I can’t share the recipes I made on here so I figured it’d be a non-recipe post. But then today I made a batch of marmalade (Seville’s are back in season! Yay!) and I figured it might be good to have fresh bread for toast in the morning. So I made this milk loaf.

I’m slightly obsessed with this loaf at the moment. I think I go through stages of loving different breads. For ages it was sourdough. Now it’s this milk loaf. It’s easy to make. Dense and chewy in texture. Toasts well. Lasts the week. The recipe comes from Delicious magazine. I subscribe to their newsletter (as well as the print magazine) and this loaf was featured in one newsletter recently. I love making my own bread so I decided to give it a whirl last Sunday. I’ve been eating slices for breakfast all week and now that there is marmalade again, I suspect I’ll be eating this combination for a while. I changed the method slightly (as well as using more milk), only because I am a lazy baker and prefer for things to be as easy as possible. Thus, instead of rubbing the butter into the flour, I simply melt it whilst heating the milk. It cuts out a step and opens, I think, the possibility of turning this into a brown butter loaf…. Mmm. Now there’s an idea. I also added in a second proof. The original recipe only proofs the dough once but I’m always skeptical of such things, having been taught that breads should be proofed twice. So I proof it twice. Just in case. (And because you get the satisfaction of punching down the dough.)

Milk Loaf
Adapted from Delicious Magazine
750g strong white flour
7g instant yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
75g unsalted butter
350ml milk

Place the flour in a large bowl. Add in the yeast on one side and the sugar and salt on another side. You don’t want the yeast to come into contact with the salt and sugar until you’re ready to add in your liquids as you risk the sugar/salt killing the yeast. (Which, let’s face it, would be a tragedy*!)

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Place the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat over a medium heat until the milk is warm. Switch off the heat and leave it for a few minutes so that the butter melts. Give it a stir. Test the temperature with your finger. You don’t want it to be hot – body temperature is good. Stir the flour, salt, sugar and yeast together. Add in the milk. Using either a wooden spoon or your hands, bring everything together to form a dough. If there isn’t enough liquid to do so, add in some warm water.

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Form the dough into a ball. Knead lightly for five to ten minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place into the bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave in a warm place to proof until double in size – about an hour. (I put the bowl into my oven, with the oven light on and a tray of hot water on the floor of the oven. This creates a warm, moist atmosphere that makes the dough extraordinarily happy.)

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and shape it into a log. Grease a loaf tin with some oil and place the log into it. Cover loosely with a tea towel and proof again for half an hour – the dough should rise up beyond the tin level.

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Preheat the oven to 200C. Cook the loaf for half an hour – until dark golden brown on top and hollow-sounding when tapped.

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Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before eating.

*If you are of the same era as me, perhaps the word tragedy! (with the exclamation mark after it) reminds you of that song by Steps. I remember once doing the coordinated dance moves on a stage at some formal dance I went to in my final year of school. In case you have forgotten, here’s a link to the music video… (Also, this video be cray-cray.)