Quick and easy pitta breads (makes 12)
For the dough:
600g Strong white bread flour*
15g fresh yeast (or 7g instant dried)
2 tbsp olive oil
300g tepid water
10g fine sea salt
*or substitute plain flour, if you don’t have bread flour.
Place the dry ingredients in your bowl, ensuring the salt is on one side, the yeast on the other. If you don’t have ready yeast, follow the instructions on the packet for activation. Now add the water and oil and, using a dough scraper or your hands, bring the mixture together into a rough dough. Take out of the bowl and need for about 10 minutes until you have a smooth and elastic dough. Place back in a lightly dusted bowl, cover and rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 240-250°C, with a good quality baking sheet or baking stone in place to get super-hot.
After about an hour or so, remove the dough and divide into quarters. Take each quarter, squash it a little, then divide into 3 pieces and form each into a small ball with a tight seam underneath. Each piece should finish up as a smooth ball, with no edges or rough bits showing. Cover once more and leave to rest for a further 15 minutes.
Take the first 4 balls and roll out into ovals about 20cm long and even thickness. Place them on a lightly dusted peel, or onto a silicone sheet that can be slid straight into the oven. Slide into your oven and bake for about 5 minutes. They should puff up in the oven. Remove after 5 minutes and cover with a linen cloth whilst you cook the remaining two batches. Keep covered whilst they cool, so the pittas remain soft and pliable. If you don’t, they will dry and crisp up.
When cool, they can be kept in an airtight container for several days or frozen immediately.
This cake was created to use the delicious curd cheese I brought back with me from Wildes Cheese after a delightful day spent learning about cheese-making. Philip and Keith run this small urban artisan dairy in Tottenham, North London. On reading about their passion for their craft I knew that this is where I wanted to learn. They say they were drawn to cheesemaking “because it’s pure magic, a form of alchemy”. Now, where have I heard that before?!!
The curd cheese’s soft and velvety texture is perfect for making a rich bundt cake, especially paired with the sweet sharpness of lemon. The resulting cake is light and moist, in spite of its characteristically dense crumb. And it’s wickedly moreish!
Pre-heat your oven to 170°C.
First prepare your bundt tin, by greasing and covering with granulated sugar. Set to one side.
Zest two lemons and rub into your caster sugar. Now cream together your softened butter and caster sugar, until light and fluffy. Mix in the curd cheese and crème fraiche. Now split and scrape the seeds from your vanilla pod and stir in together with the lemon juice and ground almonds.
Whilst the cake is baking you can prepare the drizzle. Mix together the juice of one lemon and 50g caster sugar.
When your cake is cooked, leave it for about 10 minutes in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack. Using a spoon, drizzle your lemon mix evenly over your cake and leave to cool completely.
Our communal village orchard is heavy with wonderful produce right now. The plums, mulberries and greengages are over, but now the apples, pears, quince and medlars now have their chance to shine. Even the hedgerows enclosing the old orchard are bearing blackberries and nuts to gather.
With my basket laden, I set about baking something to use the village bounty. The nuts are, as yet, too young and fresh to grind down to a useful flour, so I used ground almonds – but if you have your own hazelnuts, do use once they’re dried. Just grind them down to a fine meal. The young cob nuts will be fine for the crumble topping.
Eat with pleasure. You have spent time making a thing of beauty from things you have foraged. Take your time to savour. Enjoy.
These spelt cookies are usually available at breaktime on our workshops and we're often asked for the recipe. We're so lucky to have the most wonderful organic spelt flour grown and milled near the Baking School. I love to use it as much as possible. These cookies are so packed with goodness, they don't feel like an indulgence - just a healthy treat to keep you going when you're flagging between meals. You can use whatever dried fruit you like: raisins, cranberries, sultanas - even chopped dates or prunes. And you can choose to use all nuts, all seeds or, as I have done here, a combination of the two. Remember that seeds and nuts will be more flavourful if you toast them in a dry pan beforehand.
Spelt, oat, fruit & nut cookies
(makes 18-20 cookies)
We make these cookies with the wonderful wholemeal spelt we buy from our local miller, at Foster’s Mill, but you can use any flavoursome stoneground spelt or other favourite wholemeal flour. They are filled with oats, dried fruit and seeds or nuts, so make a great morning snack or ‘breakfast on the go’!
