Rewriting Tradition. Easter Cuisine Old and New. Part 1

I rang my 13-year-old grandson to ask if he had eaten any hot cross buns today. He sounded disinterested and replied ‘no’, in a polite but bemused way. I could almost hear his brain ticking over, perhaps with a ‘What the ..? Has Nanna finally lost the plot, ringing me about Hot Cross Buns?’ After all, the kids have been eating these buns since Boxing Day. That’s when they begin appearing in Australian supermarkets. By the time Good Friday comes around, the novelty has worn off. So much for tradition.

Ready for the oven

I then rang my eldest son, and asked him the same question. At least he is perfectly aware of the symbolic nature of these buns. No, he had also had his fill of the supermarket product along the way, and was whipping up some scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Yes, another pagan in our midst. I am the first one to appreciate the secular nature of our society: I am not only a ‘collapsed’ Catholic but also don’t count myself as Christian. Having said that, I don’t see much point in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. After all, these buns are a seasonal and festive treat and it’s important to explain the meaning of the added crosses to the young folk. History and tradition form a part of who we are. At the same time, we happily appropriate any Buddhist and Hindu rituals that may suit us along the way.  Buddhist meditation becomes mindfulness ( and loses a lot in translation), Diwali is taking off in Australia and Chinese New year is popular too. Australia is a wonderful melting pot of cultures, but as we grab hold of the new, we should also at least understand the old, and adapt some of those traditions to our modern taste.

Just glazed. Who prefers the top half?

I now make hot Cross buns annually, just a dozen. The yeasted variety is light and perfect for our Autumnal weather. Next year I will increase the amount of spice in the recipe I used. They cost very little to make and are far more digestible than the common supermarket variety. If you are a beginner at yeasted baking, try Celia’s recipe here. It is foolproof and very straightforward.

To serve with butter, not margarine.

The other fond tradition I hang on to is my dedication to cooking smoked Cod on Good Friday. This is an old Irish Catholic Australian thing. Most Scottish descendants did not have this bright yellow dyed fish imposed on them as youngsters on Good Friday. If you feel slightly ambivalent about smoked cod, go to the fish market and buy the real thing  from the Shetland Islands which tastes peaty and less salty. I buy it at the Preston Market, from one fishmonger who has, by 9 am on Easter Thursday, queues 5 deep. I am told by Sandra that it is available all year round at the Prahran market.

Fish pie includes Shetland smoked cod, flathead and shrimp

One way to enjoy a piece of good quality smoked Cod is to forget your grandmother’s recipe, which consisted of an overcooked piece of fish, served with white parsley sauce, alongside boiled vegetables. Maintaining the tradition but stepping it up a notch or two makes the elements of this dish more appetising. Make an Easter fish pie, incorporating the poached smoked cod, along with poached white fish and a handful of shrimp, in a white sauce, and top with buttery mashed potato. The sides? A tossed green salad with lots of mustard in the dressing, another Irish note.

Three serves later….

This post was inspired by my friend Peter’s comment a few days ago. Peter lives in tropical Far North Queensland, where some of these culinary traditions would seem totally out-of-place.

“Enter the 60’s & 70’s: Traditional Good Friday cooking of smoked cod, which was smelt from miles away on the farm, still lingers in our psyche. We (all seven kids) all started to gag at the thought of having to consume his hideous boiled, vile muck served with over-cooked spuds and grey cabbage. Tradition beheld that we all sit at the kitchen table and dare not complain as the Compassion donation box was placed in the middle of the table with forlorn starving African children’s’ faces staring back at us which reflected those much worse off than ourselves. If only our parents knew that when we took those money boxes back to school they were much lighter by many pennies and the occasional thrupence than when they left their position placed strategically near where food or indulgent entertainment was involved. When visiting childless Aunts and Uncles visited our eyes bulged as they loudly dropped loose change into said box and we immediately tallied up how many kangaroo or umbrella toffees on a stick , yard-long licorice straps of triangular frozen Sunnyboys we could buy at the tuck-shop on the next school day. I’m sure tens of thousands of children in Africa died of starvation by we greedy Catholic kids but obligatory confession ultimately absolved us even if we had to lie to the priest to protect our guilt. So now we celebrate Easter by holding a “traditional” Bad Friday by sharing all the amazing regional and seasonal foods abundant in our region. Last week-end was the annual sugarcane and banana plantation pig shoot – sponsored by the local pubs. We bar-hogs waited for hours until the slaughtered swine were unceremoniously chucked off the blood-splatted Utes by the shooters whose faces were akin to orgasmic stimuli at the thought of winning the $25 stake. The weigh-in is a serious event all greased with gallons of booze and much humourous joshing . However, those of us on the peripheral could only see that these beasts can’t possibly go to waste and commence bartering for the whole hog. My point being is that this Bad Friday’s fare is a 57 kilo pig on a spit to be shared with all the local collapsed Catholics, a few bevvies and lots of stories about how we all ended up in the wonderful wet tropics of Far North Queensland – and not a hot-cross bun in sight. Ahh! Bliss!!”

