Bread 34: Socca from Nice

Nice seems like a strange place to come across a chickpea pancake, but it’s thought (according to, ahem, Wiki) to have originated with Italy’s farinata, which then spread across the coast of the Ligurian Sea. This variety of the chickpea-and-olive oil combination is local to Provence.

My reasons for tackling chickpea pancake was, of course, that it sounded fascinating and that this thin pancake-like version of farinata seemed more my cup of tea than the Italian wedge-like variety that I’ve tried before. But I have also had the terrible baker’s misfortune of falling for a celiac.

Gluten has magical powers that I will be unable to relinquish, but I’m also relishing the challenge of baking without it. So far, it appears that there are a lot of cakes with vegetables in them and lots of cunning blends of rice flour, potato and tapioca. Book-wise, I’ve been heartily recommended Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache and am eager for more recommendations, so please share any secrets below.

On first try (pictured here), these were delicious and easy. I used this recipe, and they had that delicious crispiness that you usually only get from deep-frying something. It’s essentially just a batter of chickpea flour and water grilled in oil on a high heat. My second attempt, though, was disappointingly flabby and leads me to believe that getting the flour-water ratio just right is pretty crucial.

NB: I used gram flour, because that’s what I had in the house. This is a blend of yellow split peas and lentils, rather than chickpeas. So I’m not sure how easy or otherwise getting hold of actual chickpea flour would be.

socca

Bread 33: Bulgarian tutmanik

I don’t have any nice pictures of the bread itself, because this was for dinner and I was in a hurry. However, we were on holiday in the Lake District, and here is the view out of the window: Lake District Gorgeous, and gloomy. We were staying in the Langdale Valley, which is right in the middle. It’s not as popular with tourists as many parts of the Lake District as there in no lake in the valley, but beautiful. While we were there, I made tutmanik using this recipe. It’s a Bulgarian cheese bread where crumbly cheese is (usually) wrapped tightly in swirls and baked in the oven. A number of other recipes I checked all contain yoghurt, which mine did not. So I wonder if yoghurt is a must, generally? Does anyone know? Other recipes say that it must be leavened with baking powder, which is certainly not universal. Tutmanek With this one, the dough is divided into balls, which are placed in a bath of olive oil. You must then pick the slimy balls out of the bath, flatten each one like a pizza base , then add feta and roll and twist and coil it up. The finished bread is moist and cheesy. It retains a strong flavour of the olive oil, and a hint of being fried. I found that I needed around 180ml less water than the recipe specified.

As an ignorant Western European, I had always thought Bulgaria sounded much in a similar place to Hungary and Slovakia. No, it is as far south as Italy! How had I never noticed that? Accordingly, the cuisine is Mediterranean in flavour, and famous for its yogurt and cheese. I am regretting more and more not adding yoghurt to this recipe.

Loaf 32: Romanian pasca

I’ve moved house! You can see three train lines from my window. Here they are:

57c view 2

The first is obvious, the second is the dark railway bridge just below the tree-line, and the third is directly beneath that and invisible until a train goes by. I am very happy here, sandwiched just between Greenwich and Lewisham. Not everything is perfect (there are mice, taps gush, the oven is bad), but everything feels right.

Ah, yes, the oven. Turns out, the temperature gauge doesn’t tell you how hot it is, and it leaks heat at the top. It’s a sad come-down from the powerful oven I was used to before that went very nice and hot. I have bought a ceramic tile to use as a bread stone and will see how that does. It didn’t matter for this loaf, because it likes things rather moderate.

Romanian Easter bread

This is a Romanian Easter bread, recipe here. It’s a sweet bread plaited around the outside, and then baked cheesecake filling in the middle. Delicious. I’ve had it on my list for a while, but I always supposed it would be fiddly. In fact, it felt rather easy. You make a sweet dough. While it’s rising, mix up the filling (just cream cheese, egg, sugar and vanilla extract). Plait, dollop the filling in the middle, bake.

