Summer Sourdough Breads

The weather really picked up in sunny Northern Ireland. We have spent the  ‘good’ weekends eating barbecue and salad picked from the garden…bliss!   The gooseberries, blackberries, raspberries and broad beans have been and gone (although the next wave of broad beans are just ready for picking ). I also have a years supply of garlic ready to be harvested!

To be honest when the weather is this nice I often don’t feel like cooking (although the world cup may have had a bit to do with it as well as well as my spell of Saturdays working in a REAL kitchen …more of that another time!).  However interesting breads fit into the summer vibe perfectly so I have been baking in bits and pieces.

I love sourdough breads, although they take a bit of commitment to make. Apart from a more complex flavour, they keep very well and make the best toast you will have ever eaten. Sourdoughs are also very good breads for busy folk as they rise slowly so can fit around your weekend activities only requiring occasional TLC.   The process of making a starter takes quite a bit of time but not a whole lot of effort.  Dan lepard’s recipe is one of the easiest and resulted in the bubbling beauty below after just a week! Once you have your starter made it is just a case keeping it in the fridge and ‘refreshing’ once a week (the best way to do this is to make bread).  Even if neglected a starter can be restored to its former glory by a couple of refreshments so if you go on your hols all is not lost.

‘Mill’ Loaves made using a combination of white, wholemeal and rye flour in a 6:3:1 ratio. My shaping of a baton needs some work!

Sourdough rye crispbreads adapted from this recipe by Nigel Slater (use sourdough starter, rye flour and water in a 1:2:2 ratio to replace the flour and water in the recipe) and were a huge hit with C. who called them “crack bread”. They were flavoured with either fennel seed, linseed, nigella seed, whole cumin or caraway. One tip on making these is to be VERY generous with the flour when rolling them out as the dough will be VERY sticky.

The sourdough resulted in a nice open texture to the bread.

These crispbreads, served with artisan cheeses added a special touch to a memorable family supper.  Apart from getting used to working such wet dough they really were very easy to make.  Now we are waiting for our second child to arrive so I have been busy making industrial quantities of lasagne, curry and chilli for the freezer! Hopefully the new arrival will still allow me a bit of time to cook!

Breads submitted to yeastspotting.

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Chocolate Bread and Barbeque

It’s been a really great weekend, the weather was lovely and I managed to get quite a bit done in the vegetable patch. We also had the first barbeque of the year in the garden (including giant sirloin steaks from butchers extraordinaire …  Orr’s of Holywood).

Unfortunately its Monday now and I’m back at work … the rest of the country it seems has today off as well but not me. The upside is as soon as I get home it will be barbeque time again.

So to the chocolate bread … not much to say about this really … apart from the fact that David Leibovitz is a genius! When I mentioned reading about this confection to Mrs W. she appeared somewhat keen to sample it.  Not wanting to disappoint, I made this as the last act of a near perfect weekend.  I didn’t deviate much from the recipe except to substitute the chopped nuts for home made praline.

I made the praline by scorching blanched hazelnuts and brown sugar in a non stick pan until caramelized (but not burned). The sticky nuts were left to cool on greaseproof paper and chopped roughly in the food processor.  The resulting loaf has a deep chocolate flavour and firm texture … would be perfect with morning coffee.

Submitted to Yeastspotting.

Daring Bakers: Suet Pudding

This is my first Daring Kitchen ‘challenge’ after reading about them in countless other blogs. The idea is that each month a member posts a recipe challenge (there are ‘cooking’ and ‘baking’ challenges) and everybody has a go and shares their successes and failures. It appealed to me as a way to try new ideas and have some fun cooking! I would recommend anybody to get stuck in and have a go. Full details and FAQ are in this link.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: Suet. Being an Englishman this was not as alien a concept as it may have been to some of the other cooks taking on this challenge as I make 2 or 3 Christmas puddings every year and have done several other sweet suet puddings.  Suet has a comforting quality that reminds me of school dinner puddings and my mums stew and dumplings on a cold winters night.

However I have never made a vegetarian savoury suet pudding so this became my challenge. The weather has begun to warm up here (spring has finally arrived!) so I wanted to make a lighter dish than a traditional winter meat pudding (the classic filling is steak and kidney).  I browsed through my cookbooks and found a vegetarian suet pudding dish by Gary Rhodes. It would make an ideal vegetarian main course or a great rich side dish to roast beef.

Suet (shredded rendered beef fat) is not the most appealing ingredient (it polarised opinions with those bakers who had not used it before) but it is essential in the pastry of traditional English steamed puddings (savoury and sweet).  These misgivings are misplaced if you are using the boxed stuff, its has the appearance of coarsely grated dessicated coconut (fresh suet is another matter and is for the more adventurous!).

