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

Champignon The Wonder Pie!

Gazing into the garden while sipping my first coffee of the day, there is an Autumnal air about it.  The early sunshine is just peaking over the rooftops, causing the dew laden lawn to shimmer in the sunlight & perfectly summing up the Summer.

August has been very much “all or nothing”, either a raging hot heatwave or shivering shade, deluge or drought, & nothing inbetween.  The poor plants don’t seem to know which way to turn & our multi-tasking willow tree has been happily soaking up the excess water, whilst providing welcome cool shade to the local wildlife.  There are baby olives on our little olive tree trying to ripen, green tomatoes just starting to blush red & a bounty of blackberries waiting patiently to be plucked.  The garden seems to be clinging on by it’s very leaf-tips to the last days of Summer, as Autumn has quietly arrived & begun to unpack her colourful attire across the landscape.

Before Autumn settles in, there are some comforting meals we can indulge in to soften the seasonal switch.  Fresh produce is all around us, just waiting to be turned into tasty transitional treats.  Some of my best ideas come from mooching around the markets, shopping when everyone else is sat in traffic (or still in bed), & picking up some fabulous bargains.  The early bird always catches her worm & although thankfully not very worm-like, earthy foods have caught my eye recently – the beautiful but humble mushroom.

Soft, light & flavoursome, mushrooms are one of the most versatile ingredients in cooking.  They go with pretty much everything, adding both subtle & substantial flavour to dishes, & the variety is truly amazing!  From the tiny to the tawny, closed cup or open, the frilly or the flat, these fabulous funghi are just waiting to be turned into delicious dishes!

As I wanted them to be the main attraction, I created my Champignon the Wonder Pie – a delicate mushroom & vegetable stew, tucked in under a crisp comforting blanket of buttery puff pastry.   This is one of those lazy afternoon recipes to make, rather relaxing & a little therapeutic even.  Although simple to make, there is going to be some prep involved – I hear you groaning, but I promise it’s all easy stuff, no mysterious ingredients & worth every minute when you taste the results. 

Firstly, you’re going to need vegetable stock – use either a stock cube or fresh, whatever works best for you & the time you have available.  I make my own & freeze it, as it uses up all the veg trimmings & you know what’s in it (too much salt & mushrooms = watery mess & a soggy pie).  My easy vegetable stock recipe means no standing around watching pans either.  You’ll need a couple of carrots, an onion, two celery sticks & a handful of fresh herbs (half a dozen Sage leaves, some sprigs of Thyme & a couple of Rosemary stems work well), along with any mushroom stems, parsnip, bean or pea trimmings – wash everything well to remove grit & dirt, then chuck them all in a roasting tin with 2-3 pints of cold water, a splash of olive oil & a few good grinds of black pepper & sea salt.  Cover it with foil to seal in all the juices & bake at 200*C for just over an hour, then strain & that’s it.  Use it fresh, stick it in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze it.  Save the veggies to whizz up into soups or sauces & pour any leftovers into jars for the fridge or ice cube trays to freeze.

If you prefer, you can swap the vegetable stock for chicken stock (as long as your guests are not vegetarian) – both work well & it tastes just as lovely either way.  A little bit of tasty trivia for you here: vegetable stock is actually a broth, as stock refers to a liquid that has bones cooked in it.

Next, although I have used two types of pastry (shortcrust for the base & puff for the lid), you could use shortcrust all over or just use shop-bought puff lids if time is limited – please make sure it’s proper all-butter puff to do your pie proud.  If you do fancy having a go at making your own, here’s the link to my puff pastry recipe: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/puff-up-the-volume/   You will only need half the amount, so reduce the measurements accordingly.  It’s easy to make & just needs an hour to rest in the fridge before rolling, so you could make this while the stock is in the oven.

Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the filling:
250g Mushrooms approx (I’ve used closed cup & flat but use what you like here)
1 stick of Celery
1 medium Carrot
1 medium Red Onion
2 tablespoons of Sweetcorn
100ml Vegetable Stock approx
25g Salted Butter
25g Plain Flour
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the base Pastry:
6oz Plain Flour, plus extra for rolling out & prepping your tin
2oz Salted Butter, plus extra for your tin
1 large Egg
A little cold water, about a tablespoon

4oz Puff Pastry (see link above to make fresh or buy all-butter puff pastry)
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan or Medium Cheddar
1 Egg & 2 tablespoons of Milk, whisked together to make egg wash

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare a pie tin.  I’ve used an 8″ square cake tin because it was handy.  Smudge a little butter around the inside of the tin & then sprinkle with flour.  Tip out the flour (save for rolling out) & set the tin aside.

Time to prepare your vegetables!  Give them all a good wash in cold water & remove the onion outer skin.  Top & tail all of them, chop finely & set aside.

Prepare the mushrooms next.  Give them a good wipe with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or grit (if they’re small, use a pastry brush).  Take out about half a dozen & set to one side whole.  Chop the rest up finely & set aside too.

Heat a large frying pan or skillet.  Add the butter & oil, mixing well until melted together.

Add the carrot, onion & celery, stirring well to coat in the oil butter mixture, then fry on a medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes.  Give them a nudge around the pan from time to time, so they don’t catch & burn.  You want them to soften slightly, but not go squishy.

Add the mushrooms & give everything a good stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Sprinkle in the plain flour around the pan & stir fry everything together until the flour has disappeared.  This is going to make a roux in the pan, as it will absorb the butter & oil in the mixture, thickening everything up nicely.

Add the stock gradually & stir well into the mixture, making a smooth sauce.  When everything is combined, turn off the pan.

Slice up the whole mushrooms you saved into bite-sized bits & stir them into the stew.

Make the base pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour.  Add the egg & stir into the flour mixture using a metal spoon or knife.  As it starts to come together, add a trickle of the cold water to form a soft dough.

Turn it out onto a floured surface, sprinkle a little flour on top & roll out until slightly larger than the size of your tin all around.

Flop the pastry over your rolling pin & carefully lift into the tin, draping it inside as you do so.  Press gently into all the edges & leave a little hanging over the tin (to attach the puff pastry lid to later).  Try using the end of the rolling pin for this, as it’s smooth & won’t tear your pastry.

Roll out the puff pastry to just over the size of your pie tin & set aside.

Tip the mushroom pie filling into the pastry lined tin & spread out well.  Dip your finger in a cup of cold water & run it around the edge of the pastry.

Put the puff pastry lid on top & press the edges down to seal the pastry base to the lid.  Prick all over with a fork or a sharp knife.

Brush with a little egg wash all over.  If you want to make little pastry decorations with the leftover bit of puff, do that now & lay them on top, then brush them too (not too many though).  Sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan.

Bake in the oven for about 25 -30 minutes, until thoroughly golden & the layers are starting to show at the edges.  The sides of the pastry will come away from the tin slightly when it’s ready.

Put the pie tin on a cooling rack for a few moments to relax before serving.  That’s it!  Just get everyone around the table & dig in!   Meaty but meatless, this mushroom-packed pastry goes well with either a generous scoop of cheesy mashed potatoes & steamed crisp vegetables, or a zesty green salad scattered with a few spots of aged Balsamic vinegar & toasted pine nuts.  Slice it up cold for a luscious leftover lunch or freeze in slices for indulgent lazy suppers after a long day at work.

However you serve it, this crispy champignon-crammed pie is the perfect comfort food for chilly almost-Autumn evenings.  Stay hungry! 😉 Aimee 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