Thanks Peter for making the effort to add such entertaining recollections to my posts. I am sure many Australians of a certain age may have similar memories.

That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion…..

Sourdough Buccellato. Fruit Bread from Lucca

There is a local saying in Lucca about its famous Buccellato sweet bread: who ever comes to Lucca and doesn’t eat Buccellato might as well never have come. (“Chi viene a Lucca e non mangia il buccellato è come non ci fosse mai stato”).

Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, Lucca

The last time we stayed in Lucca, we were fortunate to try this bread, thanks to our host Guido, who brought us a warm fresh loaf one Sunday morning. I’ve dreamed about making it ever since, especially now that Easter is around the corner. It seems like a good substitute for Hot Cross Buns and is great toasted. The Lucchese eat this loaf at any time of the year: it is not a festive Easter bread, but it does seem to suit the season. It is said to go well dunked into a licorice based spirit such as Anisette or Sambucca, as there is a hint of anise in the bread.

Buccellato. Dunk in an Anise flavoured liquor or toast and spread with butter.

I have used a ripe sourdough starter in this recipe, which I’m sure they used in days of old.  It is fairly plain, as many Italian cakes and festive breads seem to be. If you wish to make it using yeast, see the notes below.

Makes 2 small loaves, or 1 large

  • 150 gr golden raisins or sultanas
  • 450 gr baker’s flour
  • 50 gr wholemeal flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 150 gr ripe liquid sourdough starter
  • 200 gr milk
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 80 gr granulated sugar
  • 50 gr unsalted butter at room temperature, in pieces
  • 1.5 teaspoons aniseeds
  • egg wash, made from an egg yolk and a little water.

Place the raisins in a bowl, cover with warm water and leave to plump up until needed. In the meantime mix the two flours and salt in a large bowl. a separate bowl, crack the egg, add the warm milk and sugar and mix well. Finally add the sourdough and mix through.

Add the liquid ingredients to the flours and mix until a dough begins to form. ( I used a stand mixer for this process). Put on a work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, or knead on low with a dough hook for 3-5 minutes. The dough will be a little hard.  Begin adding the butter in small pieces until it is well incorporated and the dough is smooth. Add the aniseed and leave to rest covered in a warm place under a bowl to rise. I found that the dough needed around 4 hours to rise. This will depend on the temperature of your room. It may take longer.

Drain the raisins and dry with kitchen paper. Lightly dust with flour and add to the dough, kneading through by hand, until the fruit is well-distributed. If making two small loaves, divide the dough into two equal pieces. Shape into two logs with pointy ends, place onto a lightly dusted work surface and leave to prove again until about doubled in size. Or, shape into one large batard shape. Leave in a warm spot to rise again.

Preheat the oven to 200°C FF.  When the dough has risen, slash the loaves/loaf in the centre with a straight cut about 1cm deep and brush with egg wash. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. If making a large loaf, count on around 45 minutes.  Remove and leave to cool before eating,

Straight from the oven. Buccellato Lucchese

You can make this bread without a sourdough starter by using 20 gr of dry active yeast, adding it to the flour at the beginning of this recipe. The bread dough will rise more quickly with yeast.

My name is Lucca.

Un post interessante del Buccellato qui.

In My Kitchen, March 2017

In my kitchen, I am surrounded by summer’s bounty, despite the seasonal peculiarities. The tomato crop has been ordinary: most people who live in, or near, Melbourne are complaining. There will be no passata making day for us in 2017. The zucchini and cucumbers have also been slow, but are now getting a new life with a dry, warm autumn. I am quite happy with the trade-off, with abundant plum, blackberry and fig crops this year, the seasonal surprises in my kitchen.

First bowl of blackberries. They are flushing every week.
First bowl of blackberries. A flush every week.
Today's garden pick
Today’s garden pick . Some will go on top of a pizza.
Pizza 5 Tesori
Pizza Cinque Tesori

Today’s ‘Five Treasure Pizza’ includes yellow pear tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grilled baby zucchini, finely sliced red onion, and a handful of shrimp, scattered with tiny Greek basil leaves. This week’s dough was based on a mix of doppio zero white flour ( tipo ’00’) and a small proportion ( 50 g) of wholemeal spelt to give the dough a little more body. I like yeasted pizza more than sourdough, with long rises in the fridge, ( up to three days) making it even better.

bread-lot

I am trying to vary my bread flavours and methods, and have been inspired by Maree’s new facebook group, dedicated to Sourdough making. The sourdough loaves above were loosely based on a recipe from the Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook, and includes 60% wholemeal spelt. I like these nutty loaves, especially with soft blue cheese or zucchini pickle. The loaves below are my “Stand By Your Fam” high hydration loaves courtesy of Celia. I can now make these everyday loaves on autopilot, made in the evening, put to sleep for 8 hours or more, then shaped into loaves in the morning. These are favoured by the man and the extended family, with 75% baker’s white and 25% wholemeal.