Suet pastry is softer and rich in contrast to the crispness of shortcrust.  A pudding bowl (any heat proof bowl will do mine was a small Pyrex mixing bowl… the ones you get supermarket Christmas puddings in are ideal …keep them!) is lined with the suet crust pastry, the meat added and a lid of suet crust tightly seals the meat. The pudding is then steamed before serving in the bowl on the table.

Layered Mushroom and Onion Suet Pudding with “Truffle” Sauce

150 gm vegetarian suet

300 gm self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

200 ml cold water

4-6 medium onions

12 large flat mushrooms

butter

1 large shallot or 2 smaller ones

few sprigs of lemon thyme

300 ml aromatic white wine (Gewürztraminer is ideal)

300 ml Noilly Prat vermouth

Creme fraiche to taste

Making a suet crust pastry was absurdly easy.  Mix the flour with an extra teaspoon of baking powder and sieve into bowl. Mix in the shredded suet and season with salt and pepper (its the same process for a sweet suet crust just leave out the seasoning).  Add water to form a stiff dough and once all the material is combined into a ball wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest (I left mine overnight at this stage).

Whilst the pastry is resting prepare the mushroom and onion filling.  Slice the onions thinly (I used a mandolin…essential timesaving tool) and fry in butter over a medium heat until well caramelised (its better to do this is a couple of batches, seasoning as you go).  Trim the stalks from the mushrooms (reserve them for later).  Sear the mushrooms in a hot pan with a drop of olive oil in batches of 2 or 3 (you want to get a rich brown colour on them).  Set the onions and mushrooms aside to cool.

Generously butter a 2 pint pudding bowl (tip: if you are making a sweet pudding you can get a lovely caramelised finish if you sprinkle soft brown sugar over the buttered surface).  Roll the pastry out to a 0.5-1cm thickness and cut a 1/3 segment out, this will be your lid so cut a circle out of this segment using the rim of your pudding bowl.  Form a rough cone using the remaining 2/3 of your pastry by bringing the cut edges together with a slight overlap and use this ‘cone’ to line the pudding bowl. Ensure there are no gaps in the lining and trim the excess pastry leaving about 1 cm overlapping the rim.

Drain and reserve any liquid from the mushrooms. Place a layer of the caramelised onions in the bottom of the pudding bowl followed by a few lemon thyme leaves and then a mushroom (gills facing up). Season with salt and pepper. Repeat the layers of onions, thyme and mushrooms until all the filling is used up (as you get towards the top of the bowl you may have to use 2 or 3 mushrooms to form the layer) seasoning each layer lightly. Once all the filling is added top with the suet pastry lid.  Overlap and pinch the lining edges over the lid to seal the pudding.

Butter, flour and season a piece of kitchen foil large enough to cover the bowl. Make a pleat in the centre of the foil sheet.  Cover the pudding bowl with the foil and place the pudding into a steamer with the bowl resting on a trivet or rack.

If you have a pressure cooker this works even better.  I bought a pressure cooker a couple of  years ago and find it a brilliantly useful piece of equipment. Not only is it ideal for steaming puddings but it can make the most glorious stocks with only half an hour of cooking !  Steam the pudding for about 2 hours (or 1 hour in a pressure cooker).

Whilst the pudding is steaming prepare the sauce by finely chopping the shallot and remaining mushrooms (including the reserved stalk trimmings). Sweat the shallots in a knob of butter until soft but not coloured and add mushrooms, a few sprigs of lemon thyme and the juice of half a lemon and cook until the mushrooms have softened. Add the white wine, vermouth and reserved mushroom juices. Turn up the heat and reduce by half. Once reduced, turn down the heat to a low simmer add the cream, taste and season.  Cook the sauce for a few minutes more then strain through a fine sieve making sure to squeeze out all the juices. Return the sauce to the pan and keep warm.

Once the pudding has steamed leave the pudding to rest for about 10 minutes before removing the foil top and turning out onto a plate.

Cut the pudding into portions sized wedge and serve with the sauce. Some lightly cooked greens would be a good accompaniment but we just had seconds …and then thirds.

I have to admit the final dish tasted much better than it looked (apologies for the rubbish photo but we had friend for dinner and had no time for faffing with the camera). The filling was rich and surprisingly ‘meaty’ and the mushrooms packed a deep, savoury umami punch.  The pastry was like a big warm hug: soft and comforting in a way that only suet crust is and had a pleasing slight crispness that I wasn’t expecting.

One last tip… there will be melted suet in the cooking water. Once it cools it will form a rather unpleasant hard, fatty scum so if you are not putting the pan in the dishwasher it it worth giving your pan (and the pudding bowl) a good rinse with hot soapy water before it cools… a job for the ‘sous chef’ in your life?

