Italian wholemeal and honey rolls

Wholemeal rolls

Regular readers will know that I swear by my sourdough and make all my own bread. Last year, on a recommendation from a baker, I bought Carol Field’s magisterial The Italian Baker. Some of the recipes use a biga (overnight starter) but most are straight yeast-based doughs. I’ve baked quite a few recipes from it now, and apart from a slightly disappointing ciabatta, they’ve all been superb. So sometimes, if I don’t have ripe starter handy, or I just want to make some bread quickly, I make my current favourite recipe from this book: pane integrale con miele. It’s a brilliant recipe: quick, easy, foolproof. In the book, the recipe makes one large loaf, but I always shape it into about a dozen small rolls instead. These freeze nicely and can be quickly defrosted. Though they are of course best while still slightly warm, spread with butter and honey. Note: although they do have honey in them, they are not over-sweet and are fine with savoury food.

You can take this as the warmest recommendation of this book — if you are a keen bread baker, you need it! Baking this lovely recipe should be enough to convince you.

This is my adapted version of the recipe. A couple of notes:
1) She has you make 200g of slightly modified biga and then discard all but 50g. Why? If I have some biga in the fridge I use that, but if not I take 50g from my jar of sourdough starter. It doesn’t need to be ripe, as it’s used for flavour rather than rising. In fact if you don’t have biga or starter, you can simply leave it out — the rolls will still be good.
2) The recipe specifies wholemeal flour (type 110 in France). I sometimes vary this; today I used 150 g of wholemeal spelt flour and made it up to 500 g with type 85 (bise) as that’s what I had on hand. I suggest making it according to the recipe the first time, then decide how you want to vary it once you know how the dough feels.
3) I make this in my stand mixer, but it’s not impossibly sticky — you can work it by hand if you want.
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Crème mousseline

Choux buns filled with crème mousseline

Yesterday I attended a half-day patisserie workshop based around choux pastry. In the course of it, we made some crème mousseline to fill our choux buns. This was a new one for me: it’s basically crème pâtissière with an unfeasibly large amount of butter beaten into it, resulting in a cream that is both airy and rich, and will not collapse under load. It’s apparently the basis for such treats as fraisiers and tropéziennes. Useful as a filling because its firmness means it won’t squelch out or drip when cut or bitten into. But it is very, very calorific, so special occasions only!

Best used on the day it’s made; it will go solid if refrigerated for more than a couple of hours because of all the butter. Apparently that can make it go grainy, but this can be fixed by putting it in the bowl of a stand mixer, starting the whisk at high speed, and then gently and briefly warming the outside of the bowl with a blowtorch (this is clearly a standard technique as our chef/instructor did this when the butter was too hard!). You could make this without a stand mixer (people obviously did in the past) but it’s a lot of work: much vigorous beating required.

The recipe below makes a massive amount, enough to fill at least 15 choux buns.
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Brandy snaps

Scones and brandy snaps for tea

A true classic for afternoon tea. They look much more difficult than they are: very quick to make, and once you’ve grasped that you need to wait a minute before lifting them off the tray, they are a doddle to shape — much easier than tuiles. They’ll be crisp within 10 minutes, ready to fill with piped whipped cream.

Note: most recipes have brandy in them. But this is not why they are called brandy snaps, and I think it’s neither necessary nor authentic. The “brandy” is more likely to refer to the fact that they are brannt or burnt, i.e. caramelised. So it’s absolutely fine to leave it out.
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Classic scones

I went through a phase of failed scones, and eventually returned to the tried and tested, never fails, Katie Stewart recipe, from the Times recipe book that was one of my formative culinary influences. Here it is converted to metric. The secret of scones is to handle the dough as little as humanly possible, and be particularly gentle rolling it out. Katie also says you have to sprinkle the baking sheet and the top of the scones with flour. No idea what effect this has, but since she says so, I always do it.

Scones are great if you need to suddenly provide afternoon tea, as it only takes 20 minutes or so to make them. They can really only be eaten on the day they are made; they just aren’t the same after they’ve hung around for a while. If you do have leftovers, it’s best to freeze them and then reheat from frozen before serving.
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Pasta with sauce forestière

Made up by Steve on the spur of the moment based on what was in the fridge and pantry. Definitely worth repeating; it was delicious. It’s the caramelised onions that raise it above the ordinary, so give yourself plenty of time to get them well coloured. It’s called forestière because of the combination of artichokes and mushrooms.
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Ensalada tropical

ensalada tropical

This is a ubiquitous dish in the beach bars of Spain’s Costa Tropical, using locally grown exotic fruits. It’s a lovely refreshing starter which can also be quite substantial, while providing a large contribution to your five a day. We usually share one between two of us before a platter of grilled fish.

I will confess to not being a fan of conventional fruit salad: a variety of soggy fruits swimming in sickly sweet liquid does not float my boat. Bananas are especially loathsome in this context. But ensalada tropical is completely different: the dressing adds a welcome acidity that complements the fruit beautifully.

The recipe allows for considerable variation. The essentials are crisp lettuce, some kind of citrus, and something crunchy (although apple is not tropical, I think a few slices add the necessary texture). You won’t go far wrong by including mango, avocado and pineapple, in fact I think it’s incomplete without at least two of these. Melon in some form is good, and a few slices of kiwi fruit are attractive. We added persimmon to our last one, and that worked well too. I think passion fruit would be a lovely addition. Other than that, use what you like and is available (although I have to say I have never seen one featuring bananas, thank goodness).

We also toss in some of the handy fruit and seed mix sold as “salad mixture” in Spanish supermarkets (I always stock up on it when there). This usually features raisins, chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds, and maybe some chopped roasted hazelnuts.

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Malt loaf

This is a traditional family recipe, slightly adapted by me, mainly to make it a bit less sweet. It’s not like that dark, claggy Soreen malt loaf that used to come wrapped in waxed paper; it’s much lighter and more cake-like, to the extent that it doesn’t need butter. In fact we have even had it for pudding with custard …

Finding malt extract was a challenge. Eventually a friend tracked some down for me in Holland and Barrett and posted it to me. Luckily the loaf doesn’t need much, so the jar will last a while.
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Vegetarian chilli

Adapted from a recipe in the Slimming World magazine — a useful source of low-calorie recipes that don’t compromise on flavour. I cooked my lentils from scratch, but if you’re lazy or in a hurry, you can use a can. A very easy midweek dinner.
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Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Sourdough hot cross buns

It had to happen! I was very pleased with these. They are not quite as light as conventional HXBs because sourdough is always chewier, but the crumb is soft and buttery, the crust light and soft. A definite hit, to be repeated. The recipe is from the Clink restaurant; I’m reproducing it here having converted it to metric from annoying cups. I give it in stages as it was in the original, because that’s the most effective way to plan it. The baking process itself will take about 2 1/2 hours including proving.

You don’t need bread flour for this; ordinary white flour is fine. I used organic white flour (T65).
The dough is very sticky. If you have a stand mixer, I recommend using it with the dough hook. Otherwise, sprinkle your work surface with flour, have a dough scraper handy, and be prepared for messy hands.
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Bread and orange curd pudding

This is just a variation on bread and butter pudding, created because I had brioche and some home-made curd that needed using up. In my case it was Seville orange curd, but lemon curd or even passion fruit curd would both be fine too. It turned out even better than I expected, a good orange tang, caramelised top, and little cranberry flavour bombs. Feeds 3-4 depending on how greedy you are.
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