Stand by your fam sourdough loaves.
Stand by your fam sourdough loaves.

A quick summer dish, spaghetti al nero di seppia, (squid ink spaghetti), is topped with a good commercial mix of seafood marinara, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and torn basil. The black pasta by Molisana is surprisingly good. Thanks Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert for reminding me about this pasta last month.

A quick Spagetti marinara
A quick Spaghetti marinara

I made these preserved lemons back in December. They have provided a lemon boost to many a dish this summer, especially given that lemons have been scarce, in contrast to limes which are now common place.

Preserved lemons, bridging the lemon gap.
Preserved lemons, bridging the lemon gap.

Oh no, there’s a chook in my kitchen, again! Mischa has been carting a red chook into my kitchen since she was 5 years old. At the old house, she used to sit on a garden swing with Hermione and put the chook to sleep. The red chook is always called Hermione, even though we don’t usually name our hens, and there have been at least six generations of ‘Hermiones’ since that first one. The conversation usually goes like this.

“Please take that chook out of the kitchen, Mischa.”

“But it’s Hermione”, said in a child- like voice, even though Mischa is now almost 20!

That’s what I like about my kitchen, the mad stuff. The other rooms of the house are dull and lifeless, sedentary rooms dedicated to kitchen recovery.

Mischa and Hermione.
Mischa and Hermione no. 7

Thanks Liz at Good Things, for hosting this monthly roundup. If you have ever thought about blogging, the monthly IMK is a good place to start. Most of my bread inspiration and support has come from friends found in this forum.

Bruschetta 101

Bruschetta is a celebration of seasonal ingredients. It could be a simple version with newly pressed olive oil or a summer version with vine – ripened tomatoes. On the surface, it is an uncomplicated Italian antipasto dish and yet it is so often misunderstood and easily stuffed up. The key to good bruschette is the quality of the ingredients.

Some freshly picked tomatoes and basil.
Some freshly picked tomatoes and basil.

Let’s start with the pronunciation. I am sure I have posted on this topic before, but as Bruschetta is the most mispronounced culinary term in Australia, with wait staff leading the way, it is worth another go. Phonetically, the word can be divided into three parts: Broo- Skeh- Ta. There is no SHHH sound in the middle, as sche in Italian makes the SKE sound. ( sce or sci makes the shh sound). The next thing to note is that there is a subtlety to the sound of the broo part of the word. American speakers of Italian invariably turn this sound into Brew, whereas the sound is much closer to Brook or lies somewhere between the two. Here’s a little sound bite that might assist:

http://inogolo.com/pronunciation/bruschetta

This season's garlic.
This season’s garlic.

Next the bread. The best bread to use for this dish is a rustic and fairly dense white bread such as Pane di Casa or Sourdough ( not ciabatta- too holey- and not fluffy French breadsticks). As the word Bruschetta is derived from Bruciare, to burn, and Bruscare ( Roman dialect) to roast over coals, an open charcoal grill or BBQ achieves both these outcomes best, especially if serving simply with garlic, new oil and salt. Many family run trattorie throughout country Sicily and Campania have a small open fire in the wall near the kitchen for cooking alla brace. For the home cook, the nearest version is to use a heavy cast iron ridged grill over a gas flame. Also keep in mind that the size of each bruschetta should not be too large. The diminutive ending –‘etta’- suggests something small and dainty, not a boat-sized toasted thing. Bruschette are not the same as Crostini. Crostini are small rounds of bread baked in olive oil in the oven and are much harder and crunchier.

Grilling the bread for Bruschetta.
Grilling the bread for Bruschetta.

About the toppings. Bruschetta is a classic example of a dish where less is more. Originally, the dish consisted of bread, oil, and garlic. If you have some new season freshly pressed olive oil on hand, I recommend you go no further, other than rubbing the grilled bread with garlic. In tomato season, a topping of garlic, tomato and maybe a little basil, is just right. This is not a dish for imported winter tomatoes that have sat in storage for eons. I also find hydroponic tomatoes extremely disappointing in flavour. If you are shopping at a farmer’s market, ask how they are grown before buying seasonal tomatoes. If they look completely regular in size with neatly cut stems, chances are they are hydroponically grown. Choose those that have grown organically and in the open air. The best tomatoes to use for this dish are Roma or Egg tomatoes. The flesh on these is much firmer and they are not so wet and seedy.  My photos show Rouge de Marmande tomatoes, which are very tasty but a little too mushy for this dish.

a little salt brings bruschetta to life.
A little flaked salt brings bruschetta to life.

Adding other non-Italian things, such as fetta cheese, is a real distraction from the simplicity of this dish. Australian cafes have a ‘dog’s dinner’ approach to Bruschetta presentation, shoving too much stuff on top. Some celebrity chefs, like Ottolenghi, also have a tendency to muck around with classic dishes. Keep it simple and authentic, especially if you happen to have top ingredients.

