Just Dough It!

It’s early Summer & thoughts turn to sunny weekends & lazy days, sipping something refreshing in the garden & eating delicious food together.  The comforting fragrance of freshly baked bread, garden-grown herbs & sweet garlic wafting through the air, always reminds me of sunny picnics on the patio.  While the Husband is gardening his socks off (with refreshing intermissions of something chilled), I enjoy creating a few treats for us to indulge in later.

A favourite nibble is slender squares of fresh focaccia, warm from the oven & dunked in a dish of extra virgin olive oil & dark treacley Balsamic vinegar.  Simply topped with herbs, garlic & sparkly shards of sea salt, this fluffy delight is always welcome!  This version is a fabulously fruity version, topped with ripe baby tomatoes.  As they bake, they become darker, slightly softened & a little jammy, resembling cabachon rubies mounted in a golden cloud of fluffy focaccia.  Pardon my poetics, but this type of food can be inspiring!  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & let’s dough it!

What you need:

500g Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for kneading & dusting)
12g Yeast (dried or fresh if you prefer)
330ml Lukewarm Water (dip a finger in it & it should be just warm)
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus extra for drizzling)
Half a teaspoon ground Sea Salt
12 Baby Plum or Cherry Tomatoes (washed, dried & halved)
1 sprig Rosemary (preferably fresh but dried is fine)
3-4 cloves Fresh Garlic, chopped finely
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Coarse Semolina (for your baking tray)

What to do:

Firstly, pre-heat your oven to 220*C – it’s going to need a good hour to get hot enough.

Prepare a large baking tray by sprinkling with a little coarse semolina, to stop your dough sticking (you can use a little flour instead if you prefer).  If you’re filling the tray, use one with a little lip around the edge to contain your bread, otherwise a flat one will do for free-form focaccia.

Next, dissolve the yeast in the water & give it a good firm stir, until blended into a pale muddy coloured liquid.

Mix the flour & salt separately in a large mixing bowl, making a dip in the centre.

Add the olive oil & pour in the yeast liquid, then bring everything together until you get a soft, sticky dough.

Scoop everything onto a lightly floured worktop, leaving a clean bowl.  Dust a little flour into the bottom of the bowl & set aside for later.

Knead the dough for about ten minutes, stretching it by pushing away with the heel of your hand & pulling it back over itself.  Turn the dough slightly & repeat.  If you’ve got a good sticky dough, you might need a dusting of flour occasionally as you’re doing this – be careful not to overdo this, otherwise it will alter the recipe & become unpleasant.  Remember, the effort you put into the kneading now will result in a fluffy, well-risen bread later, so give it some elbow grease – just think of those toned arms!

Once kneaded, pop your dough back in the bowl to prove.  Dust lightly with a little flour.

Smudge a few spots of olive oil on a sheet of clingfilm & loosely place over the top of the bowl.

Place somewhere warm & draught-free to rise for at least an hour (a warm airing cupboard is good if you have one).  If you can leave it longer, then do so.  Sometimes, I’ll make the dough in the morning & let it prove all day, ready for baking in the evening – all the kneading will make the dough silky smooth, soft & pliable.

When your dough has doubled in size, it’s ready for the next stage.  Simply take the oiled film off & scoop your dough onto a lightly floured work surface, making sure you remove all remnants from the bowl (you’ve put a lot of work into this, so don’t waste any!).

Give it light kneading for a few seconds, just to knock out any large bubbles that may have formed.  On a very lightly floured worktop, roll & stretch your dough to fit your tin, until about half an inch thick.

Carefully place your dough into the tin & drizzle olive oil across the top, gently smoothing it across with your hands.  Using your knuckles, make dimples all over your dough.

Dot the tomato halves all over the top, round side up & sprinkle evenly with the chopped garlic, a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper & sea salt.  Remove the Rosemary leaves from the stem & either leave whole or chop roughly, before sprinkling them on top too.

