Bread Masterclass: brilliant baguettes!

CooknwithClass Bread Masterclass: Baguettes!

I was one of the guinea pigs for Cook’n with Class’s newly launched bread masterclass held in Arpaillargues, just outside the lovely Languedoc town of Uzès. We were just three students with chef Eric in the spacious kitchen.

CooknwithClass: Bread masterclass

We started each day sitting around the table for breakfast: tea or coffee, and bread of course — from day 2 our own productions from the previous day. This was a good opportunity to a) wake up and b) get to know our fellow students. Then each morning was spent in a whirl of preparation, mostly bread but a few other items too: a delicious chocolate tart, and a classic tropézienne (brioche filled with crème diplomate) are just two examples. Most of the breads required several hours’ or an overnight rest, so we would make and shape the dough, then put it in the fridge for baking the next day. The morning’s work finished around 1 pm, around the lunch table. Each day we made something for lunch: quiche, pan bagnat, pizzas, to be served along with salad and followed by cheese, with bread and wine of course, and a dessert also made by us.

CooknwithClass: Bread masterclass

Eric is a great teacher, relaxed and communicative, always ready to answer questions and explain why he’s doing things a particular way. No matter how well I feel I know how to do something, I always learn something new from listening to and watching a pro. For example, in all the many years I’ve been making shortcrust pastry, I’ve never known about fraisage — smearing the just-blended pastry on the countertop to blend the ingredients without developing the gluten too much.

Likewise, I now make all of our bread, but the many different breads we made introduced new techniques, and nothing beats being able to see and feel how the dough should be. My best moment was seeing the amazing baguettes we made come out of the oven — my previous efforts have never approached this. Instead of taking them home, we ate nearly all of them while drinking aperos — on their own, or with Eric’s home-made pâté.

Shortbread biscuits

There were some surprises too. I didn’t think I’d like chocolate bread, as I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but it was one of my favourites of the week: bread with cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate in the dough. Eric reckoned it would be good with wild boar stew, but we also loved it for breakfast with marmalade. It’s a keeper in more ways than one — it was still soft and chewy several days later. I also wouldn’t have counted myself a fan of hamburger buns, but these home-made ones were a great base for pan bagnat. Oh, and potato bread made with instant potato flakes — a winner for serving with soup or stew!

Pan bagnat

At the end of day 3 we went home with goodie bags containing our baked goods plus some of Eric’s sourdough starter, and of course a booklet of recipes. I’d recommend this class to any keen baker — no need to be an expert to benefit from it. What a pleasure to spend three mornings just baking with like-minded people! And as afternoons are free, you can use them to explore lovely Uzès and the surrounding area.

CooknwithClass Bread Masterclass: Tropézienne

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.

Notes:
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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Sourdough pitta bread

Well, it had to come to this — with starter always on hand, I was eventually going to try making pitta bread with it. Turns out a quick Google was enough; I found a recipe on sourdough.com that worked first time. Here’s my version of it for the record. Strong bread flour doesn’t exist in France, so again I adapted it according to what I have. This recipe involves leaving it in the fridge overnight, but you don’t have to do that — you could just leave it at room temperature for 2-3 hours if it’s more convenient that way.

See also my non-sourdough version, which you can do on the dough cycle in a bread machine.
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Spiced fruit sourdough

Spiced fruit sourdough

This recipe is very loosely based on a recipe from Bourke Street Bakery in Australia. I rarely use sourdough recipes unchanged, if only because French flour is nothing like flour used in most other countries; “strong” flour basically doesn’t exist here.

It’s a delicious bread; the spices and sultanas mean it doesn’t need anything other than butter. Superb still warm from the oven; it will make great toast, and if it hangs around long enough to go stale I can imagine excellent bread and butter pudding. It was pretty quick too; I started it at lunchtime and took the baked loaves out of the oven at about half past nine (yes, that is quick by sourdough standards).

You’ll need to decide on your own flour combination; I used French organic T65 (bise, almost but not quite white) flour, with a touch of wholemeal spelt flour (I virtually always use some spelt in my loaves as it has a lovely nutty flavour). Use mixed spices of your choice; I always use 4-épices for recipes calling for mixed spice because I like its warm, peppery flavour. The quantities below are reduced from the original; they made two smallish round loaves.
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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

blini290216small

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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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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