Assembling the bruschetta
Assembling the bruschetta

This tomato Bruschetta recipe is based on an old classic by Anna Del Conte.¹ The recipe serves 8 people. Halve or quarter according to your numbers.

  • 6 sun ripened firm tomatoes, preferably Roma or Plum tomatoes
  • a handful of torn fresh basil leaves or a few pinches of freshly dried oregano
  • 8 slices of good crusty bread, cut 1cm thick
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • flaked salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

Blanch and skin the tomatoes, cut them in half  and remove most of the seeds. Dice the flesh into 1.5 cm cubes. Tear the basil into small pieces, or if using dried oregano, strip from the stem and crush it finely in your hands.

Grill the bread on both sides then rub with the garlic. Cut each slice in half to make them easier to eat. ( or thirds, depending on the size of your slices).

Spoon on some tomato cubes and some torn basil over each slice and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle on the oil and serve at once.

Small bites of Brushcetta con Pomodori
Small bites of Bruschetta con Pomodori

Another approach is to mix the chopped tomatoes, chopped garlic, oil and dried oregano together and to let the mix steep for 10 minutes. Try it both ways and see which way you like it. The salt at the end brings out the flavour.

‘Con il passare del tempo ed il continuo mutare della cucina napoletana, da molti anni si possono assaggiare in tante versioni condite con creme e paté di peperoni, funghi, zucchine,piccoli tocchetti di melanzane, mozzarelle, scamorze e salumi vari.’

With the passing of time and the continuing changing of Neapolitan cuisine over the years, you can taste many versions dressed with pate or pesto of pepper ( Red capsicum), mushrooms, zucchini, small chunks of eggplant, mozzarella, scamorza and various salami.  Again, use one seasonal ingredient or meat and keep the topping simple.

¹ Anna del Conte Entertaining All’ Italiana, Bantom Press 1991. This beautiful book presents seasonal menus. This recipe appeared as an antipasto in a summer luncheon for 8 people, and was followed by freshly made Tagliatelle with Mozzarella, Anchovy fillets and Parsley, a side dish of Pepperoni in Vinegar, and finished with Walnuts, Grapes and Parmesan. Traditional, classic food that is not over fiddly.

Dal giardino.
Dal giardino.

Give Us This Day

Warning. This post is not about religion but bread, although it’s hard to resist segueing into the religious connotations associated with bread, not to mention bread’s best mate, wine. As these two life-giving basics feature often in my daily life, I give thanks but I’m not sure who to. I remember the ending of the Lord’s prayer quite well: it always signified the end of Mass which meant freedom was just around the corner. I also recall the hilarious Mondegreen* of my younger sister’s friend, Cecilia, whose child’s voice could be heard clearly from a nearby pew, as she chanted

         “Give us this day our daily bread…. and deliver us from eagles, Amen”

I  rather like this alternate ending and I think my chickens feel the same way too.

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Buon Giorno. Il pane del giorno.

The joys of bread are almost too numerous to list. Unassuming and humble, bread is central to most western meals. The breaking of bread at the table amongst friends, the dipping of bread into new season’s olive oil, the grilling of bread for bruschetta or the morning toasting of yesterday’s loaf, smothering it with quince jam, or Vegemite, or just butter. The dunking of bread into soup, or the submerging of bread under Italian Ribollita or French onion soup. The left over stale loaf crumbed and stored to top a future  gratin, or cubed then baked in garlicky oil for croutons. Given the effort gone into baking a good loaf of bread, (even if you haven’t made it yourself), it seems a sin to waste it.

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Zuppa di fagioli bianchi e bietola, con pane di ieri. The bread turns this soup into a meal.

Bread making has a certain rhythm: once the pattern is broken, it takes a bit of discipline to get it all happening again. My sourdough bread takes 24 hours to come to fruition: one day of feeding my starter, beginning at 7 am,  with 4-5 hours between each feed. One evening of mixing and stretching, which takes very little time, but requires my presence at home. An overnight rise of around 8 hours followed by an early start at around 6 am  to shape, rise and re- shape at  7 am. Into the oven, a 40 minute bake, and there you have it. Fresh bread by 8 am, 24 hours later. Cost, around 50 cents a loaf. Very little work, but bucket loads of discipline, and a ritualistic start to each day, not unlike meditating or praying.

The aroma of freshly baked bread is a morning sensory pleasure, only to be rivalled by the smell of a good curry in the evening or the aroma of slow baked quinces on a chilly Autumn day.

Don’t waste good bread. Sermon over.

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“A mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near homophony that gives it a new meaning. Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar, and make some kind of sense. American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term  in 1954, writing about how as a girl she had misheard the lyric “…and laid him on the green” in a Scottish ballad as “…and Lady Mondegreen”

“Pinker gives the example of a student stubbornly mishearing the chorus to ” I’m Your Venus” as I’m your penis, and being surprised that the song was allowed on the radio.

More examples of well known mondegreens can be found here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondegreen

Day of the Dead. Legends for the Living.

