Sunday, 26 October 2014

Let’s do vegan bread and support Animal Balance!

With a Rye Smile…

My friend Emma from Animal Balance asked me to do a post on vegan bread.  It’s actually very simple, I substituted the butter for sunflower oil and we’re done.  Vegan friendly.

I made sure there is a liberal amount of seeds on the top so she can get some protein and thought I would go with the addition of rye flour for extra flavour.

Rye breads have been around for thousands of years.  The Vikings used to make an unleavened variety with a hole in the middle which could be hung up for storage. This meant that the bread could last for years!

Viking Rye Bread

Rye is closely related to wheat but has much less gluten.  What gluten it does have traps air bubbles poorly so don’t expect so much of a rise.   If you make bread with only rye flour it is dense with very small air bubbles.

A closer crumb

However, rye has more sugars than wheat, so rye dough ferments faster so watch the rise!

You can buy a variety of different types of rye flour.  Some are very pale as they have been refined and don’t include the bran or germ form the original kernel.  Others become darker and more packed with nutrients as more of the bran and germ is left in.

The added teaspoon of malt here gives a great depth but can be omitted if you don’t have it. 

This is a really good example of how you can experiment with your bread once you have mastered the basic white bread technique.  The procedure here is the same, but with 20% of the wheat flour replaced with rye and hydration increased to 65%.  Once you get the basics right you can start experimenting for yourself with different flours and loaf shapes.


800g Strong baker’s flour
195g Rye flour
5g Malt
14g or 2 sachets of fast acting dried yeast
650ml water at room / blood temperature
18g salt
36g Caster sugar
30ml Sunflower oil
Seeds for topping


Large mixing bowl
Electric mixer with dough hook
Electric weighing scales
2 large wicker bannetons
Baking tray
Cooling rack

Sieve your two flours together into the mixing bowl.  Add in the salt, sugar and dried yeast. 

Add your oil to the water.

Make a well in the bottom and add in your water.  Reserve a little just to make sure you get the right consistency.  You should be able to collect all of the flour and liquid together into a complete shaggy mass with no extra flour left around the bowl.

Cover and let sit for at least 10 minutes for the moisture to absorb as much as possible before kneading.  Up to an hour if you can.

Now transfer the dough to the electric mixer, attach the dough hook and mix until you have a soft, elastic and pliable dough.  About 10 minutes. 

When you are happy, return to a lightly oiled bowl and allow to double in size at room temperature.

Meanwhile, flour your bannetons well and throw in liberally your choice of seeds.  I’m using a mix of sunflower and pumpkin seeds here.

When the dough has doubled in size knock back and remove from the bowl.  Using your scales divide the dough into equal sizes according to how you are going to do your final prove.  This amount gave me two 815g loaves.

I shaped each into a ball by gently flattening the ball and then folding the edges to the middle. 

I’m using large oblong shaped bannetons here so I then elongated the loaf to adjust to the shape of the basket.

N.B. If you don't have bannetons then simply shape your loaves and leave to rise on your baking tray at this stage.


I then turned the dough into the floured and seeded banneton upside down as I will later turn it onto the baking tray back on to the under side. 

Leave to prove for a second time until risen again.  This will be a shorter time than the first. 

Pre heat your oven to 220 ° C conventional and place your baking tray in the oven.  If you are using a steam bath technique put you empty tray under to heat up as well.

The dough is ready when you press a finger gently to dent the dough and the dent remains.

Remove the baking tray from the oven and sprinkle with a little flour.

Now turn the dough onto your pre heated and floured tray, spray with water, sprinkle with more flour and then very lightly carve three lines in the top with a very sharp knife.  

Return to the oven with a big spray of water into the oven or pour cold water onto your heated tray in the bottom of the oven. 

Bake for 10 minutes on 220 ° C then turn your oven down to 200° C for a further 40 minutes.  A total of 50 minutes.

Don't forget that ovens vary so take them out when they are done not simply at the end of the cooking time.  Bake the loaf not recipe!


