Loaf 8: Auvergne crown from France

I’ve only been back from holiday for a week, but already it feels forever away. No matter, I still remember how delicious this bread tastes: a lovely mild and flavourful sourdough.

The Auvergne crown looks like a bagel. A giant one.

auvergne crown

The recipe comes from Daniel Leader’s book, Local Breads. Leader has visited artisan bakeries all around Europe and learned their traditional recipes. Discovering it gave me an odd feeling, a mixture of excitement (the perfect book!) and disappointment (he has baked the breads of Europe much more thoroughly than I will be able to).

I eventually ordered it with great excitement nearly three weeks ago, and now the time it’s taking to arrive from the US has reduced my feeling about it to… weary expectation. This recipe came via this blog instead.

auvergne crown 2

Taste test: This produced much the most interesting sourdough flavour I have ever baked: a wonderfully satisfying, nutty, and slightly milky flavour. It went dry quite fast, as you would expect from a ring loaf.

Recipe notes: So, why did it taste so good? It could be that I used Shipton Mill’s French flour as opposed to my usual Sainsbury’s basic white strong (in disobedience to the recipe as you’ll see). Or it could have been the very soft water in Devon. The dough is quite wet.

It was very difficult to get out of the ring tin. I’d make it again as a boule.

Ingredients

for the levain
45g firm starter
95 plain flour
5g wholemeal flour
50g lukewarm water

for the dough
500g plain flour (I used French flour)
340ml water
125g of the levain (not the whole lot!)
10g salt

1. 12 hours beforehand, prepare the levain. Dissolve the 45g starter in the water, then add the flours and stir. The mixture will be stiff: knead it on a surface to incorporate the flour. Cover and leave at room temperature for 8-12 hours or until doubled in volume.

2. Combine 125g of the levain (save the rest) with the flour and the water. Leave it to rest for 20 mins.

3. Add the salt, and knead until smooth. This dough took a lot longer than normal to knead smooth for some reason.

4. Leave the dough to rise for 3-4 hrs or until doubled in size. Then, shape it into a crown large enough to fit your ring tin, with the ends overlapping by about 10cm.

5. Cover and leave to rise for 1-1.5 hrs or until it looks pillowy.

6. Pre-heat the oven to 220 C. Slash around the outer edge of the dough.

7. The recipe suggests you put the ring tin inside a pre-heated roasting tin with the lid on for 30 mins, then uncover, invert the ring tin to pop the loaf out and bake for another 15-20 mins.

I didn’t have a large enough roasting tin and there was no way on earth than loaf was popping out of the ring tin halfway through cooking. So I covered with foil for the first 30 mins and then uncovered it.

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Loaf 7: Frisian rye bread from the Netherlands

I’ve just spent five days on the coast of Devon. The house we stayed in was a short walk to the beach, and had a wonderful kitchen. I settled in and began to bake.

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First up was Weekend Bakery’s Rye Lovers Dark Rye Bread, a dense moist Dutch traditional bread that takes ten hours to bake. The loaf’s main ingredient is cracked rye. I had not been able to find this in London, so this ingredient was the great excitement of my Shipton Mill excursion.

The Netherlands has a tradition of both wheat and rye bread, the former historically the luxury option. The Dutch also go in for the elaborate sweetbread traditions of much of continental Europe. Call me a little Englander, but I am still a mixture of impressed and nonplussed by these creations. This loaf is a hearty everyday sort and more my thing. The Weekend Bakery speculates that it was originally baked overnight on the residual heat of a stove.

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Taste test: I was expecting an assertive rye tang to this. Instead, it was dense, dark and interesting but surprisingly mild. The consistency is moist, almost cake-like.

We ate it with barbecued mackerel on the beach.

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It was a tiny deserted beach, surrounded by cliffs. Devon beaches are covered in strict notices (“No Dogs At All,” “No fires, no camping, no radios”), but this one had been forgotten. We barbecued undisturbed, except by the wind.

Recipe notes: Aside for acquiring cracked rye (two months of searching, a fruitless trek to Wholefoods), this is very easy. No kneading, no leaven even. You soak, mix, then bake.

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The wise person follows Weekend Bakery’s instructions for this recipe, because they are excellent for clarity and the right amount of precision for an enthusiastic home baker. I include this here mainly for my own record, with a few things tweaked. This make two standard loaves.