125g wholemeal spelt (or other wholemeal flour)
100g jumbo oats
100g regular oats
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
100g butter, melted
180g soft dark brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
100g raisins or sultanas
50g toasted pecans (or choice of nut), chopped
50g toasted pumpkin seeds
Taking a small dessertspoon of dough, roll into a tight ball the size of a walnut. You may find wetting your hands with water or oil may help at this stage. Place on a couple of baking sheets with room for spreading between each ball. Press each gently down with the base of a glass or biscuit press until they are 5-6cm in diameter.
Bake at 180 degrees C for about 15-18 minutes. Leave to cool a little on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack. When cool, store in an airtight container. The biscuits, if stored well, will remain crisp and fresh for 2 weeks or more.
Shrove Tuesday or 'Fat Tuesday' as the Scandinavians would have it!! Whether you're planning to fast or not, a day to indulge. Countries across Scandinavia celebrate with variations of this Semla bun. Semlor are delicious sweet cardamom buns, enriched with butter and milk, then filled with a delicious honey almond paste and fresh cream. If you're a pancake traditionalist, why not try this alternative. Or if you're really planning on fasting, have both!
(Makes 14-16 buns)
Semla buns are a traditional Scandinavian treat, varying slightly across the region, but always served as part of a feast on ‘Fat Tuesday’, at the start of Lent. Much like our hot cross buns, although associated with a particular festival, they are so popular they can be found in bakeries for weeks beforehand.
For the dough:
Strong white flour 500g (or substitute for all or part white spelt flour)
Fresh yeast 25g
Sea salt 10g
Butter, cubed 60g
Caster sugar 60g
Eggs 100g (2 medium, beaten)
For the almond filling
Ground almonds 120g
Caster sugar 20g
Plus, 350g double cream, whipped with 20g icing sugar
Measure out your flour, sugar and cardamom into a large mixing bowl, then rub in crumbled yeast on one side of your bowl (for dried yeast use half the amount). Now place the salt on the other side of the bowl. Keeping your butter to one side for now, add your milk and eggs and mix with your scraper until all ingredients are combined and a rough dough has formed. Turn out onto your work surface and knead for 10 minutes or so, until you have a nicely elastic dough. Now add your butter and knead for another 5 minutes until your dough is fully developed. Form the dough into a ball and place back into your lightly floured bowl. Cover with a large plastic bag or a baking cloth and leave to rest for about an hour.
After one hour, your dough should have roughly doubled in size. De-gas your dough and divide into two, take each half and divide into 8 pieces of approximately 60g-65g each. Being careful to slap any excess gas out of each piece and, using the friction of a flour-free workbench, form each piece into a tight little ball, being careful to place the seam on the underside, before placing on a lined baking tray to prove. Ensure you leave enough space between each roll to allow it to double in size. You may need to use two baking sheets.
Cover and leave at a warm room temperature for about an hour (ideally, 22°C - 25°C), but do not place anywhere too warm. If your kitchen is a little cooler, just leave a little longer. After one hour, your rolls should be roughly double in size and will return slowly back to shape when depressed gently with a floury finger.
Preheat your oven to 200°C.
Just before baking, sprinkle a little flour over the top of each roll. Place them into your hot oven and then turn the temperature down immediately to 180°C. Bake for 10-12 minutes. The sugar content in the rolls will cause them to brown quicker than ordinary bread rolls, so do check they are not browning too quickly. If they are, you may need to turn your oven down by 10 degrees or so.
Leave your buns to cool on a wire rack and meanwhile you can prepare the almond and honey filling and whip your cream in preparation for assembly.
For the filling:
Place your ground almonds, honey, sugar and milk in a bowl and combine until you have a kneadable paste. Divide your mixture into 16 (approximately 13g each) lumps, roll into tight balls and put to one side.
Now take your cream and whisk together with a little icing sugar until you reach soft peaks, taking care not to over-whip your cream.
Once your buns have cooled, cut most of the way through your bun about one third of the way down, creating a ‘hinged lid’. Inside insert a disc of honey and almond paste made by flattening the balls you made earlier, and then spoon or pipe fresh cream on top, before gently closing the lid a little. Finish with a little sprinkled icing sugar.
