Have you ever eaten something wonderful at a restaurant, determined to replicate the same dish at home? After enjoying the two course lunch special at Cecconi’s cellar bar earlier this week, I inquired about the dessert of the day, hoping that it would be something wintry and old-fashioned. Oh happy day, the dolce del giorno was a wedge of apple, walnut and cinnamon cake, comforting and grandmotherly, jazzed up with modern restaurant toppings, including cinnamon ice cream, tiny cubes of apple jelly and something crunchy, perhaps a disc of meringue. No photo was taken: greed intervened long before any thoughts of pics entered my mind. It was good.
My version is close enough to Cecconi’s torta, without the flash toppings. A little dusting of icing sugar is enough but a dollop of Frangelico infused mascarpone goes well too. The cake morphs into a simple dessert when warmed and served with custard or ice cream. Hideous winter begone with a little warm pudding.
Torta di Mele, Noce e Cannella. Apple, Walnut and Cinnamon cake.
200 gr butter
250 gr caster sugar
300 gr plain flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
100 gr chopped walnuts
500 gr apples, peeled, cored, finely diced
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 20 cm square tin. Dust with flour or line with parchment if you prefer.
Cream butter and sugar well then add eggs, one at a time, and beat until creamy.
Mix together the flour, cinnamon and baking powder then add to the batter.
Fold in the walnuts and apples. Place in the prepared baking tin, ( it will be a stiff batter), smoothing the top, then bake for 60 minutes. Rest before turning onto a wire rack.
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 hilariousMondegreen* 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
The Finnish Rye Loaf, recipe courtesy of Craig Gardiner, baker extraordinario.
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.
140g flaxseed ( linseed)
154g water to soak flaxseed.
Mixing the Dough
Begin by soaking the flaxseed in the soaking water for at least 30 minutes in the water. ( last two ingredients on list above)
Put the starter, water and molasses together in a large mixing bowl.
Add the flours and bring the dough together by hand.
Cover the dough and leave for 15 minutes.
Add the salt, mix through the dough and let stand for 1 minute or so.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
* 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.
Christmas is at my place this year and there’s no getting out of it, after successfully hand-balling the event to my niece last year. The good thing about rotating the venue is that you get to go insane only once in every four or five years. In the off years, it’s easy street, making a plate or two to take along to someone else’s Christmas nightmare, although there might be a long drive involved and a discussion about who will be the DD ( Designated Driver) for the day. The pre-Christmas heeby-jeebies involve gutting fridges to create more space, re-arranging furniture to house enough tables for 30 guests, counting cutlery, glasses, plates, chairs, and lots of cleaning. Then there’s calling in the window man, procrastinating by writing blogs, and having the occasional terse conversation with the relaxed one, Mr T.
Inside or outside, that is the question. For those readers living in the Northern Hemisphere, your weather is predictably cold. Here in Melbourne, we can enjoy four seasons in one day. There could be a tropical storm, starting with humid weather, followed by 150 mm of torrential rain, or a heat wave of over 40ºc (104ºF), accompanied by wind gusts of over 60 kmh. It could also be freezing cold, with horizontal winds carrying ice straight from Antarctica. That’s Melbourne for you. We will be inside!
I have trialled a few recipes along the way and stashed finger foods in the freezer. These vegetarian sausage rolls will come out on Christmas Eve if they haven’t been eaten beforehand.
Stashing slabs of pre-cooked pizza makes things easy for those summer nights when I can’t be bothered cooking. My new approach to sourdough bread- making is to make one kilo of dough, using 500 g for a loaf of bread, and the remaining 500 g for a tray of Roman style pizza to freeze. I pull some out of the freezer, let it defrost on the bench, dress it with whatever’s on hand and pop into a hot oven for 5-10 minutes or until the topping is cooked.
I purchased this huge baking tray for bake ahead pizze. It sells as a Baklava tray, and comes from Bas foods in Brunswick. This will be the perfect size for a monster Pissaladiere.