I used to look forward to All Saints Day when I was a child. In Catholic schools, All Saints Day was a religious holy day of note, which meant that we had another day off school. November the first blurred into November the second, Melbourne Cup Day, which is a State holiday in Victoria, and if the days lined up nicely with the weekend, even better. The beginning of November meant horses, saints, holidays and good weather, with only one down side, the traipse up the road to Church, a small price to pay for another day off. I don’t remember much about those saints or what the day was about. To me, it all seemed a bit morbid and sinister so I conveniently blocked it out.

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Pane dei Morti di Siena

It was in the tenth century that Odile, the abbot of Cluny in medieval France, transmuted the Day of the Dead, Samhain, the ancient Celtic feast of ancestors, into a Christian holy day, All Souls Day. Curses and blasphemy, I missed out on all the Celtic fun and got Odile’s version, made extra ominous by the Irish nuns who taught me. At least in modern Italy, the day still goes by the name I Morti, the dead, and the practices are more in tune with traditional pagan legends than the version I grew up with, though I’m sure there’s a bit of Church attendance involved. Going to mass in Italy often means chatting through the service and ducking out for a smoke. Other than the widows up the front, Italians often don’t seem to take church too seriously. Church is a local catch up and a ritualised prologue to a good lunch.

In Sicily, legend has it that on the evening of November 1, departed relatives rise up from their tombs and rollick through the town, raiding the best pastry shops and toy stores for gifts to give to children who have been good during the year. Children write letters to their dead relatives, just like the Christmas letters written to Santa. On this day, ancestors and relatives “feel an attraction to the living and hope to return for a visit and families set the table for ancestors returning from their graves.”

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Small loaves for the day of the Dead. One for now, one for the freezer.

What a wonderful legend. Just to think that you might have a visit from your dearly departed loved ones for a fleeting moment in time. When it comes to a good Celtic legend, adapted along the way by some wily Siciliani, I’m in. Time to write a letter to the dead and make some sweet things for  I Morti

Pan co’ Santi – A sweet bread from Siena to share with I Morti.

Makes two small loaves

  • 300 gr raisins
  • 1 ½ cups tepid water
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 25 gr sugar
  • 3 Tbls lard or olive oil
  • 500 gr unbleached plain flour plus 2 -3 Tbls for the raisins.
  • 8 gr sea salt
  • 1.25 gr freshly ground pepper
  • 100 gr walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 egg yolk for glaze

Soak the raisins in the tepid water for at least ½ hour. Drain the raisins, but reserve 1 1/3 cups of the soaking water. Warm the soaking water to 105-115 degrees.

By mixer: Stir the yeast and sugar into the raisin water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lard or olive oil in with the paddle. Add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until the dough comes together. Change to a dough hook and knead until firm and silky, for around 3 minutes.

First rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1¼ to 1½ hours.

Filling. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Without punching it down or kneading it, pat gently with your palms into a 35 cm/14 inch circle. Pat the raisins dry and toss with 2-3 Tbls flour. Work them and the walnuts into the dough in 2 additions.

Bread dough with sweet filling

Shaping and second rise. Cut the dough into two pieces. Shape each piece into a round, tucking the ends of the loaf in and trying to keep the raisins and walnuts under the taut surface of the skin. Set each loaf on a lightly floured peel or on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with towels and let rise again until doubled, around 1 hour and 10 mins.

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Fruit and nut stuffed dough before rising.

Baking. Heat the oven to 220° C fan forced. With a razor or sharp serrated knife, slash the dough with 2 horizontal and 2 vertical cuts. Brush the loaves with the egg yolk, then bake for 5 mins, then reduce the heat to 200 F and bake for 30-40 minutes more.

Also see these little sweet biscuits for the dead.  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/fave-dolci-biscuits-for-the-dead/

 

The Hand Built Finn. My Sourdough Diaries.

The other day I ran out of bread. I can’t eat ‘white death’ or spongy packet bread of any colour, dosed with preservatives to make it last forever. Neither can I eat the fake sourdough marketed to look like the real thing sold in a well-known supermarket or the stuff from hot bread places. I perused the specialty bread section of the supermarket where racks of famous city bakers display their tempting loaves,  Dench, Baker D Chirico, La Madre, Phillipa’s: there’s not much change from $10 for an ‘artisan’ loaf, rivalling the smashed avocado as the real cause of inner city hipster poverty. We went without bread that day.

Home made Finnish Rye. Just add smashed avocados.
Home made Finnish Rye. Just add smashed avocados.

I hurried home and hastened along my trusty starter, Sorella, another offspring of Celia’s Priscilla, a consistently reliable sourdough starter in any weather.  It’s important, when baking your own loaves, to seek out variety in flavours and flour combinations. I often get stuck in a groove and make the same loaf over and over again, especially when I can make it on autopilot now.

hi hi
Overnight rise High Hydration loaves. Our regular loaves. 80% baker’s white, 20% wholemeal.