Ingredients

700 g cracked rye grain
200 g dark rye flour
50 g light rye flour
50 g wheat flour
2 tbsp molasses (I used black treacle)
2.5 tsp salt
700 ml hot water
240 ml water at room temperature
wheatgerm to coat (I used flour)

Make some rye

1. Add the 700 ml hot water to the 700 g cracked rye. The water should be just off boiling. Leave it to soak for two hours.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the soaked rye, and mix thoroughly to make a soft sticky dough. Vary the water according to how moist you like your bread (original amount was 200 ml).

3. Divide the mixture into two. Shape each half into a rough loaf shape, roll in the wheatgerm and pop inside a standard loaf tin.

4. Wrap each tin in two layers of tin foil so that no moisture can escape.

5. Bake at 110 C (yep, very cool) for 9 – 12 hours. I baked for 10 hours, but suit your schedule.

6. Once the baking time is up, do not unwrap the foil until the loaves are completely cool. This preserves the moisture and will take several hours at least.

A visit to Shipton Mill

I’ve been scouring London for cracked rye grain to no success for the past two months. Cracked rye (also known as chopped rye, broken rye, coarse rye meal) is used in many German loaves, and a Dutch rye recipe I was itching to try. So I was particularly excited to fit a visit to Shipton Mill into my holiday.

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Shipton Mill’s website instructs the visitor obscurely and sternly, providing no maps, but plenty of emphatic warnings about the neighbours (“WE ARE NOT THE FARMHOUSE ON THE MAIN ROAD… our neighbour gets extremely upset by people arriving in their farmyard”) and two blurry photos of an ivy-covered tree by which to identify the turning. So I was surprised to find the place to be very… clean, with a reception area like a central London law firm and barely a flour mote in the air.

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Shipton’s site has been used as a mill for centuries, but the current owners took over the place in a run-down state in the 1980s and transformed it into a speciality flour miller. On a sunny day they get as many as twenty people popping in for flour (which you can also order online).

I bought a lot. Notably: French flour, dark and light rye flours and enough cracked rye to last me a while.

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Loaf 6: pagach from Slovakia (and some Slovak pastries)

The pagach I made didn’t turn out too well. Pagach is a rich flatbread stuffed with sauerkraut (or potato), and I can imagine what it should have tasted like: an interesting interplay of sweetish bread with the sour cabbage, served dripping with butter and sprinked with sugar.

Unfortunately mine was far to dry and dense. I should have trusted my instincts when the dough seemed too stiff.

slovak pagach

However, this is not the end of it, because the recipe book I made the pagach from is a very interesting one. It was a cookbook compiled in the 1950s by Slovak immigrants to the US. Recipes were submitted by the members of the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association. It seems to have become a quiet classic among Slovak-heritage Americans.

Oh Comely magazine (my day job) featured this cookbook in the latest issue, and I had to make some koláče pastries from the book fit for photographing. These are deliciously flaky with a filling of ground nuts or your favourite jam.

This recipe makes rather a lot. Mine started off looking like this:

Slovak cookies 1 - pile on board

And ended up like this, when I’d folded about sixty of them, and was desperate to get the last batch done and go to bed:

Slovak cookies 1 - failed

With my English baking experience, the method felt like a baffling synthesis of pastry-making and bread-making. It’s got yeast and flour in, and yet so much butter and sugar that it feels more like pastry. To knead vigorously or massage delicately? I tried to steer a middle ground, combining thoroughly and handling to the minimum, and they tasted just fine.

Better than fine, actually, delicious. These are chewy and substantial without being heavy. There’s a touch of the savoury to them that made a pleasant change from my close-to-deadline diet of cookies.

Slovak cookies 2 - row

Ingredients

for the first dough:
225g plain flour
1/2tsp salt
1tbsp sugar
2 egg yolks, unbeaten
1 package instant dried yeast
120ml lukewarm milk

for the second dough:
225g plain flour
225g butter, at room temperature
icing sugar, to help with rolling

for the filling:
340g ground almonds
4 egg whites
225g sugar
1tsp vanilla

1. For the first dough, sift together the flour, salt and sugar. Add the yolks, yeast and milk and stir well. The dough will be quite dry and stiff to handle.