I learnt sourdough breadmaking when Celia sent me some of her starter 18 months ago. She has an excellent and very simple on-line tutorial to follow. Are you ready to give it a go? I have prepared some packets of dried sourdough starter to send out to anyone who would like some. My current sourdough starter, Sorella, is a clone of Celia’s Priscilla, and a very reliable starter she is too. The dried starter wakes up very easily and comes with a list of instructions. If you would like a packet, leave a comment below and I will send you some. You can stash this starter in your fridge until you have a quiet moment.
I plan to make more of these Cuddureddi Siciliani biscuits one week before Christmas. They keep really well for a few weeks and the last batch I made seemed to get better with age. A small cellophane pack of them would make a great gift too. Recipe here.
I will serve them on this lovely plate given to me by Barnadi a few years ago, which only comes out for birthdays and Christmas. It reminds me of some antique Dutch willow pattern plates I bought in Solo, Java many years ago. Barnadi must have known as this one is the same colour.
And finally, a big round of applause to Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, who has hosted this monthly event for the last five years. Celia is passing the baton to Maureen http://www.orgasmicchef.com/ who will do an excellent job, I am sure. But don’t worry, Celia will still be around. Thank you Celia for your support, friendship, inspiration, mentoring and generosity as host of this incredible community. I joined IMK exactly two years ago and have enjoyed every single month- writing, choosing stuff, and reading the posts of other like-minded souls. I have learnt to make sourdough bread, found out about gadgets, enamel ware, baking paraphernalia and sources of ingredients. I have also learnt more about blogging, connecting, reciprocating, waking up early, and mindfulness too. Thank you my friend.
They assure me that Spring has arrived. The nectarine tree is in full blossom, and there are signs of new energy in the vegetable garden. But I’m not so sure, it still feels quite wintery to me. The fires are going, a big pot of barley soup bubbles on the stove, made just for Noah.
This jam filled oat slice is a sweet winter warmer and made in memory of Selma. It was going to be a loaf of bread, in line with the many sourdough tributes baked in loving memory of Selma, but then I noticed this easy jammy slice, posted last May on her blog. If you didn’t make it back then, I can recommend this slice for ease of preparation, taste, and for the excellent and very clear instructions.
My adaptations included substituting blackberry jam for the sour cherry jam, and desiccated coconut for shredded. You could use any jam that needs using up. I can’t wait for the littlies to walk in the door and see how they go.
Recently I found a Romertopf baking dish at an op shop (thrift store) for the princely sum of $4.00. These turn up frequently in second-hand stores. They have become obsolete in many households due to the popularity of electric slow cookers. But not for the bread maker. Snap them up!
Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, inspired me to purchase one. The Romertopf baker enables a high rise, moist loaf, to be made with a fairly hydrated sourdough mix. Don’t ask me about the level of hydration here- I am not that technical, yet.
Starter, 300g , bubbly and ripe, (read Celia’s starter notes)
bakers white flour 500g
wholemeal flour 200g
rye flour 100g
water 610 g
Total flour weight 800g
Place the starter in a large mixing bowl, add the other dry ingredients, then add the water bit by bit, mixing by hand until there is a sticky dough and all the dry has been incorporated into the wet. You could also use a wooden spoon.
Let this sticky dough rest in a large bowl for 30 minutes or so.
Attempt to lift, stretch and fold the dough in the bowl. As it was fairly wet and this was a bit tricky, I tipped the lot into a stand mixer and gave it a slow knead with the dough hook for 3 minutes. The dough was wet but silky.
It then proved in a large oiled bowl, initially for 4 hours ( winter evening). As it wasn’t ready for late evening baking, I put it in the fridge overnight to slowly prove (7 more hours).
The dough was ready at 6 Am. I then shaped the loaf on a floured board for a final prove, around 1 hour.
As it was growing sideways, and looking ridiculous, I tipped the lot into a Romertopf earthenware baking dish. This had been pre- soaked in warm water, then lined with baking paper. The top was slashed, the lid went on.
The loaf started in a cold oven turned to 220c , for 25 minutes, then 20 minutes with the lid off, then 10 minutes at 175c. The fan was on throughout.