And there we have it! A delicious alternative to pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Or any day!
I'm often asked for recipes to use up that unused sourdough starter. I hate waste and, knowing many of you don't have the time to bake as regularly as you might like, inevitably there will be times when you have to discard unrefreshed starter before feeding your 'mother' in your weekly routine. With the unseasonably warm weather we've been having lately and blossom bursting out all over the garden, I was seduced into daydreaming about the summer and teas on the lawn. I found myself making up a batch of delicious lemony scones, bursting with tangy blueberries. Not exactly seasonal, I know, but I couldn't resist the bright colours of the berries on the counter of my local shop! Even the butterflies and bees have been fooled into thinking summer is on its way!
Now, scones are a very personal thing. I love them and fondly remember my mother's from my youth. I'm often drawn to them in cafes, but have learnt over the years that they frequently lead to disappointment, as I bite into one and get that familiar baking powder 'squeak'! I like my scones to be soft, light and moist. And utterly without squeak. A batch of these scones takes a matter of moments to put together - perfect for those short notice visitors or that urge for 'a little something' mid-afternoon, with a perfectly brewed cuppa.
In fact, scones freeze beautifully, unbaked, so why not whip up a double batch? Place one tray in the oven and the other in the freezer. Once frozen, you can transfer them from the tray into a freezer bag or plastic box. When you want to bake them, defrost for 45-60 mins on a baking tray at room temperature and bake as normal. Even easier, for those last minute guests!
Lemon & Blueberry Sourdough Scones
(Makes 8-9 scones)
180g plain flour
80g wholemeal flour
100g unrefreshed liquid starter (100% hydration)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
90g golden caster sugar
Zest 1/2 lemon
75g cold butter, either cubed or grated
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g blueberries (preferably small, firm and sharp-tasting)
Preheat oven to 180C
Firstly, weigh out your flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. If using a food processor, blitz the flour mixture with the cubed cold butter. Do not overwork. If mixing my hand, try grating your cold butter into your flour, then rubbing briefly together to get a better blended, breadcrumb-like mix. Do not worry if you still have and uneven distribution of butter, just ensure that there are no excessively large lumps. Now add your sugar, lemon zest and blueberries, mixing lightly with your hands to ensure an even distribution.
In a separate jug or bowl, weigh out your unrefreshed liquid starter and buttermilk, together with your vanilla essence. Mix thoroughly, then add your liquid to your other ingredients. Mix together, until the dough just comes together - remember, the less you handle at this stage, the lighter your scones will be.
Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and use your hands to pat into a square, approximately 4cm high. Divide into 9 squares (3 x 3), cutting firmly with a dough cutter or sharp knife. Alternative, you can use your favourite cutter, to make round scones. Place on a baking tray and brush with a little beaten egg. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown.
(Alternatively, if you have no blueberries, subsitute for 100g soft sultanas, for delicious lemon and sultana scones).
When cool, serve with fresh cream and homemade lemon curd.
Towards the end of 2018, I was privileged to join a group of chefs, writers, farmers, archeologists, photographers and filmmakers for Terroir Tuscany. One thing unified us all - food: its provenance, history, politics, production and sustainability.
Hosted by Charlotte Horton of Castello di Potentino, our breathtaking setting, and Arlene Stein of Terroir Hospitality, we spent 7 days learning from each other and local expert producers. We would meet each day after breakfast for talks in the importance of terroir and the power and politics of food today and throughout time, with a particular emphasis on the unique region of the castello, with its history pre-dating Etruscan times.
Charlotte and Arlene had worked immensely hard to curate a programme which enthralled, educated, entertained and moved us all. Talks, discussions, debate and hands-on workshops filled our days, whilst our evenings were spent sharing wonderful, locally-sourced food and the castello’s delicious wine. And as the evenings stretched into night, we would gather in the courtyard, warming ourselves by the open fires as we listened to the sounds of the guitar and marvelled at the star-strewn Tuscan skies.
