Marmalade and almond muffins

Marmalade and Almond Muffins

I can never resist making jam when summer fruits are in season, but we don’t actually eat that much of it, so it accumulates in the larder till I give it away or cook with it. This recipe, based on one in Nadine Abensur’s Cranks Bible, used up most of a four-year-old jar of marmalade. American-style muffins, but unlike those, these are not over-sweet; the only sweetener is the marmalade plus a little maple syrup, and my home-made marmalade is true bitter-orange marmalade. The crunchy topping is interesting too.

You can use this as a basic muffin mix, replacing the marmalade with other not-too-sweet preserves, or fresh or frozen berries. Also, if you are like me and always have sourdough starter hanging around, try replacing part of the flour and buttermilk with it (see recipe for details).
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Sourdough blini

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This is becoming a theme — yet again I had jars of starter bubbling all over the kitchen. We fancied smoked salmon, and I was sure it must be possible to use sourdough for blini. A quick Google and I found a recipe on a Spanish blog of all places, but it’s a blog I followed till it went dormant, so I felt confident that it would work. I was right; they were delicious. Just as good as the Delia recipe that was my standby up to now, and without all the cream.

The following is my adapted recipe. Use buckwheat flour if you can, for authenticity. I didn’t have any, so I used wholegrain spelt instead. I have an electric plancha which is perfect for cooking these as it remains at a low, even temperature — otherwise use a griddle or large heavy frying pan, over a low heat.

This made about 30 blini; halve the recipe if you want fewer, but they freeze really well. I wrap 6 or 8 together in flat foil packets and freeze them in ziplock bags. Then you can just take out as many packets as you need and warm them through in the oven. They are just as good with butter and honey as they are with salmon or caviar.
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Sourdough pancakes

This is the quickest, easiest way of using up surplus sourdough starter. It makes small, American-style pancakes. Excellent with maple syrup and cream or quark, but they are also a good substitute for blinis to serve with smoked salmon and cream cheese. Hardly needs a recipe and quantities are vague. Usually I have about 100-150 ml of starter and I use one egg for this quantity. But if the batter seems too runny, add a bit of flour; if too thick, a bit of water.

They freeze well, wrapped in foil, and can be reheated in the oven, still wrapped.

Update: an even easier option is making pikelets; the method is basically the same as for these pancakes but without the egg and oil. Just mix a cup of your starter with a teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, and half a teaspoon of baking powder. Let stand for a few minutes till it starts to bubble, then cook blobs of it over a low heat till the top is bubbly, before turning to cook the other side. This is so quick you can routinely do it when you’re feeding your starter and then either eat the pikelets or freeze them. Idea from here, thanks Joy!
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Sourdough focaccia

Sourdough focaccia

When you make sourdough you are always looking for ways of using up starter. This recipe (also known as fougasse in France) was a good accompaniment for post-film drinks. It’s great for picnics too. I started it in the morning and baked it late afternoon. It’s best warm or cold rather than piping hot from the oven.

This recipe is fine with ordinary plain flour, but you can use white bread flour if you want, or a half-and-half mixture. Whatever you choose, the dough is very wet and sticky to work with, so if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, I really recommend using it. If not, use the “kneading” technique of using one floured hand to stretch and fold the dough in the bowl — no need to turn it out, and you can keep your other hand clean.

Toppings: this isn’t pizza, so topping should be scanty and not too complicated — two or at most three elements. You can keep it plain by just sprinkling fleur de sel and olive oil over it. For this occasion I did some with chopped rosemary and onion, and others with sliced artichoke hearts and a few squirts of pesto. Sun-dried tomatoes and serrano ham or prosciutto are a good choice too — or use your imagination and go for something more original like crumbled blue cheese and thin slices of pear. In all cases, finish with oil and salt.
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Easy fruity cakey pudding

As you can see, it was difficult to decide what to call this. I freely admit to lifting it almost wholesale from Baking in Franglais, because I had a few ripe apricots that needed using quickly. As usual, I made a few changes; I forgot to buy an orange, so I added lemon zest instead, and I used only apricots because I’d eaten all the cherries. Also, the recipe specifies a 20-cm springform tin. In my cupboard I have an 18-cm and a 22-cm one. Hmph. I decided to go for the 22-cm one until I saw what a tiny amount of mixture there was. The 18-cm one was the perfect size, producing a taller cake than Jean’s. I reckon I could have doubled the recipe if I’d used the 22-cm tin.