Plot 15 Supperclub

Supperclubs or “underground restaurants” have become one of the big fashions in food over the past couple of years. The idea is simple, some brave amateur cook (or cooks) invites a bunch of random strangers into their own home and cooks dinner. Guests pay a ‘contribution’ to cover the cost of the meal (perhaps leaving a bit extra for the toil of the hosts) and bring their own drinks. With the rise of social networking and the profusion of food blogs getting the word out about such enterprises is now relatively easy. So perhaps it was just a matter of time before two adventurous souls (the heroic Jenny and Sarah) had a go in Belfast.

It just so happens that two of my favourite things are going out to eat and meeting new people over dinner so when I heard about the Plot 15 supperclub starting in Belfast I was very keen to try it out. Mrs W. offered to make it a birthday treat and after an email or two we were booked in.  A couple of days before the event the address details were emailed out.

We arrived at a large terraced house in the university district excited but somewhat nervous. We were greeted warmly at the door and I soon had a glass of wine in my hand and got chatting to the other guests. Canapes of hard-boiled quail’s eggs with toasted cumin and salt were already on the table and along with a roaring log fire were a sign of good things to come.

A large communal table had been beautifully set for the 12 diners. dishes were plated in a small serving kitchen off the main dining are (the main cooking was done in another kitchen). The service was warm friendly and accomplished. Apparently we were the sixth supperclub that they had catered, after some exposure in the Secret Belfast facebook group and the local press they were now booked though April.

We started with spicy sweet potato soup topped with crispy Jerusalem artichoke shavings and served with warm pitta bread. The soup was rich and well seasoned, the sweetness of the potato nicely balanced against the spice.

My main course was a roasted whole mackerel in lemon and freshly ground Indian spices with dahl and basmati rice. The mackerel was beautifully moist with crisp skin. The dish was fragrant with lemon and coriander and had a subtle hint of spice.

Mrs W. doesn’t do whole fish on the bone so she opted for the vegetarian choice of saag paneer with dahl and basmati rice and said nice things about it! The combination of the fish rice and dal was well balanced and so good that not a whole lot was left once I had finished!

Dessert was a fragrant Tunisian orange & almond cake served with thick greek yoghurt. The cake was moist, sweet and fragrant and very moreish.

The real pleasure of the evening though was not the food (very good though it was) however but the warm hospitality of our hosts and the pleasure of sharing a meal with new and interesting company. We lingered over our coffees and wine and eventually headed home having had a fun and memorable night. Talking to our hostesses the motivation behind the project appeared simple: they enjoyed cooking and wanted to meet new some new people. The menu (which will change monthly) will feature local, seasonal food some of which will be sourced from their Belfast allotment

It’s probably not for everyone, which is good because only nice people should go (I like the fact it is (was) a bit of a secret). You need to leave your fussiness at the door … remember it is a supperclub not a restaurant … you are a guest not a customer. But if you like dinner parties but don’t fancy the shopping, cooking, sorting invites, washing up etc the this may well be your bag. You’ll get a good dinner and maybe end up with some new friends.

Amongst the party was another intrepid food blogger, Sarah … here is her take on the nights events. Thanks (and credit) go to Sarah for letting me use her gorgeous photographs (I took some pictures on my phone but they were rubbish)… check out her blog.

I will be back again … it was great craic! Thanks to all who were there for making it such a great evening (and to the guy who didn’t show up … shame on you!).

Maybe I’ll even have a go at doing a supperclub myself … there’s a thought …

Plot 15 Supperclub serves a 3 course set menu dinner twice a month
Suggested donation of £20
contact: plot15supperclub@gmail.com or 07780 787453
website: http://plot15supperclub.wordpress.com/

A Lemon Trilogy Part 3: Lemon Macarons

After the success of my Raspberry Macarons I decided to complete the ‘Lemon Trilogy’ by making Lemon Macarons for this month’s ‘Easter’ Mactweets theme.  The recipe for the shells are adapted from the Rose Macaron shells I made previously.  I omitted the red food colouring and added 2 tsp of pure lemon oil to the ground almonds, otherwise the recipe is the same. The lemon oil gave a lovely lemon fragrance and flavour to the shells but without the unwanted acidity.

I seemed to master the piping bag much better this time thanks to hints from Bonnie and a really useful macaron template from Deeba’s blog that I placed under the baking parchment. This resulted in much more uniformly sized shells. Some of the shells came out from the oven a bit pale so I think next time I will bake them for a minute or so more as I preferred the crisper golden shells.

The macarons were filled with homemade lemon curd (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook) the tartness of which contrasted nicely with the richness of the shells.  They made great Easter gifts for our neighbours (who were entertaining family over the holiday weekend so were glad for some ready made petit fours!).