  • loaves coloured on the crust
  • feeling ‘light for the size’
  • sounding hollow when tapped. 


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Sour Dough Update

Sour Dough in the garden.
Well, it’s been almost three months since I created my starter and I’m pleased to say that it is still alive and well and producing decent loaves of beautiful sour dough bread, flavoursome with a gorgeous texture.

3 months old this week!
I am able to leave it in the fridge for weeks at a time and reactivate it with a good feed to get it going again.  When left alone for a while it does develop quite a strong ‘alcohol’ smell which is a by – product of the feeding but that disappears when you work up the sponge.

It also separates when left alone as you can see here but returns to normal when mixed. 

I'm keeping it in a 2 litre Kilner style jar with a clip lid which gives me enough room to give it a good feed when needed.

I must say a huge thank you to Ballymaloe Cookery School as they have been most interested in my progress and still giving me advice by email.  Now that goes to show Ballymaloe is a school that actually really cares about their students’ progress even after the course has finished.

A few things of note...

Firstly, follow the procedure carefully!  On one occasion I didn’t do the float test and ended up with a very flat loaf indeed as the starter wasn’t at the active stage.  The activity of the yeast is of paramount importance to get a well risen loaf.

Secondly, it’s tough doing it by hand.  Whilst I got good and tasty results, it is extremely hard going kneading by hand due to the high level of hydration in the dough.  I have bought a Kenwood mixer for the first time to make life easier and I must admit I love it.  Although I still believe that we should all learn how to make bread by hand first so you know the stages from flour to loaf intimately.

Thirdly, it really does need that level of hydration.  As I was experimenting  I tried reducing the amount of water to make it easier to knead.  It was not as good by a long chalk.  Get the water in there no matter how sloppy it is.

And finally, sour dough toast with seasoned fried field mushrooms is a thing of beauty.  Tasty enough for you to give up the search for a meaningful relationship. 

If you want the full details on Sour Dough then check out my post...

Bon Appetit

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Orange and Almond Cake

Sweet and sticky with a beautiful nutty flavour laced with orange and cinnamon.  This is a really impressive cake which simply develops the basic sponge recipe and elevates it to a massive crowd pleaser.  Orange and almond is a great combination and has a real taste of the Mediterranean.

Making an orange and cinnamon syrup to be poured over the cake when cooked brings a glorious stickiness and also gets more flavour into the sponge.

Make sure you buy whole almonds with the skin on as the flavour is so much better than the pre – skinned ones.  Almonds can be replaced with hazelnuts if you prefer.

I’ve chosen a simple segmented orange and mint accompaniment to balance the sweetness but you could easily use crème fresh instead.

Read my post on how to bake a sponge for the basics…

The technique is the same but with a few added twists…


For the cake…
  • 2 eggs weighed in their shells
  • Equal quantities of caster sugar, butter and self raising flour.
  • The zest of one large orange
  • 75g whole almonds with the skin on.
  • A little whole milk
For the syrup…
  • A small stick of cinnamon
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 75 ml water
  • The juice of one large orange
To serve…
  • Two large oranges
  • A sprinkling of caster sugar
  • Chopped mint


  • A big mixing bowl
  • An 18cm cake tin
  • A wooden spoon
  • A metal spoon
  • A skewer
  • A sharp filleting knife.


Pre – heat your oven to 180 °C / Fan 160 °C

Have your cake tin greased and ready to go.

Blanche your almonds by pouring boiling water onto the almonds in saucepan.  Leave for a couple of minutes.  Drain.  You should be able to squeeze the almond and it pops out of the skin cleanly.  If not, repeat the process until it does.

Place the almonds on a baking tray and put in your pre - heated oven to brown.  About 10 minutes should suffice but keep your eye on them as they must not burn!

Reserve 8 of the nicest looking almonds for decoration and then bash the rest into coarse pieces in a pestle and mortar or under a tea towel with a rolling pin works well.

Using the wooden spoon cream the butter, orange zest and sugar together in the mixing bowl until pale and fluffy and lots of air has been incorporated.  10 minutes should do it depending on the strength of your arm!