Recently I returned to the Finnish Rye loaf which I have written about before. Now that I’m hand building this loaf, thanks to the demise of my stand mixer, I’m finding it far more successful than before. For sourdough bread makers out there, I urge you to give this one a go. It stays moist for three days or more thanks to the linseed. Forget about my previous method- this one makes a superior loaf. Linseed is full of omega 3, so this loaf is healthy but doesn’t taste heavy at all. It is soft, earthy and easy to digest. You could live on it.

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The recipe makes two small batards

The Finnish Rye Loaf, recipe courtesy of Craig Gardiner, baker extraordinario.

The Ingredients

  • 288g white bakers flour
  • 144g wholemeal flour
  • 144g rye flour
  • 365g water ( filtered or tank water, not treated water)
  • 173g sourdough starter (100% hydration). Make sure it has been refreshed three times and is bubbly before use.
  • 60g molasses
  • 18g salt
  • 140g flaxseed ( linseed)
  • 154g water to soak flaxseed.

Mixing the Dough

  1. Begin by soaking the flaxseed in the soaking water for at least 30 minutes in the water. ( last two ingredients on list above)
  2. Put the starter, water and molasses together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the flours and bring the dough together by hand.
  4. Cover the dough and leave for 15 minutes.
  5. Add the salt, mix through the dough and let stand for 1 minute or so.
  6. Add the soaked flaxseed along with the soaking liquid and squelch through with your hands, making sure the liquid and all the seeds are distributed through the dough. The mixture will be very wet.

    The dough will look like this after the seeds and soaking water have been mixed in.
    The dough will look like this after the seeds and soaking water have been mixed in.

Resting and stretching

Let the dough stand for 30 minutes. Put a few drops of oil on your bread working surface and spread out with your fingers. ( I use a silicon mat which has been a great investment). Scrape out the wet dough using a pastry scraper, then stretch and fold the dough. Return dough to the bowl and cover.

Let the dough stand for another 20 minutes, repeat stretching and folding, returning dough to the bowl and covering.

Repeat steps one and two.

That’s four stretches in all. If you do two or three, the bread will not mind. I always have sticky hands and so have not been able to photograph this method. Where is Mr T when you need him? If you need a little visual version of this method, check Celia’s video here.

You will notice the dough tightening with each new stretch. Now cover the dough and leave in a warm spot for around 4-6 hours, depending on your room temperature. Basically it needs to double in size. Don’t overprove this bread.

Final shaping.

Scrape the contents of the bowl onto a floured surface, using a pastry scraper. It will be sticky so flour your surface well.

Now pull up one side of the dough and stretch it up as far you can and fold this long piece over the rest of the dough. Do this with the other side. Then top and bottom. All the surfaces will now be lightly dusted with flour and will not be so sticky. Cut the dough in half with a pastry scraper. Shape the loaves into round balls for another short prove. Cove the dough balls with a tea towel.

Turn oven on to 250c Fan Forced.

After 30 minutes or so, the oven should be ready and the loaves slightly risen. Now gently shape the loaves.  Do not overwork them at this point. treat them like soft babies. I like to make batard shapes. Place the loaves onto baking paper, then slash the tops well, using a serrated knife or a razor blade. Lift the paper with loaves into enamel baking tins and cover with lids.

Put the two roasters into the hot oven ( if your oven is large enough to take both) reducing the temperature to 220c. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lids, and bake for another 15-20 minutes at the same temperature. Usually the time here is 20 minutes but these loaves are a little smaller than the usual loaf size.

Cool on wire racks.

The Finn
The Finn

I am indebted to two baking mentors here- Craig for the original recipe, and Celia for the method and for the brilliant idea of using enamel bakers for a more consistent result in the home oven.

The Finn, a moist loaf.
The Finn, a moist loaf.

Home Again Recipes. Pumpkin and Haloumi Salad and Nasi Goreng Ikan

After six weeks of travelling, it takes a while to adjust to the rhythm of cooking your own meals, let alone all those other tedious tasks, such as bed making and house cleaning. Where are those fairies who come and clean up? Home cooking routines return more quickly; after all, we do need to eat at least twice a day. After purchasing one packet of inedible bread, the sourdough starter was revived and our breads are back on the table, using a variation of this recipe. I dehydrated my sourdough starter (Celia’s method can be found here) back in July, but then discovered that one very kind sir kept my fridge dwelling starter, Sorella, alive, replenishing her each week while visiting to feed my other animals.

Sourdough loaves, one for now, one for the freezer
Sourdough loaves, one for now, one for the freezer.

Home made food tastes glorious, modest yet satisfying and comforting, filling that yearning for more olive oil and cheese that is missing in most Asian diets. And then there’s the wine- beautiful Australian and New Zealand wines at an affordable price. The Spring garden is neglected, with only leeks, celery and herbs ready for picking, while our hens keep pumping out eggs, now far too many for our own needs. It is with these modest supplies and a well stocked pantry of basics ( lentils, rice, pasta, dried beans, olive oil, cheese) that we can eat well for very little.

