Sourdough biscotti

20 October 2020

This idea sprouted a few months ago as an attempt to use up some of the ‘discard’ from my sourdough starter — in my experience the biggest challenge of a novice sourdough baker. (The ‘discard’ is the part of the sourdough mother that is not used for baking but needs to be cast aside so that fresh flour and water can ‘feed’ the mother.)

It’s now become a joke that everyone started baking sourdough during ‘lockdown.’ I am guilty as charged, and, like everyone else, faced the existential stress, for my fledgeling sourdough mother, of finding flour in April (when, naggingly, every shop was laden with the most beautiful breads) — I even had bags shipped directly from a mill, until that source dried up too. Having (re)embarked on this adventure I was quite resolved to follow through, unlike an attempt from six years ago which miserably petered out.

I am happy to report that my starter has survived, and thrived, since March. It crossed the channel and hung out in Brittany with us for a month, it came back with us, it has even had babies who, as far as I know (and hope!), are still alive and kicking in the neighbourhood. I will write more about my experiences with sourdough, but today I am baking these biscotti. It’s not exactly starting backwards, since the trickiest aspect of sourdough has been to find the rhythm of the starter, the bread, and especially the discard, without ever having to throw any away. It is safest to embark on a sourdough adventure with a few of these ‘discard’ recipes under one’s hat.

After some attempts and fine-tuning, these biscotti have just the right texture — the ideal balance of a hard crisp outside but ever so slightly yielding inside.

Sourdough biscotti
NOTE: This recipe should be used as a template, with many possible variations in the combination of nuts, fruits, and spices.
I particularly like walnuts/dried figs/fennel seeds and also almonds/anise, and I’m sure pistachio/apricot would also be great.

40g olive oil or melted butter
3 eggs
120g sugar
Zest from one lemon
50g sourdough discard
350g white spelt flour
Generous pinch of salt
This part of the recipe is the variable:
75g nuts (coarsely chopped almonds or walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, …)
50g dried fruit if using (dried figs, apricots, …)
1 Tbsp fennel or anise seeds

In a smallish bowl, whisk together the olive oil (or cooled melted butter) with the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest. Stir in the sourdough discard.

In another, larger bowl, mix the flour with the nuts and fruit, spices, and salt. Create a well and pour in the liquid ingredients. With a wooden spoon, using circular movements, mix to combine thoroughly. Finish by hand, knead a few times, and shape into a flat ball. => If the dough is so sticky that it seems impossible to gather into a ball, add a little flour.

Cover with a tea towel and let the dough rest at room temperature for at least 2 hours, until it feels risen and puffy (it doesn’t need to have noticeably increased in size).

Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Shape the dough into two flat oblong logs and leave them to rest, covered, for another 30 min or so, until slightly puffy.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Bake the logs for 25 minutes at 200°C, then lower the temperature to 175°C and bake for another 15 minutes. The logs should be slightly coloured.

Remove from the oven, let cool enough to be able to handle, slice the logs, and return the slices to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes on one side depending on how thin you’ve cut them. Turn the biscotti over and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes => watch and check and bake to the desired colour.

The biscotti keep well in a sealed jar for a week.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s tomato chutney

13 October 2020

This is the chutney that entered our life by accident and got stuck. I nearly didn’t make it when I decided to try Ottolenghi’s Tomato and Courgette Loaf published in the Guardian’s weekly food magazine Feast a couple of weeks ago. I often cut corners and simplify recipes, and, regardless of how tempting it was, I wasn’t sure I would have the time, until I realised it was part of the loaf recipe itself. And so the sideshow of Ottolenghi’s recipe became the star at my table.

The loaf was a great success, but the chutney is the recipe I will be making again and again. In fact, the kitchen has barely been without in a fortnight.

Tomato chutney from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi in Feast
The recipe calls for fresh tomatoes but I’m pretty sure I’ll try it with tinned ones in a few weeks when there is no other choice.

Olive oil
6 garlic cloves
45g fresh ginger
A large pinch of chilli flakes (or 2 red chillies)
About 2 Tbsps tomato paste
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsps garam masala
1 Tbsp sugar
750g tomatoes
Teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Smash the garlic with the flat of a knife, peel, and chop roughly. Peel and finely grate the ginger. (Wash and finely chop the chilli if using.) Wash, core, and chop the tomatoes.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the garlic, ginger, and chilli. Cook, stirring regularly, for a couple of minutes, until fragrant. Add the tomato paste, spices, and sugar, and cook, stirring, for another minute. Now add the tomatoes, the salt, and a good grind of pepper and mix well, scraping the pan to incorporate all the spices. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the tomatoes are thoroughly cooked and the chutney has thickened.

Before serving, drizzle a little olive oil over the chutney. It keeps in a closed jar in the fridge for about a week.

Chard gratin

8 October 2020

October 8th. I’ve developed quite a crush on this dish since this August, when our friends brought us a big bunch of chard from their garden. I made a gratin, Louise had SIX helpings, which echoed what everyone was feeling, though we were perhaps not as quick. It has now settled into our regular weeknights.