Whisk your eggs in a separate bowl and gradually start to add a little at a time to your butter / sugar mix.  Beat well between each addition and incorporate all the egg before adding more.  If it looks like it has split then you can add a teaspoon of flour to stabilize it.

Once all the egg had been added then sieve your flour into the bowl.  Sieving gets rid of lumps and incorporates more air.

Fold in the flour using the large metal spoon.  Check for dropping consistency.  Add milk a little at a time if the mixture is too thick.

Then fold in the bashed up almonds.

Spoon the mixture into your pre – greased cake tin.  Try to smooth it level and have the edges higher than the centre as it will rise more in the middle.

Put it straight into the oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes depending on your oven. 

Meanwhile, make your syrup…

In a small saucepan place the sugar, water, orange juice and cinnamon stick.  Bring to a gentle simmer and let it seethe until it has reached a sticky syrupy state yet is still most definitely mobile.  It needs to be a pouring consistency.  Remember also that it will thicken as it cools, you can always return to the heat to reduce more if needed.

Now the Orange and Mint…

Simply segment the orange (there are lots of instructional videos on YouTube) and then mix with chopped fresh mint and a sprinkling of caster sugar depending on the sweetness of your orange!

Remove the cake from the oven and insert a skewer.  If it comes out clean with no mixture sticking to it then it is ready. If there is any mixture on the skewer return to the oven for another few minutes. 

Allow to cool a little and then release from the tin and put on a cooling rack.  While still warm, pierce the top all over with the skewer to create small holes for the syrup to penetrate.

Pour the syrup all over making sure it gets into all the holes and is smoothed over the whole top of the cake.

Decorate with the reserved almonds and pieces of orange.  The rest of the orange can be served by the side of each slice.

Lovely at any time.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Highland Wedding Tradition - Shortbread.

My friend and housemate from Ballymaloe Cookery School, Katie, is getting married this Saturday.  I am absolutely bummed that I can't be there, so I wanted to research and dedicate a post to Katie and her groom, Nick, wishing them joy and happiness from their wedding day onwards.

Slushy stuff over, let's talk Scottish wedding traditions!  Of all the Scottish traditions I found that I could post on a family friendly blog such as this I discovered Shortbread.

Apparently, it was tradition that the bride would have shortbread broken over her head upon arrival back at the new marital home.  I can't find any suggestion of why, so if anybody knows then please tell.

Why is it called 'shortbread'?  Well, firstly it is short, as in crumbly due to the high amount of shortening or fat, in this case butter.  Think of 'shortcrust' pastry which is high in butter content and should also be crumbly.

But why 'bread'?  Most accounts have it that the original shortbread was indeed bread dough which was left over and then baked twice in the biscuit tradition with added sugar to make a sweetened and hard biscuit.

As time went on the bread was replaced by the simply flour, sugar and butter combination we know today.  This was of course more expensive and therefore reserved for special occasions such as weddings.

The rule of thumb for the quantities is 1:2:3.  Or 1 part sugar to 2 parts butter to 3 parts flour.  That's what I'm using here, but please adjust to your own taste.

If you research shortbread recipes you'll find a plethora of different quantities and ingredients.  Some call for plain flour only, others to mix in either cornflour, rice flour or semolina flour to bring an extra crunch.  A good pinch of sea salt brings an extra depth.

There do seem to be certain elements on which most people agree though.

  • Only 3 base ingredients?  Use good ones.  Decent caster sugar and good quality butter and flour.  
  • As it's short, don't work the dough.  It should be crumbly and melt in the mouth, overworking the dough will toughen it.  Bring it together quickly.
  • A short resting time in the fridge before baking helps the texture.
  • Shortbread should be pale so a low oven and longer cooking than more conventional biscuits.
  • There are 3 main shapes for shortbread.  The triangular petticoat tails, rectangular bars or a circular biscuit shape.

Here are 2 versions for you to try.  The first is using flour and cornflour while the second is using a flour and semolina flour mix.