Result. One huge family style loaf, good for sandwiches and general purpose eating. Everyone loves it- it’s disappearing quickly. The Romertopf method gives the crust a golden glow.
very moist loaf, open crumb, golden crust, not as sour as I would like it, though sour notes improved on second day. Will do this again, and increase the rye, or introduce spelt.
A great family loaf, huge in size and a good keeper. Next time, I won’t use the mixer. In summer, I might attempt the whole rise in the fridge over a longer period.
In a discussion with a gifted baker, Craig, I seem to recall his comments about slow proving and that modern bread may be causing digestion problems due to over yeasting and fast proving. I must explore slow proving further.
Grazie Mille to Celia for introducing me to the Romertopf method.
Over the last year, the St Andrews Bakery was blessed with a gifted baker. His Finnish flaxseed rye sourdough loaf was ‘to die for’. I would buy a few loaves to freeze each week and was surprised how moist they remained once sliced open. He had studied bread making at the San Francisco Baking Institute and worked in that fine town for 12 years, before returning to Melbourne, and then to the famous authentic wood fired bakery of St Andrews. He left around last March, to pursue other fields or bakeries, and now I am left with a gaping need for his flaxseed sourdough bread. Come back here young man!
Enter Celia to the rescue with her excellent tutorials on sourdough bread making. After reading various articles about flaxseed ( linseed) I decided to incorporate it into a basic sourdough loaf with 30% wholemeal and 70% baker’s white flours.
On the morning of baking, add the following to a large bowl:
150g ripe starter
25 g olive oil
170 g wholemeal flour
330 g baker’s white flour
10 g salt
Mix roughly to combine, then add the soaked ingredients and mix again with your hands.
Proceed with Celia’s instructions re short kneading, proving, shaping, second proving and baking.
Notes. If the dough is a little moist at the first kneading stage, add a bit more flour to the mix. Only your hands can tell.
Verdict. Very tasty, my favourite to date. Still eating well two days after. Next time, the same recipe but with rye flour and more flax seeds. Or maybe I’ll try ground flax seed as well.
A little quote regarding the soaking of flaxseeds – “By soaking, enzyme inhibitors are neutralized, the beneficial enzymes are activated and the vitamin content increases. Soaking makes seeds, nuts and legumes easier to digest and the nutrients more easily absorbed.”
Limes seem to be everywhere this season. Strangely, they have become more prolific and cheaper than lemons. My garden lime trees are thriving, with fruit and further flowers in abundance. This glut calls for a lime syrup cake.
Although a Neil Perry recipe, chef extraordinaire, this cake is delightfully easy to make. No fancy procedure, you can mix it in a bowl by hand or with a stand mixer. All you need is an abundant lime supply and a few other pantry staples.
This cake was made for the ‘export market’ and so it was ‘tarted up’ on the board with a few winter flowers and a liberal dusting of icing sugar. It is dense, moist cake with a sweet/sour/tropical flavour.
350 g caster sugar
300 g self- raising flour
90 g desiccated coconut
zest of 1 lime
250 g unsalted butter, melted
1 cup milk.
For the syrup
225 g castor sugar
zest of 1 lime
juice of 5 limes.
Preheat oven to 180c. Lightly grease a 19 cm square cake tin. Line the base and sides with baking paper that extends 2 cm above the sides. Sift together the sugar and flour and mix with the coconut and lime zest in a bowl. Stir in the butter. Combine the eggs and milk and add to the bowl. Mix until smooth. ( by hand or briefly in the mixer)Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake on a tray for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out completely dry. If the top of the cake starts to brown before it is baked through, cover with some foil and continue cooking.
Meanwhile make the syrup. Put the sugar and 185 ml of water in a heavy based saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add the lime zest and juice, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for 8 minutes. Strain.
Remove the cake from the oven and use a skewer to poke a few holes evenly over the cake. Slowly pour the hot syrup over the cake. Let it stand for about 20 minutes or until the syrup has soaked into the cake, then turn it onto a wire rack lined with baking paper and allow to cool.
To serve, simply slice or serve with cream or fresh fruit salad.
Leah from The Cookbook Guru is taking a look at Neil Perry’s cookbook, ‘The Food I love‘ this month. This recipe may be found on p 404 of that book.