How to make Allotment Focaccia

As many of you may have noticed, I’ve been a little less prevalent in posting recently. The allotment has had to take a back seat as plans for the community supported bakery, and baking itself, have had to take precedent. Fortunately, the weather and season has offered me the excuse to put the allotment into hibernation with only a little guilt that I should be tending, clearing or digging. Plot 4 has been a critical part of my ongoing recovery and a place of safety from the Black Dog of depression, but as I move on, baking has joined it in providing me with the chance to be mindful. This recipe is therfore an important one to me; combining, as it does, two therapeutic activities and experiences in one food.

The great thing about having an allotment is having a range of herbs and crops that cna be used in all your cooking. My little garden at home, with a small herb planter, can’t sustain the constant use of a family, but the plot’s herb garden can. So, the herbs for this bread come from the plot; picked on a beautiful spring morning, their fragrance is brought to life topping this traditional hearth bread.

You will need
500g strong white flour
7g salt (plus more flaked sea salt to sprinkle on top of the finished bread)
7g dried yeast
60ml olive oil (plus more to  work the dough and drizzle on top of the finished bread)
310ml warm water
Your choice of herbs to top the bread with (I used marjoram and some chopped rosemary)

Start by mixing all the ingredients (minus the herbs) together to form a rough dough. Continue to knead the dough until it becomes smooth; using a little olive oil on the worksurface can help to stop the dough sticking, and help you to achieve the silken finish you’re looking for. The kneading will take about 10 minutes, after which you should form the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to ferment for a couple of hours.

After 120 minutes, take the dough out of the bowl, lay it flat, and fold it over on itself. Place back in the bowl for a further half an hour. Meanwhile oil a tray a 40×30 tray, then take the doughwith oiled hands and stretch it to fill the tray. Scatter your chosen herbs over the top and massage into the dough, making dimples usiny your fingers. Pour a little more oil over the dough and leave to prove for an hour or so. Bake in a hot oven (230°C) for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool a bit before taking off the tray and cutting into portions.

 

I topped this focaccia with simple herbs; but the beauty of this bread is that onions, potatoes, courgettes, even peppers, would work equally well. It really is a bread for the allotment.

A Sussex Allotmenteer’s Lunch

The Ploughman’s lunch is a British classic, and appears in many guises on the menus of pubs and cafes across the country. Whether it is steeped in tradition is debateable, but there is no doubt that the combination of bread, cheese, chutney and pickles is a winner. Teamed with a pint in a sunny pub garden, there is little better to consume on a spring lunchtime. So, when looking for something to take to the allotment for lunch, I often end up creating something Ploughman’s like. It is a real favourite of mine.

Merrydown cider recently gave me a couple of bottles and invited me to create a Ploughman’s as part of a Sussex food blogger challenge; so ever eager to promote local ingredients, I created this Sussex version of the classic. I prefer a cheese ploughman’s, so a bit of the wonderful Sussex Charmer is a must. Produced by Bookham Harrison farm, it combines recipes for farmhouse cheddar and parmesan to produce a creamy cheese with a bit of punch.

In terms of a bread, it has to be a crunchy loaf with a good crumb. I’ve long wanted to make a bread using cider, so used some Merrydown as the liquid in a loaf which combines wheat and rye flour. Based on a Richard Bertinet recipe, the result is perfect teamed with the strong flavours of the cheese and chutney.

cider bread

Cider Bread

You will need (makes one large loaf)

Pre-ferment
100g strong white flour
25g light rye flour
2g yeast
2g salt
90g water
Main bread mix
3g yeast
250g strong white flour
5g salt
150g good cider (I used Merrydown)
Start by making your pre-ferment by combining the ingredients together, kneading a little, then leaving for 6 hours or so. This helps to give a mature flavour to the bread. After this initial ferment; mix with the remaining ingredients and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and place it back into a bowl, cover with a tea towel or plastic and leave to prove for a further 45-60 minutes.
When the dough has proved for nearly an hour, remove from the bowl and shape into a batard. I placed mine in a banneton, but a floured tea towel would be fine. Cover and leave to prove for 1 and half hours, or until the loaf has nearly doubled in volume. To bake, turn the loaf onto peel (or the floured back of a baking tray), spray the inside of the oven with water, and then slide the loaves onto a preheated (240°C) baking stone or tray. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C, and bake for about 35 minutes until well coloured. The loaf should be hollow in sound when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

