Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

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

Method:
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.

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).

Anzac biscuits

22 May 2020

Anzac day commemorates the arrival of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand (the ‘Australia and New Zealand Army Corps’ = ANZAC) at Gallipoli in 1915 to help the Allies fight against the Ottoman Empire during WWI. It has become the defining Australian national holiday, and is celebrated with Anzac biscuits.

Recipes vary, mostly just in quantities, as the ingredients are pretty set: oats, coconut flakes, butter, sugar, flour, golden syrup, and no eggs. This last point contributed to the biscuit’s history (or mythology) as overseas war care packages, since the absence of egg made them more durable.

We’re always happy to adopt traditions, especially when they involve food, and these biscuits deserve to be made much more frequently than just on Anzac day, as has become the case in this house.

I’ve tried quite a few recipes over time and tweaked them to achieve less sweetness without losing chewiness. I like how these turn out.

 

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ANZAC biscuits recipe

100 g (1 cup) rolled oats (or porridge oats, see note in the first step)
125 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
80 g (2/3 cup) brown sugar
Squeeze of golden syrup (or honey)
1 Tbsp water
100 g (1 cup) flour
75 g (1 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt

Blend the oats in a food processor briefly, just until they become coarsely ground but not too fine. ***I know this is an annoying extra step but it helps with chewiness. Otherwise use finer porridge oats.***

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, golden syrup, and water, and warm over a low heat until the butter has melted and the ingredients are well combined.

Turn off the heat and add the oats, flour, coconut, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and moist throughout.

Divide the dough into two, onto narrow sheets of parchment paper. The dough will be soft but not runny — use the parchment paper to roll the dough into logs of approximately the same diameter. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 160 C (325 F). Take the cookie dough logs out of the fridge and let them warm up a little at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

Once slightly softened, cut the logs into 1cm (1/3 inch) slices. Place the cookies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and reshape the dough a bit into soft edged cookies.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes until golden. Let cool on the baking sheet as the biscuits are still soft and crumbly when they come out of the oven.

Once cool, store in a cookie tin or glass jar. I hear they can keep for up to two weeks …

 

Illustrious plum torte

6 October 2018

I buy plums because how can I not, in the momentary season that will soon give way to an endless monotonous expanse of apples and pears?

Five days later they are still on the kitchen counter and, miraculously, apparently intact, without the dispiriting tinge of fermentation that has all too often come to taunt me with an accusatory waft of neglect.

It is high time to use them up, and I am hesitating between jams and quick compotes, just as a friend writes to say she is coming to London and can she stay with us. Of course, as always. And so it will be cake.

I could have made either of the ones already on these pages (here and here), but my attention is turned elsewhere. I want to bake Marian Burros’ illustrious plum torte, which I’ve heard about and read about for years and decades, but, just as those impulsively purchased plums, neglected too often, too long.

The recipe* was first published in the New York Times in 1983, and every fall thereafter, during peak plum season, for the next twelve years. When they decided to stop publishing it, with the last printing in extra large type ‘with a broken line border to encourage clipping,’ the paper was nonetheless assailed by angry letters. It is said to be the most requested and most often published recipe in the newspaper’s archives, and is usually described as famous, iconic, one of the newspaper’s most popular recipes.

It could seem difficult to come on the trail of so much lore, but astoundingly, after all those years, the cake lives up to its reputation. I won’t regret that I hadn’t made it before, I’m just glad it has become part of my dream plum life.

*The recipe was allegedly given to Burros by Lois Levine, her co-author on the 1960 Elegant But Easy Cookbook.

Marian Burros’ plum torte (<— click link to the original recipe)
I have doubled the recipe and substituted ground almonds for some of the flour. I preferred to omit the cinnamon.

250g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
225g (1 cup) unsalted butter
210g (1 1/2 cups) flour
75g (1/2 cup) ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 eggs
15 to 20 plums
Brown sugar and juice from 1/2 a lemon for topping (and 1 tsp ground cinnamon or cardamon, why not?)

Heat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line with parchment paper and butter a springform pan about 25cm (10″) in diameter.

Leave the butter to soften at room temperatire until easy to mix.

Wash and cut the plums in half lengthwise, removing the stones.

Beat the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until creamy. Add the flour, ground almonds, paking powder, salt, and eggs and stir well.

Spoon the batter into the dish. Place the plum halves skin side up all over the batter so they fit snugly. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice (and a spice if using).

Bake for about an hour until a knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out fairly clean (the cake will remain moist from the plum juices). Cool before eating. As with most cakes, it will taste even better the next day, covered and left at room temperature.

Cherry and gooseberry clafoutis

12 July 2018

These were the last of the gooseberries here this year but I had to write down the recipe for next summer — in the magical week (or two) when gooseberries and cherries have a chance to meet, make this clafoutis!

Last year by happenstance I mixed gooseberries and strawberries — in jam, and in cake (about which I finally wrote last week). What an incredible combination. And now this. Yesterday, by chance again, just because I buy much too much fruit at this time of year and actually had a forgotten bag of cherries and some gooseberries on the verge of shriveling, I made another cake.

I’m starting to believe that goosegogs are the berry equivalent of msg. They make everything more delicious. All at once they enliven and deepen the flavor of each fruit with which they are paired — dessert umami.

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Cherry and gooseberry clafoutis

About 500g each of cherries and gooseberries
2 Tbsp flour (one for the batter and one for dusting the fruit)
3 eggs
4 Tbsps light brown sugar plus one for dusting the clafoutis
250 ml (1 cup) milk
2 Tbsps ground almonds
Grated zest from 1 lemon
Pinch salt
1 Tbsp kirsch

Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).

Wash and pit the cherries. Wash and rub off the fuzz from the gooseberries. Cut them in half if quite large.

Butter an ovenproof that will fit all the fruit snugly in double layers.

Place the fruit in the dish, sprinkle with a tablespoon of sifted flour, and toss gently to dust the fruit.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until frothy. Add the milk, then the flour and ground almonds, lemon zest, salt, and kirsch.

Pour the batter over the fruit and slip into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the batter is set and the top nicely golden. In the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the clafoutis.

Let cool before eating.


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