Petticoat Tails



50g         Caster sugar + more for sprinkling
100g        Good quality softened butter
120g        Plain flour
30g          Cornflour
A pinch of good quality sea salt


A mixing bowl
A wooden spoon
A 20cm removable metal cake tin base (Sides not needed, just the base)
A sharp knife
A fork


Pre - heat your oven to 160 ° C conventional / 140 ° C fan.

Using the wooden spoon cream the butter and sugar in the mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Sieve the flour, cornflour and good pinch of sea salt into the butter and sugar and bring together completely but working the dough as little as possible.  It should be soft and malleable at this stage.

Using your hands work it quickly into a disc to fit on to the cake tin base.  

Flatten off with a rolling pin if you like but make sure it is of an even height to ensure even cooking.

Crimp the edges of the disc using your finger and thumb.

Using the sharp knife mark the disc into 8 equal segments and then make holes using the fork prongs.

Let it rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or so until firmed up.

Place into your pre - heated oven and bake for 40 minutes.

Sprinkle with extra caster sugar and immediately cut into segments before it cools.  As it's heavy on the butter it will feel soft and pliable when warm.  Allow to cool completely before eating so as to get that lovely short and crumbly texture.



Semolina Flour

50g         Caster sugar + more for sprinkling
100g        Good quality softened butter
120g        Plain flour
30g          Semolina Flour
A pinch of good quality sea salt


A mixing bowl
A wooden spoon
A 20cm removable metal cake tin base (Sides not needed, just the base)
A sharp knife
A fork


Pre - heat your oven to 160 ° C conventional / 140 ° C fan.

Using the wooden spoon cream the butter and sugar in the mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Sieve the flour, cornflour and good pinch of sea salt into the butter and sugar and bring together completely but working the dough as little as possible.  It should be soft and malleable at this stage.

Using your hands work it quickly into a rectangle.  I did use a rolling pin here to really flatten it evenly  

Divide it into even rectangles wide enough to take the fork marks.

Let it rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or so until firmed up.

Place into your pre - heated oven and bake for 40 minutes.

Sprinkle with extra caster sugar and immediately cut into segments before it cools.  As it's heavy on the butter it will feel soft and pliable when warm.  Allow to cool completely before eating so as to get that lovely short and crumbly texture.

Enjoy these with a wee dram of decent highland whisky.

That's what I'll be doing on Saturday as I raise a glass to Katie and Nick.

The Red Book Cook: Ciabatta Matters

The Red Book Cook: Ciabatta Matters: Imagine the scene…. A 19 th century Italian olive farmer in Puglia has finished his morning’s work in the grove and takes a rest un...

Ciabatta Matters

Imagine the scene….

A 19th century Italian olive farmer in Puglia has finished his morning’s work in the grove and takes a rest under a tree for his lunch.  He unwraps the cloth to reveal a crusty loaf of ciabatta stuffed with creamy soft cheese, ripe tomatoes and thin slices of ham.

A bread steeped in Italian tradition going back centuries, recipes passed down from Nonna to Mama through many generations, a taste of Italy unchanged for millennia...

Well, you can imagine all you want, but that’s nothing like the truth!

Ciabbatta is a 1980s child!  The same age as Prince William to be precise.

That’s right.  1982.  Bakers in Italy were concerned about the rising popularity of sandwiches made from imported French baguettes which was taking away their business.  So a passionate ex racing car driver named Arnaldo Cavallari retreated to his kitchens until he had created the recipe for Ciabatta. 

Naming it after the Italian word for ‘slipper’ due to its shape, a legend that has adorned delis and snack bars the world over was born.

Arnaldo Cavallari

And it’s good too.

Versions vary around Italy; in the north a crisper crust with a soft light crumb, in Tuscany a denser crumb with a more open texture is favoured.   Traditionally made with a strong wheat flour but it is varied with wholemeal flours and added flavours such as olives or marjoram.

It’s designed to be sliced horizontally along the loaf and not down like a traditional slice, the perfect sandwich shape.

