Ukrainian Paska bread

After a long break from baking due to no oven, I was going to make some Hot Cross Buns, but then I stumbled across a recipe for Ukrainian Paska (Easter) bread, and it seemed a good moment to make this. I’m not at all familiar with Ukrainian cuisine, but it’s easy to see this is a typical enriched, brioche-style bread flavoured with citrus. This is a relatively plain one — apparently it’s common to include raisins, making it similar to a panettone (let’s not go there — I still haven’t succeeded with that).

I made a few changes. The quantity of dough in the original recipe is massive, so I halved it — apparently I don’t have as many friends as Marie does 🙂 The quantity below filled a standard loaf tin plus a tall 15-cm springform tin I bought to make panettone (still unused for that purpose!). I converted the cups to metric measurements. I added saffron because it didn’t seem right to do an Easter bread without that. I reduced the sugar because I’ve never encountered an American cake or sweet bread recipe that wasn’t far too sweet for me. And I had to adjust the amount of flour as I was using French T45 patisserie flour which I expect absorbs less liquid than US all-purpose does — the specified quantity gave me a very sloppy dough.

The end result looks great, and the crumb is very light. I was expecting the flavour to be a bit more punchy though — I couldn’t really taste the saffron, although it did make a nice golden crumb. If I make it again I’ll add more citrus zest and also some diced candied orange and lemon peel.

The bread keeps quite well in a plastic bag to keep it from drying out, and it also freezes well. I can confirm it makes good toast, and it will also be excellent as pain perdu or bread and butter pudding.

And finally, allow plenty of time for making and proving. Best to use a stand mixer, but of course you can do it by hand. It really needs to prove in a warm place, standard room temperature won’t do — I used the dough proof setting on my microwave and it worked brilliantly.

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Roasted tomatoes with labneh

I’m posting this recipe mainly as an advert for Sabrina Ghayour’s book Simply. A revelation. I know next to nothing about Persian food, but this was a 99-centime Kindle deal. My first experience of a cookbook on Kindle too — I was very dubious, but it works pretty well on the iPad.

This is the first recipe in the book, and the first we tried. It’s a cracker. Within about three weeks we’ve had it three or four times. Making labneh was another first — I had no idea how easy it is. We now have jars of it preserved in olive oil.

Ingredients: I did find za’atar easily at the spice stall in the market. Pul biber (mild chili flakes, mainly produced in Turkey), an ingredient in many recipes in this book: nope. Eventually I bought some online, and it was well worth it; it brings a lovely smoky, complex flavour and I foresee I’ll be using it regularly. Alternatives: Mexican ancho pepper or (maybe) piment d’Espelette.

Again I urge you to try this, and then buy this book or any of her others. Such a burst of exotic, sunshiny flavours. A great tapa or starter.
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Perfect millionaire’s shortbread

Millionaire's shortbread
I have only made millionaire’s shortbread a couple of times previously, and not been satisfied. I want to make some for a charity cake stall, so this time I googled and took the best bits of several recipes, so I feel like this is my recipe now. And the jury of two agreed that it really was perfect.

The key points:

  • I used the ever-reliable Felicity Cloake’s shortbread base. Including rice flour or fine semolina makes it really crunchy, a good contrast with the topping.
  • I used a thermometer to check the temperature of the caramel. It’s really important to get it exactly to softball stage (112C) so that it’s neither too runny nor too chewy, and it’s hard to judge any other way. See a recent Bake Off attempt at Twix bars!
  • Remember the name, and use really good quality chocolate. Cheap chocolate will ruin it. I used Lindt milk chocolate, which is not too expensive and streets ahead of the bog standard supermarket type.Use either milk, dark, or a mixture, according to taste.
  • Give yourself plenty of time; it needs to chill thoroughly before cutting.
  • Cut it into small squares … it’s very rich!

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Summer fruit gratin

Nectarine gratin

I stumbled across this recipe on the web somewhere as I was looking at a large punnet of nectarines that needed using. Perfect. It’s very substantial, bread and butter pudding like at the bottom, fruity in the middle, with a creamy top layer that’s slightly crispy on top. I used nectarines but it would work with almost any type of fruit — plums, apricots, peaches, maybe apples or pears too.
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La tarte à l’oignon de Caroline

Onion tart

Another recipe courtesy of a cooking lesson from a neighbour. I have previously known this as Alsatian onion tart, a concoction of slowly cooked onions, cream, an egg, and grated cheese. Caroline’s version is vastly superior; she skips the egg, saying that adding egg means it’s “just a quiche”. And she caramelises the onions slightly and spices it with cayenne and paprika, which make all the difference. Easy to do, and really delicious served lukewarm with a glass of chilled rosé.
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Tatin d’aubergines de Sandrine

Aubergine tatin

A neighbour who is renowned for her superb aubergine tart kindly submitted to pressure to reveal her secrets in an informal cookery lesson, held outdoors on a sunny day. We produced five magnificent tarts, which were shared along with glasses of chilled rosé. I will happily make these for guests, as a substantial starter or light main course.