Oven temperature is the tricky thing because the cheesecake likes it cool, and the sweet bread likes it moderately hot. I baked it at the bread-friendly temperature, because I have no idea what temperature my oven is anyway and tend to err on the side of high. The subtle approach is to bake at 5 mins high, then turn it right down. That way you avoid the cracked cheesecake top mine so elegantly demonstrates.

Breads 30 & 31: Cornish saffron buns and Greek New Year bread

Both of these are delicately-spiced sweet breads, not the sort of bread I usually bake. I’ve previously avoided saffron on the principle that nothing that is mainly famous for how expensive it is can be worth the price. However, I have some left over from the Medieval feast, and I seized the opportunity to try it out. saffron buns (2)

I made this recipe for saffron buns, which calls for 1 drachm of the stuff. I’m a little baffled, because if I’ve understood the conversion correctly, this is almost 2 grams – far too much of the flavour and equivalent to four pots of it as sold! I used the amount in the bowl above. I’m not sure how much this weighs, but it was half of what I had left (I think about 0.3g, so 0.15g), and the taste came through nicely.

The flavour is warm and woody, and robust. Saffron gently underlines the sweetness and fattiness of an enriched bread. I would use it again for a special occasion.

saffron buns

I spent New Year at a house party on the wind-swept coast of Sussex. The house was a thin-walled wooden one right on the sea front, and its sturdiness in the face of the howling wind and rain of the past few days was remarkable.

I made this Greek New Year bread (vasilopita) for the party. It has mahlepi and mastic crystals in it, which I tracked down in a Greek grocers in Bayswater, the latter labelled as mezdeki (the Turkish word for it, I think). If you can’t find them, they can be substituted with fennel and aniseed. I didn’t have much time to make this on the day I left and sweet fatty doughs are notoriously slow to rise, so I used half of the flour the night beforehand to make a sponge and got the yeast off to a flying start. This cut the whole process down to about 5 hours on the day.

The texture is quite like pannetone: a smooth and confident sweet bread. The bread turned out under-cooked in the centre, which I attribute to being in a rush and also to making a single large loaf instead of two small ones. But I was rather pleased with this overall; it was good fun to make something celebratory and decorative. Please note the inelegant ‘2014’ below. Happy New Year!

Greek New Year (2)

Bread 29: Grape Harvest Focaccia from Italy

I made this for a party, and it was oh-so-easy and delicious. Adding grapes and rosemary and some crunchy coarse salt makes it celebratory even though it’s cheap. Which is one of the many things I love about good homemade bread: luxurious eating for pence.

This recipe is from Daniel Leader’s Local Breads, one of my favourite books, which I have written about before. In the preface to this recipe, he describes an idyllic trip through Umbria with a bevy of bikers, just as the grapes are ripening (yes: jealous). This bread is a seasonal speciality.

focaccia (2)

Ingredients:

300ml tepid water
1tsp active dry yeast
500g plain flour
60g olive oil (I did not measure this)
1.5tsp salt

for the topping
200g red grapes (used extra)
2tbsp fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
1tsp coarse salt

Method:

1. Mix the dough ingredients and knead until smooth and elastic. Cover and leave to double in size, around 1-1.5 hrs.

2. Lightly grease a rimmed baking tray. Turn out the dough onto the tray and oil your hands. Gently stretch the dough towards edges without tearing it. Give it a 5 min rest or two if necessary. Fully stretched, the dough should be about half an inch thick.

3. Coat the dough in olive oil using your hands and add dimples all over it with your fingertips. Press the grapes into the dough at regular intervals and sprinkle over the salt and rosemary.

4. Cover the dough and leave to rise until it puffs up around the grapes, around 45 mins.

5. Bake for 20-30 mins at 190 C, until the grapes are bursting and wrinkled and the bread is lightly golden.

focaccia (1)

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

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.