A garden full of leeks.
A garden full of leeks.

My budget dishes this week included a Flamiche, a leek based quiche, enabling me to make a dent in the leek and egg bounty.  A leek and potato Vichyssoise for the export market (my mother), a lentil shepherd’s pie with Kumara mash, (my $1 per person comfort food), a salad of baked pumpkin with haloumi, the pumpkins left over from last Autumn’s harvest screaming to be used. Haloumi can be picked up in 1 kilo jars at Bas foods for around $10, another pantry/fridge essential for a quick salad. A purchase of 400 grs of Dory fish fillets was stretched over three meals: 200 gr went into a Vietnamese caramel claypot, (still trying to perfect this method of cooking), 100 gr accompanied some fresh mussels in a Pasta Marinara, and the last 100gr added more flavour to a Balinese nasi goreng ikan.

Haloumi and Pumpkin Salad

  • a generous chunk of Kent pumpkin, cut into 5 cm cubes
  • haloumi cheese
  • olive oil
  • salad leaves
  • 1 small cucumber
  • EV olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Toss the pumpkin cubes in a little olive oil, season, then bake for around 20 minutes, stirring or turning over once during cooking.  I often bake extra to stash in the fridge for a pumpkin risotto or a pumpkin and caramelised onion pasta or topping for a foccaccia. Cool the pumpkin.
  2. Cut the Haloumi into strips and fry in olive oil until golden on both sides.
  3. Refresh chosen salad leaves and dry.  Cut the cucumber into long thin edges. Toss the leaves and cucumber in a bowl with salt flakes, a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  4. Plate the leaves, cover with baked pumpkin cubes, and haloumi strips. Add ground pepper and another drizzle of oil.

    Haloumi and baked pumpkin salad
    Haloumi and baked pumpkin salad

Nasi Goreng Ikan ( Fried rice with fish, Indonesian style)

I became quite fond of this simple dish and ordered it often in a little Balinese Warung by the sea. My version includes some sliced fresh turmeric, as I believe all the healthy hype surrounding this little tuber, despite my general cynicism regarding supposed ‘superfoods’. The Balinese always colour their seafood nasi with red, simply using tomato ketchup from a bottle. I used some bottled tomato passata. The choice is yours- use what’s on hand.

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Nasi Goreng Ikan Recipe- serves 2-3.

Ingredients

  • left over steamed white rice, cooled. (one cup of uncooked rice will make a large nasi goreng for two or three)
  • a little neutral flavoured oil, not olive oil
  • one fish fillet (100g or so) of boneless fish, for example Dory, chopped into small 2 cm chunks.
  • 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 small purple shallots, chopped.
  • a small finger of fresh turmeric, scrubbed, finely sliced or grated
  • a small knob of ginger, finely chopped or grated
  • 2 small kaffir lime leaves, centre vein removed, shredded
  • 1/2 red capsicum, finely sliced or 1/2 cup grated carrot
  • 1 small birds eye chilli, finely sliced (optional)
  •  some greens, for example, 1 cup of finely shredded cabbage or wombok
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 Tbs tomato passata or tomato ketchup
  • 1 Tbs  ketchap manis
  • lime wedges to serve
  1. Heat the wok on a strong, high gas flame, add  two or so dessertspoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the aromatics- garlic, ginger, shallot, turmeric, chilli, and kaffir leaves. Stir and toss for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the fish, toss about until opaque, then add the capsicum and cabbage.
  3. Add the rice, breaking up large clumps with your hands, then stir fry the rice through the vegetables, tossing well as you go and colouring all the rice.
  4. Add the sauces, toss further, then season with pepper.
  5. Serve with lime wedges.
xx
A simple lunch. Nasi Goreng with fish

A nasi goreng has a wetter, denser consistency than its Chinese cousins.

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Nasi Goreng Ikan

Thanks Peter, from Tropical Bliss B & B, for the delivery of fresh turmeric from your northern paradise.

Celia’s Inspiration. Sourdough Bread Diaries.

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Angels of the morning

Since taking up sourdough bread making around two years ago, after Celia sent me some sourdough starter, I have rarely bought bread. It’s not just about economy, though good loaves do seem to cost an arm and a leg these days, but more about the flavour and satisfaction, as well as the ability to adjust the bread’s composition to suit your own needs. I usually make a linseed studded loaf as I find that grain very beneficial to my gut, making the bread much nicer to eat. I also prefer a bread with a proportion of wholemeal added, at least up to one quarter of the total, as it gives a nuttier flavour. On the weekends I often make flavoured yeasted breads, Pani Festivi, such as rosemary, walnut or cheese bread. This weekend’s version, a pumpkin and fetta loaf was tasty but a little challenging to make. It was cakey and soothing and went well with the rainy weather.

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Pumpkin and fetta bread. A Sunday yeasted loaf

I love the days when Celia, my/ our/your sourdough mentor and home village baker extraordinaire, puts out another bready post. Her recent addition, “A New Overnight Sourdough Tutorial – High Hydration Loaf” is a must read for those who need some revision, or inspiration, or a new approach. The instructions come with step by step pictures and videos so really, any one can make a beautiful loaf, if you already have some starter.