Apple & Cider Chutney

You will need (makes one large jar)

100g sultanas
1 pint cider (I used Merrydown Sussex Cider)
4 eating apples, peeled and chopped (there are lots of great varieties from Sussex, with my friends at Brighton Pemaculture Trust working hard to preserve them).
3 onions, finely chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 star anise

Start by soaking the sultanas in the cider overnight. In the morning, place the spices into a muslin bag and secure tightly. Put all the ingredients, including the sultanas with cider, into a large heavy based pan and bring to the boil. Turn down and simmer for a couple of hours, until the mixture achieves a sticky chutney consistency and the surplus watery liquid has evaporated. Whilst still hot put into sterilised jar and allow to cool.

 

How to make Pizza Bianca Brassica

how to make pizza bianca brassicaPizza is undoubtedly one of my favourite foods and a sure fire winner with the kids too. There are so many possible things to top it with, but almost always they include the addition of a tomato sauce on the base. I do love this classic pizza, but I’ve recently discovered the pizza bianca; a pizza with no tomato. Somehow the lack of the tomato allows you to really appreciate the flavours of the pizza topping fully.

Brassicas are not the first port of call for the home pizza chef, but they offer a great alternative to the usual topping fayre. Cooked down with onions and garlic they create an unctiuous sweet and iron rich base on which to place your chosen cheese.

You will need (makes 6 small pizzas)

For the pizza base

3g dried yeast
150ml warm water
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping

A glug of olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
350g of spring greens, kale, cavolo nero or other brassica leaves (stalks removed)
75g mature cheddar, grated
75g mozarella
Salt and black pepper

Mix all the pizza ingredients together to form a dough. Continue to knead until the dough becomes more silken and springy. It’s impossble to say how long this could take, but after six or seven minutes you should be pretty much there. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm or a damp teatowel.  Leave to prove for an hour or so, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Whilst the dough proves, finely slice a couple of onions and a large clove of garlic, and slowly cook in a little oil until it is wonderfuly soft and transulcent. When the onions are done, add the finely shredded greens, allowing them to soften and combine with the sweet allium mix. Take the dough, divide it into 6, shape into balls, then roll out on a floured surface to about the thickness of a pound coin.

I find that pizzas in a home oven benefit from being placed onto a hot baking sheet. I use a piece of floured plywood to peel the pizza in to the oven and onto a preheated baking tray (set your oven to hot, as hot as it goes). The additional heat from below helps to ensure the crisp bottom required of a decent pizza, and aids the speedy baking of the dough. So, spread each pizza with the onion, garlic, brassica mix, then top with the two cheeses. Bake for 7-8 minutes until they are crisp and golden.

A Year Is A Long Time

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The  eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that at the start of this month, this blog was a year old. Amazingly, I have been writing down my musings on life, the allotment and our kitchen for a full twelve month period. What’s more people seem to be interested in what I write. It has been a truly humbling experience to read the comments that many of you have left.

I started the blog as a way of documenting aspects of my life as I made a big change in my life. A year ago I was preparing for the beginning of the school term knowing that it was the first time in 15 years that I would not be greeting a new class and getting to grips with 30 new names. Instead I was preparing for the start of my children’s school year and the school run every morning and afternoon. During the period I had had off work sick, the allotment and my kitchen had provided me with some solace and I hoped that sharing some of this with the world may help me in my recovery from depression and anxiety. A year on I am undoubtedly in a better place. I still have low days (weeks occasionally) and can be easily irritated by the most simple of things; but the crippling anxious fear and overwhelming sadness I faced last year has subsided. To some extent this is due in part to the blog and the fact that I made the decision to be open about how I was feeling. Its meant I have accepted how I felt, and many people have commented about similar feelings, as well as offering support.

Having time-out from working, and perhaps most significantly, time-in with the family, has enabled me to re-evaluate what I want from life. I realised that I need to spend time on my own more, I need to socialise more, I need to be creative, I need to cook…..the list goes on. Over the year I’ve had the chance to work out what I want to do, and how it may allow me to have a happier life. So, this September I’m starting another chapter of my life. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be launching into the world of work again. This time, not as a teacher, but as a baker. Baking bread has been  real therapy for me; the slow, physical, process of baking real bread is a really mindful act and I want to share that with others.  I’m going to start baking; initially on my own, but with the idea of establishing a Community Bakery project, where people can come together and bake for the local community.

Its a bit of a change, but one that excites me, and (if you knew how I felt a year or so ago) being excited about something is a big step.

Courgette Sourdough Bruschetta

courgette sourdough bruschettaAs its Zero Waste Week, I thought I should post a quick recipe to use up the last slice or so of the loaf. I’ve been making more bread recently and we frequently end up with a few slices worth being left a little too long to be used for a sarnie. Real bread, that which is made of the simplest of ingredients, tends to not go mouldy, instead going stale first. This leads to it being perfect for a range of different uses as toast. One of my favourite at the moment is bruschetta. A great way to use up vegetables, as well as the bread. We’ve got a few courgettes still, so I used one to top my slice or two of leftover sourdough.

You will need (a snack for one)
2 slices of bread – I used sourdough, but any good bread would work.
1/2 clove garlic
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 courgette
A little red chilli (finely chopped)
1 tsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper

Use a speed peeler to cut the courgette into long ribbons. Place the ribbons on a hot griddle and cook for a minute or so on each side, until they star to have charring on the courgette. Remove them from the griddle and place them in a bowl with the lemon juice, chilli, a little salt and pepper, and almost all of the oil. Allow the courgettes to absorb the flavours, whilst you toast the bread. When the toast is done, rub it with the garlic, drizzle a little oil on it, and top with the courgettes mix.

How to Make Fougasse

Originally cooked in the ashes of the hearth, and typical of Province, Fougasse is a marvellous bread to eat. It’s pretty simple to make too; combining olive oil with flour, yeast and salt. Traditionally the Fougasse was a flatbread made to check the temperature of the wood fired oven; the time taken for the bread to bake indicated how hot the oven was. That said, it doesn’t need to be cooked in a wood fired oven; a really hot traditional domestic oven is fine.

Fougasse

Fougasse is a great vehicle for flavours, and the allotment is good at providing them at the moment. The red onions, which have been busy swelling over the last few months, are dried and ready to be used; and the woody herbs at the plot are all looking lush and fragrant. So, to combine the flavours of rosemary and red onion, or marjoram and sea salt, makes sense to me. I always think if they grow together (the rosemary and onions look at each other over the allotment path), then they probably will work together in food.

You will need (makes 8)
1kg strong white flour
100g refreshed sourdough starter (this is optional, but adds a depth of flavour)
625ml warm water
100ml olive oil
10g dry yeast
15g salt

For the flavourings
1 red onion, finely sliced and fried until soft and succulent
1tsp. chopped rosemary
1tbsp. torn marjoram leaves
2tsp. sea salt