Every day we learnt from a different expert producer from the region. We made cheese - delicious ricotta and pecorino, - we picked olives and tasted the new season’s oil, we made bread from ancient grains and recipes, we toured the castello’s vineyards and cellars, tasting wonderful local wines, we observed the Teatro Porco, as the local expert butcher prepared an entire pig for meat and charcuterie, we made fresh pasta and foraged wild plants and fungi nestling in the local hillside.
And we ate. Oh, how we ate! Cooks, chefs and restaurateurs were legion amongst us and, each afternoon, a posse of volunteers would gather in the ancient castle kitchen to make the evening meal. Baskets of vegetables and herbs filled the ancient fireplace and an impromptu menu would be devised from that day’s offerings. We shared ideas and knowledge, whilst learning so much under the relaxed tutelage of the some of the world’s most accomplished chefs (peppered with a Michelin star or two). How could it be anything but relaxed, as we prepped vegetables, meat and grain around an ancient table, stone sink in the corner and glass of wine in hand. So many cooks, so much joy and laughter and not a single broth spoiled.
This Terroir was a life-changing opportunity. What we shared and learned touched us all. An awareness of terroir and consideration of what it means should be important to each one of us. Its influence is impossible to overstate and should be paramount to everyone working within the food sector. Terroir is more than just a region of land. It is at the core of every community. It is the history, culture, politics, power, sustainability and the future of food production. It should be at the heart of all we do.
And if we put it at the core of what we do, we all become its ambassadors. We learn, we share, we influence, and we create both the power and will to change.
My week at Castello di Potentino has changed my view of the world and my community. For me, the world has now become smaller and my community so much larger. We gathered under its ancient walls as strangers from disparate parts of the world. We left as friends.
We're delighted to announce an exciting new venture with the fabulous sourdough expert and chef, Hilary Cacchio, Hilary is author of the wonderful Sourdough Suppers, a seasonal guide to eating and savouring your daily sourdough. My heart warmed to her the minute I read the phrase 'serve with a good wedge of sourdough' throughout the book. Although I may have been influenced by the Prune, Armagnac and Honey Ice cream Sandwiches (made with brioche, of course!). Oh my! Hilary spends half the year in France and half the year here in the UK, teaching sourdough baking in London for schools such as Bread Ahead, Divertimenti and, formerly, Leith's.
Our shared passion for food and our love of sourdough has drawn us together and now we're putting our heads together to come up with a wonderful residential bread making course in the heart of the beautiful French countryside. Plans are coming together for October 2019, when we hope to offer a French- inspired baking and cooking course, taking in local markets and mills, to make the most of the fabulous fresh seasonal produce and traditionally milled French flour.
We'll keep you posted with updates, both here and via social media.
In the meantime, feel free to drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to register your interest. There's no commitment at this stage, but those on the mailing list will be first to hear details of the full package once booking is live.
We make hot cross buns every year, but this year I thought I'd take a look at the tradition, where it comes from and look at a more traditional recipe to our normal fare. So, I dug out my trusty Elizabeth David English Bread and Yeast Cookery. Published in the '70s, it's a weighty tome, but a great start when you really want to get to grips with something. I was rewarded with a wonderful verse of the well known rhyme that was previously unknown to me:
One for the poker,
Two for the tongs;
Three for the dust pan,
Hot Cross Buns!
Thanks to modern technology, I lost none to the poker, tongs or dust pan. Following her guidance ,my resulting dough was stiffer than I would usually make, but no less soft and tender. I made some traditional deep crosses in the dough after proving and then piped the sweetened flour paste into the grooves. I was delighted with the results and think I'll stick with this method in future years.
As for the tradition itself, it seems it predates even medieval times. Evidence of fruit -studded loaves made to celebrate Eastre and the rites of Spring go back to pagan times. Then, as is so often the case, Christianity took over the pagan traditions. The crosses were a later addition, and were commonly cut into all manner of buns, loaves and cakes by superstitious bakers (for superstitious customers!) as a way of warding off evil spirits (that were naturally responsible for turning them mouldy). Then, during the reign of Elizabeth I, when the puritans were trying to rid England of all evidence of 'popery' as they saw it, the use of the cross was strictly limited and the practice was abandoned. However, one exception was made. At Easter, the use of the cross as a symbol was seen as appropriate and so the tradition of a little fruited loaf with a cross on continued. Traditionally, the cross was a haphazard, deep-cut marking but as time moves on we see embellishments appearing in the form of pastry or citrus peel crosses overlaying the scored cross. These days, you can see the piped cross on most modern buns. And, of course, everyone outdoes each other to come up with a new and exciting flavour not thought of before. For me, these traditional buns are an absolute delight. In fact, next year I might just try those candied peel crosses. If it ain't broke...