2. For the second dough, sift the flour into the butter and mix until you have a smooth dough. (If you’re tempted to rub the butter into the flour as if it’s crumble topping–don’t! You want a smooth dough, not a lumpy one.)

3. Mix both the doughs together thoroughly, kneading if necessary.

4. Cover the mixture and leave to rise for two hours. Punch the dough down, and leave it to rise, covered, for a further two hours. Both times, the dough will swell gently, not dramatically.

5. Mix together the ingredients for the filling. Save the extra egg yolks for brushing the pastries later.

6. Roll the dough out on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar, until it’s about half a centimetre thick.

7. Cut the dough into about thirty small squares. Put a blob of filling in the centre of each square and bring together two opposite corners so that they overlap by a few centimetres. The pastries tend to unfurl while cooking, so overlap more than you think you need to.

8. Place on ungreased baking paper a little apart. Beat the leftover egg yolk and brush the pastries with it. Alternatively, sprinkle with icing sugar.

9. Bake at 180°C in a pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

Loaf 5: black bread from Macedonia

I’ve been busy. Before I got busy, I made Macedonian black bread, and it was fantastic. Behold its dark, dense beauty.

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Macedonia has only existed as a separate country since 1991, and it has an interesting and ongoing dispute with Greece about the use of its name.

A Macedonian blogger writes here about its bread culture (“we love bread so much, we have denigrating jokes about nations that don’t eat bread in such large amounts as we do”) and presents a very different recipe.

map europe macedonia

This is a rich loaf featuring potato, chocolate, molasses, coffee… and I have been able to discover very little about its provenance. I used this recipe by Minka Cooks, who got it from a cookbook.

A similar loaf is described as Macedonian here, but it’s also pretty similar to a number of recipes described as Russian black bread (like these ones). If anyone has futher knowledge, I’d be grateful for it.

Taste test: Rich, dark and complex. It’s sweet, but not a sweet bread. The potatoes make it moist and it has a tang from the caraway and the rye.

Recipe notes: I substituted cornmeal for semolina because I read somewhere that you could. It turns out that this is not the same thing at all: semolina is made from durum wheat rather than corn. If you’re in the UK, use polenta flour, because that actually is cornmeal in disguise. (The reason I didn’t do this was because I could only find polenta in an enormous artisanal-styled cotton sack in Waitrose and it cost ££.)

If I were making this again, I’d halve the sweet ingredients. I also slashed it too deep, as you can see.

macedonian black bread 2

Ingredients

This recipe makes two loaves. It’s a Saturday morning loaf: lots of steps, but immensely satisfying.

2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
85g dark chocolate
2 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ cup dark molasses (or black treacle), plus an extra tbsp to glaze
3½ tbsp honey
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ cup coffee
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp active dry yeast (or 3 packages instant yeast)
½ cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 cup cornmeal (or polenta flour)
2 cups rye flour
2 cups wholemeal flour
2 cups strong white flour

Bake some black magic

1. Boil the potatoes, then drain and mash, saving 1 cup of the cooking water.

2. Melt the chocolate and stir in the oil.

3. Take 1 cup of the mash (you’ll have some spare – you don’t need this), the cup of potato water and mix with the chocolate in a large bowl. Add the molasses, honey, caraway seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, coffee, and salt, and mix thoroughly.

4. If you’re using active dry yeast, activate it with the warm water and tsp of sugar. Set aside for 10 mins until it’s frothy.

5. Wait til the potato mixture has cooled to hand-hot, then add the yeast. Add the flours: cornmeal, rye, wholemeal, and white. Mix well into a lumpy dough.

6. Let the dough rest for 15 mins.

7. Knead the dough for 5 mins. Minka’s recipe suggests you add white flour to prevent it sticking – I only did this a little as I like bread moist and don’t mind sticky doughs.

8. Form the dough into a ball, and leave in a bowl, covered, until it has doubled, 1-1½ hours.

9. Knead the dough a few times to get rid of any large air pockets, then leave it to rise until doubled again, about 40 mins.

10. Form the dough into two round loaves and place on greased baking sheets. Cover again and let them rise until almost doubled, about 30 mins.

11. Brush gently with a glaze made out of 1 tbsp molasses and 1 tbsp water. Cut a shallow slash in the tops of the loaves.

12. Preheat the oven to 180 C, and bake for 45 mins.