Verdict: a really good, light cake with very little fat and sugar. Cold, you can eat it as cake; we had it slightly warm for dessert with a dollop of chilled fromage frais, but cream or custard would be fine too, of course. It’s a keeper, for those times when you have a small amount of ripe fruit to use up. I’m sure it would be great with plums, cherries or peaches, apples or pears, or any combination. You can vary the other flavourings according to what fruit you use.
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Sourdough chocolate cake

Anyone who makes sourdough is always looking for ways of using surplus starter, to avoid throwing it away. I am not a huge chocolate cake fan, and this cake may sound unlikely, but it’s actually a really good cake, and definitely worth trying if you are a chocolate lover. Tested on the connoisseurs at choir practice, and it got the thumbs up … even if pumpkin spice cake remains the unbeatable favourite!

The original recipe is from Pinch My Salt. I have converted it to metric because I can’t be doing with cup measurements. The first time I made it, it had a rather fudgy brownie-like consistency, but I think that was because my starter wasn’t very lively. Use bubbly starter and it will have a light consistency and taste delicious. For convenience and keeping quality I serve it without frosting at choir practice, but you could use Nicole’s chocolate frosting below, or a classic cream cheese and orange one.
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Spelt sourdough

It’s said to be quite difficult to make a good loaf using spelt (épeautre in French) because it has less gluten in it than modern wheat, so it tends not to rise as well. A few months ago I encountered a chap at the market who was selling organic wholegrain spelt flour that he’d grown and milled himself; it was expensive (5 euros a kilo!) but I thought I’d give it a try.

I googled (of course) and this recipe looked the most promising. It’s almost a “no-knead” recipe — I remember reading somewhere that because of the low gluten content, spelt dough doesn’t respond well to a lot of handling and it’s best to avoid over-working it. The recipe worked out really well, making a moist, open-crumbed loaf. So I tried it again today with some different spelt flour that was described as semi-complet (semi-wholegrain). It obviously wasn’t as absorbent as the whole grain and the dough was wet and quite difficult to handle (it stuck to the pan). But the result was still very good, especially with some smoked trout.

There were things I would change about the recipe though, notably that it was too sweet for a “general purpose” bread, so this is my tweaked version. I bake it in two smaller loaves for the simple reason that it’s easier to handle a smaller piece of this sticky dough — plus it makes a lot of bread and this way you can freeze one loaf and eat the other, warm with butter.
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Successful sourdough: how I got there

Sourdough loaf

My home-made sourdough starter is about to celebrate its first birthday, so it seems a good moment to revive this blog with a post about sourdough. Warning: it can take over your life (or at least your kitchen)!

A year ago today, we visited a working windmill where they grind flour and bake bread. I came away with a bag of freshly ground organic wholemeal flour, so it seemed as good a time as any to start. Of course it required some googling. There are many different methods touted as being the best, but I went with this one: just flour and spring water from the fountain. It’s worth reading this explanatory page too. This method requires you to feed the starter every 12 hours, discarding half of it each time, for a week to 10 days. This gives the good bacteria the maximum chance of taking over and stabilising, and it certainly worked for me — after a week, I had a frothy, sweet-smelling tub of starter.
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Torrijas

Torrijas

I love torrijas — if I see them on a dessert menu in Spain, all the other options immediately become irrelevant. They are basically the same as what Americans call French toast, even though in France they are called pain perdu (lost bread); stale bread soaked in milk and egg and then fried. In this Spanish version they are fried in olive oil and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The perfect accompaniment is a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some butterscotch sauce.

They are so popular in some parts of Spain that bakers sell special pan para torrijas (torrija bread). This is a brioche-like loaf with quite a dense crumb that stands up well to being soaked in milk without falling apart. So a counsel of perfection is to use this, although failing that stale French baguette or any good white bread is fine (for heaven’s sake don’t try to use wrapped white sliced bread for this). If you do want to try the genuine article, I searched the web and eventually found a Spanish recipe for pan para torrijas, and adapted it for the bread machine — see below. I always make two loaves, cut them in half, and freeze them. Once thawed, I leave them to go stale — the staler the better, you can leave this bread hanging around for a couple of days. It makes good toast too.
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English apple pie

English apple pie

It must be over a decade since I last made an apple pie. Since I became French, my default option for apples and pastry is sinfully easy Tarte Tatin. Or occasionally, if I have time, a classic tarte aux pommes. But today I suddenly felt the urge to make an old-fashioned apple pie. I had to dredge long-unvisited corners of my memory for the little tweaks I developed in the years when I made it regularly. Painting the pastry with egg white to stop it going soggy. Mixing a little cornflour in with the sugar to thicken the juices, making it easier to serve cold. Adding a few sultanas. And above all, hiding bits of quince among the apples to perfume the pie and turn the filling a rosy pink. In fact it must have been the quince in the fruit bowl that gave me the idea in the first place.
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