Bake in the top of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until your bread is lightly golden & the tomato skins have turned a dark crimson.

To check if your focaccia is cooked, lift it up carefully at one end & tap the bottom – if it sounds hollow, it’s ready!

Remove from the baking tray & slide onto a cooling rack.  While it’s still warm, drizzle with more olive oil & give it a couple of minutes to cool slightly.

Transfer to a chopping board & slice into focaccia fingers, ready for dipping & devouring!  Add a few accompaniments & turn it into a mini feast – try a few sundried tomatoes, fragrant olives, salami, Proscuitto & a few cheeses.   Place the board in the centre of the table & let people help themselves.  Perfect for a relaxed afternoon treat or a light lunch.  Next time you’re feeling kneady, just dough it!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

Gorgeous Grissini Galore!

It’s been a proper soggy start to Summery June, especially this week (it’s been raining since Monday morning & barely stopped).  The weekend gave us some glorious sunshine & the opportunity to mow the lawns, pot some plants & generally have a tidy up around the garden.  The plants are loving the damp weather, flourishing & flowering all around (especially the peas who have pods on their vines!).  Although we all moan about it, the gardens need a proper downpour every now & then to keep them hydrated & healthy.

On days like these, I like to make my own sunshine & bake some beautiful treats!  Lusciously light sponge cakes, peachy fruit-packed pastries & velvety chocolate chip cookies all do the trick, especially with their heady perfume wafting through the house & the anticipation of tasting them later.  Recently, I rediscovered a treat that we have not made for quite some time: the gorgeous grissini!  These spindly, slender sticks of crisp, handmade bread are delicious with a few juicy olives, sundried tomatoes & of course a pan of my homemade tomato sauce for dunking.  After a long day at work or as pre-dinner nibbles for your guests, these make the perfect carpet-picnic fayre to tide you over until dinner is ready – substantial enough to take the edge off being hungry, but light enough to not affect appetites too much.

Now I’m not going to give you false hope here – they are one of the easiest & tastiest treats to make, but you will need to set aside a whole morning or an afternoon (which is perfect for soggy days!).  As each breadstick is handmade, there is a degree of patience required – you can’t rush this & I personally find it quite relaxing, therapeutic almost.  No machine required, this is all done by pure elbow grease – in fact, the only thing I will recommend is a pastry scraper (an inexpensive flat, flexible piece of plastic that will multi-task in a number of baking jobs, including wiping up worktops afterwards).  If you’re doing this alone, it can take a couple of hours to make a whole batch, so I would highly recommend getting the whole family involved (especially the children – this is great for helping them learn a basic life skill).

This recipe makes about 80-100 grissini, depending on how thin you roll them & I will tell you that the thicker ones have the most deliciously chewy texture, with just enough exterior crispiness too – these taste amazing dunked in a little aged Balsamic Vinegar & olive oil.  Grissini are definitely a ‘prepare in advance’ snack, not for those requiring instant gratification, but the results of your hard work will be rather satisfying.  Ready to get started?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

570g Strong Bread Flour (with extra for rolling out, etc)
50g Fine Semolina Flour
350ml Lukewarm Water
12g Dried Yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground Sea Salt
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Optional toppings:
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for brushing)
4 tablespoons Sesame Seeds
4 sprigs fresh Rosemary, chopped finely (just the leaves, not the stem) – you can use dried Rosemary, approx 2 tablespoons

What to do:

Firstly, mix the yeast with the lukewarm water to dissolve it.  It should go a muddy, light coffee colour.

Tip the flour & semolina into a large mixing bowl, add the sea salt & stir well to combine everything.

Make a well in the middle & pour in the olive oil, followed by the yeast water.  Stir everything with a fork, until it comes together into a nice big ball of rough dough.  Make sure you wipe it around the inside of the bowl thoroughly to pick up any leftover ingredients, until the bowl is virtually clean.

Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Keep the bowl to one side.   Start to knead the dough by placing it in front of you, pushing down & away from you with the heel of your hand.  Then pull it back onto itself, give it a half turn on your worktop & repeat.  Try to get into a rhythm, working at a nice pace & keep the dough moving (if you’re moving too slow here, the dough will stick to the worktop,  so just slide the pastry scraper underneath & flip it back).

Give it a good ten minutes of kneading, as shown in the pictures here, using a little more flour if you need to, but try to avoid it if you can – a sticky dough is a stretchy dough & you need that stretch later on!

After ten minutes, your dough should be elasticated & have a bit of boing to it – roll it into a ball, press your finger gently on the top & if it springs back, it’s done.

Dust the inside of your bowl with a little flour & place the dough inside, giving a little dust of the fine semolina or flour on top.  Smudge a little olive oil onto a sheet of cling film, cover the bowl loosely oil-side down & place in a draught-free, warm place for an hour (warm airing cupboards are brilliant if you have one).  If you don’t have cling film, use a sheet of greaseproof paper oiled in the same way & cover with a tea towel.

While your dough is proving, pre-heat the oven to 220*C  – you want it scorching hot for bread-making & this will give crispness to your grissini.

Prepare a few tins (you’re going to need them) – lightly dust a few flat baking trays with a little coarse semolina flour, just as you would for pizzas.  You don’t need any fancy non-stick stuff, just a regular baking tray should suffice.  Set to one side, ready for your grissini.

Once proved, your dough will have risen to at least double in size & will be slightly domed on top.  Remove the clingfilm & pull the dough out onto a lightly floured worktop.

Using your pastry scraper, cut the dough into four & shape into oval balls – if you’re doing them all plain, just cut a quarter of the dough & leave the rest covered with a tea towel.

Again using that trusty pastry scraper, cut a finger thickness of dough from the ball & roll into a long slender sausage shape, the length of your baking tray.  Use your fingers to pinch the ends off if too long, don’t cut them & keep the ends to one side to make more.  You want your grissini to look rustic, handmade & not just squished out by a machine.  Personally, I like to twist & twirl them to get a nice bobbly sort of  texture when they’ve baked, but it’s up to you how you do it.   Lay each one about half an inch apart, as they grow a little during baking.

You should end up with lots of slender stems of dough on your baking tray.  Place in the centre of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden (if you’re making them slightly fatter, give them 12-14 minutes, but keep an eye on them so they don’t burn).

Remove & lift your grissini onto a cooling rack until ready to serve.  Usually, I tend to bake them on a constant rotation of two trays in the oven while I’m prepping another two trays, until all the dough is used up.

If you’re going to add a little extra to your grissini, roll out as above & lay them on the prepared baking trays.  Brush them with a little olive oil & generously shower with sesame seeds or the Rosemary (or both, which is very tasty).  Bake as above.  One of the best bonuses of this is when all your grissini are baked, there will be a tray of toasted sesame seeds & Rosemary leftover.  These are truly splendid scattered over salads, cheese bakes, roasted tomatoes & even just for dunking a delicious tomato-sauce smothered grissini in.  Keep leftover ones in a little ramekin or glass jar for this purpose.

Once you’re ready to dive into these delectable crisp delights, lay them on a large wooden board surrounded by a selection of petite pots, filled with sundried tomatoes, olives, artichokes & other such delicacies.  If you’re serving these as a starter for a dinner party, add some slices of salami, proscuitto & an array of antipasto.