Beyond the aubergines and tomato sauce, you can vary the other ingredients according to taste and whether you need it to be vegetarian. We used combinations of chopped black olives, chorizo, and anchovies. I think blobs of onion confit or pesto could be good as well. For the cheese, we used slices of a log of goat’s cheese. But you could substitute other soft cheeses: feta, mozzarella, sheep’s cheese …

White aubergines

Other ingredient notes: Sandrine recommends white aubergines; she thinks they are sweeter and more tender. She normally uses her own home-made passata for the tomato sauce, but you can use bought passata or pasta sauce instead. Likewise, for the pastry, either make shortcrust or buy it ready-made. Don’t use puff pastry though, it is too fatty for this recipe.
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Mirlitons de Rouen

Little almond cakes, the word mirliton described by Jane Grigson as suggesting “a cheerful twirling of skirts and light feet”. The filling is very similar to the classic filling for a Bakewell tart (as opposed to pudding). I used a recipe from Audrey Le Goff’s Rustic French Cooking Made Easy, which is a nice collection of traditional regional dishes, changing it somewhat to suit me. The original uses ready-made puff pastry, but the reason I made these is because I had some leftover sweet shortcrust. Either will work, although I’m not keen on puff pastry as a tart base personally. If you want to make pastry for them, I can recommend the recipe here. I chose to use some wild cherry jam as that goes well with almonds, but any good jam will work — raspberry, strawberry, apricot …
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Tarte rustique à la tomate

“Rustic” being code for “looks a bit thrown together”. A summery tart that I served as part of a copious apero. You could serve it as a starter or a light lunch dish as well.

If you don’t already know this, tomatoes and mustard are a wonderful combination. This recipe requires properly ripe fresh tomatoes. I made the pastry using surplus sourdough starter, but of course you can use a standard shortcrust recipe. Serve it just warm rather than hot. The bottom may be soggy, but it’s delicious anyway.

Update: You can make this with standard shortcrust, but I recently discovered a Nigel Slater recipe for olive oil pastry which is easy to make and works well with the Mediterranean nature of the tart. So I’ve added that as an alternative.
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Sourdough fruit scones

Needing yet another means of using up starter, I hit upon this idea. The starter doesn’t need to be active (although it’s also fine if it is) — it’s the baking powder that does the work. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my first effort in terms of texture, but otherwise they were fine if rather rustic. A little more liquid next time should sort it.

Use whatever dried fruit you fancy: cranberries, cherries, sultanas, chopped dried apricots … the dried fruit guy at our local market does chunks of semi-dried apple tossed in cinnamon sugar, and these worked really well, chopped into small dice. I mixed them with sultanas and cranberries.
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Sabine’s sourdough apple and cinnamon babka


Great British Bake Off fans may remember the chocolate babka from one of the technical challenges a couple of years back. Prue Leith got into trouble for saying Paul’s was better than the ones she’d tasted in New York. It’s a braided brioche loaf that originated in Eastern Europe.

I wasn’t particularly tempted by it, as I’m not a massive fan of chocolate in bread or pastries. But I recently joined a French sourdough group on Facebook which has been an absolute eye-opener in terms of the amazing things you can do with a jar of starter. Someone posted a babka they’d made with a cinnamon-flavoured frangipane as a filling. I was definitely up for that.

Warning: you will need to arm yourself with patience for this recipe. It’s a minimum two-day process if you start with a lively starter. An enriched dough like this will take time to rise, and you definitely don’t want to undermine all your work by being too hasty. Give it all the time it needs. After the first rise, you can fit it to your schedule by putting it in the fridge for as long as necessary, up to 24 hours. Also, if you don’t have a stand mixer be prepared to wear yourself out kneading by hand! It needs to be very thoroughly kneaded and the butter worked in bit by bit.

This is my translation and slight variation on the recipe: I added some finely diced apple and a few sultanas to the filling. Of course the filling can be whatever you fancy: chocolate, Nutella, praline, mincemeat, even cheese … one person did a version with a prune purée which I rather fancy, especially if you were to soak the prunes in brandy first.
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