Breads 27 & 28: Irish soda bread and German pretzels

First, I am cooking a Medieval feast and, Londoners, you should come along. It’s going to be fabulously different and fun. Now, on with bread…

When I was new to bread-making I bought a lot of flour without being at all clear on what I needed. It was all good fun, but now I have about 15 bags that are expiring any week now. Such is the price of  profligate trips to distant mills and Waitroses and Wholefoods.

First, I got going on this excellent recipe for Irish soda bread by Dan Lepard. (I bought the book it comes from, The Handmade Loaf and am in love. More on that another time, I’m sure.) I say excellent, I actually didn’t follow it because I had a neglected bag of flaked wheat to use up. I added 100g of that, cut the 50g of fine oatmeal and upped the buttermilk by 50g.

soda bread

This tasted fantastic: crumbly, rich, oaty (despite no oats!), lovely crunchy crust… Wait, this just sounds like a description of soda bread, doesn’t? Look, I don’t know what it was, but it was just so good and homely. Maybe it was that extra coarse Shipton Mill wholemeal that I’d been saving for so long. This loaf is very quick, a refreshing change from those six-hour sourdoughs. Mix and bake. That’s it.

Next, pretzels! Inspired, of course, by GBBO. I only made the savoury ones. In answer to your questions: yes, tying a pretzel is as tricky as they make it look on the programme and, no, I did not do mine by flipping the dough in the air. I needed to make the dough snakes a bit longer, which would mean all the pretzels had holes like the bottom lefthand one, but otherwise these were a success.

pretzel

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Loaf 26: khachapuri from Georgia

As so often with this project, I began with a bread recipe I fancied trying, and ended up becoming fascinated by a whole cuisine. This was particularly true this time, because a) Georgian food sounds awesome and b) I find it impossible to imagine quite how it tastes. None of my food references fit (Lebanese-Mediterranean-Russian? kind of? no?).

So, what do we know about Georgian food?

It’s enamoured of bold, contrasting flavours. It’s as common in Russia as the curry house is in Britain, but practically unknown in the rest of Europe. There’s a big tradition of supra, feasts consisting of many dishes and accompanied by lots of wine. Like every other delicious ingredient it seems, the Georgians have been growing vines aplenty since ancient times.

In fact, Georgia really has it all when it comes to the essentials for a rich culinary tradition: fertile soil, big mountains, a coastline, trade routes passing through it, regions that are distinct to point of being troublesome. Here is it on a map:

map europe georgia

Khachapuri is a rich, cheese-stuffed bread. It comes in at least nine varieties (there are regions! lots of them!). This is Megruli khachapuri, which is stuffed with cheese and has extra cheese on top.

Making this was eventful, because I substituted the Georgian sulguni cheese (almost certainly not available from a cornershop near me) for a mix of mozzarella and goats’ cheese. This is because I read that sulguni is stringy like mozzarella but with a sharp and salty flavour.

Well, the goats cheese might have been good for the flavour, but it was a disaster for the consistency. The filling is meant to be stuffably solid, and instead I had to stuff my dough with a loose paste. You can imagine how that went. This photo sucks because I was making it for a dinner party and just had to snap and serve, but rest assured it looked a mess IRL too.

khachapuriShown in photo: guest’s foot. Not shown: panic, swearing, cheese filling everywhere.

It was a culinary flop, and everyone loved it. The recipe of how I would make it next time is below. The dough recipe is from here and the filling and shaping instructions from here.

If you don’t fancy attempting a recipe that’s essentially untested, here are two good-looking recipes that I only discovered later:
Recipe from someone who took a class in it.
Nigella Lawson’s version.

This makes 3 khachapuri, and would serve 6-8 people as a side.

Ingredients: 

for the dough
1 cup milk, scalded
40g butter
1.5tsp sugar
0.5tsp coriander
1.5tsp salt
2tsp active dried yeast
3.25 cups plain flour
2.5tbsp water

for the filling and topping
3 eggs, plus an extra egg yolk or two to glaze
600g sulguri cheese (I would sub this with the firm ready-grated mozzarella next time, not the soft balled one. Goats’ cheese = NO)
150g butter, softened, plus extra to melt on top
1tsp paprika

Method:

1. Mix the dough ingredients together roughly and leave to rest for 20 mins.

2. Knead the dough until smooth, then cover and leave to rise til it has doubled in size. Remarkably, this only took mine about 45 mins.

3. Punch down, and let the dough rise again til almost doubled in size.

4. Divide the dough into thirds and let them rest, covered, for about 15 mins.

5. Reserve a third of the cheese for the topping and mix the other filling ingredients together.

6. Take one third of dough and flatten it as you would a pizza. I found stretching by hand worked better than a rolling pin. Put a third of the filling in the middle and pleat the edges around it as you gather them together, moistening with a little water so that they stick. Flatten your bundle very gently into a flat, round disc, being careful not to let the cheese spill out. Your disc should have a very slightly higher border to contain the topping when it melts. Good visuals here.

7. Repeat with the other two thirds, and top with the remaining cheese, leaving the borders around the edges cheese-free.

8. Brush the borders with egg yolk, and bake immediately in a hot oven. Mine took about 30 minutes at 200 C.

9. Once they’re done, melt a blob of butter over the top.

Bread 25: stottie cake from England

Let’s be blunt here: my stottie cakes didn’t work out. Wiki tells me they’re meant to have a doughy texture, but my money says that doesn’t mean they should still be actual dough in the middle. I don’t think I rolled them thin enough. Stotties are a Newcastle speciality from the north east of England, a home of other fantastically-named things like singing hinnies, which are a type of scone cooked in a griddle pan.

Traditionally baked on the hot coals at the bottom of an oven, stotties are flipped halfway through. The resulting flatbreads taste a bit like extra-big muffins (of the bread variety). My dad is a Newcastle man – although he claims not to remember them – so I’ll have to have another go some time.

I used this recipe from Dan Lepard’s Handmade Loaf, which I may have photographed on my phone ahem although I have now ordered it. He claims that stottie cakes are one of the great breads of Europe, but doesn’t provide a justification for this and I’d have been curious to know his reasons.

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Loaf 24: bara brith from Wales

So, The Great British Bake Off. What are your thoughts on it? Me, I instinctively avoid anything on TV that seems like it might be a dumbed-down version of something I love. So I dodged Bake Off right til series 4, when I found myself with an empty hour one evening. And now I’m in head over heels. It’s serious and silly in all the right ways, and I’ve learned a lot, laughed, and been inspired… Next time something like this comes along I shan’t be so stubborn.

Here, then, is Beca from series 4’s recipe for the Welsh tea cake bara brith. As you will know if you’ve seen the program, bara brith was first invented during the Industrial Revolution. Workers lived in close quarters and baked bread communally once a week, the bara brith loaf being made last out of the odds and ends of the dough. You should really look up the Argentinian version too, torta negra, because that’s a great story.

I haven’t tucked into my loaf yet, but it’s risen rather nicely other than some tearing that may indicate it’s a little underproved. The only thing I’d add to Beca’s recipe at the link above is that everything took rather longer to rise. Also, kneading the dough with the dried fruit in already is not to be recommended if you’re doing this by hand. I ended up with a scattering of currants at my feet looking like a particularly incontinent rabbit.

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