Make up a small batch of tomato sauce for dipping too (trust me, this is essential with fresh grissini!).  Here’s an easy recipe that you can whip up in a few minutes.  Tip a couple of tins of proper Italian plum tomatoes in a saucepan & squish into smaller pieces (get your hands in there, you’ll wash).  Add a good squeeze of tomato puree, a couple of cloves of freshly chopped garlic, a few fresh Basil leaves (roughly shredded) & a pinch of sugar, along with a few firm twists of black pepper (freshly ground is best) & a pinch of sea salt.  Stir everything together with a glug of olive oil & reduce on a medium heat for a few minutes.  Once it’s all bubbling like glossy hot lava, it’s done!  Turn off the heat, give it a good stir & let it cool for a couple of minutes (as with most hot lava-like sauces, let it rest).  Taste it & adjust the seasoning if you need to, then serve!

Any leftover grissini should keep for a couple of days in an airtight container (I’m being optimistic here, because even though you’ve made what appears to be squillions of slender breadsticks, they will disappear as rapidly as if you only made four).

Next time it’s a soggy day, the kids are bored or you are just out of tasty treats or snacks, just “dough” it & bake a batch of gorgeous grissini!  Heavenly, healthy & handmade – what’s not to love?!  Have a fabulous week & stay hungry!  Aimee  😉 x

 

 

 

 

 

Give Sultanas A Swirl!

There are some things that just don’t do it for me & that includes anything with really over-dried fruit in it – shop bought mince pies, heavily laden fruit cakes that are more fruit than cake (that’s just plain wrong), & anything with shrivelled up sultanas in it.  Scones, buns, cakes or fruit bread should all be graced with sweet, sumptuous fruits & nothing dried of any description.

Sultanas have always intrigued me since I was a child.  In those days, those wrinkly, chewy chunks were picked & flicked from whatever pastry they had dared to adorn!  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them & always found them to be hard, chewy & just not very nice!  In the history books, a Sultana is depicted as a beautiful bejewelled Queen, so it’s hard to associate such a regal sovereign with this dried delicacy.

My Mum & Grandma taught me to show the sultana some respect & give these fabulous fruits a bit of a pre-bake pampering.   Before I bake anything with sultanas in, I give them a good soak in a fragrant warm tea bath, sometimes with a splash of Brandy or Sherry in it.  One of my favourite teas for doing this is Chai, especially at this time of year because of it’s heady, spicy scent.  The sultanas soak up all this luscious liquid to make them plump & pretty again.

There are a variety of treats you can rustle up with these little beauties & on a Sunday morning, if my Husband isn’t making croissants (his speciality), I will make my Sultana Swirlies.  They’re pretty much twirls of enriched dough with squishy sultanas in a swirl of sugar, butter & cinnamon.  If you don’t have the time to make the dough, use pre-made all butter puff pastry (the good stuff) instead.  So get your apron on & here’s the recipe!

What you need:

1lb 4oz Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for dusting)
Half an ounce of Fresh Yeast (or dried equivalent)
Half a pint lukewarm water
1 large Egg
A quarter of a teaspoon of ground Sea Salt
2oz Vanilla Sugar (plus another ounce for sprinkling)
1oz melted Butter (salted)
Ground Cinnamon for dusting (only a tiny bit – a little goes a very long way!)
2-3 tablespoons Milk (for brushing on at the end)
1 Chai Teabag
Quarter of a pint of boiling water
1 handful of Sultanas (about 2 or 3oz should be sufficient)

What to do:

Firstly, soak your fruit: put the sultanas in a small bowl or a large coffee cup along with the tea bag, pour on the boiling water & stir well.  Put a lid on it (a saucer or small plate will do) & leave to one side for a couple of hours at least.  If you want them to really plump up, do this just before bedtime the night before & leave them until you’re ready to use them (I’ve left them for 24 hours before, so they will be fine).

While the sultanas are soaking in their bath, get the dough made!  Put the yeast into a measuring jug, pour over the lukewarm water & stir with a fork until the yeast has dissolved.  Crack in the egg & give it a quick whisk with the fork until fully combined.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the salt & mix in with your hands, making a well in the centre of the flour.