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A few more loaves for the freezer.

These two loaves were made this morning after following Celia’s method. As I don’t have an enamel roaster, as mentioned in her post, I used a cast iron enamel Le Creuset style pot for the round loaf and a preheated metal tray for the long loaf. The loaf cooked in the enamel pot required further browning, removed from the pot, for a further 10 minutes after baking, as recommended. The open baked loaf was ready to pull out after 40 minutes. This bread has a very open texture. The one cooked on the tray has a firmer crust. Do not be tempted to cut them open until properly cold! You must resist.

Morning Madness
Morning Madness, Flour and Mess.

I am now keen to invest in some of these enamel roasters- they are lightweight, will probably heat faster than the cast iron pot, and make my early morning madness even sweeter.

Grazie Mille Celia for your continual inspiration

Sourdough Finnish Seed Loaf.

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My favourite sourdough- the Finnish Craig

Witness any form of artisanal kitchen production and watch magic happen. Observe the alchemy as flour, salt and water combine to make a nutritious sourdough loaf of bread, or the curdling and contraction of milk as it transforms into yoghurt, or the brining and pickling of vegetables as they take on another life in a jar, or the magic of egg white adding lightness and air to transform a cake, the stretching of handmade pasta into semi transparent golden sheets, the witch like brewing of a soulful soup or stock. Cooking is an enormously satisfying and creative activity, effectively chasing away heavy heartedness or mind numbing introspection. Yes, baking is the best form of therapy. Trite but true. Out damn spot, there’s knocking at the gate, to bread, to bread!

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Finnish Sourdough

Today’s wonderful Finnish Sourdough bread is based on a recipe I received two years ago from Craig, a gifted baker who used to bake the beautiful loaves in St Andrews Bakery before moving up north to Newcastle. He learnt his craft in San Francisco, and was taught this particular loaf by a German baker. I call this loaf The Finnish Craig, after Craig, who taught it to me. It takes on a deep colour from the molasses, remains fresh and moist for days and I am able to digest this bread more easily than its plainer cousins, probably due to the high moisture content. Flax seeds are also high in Omega 3 fatty acids and must be soaked, as should all seeds, before adding to bread. Craig’s original recipe calls for a proportion of rye flour in the mix. Recently I ran out of rye flour and substituted the equivalent quantity of Bakers white flour. I am now happy with this combination at half white and half wholemeal. If you wish to stick to the original recipe, the flour proportions are 144 g Rye flour and 144 g white bakers flour, to 288 g wholemeal flour.

Warning- it is a very wet mix, requiring flouring well when hand shaping for the final rise. The bread is mixed in a stand mixer on low.

The Finnish Craig

  • 288 g white bakers flour*
  • 288 g wholemeal flour
  • 365 g water
  • 173 g starter (at 100% hydration)
  • 60 g molasses
  • 18 g salt
  • 140 g flaxseed
  • 154 g water to soak flaxseed

Combine the flaxseed and water ( last quantity mentioned)  to soak the flax for 30- 60 minutes before commencing the bread.

Add water to starter and molasses. Add the flours then mix on low-speed for 3-4 minutes. Rest for 15 minutes.

Add salt and mix for 1 minute. Then add the flaxseed and soaking liquid and mix for 3-4 minutes.

Turn out and leave to prove, well covered, for 4-6 hours depending on the weather. ( I usually prove all my dough overnight in the fridge for 8 or more hours. If you do a long fridge prove, make sure that the room is warm when you bring it out. One way to hasten it back to room temperature is to transfer the cold dough into a clean, less frigid bowl.)

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and shape into batards or other shapes. Prove, well covered, for around 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 230º C. Place the loaves on a baking stone or onto trays lined with baking paper, slash well and spray with a water mist as they enter the oven. Bake in a pre heated oven at 230º C for 20 minutes, then reduce to 175º C for a further 20 minutes. Cool on racks.

The Finn in profile.
The Finnish Craig in profile.

* Bakers flour or bread flour has more protein content than all purpose or plain flour which helps with gluten development. Baker’s flour has around 13% protein. I use Manildra Bakers Flour which comes in 12.5 kilo packets at around $15.00 from Bas Foods in Brunswick, Victoria.

Andrea’s First Loaf

Before Christmas, and encouraged by Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, my bread making mentor, I sent out some packets of dehydrated sourdough starter. A few weeks ago I received a photo from Andrea, who had stashed her starter in the fridge until March, when she began making sourdough. Here is her first loaf. Congratulations Andrea.

First sourdough loaf made by Andrea. Andrea was kind enough to send a photo of her first loaf. Andrea named her starter Corinna, after the baker in the detective series by Kerry Greenwood. Corinna is the daughter of  my starter, Sorella and granddaughter of Priscilla, Celia’s now world-famous starter.