Hot Cross Buns
(makes 12 generous buns)
650g Strong white bread flour
60g Wholemeal flour (wheat, spelt or rye)
65g Light brown sugar (or golden caster sugar)
200g dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, currants & mixed peel)
360g whole milk, at room temperature
90g cold butter (unsalted), cubed
30g fresh yeast (or 15g dried yeast)
1 tsp mixed spice
Paste for crosses:
20g caster sugar
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp caster sugar
Place the egg and milk in your mixing bowl, then add your flour, sugar, spice and salt. Now crumble the fresh yeast into your flour, avoiding direct contact with the salt. Using your dough attachment, mix your dough on low speed for 1-2 minutes until smooth and well combined. Turn the speed up to medium fast and mix for a further 2-3 minutes until your dough is strong and elastic. Now you have developed the gluten, you can throw in the cubes of butter a few at a time, continuing to beat the dough. When the butter is all combined and your dough is smooth once more, you can add the dried fruit and mix in.
Now cover and rest your dough for about 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size. You can then turn out your dough on a lightly floured surface. De-gas and divide into 12 equal portions (about 120g dough each). Shape each piece of dough into a ball and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover and leave to prove for a further 2 hours (if your kitchen is warm, you may need less time; if cold, you may need more).
Meanwhile, prepare your paste for the crosses. Mix the flour, sugar and water together and place in a piping bag, with either a small nozzle or prepare to cut a small hole at the end of the bag.
Preheat your oven to 220C
When your buns are proved, pipe a narrow cross on each bun. If you have placed your buns in a 3x4 grid, you may find it easier to do this by running down the entire row of buns, rather than each individual one. Place them in the oven and immediately turn your oven down to 190C. Bake for 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye that they don’t brown too quickly - if so, turn your oven down by about 10 degrees.
Whilst your buns are baking, prepare your final glaze. Mix together 2 tbsp milk with 2 tbsp caster sugar in a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool a little before using.
When the buns are baked and golden, place on a cooling rack and brush with your milky glaze. Allow to cool, but maybe just one won’t be missed whilst they’re still warm. After all, you were the one to bake them. It’s the least you deserve. Enjoy!
With the bakery so busy at this time of year, we have to prepare ahead with as much we can before Christmas.
Today has been a big baking day, tray upon tray of mince pies, several panforte and snowy drifts of ricciarelli adorn the worktops. Sausage rolls must wait until Christmas Eve - a baking ritual here at the White Cottage. I’d be in big trouble with the family if I dared to bake them beforehand. Christmas doesn’t start until that first sausage roll is baked and eaten. I am, however, allowed to prep the stuffing for the turkey and tuck it in the freezer until its needed.
Our stuffing this year will feature fennel seeds - I adore the combination of pork and fennel - with juicy prunes for their dark, fruity stickiness and the crunch of toasted pistachios. We have a ready supply of old scraps of sourdough here, but don’t buy some especially. However, do use good quality bread - even better, make your own!
It’s so easy to make the stuffing ahead of time, taking only minutes to prepare, and beats a packet of Sage & Onion every time.
Good quality, free range pork sausage meat 1kg
Sourdough breadcrumbs 150g
Soft prunes, chopped 200g
Pistachios, roughly chopped 100g
Dried pink peppercorns 2 heaped tbsp
Fennel seeds 1 tbsp
1 egg, beaten
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper
A great use of any old bits of sourdough you might have lying around (or in the freezer). Don’t use fresh - best at a week old. If the bread is still quite soft, slice and leave it out for a few hours (or overnight) before blitzing into crumbs.
Simply combine all the above ingredients, excluding the meat and egg. When evenly mixed, add the final ingredients and mix thoroughly with your hands. Will keep for several days in the fridge, or freeze until ready to use.
Our workshops are run by award-winning sourdough baker Helen Underwood.