Pour in the liquid & using the fork, draw the flour into the liquid centre, stirring well.  Then get your hands in & bring it all together to form a dough, leaving the bowl almost clean.  Tip the dough onto a flour dusted worktop & sprinkle a little flour in the bottom of the bowl you just used (you’ll need it again in a few minutes).

Knead the dough for ten minutes by hand (free mini-workout! Yay!).  If you’ve never kneaded dough before, simply push it firmly away from you with the heel of your hand then pull it back over, turn it to the side a quarter turn & repeat.  Be careful not to tear the dough, you just want to stretch it so that it will rise later.  Once you’ve finished kneading, the dough will be noticeably smoother & more elastic.  The more effort you put in now, the more risen your dough will be when you bake it, plus you’ll have lovely toned arms.  Pop it into the floured bowl, cover with a bit of oiled clingfilm (use a pastry brush, it’s easier) & place on a tray in the airing cupboard to prove for an hour.

While the dough is proving & your sultanas are soaking, relax.  There’s not much you can do here, so put the oven on to 220*C, put the kettle on & make yourself a cuppa.  Prepare your baking trays – brush with butter & flour them, or line them with greaseproof paper.  I’ve used pizza tins for this & they work quite well.

Once the dough is ready, your sultanas will be too.  Your dough will have almost doubled in size & have a domed top (your hard work will have paid off!).  Scrape it out of the bowl & onto the worktop, then knock it back – give it a quick knead & throw it onto the worktop a couple of times.  This knocks out any large air bubbles.

Strain your sultanas thoroughly using a sieve, giving them a good shake to remove any excess moisture.  Leave them to sit in the sieve & put this over the bowl they were in (to catch any drips).

On a lightly floured worktop, stretch your dough into a rectangular shape, dust with a little flour & roll out to about a quarter inch thickness.  The dough will snap back, just be patient & if it needs a little more flour underneath, dust some sparingly just to prevent it sticking to the worktop.

Next, brush on the melted butter all over from edge to edge using a pastry brush.  Sprinkle the sugar evenly all over the buttered dough, followed by the sultanas.

Then comes the fun part – rolling it up to form a big spiral, sultana-filled dough.  It doesn’t really matter which way you roll it, towards you or away from you, but it just needs to be rolled carefully so you don’t lose your fruit.  Gently roll the filled dough, until you have a long, sultana-filled sausage.

Using a sharp knife, cut the sausage in half, then cut each half in half again.  You should be left with about 16 slices, each one about an inch thick.  Lay them in a circle on a prepared baking tray to make a flower shape, leaving about an inch gap between them.  Press them down slightly to flatten them a bit.

Cover loosely with greased clingfilm to protect them, then leave them on a draught-free worktop to prove again for about half an hour.  They will have doubled in size again & filled the tins completely.

Bake them in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown & risen.  When they are ready, gently ease them out of the tin onto a wire cooling rack – to test if dough is cooked, give it a tap on the bottom & it should sound hollow.

While they are still hot, brush with cold milk & dust sparingly with ground Cinnamon, plus another sprinkling of vanilla sugar, before leaving to cool.

These fragrant, fluffy swirls taste great as they are, but I like to make some glacé icing & drizzle it over the top, filling the curves like a little icing path to the centre.  You can use freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice to make your icing instead of water & give it a zesty zap.  They make lovely lazy breakfasts (you’ll burn off all the sugar by lunchtime), or a gorgeous snack with coffee.  However you have them, just remember to treat your sultanas like a Queen.  Stay hungry 😉 A x

 

 

 

 

 

La vita non e’fatta di solo pane (you cannot live on bread alone), but you can bake it!

During my extreme shopping trip today (which is where I hit three supermarkets before 10.00am like some sort of ninja with a trolley), a couple of people asked me about baking bread & how come it’s so hard/messy/time-consuming (you get the picture).   My reply:  it’s not (well, it’s not the way I do it).