Mixer with dough hook.

It’s made from a very wet dough, Cavallari says it should be an 80% hydration or 800ml of liquid for every 1000g of flour.  

That’s wet!  

Difficult to knead too, so a mixer with a dough hook is really required here. 

It’s also a bread which needs to be started the day before as it uses a pre - ferment called a ‘biga’ as a starter.  This is nothing too complicated, you simply mix together yeast, flour and water into a sloppy dough, cover and leave at room temperature overnight.  I usually make mine on a Friday or Saturday night if I know I can bake at lunchtime the next day.  

In the morning you have what looks like a bubbling liquid on the surface but is actually quite stable and elastic when you dive into it. 

The overnight process has allowed the gluten in the flour to start strengthening which some people believe was originally needed due to the lower protein content of traditional Italian flour.  The pre - ferment helped to develop the gluten more and thus give it a firmer texture.  It also gives the yeast time to work its magic and develop the all important flavour. 

The shaping of the final loaf is tricky in the home environment.  Pro bakers make it look very easy, flipping the dough from proving boards to baking trays with ease.  You need to make sure that you flour your surface well and use a decent dough cutter.  Try to get your pieces as even in size and shape as possible.  Don’t worry if they look a little flat at the shaping stage, they will puff up in the oven I promise!

Here I must credit Ballymaloe Cookery School for first introducing me to the process of how to make ciabatta and for this recipe.



7 g                   fresh yeast
400 ml             warm water
500g                strong white bread flour

In a large, non metallic, mixing bowl crumble the fresh yeast and pour on 50ml of the water, blood temperature is best.  Allow this to sit for about 10 minutes until it turns creamy and a bit frothy.  If you want to use dried yeast then just halve the quantity of yeast.

Then add in the rest of the water and the flour and mix really well with a wooden spoon.  It should come together into a gloopy, thick, pasty dough.  Cover this with cling film and allow to sit at room temperature overnight or for up to 24 hours. 

My biga
When ready the biga should have about doubled in size and have a beery fermented smell.

The Ciabatta


7g                    fresh yeast
400ml              warm water
1 tablespoon    olive oil
550g                biga
500g                strong white bread flour
15g                  salt

Take the bowl of your mixer and crumble the yeast into the bottom.  Add on 100ml of the warm water and let sit for ten minutes.  If using dried yeast, halve the quantity of yeast.

N.B. You can replace the 100ml of water with milk here and it becomes Ciabatta Al Latte.

Add in the oil, remaining water and the biga.  The remaining biga can be put into a jar and mixed in with your next batch for extra flavour.  Best to keep it in the fridge. 

Blend with the paddle beater until it is mixed through.  Then add the sieved flour and salt and mix for a further 10 minutes. 

Change the paddle to the dough hook.  Beat for about 20 – 25 minutes until it comes away clean from the side of the bowl and is a firm yet sticky stringy mass.  Get it mixing at the highest speed you can.  It will still be very wet at this stage.

Remove this to a big oiled bowl which is large enough so that the dough can expand.  Cover and leave at room temperature until it has doubled in size.  This should be between one and two hours depending on the conditions in your kitchen.

Flour your work surface well.  The dough is very sticky.

N.B. Do not knock back the dough!

Gently stretch and shape it to make an even slightly rectangular shape.  Using your dough cutter, cut into even size pieces and fold over on to itself to create that 'slipper' form.  This amount of dough makes 4 big loaves or 6 - 8 smaller ones depending on what you want.  

Flour your baking trays.  I'm actually using fine polenta at the moment which brings a lovely final crunch to the finished loaf.  

Gently get your loaves onto the tray, cover and leave to rest for about 40 - 45 minutes.

Pre - heat your oven 220 ° C conventional / 200 ° C fan.

When the loaves have rested for 40 - 45 minutes, dust with more flour and put them in the oven to bake for 20 - 25 minutes.

When done they should feel very light for their size and sound hollow when tapped.

Transfer to a cooling rack and resist the temptation to eat until cool.