Chard gratin

750g chard
75g butter
3 Tbsps flour (I usually use spelt though a traditional béchamel would be with wheat, and white or wholemeal depending on my mood)
500ml milk
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 garlic clove
A little olive oil or butter for the pan
Grated cheese, preferably gruyère

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Trim the rough ends of the stalks and any bits of damaged leaves, chop the chard into roughly 2cm (3/4 inch) strips, wash in cold water, and dry thoroughly ( I use a salad spinner).

To make the béchamel: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the flour and butter lump together and create a mass. Continue cooking briefly, then add the milk, one large splosh at a time, stirring continuously, until all the milk is used up. If the béchamel still looks quite thick, add some water until the consistency is edging towards runny.

Now season the béchamel with a generous pinch of salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg. Taste and adjust.

Rub an ovenproof dish with the garlic clove and grease the dish with a very little bit of olive oil (or butter). Add all the chard, it should seem as if it’s too much => It will reduce a lot while it cooks. Pour the béchamel over the chard as evenly as possible so everything is covered. Now sprinkle enough grated cheese to cover the whole gratin in a thin layer.

Slide into the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden.

Goes well with good sausages or a sturdy fish such as salmon.

‘Save the plums’ jam

6 October 2020

October 6th. Reliably, like every year in early October, there is a bowl full of old plums in my kitchen. They are already at varying degrees of bruised, shrivelled, and slightly alcoholic. They’ve been there for a week. I don’t think it’s intentional, but always during the last shimmer of plum season I buy lots, and only ever manage to save them in the nick of time, with jam.

I cut up the plums yesterday, mixed them with just under half their weight in sugar, added the juice of one lemon, and let them macerate overnight in the fridge, stirring once or twice as the sugar tends to slide to the bottom.

Now to figure out whether to add anything. I usually turn to ginger or bay leaf with plums, but today I am wondering — cardamom?

Save the plums’ jam

1kg plums
850g light brown sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
Optional: 6 pounded cardamom pods / one or two bay leaves / finely cut ginger

Wash and pit the plums. In a bowl, mix together the plums, sugar, lemon juice, and the spices or herbs if using. Cover and leave to macerate overnight in the fridge. Stir once or twice as the sugar will sink to the bottom.

The next day, transfer the mixture to a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook at a lively simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile, in another pan half-filled with water, bring to a boil and sterilize 3 or 4 jars for 5 minutes.

Once the simmer slows down and the jam is ready, scoop the jam into the jars and close the lid immediately.

[ => To check that the jam is setting, place a spoonful in a saucepan in the fridge for a few minutes and check that the liquid is starting to run thick.]

Wait a few weeks, if possible, before using.

Earlier ‘save-the-plums’ jam ventures:

Greengage plum jam with lemon and bay leaf
Damson and Victoria plum jam with lemon and ginger
Plum jam with candied ginger

Pear and almond cake with honey and cardamom

4 October 2020

October 4th. It’s been raining for days. Not a downpour, a steady mizzle. The occasional interruption a pause — a tease, to lure us outside — but never long enough to be safe from the next drizzle. Everything is steeped, the grass is shimmering.

Looking out, droplets dribbling down the window like sea spray, it feels like the earth may drown. We need a buoy. A book, a game, a film? A cake.

This recipe is a variation on one I found on the blog My Darling Lemon Thyme a few weeks ago while looking for a dairy-free pear cake (it happens to also be gluten-free). It’s an excellent recipe and I’ve used it a couple of times since for riffs and improvisations. This latest incarnation is worth writing down.

Almond and pear cake with honey and cardamom based on the Spiced Pear and Almond Cake from My Darling Lemon Thyme

4 eggs
120g (2/3 cup) soft brown sugar
Scraped seeds of one vanilla bean or a teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from one lemon
80ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
200g ground almonds
120g white spelt flour (or use 300g almonds and 45g rice flour)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps ground cardamom seeds
2 tsps ground ginger
Two generous pinches of salt
300g peeled and finely chopped pears (I had little pears and used 6 or 7 in total)
2 Tbsps runny honey
A handful of flaked (sliced) almonds
Icing sugar (optional) for dusting

Preheat oven to 180°C. Oil a cake tin and line it with parchment paper. [The quantity works for a 30 x 10cm loaf or 23cm round tin.]

Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla vigorously for 5 minutes.

Add the lemon zest and the olive oil gradually, beating to incorporate completely.

Add the ground almonds, sifted flour, baking powder, cardamom, one teaspoon of ginger, and the salt. Mix until just uniformly combined.

Peel, core, and cut the pears. Toss in a bowl with the honey and the other teaspoon of ginger.

Gently mix the pears into the batter, scrape the mix into the cake tin, and cover with the flaked almonds. Slide the cake into the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Let cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before de-moulding. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cake keeps for a few days (at room temperature for about 24 hours and then preferably in the fridge).

%d bloggers like this: