Clementine cake

Perfect for an afternoon tea as it’s gorgeous on its own, or it can be served as a dessert with a good quality vanilla ice cream or custard.

Notes

  • Use any small sweet, easy peeler citrus such as clementines, satsumas or mandarins
  • Takes about 1 hour in total – about 10-15 minutes preparation and 40-45 minutes baking
  • You can measure out the olive oil via a liquid scale (mls) or weigh it into a bowl (grams) – the result is the same
  • If you’re finding it tricky to zest the clementines (the smoother skin of smaller citrus can be difficult) replace with the zest of one large orange

Equipment

  • Two large bowls
  • Springform cake tin, 20 – 23cm in diameter, greased and lined with parchment
  • Scales, spatula, balloon whisk/mixer/electric hand whisk, measuring spoons and jugs

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 205g caster sugar
  • 205ml mild olive oil, such as Filippo Berio Classico
  • 205g Tipo 00 flour or plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • A pinch of fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla powder or extract
  • 40g ground almonds
  • Grated zest of four clementines
  • 2 tablespoons of clementine juice

Also… for the topping

  • Icing sugar
  • Extra clementines, peeled for decoration
  • Juice of two extra clementines

Method

  1. Prepare your baking tin by greasing and lining with baking parchment
  2. Set the oven to 180 ºC fan / 200 ºC conventional
  3. Separate the eggs into yolks and whites, putting the whites in one (very clean) bowl and the yolks in another
  4. Whisk up the egg whites until they are stiff peaks, whisk in one tablespoon of the caster sugar and the vanilla extract into the whites
  5. Add the remaining caster sugar to the yolks and whisk until it turns pale and increases in volume
  6. Add the flour, ground almonds, salt and baking powder to the sugar/yolk mixture and slowly whisk in until it is all combined and then mix in the olive oil plus the zest and juice
  7. Fold in the whites to this mixture, a third at a time until it is combined. Try to be gentle while mixing in – a figure of eight motion is useful or use a balloon whisk to ‘cut’ the whites in gently
  8. Pour the mix gently into the prepared tin
  9. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes until the sponge springs back when depressed lightly with your finger and/or a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake
  10. Leave to cool in the tin
  11. Decorate with icing sugar mixed with the extra clementine juice and poured over
  12. Once the icing is set (or nearly set) decorate with the peeled mandarins

Christmas breadstick stars

A play on my traditional grissini, tweaked into a festive shape and covered with any toppings you choose, though here I have used hemp seeds, poppy seeds and parmesan.

Notes

Use a fine milled flour, an 00 grade if possible such as Murino Molina from Bakery Bits (which is what I used here) or plain white flour or bread flour for brioche. At a pinch, any strong white bread flour will work if you can’t get a fine flour, but it won’t give you the ultimate crisp snap of a proper grissino.

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Stand mixer with dough hook attachment – if not kneading by hand
  • Pizza cutter, bread scraper or long sharp knife (non-serrated)
  • Baking trays, lined
  • Rolling pin
  • Pastry brush

Ingredients

  • 300g tipo 00, fine plain or other white flour (see notes above)
  • 4 g fast acting dried yeast
  • 2/3 teaspoon of fine salt
  • 4-5 turns of a pepper mill
  • 15mg olive oil
  • 195g tepid water
  • Added ingredients of your choice, but I used:
    • poppy seeds (1-2 tablespoons)
    • hemp seeds (1-2 tablespoons)
    • grated parmesan (about 10g)
  • An egg, whisked and used as a wash
  • Additional flour, for dusting the surface as required

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients together into a scruffy mess and leave for 10 minutes
  2. Tip out and knead for 8 – 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and glossy or mix it in your stand mixer
  3. Leave the dough to rest in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with a tea towel or cling film until about doubled in size (if using continental flour it is likely to just rise by about another 50% instead). This could be anything between 30 – 90 minutes depending on the ambient temperature
  4. In the meantime, grate the parmesan and ready your seeds/flavourings
  5. When the dough is ready, lightly flour a surface and use a rolling pin to roll the dough out into as precise a rectangle as possible (any wobbly sides will need to be trimmed off)
  6. Cut strips from the dough, each about 1 cm thick – cut along the short edge
  7. Have the paper-lined baking sheets to hand
  8. Roll each of the strips lightly, so they form tubes rather than ribbons. Try not to stretch them too much (it will be easy to roll them on a less floured surface)
  9. Form a five pointed star with each strip of dough and pinch the two edges together at an end point:

    #breadstick #star #inksugarspice
  10. Complete stars with all the dough
  11. Cover and leave to rise again – for about 20-30 minutes until puffed up (they probably won’t double in size)
  12. Set the oven on to 200C fan / 220C conventional
  13. Paint an egg wash on each of the dough stars and sprinkle (or grate!) your favoured toppings on. I did a third of the stars in poppy seeds, a third in hemp seeds and the final third with grated parmesan
  14. Bake for about 17-18 minutes until a nice golden colour (under the toppings)
  15. Turn off the oven and leave for a further 5 minutes so they are crisp with a nice ‘snap’ when cooled and ready to eat
  16. Wonderful dipped in a little butter, hummus, salsa or to scoop up fondue or baked camembert
breadstick stars Christmas recipe by Inksugarspice

Mini panettone

I love a panettone at Christmas, but sometimes those large ones are just too large. You need a lot of family and friends round to get through it before it goes stale. These little muffin-sized panettone (or more correctly, panettoncini) are sometimes a better option, are delightfully cute and are also great as little individual bake-and-share Christmas gifts.

What’s extra handy with these (although this does degrade their quality a little) is that they can be frozen and brought out of the freezer to defrost at room temperature for half a day/overnight. So you can bake a batch in advance and defrost a few at a time.

Notes

Bake in muffin cases, or proper panettoncini paper cases are available. I purchase mine from Bakery Bits (they also have the large cases).

Traditionally, the large, full-size panettone need to be cooled while being hung upside down (skewers are in seated across the base to hang it). This stops the domed top from deflating. You do NOT need to do this with the panettoncini: they can cool in their cases standing up.

This is a wet dough – you can knead it by hand successfully, but it is so very messy! Simpler to use a stand mixer or food processor for this.

Equipment

  • 10-12 cases (see notes)
  • Stand mixer or bread machine on dough setting ideally. Or large bowl
  • Bread scraper
  • Scales, measuring spoons, knife, pastry brush
  • Small jug or bowl
  • Baking tray
  • Tea towel/cloth

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon of dried, fast acting yeast
  • 80ml milk, warmed to body temperature
  • 400g Tipo 00 or plain flour (not bread flour)
  • 2 teaspoons of (a good quality) dark cocoa powder
  • 2 medium eggs
  • Seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod or 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla powder
  • 120g golden caster sugar or light brown sugar
  • 50g of softened unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon of fine salt
  • 180g water
  • 75g dark chocolate, cut into chunks
  • 75g pistachios
  • 3 tablespoons of honey
  • 40-50g pearl sugar

Method

  • Warm the milk to about body temperature and whisk the yeast gently into it. Leave for 10 minutes until it begins to froth
  • In a bowl (if you are hand kneading) or into your mixer bowl add: flour, cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, sugar, butter, salt and water and then also tip in the milk/yeast mixture
  • Knead for 10 minutes in your stand mixer until the dough becomes smooth and glossy and still very soft. (If kneading by hand, tip out on to a counter and work for about 14 minutes. It will be tough and messy going but it will eventually come together)
  • At this point add in the chocolate chunks and the pistachios
  • Leave in the bowl, covered with a clean tea towel, to rise for about 60-75 minutes. It will rise somewhere around half as much again (it won’t fully double in size)
  • After the dough has risen, liberally flour a work surface and tip the dough out in to it
  • Roll the dough out into a rectangle and (this isn’t strictly traditional but I find it works). Roughly about 40 x 70cm but it’s more important to get a standard thickness than a “correct” size. Roll the dough up using the longest edge into a long Swiss roll shape
  • Place all your panettoncini cases out on to a baking tray, so they’re ready
  • Chop the roll of dough into twelve or thirteen equal fat discs and gently roll each one into more of a ball shape. As a guide the dough pieces should be roughly 80g each
  • Lightly roll each piece into a ball and then pop it into a case, with the smoothest side upwards
  • Leave to rise for 20-30 minutes, covered with a clean cloth
  • While they are rising for the final time, turn the oven on to 200 C fan oven or 220C conventional oven
  • Bake for about 20-23 minutes. You can test with a skewer as you would with a cake
  • Leave to cool upright in the cases
  • Warm the honey (unless using a very runny honey)
  • Brush the tops of the panettoncini with the honey and sprinkle on the pearl sugar

One last thing, should you have any left over, panettone makes an awesome bread and butter-style dessert.

Eat positive: happy hormones and a fig focaccia recipe

Fig focaccia recipe by Ink SugarSpice

Two years ago (two years!! Blimey) I looked at analogue hobbies, that was all about putting down your device and doing something mindful and encompassing.

Lately, I’ve been reading extensively into the four ‘happy hormones’. These chemicals are neurotransmitters; chemicals that transmit messages from a neuron (typically but not always) across the brain to a target cell and directly affect our mood in a positive way. Conversely, a lull in the availability of these neurotransmitters can have detrimental effects on us. Although there are also some instances where an excess can be problematic too, in general it’s great for positive mental health to look to ‘activate’ or increase these four neurotransmitters.

These four are:

  • the “feel good” or “runner’s high” hormone: dopamine;
  • the “love” hormone: oxytocin;
  • the “happy” hormone: serotonin, and;
  • the “pain relief” hormone: endorphin

Of course I’m no expert whatsoever, but this is what I’ve gathered together on food/eating and “happy hormones”. At the end of this article I’ve included a recipe for a focaccia which includes many ingredients experts have identified as promoting or producing one or other of these hormones.

It is possible to identify activities, foods and more that encourage the production of these neurotransmitter chemicals. This can help us better understand what makes us happy, contented, relaxed and help us promote those positive feelings.

After each round of up the hormones, I’ve given links to more scholarly and in-depth articles so you can research more and read advice from experts.

Dopamine

Dopamine is produced in situations where we’ve rewarded ourselves, it makes us feel great and contented and is there in evolutionary terms to help us to repeat activities that are safe and enjoyable (and therefore stay away from things that would imply danger).

Dopamine triggers in circumstances such as being told we’ve been praised but interestingly also when we praise others. So, start spreading the joy and pass on a nice, genuine compliment (hopefully karma will ensure you receive similar in return). We feel dopamine’s effects when we indulge ourselves in some self care or ‘me time’ or treat ourselves with food. Listening to our favourite music or participating in a celebration of some sort also raises your dopamine levels. In short, it’s a chemical pat on the back.

No foods actually have dopamine, but foods do look for foods that are rich in an amino acid called l-tyrosine, which is crucial to the body’s functions that produce dopamine. Foods rich in l-tyrosine include:

  • Unprocessed meats and fish
  • Dairy foods
  • Nuts
  • Chocolate (specifically dark chocolate)
  • Eggs
  • Peas, beans and pulses of all kinds
  • Dark green vegetables (particularly the leafy ones)

Studies show that low dopamine may be associated with addiction, perhaps because the individual is always chasing that great feeling. Dopamine is also beginning to be linked with ADHD and Parkinson’s disease.

Links

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/basics/dopamine

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-dopamine-diet

https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/food-facts-food-and-mood.html

https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/information-and-support/what-causes-parkinsons

https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-neuroscience-101/

Fig focaccia bread recipe by InkSugarSpice

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is often described as the ‘love hormone’ as our bodies release it when we have those intimate, compassionate or empathetic moments. Although it is released during sex, it’s not all about that – think of the good feelings you get when spending time with your pet, bonding with your children (including apparently during childbirth to facilitate bonding and it also is brings on contractions), hugging a friend a walk in an oak forest on a sunny day. They’re all instances when oxytocin is released and you feel that rush of warmth and contentment.

There have been recent studies to research whether oxytocin can help those with anorexia and eating disorders/body dysmorphia and that it may help those with an autism spectrum disorder to overcome social anxiety.

No foods directly contribute to the production and release of oxytocin, however there is a food link: oxytocin can be produced when preparing food together, eating a family meal, going somewhere romantic to eat, sharing food and meals with children and enjoying a glass of something with your loved ones. All these situations help release oxytocin. So, if oxytocin be the food of love, play on!

Links

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5868755/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-26543427

Current findings on the role of oxytocin in the regulation of food intake – University of Birmingham

Oxytocin, feeding, and satiety – University of Edinburgh

https://www.nct.org.uk/labour-birth/your-guide-labour/hormones-labour-oxytocin-and-others-how-they-work

Serotonin

The mood stabilising or ‘happy hormone’. The relationship we have with the production of serotonin is mood regulation (including lowering anxiety), keeping to balanced sleeping patterns and feeling that sense of happiness.

You can easily boost your own serotonin levels but spending some time (safely) in the sun, getting some exercise, being meditative or, similar to oxytocin, getting our into nature and really appreciating it.

You can’t actually eat foods that directly affect serotonin levels but do find foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which has a direct correlation to oxytocin production (similar to the dopamine-L-tyrosine relationship).

Foods rich in tryptophan include:

  • honey
  • chicken and turkey
  • dairy produce
  • mushrooms
  • brassicas and legumes
  • figs, bananas and avocados
  • eggs
  • olives/olive oil
  • leafy green vegetables
  • sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • nuts

Links

Chichester Wellbeing Weight Loss

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/

Nottingham Trent University student guidance

https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/food-and-mood

Endorphin

This is the one that can have a euphoric effect, despite being only nicknamed the pain relief hormone.

Do you experience ASMR? Auto Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a very pleasing tingling effect starting on your scalp and moving down your neck, shoulders and into your back when one or more of your senses is triggered. Scientists are tentatively beginning to link the release of endorphins as a cause of these pleasant sensations in individuals (not everyone experiences ASMR).

Even if you don’t get ASMR, an increase in endorphin levels will make anyone feel great. It’s believed that they are the body’s response to help you manage pain and as a reward system when you do something good. Evolutionarily speaking, it soothes when times are difficult or stressful and encourages you to repeat positive experiences by linking them to a natural high.

Simple things can boost endorphin levels from having a good laugh, indulging in your favourites scents and smells, exercise and being kind to others (what a fabulous way! That’s a win:win situation) .

Foods that encourage the release of endorphins:

  • Chocolate – the darker the better
  • Wine, specifically red wine
  • Spicy foods

Links

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-increase-endorphins

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320839

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-athletes-way/201709/one-surefire-way-release-endorphins-your-brain

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196645

Recipe

Taking in to consideration as much of the above as possible, I’ve come up with a little recipe incorporating happy hormone encouraging ingredients. I hope you enjoy: on many levels!

Fig focaccia

Pleasingly alliterative as well as delicious!

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Scales
  • Sharp knife
  • Baking tray
  • Rolling pin
  • Clean tea towel/cling film/food safe bag for proofing time

Ingredients – dough

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 200ml water
  • 1 teaspoon of dried yeast
  • 15ml of a good extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling and preparation)
  • 8g fine salt
  • 20g of seeds (such as sesame, linseeds, pumpkin etc)

Ingredients – topping

  • 2 figs
  • 1 tablespoon of pine nuts
  • 6-8 walnut halves
  • 1- 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs, such as oregano, marjoram and rosemary (these are the three herbs I used)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • Semolina, chickpea or other coarse flour for dusting (if you don’t have any of these extra bread flour can be used)

Method

  • Mix the ingredients for the dough (flour, water, yeast, oil, salt and seeds) in the large bowl until it’s a rough mix. Leave for 10 minutes
  • Tip out on to a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes until the dough is glossy and smooth
  • Oil the bowl and place the dough back in. Cover the bowl and leave for about 50-60 minutes for its first proof
  • Dust the baking tray thoroughly and have close to hand
  • On a surface dusted with the semolina (or whatever you’ve got instead), tip out the dough and knock it back (that is press down with your fingers to burst the larger air bubbles)
  • Press out the dough with your hands or a dusted rolling pin into an oblong shape. The dough should be quite thin: no more than 1cm / less than 1/2 inch high
  • Carefully transfer to the baking tray
  • Slice the figs into four (at least) and place on the dough
  • Cover the dough and leave to proof a second time, for about 30 minutes
Fig focaccia bread recipe by InkSugarSpice
  • Warm your oven to 110C (fan) or 120C (conventional/non-fan)
  • Uncover the focaccia and place the walnuts on, sprinkle over the soft leave herbs (marjoram and oregano) and drizzle over the honey and then the olive oil

Fig focaccia bread recipe by Ink SugarSpice
  • Once the oven is up to temperature, place the focaccia in and bake for 20 minutes
  • After 20 minutes, retrieve the focaccia and sprinkle on the pine nuts and rosemary leaves
  • Place back in the oven for another 5 minutes (if your focaccia already looks done, turn off your oven when putting the focaccia back in for the last five minutes)

To maximise the happy hormones, serve with a leafy green salad

Fig focaccia bread recipe by Ink SugarSpice

Fresh cherry scones

Fresh cherry scones, recipe by inksugarspice #cherry #scones #baking #recipe

I don’t often make scones, mainly because, rather obtusely, I like them so much. I am in danger of consuming far too many, just by myself. For such a simple foodstuff, scones are a glorious and delicious treat.

Here I’ve combined the season’s fresh, dark and luscious cherries with my ‘standard’ scone recipe. Not only are they tasty, they have a pleasing marbled effect from the cherry juice.

Notes

I’ve chosen to make these in a traditional round, but you could make individual, circular scones. Reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes to make individual scones.


I have a few other unique scone recipes I’ve developed that you may also like to try:

Chocolate plaited scone

Ricotta scones

Crowned cream tea


Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Baking tray, lined with baking parchment (or alternative)
  • Wire cooling rack
  • Scales, large knife, spoon

Ingredients

  • 300g plain flour
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 1 and a half teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 50g milk (any)
  • 8-10 fresh, ripe cherries – stones removed and chopped or torn roughly
  • A little extra flour
Fresh cherry scones, recipe by inksugarspice #cherry #scones #baking #recipe

Method

  • Warm the oven to 170C fan / 190C conventional
  • Rub the flour and butter together until it forms crumbs (some little bits of unincorporated butter are fine)
  • Mix all the other ingredients together – except for the cherries
  • Once the rest of the ingredients are mixed in, add the cherries and gently mix it all into a ball, ensuring the cherries are distributed throughout but do not overwork. (The reason for leaving the cherries to the very last is so the juice creates a marbled look, rather than just turning the dough pink)
  • On a lightly floured piece of baking parchment, pat down the ball of dough into a disc, about 16-18cm across and about 4cm high.
  • Lift up the scone dough with the parchment and place on the baking tray
  • Cut the disc into six pieces and transfer to the oven. (Leave the scones pushed together to help keep their shape for now)
    Fresh cherry scones, recipe by inksugarspice #cherry #scones #baking #recipe
  • Bake for 25 minutes, then take the tray out and re-cut the scones (they will have slightly fused together again)
  • Separate the scones by pushing them away from each other so they cook throughout
  • Place back in the oven for 5-8 additional minutes
  • Once baked, leave to cool, although they’re pretty lovely whilst still a little warm

I like these simply sliced and covered in farmhouse butter, but they are nice with jam and cream for a cream tea.

Fresh cherry scones, recipe by inksugarspice #cherry #scones #baking #recipe

As ever, leave me any comments you’d like to make, ask any questions about this bake (or any other recipe) or just say hi, especially if you try baking these scones.

Daisy loaf

A fluffy, olive-oil enriched loaf with a fun design. Actually a great loaf to bake with children as they love the shape and love dunking the dough in the grains. Easy to make and can be used as tear-and-share rolls or a large loaf to be sliced up.

Notes – toppings

Many grains can be used for this bread. In my own example (see all the photos) I used: a seed mix; linseeds; black sesame seeds; seaweed flakes, and; malted oat flakes.

Other suggestions are: onion seeds, nigella seeds, rolled oats, white sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, pinenuts, finely chopped mixed nuts, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, garlic flakes, onion, cheese, herbs etc.

Notes – number of petals

Divide your dough up in to at least SEVEN equal pieces to get a daisy shape (that’s one in the middle and six petals). If you chose to make many petals, such as nine or more do make the middle dough ball larger than the others to keep the ‘look’ of the bread.

Equipment

  • Large 25cm (approx) diameter circular bread tin, or springform cake tin (If you don’t have any of these just use a baking tray and lay it out on that)
  • Large bowl
  • Knife or bread blade
  • Small flat bowls or plates for each grain type
  • Pastry brush
  • Scales and measuring jug
  • Baking parchment

Ingredients

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 2 tablespoons of a quality olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of fine salt
  • A few turns of a pepper mill
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of dried yeast
  • 340ml of water
  • Additional flour for dusting
  • 20g each of three or four grain types (see notes above*)

Method

Kneading by hand

  • Mix all the ingredients together – except for the grains – in the large bowl and leave for 10 minutes
  • Knead until the dough feels elastic and the surface is smooth and shiny: about 10 minutes

Kneading with a stand mixer (or mix setting on a bread machine)

  • Place all the ingredients in the mixer bowl – except for the grains
  • Mix at a low-medium speed for 8-9 minutes until the dough is smooth and shiny
  • Place a cover (tea towel, sling film etc) over the bowl and leave to rise for around about an hour
  • Meantime, prep your tin/tray: tins and trays need lining with baking paper
  • Dust some flour over your working surface and tip out the dough gently
  • Knock back and fold in half
  • Weigh your dough now and work out (even if only roughly) what that amount is divided by seven or eight (or however many ‘petals’ you want: see the notes above)
  • Divide the dough and, using your hands in a gently scooping motion, shape each piece of dough into a round
  • Tip out the grains you’ve chosen onto separate plates
  • Brush the top of one dough ball with a little water and then invert it onto one of the grains to cover the top. Place the dough ball plain side down in the centre of your tin//tray (ie ensuring the grains are on the top). Placing the first piece of dough in the centre helps you arrange the rest of the ‘petals’
  • Repeat the process of wetting and pressing into grains for each of the other dough balls in turn, placing them around the centre dough, so making a daisy shape. It does look nicer if there aren’t any two dough balls next to each other with the same grain, but it really doesn’t matter.
  • Cover the bread and leave to proof again for about 45-60 minutes
  • Just before you think the bread is risen enough bring your oven up to temperature: 210C fan / 230C conventional / 450F
  • Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes
  • Do leave to cool on a wire cooling rack so that it doesn’t get a soggy bottom
  • The loaf can be ripped apart into separate dinner rolls, or sliced as a ‘normal’ loaf

Reducing salt and low salt loaf recipe

Low salt loaf – recipe can be found at the end of this article

We know, don’t we that we ought to be reducing certain elements in our food, those that the modern world has invented, corrupted or pushing at us in unhealthy quantities. Whilst I’m firmly in the ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ camp, lessening consumption of certain things like ultra processed foods, sugar and salt is good to consider. Here I’m going to look at ways to lower our intake of salt in homemade bread.

Salt is necessary for body function, but we’re all eating way over our required amount (ref: Gov.uk). While it may not be a worry for you now, you may need to adjust your salt intake as you get older or (hopefully not) develop certain health problems. By reducing salt now before these circumstances arise you will get more accustomed to a lower level of salt in advance and work to reduce your reliance on it.

Many of these ideas here for bread can be worked in equally well to flavouring other cooking, so you’re not automatically reaching for teaspoons full of salt to flavour your food.

Over the past year or so I’ve started reducing the amount of salt I add to my bread. There are a number of ways I’ve done this so as not to compromise on flavour and there are some radical alternatives too!

Salt in bread for flavour

Many people are under the impression that salt is necessary in bread baking. It’s not, but it does do more than just add taste. Certainly, its primary function is to add flavour and stop a loaf being bland, as the process of milling grain takes a lot of the natural flavour away. Or, as Elizabeth David rather cannily put it, salt is added because it “corrects insipidity”.

As a flavour enhancer, a certain amount of salt will draw out the taste of other ingredients. Because of this property salt is often added to sweet recipes, where you may think its appearance would be incongruous, such as in cakes and biscuits. Salt should be added into sweet recipes at a level where it only enhances and does not overwhelm or provide an actual salty note. This is the reason why you should adhere to the specified amount of salt in a sweet recipe and not be ‘liberal’ with the amount (as well as health implications).

Salt’s other properties

Water content

Salt has a minimal effect on the moisture content in the loaf as sodium dissolves readily in water and will even attract moisture direct from the air. This hygroscopic nature will take some of the water in bread dough away from being absorbed by the flour and yeast. Therefore, if you remove the salt completely, the dough will be wetter and you may have to tweak the recipe to reduce the water. [Frankly though, in reality, I’ve found this effect minimal so if the dough turns out to be a bit sticky just add a flourish of extra flour while kneading or shaping to compensate.]

Rise

Yeast does not like salt. Salt inhibits the yeast and will eventually actually kill it off if you just leave them together. Have you read a recipe that says put the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other? That’s to keep the salt and yeast away from each other until the liquid is added, so protecting the yeast. If you don’t add salt then there will be a little more rise. Without salt, yeast can work to capacity (unless you’ve inhibited it in other ways – see my post on how yeast works).

Crust and texture

Salt dissolved in the dough contributes to a crusty crust as it helps tighten gluten structure. Also, salt will dehydrate in the oven and begin to return to its crystalline form. Want to test this crusty theory? Dilute salt in water and brush it over the top of your loaf before baking.

Preservation

Salt, I’m sure you know, is a preservative which humans have utilised for thousands of years. Your bread will last longer with salt than a no-salt bread.

How to reduce salt

Just. Don’t. Add. It.

There; simple huh? Well you could do that, such as with the famous pane Toscano (Tuscan bread) recipe. However, pane Toscano is often used to accompany ribboletto, the very rich and pretty salty soup – or some other food with a high salt content such as a highly seasoned salame. So, yes, you can entirely remove salt from a bread recipe but it really depends on how you’re going to consume it and what with. I suspect you would not notice a total lack of salt in pizza dough, bread rolls for BBQ meats or bacon butties for instance, as they incorporate all salty, highly flavourful ingredients in a meal. However, for the most part I’d recommend adding at least a little.

Reduce the salt amount and add pepper.

This is a great go-to method for everyday breads. Here, you get a little of the benefits of salt without eating too much in your bread. Using half pepper: half salt will give you a very flavourful bread. Make sure it’s freshly ground pepper to ensure a strong flavour (and not that grim, grey pre-ground stuff).

Reduce the amount (in part or entirely) and add seaweed flakes.

Seaweed has sodium in and is naturally salty but you also get a mix of flavours, added iodine and other vitamins. If you’re worried, I can tell you a loaf with seaweed in does not taste fishy! I love making bread with seaweed flakes and do it very regularly and my favourite is sea salad from the Cornish Seaweed Co. Add it into the dough instead of (some or all) the salt or sprinkle it on top, which looks beautiful. Seaweed goes particularly well in breads like grissini, focaccia, baguettes, rustic breads and marries well with ancients grains such as spelt and khorasan. My recipe given further below incorporates seaweed.

Add herbs or spices.

Go for a different bread taste and put in half the total amount of salt and add chopped fresh herbs. Use your favourite herbs or search out new ones for specific flavours. Everyone knows rosemary goes nicely in bread, but use parsley, thyme or basil for a mediterranean taste. Lovage and hyssop add a gently liquorice tang. Ramsons (wild garlic), chives or Good King Henry are great in savoury uses. Mint, lavender, thyme and nasturtium leaves are nice in sweetened brioche. Use spices as you would with a main recipe – add according to cuisine or pairing rules. Or break up the rules and just try your favourite spices.

Also, you might want to pre-prepare some salt infusions for this. See both my following recipe posts on salt mixes:

Fiery chilli salt mix recipe - Ink Sugar Spice

Add the seasoning in the liquid or other ingredients.

For instance, you can add miso or yeast extract to the water content. I often also add a spoonful of something ‘extra’ to my loaves, such as balsamic vinegar, malt extract, grape must, pomegranate or grape molasses, verjus or cider vinegar.

The other alternative is to use a low-salt alternative.

I cannot comment on this as I’ve not used it. It’s supposed to be about a third of the sodium, but I wonder what else is in it instead? I prefer to lower simple salt and add other flavourings – I know then what’s going into my bread.

Low salt loaf recipe

Low salt loaf - recipe by Ink Sugar Spice

Notes

This will also work in a bread machine. Add the seaweed flakes into your nut/seed dispenser and the yeast into the yeast dispenser, but everything else can go in the bowl. Choose a function that produces a medium sized ‘normal’ loaf.

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Dough whisk or stand mixer is helpful, but you can mix by hand
  • Small ovenproof tin
  • Baking tray
  • Tea towels or other covers for the bread, while proofing
  • Scales, measuring spoons, measuring jug
  • Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

  • 400g strong white bread flour
  • 3g fine salt
  • 1g freshly milled ground pepper
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of Sea Salad from the Cornish Seaweed Co – but use any edible dried seaweed flakes (whether bought or foraged)
  • 1 tablespoon of grape must. If you can’t find this – I buy mine in a Polish store – then use a rich Balsamic vinegar (I’d recommend Filippo Berio’s Premier Cru) or pomegranate molasses (such as from Odyssea), which are both easier to find
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 270ml water
  • 1 teaspoon of dried, fast acting yeast
  • A little extra oil and flour

Method

  • Mix together EVERYTHING in a large bowl, until it’s combined but a really rough mix. Use a Dutch whisk or a stand mixer if you have it as it’s a bit messy this mix
  • Leave to autolyse for 10 minutes
  • Knead (or turn on your stand mixer) for 10 minutes. It will eventually come together nicely without the need for extra flour (try not to add more, but use a little if you really think you can’t cope with it being that sticky!)
  • When the surface is smooth, oil a large bowl and place the dough in. Cover (tea towel, couch, shower cap or cling film) and leave to rise for 45-60 minutes
  • This loaf will almost double – probably about an extra 75% again of its original size
  • Tip out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knock back gently
  • Shape and place into your preferred banneton, bowl, bread tin or it can be plaited
  • Cover again and leave for about 25-30 minutes until it appears fluffed up. While it is doing this final proof, turn your oven on to 220C fan / 240C non-fan and place a small tin at the bottom of the oven
  • When ready (and after the oven has reached temperature) lightly flour a baking tray. Invert the loaf from the banneton/bowl or place the plait or tin onto the baking tray
  • If you want and have inverted the loaf from a banneton, you can slash the top to aide the rise and make the loaf prettier (such as the wave pattern above)
  • Place in the oven and immediately put a cupful of water into the little tin you left in the bottom of the oven. This creates steam and helps the loaf rise
  • Time for 35 minutes, but after 10 minutes turn the oven down by 20 degrees (whether you have a fan or non-fan over).
  • After the 35 minutes the bread should be golden, risen and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom
  • Leave to cool over a wire rack

I’d love to know if you tried this loaf and found that you did not miss the normal level of salt. Please leave any comment below.

Rosemary crackers

Hello, it’s March already. Where did February go? It’s not like I’ve been doing anything other than working and staying home. Hope you are safe and well.

This new recipe produces crackers that are so tasty, just the right level of crispy (that is, they don’t dislodge your fillings) and are deceptively quick and easy to make.

It is easiest to make them with a pasta machine, but you can prepare them with a rolling pin, so don’t worry if you haven’t got a pasta sheeting gadget.

One last thing to add, I know not everyone likes mustard (I’m not a huge fan myself) but do try them with the mustard in as it adds a real umami pep to the flavour which doesn’t come across that ‘mustardy’ if you know what I’m trying to say. If you can’t bring yourself to add the mustard powder substitute a hot paprika instead.

Equipment

  • Two large baking trays, lined with parchment/baking paper
  • Large bowl
  • Pasta machine or rolling pin
  • Sharp knife
  • Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour (spelt can be used instead of wheat if you prefer)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (each about 6-7cm long)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly milled black pepper
  • 90ml water
  • 35ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Extra flour for dusting

Method

  1. Wash and dry the rosemary (if you think it needs it) and strip the leaves off the stalks
  2. Turn the oven on to 180C fan/ 200C conventional oven
  3. Mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, salt, mustard, pepper) and the rosemary leaves
  4. Make a well in the middle and pour in the oil and water and start combining. You may want to use a fork or a Dutch dough whisk for this, but hands are good!
  5. Bring it together and try not to overwork it – knead just enough to combine it so it forms a ball
  6. Set up your pasta machine or roll out by hand. You’ll probably need a little extra flour for dusting your work surface if you’re rolling by hand, but I’ve found this dough goes through the pasta machine quite well without extra flour. If you think it needs it though as it’s sticking, use a little.
  7. Roll out (either method) to about 1.5mm thickness – with these crackers you are limited by the thickness of the rosemary leaves and the height of the cracked pepper. Basically, roll out as thin as you can
  1. Cut into rectangular strips, about 4cm x 20cm
  1. Lay them on the prepared baking sheets. They don’t need much space between them as they don’t expand much
  2. Bake for 13-15 minutes. The crackers should be starting to turn brown and will have bubbled up in places
  3. Transfer to a wire rack to cool
  4. Great eaten with dips (such as Pesto and roasted butternut squash dip) or olive oil or as a main meal accompaniment

Apple madeleines with white chocolate

Always at this time of year I neglect my website. Not on purpose you understand; it just seems to happen year on year. I’m no late starter when it comes to anything else, its just… January. So, despite it almost being February this is my first 2021 post. Happy New Year!

I’ve written before that I eschew resolutions at this time of year. The spring equinox has me thinking about changes, new starts and determination rather than a grey and bleary 1st Jan. January (and February come to think of it) does not work for me for new starts, but it is good timing for gathering yourself together, looking after you and yours and starting to think about spring and those new shoots, literal or metaphorical.

So, while I’m in R&R mode, these little madeleines fit nicely. They are a twist on a traditional patisserie recipe, but incorporate winter fruit and indulgent chocolate. I’ve coloured my white chocolate to match the Pink Lady apples I used, but you don’t have to colour the chocolate at all, and if you don’t like white chocolate, then feel free to dip them in your favourite milk or dark instead.

Notes

I’ve included the little step that gets the chocolate finish looking like its sculpted! Once you get the hang of turning them out without breaking the chocolate (this depends on the trickiness of the mould you own) you’ll be making them perfect all the time.

Equipment

  • Small saucepan
  • Madeleine moulds (any mould will do but silicone ones are easier for this recipe)
  • Spoon, flexible spatula, scales, knife and cutting board, pastry brush
  • Medium bowl
  • Small heatproof bowl
  • Cooling rack

Ingredients

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 1 sweet eating apple – I used a Pink Lady apple
  • 2 medium – large eggs
  • 150g plain flour
  • 145g caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 300g of white chocolate
  • Food colouring
  • Plus – extra butter, about 30 g, for the moulds

Method

  • Melt the extra butter and paint the madeleine moulds with it using the pastry brush. Place the moulds in the freezer
  • Melt the 125g of butter in the saucepan over a medium heat and then immediately take off the heat
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar until they turn light and fluffy and have increased in volume
  • Folding gently with a spatula, now add the flour, salt, lemon juice and melted butter until combined. be careful not to over mix
  • Chop the apple (removing the core but keeping the skin) into small dice and immediately add to the mix
  • Chill the mix in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. This is an important step for madeleines
  • Warm the oven to 180C fan / 200C conventional oven
  • Spoon the mixture into the moulds, filling each to about two-thirds full
  • Bake the madeleines for about 12-14 minutes. They should be really springy to the touch
  • Leave to cool completely and remove from the moulds
  • Clean the moulds and dry thoroughly
  • Now melt the chocolate, adding a few drops of food colouring if you wish
  • Spoon a teaspoon of melted chocolate into one of the madeleine cavities in the mould and press back in one of the madeleines, so it squeezes the chocolate around it. Repeat with all the madeleines
  • Try not to jog the madeleines now and leave them to cool – you can speed up the process by putting them in the fridge
  • When the chocolate is fully cold, they should slip out fairly well from the mould
  • Enjoy!