Firstly, I don’t possess a bread making machine (save your money – buy a pasta machine instead).  I make all my bread by hand – I’m not built like a brick shed with muscles & you don’t need to be either.   Baking bread is like creating some sort of magic in the kitchen!  There really is nothing quite like that heady, warm scent of a freshly baked loaf – especially if you’ve made it yourself.  Both my Husband & Son bake bread – I taught my Son this recipe when he was at junior school (which he proudly told his teacher was better than her packet bread mix & refused to make it – she wasn’t impressed!).

Now I’m not disputing that there are some beautiful artisan breads out there which take time, effort & years of experience, but if you just want some good, basic bread to feed your family, then this is for you.   It’s cheap, really easy & you get a free mini workout with every batch (“Yay – free stuff!” I hear you say).   So, let the floury fun commence!  Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

12g fresh Yeast (or the equivalent of dried)
500g Strong Bread Flour (plus a bit extra for dusting your worktop)
330ml (approx just over half a pint) lukewarm water (stick your finger in it & it should be the same temperature)
Half a teaspoon of ground Sea Salt
A little Olive/Sunflower Oil or melted Butter – to brush around the inside of your loaf tins
2 loaf tins (standard size) – you can do it free-form too, just dust a baking tray with a little flour
Cling film

Optional ingredients:

2 tablespoons Olive/Sunflower Oil – this is down to individual taste, but I personally prefer Olive Oil
Seeds/herbs/dried fruit – you can put whatever you like in (my favourite is to mix a teaspoonful of poppy, linseed, sesame & pumpkin seeds together or add a tablespoon each of tea-soaked Sultanas, chopped Amareno Cherries, Stem Ginger & a little orange zest)

How to do it:

Dissolve the yeast in the water, which should go a light muddy colour (give it a good stir with a fork).

Put the flour & sea salt in a large mixing bowl, slowly pour in the yeast water (add the oil at this stage, if using) & stir into the flour until it forms a dough ball & the bowl is clean.  Sprinkle a little flour in the bottom of the bowl & set aside for later.

Dust some flour on a clean worktop, place the dough on it & start kneading – here’s your free mini workout!  Kneading is simply stretching the dough, making the gluten in the flour flexible & will make your bread rise well.  Give it ten minutes, firmly pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then pulling it back on itself. Once kneaded, it should feel more elastic, so just put it in the floured bowl, brush a bit of oil on some clingfilm & put this on top of the bowl (oiled side down), making sure there are no gaps.  Put it on a tray in the airing cupboard or a warm place, where there are no draughts & leave it for about half an hour.  This is called proving the dough.

Heat your oven to 220*C.  Brush the inside of your tins with a little oil & place on a baking tray.

Take the now risen dough from the airing cupboard (put the oiled cling film to one side) & put onto a floured worktop.  To knock out any large air bubbles, I like to throw it on the worktop a couple of times, knead it for a few seconds, then split it into two equal balls.  If you’re putting seeds/fruit/etc in, gently stretch it with your hands into a rectangle, sprinkle some seeds on a third, fold it over, sprinkle some more, fold it again, then sprinkle the rest.  Fold it gently again to distribute the seeds/fruit in the dough, shape it to fit your loaf tin & pop it in.  Repeat with the other dough ball.  Cover with the oiled clingfilm & leave for a further half hour to prove again.

Now you’re ready to bake!  Remove the clingfilm from the tins – the dough will have risen again & is ready to go into the oven.  Put the tray in the middle of the oven & bake for about half an hour.

Once done, it will be golden & risen above the tins, so just tip out onto a wire rack to cool.  To test if it’s cooked, give your loaf a tap on the bottom – it will sound hollow if it’s ready. Resist the urge to eat it before it’s cooled a bit!

Once cooled, slice it, spread it, dunk it & dip it! Whatever you do, share & enjoy it.   

As the old Italian saying goes “La vita non e’fatta di solo pane” (“You cannot live on bread alone”) – but you can bake it!   Stay hungry!  😉 A x