Mix all the ingredients into a loose dough, then leave to stand for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the water and for gluten strands to begin to develop. Tip the mix onto a work surface, before kneading the dough until the dough comes off the work surface and has lost some of its stickiness. The dough will be sticky, but try not to add any extra flour; your bread will benefit from it if you don’t. Form the dough into a ball, place an oiled plastic sheet over it and leave for 90 minutes to 2 hours to ferment. Tip onto an oiled surface and stretch and fold the dough. Let it rest, covered once more, for a further half hour, the portion into 200g pieces. If including flavourings in the dough, flatten each piece and place a small amount of flavouring (cooked onion and finely chopped rosemary in my case), fold the dough over the filling and ball them up to rest again for a further 10 minutes. Roll out the balls of dough into rough triangular shapes. At this point you can add any toppings you want, gently pushing them into the dough with your fingers. Dust each triangle with flour, then use a sharp knife to cut slashes through the dough. Start with a slash down the middle, followed by diagonal slashes on each side of the centre to form a leaf-like effect. Carefully open the holes a little, stretching the dough as you do, before sliding onto a lined baking tray and baking in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

Recipe inspired by those of Community Chef and Emmanuel Hadjiandrou.

fougasse

 

 

How to Make Your Own Bagels

I love bagels and really enjoy making them. Friends and fellow Brighton bloggers, Little Button Diaries, also like bagels and after having some I’d made the other week, they asked me to write a guest post for them. So if you fancy finding out how to make bagels, check out the post I wrote for them below.

How to make Bagels
One of my favourite lunches is a pastrami bagel. I love the peppery pastrami and acidic dill pickle within the dense white bread. […]

How do you like your bagels? Are you a sesame, poppy seed or plain bagel kind of person?

 

 

 

 

 

This post is submitted to Cook Blog Share

Bread of Life

Confidence is a strange thing isn’t it? I’ve always been a quietly confident person, someone who had self belief and could adapt and be flexible when needed. Since getting depression, things have really changed. I no longer feel that I’m that person, I no longer back myself in a situation.

Strangely, cooking, and in particular working with bread, is something that I’ve come to feel a growing sense of confidence in. Bread is a forgiving thing; physically its responsive, it can be moulded, plied, kneaded. It is also such a simple thing; at its basic level it is only four ingredients. The act of making and kneading the dough, giving it time, and baking it to produce a fresh loaf is a miraculous thing. Fresh bread is nearly always appreciated by people too. It makes the person who eats it feel good, which makes you feel good, and feeling good about yourself is what confidence is all about. Without an inward belief it’s hard to project that to the outside world. You may act confident, but a lack of self-belief will show through. Working with food is helping me to bring that inner confidence back. It takes knocks now and again, but its getting there.

 

 

 

Our Daily Bread

Bread is the lifeline of millions of people across the world, with 99% of UK households buying bread it is undoubtedly a integral part of our diet. On a basic level it’s a simple prepared food, and as such the basic ingredients haven’t changed in thousands of years. I love baking and I love the whole process of making a loaf; its a very mindful thing, offering time to think and allowing you to do something physical which has a satisfying end product.
challah
I’ve made bread on and off over the last few years, but recently I’ve been getting more in to it. Although not working at the very early times of commercial bakers, making and kneading the dough before the school run has become a good way for me to start the day. With the positive benefits of bread on my mental wellbeing in mind, I discovered Bread Club. It’s been set up by a community social enterprise run by Community Chef in nearby Lewes. The basic premise is that communities used to have their own bakeries and everyone had a relationship with the baker, the oven, the community bread; and this is something which we should reinvigorate. In addition, the mindful nature of bread making is something we can all benefit from. Bread Club in Lewes is a group of people who produce real bread for subscribers to the club, providing those who subscribe with weekly fresh, lovingly crafted bread.
measuring
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve started a course of bread making training with Bread Club and the Community Chef, with a view to developing a similar project in Hove. Though a stressful experience in many ways (I still find meeting new people a challenge); working with a small group of bread lovers, making bread and enjoying lunch, has been a highlight of my week. So far we’ve focused on the basics of bread and how the different variables can be controlled to get a great loaf, as well as developing an understanding of enriched doughs. We always leave holding bags bulging with warm bread, and I fill the train home with amazing bread aromas. I can’t wait until next week.

I’m dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!

BiB Food 2014